How to Make Your own Custom Lake Map Art

The heat of summer just makes you dream of the Lake! ‘And there’s just so much allure to ‘Lake life’! This abstract version of your own beloved lake can give you endless memories & joy. Come, see how to make your own Custom Lake Map Art… that looks almost like you could jump in!

feature image with lake map art

The Amazing Art that Maps make!

I am sure you’ve see it; a map of a certain place that has some emotional attachment but it also creates a great aesthetic design element in your space. It feels special since you know what it means to you! That is the same for a lake or other body of water.

Map art has taken off lately; from city maps to bodies of water; they often have some type of depth or texture. This idea came upon me when I was experimenting with the alcohol ink and plaster texture art I made. The way that the colours gave depth in the resin just reminded me of water, wanting to splash right in.

supplies, alcohol ink, plaster, printed map

Why Make a Lake Map?

Have you ever wanted to give the most amazing gift?! This is a very individualized gift for someone who knows the place. The great thing is that maps are easily found on the internet. They can be huge or small, depending on your space and time.

For me, this lake has a lot of special memories that go back many decades! This location involves a cottage and such special people that I could not resist creating this unique piece of art. I know you can order a finished product online; some wood lake maps but I wanted to ‘glam’ it up a bit! Instead of laser-carved lake maps I decided that plaster would give me the depth, ink as the colour and resin to make it look forever wet.

The simple supplies: a cradled wood panel (16″ x 20″), acrylic medium, white acrylic paint, plaster of Paris, 2-part epoxy resin, gold leaf, brushes, sandpaper/sanding mesh and brushes.

seal board and apply alcohol ink

Transferring the Map to the Board:

I located a few maps of the lake I wanted online and adjusted the size to the board I have. In a software program adjust the print size to your board. I know you probably do not have a large format printer so I print the large size in pieces (called tiling in Adobe Acrobat reader) It is great since then you can tape the pages together to make the size that you want.

To transfer the lines of the map onto the wood (I kept it natural) I made my own piece of transfer paper (similar to carbon paper) by rubbing a soft graphite pencil onto paper and then smearing it well with a tissue. The great thing about this method is any mistake can be erased. It is a well known method used by illustrators!

Tape the enlarged map onto the board to keep it in place and retrace the lines (see video below) with a ball-point pen. The lines are now on the board!

Seal the Wood first:

Prior to painting with alcohol ink, the surface needs to be sealed so that the ink can be manipulated rather than just soak into the wood. If you like you could use other paint types as well, but I love the ‘watery’ feeling of the inks. To seal the wood I used a gloss acrylic Medium in the areas I plan to make the water of the lake. Alcohol inks perform best on a smooth non-porous surface.

painting on alcohol ink

Conveying Depth of the water:

If you look at a lake from above the deeper sections are quite dark. The other laser-cut lake art make use of layers of wood but I hope to accomplish that by lake colour and value. Lakes are not just blue, they can have some variety and greens as well. The alcohol will affect the ink and make it quite blotchy; working perfectly for the water layer. Do give the ink plenty of time to dry though.

Check out the video , including explanation as well:

finished painting of water area of lake

I really don’t think you need any fancy painting skills to make the look of water. Again, visions of canoeing along the shores of Ontario Great Lakes, looking deep into the water is bringing back such nice memories…

tape edges of board

Adding the Plaster of Paris:

To keep the plaster from running and coating the sides it is covered with painter’s tape. Don’t fret too much as plaster of Paris is not that hard when cured. There is also harder plaster like Hydrocal but it’s less forgiving.

plop plaster of Paris on edge of lake

Applying the Plaster Relief on the Map:

To mix the plaster, use a small container (sets fast) and add about 1/2 – 1 cup water. (you can always mix more) Sprinkle the plaster over the water until it does not sink into water anymore. Let it absorb, mix it a bit and see if it’s about the consistency of yogurt, adjust if needed.

Using a palette knife I just dribbled the plaster around the ‘land’ edges, essentially the shores of the lake. As with any topographic maps, the area around the water is lower than further back. It is quite fun combining art with some geography/science here.

press plaster with plastic sheet

Adding Land Masses:

I discovered some tricks when working with concrete (making the huge concrete geodes)… using plastic sheets (like plexiglass) makes for an easy flat surface. I use that same method here to create the large flat land areas around the shores.

Plop larger blobs of the plaster away from the shores (coastal regions) and then quickly press it with the plastic sheet (cheap picture frames work too). Working area by area my make it more controllable.

plaster being pressed

The weight of the plaster box helps keep it down. It does not take long to be able to pull up the sheet (does not stick anymore)

plaster texture map

We’ve made a topographic landmass!

The plaster is still damp (grey) but it already looks organically like some topographic map! It reminds me of the modern art made with pouring that is trending as of late.

sanding the map

To sand or Not to Sand?

