de Fer Settlement: A Free 18th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

It’s been a while since I’ve share any new tools for fantasy cartographers. I released my last brush set way back in January. Since then I’ve been a little busy. I launched Gleam Upon the Waves, the fourth novel in my cosmic horror series (you should buy it!), expanded my “Old Haunts” project significantly, and since I was fully vaxxed I took some time after the launch to travel a bit. It was quite an eventful summer. But autumn has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, and I want to get back into the swing of things and continue supporting the community of fantasy cartographers—I’m long overdue for a new brush set.

Nicolas de Fer in all of his wiggy glory

Let’s fix that! Today I’m releasing the first in a collection of sets all coming from the same cartographer. Nicolas de Fer was a famous eighteenth century French engraver who eventually becoming the official geographer to the Spanish and French court. His work is stunning, and his styles varies depending on what he was depicting and/or plagiarizing. He also wasn’t the most accurate of cartographers. These days most of his work is viewed for its artistic merit as opposed to its historical accuracy. Think of him as a quantity over quality guy. Lucky for us, when it comes to fantasy maps, historical accuracy isn’t something with which we concern ourselves. Instead, we’re looking at signs and symbols that are unique and can help our work stand out while still feeling period-authentic, and de Fer’s work serves us well in that regard.

de Fer Settlement is the first of three planned sets I’ll be releasing. Each will highlight a different aspect of cartography. As the name implies, this first set is focused on settlements. Taken from La Banlieue De Paris—translated “The Suburbs of Paris”—the map is an 18th-century map of the homes, towns, and villages that sprawled across the Parisian countryside in 1717. It’s a diverse set with a lot of little details. While there isn’t much in the way of landforms or flora, the set will work well with any other brush sets I’ve released, allowing for a bit of variety in your fantasy maps. Don’t be afraid to mix-and-match to get the look you want!

The de Fer Settlement set features 300 brushes, and includes the following:

  • 50 Homesteads
  • 13 Mansions
  • 25 Villages
  • 50 Towns
  • 9 Combinations of the Above
  • 7 Unique Settlements
  • 12 Chapels
  • 2 Abbeys
  • 7 Churches
  • 10 Ferry Landings
  • 10 Water Mills
  • 10 Tiny Windmills
  • 35 Windmills
  • 6 Gallows
  • 2 Gibbets
  • 20 Crosses (The French loved erecting random crosses along the roadside.)
  • 5 Fields
  • 3 Big Trees
  • 20 Forests
  • 3 Map Elements

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 a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Remember, they’re black, so they’ll look broken viewed in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there.



As with all of my previous brush sets, de Fer Settlement 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. No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy de Fer Settlement? Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter or heck, leave a comment below. I adore seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers (let me know in your message.) Let us see what you make!


de Fer Settlements in Use

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Supporting this Work

If you like the de Fer Settlement brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror soaked dark urban fantasy novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit the Bell Forging Cycle hub to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

Hyacinth just one of many brush sets 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!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today→

Hyacinth: A 19th Century Mountain Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Hyacinth: A Free 19th Century Mountain Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

It’s not too often I delve into the world of 19th Century maps. In fact, this is my first 19th Century set. Don’t get me wrong, I adore maps from this era. Stylistically they’re often my favorites. But they’re not as easy to develop for brushes. By this time, most map styles had moved past the hill-profile approach fantasy fans are accustomed to seeing. (Thank Tolkien.) By the 1800s, cartography had embraced hachure relief. It was a style that would dominate until the late 19th Century and well into the early 20th Century when contour lines, hypsometric tints, and relief shading started to overtake it and become more prevalent. There are exceptions to every rule, and those deviations often produce unique results. Today’s set is born from one of those anomalies. Meet my newest free brush set, which I’m calling Hyacinth.

This set is based on an 1828 map of the road from Lhasa, Tibet, to Chengdu, China, created by the archimandrite monk Nikita Bichurin. Buchurin took on the monastic name “Hyacinth,” which is where today’s set pulls its name. It’s another stunner and a transitional example of cartographic evolution. You can still see the hill profile approach still present within the elevation, but there’s a shift happening. The technique has begun to adopt some of the aspects more commonly found in hachure relief. The result is beautiful and gives an illustrative quality to the more rigid approaches that will emerge in the future.

