15 September 2006

A Little Map "How-To". . .

Thanks very much for your positive feedback on the new map! I've got about an hour before my 11AM class and thought I'd reply to early comments about the "New and Improved" map of Stollen, Zichenau, Pillau-Zerbst, et al.

Making maps of imaginary worlds is something that has interested me for a long time -- since my teenage days designing various D&D adventures back in those heady days of the early 1980s. I particularly liked Tolkien's map in the back of the Silmarillion and LaGwynn's map in The Earthsea Trilogy. Between 1981-1985, I must have dreamed up and produced 35-40 different campaign maps for use in the D&D campaigns I tried to run. But I digress.

More recently, Henry Hyde's articles on creating and developing one's own fictitious wargames campaigns, featured in the first three issues of Battlegames, awoke those same, long dormant cartographic tendencies. I've been doodling and sketching possible maps since mid-July this year, which finally yielded the hand colored first map. Unhappy with the inevitable pencil smudges (I like 3B and 4B artists' pencils) and the windmill sketch showing through from the next page of my sketchpad, I next resolved to create a cleaner and visually more satisfying map -- which led me to play around with various programs on my PC.

I used MS Paintshop (I think that's the name) to create the more vivid, detailed, and aesthetically pleasing version of my campaign map that you saw in yesterday's post. I simply "painted" in the colors of each territory as well as mid-blue for the rivers and lakes. The colors I chose in the program are reasonable approximations of the colored pencils used on the original map. Admittedly, it was kind of trial and error for the first hour or so.

Whatever program one uses, remember to wiggle your hand around as you "paint" the perimieters of each country, so your borders will look suitably irregular. It's all too easy to end up with extremely plain, "square", and artificial looking borders. Anyway, once you've done that, it's pretty easy to select the color you like and "fill" the perimeter you've just defined. And all that with a couple clicks of the mouse!

The text and compass rose were more tedious. First, I resorted to typing text into text boxes in MS Word and filling these with the appropriate colors already on the Paintshop map. Then, I copied and pasted these text boxes into the Paintshop document, moving them where I wanted them in the latter before clicking "Save". ALWAYS save your work frequently. It's a real pain in the you-know-what to lose your work. Especially when it's slow and paintstaiking because one does not know what he is doing!

Once you place the textboxes where you want them, remember to "paint" over the inevitable white borders that will show up on the right and bottom sides of the textbox. Use the same color you used for your map AND to fill the textbox. If you do this right, no one will be the wiser.

As luck would have it, I discovered an easier way to insert text into the Paintshop map with a feature already in the program once I had finsihed this particular part of the process. Oh well, I only lost about 90 minutes copying and pasting from Word. Live and learn! Experimentation and a willingness to make (many) mistakes are the keys.

The compass rose was the most interesting, and simultaneously frustrating part of the project. Late yesterday afternoon, I looked around online, and in various collections of clipart, for something suitably interesting. Unfortunately, I had no luck using search terms like "map symbols" or "cartographic symbols."

Finally, my wife Sonja came to the rescue. She arrived home from school about 6PM, and I asked her, "What in heck do you call that thing on maps that shows the four directions of the compass? I can't for the life of me remember it!" Naturally, she replied in the first breath, "Why, a compass rose, of course -- everyone knows that!" Bada bing, bada boom!

So, a new search using the new term immediately produced a vast number of hits and an interesting example of said compass rose, which you now see on my new map here, albeit in altered form. I promptly changed a few bits and pieces of it (copyright issues, my wife says) before pasting it into the map. Problem solved. Guys, ya gotta go for the women with Ph D's!

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