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Geography draws on a number of different disciplines, including art. While geography students do not need to be skilled artists, they do need to know how to draw simple sketches of landscapes and maps. This chapter explains what line drawings and sketch maps are, and the ways in which they are both used. A step-by-step guide is provided to show how to create line drawings and sketch maps.

What are line drawings and sketch maps?

In geography, line drawings are illustrations which are made using a photograph. When that drawing of a landscape is being made in the field (place in the natural environment where data is being collected), then it is called a field sketch.

A sketch map (also known as a mental map) is a simplified illustration of an area, to show the basic positions of certain features. These maps are drawn from the same perspective as a vertical aerial photograph (i.e. looking directly down on the area). Sketch maps are generally not drawn to scale. A scale is a ratio used to show how a dimension on a map corresponds with the dimension it represents in the real world. Sketch maps range from maps of rail networks to floor-plan guide maps of museums. They even include hand-drawn sketches, which show the way to a friend's house, for example.

See image 1

What are they used for?

Recording large amounts of detailed information in a written format can be complicated and time consuming. A particularly useful method of recording the information in a photograph is by making a line drawing of the image. This is a good way to highlight the main features.

When undertaking fieldwork, geographers often find that it is more effective to photograph a landscape rather than describe it. There are times, however, when the geographer needs to capture a scene but is without the equipment (camera) to do so. Since field sketches only require a pencil, some paper and something to lean on, they are a quick and simple way of recording the necessary information.

Sketch maps are created and used by a wide variety of people. Some sketch maps are drawn from a vertical aerial photograph, while others are simply drawn from memory. They usually show the main features of an area, enabling a person to find their way to and from certain locations within that area. Many people consider sketch maps easy to use because they are not cluttered with unnecessary detail.

How to make a line drawing and field sketch

You will need:

  1. a piece of paper
  2. a pencil
  3. a ruler
  4. an eraser
  5. something to lean on (eg a board)

Line drawing

Step 1. Imagine straight lines horizontally dividing the photograph into a foreground, middle ground and background. Vertically divide the photograph into a left, centre and right section. Since proportions vary between photographs, these sections will not always be the same size.

See image 2a

Step 2. Using the ruler and pencil, draw a frame which is the same size as the photograph. Lightly draw the grid lines in the same position that they were imagined on the photograph.
Step 3. Observe the main features in each of these areas on the photograph. Sketch the main outlines in the photograph into the corresponding segment on the piece of paper.
Step 4. Draw any other relevant details and label the prominent features. Do not forget to include a heading and a source.

See image 2b

Field sketch

Step 1. Form a frame using your hands. Use this view to isolate an area to be sketched. Commit the main features to memory.
Step 2. Lean on the board to sketch the general outline of the view, as seen through the frame. Once you have commenced sketching, try not to move to a different position until the sketch is completed.
Step 3. Draw any other relevant details and label the prominent features. Do not forget to include a heading (the area sketched) and the date the sketch was made.

See image 3

How to make a sketch map

Imagine that your friend has recently taken up soccer practice, but he does not know where the soccer fields are. Draw a sketch map from memory, showing him how to reach the nearby soccer fields.

You will need:

  1. a piece of paper
  2. a pencil
  3. a ruler
  4. an eraser

Step 1. Imagine that you are a bird flying over the area that you about to draw. Sketch maps need to be drawn from this angle.
Step 2. Draw a frame. Inside the frame, sketch the starting point. Draw the path to the soccer fields and any main features that you might encounter along the way. This includes landmarks, shops, main roads, parks etc. If these features are difficult to draw, or do not fit on the page, you can use simple symbols to represent them. The meaning of every symbol used must be explained in the legend (an explanatory table), located beside the map.
Step 3. Draw any other relevant details and label the main features. Add a heading and a north point (if known).

See image 4

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Question 1/5

1. What is NOT an example of a sketch map?

A map of a rail network

A hand-drawn map showing the way to a friend's house

A scientific map showing political boundaries

A floor-plan guide map of a museum


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