For hundreds of years, it’s part of many cultures all around the world to imagine dragons. From European mythology to the Chinese Empires, dragons are deeply rooted in stories, culture, and drawings. In this tutorial, we will delve deep into the fascinating world of drawing a dragon step by step. If you love fantasy and have an interest in drawing imaginary beasts, these exercises will be great practice. Let’s look at the fundamentals.
• Be original
You’ll have more than a few favorite dragon drawings that inspire you. To draw a dragon, the first step is learning what a dragon is. What it means to you is also essential. This will help you to give your dragon drawing more visual impact. I recommend the first step is to collect as many pictures as you can. These can be used as your picture morgue, so a good variety is always better for getting ideas.
I like to find old photo albums to insert these pictures like a collage of some sort. This is so I can see the different shapes and forms of various animals. Once you’ve got a full album, you’re ready for action.
• Borrow from real nature
Since nobody knows what a dragon really looks like, you have to rely on real animal anatomy. I love lizards, salamanders, alligators, and crocodiles for getting the lizard look. To some degree, there are pictures of birds that are also great for wing design and shape. Just look at bats, and study how their skin membrane covers over their bones too. I also like pictures of molting animals, like parrots, to see how their wings look without feathers.
Animals that inspire you in real life tend to make great prototypes for drawing a dragon. All of these combined animals or parts of animals also give you an idea of what their anatomy is all about.
• Give a dragon character
Do you have a favorite celebrity, singer, or person that inspires you? This is one aspect that is called character-building and is essential for your dragon’s character. Take a look at caricatures, and the things that pop-out when identifying features are drawn. Often a caricature is magnifying parts of the face that are either increased or decreased. One way to give a dragon character is to add elements of your real-life inspiration.
This helps build a back-story or inner personality, which gives them more intent as a dragon. You’ll be surprised how much more believable a dragon becomes by adding a hint of human emotion or facial resemblance.
• Show they are thinking creatures
From the raised eyebrow of Dwayne Johnson to the evil smirk of Jack Nicholson, certain facial features tell you something. What is your dragon thinking, and is there a reason behind a cheeky smile or crooked frown? Even the position they stand or how they are holding their shoulders conveys how they feel. Use the caricatures of real people to add visual depth to show attitude and style.
It will make a big difference if you show they have emotions too, which is what dragons embody as thinking creatures. Since they all have a love of something, show that they enjoy wearing their treasures like jewelry.
• Where do they come from?
Many people associate dragons with fire and living close to volcanoes. Perhaps your dragon likes cold winter mountains or deep cavernous caves. Adding a bit of background can show where they like to hang-out. These elements will obviously be added toward the end of any drawing, so as you develop a sketch, you’ll get ideas as you go. Look at how their facial structure is and imagine the kind of air they breathe.
Big noses can mean dry and hot areas, while small noses are for more wet and rainy locations. But really, it’s better to do some research where different people or animals come from. Do they live in the desert or jungle, or from secluded mountains or flat plains? It’s up to you and your imagination also.
• How big or small is your dragon?
All dragons are going to start out small and grow to be impressively large in size. Think of the scale that you want people to be aware of. How do you convey size in this case? Well, for one, are they well-fed or simply scraping-by with scraps? Use these clues to give an impression of their total size. Of course, objects in the drawing make them appear larger but stick to the caricature style of establishing size.
If you’ve ever looked in the side-view mirror in a car, you’ll notice that objects may appear larger. This is because the mirror is shaped that way on purpose. Your drawing should also make certain parts of your dragon look larger or smaller on purpose.
• Horns, armor, and floppy frills
Just like hair, a dragon will have plenty of interesting attributes. These will include a variety of horns, quills, frills, and leathery hard body armor. These will be mostly your imagination, but the reality is seen in real animals. There are armadillos and pangolins, and armadillo lizards for a good reference. You should also think about the varieties of animal horns you find appealing.
Quills that are from porcupines are interesting, too, along with loose hanging skin that might be attached to lizard frills. These additions give dragons more clues about the kind of protection they need from other dragons or even people…
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How to Draw a Dragon Head
The majority of dragon heads start as profiles since it’s pretty hard to draw a three-quarter angle that looks cooler. I recommend that you start with a profile first to get an idea of what the head looks like sideways. You’ll be surprised how realistic a flat drawing can become once you start adding highlight and shadow. But the first step is to decide the shape of your dragon head. Here’s how to start.
