Step 1: Direction and Shape
The first step is to determine in which direction your river is flowing. A river always flows in one direction, and one direction only. Smaller rivers can join with the main river, but they’ll never split off from it.
Step 2: River banks
When you’ve decided which direction the river is flowing in it is time to draw the banks. Draw some wavy irregular lines for the river banks. You can add little islands depending on the size of the river. A small stream may have some rocks scattered around, but a major river can have large islands in it.
Step 3: Add the flow
This step is crucial in visualizing the stream. Add lines that flow from the river banks towards the middle of the river in the direction that the river is flowing. Drawing these lines with smooth curves helps simulate the effect of water flowing.
Step 4: Add some details around the banks
Next we’ll add some details to the surroundings. In this tutorial I have drawn some rocks, but you can add whatever you want: fallen trees, bridges, rocks and anything else you can imagine.
Step 5: Flat colours
Time to get started with adding color. Which color works best depends a lot on what other colors you use in your map, so play around and see what looks best! For this tutorial I used #75978e for the water, #b6b567 for the grass and #83826e for the rocks.
Step 6: Shading
Now let’s add shadows to our little river setting. I have my light source in the top left corner. This means that in this tutorial, shadows will be on the bottom right side of objects. Try to visualize the terrain around the river in a 3D space. This will help you get an idea of which areas catch light and which don’t.
Step 7: Highlights
In this step we’ll add the highlights. We’ll do this the same way that we did with the shadows, except we’ll be drawing with a lighter shade of the colors and on the opposite side of objects. Add a light stroke around the areas where the light catches them.
If you want to learn more about how I draw my maps, visit my Skillshare page, where I have several classes dedicated to drawing fantasy maps!