Schley's Tutorials

A variety of illustration and cartography tutorials for everyone from beginners to professionals.

wolvercote66 asked: Excuse my complete ignorance here but I've never had a need to use GIMP or Photoshop ever before so I'm trying to do this with no baseline knowledge. I'm just at a loss of how to replicate what you did with the Phandelver maps. I've purchased the Schley maps and opened up the Cragmaw map in GIMP but then, I've got no clue as to what I should do so I can then take it to Staples for printing out in the larger size.

Here are a couple of things that might help:

Measuring the original dimensions of a battle map’s grid squares in Gimp is easy with the measure tool. Here’s a quick how-to from Gimps website explaining it’s use.

Follow my tutorial using the pixel measurement resulting from your use of the measure tool as your starting point. Just measure from one side of a grid square to the other.

In Gimp, to change the pixel dimensions of an image, use Image → Scale Image to open the Scale Image dialog. You can right click on the image to open the menu, or use the menu along the top of the Image window.

Make sure that in the Scale Image dialogue box your units of measurement are set to pixels and the x/y resolution options are set to 300.000 pixels/in. The Quality field should be set to Cubic as well. This will result in a better looking render when the image is resized.

At this point, plug in the new numbers from the tutorial into the width & height fields and hit “Scale” at the bottom right. The newly resized image should be good to go. Make sure to save it as a high quality .jpg file and take it to Staples for printing.

Quick hint: For the Cragmaw Hideout map and other maps from the Starter Set whose grid sizes are about the same, the new pixel dimensions for printing should be about twice the size of the original.

You may want to take some time to learn more about using Gimp as it’s super useful for DM’s and isn’t too complex. Tons of tutorials exist on-line to help you get up to speed. 

Resizing Battle Maps to a 1 inch grid

I’ve had a few questions recently about resizing gridded tactical maps for printing and use with standard sized miniatures.

There’s an easy way to do it but be aware that it will make big files that will take a lot of printing.

1. Within Photoshop, Gimp, or a similar image editing program, measure the pixel dimensions of an individual grid square in whatever map you’d like to resize. 

2. Calculate the ratio that you will then need to use to resize the image to mini scale (300 pixels per inch). For instance, a 100 pixel wide grid in the original image will need to be 3 times larger if you want it to print it at 300 pixels per inch or 300 dpi (standard resolution for printing).

3. Multiply the artwork’s current pixel dimensions by this ratio and use the new numbers as your target image size for resizing. You should then be able to then tile the image for easy printing and be good to go! 

Illustration & Cartography Prints Available!

Big news! Photo quality maps and art prints by Mike Schley are now available at

A variety of artwork from a wide range of gaming, fantasy, and children’s book projects are now available in many sizes. Professionally printed on high quality photo paper and accompanied by a range of backing and framing options, this collection will grow quickly as more works are frequently added.


Welcome to Prints by Schley. This online store operates in collaboration with my main gallery at http:/​/​www.​mikeschley.​com to provide a seamless method for collectors to purchase prints and follow my work as it develops. Thank you for visiting and keep an eye out for new releases as I continue to explore far off realms.

The Dungeons of Schley!

Need a sweet map of that orc lair you plan on tormenting your friends with over the weekend? Done! Want to build a quick necromancer’s hideout you can use to introduce your best buds to their first TPK? Got it covered! It’s a whole new style of dungeon designing tools for Campaign Cartographer 3, featuring devious traps, lurking horrors, breath-taking hoards and ancient architecture. Plus, it’s easy to work with and integrates seamlessly with Campaign Cartographer 3, the premier game mapping software for PCs.

The Dungeons of Schley features more than a thousand high-resolution symbols and textures and all the tools, effects and templates you need to create knock-out dungeons of your own. There are two styles - one gorgeous full colour, the other in black and white inks. There are furnishings, fixtures, traps, treasure and sundry items - everything you need to design great dungeons.

Top Down Objects; Do a Barrel Roll!

To start, I have to admit that I’m not much of a writer. Most of my expressions develop visually so please bear with me through the text of these posts and feel free to ask me to clarify anything that seems too opaque. That being said, I hope that this and future tutorials help to give insightful advice to other artists and mappers, both amateur and professional, who would like to add depth and visual punch to their cartography. Comments and questions are always welcome. Let’s get to it!

A quick note before I begin; The processes I will describe are specific to working in Photoshop CS6 on a Mac but can generally be translated to other digital illustration platforms. For an interface, I use a Wacom Intuos 4 and rely on a 27” Apple Cinema Display to view the work. If you can afford a big display with good resolution, it will do wonders. Most notably, it facilitates an ability to zoom out and view the work at distance without loosing too much detail. This helps immensely when assessing wether the map is working as a whole.

Today’s topic covers top-down object design in general and barrel illustration specifically. Though the techniques and principles can be applied to a wide range of subjects, I’ll keep the scope focused so as to avoid rambling.

Step 1; Working Environment

I have created a fairly compact Photshop file sized at 3x3 inches with a resolution of 300 pip and an 8 bit RGB color profile. In this new document I’ve filled a layer with a simple wood floor pattern and set up a series of working layers and groups for easy organization. Layer and group organization is key since without a good hierarchal system, things can get super confusing. I’ve also created a number of guides at one inch intervals so that I can draw at a standard printed battle map scale (1 inch to 5 feet @ 300 ppi).



