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Designing Dragons (Intro & Part 1)

October 13, 2007

Despite all the fantasy stuff I’ve done in my career, I never get very excited about drawing dragons. Seriously. In fact, I kinda-sorta dread it.

Dragons have to be the most overwrought, over-rendered, over-exposed creatures in modern fantasy today. They are found in video games, books, toys, television and movies as they are integrated into almost all the world cultures since ancient times. Consequently, it seems like every possible rendition of this mythical beast has been done. How can I come up with something new, exciting and fresh after centuries of masters have already done so?

D&D Pseudodragon

Honestly, I don’t like drawing them – even though I think they are awesome creatures and I love stories about them. There’s Smaug, Fafnir, Puff (the Magic dragon), Dragonslayer, Dragonheart, Dragonology, the Hydra, Falkor, Eragon and, of course, Dungeons & Dragons.

Ironically, despite my years of contributing art to this iconic fantasy game, I hardly ever rendered its namesake beast. There were quite a few gaming illustrators who had the dragon-thing covered, which was fine by me. I did however, do a few dragons for the gaming magazine of the same title. Even though they are on my site, I will post them here again.

Dragon Mag Cover #242

In these projects, I went more for a mood and setting over a novel design. The first image, of course, is about the joy of playing games. The second is more about illustrating the power of the female mage who has the ability to conjure up a massive dragon.

Dragon Mag Cover #251

I recently cleaned these images up for a book anthology on dragons published by the French fantasy gallery, Galerie Daniel Maghen.

The gallery asked me to do a new illustration of a dragon – any kind of dragon at all doing dragony things. And they had all sorts of great dragon-scribes adding to the book – Todd Lockwood, Tom Kidd, Jean-Baptiste Monge, and Paul Bonner to name a few. Their dragon depictions were wonderful, and they were doing great dragony things – but I just wasn’t feeling it. Though I did have a sketch of an old knight fighting a slithery dragon:

Dragonslayer sketch

…which they liked, but I felt it was a little trite. And, for some reason, I liked the energy of the sketch more than what I envisioned the final painting to be. Perhaps I am wrong, and I’ll get up the gusto to finally paint it one day.

Then I got clever. I decided to do my own take on a famous dragon image: Rapheal’s 1506 painting, “St. George & the Dragon”.

St. George & The Dragon

Mine was titled “Georgie Boy and the Backyard Dragon”. And I didn’t bother redesigning the dragon (or the horse head) and they didn’t like it. It wasn’t dragony enough I suppose. So I opted for the old dragon covers instead.

Georgie Boy & The Dragon

See? These are tough critters to get excited about rendering. At least they are for me…though I wonder if I should paint my rendition after all…hmmm.

I can see it on a greeting card with a note inside saying “Glad your feeling better – now go slay a dragon” or something cheesy and inspirational like “We all have our battles to fight and facing our fears is the biggest”.

Rapheal would be proud.

Next up: Space Dragons!

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Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.