Hyacinth is a very focused set with 198 bushes. Don’t expect forests and swamps here. This is strictly focused on mountains with a small nod toward simple settlements. I’ve organized the landforms by size. Mountain Spurs are small mountain ranges less than 200px high or wide. Mountain Ranges extend between 200 and 600px. Large Mountain Ranges go well beyond. The three together should give you plenty of options to layout your mountains any way you want. The full set includes the following:

  • 50 Mountain Spurs
  • 80 Mountain Ranges
  • 13 Large Mountain Ranges
  • 4 Unique Landforms
  • 20 Villages
  • 20 Towns
  • 2 Cities
  • 5 Churches
  • 4 Unique Settlements

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 a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Remember, they’re black, so they’ll look broken viewed in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there.



As with all of my previous brush sets, Hyacinth 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. No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Hyacinth? Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter or heck, leave a comment below. I adore seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers (let me know in your message.) Let us see what you make!


Hyacinth in Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map, and you can see the results below. There are three versions, a black and white version, one colored, 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 own projects!

An example of Hyacinth in use (black and white)
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An example of Hyacinth in use (color)
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An example of Hyacinth in use (decorated)
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Supporting This Work

If you like the Hyacinth brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror soaked dark urban fantasy novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit the Bell Forging Cycle hub to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

Hyacinth just one of many brush sets 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!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today→

Raunch Review: Malazan Book of the Fallen

Raunch Review: Malazan Book of the Fallen

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Review: Malazan Book of the Fallen

The Author: Steven Erikson

Work in Question: Malazan Book of the Fallen Series

The Profanity: “Hood’s [Body Part]”


If there is one set of offensive language that has staying power, it’s oaths. Language changes far too often for slurs and expletives to have much impact after a few hundred years. Over time they tend to shift and change, losing their potency. But oaths stick around—especially blasphemous oaths. It doesn’t matter how you do it; if you insult someone’s deity or use its name in a profane way, you’re bound to spark emotion with its followers.

Enter Hood, God of Death and King of High House Death, from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. He becomes just one punching bag for various and extensive oaths throughout the series that mimic their cousins of the real-world Middle Ages. And I do mean extensive. “Hood’s bones” get discussed, “Hood’s fists” and “Hood’s feet” are evoked, “Hood’s breath” is mentioned. Of course, it wouldn’t be period-authentic oath-craft without mentioning “Hood’s [your reproductive organ of choice.]” But Hood is used in other places as well; there are Hood-centric curses like “Hood drag you down,” and a few Hood-focused expletives as well. (If you want to see the list, the Malazan Wiki goes into exhaustive detail.) The poor fellow can’t catch a break. Occasionally there are a few instances where the name is used oddly: “Shut the Hood up” or “Get(ting) the Hood out of here” are a few examples where the context doesn’t work. But those instances are fleeting and feel more like a character’s mistake rather than something inherent to standard use. In fact, there are so many other uses that it’s hard not to be impressed.

While I’d love to see more minced varieties of Hood-centric oaths in Malazan, this sort of language was prevalent in the Middle Ages. That makes these oaths and exclamations a solid example of period-authentic faux-profanity.

Final Score: 5.0


🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


Ende: A 17th/18th Century Littoral Edger for Your Fantasy Maps

Ever since I put together my tutorial on replicating hatched 18th-century coastlines, I knew it was merely a stopgap. After all, the whole point of #NoBadMaps is to empower anyone to create high-quality historically-infused maps quickly and efficiently. While following along through complex Photoshop procedures can get you there, it still takes a bit more effort than I wanted.

Today, I’m proud to release the next iteration of the hatched coastline—Ende—a totally-free brush set where you can just paint-in your hatches. No longer do you have to go through multiple panels and several steps to get what you want. If you can draw a line, you can hatch in your littoral edges. Simple as that. Here’s a quick video showing how it works.

Ende is named after the first Spanish female manuscript illuminator and one of the first female cartographers. She lived around 1000 A.D.—her work is early enough that it doesn’t lend itself to a very robust brush set. Something I talked about in detail recently. But I liked the idea of naming a mapping tool after her.

Using Ende is simple. Install the brush set. Select the brush size you want from the Brush palette and paint it in. It is designed for Photoshop but should work in GIMP or Affinity. (No promises. I don’t use either tool.) It’ll work the best living on its own layer behind a solid landmass layer. You can also try using the “Wet” setting if you want the brush to have a more inky feel. You can toggle that on and off in the Brush Settings Panel (F5) in Photoshop.

