For my annual birthday dragon illustration for my wife in 2020, I decided to do a digital pen and ink and wash image, as she has stated multiple times that’s her favorite of my art. I spent a lot of time on figuring out how to represent the various textures while at the same time conveying form and light. Lots of tedious elements, lots of things I could improve, but overall content with this one.
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.