Ishikawa: A Free 17th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps 

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.

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

If you like the Ishikawa brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work or just help cover the cost of hosting, 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. They make great gifts. Visit the Bell Forging Cycle hub to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle

Buy me a coffee?

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support the #NoBadMaps project or help pay for hosting these brushes? Why not buy me a coffee?

More Map Brushes

Ishikawa is just one of many brush sets I’ve released over the years. You can find it and other free brushes covering various 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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Friday Link Pack 11-13-2015

Friday Link Pack 11/13/2015

It’s Friday! That means it’s time for the Friday Link Pack, my weekly post covering topics such as writing, art, current events, and random weirdness. Some of these links I mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…


The New Intimacy Economy
Lately, Facebook, Uber, and many other startups try to infer a close intimacy with their users. Meanwhile, Hollywood stars also dabble in the ‘intimacy valuation market’ feigning at friendships. In this great write-up, Leigh Alexander explores the concept that in reality,  every content creator is now a community manager.

World Fantasy Award Drops H.P. Lovecraft As Prize Image
As a guy who writes cosmic horror inspired by the creations of Lovecraft, my feed lit up this week when this news broke. Some people were upset; others were ecstatic. In the end the reality is: it’s not a big deal. This decision doesn’t effect Lovecraft’s popularity, influence, or legacy anymore or any less. If anything, as author Anne M. Pillsworth pointed out on Twitter, “I think no one author can comprehensively represent a genre, any genre, so I’m good.” I’m good, too.

Can You Promote A Book Without Making Yourself Miserable?
Eventually, everyone has to promote their book, that goes for both indie and traditionally published authors. The process is time-consuming, exhausting, and it can be miserable. To that end, Jane Friedman explores the question we’ve all been wondering.

Genre Snobbery Is A ‘Bizarre Act Of Self-Mutilation.’
In this interview with Wired, author David Mitchell discusses how books transcend genre despite people intentions to pigeon hole them, the influence of Ursula K. LeGuin on his writing, the creative boon of Dungeons and Dragons for writers, and the future.

Signed Copies Of Red Litten World Are Back!
Yep! If you’ve been waiting to get a signed paperback of Red Litten World, your wait is over. Signed copies are back in my store.


The Art Of Katharine Morling
Working in ceramics Morling’s work takes simple two dimension sketches and renders them in the third dimension. Excellent pieces, I especially love the matchbook.

The Art Of Oscar Gregeborn
The detailed digital art of Gregborn looks more like some intense and complex watercolor. His work explores strange landscapes that look as vibrant and detailed as it does alien.

Marc Da Cunha Lopes’ HPL Series
Influenced by Lovecraft, this beautiful series of photographs reflect his work, but with a twist. I love the last photo; it reminds me of a cephel from my series. (It’s also the image featured at the top of this post!)


The Abandoned Buildings Of The Eastern Bloc
Explorations of abandoned and crumbling buildings of the former German Democratic Republic left after the Soviet’s reign. Haunting and strangely similar to the world of Fallout 4.

Living La Vida Loca In Japan
A cartoonist documents his friends trip to Japan. Wonderfully charming.

MIT’s Weird Snake Bot Could Be The Future Of UI
A transforming robot that can mimic the touch points of any interface and become whatever its user needs on a whim. Strange but… oddly cool?

Stefano Boeri’s “Vertical Forest” Nears Completion In Milan
There has been a lot of exploration in the vertical garden, serving various needs. Stefano Boeri’s take combines the mass of trees one would find in one hundred acres and lays them out vertically. Love seeing stuff like this, I hope this works out.


Loveland Frog
“The Loveland Frog (aka the Loveland Lizard) is a legendary humanoid frog described as standing roughly 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, allegedly spotted in Loveland, Ohio. A local man reported seeing three froglike men at the side of the road in 1955, and a police officer claimed to have seen a similar creature on a bridge in the city in 1972.


What The Moon Brings
In this very short story, (like… it’ll take you two minutes to read) the narrator takes a peculiar walk under an even peculiar moon.