• Defining the outline
Dragons usually look as if they have beak-like faces, but this isn’t always the case. As mentioned before, you’ll want to take caricature aspects of actors or people that you like to build-into your sketch. The best way to start is by sketching the overall shape. I like to think that the main facial outline looks similar to a souped-up muscle car. This will appear very low in the front and high in the back.
All of the faces are pretty-much going at a downward slope that’s at 45 degrees. Try to put an overlay of the caricature onto the face’s front part, seeing where facial features line-up. I highly recommend to bring along the resemblance of someone you admire to enhance your dragon even further. It’s also a lot of fun to see if anyone can notice that as well, making your dragon very unique looking.
Once you have a side profile that you like, you need to draw an extended neck. Starting at the highest point of the back of the neck, your line can gradually arc downward. This arc defines muscles that hold the head up and show how strong they can be. The lower and skinnier an arc your draw, you get more of a gentle neckline. Drawing the lower neck starts at the mid-jaw line.
Don’t start that at the jaw’s very back since this will make your neckline too thin looking. At the midpoint, this is where a natural line will make sense to draw. If you’re going for a skinny neck, then use reference photos to give that impression.
• Adding horns
There’s no rule where horns can be placed but think about the weight that needs to support them. This is why most animal horns are placed on the skull toward the back. Horns that are further forward are thinner, whereas most of them are placed at the mid-point. But if you’re going for a cool aerodynamic look, horns that follow the overall head shape are pretty traditional. Just remember that horns are a lot like hairstyles, so be open to horn variations.
Once again, you can refer to celebrities or characters you like and see how horn patterns can resemble their hair. A good visual example is Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld or David Bowie from Labyrinth.
• Filling in teeth and scale detail
You’ll want to add teeth detail at this point. This will begin by drawing a line that tells you how the mouth is separated under the nose. Going for a caricature style mouth will also be important if you want your dragon to be familiar looking. Depending on how wide their mouth is, extend the line further. Not all dragons are going to have massive jaws stretching ear-to-ear. Perhaps your dragon has a very short mouth opening.
Now with a line that separates the top from the bottom, you can start adding teeth. Start with the top row first, using the reference of what you find appealing. This will also depend on whether this dragon has an overbite or underbite? The toothier, the better, so don’t be afraid to experiment with random tooth patterns. When it comes to filling-in facial and neck detail, use all your reference pictures added as scale detail.
The best method is to follow wrinkle patterns that come from the eyes. You would be surprised how easy it is to create armor detail that comes from intersecting age lines. There are also wrinkles around the mouth that connect with laugh lines or nasal labial folds. Use pictures of old people to create a wrinkle map, and where wrinkles cross paths are where armor plates or scales can form.
The younger a dragon happens to be will also be lighter and less bumpy. Keep your lines light-handed so you can erase mistakes as you go.
How to Draw a Dragon Eye
There are many types of eye patterns that you can start with, but first, you’ll need to choose a shape. Deciding which eye appeals to you the most is going to be the window into your dragon’s soul. Lizard eyes are certainly interesting, but it’s hard to feel empathy for a pupil that’s a slit shape. The angle of how the eye is positioned also tells you about their disposition. If we go back to different actors, you can see all kinds of interesting eye shapes.
Are their eyes droopy like Vincent Schiavelli (the angry subway ghost guy), or almond-shaped like the singer Björk? If you want to stick to animals like lizards, they’ll vary in shape from a total circle to oval-shaped eyelids. Use lots of photo references to start sketching-in your favorite eye shape. Keep in mind that you want to build character through the eyes. Larger eyes convey friendlier dragons, while small beady eyes are more sinister.
When it comes to drawing the pupil, this will allow you more freedom to explore your personality. Ask yourself if they’re thinking of something or pondering a memory that haunts them? Yes, kids, just like those crazy Instagram selfies, eye position tells a story too! The most popular is the 10 or 2 o’clock position. This seems to always give a dreamy thoughtful look. Then there is the dreaded 4 and 8 o’clock position that’s broody and looking back.
It never fails to give your drawing more appeal if there is more to where your dragon is directly looking. If you don’t know these eye positions look at a clock face and copy yourself with a selfie. The impact is immediate, and it’ll be hard to not spot this in countless celebrities or singers posing for pictures. You can also play with where a pupil is looking any way you like since these are just suggestions.
• Adding detail around the eye
You will be adding little details that all eyes have. Some lines are placed above the eyelid and subtle lines underneath the eye. Depending on age, these lines will be deeper looking or softer shadows using a blending stump. Being that any dragon needs to have scales around the eyes, use your imagination and photo reference—very lightly pencil-in small scales around the rims of the eyelid.