The set itself includes ten brushes—1-pixel through 5-pixels with standard and wide variants of each. The wide variants double the white space between lines. You can see an example of each brush below. I recommend using a brush that closely matches the average thickness of lines and strokes on your project so it will look the most natural.

Left to Right: 1px to 5px, Wide variant on bottom row

That’s it! An easy-to-use littoral edger for your fantasy map projects. Just click the button below to download Ende and quickly edge in your coastlines.



As with all of my previous brush sets, Ende 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 Ende? Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter or heck, leave a comment below. I adore seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers (let me know in your message.) Let us see what you make!


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like Ende (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror soaked dark urban fantasy novels. The first book in the series—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Learn more about the series by visiting the Bell Forging Cycle page.

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

Ende just one of twenty brush sets 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!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today→

A detailed image of Pietro Vesconte’s world map

Why Early Cartography Doesn’t Work Well for Fantasy Maps

I got message in my inbox the other daaaaay…

“I’d love to see something from the Late Medieval or even Crusades period. Does the dearth of material from those eras prevent or make such a project more difficult? Are you simply uninterested?”

It’s a great question and one I’ve received several times in the last few years. The answer is longer and more complicated than it should be. We’re dealing with history and history is always messier than we’d like. Plus, I think it’s interesting enough that everyone will appreciate why I seem to ignore the Middle Ages’ maps in favor of later sources.

Also I blame Tolkien.

Strap in, cowpokes—I’m going history nerd on y’all.

Technology, Cartography, and Fan Expectations

We need to begin with technology. The proliferation of maps didn’t commence until after the printing press became ubiquitous. That’s why we have such an explosion of content after the 15th century. Before then, maps were all hand-made. Reproduction was difficult. You don’t find as many maps from those early eras, and often the maps you do find are reproductions done in a later style. That’s not to say they don’t exist, they’re just much different than the maps that came later, and they don’t correlate with what we think of as a map.

Then there’s the fan experience and the modern fan’s expectation. Fantasy maps serve a story, after all, and most fans want certain things from the map. Locations, distance, landforms, perhaps even enough to understand the climate. But the era of your typical fantasy novel is often set much earlier than the era of the printing press. (Yeah. Sure. It’s fantasy. And yeah, sure, you can fudge it.) But this is where it gets complicated.

In many ways, Tolkien is the one who set the expectation for fantasy fans. His famous map of Middle Earth, the one we all know and love, is more akin to cartography from the 16th, 17th, or 18th century than one from the Middle Ages. While it’s easy to point fingers, the reality is there is a good reason for his decision.

The art from the Middle Ages was weird.

Have you ever spent time looking at Western art from the Middle Ages at a museum? Notice how it’s always a little goofy? A bit off? Strange angles. Weird faces. There’s a flatness to everything. Eyes are looking in different directions. The artist had no idea what a cat looked like. The baby Jesus on Mary’s lap looks like a 34-year-old man. Camels look like horses and horses like goats. Trees are rendered oddly, and buildings are even odder. Art at this time was in its infancy and it’s like that with the cartography as well.

Let’s look at a few examples to see what I mean.


10th Century – Ende’s Map of the World – 975 A.D.

Most Western cartographers from the Middle Ages were monks, or in Ende’s case, a nun. The maps they made were often crafted alongside, or as a part of, “illumination” for religious manuscripts. Religious zeal tended to dominate many of those early Western works, making them almost useless as maps.

This “map of the world” is an excellent example of that fervor. It’s sparse, with more effort spent on the Garden of Eden cartouche than detailing the geography. It’s far different from the detailed maps we expect from our modern fantasy novels. Yet, the era it was created, the late 10th-century, is more often than not closer in era to our crafted fantasy worlds.


12th Century – Al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana – 1154 A.D.

During the 10th century, most of the progression in the science of geography and cartography was coming from the Middle East. Most of our modern understanding of mathematics and science is rooted in discoveries from the early Muslim world. Cartography is no different.

Muhammad al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana is one of my favorite pieces from those times and is largely considered the height of early Muslim cartography. While this work is rendered upside down, with North being at the bottom (not uncommon for Middle Ages work), the map itself is incredibly accurate—while scale is still being sussed out, it’s easy to spot recognizable landforms.

It’s also stunning.