Friday Link Pack 09/04/2015

Friday Link Pack 09/04/2015

Hellllloooo Friday! It’s time for the Friday Link Pack. Some of these links I’ve mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…


Letting Go
I absolutely loved this post from Hugh Howey about the death of characters we love, the impact on readers, and how death is often cheapened by return after return after return. I’ve always struggled with media that treats death like that. (Looking at you comic books.)

How Podium Publishing Discovered The Martian Before Hollywood
A lot of folks aren’t aware that The Martian (soon to be a major motion picture) was initially an independently published novel. This article from Becky Robertson looks into the sci-fi novels rise though its audio book and a well-timed deal. [Thanks to Lola for sharing this with me.]

3 Million Judgements Of Books By Their Covers
Judgey allows users to judge books by only their covers and then compares those judgments to the Goodreads score. (It’s fun. Try it.) Anyway, this article reveals some interesting data collected after 3 million judgments. [Thanks to Ben for submitting this.]

Omby for iOS
Take one part Moby Dick, and one part word jumble and you have an addicting little puzzle game for iOS. Omby takes the entire text of Melville’s classic and turns it into a fun puzzler. It’s a lot more challenging than I expected. [Thanks to Steve for this submission]

On October 6th, It’s Time To Return To Lovat
Yesterday I announced the release date for my next novel, Red Litten World. I also released a sample chapter, which you can read here, and you can already preorder it on Amazon. Really looking forward to getting this out in the hands of my readers. I think you’ll love it.


Kari-Lise Alexander Paints Nordic Beauties In “A Lovelorn Theft”
Kari-Lise’s latest solo show opens next weekend at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. The show runs September 12th through October 3rd. (We’ll, be there opening night. If you live in the area come on by and say hello.) In this post, High Fructose highlights many of the pieces from the upcoming show. After watching this series develop over the last six months, I’m excited to see it out in the wild. I’m really proud of her. I’m sure you’ll agree, this recent series is absolutely gorgeous.

What If Edward Gorey Illustrated Lovecraft?
John Kenn Mortensen is a Danish illustrator and children’s television producer whose illustrative style is reminiscent of Edward Gorey. Lovecraft eZine editor-in-chief Mike Davis looks at some of Mortensen’s more Lovecraftian illustrations.

Japanese Artist Places A Modern Spin On Old Woodblock Prints
I thought these animated gifs were pretty charming. Artist Segawa thirty-seven takes old woodblock prints and with the use of technology adds a bit of animation. They’re fun. You can see more work here.


HD Civil War Maps
I am an enormous fan of Ken Burns. (Seriously. Ask Kari-Lise. It’s a problem.) Recently PBS has released an HD version of his The Civil War documentary series. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it, it’s incredible. I’ve watched it at least ten times.) Included with the HD update was an update to the wonderful maps used through the series, some of which you can view here.

What This Cruel War Was Over
I’ve been reflecting and researching the American Civil War a lot over the last few months. I thought this write-up from The Atlantic explaining the Confederate cause with their own words was poignant. Next time someone tries to tell you the war wasn’t about slavery, send them this.

Japan Just Created A Google Street View For Cats
Yep. Japan. Yep. Cats. I mean, are we really surprised anymore? [Thanks to Kayetlin for sending this my way.]

12 Lost American Slangisms From The 1800s
I’m not going to tell you a thumper and I hope this post isn’t too high for anyone’s nut, but the bottom fact is these old slang terms are some pumpkins. Heck, you could say the whole post is a lally-cooler.


Sedlec Ossuary
“The Sedlec Ossuary (Czech: Kostnice v Sedlci) is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints (Czech: Hřbitovní kostel Všech Svatých) in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. It is one of twelve World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose bones have in many cases been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel. The ossuary is among the most visited tourist attractions of the Czech Republic, attracting over 200,000 visitors annually.”


The Music of Erich Zann
A student befriends a strange old musician who plays a viola da gamba and discovers that his otherworldly rhythms and melodies are more than they seem and could lead to some terrifying places.


you say tomato...