The process for this painting was a little different for me this time. Although I am rendering a dark foreground as I did with the bird paintings, this particular animal proved to be more of a challenge. The reference photo that I shot made for a good landscape and since I wanted to show the dragon’s arms and part of his body, I had to create an environment for him. Unlike the bird paintings, I could not simply frame his head with a bunch of leaves or flowers, this particular piece needed something a lot more interesting.
To put the dragon in a more dramatic setting, I looked at pictures of komodo dragons in the wild. The reference that I found had an adult dragon in a similar pose to the reference I shot at the zoo. What I found interesting was the grass the dragon was laying in and I decided to draw something similar for my composition. Next I looked at pictures of dead animals and I found a cool picture of an animal’s ribcage. Adding elements such as the bones provides more of a story for the viewer to be immersed in.
You can see in the drawing that I drew some of the background elements using an orange colored pencil. As with the vulture painting, this was done because graphite would have been too dark and I would have needed to do some erasing. I knew I wanted yellows and oranges in the background to go against my cooler foreground.
Painting this animal was rough at first, I had to make a conscious effort to think about large areas of shadow and avoid rendering all the scales. To help me do this, I held my reference at arm’s length forcing me to observe basic shapes. Before I started the underpainting, I did a light wash of payne’s grey over the dragon to force myself to go darker. This is done to trick the brain into placing darker values. When painting on a white board, everything appears dark even though it is actually a light grey. Doing a light wash of payne’s grey over the dragon also helps separating him from the background more. You can see that at this stage any color that I have layed in is very desaturated. I kept it under control since I knew I wanted saturated color in his eye.
Next I added a thin wash of green gold on top of the grass. The green gold stayed pretty neutral due to the dioxazine purple underneath. I also added a very light gradient wash of turquois going from the bottom of the grass upwards.
Next I attacked the background using mostly primary magenta and dioxazine purple. With the exception of the bones and some of the grass, I was careful to use my softer neptune brush to apply the pigment very lightly. I used a lot of water to thin out the paint and I was careful not to go too dark.
At this stage I used my neptune brush to do some thin gradient washes of vat orange and primary yellow which desaturated the violets underneath. As with the birds I painted, this created a halo around the subject – the dragon’s head. By using contrast, I direct the viewer’s attention where it is needed.
At this point, I felt like the bones were way too purple so I toned them down by doing some very light washes of primary yellow. I also added a little more vat orange to the background to make sure the bones had a little more “bleached” appearance. I also used payne’s grey to darken areas of shadow on the dragon.
Here in the finished scan you can see all the opaques I did. I focused them mostly around the dragon’s head and eye. In the eye I glazed on some saturated vat orange. With the exception of the dragon’s eye, all the opaques were done using titanium white and primary yellow. You can also see that I toned down the orange in the background a little bit using dioxazine purple. I also added a little more grass in the background. With this piece in particular, most of the attention to the subject is done through contrast alone as his eye is fairly small. Still it is effective and I am reasonably happy with the results.