These are all based on wrinkles and wrinkle patterns around the eye. Follow tighter scales around the very edges of the eyelids. Then fill all the open spots with progressively random scales that follow a natural wrinkle map.
• What eye colors to use
Dragons always seem to have vivid glowing eyes that piece the darkness. As I mentioned before, you want people to see their inner-soul, so this is one way to get that across. You need to choose colors that include tones that pop, so use brilliant color pencils. I recommend the Faber-Castell Polychomos series of pencils to get brilliant colors. You can find a very reasonable set on Amazon right here: Click Here to Visit Amazon
Choosing a color also has an immediate call for emotion since we associate colors with how we feel. Red is the angriest of all the colors, while blue can be cold or unhappy. Green is one that we feel is jealousy, whereas pink can be a loving or romantic-feeling. Not all of these color indications are directly related to emotions, but they’re a good place to start.
• Adding highlight and simulated shine
Giving dragon eyes that have great highlights is one of the most effective ways to increase your drawing realism. But you have to know a little about highlight and shadow. To get the most from your drawing, you’ll need to decide where the light source is coming from. Is it coming from the left side or right side? Or is it from an angled overhead or from below? This tells you which part of the eye is darker and which is lighter.
Using slightly darker shades from your color pencil kit, gradually shade half of the eye. These colors can be slightly darker on the darkest side. Use a blender stump to smooth out these areas as you go. The lighter side repeats this process using one or two shades lighter than your original eye color. This can also be blended with a freshly shaved blender stump. I should remind you that freshly shaved blender stumps won’t smudge your colors.
Now the next step is to add little details that give your dragon eye more character. Take a color that is 3x lighter and 3x darker than the shadow and highlight color. It doesn’t have to be the exact color either, so if you have green, then use an aqua blue. If there’s a red, then use a coral pink or bright orange. Do the same for the darker colors, using subtle colors that show up even in the shadow spots.
Using light strokes of these color pencils, you can create iris color pops. These are those little lines inside the iris that show-up on one side of the eye. It also makes your dragon eye look like it has more depth with a 3D look. This also gives a better look into the dragon’s eye without going overboard. Just light lines where the strongest part of the highlight and shadows are going.
• Getting the right glint
Eyes have a certain amount of glint, which is hard to do with most color pencil drawings. Glint is not just the reflection inside the eye that shows where a light source is located. This glint is the wetness that rolls along the edges of the eye. What parts of the eye are moister or oily-looking? The edges where the tear duct is located will always have a slight glint, just like the eye’s inner lid.
Don’t go overboard on this because glint only appears where a light source allows it to be. It won’t appear in the shadows unless it’s catching the very top of high peaks on the skin.
• Reflecting shine
Now, this is where the eye color gets tricky, so you need to be patient. Reflecting shine is the background of where your light source is located. These colors will reflect the sky over the highlighted part of your dragon eye. But this is where you need to consider if it’s day or night and if it’s sunset or high noon? This is a lot to throw at you, but eye reflection is a beautiful 3D effect that nails the realism.
To get the best effect, what you’re doing is adding a one-quarter sliver of light on the highlighted area. This helps show a skyline and light source such as a sun or moon. Look at pictures of eyes close up to see how the curve of the eye reflects light. Start with a light line to represent a horizon line and bend this into a bright spot. The bright spot is your reflected light source, so it should be the lightest of all the colors you’ll use.
How to Draw Dragon Wings
Dragon wings are something that is always limited to getting creative. We usually go right to the skin-covered bat-like wings, just like most unicorns have feathered dove wings. To this day, there never was any new idea that makes them different. In essence, a wing is an arm that has extended fingers covered by stretchy skin. So your dragon is basically a creature with four arms.
Now getting the right wing shape should also be proportionate to the size of your dragon. This is obviously why they need to give enough lift to get off the ground. The best way to start with a dragon wing is to study a standard batwing. This means that whatever personal touches you add to beef-up this wing is to add muscles that show strength. These will be in the upper-shoulder and toward the upper arm biceps.
These are areas that could realistically have overlapping armor or scales. The extending fingers and thumb are then covered with a leathery skin that’s stretchy and very wrinkly. Think of the skin that hangs from turkey necks filled with wrinkles but are still very elastic.
• How many fingers
Bat wings have a total of three outstretched fingers and a thumb. The thumb is poised at the forearm’s top, whereas the tree fingers extend outward from the wrist. Just like any animal, there are going to be wrist bones to allow finger mobility. This will apply to the thumb joint so that grappling onto any surface is easier. If you add more fingers, you need to stick to how a batwing works.
