Making Maps : Part 2 - Ink Drawing and Calligraphy
A continuation of a four-part series in which I delve into my process for drawing maps. In Part 1 here, I discussed my drawing process from the initial plan and sketch, to drawing the final map in pencil. In Part 2 below, I will explain how I then go over the pencil drawing in ink, discussing the ink, nibs, and other various drawing tools I use, and my calligraphy. Part 3 will explore some interesting particulars in more depth, such as dealing with mistakes and drawing on calf-skin vellum. In Part 4, I will talk about the digital process for getting a finished hand-drawn map ready for printing.
I. The Tools of the Trade
When the pencil plan has been completed, it’s time for ink. Usually when I draw a map on paper, the pencil is directly on the final map itself, and I simply start drawing over the top of it in ink. The only exception is when I draw a map on calf-skin vellum - but more on that in Part 3.
I use a wide variety of nibs in my mapping. To be completely honest though, I know very little specifically about the individual ones I buy and use. I know that some experts would be able to quickly lok at a nib and instantly know ‘that’s a Japanese stainless steel no.7B mapping quill’ or something. I’ve never taken the time to really research different nibs and different makers. When I visit an art supply shop (usually the Kemble Gallery in Durham or Meininger’s in Denver) I just buy nibs I fancy, or ones I’ve never seen or used before, and if needed the pen holders for them. Then I experiment on some scrap paper.
Some nibs I have used just once, and decided “nope, not going to work for me”. Others I have tried and at once thought, “wow, that’s brilliant for fine lines”, or “that’ll work perfectly for drawing along a straight-edge”. Some nibs, through trial and error, I’ve found work brilliantly on paper with waterproof ink but not on vellum with water-based ink, and vice-versa. For me, it’s a matter of experimentation.
I do certainly have some favourite nibs: for much of my line drawing, I use a nib which happens to be a ‘No.5 Superior School Pen’ by Tachikawa (upon writing this, I only just looked at the markings on the outside - I had no idea what it was before, except that it was steel and Japanese). It holds ink well and is nice and stiff, so maintains thin lines, but is just flexible enough to vary the thickness when needed. Easy to clean too! It can do lines from about 0.2 to 0.4mm wide. For thinner lines I use a Tachikawa ‘No.99 Mapping Pen’, and for the thinnest hairlines, a tiny ‘No.518 Lithographic Nib’ by Brandauer. It’s so sharp, it’ll draw blood!
For my standard calligraphic lettering, I use a set of William Mitchell ‘Round Hand Square Cut Nibs’, which vary in width from a No.0 (making about a 3-4mm thick line) to a No.6 (making about a 1mm thick line). There are probably better calligraphic nibs out there, but they’re what I’m used to, and work perfectly fine! Usually the only ones I actually use for my maps are the least wide Nos. 4, 5, and 6.
For all my maps on paper, I use a waterproof ‘Calli’ black ink made by Daler-Rowney. There are a few reasons I use waterproof rather than water-based ink: it’s a bit thicker, so there’s less unwanted drippage from pens onto the page, it’s darker and has a better permanence (also meaning it holds up well when using an eraser over the map at the end to rub-out the pencil), and most importantly, it doesn’t bleed into the paper as much as water-based ink does. This is an especially critical factor for fixing mistakes (discussed in Part 3).
However, this waterproof ink doesn’t work well on vellum - vellum is far smoother than paper and the waterproof ink just doesn’t adhere well. So for vellum maps, I use a black (or colour) Windsor & Newton pigmented water-based calligraphy ink.
I use a variety of other tools in my map-making at the ink drawing stage, as can be seen in the picture. Some with a fairly obvious purpose, but others need some explanation.
First off, I always keep my ink bottle inside a larger container, which I learnt the hard way after spilling half-a-bottle once! It’s also good to have tissues at the ready for wiping ink off nibs, and a bit of scratch paper - after dipping the nib, a give it a little flick back into the bottle to remove any excess ink, then often draw a line or two on the scratch paper to remove any further excess ink. I’ve learnt it’s better to take the time to do this, than to have to fix a blotch of ink on the map!
The rulers I use for drawing straight lines, and I’ve found that steel-edged rulers with cork bases are best, as the nibs don’t stick on the edge them as they do on plastic (something I learnt from trial and error again!). Anyone who has drawn with dip-pens along rulers will know though that the ink will flow from the pen nib onto the ruler edge, and if the ruler edge is against the paper, the ink will blotch down, creating an awful mess! Hence the cork base, which keeps the edge just above the paper surface. Even so, I still had a few times when the ink would overflow from nib to ruler edge to paper, so for assured prevention of this ink blotching I raised the profile even more - hence the foam backing as pictured.
