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Designing Dragons (the end…for now)

November 26, 2007

For my rendition of The Reluctant Dragon, I wanted to create a comfy, cozy world reminiscent of Wind in the Willows. My motto for it was “a warm cup of tea”. In other words, I wanted the mood of the book to evoke the comfortable feeling you get when you curl up with a warm cup of tea on a lazy afternoon. Jim Henson’s adaptation of Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band-Christmas is very similar in tone to what I was aiming for, so the dragon needed to feel like he was from that world.

That said, I replaced all of the human characters in the story with animals. Once I started designing the main characters (which I will showcase in a later post), I was able to push the dragon design to where I wanted it.

Sketch of dragon for “Kenny & The Dragon”

I referenced cats and goats for the main inspiration and worked from there. I tried various images showing the friendship forged between the hero, a rabbit named Kenny, and the dragon. Some were too epic, like this one:

Cover sketch done for “Kenny & The Dragon”

…and others didn’t feel quite right mood-wise. In fact, this one felt a little Neverending Story-ish to me. So I kept exploring…

Cover sketch done for “Kenny & The Dragon”

Cover sketch done for “Kenny & The Dragon”

This one above, an early color comp for the jacket, was getting closer. You certainly get that they are friends, and the dragon face has a lot of personality. But I wanted a little movement, a little action to create some real interaction between the dragon and the hero. At last I arrived at this:

Cover painting done for “Kenny & The Dragon”

Its worth noting that the color of the scales, I think, sets it apart from other depictions. The original text mentions the dragon being blue in tone and I really liked that unexpected element a lot (it seems like so many dragons are red, brown or black). Angela had me push it into this greenish-blue to put my own spin on it, and I like the way it feels…plus Saphira (in Eragon) is blue.

So what did i gain from this design journey? I learned that a dragon – like a human – has been rendered countless times for centuries by many talented artists. To find an exciting and unique design, I need to understand the creature and what sort of character it represents. Though I still think these beasties are tough to render, I have even more appreciation to those who offer up something new and exciting to such a classic denizen of fantasy.

Ancient German woodcarving of a winged Tatzlwurm

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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.