You’ll need to pay attention to the shading and highlights of your dragon wings as you finish them. Finishing touches that will make these wings stand-out can include little spines or quills. These can stick out from the upper arms down to the thumb claw. These are also interesting highlight spots that add depth and mass to your dragon.
• Does the membrane attach to the body?
Like the membrane attaches to a bat, this skin runs alongside the body down to the hind leg. Every time you see a dragon wing, the wing ends at the back of the rib cage. Realistically, no lift can occur without attaching to the hind leg. But over the years, fantasy and anatomy have switched camps. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make concessions for realism.
Why not add this skin membrane that is attached to the hip of your dragon. It can even run down to the knee along the side of its leg.
How to Draw Dragon Scales in Color
A dragon shouldn’t be simple green and brown colors since many lizards are often very colorful. In recent years, dinosaurs’ drawings have become a rainbow of attractive shades with bursts of lively color. Your dragon scales will have plenty of colors that should reflect their lifestyle, food, and climate. Just like real animals, you need to look at references that relate to your drawing.
Since dragons love their treasure and tend to collect gold in particular, it would make sense that that shimmer will rub-off onto them. Their scales and claws will have a certain golden shimmer from rolling around in their golden piles. Alternatively, if they live in caves, there will be iridescence from minerals along the cave walls. So along with natural colors with added highlights, your dragon scales will be practically glowing.
• Method for coloring scales
Each scale that you draw will need special attention to the little details. You need at least three colors for each scale. The first is a basic color, which is an earthy tone. Keep it natural so if you use red, then use a terra cotta red or clay. Mineral colors work best for getting a realistic base tone. The base of each scale is your shadow point, but you’ll need to stick to where light is coming from too.
Most scales are darker at the base and lighter at the tips. Snake scales are great for color reference because they have decorative patterns. These patterns are helpful to snakes, so they’ll blend-into the ground where they live. Other predators won’t see them in that case.
• Adding highlights
Have a good selection of iridescent colors on hand to make highlights pop on individual scales. If you have metallic colors, including gold and silver, use these generously for adding final touches. Using iridescent colors on the edges of scales helps bring out a 3D effect. This is the sheen that you see on lizards how their body is rounded. It also looks good if you follow the direction of a light source.
You can’t go wrong with glimmering highlights as long as you stick to the direction of light. A random shimmer is fine as long as you stick to the light source angle itself.
How to Draw a Chinese Dragon
No matter how you slice it, Chinese dragons are very specialized. They sort of look like a salamander with a big head and scales! There is always going to be the issue of length for Chinese dragons. Some drawings show they are very long with twists and curves, while others are relatively short. When it comes to color, the scheme is commonly red or green. You might see variants that include royal colors such as blue and gold are quite popular too.
The head is unlike any other dragon and is a mixture of a horse and pug dog. The mane is frilly with flame-like tendrils and two long horns. These horns extend backward over the neck like tree branches. The spine of each dragon has the traditional spikes leading down to the tail. Each tail explodes in flame tendrils that spread out in all directions. The scales are everything from fishy-looking to lizard-like.
• Traditional Chinese Dragon
Starting out, drawing a Chinese dragon is never a major challenge since most designs are 2D. You can make them into 3D looking drawings if you add highlights and shadows. Start with a snake-like shape that you like. The head is easy to draw from looking at these drawings so have reference pictures as inspiration. These will start at least twice the length of each leg on the body as for the front legs.
The legs are always stubby and cartoon-like, with three toes in front and one-pointed backward in the rear. The body itself is long and serpentine, so the hind legs will be at least two neck lengths. The belly is a traditional snake stomach with flat lines between each segment. You’ll have to angle these lines to match the curves of your dragon. Add your scales and spike, and soon you’re ready to add color.
• Chinese New Year’s Parade Dragon
Chinese parade dragons are off-the-chart for silliness. They are the Sesame Street version of all dragons and have colors that explode. Aside from the head’s general blocky look, the body has zigzag patterns that would impress ‘Long Horse.’ This is always the easiest type of dragon to draw, but it will be the most colorful. Colors are nearly neon and day-glow with lots of sparkles and glitter.
Be sure to bring your gold and silver pencils along for the coloration process. If you love imaginative detail, the scale patterns on this type of dragon tend to look more like Japanese goldfish. Don’t forget that every Chinese dragon looks like their eyes are literally popping out. If you decide to start any dragon drawing, this version will be a thrilling romp of color combinations. Have fun!
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