The Creation of Atlantis


Over the past year or so I've had the privilege of creating a map for the Guerrilla Cartography project.

Guerrilla Cartography is a non profit organisation with a vision woven around the idea that those of us in the spatial industries are stronger when we work together.

The team has now producing the second volume of maps titled "Water: An Atlas". They facilitated, from start to finish, this amazing project where Cartographers from all over the world were able to collaborate and create some amazing pieces of geographical media around the theme of Water.

This post is a follow up on my previous post Locating... Atlantis where you got to see the final product as well as find out where you can get a copy of the Atlas for yourself.

Today I'll walk you through how I made the map! I made this post in hopes of championing the whole aesthetic of the Guerrilla Cartography 'movement' by not only getting the opportunity to extend myself creatively in what is usually a fairly run-of-the-mill GIS career, but to share, educate and inspire.

Maps and Design go hand in hand, in my early days in GIS I was fortunate enough to be in team that held this at its very core. There is no competition, GIS is both an Art AND a Science. As a communication tool it has no equal. My aim is to create maps that encourage people to take a closer look, to have them stick around a while and see what story the map has to tell.


This section of my post is around the data and software used in my project.

All the data was gathered with permission from various sources, or downloaded from websites that had open licensing. This also applies to all the textures and image resources I used. The scroll work, the elephants and the small illustration of Atlantis were all hand drawn by me.

The data from Atlantipedia was kindly given to me as a table and I was able to geocode and generate counts of the theories at each location or area.

I used the program GIMP for creating or customising the illustrative elements within my map (an opensource alternative to Photoshop).

I used QGIS for the spatial data management and final map generation.

The Overlay

In the images below you will see how I designed the overlay. Because my final map was exported out of QGIS any design elements had to be prepared in advance using image editing software (in my case I used GIMP).

Here you see the original pencil sketch, followed by the digitising of the scrollwork (I used a wacom intuos 3 in conjuction with the GIMP application). Once the whole overlay, with the heading, text, drop shadows and halos was completed I exported the image as a PNG file, note the transparent background.

Map creation

This next set of images goes through all the page elements that went into creating the map in QGIS, from the ground up. The key to achieving the vintage style of this map was in using the 'Multiply Blend mode' on several of my layers.

Anita Graser has a great tutorial on this method HERE.

The tricky part here was getting the colours of all my 'old' papers to match, to feel cohesive. There is no easy tip here, I did a fair bit of trial and error using the GIMP colour adjustment settings to achieve the right look. On the scrap paper behind the Mediterranean inset I had to "photoshop" the darkness out of the left corner, so none of the stock imagery was, in my mind, exactly right, but with a few tweaks, they were spot on.

As a side note to editing of stock images, I ensured I was only using completely free (ie for both personal and commercial use) images, I made sure they gave explicit permissions for altering the original! Best to be safe rather than sorry.

The screenshot of QGIS below starts off with a crumpled piece of white paper, then the natural coloured recycled paper is overlayed using the multiply blend setting. This makes the map look both natural AND crumpled.

Next, the map, this also has the multiply blend mode, hopefully giving a watercolour or hand drawn look.

The other layers are mostly 'Normal' blend modes with just the Mediterranean inset and the legend once again multiplied on top of the paper scraps.

The two paper scraps that appear to sit on top of the main map were taken into GIMP where I added the drop shadow to them to give a more realistic "I just scribbled down the legend and its all just sitting on ye olde desk over here" and an "I'm sure I'll keep working on it shortly" sort of feel.

The legend itself was a little bit piecemeal, with some parts of it being text boxes sitting on top. I did this to get the exact look I wanted without fully dropping the legend to separate graphic elements (which I never have really been a fan of).

The final map is exported as a PDF straight from QGIS for sending to the Guerilla Cartography team for publishing.

Map evolution

As a bit of an extra bonus I've made a GIF that shows all the iterations as the map evolved over time.

I hope this helps to show everyone that the final product never really comes about without many (many!) working versions. Here are my main stepping stones towards the final cut.

To view the full map skip back over to my first blog post Locating... Atlantis for all the info.


Thanks for getting to the end of this post with me. I hope you liked learning more about my creative journey as much as I enjoyed sharing it!

I also want to take time to extend a big Thank You to the Guerrilla Cartography team. Your project is amazing. Keep doing what you are doing!

The information in this post is given out so you can go and try out these techniques and to break down the process to make it easier to understand.

Please don't copy any of my art work but feel free to use any of these techniques in your own projects.

Please leave me any comments or questions below.


* Various textures

* Fonts
Abyssinica SIL -
Banksia -
Essays1743 - Medium
Purisa -


  1. Hello Melissa, you have created a very nice map there that is not only good looking but also has an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing how you made the map! I especially like how you combined techniques and art from Gimp and QGIS.


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