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In response to a couple of requests, I've put together a video tutorial that can walk you through how to make a terrain map out of an astronomical object like a nebula, the Milky Way, or another galaxy. I suggest you watch it with closed captions on.

I hope you like it!
"What's your rate for commissions?" It's a simple question with a complicated answer. For a product like the best maps I've done to date, I'd likely charge hundreds of dollars. For a simple, smaller map, I might charge as little as $50. If you want a specific quote, you'll have to answer these questions:

1. How big do you want the map to be? I do most of my work in GIMP, a bitmap editor, so the first thing I need to know is the dimensions of the final product (number of pixels by number of pixels). Bigger maps tend to take more work and more time. The biggest ones I've made to date are maps like my Upper Peninsula map. I could go bigger, if you want something like a large poster, but that will involve a lot more work, and it will cost more.

2. How much information do you want the map to show? Do you want it in color with different climates? If so, how many climate zones do you want? Do you want forests that stand out like my Atlantis map? How much labeling do you want? Do you want regional or national borders? The more of these details I work in, the higher the price.

3. How much custom work do you want? Do you want special icons, heraldry, a compass rose, and a frame custom-made to help establish a theme for the map? These can add a lot to a map and make it stand out, but they take time and will likely cost you more. My Regnum map is a good example of a map with lots of customization.

4. Do you want the map to match a pre-existing map?
If so, how closely do you want me to match the reference? Close re-creations like my Post-Apocalyptic Middle East map are tricky. Getting a rough render of the topography isn't difficult, if you just want the mountain ranges in the same areas and have the rivers loosely follow the flow of the major rivers in the source map. Making individual mountains and rivers match up precisely is a lot harder, requiring me to do a lot of terrain sculpting. The closer you want the map to match the reference, the more time it will take.

5. How many versions of the map do you want?
In general, I create 2 versions of every map I make. One is an un-marked render of the bare physical geography, while the other includes icons, labels, political boundaries, and everything else I like to throw in. If you want more versions with special overlays, or versions of the map that show changes over time or from some special event (a meteor impact destroys Spain, Rise of the Crab People, whatever), that will take more time/cost, depending on the complexity of the changes.

6. How do you want to handle rights, licensing, and distribution? Do you want a lifelong license to use, distribute, and publish the map, or do you want the copyright? Getting the copyright will cost you more. If you're keeping the copyright, will you give me a license to sell prints of the map?

7. How soon do you want the map? My biggest maps generally take a month or so. If you need it sooner, I can speed up the process by a week or two, but that will cost more.
I started making art in earnest about a year and a half ago. I had finished a novel manuscript, and I wanted to try my hand at creating some maps.  Here are my first attempts,  made with Photoshop Elements:
Part 1 Map by Will-Erwin Cover Draft by Will-Erwin

These were actually the second or third drafts. I put an embarrassing amount of time into detailing them. I hadn't read any guides to speak of, I just figured I'd give a go. Some friendly deviants suggested I look around at some of the other maps and try experimenting with different styles.

As I looked around DeviantArt, I realized that I needed to up my game. I learned to play with filters and read through a tutorial or two. I started making maps like this:
Revised Part 2 Map by Will-Erwin   and this:    Color Cover by Will-Erwin

I was starting to realize what I could do with some of this graphics software. I started getting active with the Cartographers Guild, where a nice guy named Arsheesh, who offered very helpful suggestions and guides. By following his tutorials, I created the first map that I felt confident about:

Kiridin Lands Complete by Will-Erwin
This map kindled a creative flame within me. I found myself learning how to draw vector icons in Inkspace to go into my maps, like these:
Monochrome Icon Collection by Will-Erwin
I also branched out and tried some other programs, like Lego Digital Designer: Black Templar Sword Brethren by Will-Erwin

But really, the maps remain my central artistic focus. Every time I make one, I learn something new, and I try something new. Sometimes I get tips and pointers that help me with future maps, sometimes I get little pats on the back, like having my map added to a favorite collection or getting put on someone's watch list. The neatest pats on the back, though, come from when someone I've never met tells me about a personal reaction they have to it, like a few Michiganders who can see their hometowns on this post-apocalyptic map:
 Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Rifts RPG) by Will-Erwin

Connections like that are what makes this site such a great place for artists and art-fans. They're what keep bringing me back here. Even if I'm not actively making or posting new art, I see such a wealth of creativity and technique among the Deviants that I can't help but look at some beautiful art every day, and tell the artist who created it why I'm so glad they chose to share it with the world.

