It’s that time of year again! My wife had a birthday, so she got another dragon illustration!

This year’s dragon for my wife’s birthday: the Arctic (or Polar) Dragon. This clocked in at about 56 hours and 4 minutes, give or take. It’s a slight departure from the previous entries in that it’s (digital) pen and ink, rather than a fully rendered digital painting. It was my wife’s request, she prefers my ink work I guess.
I studied some images of polar bears to get an appropriate gesture as well as looked up some arctic scenery. I wanted it to be casual and “natural”, almost like wildlife photography. The general concept I’ve been going for with these annual illustrations is essentially “what if there was a world where all the lifeforms evolved from a common dragon ancestor”. I’ve had the idea (or similar ones) for many years, and at some point I’d like to explore it further, maybe make a book of it. I really loved Terryl Whitlatch’s The Wildlife of Star Wars and have thought about doing a fantasy creature field journal of my own, either for something like this or some of the other worlds that exist in my Brain.
I spent a lot of time obsessing over details and textures with this one. I’ve been trying to explore and expand my inking style with my various comic projects, and thought this would be another opportunity to push myself. I had a lot of two steps forward, one step back moments as I tried to figure out how to represent some of the textures (I’m unsurprisingly still not happy with all of them). I feel like I could have kept noodling away at this, and maybe I still will (it could be this year’s Spectrum submission…maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t submit last year, as I didn’t feel I had anything worth submitting.). I thought about adding some faint breath clouds, some atmospheric effects, and some wear/damage to the crystals.
The overall attempt with this image was to digitally replicate something my wife likes, namely my pen and ink work with a bit of Copic Marker greyscale thrown in (for those that keep tabs on my art, that’s how I create her annual Mother’s Day cards). This was all done in Procreate on my iPad Pro.

I did a LOT of stipling for this piece, which, depending on the resolution, one can barely tell. When I was designing this dragon, I was trying to think about essentially how a cold weather lizard would have adapted. I figured some kind of fur-like feather, not unlike the predecessors of birds may have had, was a good direction to go in, with some bare, scaled areas. I referenced iguana scales for the face.

Texturing the fur was probably almost as time consuming as stipling the scales (or drawing and rendering those crystals…). One of the techniques I’ve used before and kind of forgotten about is to have my marks do double duty as both texture and shadow. I can do few to no marks in the light areas, but the brain fills in the texture due to the marks in the shadows. I have seen it done much more masterfully than I can do, but it’s a method I plan to keep playing with. I did an initial pass of the fur in the shadows, trying to create some direction and form some clumps. On a separate layer, I added more marks to define those shapes and create a bit more contrast. I eventually ran out of layers and had to merge the two.

The crystals were definitely something I did and redid several times. I had a nice, large chunk of amethyst crystal that my wife got from her grandmother to serve as reference. It’s fascinating how they form, and the complicated geometry of their shapes. I’m not entirely satisfied with the crystals. I think I could have had a better “gradient” of sizes between the largest and smallest. I think some of the shape decisions I made aren’t great visually, and not quite representative of how crystals form. I wanted to do some texturing in “ink”, but couldn’t come up with marks and patterns that I liked (I did a lot of visual research both of actual crystals as well as seeing how other artists have rendered them). As I mentioned elsewhere, I also think I could have added some more “character” to the crystals in the form of chips and cracks and such, but a lot of that might have gotten lost outside of these extreme closeups. As I went along to the various clusters, I did come up with some better shapes and I got a bit more comfortable with the geometry. Trying to figure out how to make them look like they are growing out of the dragon, rather than just forming on the fur like ice, was a challenge, too. Not quite happy with what I did. They are supposed to be almost living parts of the dragon, not unlike a standard dragons horns or wings (or last year’s dragon for my wife with the branches and moss and bark-like skin).

I was a little happier with the arm crystals, in terms of shapes and comparative sizes. I think I should have had them thin out around the edges more and gradually disappear under the fur. These were the last ones I drew and rendered, and in fact was the area with the very last brush strokes I made before I decided it had to be done.

Chinsicles. Dragons from many mythologies have almost tentacle-like beards, or beards of hair/fur. This one has icicles. Interesting rendering challenge. I think I should have blended the fur transitioning into the icicles a bit better, almost like the fur is frozen.

“Eye see you”. Lots of time spent stipling, about the only way one can even notice is to zoom in this far. I kind of like the way the eye turned out with the scaly lids and folds.

If you want to check out the time-lapse, you can watch it here, on the Toby’s Brain: The Movies YouTube channel.

So, there it is, another year, another dragon. This one took 56 hours and 4 minutes, give or take. Honestly not sure how that compares to previous years, as I’ve only been keeping detailed records of my studio hours since May of this year. Now that I’m finally done with this project, I should be getting back to IPMDT and ITB. I also need to upload the Chicken Squid/Squid Chicken shirt finally, and maybe get a move on another few ideas. I’m still playing around in Z Brush, working on my PMD model. I’m not sure if I will get something 3D print-worthy this first time around, but we’ll see. There are still a gazillion other ideas and projects that I’m trying to get to, as usual. I know I’ve fallen behind on my goals list for this year, which I’ll chalk up to the chaos introduced by this whole pandemic thing, but I’ll take a serious stab at completing as much of that list as I can with the remaining months I have. Inktober is right around the corner, too…