3D Topographic Map by Hand

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Introduction: 3D Topographic Map by Hand

About: I'm based in London - in my day job I make digital things and at night I tinker with art, maps and electronics.

I love maps and have done several drawings and collages based on maps. For this one I wanted to make a hyper realistic topographic colour image of the British Isles, as if viewed as a 3D satellite image. To do that I needed to get the shapes right, and make the colours look natural.

The texture was the key thing that sparked the idea. I originally did some just in white to focus on the texture and then for this project I added colour to see how close I could get it to an almost-real 3D satellite image.

I did an earlier small one before doing this larger one which is A1 (59 x 84 cm). The big one took a lot longer!

In terms of materials, it was pretty simple. It started with the map outline on board, and then I used a Liquitex modelling paste to add the topography to the map by hand before painting the land and sea.

Supplies

  • A1 mount board
  • Liquitex modelling paste
  • Various palette knives, bits of wood for applying the paste in several layers
  • Acrylic paints
  • Matte varnish to finish
  • Wooden frame

Step 1: Adding the Texture

To start the process I printed an outline map onto the board to give me the outline of the coast. Then, based on topographic maps and where the mountains and valleys should be, I built up the 3D texture using modelling paste. I used various tools to apply it - mostly palette knives and a pointy stick.

Step 2: Then Came the Painting

As well as the shapes of the landscape, the colours were based on topographic maps and other references such as satellite images. I used a bit of artistic licence to make it look a prettier. For example, on a satellite map the sea at the outlets of big rivers can be a real muddy mess. But other than that there's something inherently beautiful about the shapes and colours of nature and I tried to stay faithful to that.

I did also take some small liberties with the coastline - exaggerating cliffs and beaches to add some interest. You can see for example the White Cliffs of Dover, and even the lines of some ships traversing the English Channel.

Working on the seashore, particularly around the Scottish coast, took a while! Trying to get the blues of the sea to be even was a challenge too.

Step 3: Finished

To finish I added a painted cream border around the map and framed it straight into a brown wooden frame without glass in front. Hung next to a window and having nothing in front of the map allows the changing light to cast shadows across the map as the light of the day changes.

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Maps Challenge

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    17 Comments

    0
    CynthiaS125
    CynthiaS125

    3 months ago on Step 3

    WoW... you could probably sell them!

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks!

    0
    Robin-
    Robin-

    3 months ago

    I love the project.

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 3 months ago

    Good point - thanks very much! Updated...

    0
    TomC193
    TomC193

    3 months ago

    Is the paint UV coated so the sunlight won't fade it?

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 3 months ago

    I think so! If I remember rightly, I put a satin picture varnish on top.

    Whatever I did, the colours are still looking great, although it's hung in a hallway so not much direct sunlight.

    0
    shareahack
    shareahack

    2 years ago

    Great and simple idea, love it. Voted, good luck!

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks!

    0
    dudus
    dudus

    2 years ago

    SO GOOD!! how long did the modeling part take you?

    2
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks! The modelling part was actually easier than I thought it would be. I guess maybe only a few hours in total. The painting rook much longer!

    0
    dudus
    dudus

    Reply 2 years ago

    Nice one, thanks

    0
    jrobertsharp
    jrobertsharp

    2 years ago

    The map looks great. I just finished a much less impressive one using foam board and paper mache paste (recipe and tutorials at ultimatepapermache.com). I'm glad to learn about liquitex.

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you. The Liquitex stuff is really good to work with. Not sure how well it would work in bigger volumes, but for something relatively flat like my maps, it was great.

    0
    skysurferfra
    skysurferfra

    2 years ago

    Awesome, Rob! Very nice job. Also voted for the maps challenge...

    0
    robhallifax
    robhallifax

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks very much! It was a fun project!