Step 2; References

I’ve collected a few photos here that show era appropriate geometry, construction, and texture details.


Step 3; Sketch

Wether you sketch directly in Photoshop or on paper which is then scanned and imported isn’t really important since at this stage you’re just working out ideas. The drawing should stay fairly light though and if it’s from a scan, make sure to set the layer property to multiply so that the white of the paper isn’t obscuring the rest of your image. It also helps to reduce the sketch layers opacity somewhat so that it can serve as a template for your inks without becoming a distraction.


Step 4; Inks

Your choice of ink brush should be based on personal preference. One thing to note though is that if you plan on using your inks to trap or isolate areas for coloring, it will be helpful to use a brush tool that has limited or no flow and opacity variation and a sharp edge. The opacity variables can be set in the transfer preference panel of the brush dialogue box. To sharpen the brushes edge and tip, increasing the count in the scattering preference panel of the brush dialogue box and turn on the dual brush preference panel. Take some time to explore these settings and create a brush that is responsive and gives you the flavor of line that you like.


Now that we have our sketch in place we can begin creating the actual artwork. I prefer drawing my object’s border inks on a separate layer, keeping the strokes smooth and closed. That way, since there aren’t gaps in the outlines, I can come back later on and isolate quick selection masks for coloring.


Once the outlines are down, I switch layers and knock out the details. Try to give texture and character to your drawing but keep in mind that too much detail can become overwhelming and result in a confusing image. As a stylistic choice, I like to add a thin transparent colored stroke to my inks before beginning to paint.


Step 5; Colors

Using the magic wand tool and working on the border inks layer, click outside of the objects outline and then inverse your selection. From the drop down menu at the top, go to select > modify > contract and enter 1 pixel. You now have a selection outline that’s sized one pixel smaller than your inks. You can then fill your base color layer with an appropriate wood colored brown. By returning to your border inks layer, you can select areas with your wand tool to isolate and fill back on your base color layer. Don’t forget to expand your selection outlines by a pixel though before you fill them as this helps avoid color halos around the edges of your inks.

At this point you should have most, if not all, of your basic colors laid out and ready for shading. Additional colors can be hand painted in at this point. Additionally, if you click the small checkerboard icon beside ‘Lock’ at the top of the Layers window, it will lock the layers transparency and you don’t have to worry about your strokes wandering out of bounds.


Step 6; Shading & Highlights

Now select your Shading layer or create one just above your Base Colors layer and change the it’s blending mode to multiply. By holding down the command key while clicking on the Base Colors layer thumbnail you can create a quick selection outline of your object. This selection outline can then be used to make a layer mask for your Shading layer by clicking on the ‘Add layer mask’ button at the bottom of your Layers window. The ‘Add layer mask’ icon looks like a light colored circle within a darker rectangle. If you’ve created it properly, you should see a mask thumbnail appear to the right of your Shading layer’s layer thumbnail. The mask should look like a black square with a white barrel shape in it’s center.

By doing this, you have masked off all the parts of this layer that fall outside of your objects borders. You can then easily hand shade your barrel while keeping the artworks edges clean. Make sure to click back on the Shading layer’s checkerboard layer thumbnail since at this point the mask is active and if you simply started painting, you would be affecting the layer mask instead of the actual artwork. You should see brackets around the thumbnail telling you whether the artwork or mask is active.


Now paint in your objects shading. I like to use a fairly simple rounded brush with a lot of play in the opacity and flow pressure sensitivity. It also helps to have a little response, say 50%, in the minimum diameter field of the brush controls Shape Dynamics options. Warm shadows are good for interior objects while cooler blues work best for outdoor items. The theory being that your shadows reflect the color of their environment, thus, blue sky equals blue tinted shadows.


Repeat the above procedure for your Highlights layer but set it’s blending mode to Hardlight or Screen. You can then use something like a soft light yellow brush to add various reflections or ambient highlights to your barrel. Keep in mind that the harder an edge your highlight has, the more reflective the surface looks.


Step 7; Drop Shadows

Now you can select your Drop Shadow layer or create one just below your Base Colors layer and change the it’s blending mode to multiply. Hold down the command key and click on the Base Colors layer thumbnail again to make a new object selection outline. This time though, you will fill the selection on the Drop Shadow layer with white. You won’t see it though, since the layer’s blending mode is set to multiply and it’s obscured by the artwork in the layers above it. With the Drop Shadow layer active, click on the ‘Add a layer style’ button (Looks like the letters fx) at the bottom of the Layers window. From the drop down menu that appears, select the option Drop Shadow. Feel free to adjust the settings to taste.


Step 8; Final Touches

I like to add paper and/or canvas textures overtop of the artwork to pull the image together and give a naturalistic feel to the art’s surface. This can be done in a number of ways, one of which is to scan and import a desaturated, hi-res textile or paper surface into the Photoshop file. Run the greyscale surface texture through a Levels adjustment and push the contrast so that the surfaces peaks and valleys are well defined. You can then set this texture layer to Overlay or Hardlight and drop the opacity until it looks good and subtle.



Finally, a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer (Black/white circular button at the bottom of the Layers window) placed at the top of your Colors group can bring punch to your art and really make it sing. Again, make sure to isolate the object in this adjustment layer by the ‘Add layer mask’ process mentioned above.


The finished product…


And that’s pretty much it. Hope you enjoyed the tutorial and come back for more next time.