How to draw a Dragon

Dragons, the mythical creatures that can be found in cultures all around the world... What are they, actually? Serpent entities, often considered demons, that take monstruous forms and are usually very protective towards their belongings. There's so many varieties that it's difficult to make a list. And while many of these fictional creatures take the name of dragons, each difference gives them a different name. So, this tutorial will be centered in only one of these kinds: the "real" dragon, with four legs and two wings. But I went a bit further here. I am not a dragon artist, and I have struggled for years to portray them properly. Still, I know the basics, and the following being that I will paint will show some of the medieval descriptions. Yet I'll make it easy, and will also have some freedom. If you want me to make a guide on Lóngs, or other types of dragons, just let me know!

These two are the best examples I can show you, altough on this tutorial I will simplify a full body! It will portray a reptile head and tail, goat horns, lion's mane and body, and bat wings. These features can be found in several medieval pieces, which I'll portray in my style.

I could be talking about dragons for hours, but I think it's better to finally start this...

1. Head

(1) In one of my several attempts to draw dragons, I found out that the best way to start was by not attempting to draw a dragon. I cannot really tell a single vertebrate that wouldn't fit to be chosen as reference, specially when it comes to birds. So the first sketch will be a circle inside a bigger circle, a triangle, and two curves going down.

(2) Funnily enough, my favorite bird of choice is the peacock, and you'll see why. On this step I only show the lineart so you can understand the positions of the prior step.

(3) Once the peacock (or any other animal) is sketched, I redraw the lines in another layer. The snoot wil be slightly longer than the beak, and the jaw/neck union will be different as well, since the bones and muscles are supposed to be more reptilian. You can totally skip the first two steps if you draw on top of a photo reference (since you'll change the anatomy, I don't really see much of a problem in doing so).

(4) Time for some details. Dragons are often portrayed with a mane. Sometimes it reminds of a lion's or even a horse's, but other times they are "bald", and they only show spikes. I choose to portray the lion's mane for this one. It will cover the neck area, starting behind the jaw. The eyes are really small, compared to the birds' ones, as well as the form is more similar to an almond than it is to a circle. The mouth line is closest to the lower area of the snoot, reminding still of the birds' beak.

(5) I am ready to clean the final linework, where I rework part of the neck and the jaw line. 

(6) Finally, I start the base color. I choose a grayish green for this fella.

(7) On two different layers, I add the shady areas, and the lighted ones. I tend to paint the light coming from the front of the dragon, for easiness. 

(8) I merge the three layers, and blend the colors until it looks harmonious.

(9) After duplicating the layer, I transform the new one into Multiply, erasing the lit areas. The colors are now much more saturated. I merge both layers.

(10) Testing filters, here I find out that by duplicating the layer and transforming the new one to Overlay, it looks good enough to go. I also paint the eye in amber

Now that I finished painting the head, I can work on the rest of the body. This is NOT an usual method, but it works perfectly fine when you want to add details to an area in particular, or in my case to make this tutorial with an order of importance. I didn't want to work on the entire body first because explaining it would have been a mess, and visualy even worse. Now it will just look funny for a few steps. This dragon will have the body of a lion, and bat wings. His musculature needs to be strong, due to the size of the entire creature. But I will make it anatomically "flightless". The wings can sure help him to fly short distances, not too high; just like a chicken. Most of the medieval dragons show this trait, which usually is to avoid overdoing the drawing, but that I find kind of funny.

2. Full body

(11) The orange lines show the bases of the dragon body and its pose. The big circle will be the torso area, where the main center of gravity will be placed. A smaller one, behind it, is where the back legs start. I also remark the joints, in this case similarly to a lion's. On the wings, I have to be really careful. There's an area where they fold, in order to allow bats to fly, and for humans it is the elbow. To show both wings, I place them differently. The red line shows the body completely, to allow myself guiding through a realistic anatomy (as for a lion, since the hidden area is still part of it, not for a fictional creature). The purple lines show the wings' position and lenght. The tail is supposed to be reptilian as well, but I'll hide it behind the legs on this one.

(12) As I draw the final linework, I also add the bust I finished before. This also allows me to know if any details are off and need to be corrected. 

(13) I paint with the same base color as I used before.

(14 to 16) I use the exact same methods as with the bust: shading, lighting, merging, multiply layer, overlay layer. The colors will match the head and neck naturally.

(17) I blend the bust with the rest of body, and soft erase the wings' edge.

(18) I paint the environment, and add a filter on top. It will be gray-orange from dark (top) to pale (bottom), on a Hue layer. Now the dragon fits in the place.

Fun facts of the Empress:

  1. I used to dream about a truly sarcastic red dragon on my teenage years. He would just chase me nonstop, until I got tired and asked him why. He replied with a deep, crispy voice: "I just wanted to be friendly but you keep running away".
  2. The most powerful deity on my Universe is Vxuti, the Dragon God. He was born in a sea of light, blinding him, until he closed himself under his wings and created the first shadow (...).
  3. I was born on the year of the dragon, which will forever fill my pride.
  4. My Patreon Tiers are named after different types of dragons.
  5. I call my followers "Tarragons". This is the name of a plant, also known as Estragon, which means "little dragon".
  6. I studied these creatures for years, and I don't care that they don't exist. It's part of the human psychology, portrayed in art and literature all around the world, which is my biggest area of knowledge.
  7. I own a few dragon figurines. One of them is a toy from when I was 8, after discovering my love for these beings. It is also painted in my favorite color, which makes it extra special.
  8. When I searched for drawing tutorials, most of them never helped me too much. I found some telling me that I could make the head from two rectangles, others saying it was as easy as a horse... But birds are my main help, now.
  9. These are some of my attempts to draw dragons, from when I was a teen, until this year: