DD Greyhawk City Map Castle Greyhawk scaled

About The Process

I am a fantasy cartographer and artist, creating unique three-dimensional art on traditional buckskin, with primitive tools. My creative process is unique and starts with a design stage, which is usually a combination of good old fashioned paper and pencil and digital graphic design to test various compositions, sizes, and so on.

Once the design is finalized, I move on to the material itself: Brain-tanned buckskin. This type of leather is one of the oldest types of leather, dating back tens of thousands of years, and remains one of the highest quality varieties to this day. It is incredibly strong and luxuriously soft and supple. Brain-tanned buckskin is named such due to the traditional use of fats found in animal brains to soften the hide.

Golden Axe Leather Map Keep scaled
Buckskin Leather Process

The tanning process is rather simple but labor-intensive, and it is impossible to accomplish with machines. This is why traditional buckskin is still made by hand today, in much the same way it’s been done for thousands of years. While I used to tan buckskin myself, I can no longer do so due to an injury. For my art, be it a map, a portrait, or wildlife piece, I select only the softest and cleanest buckskins from professional and ethical tanners.

Since every hide is different in size, shape, color, thickness, suppleness, and other features, I carefully select the individual hide that fits the particular project I am about to create. This is the same whether I’m creating a single tree on a square inch of leather for my digital map packs or an entire world map on a full skin.

Next comes the tracing of the design onto the leather in a process similar to the ancient method called “pouncing,” in which I lay the design (printed on paper) onto the skin, and then use a pyrography pen to poke holes through the paper, burning thousands of tiny dots into the hide underneath. This can take several hours, depending on the size and detail of the piece, but at the end, I have a “map” of the design transferred onto the leather.

Then comes the main step that makes my work pop: The burning. Pyrography is the art of “drawing with fire,” commonly used on wood (when it’s called woodburning). I use a custom-made, very fine-tip pen to connect all the dots I created during the tracing, and then begin to burn depth and shapes into the hide.

Being skin, the leather reacts to the heat by shrinking, which I use to my advantage to allow me to “sculpt” it into the various three-dimensional shapes: mountains, trees, rivers, wings, flowers, or whatever it may be. The warping of the skin is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it creates the beautiful 3D relief that makes my pieces come to life, but on the other hand, it can be challenging to maintain the shapes and relative position of each of the various elements in a piece. Straight lines are particularly tricky, but it’s a challenge I welcome!

In some cases, when the aim is to create as three-dimensional a piece as possible, I burn, cut, and sculpt separate pieces of buckskin on their own and then attach them to the main one.

Once all the burning and sculpting is finished, if the piece is to be painted at all, I use all-natural powdered pigments which I mix with either water and glue. For especially “primitive” projects, the pigments are mixed with fluid from ethically sourced deer eyeballs, which is an ancient paint base medium. For “brushes,” I use bone, wood, and feather applicators I make myself.

All together, this process is time-consuming and requires a great degree of focus. It can take a dozen hours even for simple projects, and I’ve worked on fully detailed maps that took 200-300 hours to complete. The same exact process, but in miniature, is used to create the individual assets for my digital map packs. Every mountain, tree, hill, or castle is first made by hand using the same methods and tools. It is then photographed and digitally processed into a standalone object used to build drag-and-drop maps.

As the owner of CaveGeekArt, I offer a range of unique and beautifully crafted products that are sure to impress. From custom maps of fantastical lands to intricate wildlife portraits, each piece is made with care and precision using the highest quality materials.

Whether you are a fan of fantasy or just appreciate the beauty of handmade art, CaveGeekArt has something for everyone. Thank you for considering my work, and I hope to hear from you soon!