Monday, February 11, 2019

Map Borders (Part 1)

A major element of fantasy maps that's been on my list to tackle for some time are borders.  Functional maps typically have a simple neatline to define the map, but fantasy maps and the medieval maps from which they borrow ideas often have fairly elaborate and often artistic borders.  These borders help frame (sic) a map as being intentionally fantastical and instill in the viewer a sense of wonder.

Currently Dragons Abound has a couple of simple ways to draw borders.  It can draw a single or double line around the perimeter of the map, and add some simple corner elements, as in these examples:
Dragons Abound can also add a box at the bottom of the border for the title of the map.  Dragons Abound has several variants for this box, including some fanciful elements like faux screw heads:
There's some variation in these caption boxes, but it's all hand-crafted.   

One of the interesting aspects of fantasy map borders is that they're simultaneously creative and formulaic.  They're often made up of a small number of simple elements combined in a variety of ways to create a unique result.  As always, my first step in tackling a new topic is to look through my collection of reference maps and catalog the kinds of border elements they have and look at how they are used.

The simplest border is just a single line around the edge of the map to indicate its limits.  As I mentioned earlier, this is also called a neatline:

A variant is to place the border within the map extent.  In this version, the map extends to the edge of the image, but the border provides a virtual frame inside the image:
This can be done with any sort of border, but it's typically only used with simple borders like a neatline.

One popular conceit for fantasy maps is to present them as if they are drawn on an old, tattered parchment.  Sometimes this is done by drawing the border as the irregular edge of the paper:

Here's a more sophisticated example:
In my experience, this is less common since digital tools have become the norm.  If you want your map to look like it is on old tattered parchment, it's easier to overlay it on a parchment texture than to hand-draw the same thing.

Repetition is the most powerful tool in map border design.  In the simplest case, the single border line is repeated to create two lines:

Interest can be added by varying the style of the repeated element, in this case by combining a thick single line with a thin single line:

Depending upon the element, there are different style variations possible.  In this example, a line is repeated but the color is changed:

Repeated repetition (sic) can be used to create more complex patterns.  This border has five or so single lines of different widths and spacing:

This border repeats lines but separates them in a way that makes them look like two separate thin borders.  Although I'm not going to talk much about corner treatments in this posting, the different corners for the two lines also help create this distinction.
Is this two lines, four lines, or six lines?  Depends on how you draw it, I suppose!

Another styling element is to fill the space between elements with color, pattern or texture.  In this example, a border is made more interesting by filling between two lines with an accent color:
Here's an example where the border has been filled with a pattern:

Elements can also be styled to look three dimensional.  Here's a map where a border has been shaded to make it look three dimensional:

In this map, the border is shaded to look three dimensional, and this is combined with placing the border inside the map's edge:

Another common border element is a scale in the form of alternating bars:
These bars form an implicit grid (or graticule).  On real maps the scale was intended to help estimate distances, although in fantasy maps they're usually just a decorative element.  

These bars are most often shown as black and white, but sometimes red or another color is incorporated:

Again, this element can be combined with other elements, as in this example with lines and a scale:
This example is a little unusual.  Normally the scale (if present) is the innermost element of the border.

This map has multiple scales at different resolutions (as well as some odd runic markings!):
(Over on Reddit, AbouBenAdhem informed me that the odd runic markings are the numbers 48 and 47 in Babylonian cuneiform. Also, the “scales at different resolutions” have six divisions and ten subdivisions, reflecting the Babylonian sexagesimal number system.  Normally I try to cite my map sources, but for this posting I have so many small clips that I did not make the effort.  But this map is by Thomas Rey for the author S.E. Boleyn, so perhaps there is a Babylonian background in his novels.)

Beyond lines and scales, the most common element is a repeated geometric pattern.  These are often composed of elements such as circles, diamonds and rectangles:

Just as lines can be shaded to look three-dimensional, so can these geometric elements.  Here's a border that combines lines, fill and three-dimensional geometric elements:

Complex borders can be created by combining these elements in different ways.  Here's a border that combines lines, geometric patterns and a scale:

The examples I've shown so far are all digital maps, but of course you can do the same things with hand-drawn maps.  Here's an example of a simple hand-drawn geometric pattern:

Again, these elements can be flexibly combined in different ways.  Here's a geometric pattern combined with the “torn edge":

In the examples above, the geometric pattern is fairly simple.  But it's certainly possible to create very complex patterns by combining the basic geometric elements in different ways:

Another popular pattern element is a braid or Celtic knot:

Here's a more complex braided border that incorporates color, scales and other elements:

On this map, a braid is combined with a torn edge element:

Beyond geometric patterns and braids, almost any repeating pattern can be part of a map border.  Here's an example which incorporates some arrowhead shapes:

And here's one that has a repeating wave pattern:

Finally, fantasy maps sometimes incorporate runes or other fantasy alphabet elements into the borders: 

The examples I've used so far all come from modern fantasy maps, but here's an example from an historical (1700s) map that has lines and a hand-drawn pattern:

Of course you can find example maps with many other elements in their borders.  Some of the most beautiful are entirely hand illustrated with such elaborate decorations they threaten to overwhelm the map itself (World of Alma, by Francesca Baerald):

It's also worthwhile to talk a bit about symmetry.  Like repetition, symmetry is a powerful pattern feature, and map borders are usually symmetrical or have symmetrical elements.

Many map borders are symmetrical from inside to outside, as in this example:

The border here is made up of a number of filled and unfilled lines, but from outside to inside it repeats perfectly around the center of the border.

In this more complex example, the border is symmetric except for the alternating black and white scale:

Because it doesn't make sense to duplicate the scale, it is often treated as a separate element even if the rest of the border is symmetrical.

Beyond the inside to outside symmetry, borders are often repetitively symmetrical along their length.  Some illustrated borders might have a single design that stretches the whole length of the map's edge, but in most cases the pattern is fairly short and repeats to fill the border from one corner to the next:

Note that in this example that the pattern contains elements that are not (left to right) symmetric, but that the whole pattern is symmetric and repeated:


One notable exception to this rule are borders filled with runes or alphabetic characters.  These are often unique, as if there was some long message in the border:


Of course there are many other examples of map border elements that I haven't included here, but this is a good starting point.  In the next several postings I'll develop some capabilities in Dragons Abound to describe, display and procedurally generate map borders similar to these examples.  I'll start in the next posting by defining a language for describing map borders.

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