Map Drawing Guide
Updated: 09 Mar 2023
In this guide, I will demonstrate how I draw maps (including with colors), and my technique for transforming a paper sheet to look like an antique scroll or an old treasure map.
It is best to use quality paper for pencil drawing, but regular paper, such as printer paper, will do fine too.
At the end of this article, I will show how to draw advanced maps.
How to Create an Antique Looking Paper
Step 1: Burning the Paper's Edges
This step is optional.
Using fire is dangerous and produces smoke. It should be done outdoor and under a grownup supervision.
Step 2: Coloring the Paper Sheet
For an old and faded look, immerse the paper for several minutes in water with concentrated tea or coffee.
After receiving the desired shade, remove the paper from the dark liquid and let it dry on paper towels.
To speed up the drying process, it is possible to dry the paper outside or to use a hair dryer.
It takes time to prepare an old looking paper and wait for it to dry. Therefore, it is advisable to prepare several paper sheets in advance.
Crumpling the paper sheet before putting it in water will create wrinkles and an antique, ragged look to it.
How to Draw an Antique Treasure Map
Drawing an antique treasure map or a pirate scroll in 2 steps:
- Step1: Drawing with a pencil.
- Step2: Drawing with a technical pen.
A ruler can be used.
Start by drawing with a pencil. When you reach the desired outcome, go over it with a pen and gently erase the pencil marks.
Supply for drawing:
For pencil drawing, visit my pencil drawing supply review.
A regular pen can be used, though drawing pens for artists (fine liners) are much better. These are my recommended technical pens.
Objects to Add for a Treasure Map
It is helpful to use reference photos or search the web for concept art to add to the pirate map.
Objects that can be added to a treasure map:
Legend: Understanding signs such as trails, trees, mountains, treasure, buildings, etc.
Map readability: Compass rose, scale bar, longitude, latitude and even altitude lines.
Marine symbols: Ship, anchor, steering wheel, marine navigation devices and so on.
How to Draw a World Map
Once you create an antique looking paper, the possibilities are endless.
It does not have to be an old pirate or treasure map.
Another option is to create a world map.
The steps for creating a world map are the same.
Start by drawing with a pencil. Do it lightly so it is easy to erase.
Note: Sometimes it is convenient to draw with a mechanical pencil.
When you are satisfied with the result, draw with a technical pen.
Last step is painting with markers.
Here is my review for artist-grade markers.
As mentioned above, the options are vast. You can draw a city, maze, fantasy land or anything that comes to mind.
How to Draw Maps with Colors
When drawing something from imagination, it is always good to look for some concept art and reference images.
For painting islands, I examined some photos of real islands. I noticed that in some cases, the edges of an island are darker (because the sand near the water is wet).
Here are some tests with different colors (markers), to see what I like most:
When choosing colors, I pay attention to 4 attributes: hue, brightness value, saturation and temperature.
Color temperature is how cool or warm each color is.
In my guide on how to draw accurately from observation, I explain about color attributes.
For the ocean, pay attention to transitions in brightness values.
Where the water is shallow, the color is lighter.
Make it a habit to first test the colors you want to use.
Here I have done some tests in color transitions, and in drawing trees:
Maps are not limited to a view directly from above.
Sometimes, a view with an angle can add depth and be more interesting.
To learn more about depth, visit my guide for drawing depth. It has 15 methods with examples for you to explore.
For a smooth transition in brightness values (when using two markers or more), try both from light to dark, and from dark to light.
Different marker brands will produce different results.
The amount of details to put in a map is either a personal preference, or a project requirement.
In the next example, I was asked to draw a cover for a music album. It is full of details (as requested).
Drawing with fewer details is ok too. You can always add details if you want to.
World Map with Monuments
After learning the basics for drawing maps, and coloring them, it is time to be creative.
With the use of linear perspective, you can add any monument, landmark, or complex structure.
Start by sketching with a pencil. When you are happy with the result, use a pen. Finally, color with markers, or any other medium.
Next, decide where you want the light source for your map, and paint the shadow areas darker.
In addition, paint the cast shadows with soft edges.
If you are new to linear perspective, visit my guide on perspective drawing.
With perspective, you can draw anything, from any angle.
Commission Map Drawing
Commission drawing requires planning and some test sketches.
Do some color testing, before committing to the final render.
If the request is for a specific size, use masking tape.
Decide on a light source for the scene, which should be consistent for every part of the drawing.
Send some sketches to the client, to get feedback, before drawing the final map.
Fantasy Map Drawing (Advanced)
Drawing fantasy maps, means drawing from imagination.
It requires many techniques.
A powerful way to draw the illusion of depth, is by using overlapping.
Meaning, an object that covers part of another object.
If you want to draw trees (or anything else), use overlapping as often as you can.
Try to scatter them in different numbers and locations, so not to create a pattern.
If you are not sure how to draw composition, visit my composition drawing guide.
Foreshortening is a key factor of drawing.
The lower an area is from the horizon, the less it is foreshortened. You might want to check my round objects drawing guide, for more info on foreshortening.
In the next example, the bottom of the hut is less foreshortened.
Linear perspective is the most important drawing fundamental, when drawing from imagination.
To draw more realistically, use perspective.
The character and direction of marks determine the lay of the land.
Try to draw abstract (not straight) and less defined lines (holding the pen at an angle).
Determine a light source for your map, and draw the shadow part darker (meaning, with more marks).
I find it super helpful to draw some sketches, and test different compositions.
For that, I use a simple printer paper.
Once I am happy with the design, I draw it on a quality drawing paper.
Planet Map Drawing (Advanced)
For drawing a map in space, from imagination, I looked at some images of planets, and the moon, for some ideas.
Colored paper is a nice option.
In this case, I used Arches Cream paper. It is very gentle, and not suitable for erasing, but I like it for pen drawing.
When drawing a map, I decide on the direction of light, and try to be consistent with it.
When drawing maps, let your imagination take over.
Planning, drawing some sketches first, and testing colors are the key to success.
Once you tested and sketched your map, you can go for the final drawing with confidence.
Where to go next?
For drawing your own concept art or product design, learn how to draw from imagination.
If you like drawing nature, visit my guides on how to draw flowers with a pen and how to draw any tree with a pen (in a realistic style).
If you want to learn to draw and paint online, here are my favorite YouTube painting channels.