Sourcing high-quality images to extract brush sets can be an arduous process, especially if you’re looking for something fresh and unique. There are hundreds of resources out there, but most are limited to western sources and skew more European. (Especially the prolific Dutch.) This is fine, but for a while, I’ve really wanted to diversify my brush sets and bring in more varied approaches and artistic voices.

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So, when I recently came across a 17th-century map from Ishikawa Ryūsen (or Tomonobu), I got excited. Ishikawa Ryūsen was a Japanese writer, ukiyo-e painter, and cartographer from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century who primarily worked for the Edo-period shogunate. His work became the foundation of Ryūsen-zu, a style of woodblock map prints, and because of their artistic value, were often printed on folding screens. His maps have been reprinted many times, so I found it a little surprising that it took me so long to come across his work. But the version I found was perfect for a brush set, and after pouring over it for hours, I knew with a little work, it would be the perfect source for my first non-European brush set.

Today, I am happy to announce the release of Ishikawa, an extensive cartography brush set extracted from 日本海山潮陸圖 (Map of Sea, Mountain, Tide, and Land of Japan) depicting the Japanese islands of HonshūShikoku, and Kyūshu during the Edo period. It’s a stunning set with loads to offer, and it will help create maps that stand apart from the traditional European-influenced fantasy maps.

A sample of the brushes in the Ishikawa brush set - Lots of Japanese styled buildings and Torii gates as well as more modern markers.
A sample of the settlement brushes you’ll find in Ishikawa

There are some obvious stylistic differences here. From the almost kanji-inspired flora to the elegant, calligraphic mountains, but it’s also familiar. For the most part, this is a hill-profile style of map. Some exceptions come in the form of settlement markers, and those skew graphical—the large circles represented jitō manor houses, squares were fortified towns, ovals were traveling stops, and small circles were outposts. Yet, even with these graphical representations, Ishikawa still drew the roofs of the homes and shops that surrounded these points of interest. What we end up with is a fascinating hybrid style, not exactly hill-profile and yet not fully “modern.”

I want to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Amy Bliss Marshall for her help with translation and for providing some deeper dives into the koku-fueled Edo-period Shogunate. Her effort helped significantly in the creation of this set.

More of the Ishikawa brushes, landforms and flora as well as ocean waves and boats.
More of Ishikawa’s brush offerings

Since this is my first Asian-sourced map set, I wanted to make a splash. Ishikawa is enormous. Over 700 unique brushes fill out the set, making this my third largest. (Only Vischer and Ogilby are larger.) While it took more time, I went ahead and removed the kanji from all the simple settlement markers allowing you to use them as you wish.

Inside Ishikawa you’ll find…

  • 23 Cities
  • 30 Individual Roofs
  • 50 Grouped Roofs
  • 27 Individual Buildings
  • 25 Blank Outpost Markers (Small Circles)
  • 15 Blank Travel Stop Markers (Ovals)
  • 25 Blank Jitō Manor Markers (Large Circles)
  • 15 Blank Fortified Town Markers (Squares)
  • 5 Blank Named Manor Markers (Larger Squares)
  • 5 Blank Region Markers (Tall Rectangles)
  • 43 Torii Gates
  • 15 Unique Settlement Markers
  • 100 Individual Trees
  • 100 Forests (Grouped Trees)
  • 3 Unique Flora Markers
  • 71 Individual Mountains
  • 67 Grouped Mountains
  • 73 Waves
  • 2 People Cartouches (Sword Fight!)
  • 4 Directional Cartouches
  • 18 Small Boat Cartouches
  • 21 Large Boat Cartouches
  • 15 Sail Cartouches (These could also work as banners, just sayin’)
  • 1 Group of Boats Cartouche
  • [🚨 BONUS!] 7 Directional Road/Border/Line Brushes

I’m excited about Ishikawa’s bonus brushes. They are something many people have been asking for, and I’m pleased to finally be releasing them. Yep, directional “road” brushes. They’re a bit finicky, and I recommend taking your time with them, but they’ll allow you to easily paint roads and borders that follow the styles from the 17th and 18th centuries. I’ll most likely expand them into their own more fleshed-out set in the future, perhaps even combining them with Ende, my Littoral Edger brushes, but for now, they get to be an Ishikawa bonus.

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMP and Affinity Photo) as well as three large transparent PNGs, Settlements (5.3 Mb), Flora & Landforms (3 Mb), and Water Features & Cartouches (2.5 Mb), in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. They’re black, and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there. (If you want to throw a few bucks my way to help with hosting this stuff, I wouldn’t complain.)

As with all of my previous brush sets, Ishikawa is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Ishikawa? Feel free to show me what you created by emailing me or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!

Ishikawa in Use

Want to see how I’ve used this set? You can see the results below. It’s a bit of a blend of styles, but I am happy with how it turned out. There’s a lot you can do with these brushes. There are three versions, a colored, black and white, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you as you get started on your projects! Feel free to use these for whatever you want. Your next book? A D&D campaign? Lots of possibilities.

2813×5000 (8MB)
2813×5000 (6.9 MB)
1080×1350 (1.1 MB)

Sample Details: Location names were taken from various places and points of interest on Hokkaido. The font I used is a modified version of Bizmo, which was licensed from Envato Elements. I do not recommend laying this many western characters vertically, but I wanted to evoke some of the elements from Ishikawa’s original source and decided I was okay with it being a little illegible. The paper texture is from True Grit Texture Supply’s Infinite Pulp, and they’re also where I got Atomica, which gives me ink-like effects for the text—big fan of their tools. The boar illustration in the key is from an 1857 woodblock print by Utagawa Yoshitora and is available for free on Deviant Art.

Support this Work

Brushes and tools released through the #NoBadMaps project will always be free and released under a public domain CC0 license. If you’d like to support the project and help me cover the cost of hosting, research, and tool-set development, I’ve put together three ways you can help, and all are detailed below.

Buy My Books→

I’m not just a map enthusiast. I’m also a novelist! The easiest way to support me (and get something in return) is by purchasing one of my cosmic horror urban fantasy novels.

Buy Me a Coffee→

A simple and quick way to support the #NoBadMaps project is through a one-time donation of any amount via ko-fi. Your support helps keep this project going and is appreciated.

Join my Patreon→

If you want to continually support the #NoBadMaps project through a reoccurring monthly contribution, consider joining my Patreon and get sneak peeks into what’s coming.

More Map Brushes

This is just one of many brush sets and map tools I’ve released. You can find it and other free brushes covering a wide variety of historical styles on my Fantasy Map Brushes page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project. Click the button below to check them out!

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