Go Vote

Go Vote 🗳

If you’re like the nearly one hundred million other Americans who voted early (myself and Kari-Lise included), then this post is just noise. But if somehow you haven’t voted yet, today is the perfect day for it. Need to know where to go? Find your polling place here. If you’re an adult US citizen, remember, no one can keep you from voting. Stay in line. Get counted. You got this. As I quoted on Instagram earlier today…

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government.
Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Funny enough, that quote is loosely based on a similar spurious quotation often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has a little article on it over on Monticello.org, and it’s worth a read if you like delving into the etymology of quotations. Often they’re like a little game of telephone.

No matter the outcome, I’m proud of every American who got involved in the process. This election is arguably the most important election of our lives. We’re seeing record turnout everywhere. For me, it’s thrilling to see so many Americans stepping up and making sure their voice is heard and their vote is counted.

Aim High, America

Get Your Vote On 🗳

It’s not even Election Day yet in the United States, and here I am urging my fellow American citizens to get out and vote. Why? Many reasons! First, this is a critical election. Due to the pandemic and to help spread folks out a bit more many states have opened up early and absentee voting. It’s also becoming clear that there will be a big turnout, so the sooner you cast your vote, the quicker it can be counted.

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

Thomas Jefferson

I voted last week. Washington State has been vote-by-mail as long as I’ve lived here as a voting-age adult. It’s an incredible process and one I’ve always appreciated. It’s very secure. It prevents villains from doing scummy things like shutting down or limiting polling places or purging voter rolls. They even have a handy tracker showing you where your vote is in the process. (If your state doesn’t have this, you should ask for it.)

My ballot was counted yesterday (October 22nd!)

Make time to vote. If you don’t or can’t do it early. Then be sure to make time on Election Day. (That’s Tuesday, November 3 this year.) Most states require employers to give you paid time off to head to the polls, and in states that don’t have specific laws, you’ll find that employers will often give you time off. (You can check which states have voting laws at vote411.com.)

I mention this every election, and I will keep mentioning it until I don’t have to anymore: anyone trying to prevent or make it difficult for citizens to vote are the bad guys. As an American citizen, no one has the right to stop you from voting. Your voice deserves to be counted. If you’re in line to vote when the polls close, they are legally required to allow you to vote. If you’re intimidated at polls or have problems voting, keep these numbers handy:

  • 866-Our-Vote (English)
  • 866-Ve-Y-Vota (Spanish)
  • 866-API-Vote (Asian Languages)

Find out more information at 866ourvote.org.

So let’s do our civic duty, submit out ballots, and participate in our electoral process.

Our Tarnished Colossus

Mother of Exiles

A New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s always good to be reminded of the actual poem that graces Lady Liberty. It’s easily my favorite verse in American history, and I think about it often. In my mind, there is nothing else that defines the hope of America quite like this poem.

Lately, I’ve seen discussion around an interview with some doofus where he twists Lazarus’ sacred words in a weak attempt to bolster cruel and un-American policies mainly rooted in fear. (It’s always fear.) I wish I could say, “we’re better than that,” and believe it. But, I’ve read enough history to know we’re not. That said, we can damn well try to be.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Throughout history, we can find examples of cartography used as aspirational propaganda. After all, land can be easily claimed on the map where it might be more challenging to hold in person. Countries can seem more significant with slight projection adjustments, and colonies can appear more populated and robust. 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple is the perfect example of this—laying out the intent of the British Empire and her colonies in the New World, rather than the realities of the time.

I love this map. It’s a deviation from standard styles of the 18th century that I haven’t seen before. It manages to capture the wildness of a new frontier (to European eyes at least) in ways that cartography of the old continent hadn’t done before. The map itself was huge—nearly eight feet square when assembled, and the level of detail wasn’t something I could just ignore. It’d be perfect for fantasy maps.

With that in mind, I am releasing Popple an enormous brush set with all of these beautiful details ready to be used in your fictional cartography. I think you’ll dig it.