Colorful mountain ranges dance across beige landforms, green lakes and seas drain into rivers, which in turn empty into the deep blue swaths of open ocean. It makes for a beautiful piece of history. While you can see the roots for the hill-profile style that would become the norm in later centuries, it’s quite different from maps we find in the opening pages of a novel. Everything here is a bit flashy, more like a painting—whereas, with later maps, engravers began using the symbols we expect. The map itself shifted in later years to become a tool for the commoner, not a piece of art for a fancy king named Roger.


13th Century – Matthew Paris’s Britain – 1259-ish A.D.

The other approach we find in the Middle Ages was more typographical. Take this 13th-century map of the British Isles from the Benedictine Monk Matthew Paris. It’s not bogged down in religious fervor the way Ende’s map was—but it’s also not as detailed as one would expect.

There are only a few signs and symbols, and much of the heavy lifting is done with text. Beyond the coastline, there is very little in the way of landforms. No flora is present. No mountains—well, maybe one mountain. Few rivers. And this is the 13th Century! We’re nearly three hundred years after Ende crafted her map, and still two hundred years before duel-beard wielding Johannes Gutenberg would invent his printing press. And etching—the process that rendered many of the maps that influence fantasy cartography today—wouldn’t show up on the scene until seventy-five years after that.

But you can see the origins of what was to come. You can see symbols begin to creep into the idea of a map. You can see where cartography is going.


I once read an article that compared these early maps to “storytelling” rather than representations of geography. This was undoubtedly the case in Western cartography during the Middle Ages. These maps serve to enforce a narrative. But beyond that narrative, most are unusable. They’re paintings. Piece of art. They’re not tools. We see more cartouches and illustrations than useful signs and representational symbols. This is why I avoid using these as a base. There aren’t enough signs to make a robust set, and the signs and symbols that exist are very limited. This is why early cartography and Middle Ages’ sources won’t make practical brush sets.

The Silver Lining

I don’t think all hope is lost. While it’s theorized to be a bit earlier than the Middle Ages, I think there’s potential for some sort of set to come from the Tabula Peutingeriana, an early map of the Roman Empire.

I’m not sure how effective it’d be from a landform-perspective, but there are so many variances in the Roman settlements that I could see it working for the right project. The trick will be finding a decent source, it’s been reproduced so many times and every time there are slight variations. Plus, I’ll need to dust off my High-School Latin before I tackle it.

There’s also an opportunity with some of Sebastian Münster’s or Girolamo Ruscelli’s work. It’s early as far as the hill-profile style goes, but it somehow feels older even though both are from the 16th century. The downside is most of the individual maps are fairly light in the number of symbols present, so I’ll need to pull from multiple sources. Unfortunately, neither did an outstanding job maintaining a uniform size with their signs or keeping line strokes consistent. Not impossible to overcome, but it is time-consuming.

In Conclusion

There are going to projects that will benefit from the earlier styles of cartography. The maps I shared are stunning and fantastic pieces of history. Creating in-era ephemera can add a level of authenticity to a story, and any of the pieces I shared would be great to replicate for the right project. But for those, I think proper illustration goes a lot further than trying to shoehorn brush sets into cartographic development. In those cases, one would be better off hiring an illustrator.

I design my brushes to help non-designers create period-authentic maps. For the vast majority of fantasy projects, I think mimicking the hill-profile style will satisfy fans. Tolkien chose it for a reason. It’s easy to wrap your head around and still feels properly antiquated even if it doesn’t precisely match era to era. It’s become the defacto fantasy style, and for a fantastical world, and you know what? That’s more than acceptable.


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today→

My Fantasy Map Brushes Have a New Home

Quick update since I’ve been moving stuff around.

When I started #NoBadMaps and began releasing my brush sets, I didn’t expect them to explode in popularity the way they have. (My traffic has tripled in the last year.) As the project has expanded over the last few years, my Free Stuff page has become a bit overwhelmed. It was high time to move my brushes to their own location.

As of today, all my brush sets are now located on the new Fantasy Map Brushes page! I know a lot of sites have linked to my Free Stuff page, so I’ll keep a handy reminder there for a while. You can also access the page via the Free Stuff dropdown in the main navigation. Not much has changed visually or functionally, but I am starting to brainstorm a new way to layout the sets and make it a little easier to find the right brushes for your cartography project.

Continue to enjoy the brush sets! Please share what you create. Send me an email or find me on Twitter or heck, leave a comment below. I adore seeing how these brushes get used.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.