Making of 'Eastern Dragon Rider'

There were two things in my mind from the start of this image. I wanted to bring sense of tension and conflict between the dragon and the evil rider, to push the emotional feeling in the piece. The second thing was that I wanted the dragon to have an eastern look to make him more unique and differentiate him from others.

I started my rough sketches, focusing on these two aims. As usual, I sketched with markers and pencils; markers for blocking the large shapes and making a good silhouette, and pencils for adding details and designs. Meanwhile I added a thumbnail that showed a composition beside almost every good concept that I had.

I like this stage of creation process the most. It's this stage where you start exploring the potentials of the different ideas that populate your mind. There are no boundaries or limitations in this process, you just feel free to lay down everything that you have in your mind on the paper and wait for happy accidents (Fig.01 & Fig.02).



A good accident that I took advantage of and developed was using the snakes to add an evil essence to the dragon rider. (You can see how the scruff of the rider on the right of Fig.01 has been developed into the snakes of the rider on the left).

After the fun part ended, I returned to the theme (dragon rider) and started the real drawing phase. I wanted the rider to be the central focus of the image, followed by the dragon and then the other things, so the rider became my first priority. Dealing with the designs of rider and dragon were also my biggest challenges.

I developed the good ideas that had come out of the first stage, although I'm also not afraid to try out something new, which is why you can also see some new designs. The whip was a good idea; something that pushed the essence of brutality and slavery.

I should explain a bit more about the snakes and how they represent further conflict between the rider and dragon. I had this explanation in my mind that the snakes were baby dragons that the evil rider had taken and was using as hostages against the dragon. This is why the dragon can't hurt him; if she did, then she would kill her own children.

A rider with a single whip would not stand a chance against an enormous dragon and so this is a more reasonable explanation about how the rider has guaranteed the dragon's obedience.

We have story in Persian mythology about an evil king called Zahhak (or Dazidahak) who ruled ancient  Persia. He was kissed by a devil on his shoulders and from the places that the devil kissed, two snakes grew. The snakes were fed on the brains of youths and every day the king would have to sacrifice two young people to feed the hideous snakes. This story was a source of inspiration for this illustration (Fig.03 - Fig.05).




I finally came up with just two composition thumbnails. As I said before, I wanted to make the rider the central focus and that's why I drew him alone, close to the viewer's eye. Then I needed to explain what he was riding and what he was doing and so I drew the second rider in the background.

Having a path for the viewer's eyes to follow is very important. In this composition the first thing the audience will see is the rider, then the whip line which leads to the second rider and then to the far background (Fig.06).


After I'd figured out the best composition I started to block the main shapes in really fast and roughly, with big brushes. After I'd blocked the main shapes with the correct values, I eventually decreased the brush size and slowly started to add details to the piece.

I find that beginning quickly with big brushes and then slowly decreasing your speed and brush size is a good technique to use. And of course I used some textured costume brushes for this as well (Fig.07 & Fig.08).



With really simple grid lines, I blocked in the mountain city and fortress in the background. For the arches I used a piece of a photo (Fig.09).


Look how loose and fast I started and how detailed the work looks at the end. As I said before, start fast and end it slow; start with a big brush and end with a small one and you'll get some great work (Fig.10 & Fig.11).



After I'd established a rough lighting value, the first stage of coloring began. Using color balance it's easy to color the highlights, midtones and shadows of an image separately. I wanted to give the image a cool night time color, which would contrast well against the warm colors of the flame and fires I planned to add (Fig.12).


After the glazing stage I stated to use color mode on the brush and layers. I changed the brush or layer mode and put it to color mode and roughly began adding color to the piece. I used a textured costume brush with color dynamics sitting. Color dynamics will give you a variety of color schemes, so don't be afraid of testing the different settings (Fig.13).


I used a quick mask to extract the dragon shapes. I made a selection of it and saved it under the select menu in Photoshop. In this way I had much control over the piece and I was able to work on the foreground and background separately. I tested different kinds of color layers in overlay modes to give the image a fresh and saturated color and get rid of the moody color that I had. I added a little green to the far background on the right and I also used different tones of red, orange, yellow and purple (Fig.14 -Fig.16).




To avoid being bogged down with a lot of layers, when I reached a point where I was happy with the changes, I merged and flattened the layers, then made a duplicate on top where I could start adding more details and corrections.

I used almost every adjustment that Photoshop provided under the image adjustment menu. I'm not going to go into these adjustments now, although it would be cool to do a tutorial on this subject (Fig.17 - Fig.19).




I kept refining and adding details, lighting effects and particles in order to add more complexity to the whole piece. I spent a lot of time on detailing - I can't help it! Even in these final stages, if you are not happy with anything then you can easily change it. Of course you have to spend extra time on the painting, but I think it's okay if it makes you more satisfied with your work (Fig.20 - Fig.24).






I cropped a little section off the bottom of the image in order to make the composition work much better (Fig.25).


I hope you found something new in this tutorial, which mainly focused on conception and developing. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

Ghassem Farhany

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