Making a map of Scotland — Lord of the Rings Style

I recently published a map of Scotland on the /r/Scotland subreddit as well as my own Tumblr page:

Central Belt of Scotland — in Lord of the Rings style

Some people liked it, which is awesome, and some people asked how it was made, which is also awesome. I found myself responding to people by saying I essentially traced a map and added some detail, but I don't think that’s particularly helpful for people looking to learn about the process. So here is a look at how I went about making this map. Note: This isn't a tutorial, it’s more of a breakdown of the key stages.


Background:

I’ve always liked maps that have a hand drawn feel to them, starting with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and actual historical maps. I was shown some old maps once of Mt Kisco in New York, drawn during the American war in independence and remember thinking how beautiful they looked while passing on important information to the viewer.

being able to convey dense layers of data in a way that still looks aesthetically pleasing isn't an easy trick to pull off, especially when you're doing it by hand as people including Tolkien managed:

Annotated map of Middle Earth by JRR Tolkien

I’m not able to attempt anything near this level of complexity or detail, and I use digital formats so have the luxury of an undo button, which is definitely convenient. Regardless, I wanted to have a go at making something, albeit far more limited, in a similar style.

Resources used:

  • The main resource used in this map is brushes from the very talented Star Raven. These capture the Lord of the Rings aesthetic I wanted to achieve around the mountains and trees.
  • “Aniron” Lord of the Rings font, apparently featured in the credits for the films. I found it online here.
  • A picture of blank parchment found on Google Images is used for the base layer to achieve the paper look.
  • A map of Scotland from Google Images for guidance.
  • The whole thing was put together in GIMP, a free and open source editing application.

Start to Finish

A map of Scotland was used to trace around for the coastlines, and to indicate the locations of major settlements and mountain areas.

Original map used to trace around

Once I’d traced around the coast I duplicated the layer and filled all the landmass in solid black.

Step 1 — Traced Coastline

The parchment from Google Images is overlayed on top to create the worn paper effect I was after. The original traced outline is kept on top with a little blur to make it look a bit more inked in. The coastal waters were also lightened somewhat to give a shallower look, and to add contrast with the water. Originally the water was a dark blue, but this seemed out of place.

Step 2— Blank Parchment

From here I went about adding the mountains first, using the original map as a guide for where key ranges should be. The style was never going to be 100% accurate but I aimed to at least keep the major ranges approximately where they should be. Relative scale is an issue in this, but realism isnt really the goal. Many munros are indicated by a single mountain, though only Ben Nevis was labelled in the end.

The only range that really bears no similarity to reality is the one south of Glasgow — It was added in early and I wanted to keep it as it anchored the south West coast.

Step 3 — Making mountains

Next I added the locations of major towns and cities, again based on the original map which seems to be settlements larger than approximately 50,000 people.

Step 4 — Towns and Cities

Finally, trees and rivers. Rivers are broadly accurate, trees were essentially random but aiming to fill large spaces between mountains.

Step 5 — Trees and Rivers

Next I shaded in the mountains to add a bit more of a feeling of depth to the whole thing, and to ground the geographical features into the overall map. White was used on the light sides, a dark brown was used on the dark sides and for shadows. This was the most time consuming step as it was entirely manual.

Step 6 — Shading and lightening

The last step was to label everything in a way that fits with the overall look while remaining legible at different levels of magnification. Ordinarily on a map, labels would be layered to convey information based on size, colour, and style. In this, I only used size to convey information: larger size indicates larger towns. Curved text generally indicates a geographical feature.

I chose a generic Lord of the Rings font due to the familiar association it would create, and due to its general legibility at varying sizes. The Text is maybe a bit thick on larger sizes, but I needed it to stand out due to a general lack of colour in the map. Text has a white drop shadow behind it to anchor it onto the map in a similar way to the mountains, but also to increase legibility where overlap occurs (especially on the “highlands” text)

Step 7 — Labels

Once the whole thing is finished, I exported it in PNG format at different crop levels. The original image I shared has filters from Instagram applied to add more contrast, darker blacks and a cheap “tilt shift” effect. The perspective was warped slightly to give the illusion of looking down at a slight angle which compliments this blur, giving the impression of a very narrow depth of field.

Final image with colour grading, blur effect and perspective correction.

Conclusions

This was a fun project that took about six hours total time, plus a little more in making individual zooms and crops. For the future I would like to improve my own art so I can add mountains and settlements free hand with less reliance on other people’s work, but I’m not quite there yet.

Thanks for reading! If you want to see more of my work, visit my blog over at

It’s mostly photography, but I may follow up on this work with additional mapped countries in the future.

Callum