Drawing a tiny dragon


There is a great diversity of small dragons races of all kinds. In this tutorial I will explore and sketch a few of these tiny and cute creatures to later select one of those species and teach you, step by step, how to bring it to life using graphite techniques and how to use erasers to add high-lights.

Step 01: Exploring different species

In this case I do not have an initial brief, the only requirement I have on mind is to find a tiny and cute dragon so I am doing different doodles to find some pose or physical appearance that I might like. This type of exercise is very fun and interesting because you can let your imagination fly and generate more than one interesting design for use it at another time.

In this case I am using a blue pen to make the doodles. I love the pen for rough and quick sketches. To remark the silhouette, I’m using a grey marker.

Exploring different dragon species and poses to determine which one I am going to draw later.

Step 02: Selected doodle

After having done different doodles I opted for the small and thin one on a branch. The original doodle is an idea about the pose, but as I do not have clear concept of the physical appearance of the creature I made a new doodle, this time defining the features of the dragon a little more.

Redrawing the selected doodle to define the physical characteristics a little bit more before starting
the final drawing

Step 03: The first lines & composition

It is very important start with soft lines to define the space that the dragon is going to occupy in the paper.  If you start your drawing without considering this step is very probable that it will end up off centre, so, here I try to place the creature with the desired composition and at the same time I define the volume refraining from going into details yet.

I’m using a B pencil gradation to start the drawing but you can start with an HB if you prefer.

Defining the space that the dragon will occupy on the paper at the same time I define the volume

Step 04: Defining the anatomy

Once I marked the volume of the dragon in the desired composition I begin to define the anatomy and features. I start to define the face, the neck, legs and wings and general body shape. If I find any part of the anatomy difficult I usually resort to animal photographs or anatomy studies of artists like Terryl Whitlatch. That often can help me to understand and then resolve the issue with drawing and get it to look more believable.

In this step I still use a soft and rough line with a B pencil.

Defining the features and anatomy of the creature and searching anatomy references to make the
creature more believable

Step 05: Cleaning the line

Before I start shading I like have the drawing completely defined and clean because it’s easier to apply volume with shadows and lights later and makes it look more realistic. I usually use the malleable eraser to erase soft lines as it doesn’t generate a lot of trash like a conventional eraser. This type of eraser is very useful when adding shadows to lower the tone if you have darkened an area too much, or to soften elements of the background and generate depth effects.

Cleaning and defining the line of the drawing to start shading in the next step

Step 06: Halftone

I start shading by applying a general halftone over the entire drawing. I shade some points a little more but this step is basically to create the volume of the figure and have a general idea of the lights and shadows. If you have doubts about how to illuminate your creature, you always can scan the line drawing and digitally generate (or print it and working over the print) a number of variations before you start with the original - It also gives you a chance to search and experiment with lighting references.

In this step I continue using the B pencil for gradation.

Shadowing with a halftone all over the figure to generate the general volume and illumination of the dragon

Step 07: The scales

Using the previously generated volume as reference I start to add the scales. In this step I begin by using a 4B pencil to increase the contrast of the figure. It is very important follow the directions and the shapes of the body when you are applying the scales to obtain a realistic result.

I like to add little lines or imperfections to create texture and realism to the creature. You can see this on the big spines of the neck or in the pointy scales on the opposite side.

Adding the scales following the direction and volume of the body and applying some texture

Step 08: Finishing the dragon's body shadows

Using the previous method I finish adding scales and texture over the body of the dragon. Observe how, depending the area, the scales increase or decrease in size and how the contrast in the areas farthest from the foreground decreases depending on the distance.

At the same time I was adding the scales I darkened the areas that needed more contrast like the belly and chest.

Finishing scales and creating more contrast with shadows

Step 09: Background

Having been inspired by the branches of an almond tree, I decide to pose this dragon in them.

The main branch where the dragon is perched has a stronger tone, while the branches in the back of the picture are left plane and clearer to create depth.

I added some details like the flowers and a butterfly in the background to enrich the illustration giving it a more natural look.

Shading the almond tree branches where the dragon is perched and adding some details like flowers and a butterfly to get a natural background

Step 10: Highlights

The last step is applying high-lights to illuminate the dragon and give it a more natural look.

I used an electric eraser to apply small touches of light (normally, areas where the light hits more directly are brighter.) If I overdo it with the eraser and the intensity of the light is too great, I go back and shade that area in again with a pencil to make it a bit darker.

During the process I have also used a sharpened eraser
(with a brush end to clean the garbage it generates.) Sharpening the eraser allows you to create interesting lights such as the outline of the main branch.

Using an electric eraser and a sharpening eraser I generate high-lights around the body of the dragon for a more realistic light touch

Tiny Dragon!

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