What I'm trying to say is, thank you, DeviantArt creators, for creating a virtual space where people the world over can come together to create and appreciate art. My world is a better place for it. 14 years is a long time to stick around in the age of the Internet, and I hope you stick around for many more years to come.
Until a few days ago, I had a lot of problems browsing DeviantArt. I have pretty good antivirus and malware protection that was warning me regularly of malicious code attacks. I had pop-up tabs opening periodically to some very shady websites. The video ads sucked up so much memory and processing speed that I was constantly having to stop scripts.  The audio starts up randomly, which is irritating when you have multiple tabs open and don't know which one is causing problems. I often just gave up and turned the speakers off entirely.

As irritating as these issues are, these ads are causing very serious problems for DeviantArt users who aren't paying up for Premium. xDizzyChanx has a good overview of the very real threats of viruses, adware, and malware. Though I respect that DeviantArt has expenses that need to be paid, the browsing irritation and security threats created by these advertisements go far beyond what I consider reasonable for any reputable website.

I complained about this last week on one of DeviantArt's announcements which asks us to report individual ads that are causing problems. The problem, as I see it, wasn't any one individual ad causing an odd problem here and there. Rather, it's a systemic cancer of many ads that are making it harder to post, view art, and network. This advertising is actively working against the driving purpose of DeviantArt.

After seeing my complaint, Tanner28 introduced me to Adblock Plus. I was skeptical at first, as I'd had some bad experiences with ad blockers several years back, but I gave it a try. It makes a huge difference. Pages load quickly and aren't crashing Firefox. DeviantArt is behaving like the website it's designed to be. I can't speak for all software and hardware combinations, but for Firefox on my machine, this program has cut my frustrations way back.

I don't think ad-blocking software is a great long-term solution for the site or the community. DeviantArt needs to pay its bills, and I think they should get compensated for providing, maintaining, and upgrading this website. When they get their act together, I'll gladly consider dropping the adblock for their website. Until then, they'll get no more ad-bot revenue from me.
I've had a few people suggest that I should try putting some of these maps into some sort of global plot. It's actually very easy to do, and it takes less than 2 minutes to pop a map in if you already have Google Earth. Here's a step-by-step guide for adding my Atlantis map:

1. Zoom all the way in on the map of your choice. Right click it, and select "Copy". Open up Paint. Hit "Paste". Save this file to your desktop.
1. a. If you use the final map with the icons and stuff, and not the bare one, then I recommend that you crop the frame off. You can do this by opening the image in paint, using the "select" tool, and dragging diagonally across so that you select everything but the frame. Cut this, open a new paint file, and paste. Then save.
2. Open Google Earth. Make sure that the "Borders and Labels" layer box is checked.
3. Zoom in on the North Atlantic. You want Bermuda and the Azores to just be visible. Double click the "N" on the navigation tool in the upper-right hand corner to make sure that north is up.
4. From the top menu, select Add > Image Overlay. Hit "Browse" and select the map file on your desktop.
5. After a few moments, the map will appear on the view. Do NOT close the New Image Overlay interface yet. Grab the top bar of the interface and move it off to the side.
6. The map should be in roughly the right place and at roughly the right size, but it won't be exact. Now you need to grab and drag the yellow corners of the map to make it match real-life places. Fortunately, the map has three handy reference points: Bermuda, the Azores, and Nova Scotia. Move the corners around until the real-life points match up well with the map points. This won't be exact, but it should be fairly close.
7. Once you're satisfied, close the "New Image Overlay".

Here's an example of the result.