If you are very careful you can avoid sanding… I needed to do a bit, unfortunately. There are special sanding meshes for plaster (less clogging of the sandpaper) DO wear proper dust mask safety equipment.

detail sanding

Along with sanding some small points I also scratched in some of the rivers for fun. Once a nature-lover – always a nature-lover!

add gold leaf adhesive

Adding the Gold Leaf Size (adhesive):

The addition of some metallics is added along the shore edges. Gold leaf will be applied so a careful application of gold leaf adhesive is brushed on the ‘shore’ edges.

apply gold leaf sheets

While is is still tacky, apply the sheets of gold leaf. I like to use a stiff brush to brush it into the details and scrub excess away. It is a finicky & messy job but gold paint is not as effective.

mix resin, add blue paint

Oooh, Adding the sparkling water!

Here’s the best part; adding the ever fresh water! I added a couple drops of colour; some Vitrail paint to the Clear Casting Resin, mixed in equal parts. Other alcohol inks can also be used to colour the resin as well. Make sure to tape any openings at an edge closed so the resin will not leak out.

Mix the resin well until no streaks are seen. Bubbles can be burst later.

How to Make your own Custom Lake Map Art

Step by step tutorial; How to make you own Custom Lake Map Art. 3D texture & depth but the water is so realistic!


  • Paint brushes
  • Plaster mixing Utensil
  • Mesh Plaster Sanding Sheet (Optional)
  • Palette Knife
  • small mixing vessels for resin
  • Plastic Sheet (plexiglass or cheap frame)
  • Mini-torch


  • Wood Cradled Board (mine is 16" x 20")
  • Gloss Acrylic Medium
  • Satin White Acrylic Paint
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Gold Leaf Adhesive
  • Gold Leaf Sheets
  • 2-Part Epoxy Resin
  • Blue Colourant for Resin (Pebeo Vitrail)
  • Picture Hanging Hardware


  • Find Map for desired area
  • Size the image for the Board, print in sections and tape together
  • rub graphite (pencil) on the back or a sheet and rub with tissue. (makes graphite transfer paper)
  • Tape map in place and retrace shore lines, and depth if desired
  • Seal the water area with Acrylic Gloss medium
  • Paint the alcohol ink in the water areas, adjusting the colour for depth
  • Mix plaster of Paris
  • Plop small sections around shore edges
  • Add large areas of plaster and press with a plastic sheet to flatten
  • Once cured/dry add Gold Leaf adhesive around shore edges
  • Apply Gold leaf sheets and brush off excess.
  • Mix equal parts Epoxy Resin (see manufacturers details) until no streaks show, add couple drop of a colourant if desired
  • Pour into water area (make sure no openings) Burst bubbles on surface with a mini-torch
  • Once cured and hard, sand the plaster if needed, paint the plaster white and clean up and rough areas
  • Add picture hanging hardware & Enjoy!
torch to burst bubbles

After you have spread it all up to the ‘shore’ edges, make sure that the board is on a level surface. A quick pass with a mini-torch will burst any surface bubbles. Let it cure (according to manufacturers instructions) until hard. Warning; don’t touch it to find out, just check the mixing container.

paint white acrylic paint to finish plaster

Doesn’t it look like you could jump it? As a finishing touch, the plaster should be sealed. It is quite porous and any greasy fingers may show a print. I used a thick satin finish white acrylic paint to give it a consistent finish. Any rough edges of gold leaf can also be cleaned up.

finished map with cured resin

What do you think?! I am quite happy at how tactile it is. You could add pins to mark points of interest if you’d like.

framed map art

As with any art; the frame can accent and set it off beautifully. These detailed lake maps can make unique gift ideas and be customized as you like. I could imagine a little roof to represent a favourite lake house as well.

framed art on shelf

These custom designed panels make great one-of-a-kind gifts. It doesn’t take much; maps of lakes are readily available. Only your imagination and dimensions limit your outcome. Do you have a favourite memory?

I’ll let you know how they liked it…

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  1. Hi Barb,
    You never cease to amaze me! You always have something new and exciting to share, the lake art is absolutely beautiful!
    Thank you,

  2. Oh Barb I just fell in love with this. It’s my next project. I’m from the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland and moved to Mississippi a long time ago. This will bring back some fantastic memories for me. Thank you for sharing all your talents.

  3. Hi Barb, thank you so much for this great lesson! Ive always wanted to make one of these, now I have some guidance. In this post you refer to watching the video but I dont see a link or other to watch the video your talking about. Could you help me find it please? Thank you very much, Sheila

    1. It probably could be ‘translated’ into a jewelry piece. Perhaps instead of the plaster it could be carefully sculpted with polymer clay and then filled with the resin. If it’s a pendant there are frames that could be used. Perhaps the clay could be rolled and cut to shapes like a topographic map. I used polymer clay and resin for these. Let me know how you make out!