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Map Making and Watercolor

(Note: This was originally posted for 12/16/20)

Hello Planetary Pals,

Inspired by my lab mates Jahnavi and Ashka, I have also decided to write a blog post about my art. I mostly do drawings and watercolors of maps. Since high school, I have been making my own maps. If I am being honest, surrounding myself constantly with maps definitely pushed me towards a degree in geology. Mostly I draw real-life maps, however I have made my own share of fantasy maps as well. Recently I have been replenishing my stock of art supplies, and as I did so I needed to do a little bit of research on a few of the essentials of watercolor.

Watercolor, of course, starts with the paints. In general, there are two styles of watercolor paints. There are concentrated tubes of watercolor paints. To use this type of paint, a small amount of it is diluted with water. It has the advantage of being instantly vibrant. This is normally the main draw for artists to this type, however for my purposes, it is not as helpful; in most cases when I am making a map, the color should accentuate the map, but not distract from it. Using strong, vivid colors is actually counterintuitive for the style I am aiming for. I instead prefer to use watercolor pans. This is the most familiar type of watercolor paint for most people, with small, dry cakes of paint that one can mix with a wet brush. I prefer this type, as I feel more in control of the color and intensity.

Image via

The next consideration is the type of paper used. Watercolor paper differs from normal printer paper in its texture. It is this texture that allows the paint to settle into the paper in a way that using most normal papers won’t allow. Watercolor papers come in many different types and qualities: some of the main features are surface texture and weight. The texture of the paper varies and there are typically three different types of surface. The first is a rough surface, which as the name suggests has a prominent texture that allows the paint to pool in an abstract manner. For this reason, it is not ideal for my purposes since I almost always aim to make flat, even washes. The next type is called hot-pressed. This is on the other end of the roughness spectrum and is very smooth. While the paint can dry very quickly with this type, there is not enough roughness, not enough nooks and crannies in the paper for the paint to collect, meaning the paint can get overloaded quickly. Finally, there is the type that I prefer, which is cold-pressed. This is a happy medium between rough and hot-pressed surfaces and is the preferred type for most watercolor artists. It meets the benefits of both extremes with less of the detriments.

There are two more considerations to be thought of when buying art supplies for making maps. The type of brush (I am told) makes a difference and art stores sell many different shapes, sizes, and hair types. For me, I have never noticed a difference between hair types, and since synthetic brushes are usually the cheapest, I tend to go for those. The shape also doesn’t matter to me as much, though given the choice I’d go more with the traditional round-type brush. This is the most versatile type of brush. The size of the brush is relevant when working with details and larger areas, and for a while I have made do with only two brushes, a tiny one for details and a larger one that I used for most other purposes. 

Image via

The last point is one that is really only relevant to me for making maps and less so for most other watercolorists. For making the outlines, borders, coastlines, and other features, I use a variety of different markers. There are two considerations with markers. First, since I usually end up going over the piece in watercolor, it is important to use non-water-soluble markers such as alcohol-based markers. The other consideration is size, and I have about a dozen different sized markers. Just as with the different sizes of the brushes, each size marker has different purposes.

            People often say that the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks, and the same is true for art: the best artists are those who view a lot of art. In my case, I view a lot of different maps. I have been trying to go about create my own style and have seen my art style change and evolve over time. Below, I’ve added a gallery of some of my recent works. There is still much to improve, but also much to be proud of.


Published by Anthony Dicecca

Hello and welcome to my blog. I am Anthony Dicecca, and I am currently pursuing a thesis-based Masters degree in Geology with a Specialization in Planetary Science and Exploration. I am a native of Rochester, New York but moved to London, Ontario to attend the University of Western Ontario. From 2016 to 2020 I worked to complete my undergraduate degree, finishing with a BSc in Physics and a BSc in Geology. During this time I developed a passion for geology, and in particular, planetary science. I've had the pleasure of working with Dr. Gordon Osinski and his team during this time aiding in research ranging from Arctic peri-glaciology to global impact cratering, and from Lunar spectroscopy to Martian mapping. In Autumn 2020 I continued my education at the U.W.O., working towards a MSc in Geology with a Specialization in Planetary Science and Exploration. My research will likely involve insights obtained from the Holuhraun Lava Field in Iceland and their applications to other bodies in the Solar System. This blog serves as an archive of my progression over the next few semesters.

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