I tend to perk up whenever I hear words and phrases such as "always," "never," "zero tolerance," "everything," "nothing," "100%," and "no matter what." I hear these sorts of words and phrases on a daily basis. Most of the time, they aren't meant to be taken to their literal meaning. Rather, they're meant to emphasize the importance of the subject.

Unfortunately, I often see these words taken literally. Leaders who swear they'll "never" cave on an issue (and mean it) get so myopic that they drive their own cherished organizations (or countries) to ruin. "Zero tolerance" for nonviolent drug offenses crowds prisons with lengthy minimum sentences and hefty operating costs. 100% participation in one task means that other tasks (which may be far more important) get shelved.

Take the United States Air Force (of which I am not, nor have been, a member). One of their values is "Excellence in all we do." It sounds good, but what happens when you actually try to put that into practice? Everything becomes a "key task", and priorities go out the window. The day-to-day work diverts from what's important to what's public. The mission gets sacrificed on the altar of excellence.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how their nuclear missile community got so screwed up. "Excellent at everything" got dialed up to "perfection at everything." This required a skillset so narrow and specialized that there were few opportunities for promotion. Sound appealing? For years, the Air Force told this dead-end-job community of people that they had to be perfect at every task, every day, and that any defect or failure meant they got fired. Then they compounded that by shrinking the force, laying off people who hadn't done anything wrong. They did this for years.  I'm not excusing the cheating, the lying, or the cover-ups. Heads are (metaphorically) rolling now, and the extensive rot in that community is being exposed and excised. That said, the Air Force is reaping what it sowed, and what it continues to sow with their wrong-headed philosophy.

Thankfully, art is more forgiving and far less consequential, but I still find that I get too focused on trivial details, losing track of the big picture. My most-recent map took me about 24 days to make from start to finish, taking up most of my free time. As I explore new techniques with each map, I really need to find some ways to streamline my techniques.

As A smart man I know likes to say, "Perfection is the enemy of good enough".
Sometimes I have a hard time putting a mapping project down and calling it "done". Shoot, sometimes I have a hard time just calling a step complete. This is particularly true when I'm sculpting topography for a map. There's always another touch here and there to add: a ridge that's too smooth, a desert or grassland that's too bumpy, a valley that doesn't quite look right.

I'm generally happy with the little extras I throw in. Sometimes I discover little tricks this way: how to shoe-horn WILBUR's incise flow erosion feature to make it draw rivers where I want them, how to give grasslands and deserts an eroded, windswept look, or how to blend in another map of the same area that I've done at a different scale.

Still, I seem to hit a wall after a day or two. After that, I just get too eager to move on to the next step, so I can see the final product in all its glory. This, by the way, is why I don't do much with city maps; the prospect of customizing and positioning hundreds (or, for a proper city, thousands) of buildings makes me shudder.

Of course, as a hobbyist, it's easy enough to let my gut be my guide. I'd be curious to know how the pros gauge how to know when it's time to move on.
I used to play around with Photoshop Elements. I got it with my laptop for a "special deal" of 70 bucks. I toyed around with getting the full version of Photoshop, when I discovered that it costs a lot more. I can't even buy the full version of PS anymore from Adobe; I have to rent it for 20-50 bucks a month, depending on what package I want. That's 240-600 bucks a year. I enjoy digital art as much as the next hobbyist, but that's frankly obscene.

Then I discovered the open source community. GIMP, Inkspace, and WILBUR do everything I need, and far more than that "special deal" on PS Elements could do. I haven't touched Elements since, and I have no interest in the full version anymore.

Of course, I don't know what I'm missing, having never played with full PS. Am I missing out? Is PS truly worth shelling out that much? Would my results be any better than what I'm cranking out now?
If you're at all interested in drawing some high-quality maps, Arsheesh from the Cartographers Guild has a great guide. My Kiridin map was the result of improvising off his tutorials and technique.

Arsheesh's Deviant page is here
His "Eriond" map technique's tutorial is here
Finally, his Border tutorial is here.
I won't post my first attempts (about one step up from stick figures), but I spent a couple of weekends coming up with these. Clearly, I still have a lot to learn, but I'm getting there.