Having a fantasy dragon drawing in your artistic portfolio is always nice. Not only is it fun, but learning to draw a dragon is an experience that challenges your artistic foundation and ability to be creative. Follow along to create your own fantasy dragon drawings in this simple lesson.
Unlike subjects where you can reference from real life, dragons do not exist in the real world. That means you have to be very good at understanding existing animal forms and artistic techniques for bringing your creation to life.
Don't worry, though. All it really means is that you can be extra creative with what you can piece together. As a matter of fact, there is a fair bit amount of randomness as you play around with textures that would suit your drawing. It can come from existing creatures or it can be completely new.
If you are unsure of how your dragon will look like, start off deciding whether your dragon's form is humanoid, serpent like, or animal like. Use the form you are the most strong at to pave the way for finishing up your fantasy dragon drawing.
The gesture phase of learning how to draw an dragon will be the most important. Here's where you decide the proportions and the stance of your animal.
Start by drawing circles and lines on a new layer to indicate limbs and the overall shape. At the same time, do some simple gesture lines of how you think the muscles will flow on the animal. Since I am most comfortable with the humanoid form, I decide to draw my dragon in this form.
I pick up the form and muscle groups from the human body and manipulate it to form the general body. Then, I added the wings and tails later to the picture. Most drawings will have the dragon have bat-like wings as this seems to be a common accepted form that allows the creature to fly.
All of this can be done in two layers: the first layer has the gesture sketch while the second layer fills in the gray outline of the dragon. Once you have something you like, merge the layers together to simply the object and get it ready for the next phase.
This part is strictly for cleaning up the dragon object. First, using your smudge tool, smudge the gesture lines to blend in the rough lines into the rest of the body. Use 100% pressure to define the spikes coming out of the dragon.
You can also start defining the boundaries of limbs and wings using color differences. A chalk brush will work very well here in comparison to a round brush. You may also want to block in simple muscle tones.
As this dragon is on its own layer, preserving the transparency will allow you to draw within the confines of the dragon without altering the overall shape at all. Toggle this option off if you want to redraw any extra spikes.
To get a thick dragon object, duplicate and merged the object several times. This is to create a solid object so you don't see any of the background underneath. Erase any excess areas of the object as desired.
Now that most of the shading for your dragon is done, you can start working on the tiny little details. Start by locking the layers down so you don't accidentally paint outside the object. Details are suggested by painting in lighter colors.
You can even add additional bones or frills coming out of the head and wings to give it a more dynamic look. It can be time consuming but it will create a believable skin texture for your dragon. Once more, consider using the smudge tool to hard smudge out very fine details.
You will probably be spending a lot of time in this phase swapping between brush sizes to define the details. Some other tools to consider are the dodge and burn tools. These tools will bring out or push value back without too much changes to existing textures.
When you have all the details in place, the last step would be to bring your dragon to life with a few shading and lighting techniques. But first, mentally picture where your light source is and how it will affect the overall composition.
Light can always be done on a multiple layer. If you're using Photoshop and you want to refine the dragon's shadows further, try changing the extra layer into a clipping mask to paint on top of the shape layer without damaging the layer underneath.
Otherwise, if you are not too concerned about one element and want to work on everything at once, just glaze in the large global light sources on the separate layer and adjust the opacity and/or blend modes as required.
You can also add in an additional background to improve the composition through layer duplication. Duplicating and manipulating textures is a powerful skill to have as it saves you time redrawing a lot of things.
For example, the limbs and the wings can be cut and pasted on a different layer. Rather than redrawing it, you can fill it with a neutral tone and then manipulate it in a way to draw in the missing limbs and wings without actually drawing it.
The same technique can be use for for the background as well. Rocks can be duplicated over and over again to build up mountains. Even other dragons can be duplicated and blurred out to create a dragon community.
Finally, unify everything with a global color, preferably on different layers, on a holistic level to create a sense of unity in the composition. That's pretty much it. I hope you enjoyed this challenging lesson on how to draw dragons as much I enjoyed making it.