I have various compasses (a couple are from my dad’s decades-old drafting set) I use to ink circles for my compass roses, though for many of my earlier maps I just drew in ink freehand over the pencilled compass rose design.
The bone scraper is a recent acquisition, but does what I was using the smooth-tumbled stone for previously, and that is to rub smooth the paper surface when necessary, to prevent bleeding. In areas where I did a lot of pencil - erasure - pencil - erasure etc., the fibres of the paper become roughened, which, unless smoothed down again, cause bleeding. It’s also necessary for when I fix a mistake, for which I also use the scalpel as pictured (more on that in Part 3).
Finally the erasers, brush and tweezers: the erasers I use at the very end, after the ink-work is nearly complete (and dry of course!), to remove any still-visible pencil. The brush, naturally, is to keep the map surface clean of any dust or loose fibres (or bits of eraser), which otherwise would cause bleeding or blotching. The tweezers I use to remove paper fibres from nibs that sometimes get brought-up while drawing (which can cause all sorts of problems if not removed straightaway).
If the map is drawn on paper, everything other than fine details such as shading, foliage, the border design, etc. will have been drawn on in pencil. If on vellum, then the process below is relatively the same, just a bit more tricky since I would instead be using a back-lit sketch behind the blank sheet of vellum (but more on that in Part 3).
When I begin with ink, it is of critical importance to write the place-names first. There are a two reasons for this. First and foremost, maps look best when there is a nice bit of white space around each toponym. It looks more professional and is easier to read, than if the place-name is criss-crossed with other map elements such as lines roads, foliage, coastlines etc. So, if the names are inked first, then when drawing every other map element, they can be broken around the toponym. Second, the names and labels - bring written with a calligraphy nib - sometimes end up longer or shorter, or in a slightly different position than what is pencilled. It’s easier to write the names, then modify what’s around it, than to draw around a blank spot for a name, then struggle to squeeze that name into the space available.
So, place-names first!
Usually I also work from smallest text to largest text (though it’s by no means necessary), and like most map-makers I use a hierarchy of sizes, capitals or lowercase, slanted or upright, cursive or block-lettering, depending on the category of what I’m labelling. For example, on the Gin Map, the distilleries were labelled in capital block lettering with a no.5 nib, then the brands were written underneath with a smaller no.6 nib in lowercase, while cities and other geographical features were written in a cursive italic.
It’s worth saying a few words about my letter-forms (i.e. ‘font’) here, though I will likely write a full post on this in the future. For standard map labels, place-names etc. I have a house-style of block-lettering / print-lettering, which is my own design. A palaeographer might comment that It has elements of uncial, half-uncial, and Carolingian, but in truth, many many years ago when I started drawing maps, I just created it without a great deal of thought. It worked, the letters were pretty but legible, it worked slanted or not, and was not difficult to write, so I stuck with it.
My cursive/italic script style has evolved far more over the years, and in preparation for making a map, I often look at the letter-forms of various computer fonts to get an idea of what I want for that map.
The letter-forms for the title of the map is really where I get as creative as possible. I often pour over hundreds of fonts to get inspiration, then design the title accordingly. For the Whisky Map, I wanted a font that had a 19th century Scottish feel to it. For Paris, I wanted something very suave and classy. For the Lindisfarne Map, I emulated the letter-forms of the Insular block capitals used in the Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript codex.
III. Drawing in Ink
Once the calligraphy is complete, then everything else can be drawn in pen. There’s a bit of a best-order in which to draw:
First, anything that must remain static, i.e. is an actual location on the map and cannot be altered in its location. This includes buildings on more local maps, or cities/towns on regional maps, or really any sort of symbol to show geographic location. Second, rivers, coastlines, roads, and anything similar should be drawn. After that, I usually work one area or element at a time, e.g. I will draw the decorative cartouches or title boxes one at a time.
At this point, I will go over the map with the eraser to remove the pencil drawing - its job being complete. Then I will draw any foliage, and sea shading using the really sharp No.518 Lithographic Nib I spoke of earlier. I used to not erase until the very end, but the fine sea-shading lines are so thin that the eraser took them off somewhat too, despite being in ink! So, lesson learned - erase the pencil before inking the finest details.
The very last thing I draw is usually the outer border. Then I add my monogram, and celebrate a finished map…
… well, a nearly finished map. If it’s to be printed, then there’s some Photoshop work to be done in preparation. But more on that in Part 4 of this series.
I do hope this series is interesting and informative! Please leave a comment below and/or feel free to get in touch with any questions.