Thursday, December 3, 2020

Knurden Style: Overview (Part 1)

 I recently came across a map on Cartographer's Guild I liked quite a bit:  The Kingdom of Knurden by Daniel Hasenbos.  I've followed Daniel for a while and he's an excellent artist.  This map has an almost “comic book" style that blends bright primary colors with simple, bold graphical representations for forests and mountains:

(There are really two different styles on this map, because Daniel has rendered the northern part of the map quite differently, but I'm focused on the southern part as shown above.)

This is quite different from the styles that Dragons Abound currently implements, so I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to reproduce this style.  There are a number of different design elements that contribute to the overall style, and I'll be implementing them piecemeal over the following blog posts, but I wanted to start with a high-level analysis of some of the most interesting elements.

Hills and mountains both are represented by simple shaded, rounded vee shapes:

The inside of the mountain shape has two shading areas, based upon the background color.  The lighter shaded area is to the “lit" side of the mountain and is typically smaller; it is a rounded rectangle that starts at the top of the mountain (extending down a bit on the unlit side) and runs parallel to the line that defines the lit side of the mountain.  The darker shaded area is below the lighter shaded area and to the “unlit" side of the mountain.  Hills are simply small versions of the larger mountains.

Overall, the design of the mountains is simple, but creates a pleasing sense of perspective and mass.  Especially where the mountains overlap, the shading creates a nice illusion of depth.  The rounded shapes used for both the mountain outline and the shading give the mountains a smooth contour that suggests welcoming old mountains worn down by erosion and time.  (In contrast, the mountains in the northern part of the map are shown as sharp, connected ridges that seem much more forbidding.)

Forests are represented by masses outlined by individual trees:

The individual trees are simple upright ovals, with a two-tone shading scheme very similar to the mountains.  There is a highlight on the top and lit side of the tree, and a bigger shadow on the unlit side of the tree.  Unlike the mountains, the trees also cast a gray shadow on the ground.  (Which, oddly, doesn't seem to quite align with the highlights.)  A forest is depicted as a circle of these individual trees, with the interior filled with a formless color.  In this color there are two types of decorations.  The first are blotches of the tree highlight and shadow colors, as if you were glimpsing tree shapes within the undifferentiated mass.  The second are disconnected tops of individual trees, as if they were sticking up from the undifferentiated mass.  In addition to the forest mass, there are individual trees scattered nearby.

The design of the forests is more complex than the mountains.  The use of small individual elements within the forests (as well as the decorations) produces a textured feel that the mountains lack, but the use of the same highlighting scheme makes them harmonious with the mountains.  Of all the elements on the map, only the trees and forest shapes cast a shadow.  This makes them seem more representational and distinct than the other elements.  (The city icons in particular seem flat and symbolic in comparison.)  Depicting the interior of the forests as a solid mass gives the impression of a dense, thick, unrelieved forest, particularly in comparison to the individual trees scattered about the edges of the forests.  The line of individual trees around the edge of the forest creates a very specific demarcation.  There's no gradual transition from grasslands to forest, but rather an abrupt transformation.

Something I haven't seen before is the land texture:

Horizontal strokes of lighter and darker colors have been added to a base color to create a land texture.  The color differences are subtle but it adds some interest to what would otherwise seem very flat.

The treatment of the coast line also features something I haven't seen before:

Like many maps, the water features some closely placed wave lines.  But there's also a wandering, fanciful line on the inside of the coastline.  This line loosely follows the coast, occasionally interrupted by a bigger “loop".  The coastline also features a small shading line underneath this line.

The upper part of this map transitions into a realm of snow and ice that is also imaginatively drawn but I'll focus on the lower part of the map.  In the following posts I'll try to capture something of the flavor of this map by implementing some of these features.


  1. I'm assuming you also saw the bigger world map mentioned here:

    Might show some of the same elements in slightly different contexts…