Variety is what sold me. Each mountain and forest is one-of-a-kind, giving each area its own unique look. Plus it has wetlands! Swamps! Interestingly enough swamplands seem to be a rarity among historical maps—despite their near-ubiquitous presence in fantasy maps. (Guess we “blame” Tolkien for that?) One thing of note, it was challenging to determine what constitutes a town, or a city, or a farm. Since there was no key or legend, I made my best guesses based on my research. That said, you can use any of these signs however you like, my system is more to keep the brushes organized so you can find what you’re looking for when browsing.

Within Popple, you’ll discover over 400 brushes, including:

  • 20 Individual Habitations
  • 10 Double Habitations
  • 30 Grouped Habitations
  • 20 Small Towns
  • 3 Large Towns
  • 10 Small Cities
  • 30 Medium Cities
  • 15 Large Cities
  • 10 Huge Cities
  • 20 Missions
  • 20 Forts
  • 5 Border Forts (the sort you’d find along rivers)
  • 10 Tents
  • 6 Random Habitations
  • 30 Scrub Lands
  • 30 “Round” Forests
  • 30 “Tall” Forests
  • 30 Swamps
  • 40 Hills
  • 40 Mountains
  • 30 Mountain Ranges

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type, Settlements, Flora, Small Landforms, and Large Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD POPPLE


As with all of my previous brush sets, Popple is free for any use. I distribute it with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is technically a part of the license, I personally don’t give a damn. All I did was convert these into a modern brush format, Henry Popple and his crew did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to them.

Enjoy Popple! Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email 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.


🌏 Popple In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Popple. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Popple in use (Black and White)     Popple in use (Color)     Popple in use (Decorated)


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Popple brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When Old Broken Road, the second book in the series, launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world of the Territories, you can check it out here.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Popple isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy MapsDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes) Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your map’s cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


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Vote, America.

Vote 🗳

Today is November 6th, Election Day. If you’re a United States citizen, today is the day where we participate in our civic duty. For the last few decades, mid-term elections have been largely ignored by most of the population—turnout in 2014 midterm election was a pathetic 36.4%—and in recent years we’ve seen the results (or lack thereof) when people grow complacent and don’t engage in government. Every vote matters.


“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt


Please make time to vote. Most states require employers to give you paid time off to head to the polls, and in states that don’t have specific laws, you’ll find that employers often give you time off. (You can check which states have voting laws at vote411.com.)

I tweet this out often, but it’s important to remember that anyone trying to prevent or making it difficult for citizens to vote are the bad guys. Here in Washington State, we do all our voting by mail. It’s fantastic, and it prevents villains doing scummy things like moving polling places outside of a city or purging voter rolls. On the positive side, we also tend to have above-average voter turnout. Today, I was able to track my ballot online, and I’m proud to say my vote has been counted. It’s a good feeling.

Finally, remember that as an American citizen, no one has the right to stop you from voting. Your voice deserves to be counted. If you’re in line to vote when the polls close they are legally required to allow you to vote. If you’re intimidated at polls or have problems voting, keep these numbers handy:

  • 866-Our-Vote (English)
  • 866-Ve-Y-Vota (Spanish)
  • 866-API-Vote (Asian Languages)

Find out more information at 866ourvote.org.

Go vote. Make your voice heard.

William Pickens

Our Blindness

“To cheapen the lives of any group of men, cheapens the lives of all men, even our own. This is a law of human psychology, or human nature. And it will not be repealed by our wishes, nor will it be merciful to our blindness.”

William Pickens


A lot has been on my mind over the last three days. The hate on display in Charlottesville is the antithesis of the America I was raised to believe in, and it sickens me. In the aftermath of an event like this, a lackluster response those from those in power can resonate. It doesn’t take a decent person three days to solidify their opinion on racism, bigotry, and hate.

It can be disheartening to see failures in leadership, and that can bring about cycles of depression and despair. If you find yourself in those places, I would encourage you to stay strong. Do not lose hope. Get active. Be a help to the helpless, be a voice for the voiceless, and defend the defenseless. As I said in November last year: despair isn’t how you defeat evil. Action is.