Drawing your first illustrated map

Ever since I first laid eyes on Tom Froese‘s awesome maps, I’ve always wanted to create my own. But when I was doing the draft, I realized that drawing maps is one of those things that may look easy but is actually hard AF.

If you want to dip your toes in the world of fancy map-making, maybe I can share a few starter points I learned when I did my first one.

1. Start with a familiar area.

My first map is just my daily route from home to work. Familiarity with the map you’re making means you can easily fill it up with various landmarks because you know exactly which ones are located on what street.

2. Google Maps is your friend.

Just because I’m familiar with the route doesn’t mean I can accurately draw the roads from memory. I had Google Maps open the entire time I was doing the draft, referencing to it back and forth until all street positions were finalized.

3. Start with the main roads.

I started with Marcos Highway, then C5, then Ortigas Avenue. When you already have the main roads laid out, you can get a better “feel” of where the secondary roads and streets should be.

Speaking of streets: depending on your map’s purpose, there’s no need to put every street shown in Google Maps. Too many lines could clutter your illustration. An alternative is to include some to fill up “white spaces,” but no need to put the street name if it isn’t significant.

4. Maximize layers.

If you’re going to use Adobe, Procreate or similar software, don’t skimp on layers! It gives any illustration so much flexibility. I had a layer for roads, a layer for road names, a layer for buildings, a layer for building names… you get the picture. I even had a separate layer for the airbrush shadow effect.

You can always merge layers in the end once you’re satisfied with your drawing. It’s easier to make corrections on the fly with layers; that way, when you want one element changed, the rest of your work is not affected.

It took me THREE HOURS to finish my first illustrated map, mainly because I initially had no idea how I’d execute it. But finishing one comes with immense satisfaction. Now go and make your own illustrated map, too!

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