By Cynthia Cummens
Dragons can be drawn in a limitless variety of shapes, sizes and colors. You can draw them in flight, perched on a mountaintop, in battle, reclining lazily in a pile of jewels in their cave, or sitting in your bedroom. Your dragon can be ferocious or funny, whimsical or wise. He can have a long neck like a seahorse or a short one like a turtle. But, however you draw one, there are some things to know that will help give your dragon life and believably.
Breaking It Down
Start your drawing by breaking down the body into a few simple shapes – a triangular shape for the head, a pear-shape for the body, and an S-shape for the neck and tail. I prefer to think of the dragon’s head as a combination of an alligator and a horse. Look at photo references of these animals to help you develop a believable facial structure for your dragon. Even if you’re drawing a cartoon dragon, familiarizing yourself with the basic anatomy of these creatures will help you draw more confidently.
The wings on your dragon can open to great widths or they can be so small as to be rather useless. Tiny wings on a dragon about to do battle would certainly be amusing to the enemy! That in itself could be a funny cartoon!
If you want your dragon to appear realistic, look at pictures of birds and bats to see how their wings fold when resting or how they appear when in flight. Color and texture is important, also. The wings can be slightly translucent so as to allow a bit of light to pass through as he’s soaring across a great field. They can have the texture of velvet or be as thick as leather, casting rich shadows on the earth. It’s up to you!
Arms & Legs
Books and web sites about dinosaurs contain helpful illustrations for drawing a dragon’s arms and legs. Most commonly, a dragon’s arms are drawn very small in comparison to the rest of his body, much like a T-Rex. The legs of a dragon must support his massive weight, and so are very muscular and thick. Again, I encourage you to become familiar with the anatomy of horses and cats to help you draw your dragon in various poses.
This doesn’t mean you have to go to the zoo with a sketchpad (not a bad idea!), but do take time to look at as many pictures as possible. Study your cat to see how it distributes his weight when perched on a windowsill, or how its tail wraps around his body when he’s curled up in front of a fireplace. Sorry, but there’s no escaping it. An artist with good knowledge of animal and human anatomy will very likely be successful in drawing almost anything!
Whenever possible, no matter what you’re drawing, always suggest some kind of background. Even a few scribbled lines beneath his feet will add weight to the character you’ve drawn, and establish that it’s not just floating in space. Without some suggestion of ground, your drawing may also seem unfinished. If you can’t decide on what kind of setting or background in which to place your dragon, look at magazines like National Geographic which has beautiful photographs that may inspire you.
Plus, it’s always better to draw from photo reference rather than just out of your imagination. Photo references give you details you might otherwise not think to include! Another good practice is setting out for a hike in a National Forest or Forest Preserve with your camera and sketchpad. Draw from nature whenever you can and take your own photographs.
Cynthia Cummens is a notable trading-card artist and her art can be seen on trading cards for such titles as Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Doctor Who, The Three Stooges, The Wizard of Oz, Heroes and many others. She runs a site that teaches how to draw some of the cutest, strangest, snuggliet, and ugliest characters in the Star Wars galaxy on the official web site of this Star Wars illustrator.