Back to the Drawing Board: NACIS PCD 2019

Here are slides and speaker notes from my presentation at the annual NACIS conference in Tacoma, Washington, October 16 2019. Scroll to the bottom for a few links to additional resources.
All of the videos from the Tacoma conference are now available courtesy of NACIS and its video sponsors. Mine is here.

Back to the Drawing Board: Manual Techniques for Things You’re Already Doing in Illustrator/Photoshop

My favorite part of each NACIS conference is seeing how people make things. My specialty is hand-drawn and -painted maps. In keeping with PCD’s theme of cross-pollenation of ideas, I’ll be talking about things we do in Illustrator & Photoshop that also apply to paper.

First, I’d like to make a pitch for watercolor as a great medium to show overlapping map elements. In this endpapers map for Ed Crowell’s book Barton Creek, the author wanted to show overlapping elements along all of Barton Creek. People in Austin (east side of map) mostly know Barton Springs, near the creek’s mouth. It’s a spring-fed, natural bottom pool with a constant water temp of 68 degrees. It’s the best place to spend a hot day. Crowell wanted to provide a fuller story of the creek as it runs 40 miles through many preserved areas and important aquifers.

The detail below shows that Barton Springs Pool is in 1. the Barton Creek Greenbelt (dark green outlined area); 2. Barton Creek watershed (light green); and 3. Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone (light blue area on map, coming up from south. This aquifer feeds the springs.)

Just like in Illustrator/Photoshop, you can use many layers of watercolor on heavy paper to show richness and diversity in a landscape. (For layered paintings I use sheets of Arches hot press 300 lb paper.) The Neches River in East Texas, featured in Charles Kruvand’s book Riverwoods, has a context of patchy landscape and threaded-together preserved areas. Some clear cuts, some pasture land, some National Wildlife Refuge. Dappled, like a Winslow Homer painting using yellows, blues, greens, browns.

To achieve these layers, it helps to know something about the qualities of various watercolor paints. Paints are described with specific terminology.  Here’s my translation of a few terms from paint lingo to Adobe lingo:

transparency = transparency

granulation = noise (pigment actually settling out, adding texture)

staining/lifting = ability to “undo”

You’ll notice that Manganese Blue (bottom left swatch) is transparent and still, while Cerulean blue and Cobalt blue have quite a bit of granulation. Phthalo blue (at far right) is a staining paint, meaning that once you put it on paper it is nearly impossible to lift out.

There are endless combinations of paints, with varying qualities to the results. Combining yellows and blues makes rich greens. An overlying wash can be added to unify greens.

The process of layering up on paper is akin to building Photoshop layers. This map painting of an area of the Neches River includes at least 30 layers of paint. Some layers are applied only in partial areas.

I’m going to show a couple of examples of masking but, first, here are the materials. Masking fluid, a.k.a. frisket, is liquid but rubbery. Don’t trash a good brush. Designate inexpensive brushes for use with frisket. Ruling pens also work great for frisket and are easily cleaned.

To make the Neches River painting, I started with the lightest yellows. Then I masked the clearcut areas to protect lightest color. Mask can be seen at left as orange-ish areas: roads and clearcuts. I then continued with many layers of painting. Unlike in Photoshop, here we need to peel up mask when all paint is applied and totally dry. The result can be seen at right.

I also like to use masking fluid on orthogonal street grids, for texture and character.

Referring to Andy Woodruff’s PCD talk on web cartography and his example of Massachusetts & neighbors, I’ll attempt a similar effect in paint and ink.

I can apply pigment quickly along state lines since they are masked. I pull pigment in toward the center and dilute with clear water. If edges of paint start to dry, no problem! Scrub with a wet brush to soften up those edges. Add more pigment where you want it. Lift up unwanted pigment with scrunched-up paper towel, or a dry brush or natural sponge.

Another way to get glow: apply a stroke as in Illustrator. Here I am using blue India ink and a reed pen, which costs a couple bucks and holds a LOT of ink. You can see here that when a brush loaded with plain water touches the wet ink line, blue color gets pulled out toward gulf. Dilute with more plain water as you go. Use thinner/thicker pen nibs for more or less subtle results. If you lay down a thinner stroke, there’ll be less ink to pull out toward the water and you’ll get a subtler effect than shown here.

You’ll notice, at the end of the video above, that I tipped the southeast corner of the paper up. This helped the blue color move back toward the coast instead of bleeding into the Gulf. I placed a couple rolls of drafting tape under the southeast corner so the paper could dry that way. When paper is completely dry, use a rubber cement block to pick up the masked areas.

I drew in rivers with a thinner pen nib. This is a quick map, but sort of nicely shows how Texas’s rivers drain all of Texas from the high plains down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Drafting Axonometric Buildings

Jim Eynard’s Creating 2.5D/Pseudo-3D/Axonometric Buildings for Large Scale Maps PCD talk in Norfolk (NACIS 2018) gave me the idea to compare Illustrator techniques to manual techniques.

Start with the building footprint. I’ve chosen a church near the state capitol of Texas that has a simple yet interesting form.

A 60/30 degree setup makes for nice axonometric buildings. Since #NorthIsASocietalConstruct, I’m using a 60/30 triangle and align street/ building edge to it.

Use vertical lines to “lift” the roof from the footprint. It’s just like Jim Eynard showed us in Illustrator in his talk. Everything that is parallel in life is parallel in an axonometric drawing. (This is not perspective drawing.)

Lift dome from floor plan up to roof. I guessed where the dome would fall on the floor plan. I also guessed on heights of roof elements, based on exterior photos of buildings. As Jim said, “Wireframe is your friend.” Keep building the wireframe in pencil, and don’t sweat the details.

After the wireframe is constructed in pencil, I lay another sheet of tracing paper on top and inked building elements, some details, and landscaping. Notice that the drum of the dome is made of vertical elements, so those lines are vertical. I eyeballed the curved top of dome.

And that’s all we had time for. Thanks for following along, and please be in touch with ideas or questions!

Additional resources

Jane Blundell’s website has great info on characteristics of different paints: transparency; granulation, etc. And lots more.

Watch Peggy Macnamara apply layer after layer of watercolor, making images of mammals and birds. She is my teacher and inspiration, and her techniques and attitude toward art can be adopted in making maps or any darned thing. “Make a thing.”

Frisket: I’ve been liking this Grumbacher Miskit because its orangey color is easy to see on paper and it lays down nicely. The small bottle is perfect because it won’t dry out or get lumpy in the bottle before you can use most of it.

Frisket application: A simple ruling pen can be adjusted to neatly lay down lines of frisket of various widths. For larger areas, use any inexpensive brush and clean it with soap and water immediately after use.