Inspirations: Dragons

There is something about dragons that just captures the imagination.

Their powerful and have amazing abilities. Their role in our imaginations has changed over the centuries, informed by science, legend, religion and culture. They may be mere animals, or intelligent. They are a myth or a metaphor and maybe more. They can be fun to draw, but also a challenge. You won’t often find a photo of a ‘live’ dragon to pose for you. But if you know their history, you’ll be able to piece together enough of an image to create your own.

Dragons in Myth, Legend and Religion:

Spiritually, European dragons were thought of us ‘evil’. This is due to the influence of Christianity and the infamous claim that ‘Satan is a dragon’ in the book of Revelation (Revelation 12). However this is a bit of a stretch: the same devil is compared to both a snake and a roaring lion. Since Jesus is also compared to a Lion, we can’t say all lions are evil. And while many of us don’t like snakes, others do. They are, for better or worse, animals. A mouse might think a snake evil but most of us don’t. In artwork of the Renaissance Period they are often shown as a snakelike creatures with wings. Whether these are meant to represent a real extinct creature, or were a metaphor for sin, is known only to the creators. (ie look up when internet comes back). In any case these were characterized by not only a very lizard like look, batlike wings and an ability to breath fire.

Eastern dragons on the other hand were considered good luck.  It’s a symbol of water and the heavens as well as fertility.

Physicality of dragons:

Given the general description of dragons, it’s possible they were informed by a combination of the Bible translations and remains of dinosaurs. Unless of course there is  a real dragon that is not only extinct and the remains totally destroyed or buried deep in unexplored ocean depths.
It’s unknown what Eastern dragons are inspired by, but dinosaur bones are also found in China.  But they share similarities to creatures in art by the aztecs and inuits.

Komodo dragons are real lizards,  and  in some tongues the word dragon traces back to ‘serpent.’

Modern Dragons:

In recent years dragons have become popular in the realm of fantasy.  In some ways, they’ve always been a hot topic. But now, advances in computer science allow for the creation in digital dragons. They swoop through movies in pursuit of Harry Potter and chase knights with swords. Perhaps it’s a slow recognition in our own flaws that has us re-evaluating dragon lore. Some dragon movies have come out which show dragons as more misunderstood than monstrous. Pete’s dragon is an old Disney movie featuring a friendly animated dragon and a real boy. But at the time most dragons were villains like The Hobbit's Smaug. Now stories like ‘Dragonheart’ reveal a different tale: a dragon who helped create the code of chivalry.  In the Dragonriders of Pern series, dragons are a combination of human engineering and a natural species which help combat a deadly threat from a colony planet's skies.

As for the dragons of Christianity, some authors have finally recognized the gap in fantasy that Christian books had after CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. They have created new fantasies, and unlike the old ‘villain’ dragons, new ‘hero dragons are born. Stories like Donita K. Paul’s Dragonspell series where our heroes live in a world of dragons and magic where ‘Wulder’ and his ‘Paladin’ represent the creator and all follow his laws. Their are evil dragons here too, but they have their good counterpart. Also Bryan Davis ‘Dragons in our Midst follows the tale of a boy and girl who are the children of dragons turned into humans. The dragons were pursued by slayers, who had already slain all the wicked dragons and were indiscriminately turning to the ‘good’ dragons, not caring that they served God. Prophecy says these children will save the dragons and restore the Arthurian throne.

When drawing dragons, it’s helpful to keep this dragon history in mind.

Is your dragon good or evil or neutral? Intelligent as a human or purely an animal? Is he a dragon from an established fantasy or are you inventing one all your own? Given that dragons are usually lizards, pictures of lizards can be useful in determining types of scales. Bats can supply the wings. Claws are important too. Natural earth colors would make up a realistic dragon. Remember that it would take huge wings to support this critter!
You can of course be totally exotic. You might change bat wings for feathers, go for wilder painted colors and or markings. It can have a more mammal like paws and face. Perhaps your dragon is meant to have a rider like the ones in Dragonspell, Eragon or Dragonriders of Pern.  It’s your dragon. You decide! How you draw your dragon will bring it to life and influence it’s personality.
Don’t forget that where your dragon lives can help you too. Grab some pictures off the internet to reference if you want to create your own ‘cave’ backgrounds, look up sky and mountain photos for how tips and tricks on coloring your backdrop. It can be harder than it looks. Make sure your dragon stands out, at least in those features you want to be prominent.

Finally: keep in mind how much of your dragon will be in your picture. A dragon is usually big and long. So if your limited to small paper you’ll either need to shrink down your dragon and lose details or focus on one area, such as the head, and crop out others. Of course, if you can afford big paper and have the place to work you can go all out!

Here are a couple of cool references  I've used for dragons:

Dragonart: How to Draw Fantastic Dragons and Fantasy Creatures  – J. “NeonDragon” Peffer

DVD- Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real – Discovery Channel Volume 3

Imaginative Realism– James Gurney

The Dragon Chronicles (Fiction)

Dragonspell series – (Fiction – Series) Donita K. Paul

Dragons in our Midst – (Fiction – Series) Bryan Davis

Dragonriders of Pern (Fiction- series)  – Ann McCaffrey


For beginners, here is a decent video tutorial on dragons:


Check my Squidoo lens on dragons for more resources!

Faith, Science and Imagination

Our outlook on life depends on what we let our mind see.

We live in this world as a species at war with itself. I don’t just mean the visible, battles for land, food, resources and power.  I mean in our way of looking at things, even within each of us individually. And then, it spills out without our even noticing.

We battle between creationism, science and imagination. Some people claim evolution is a science and creationism fantasy. Others object. This leads to conflict. I say ‘prove it or, for that matter, disprove it.’ That’s what science is supposed to do. Within a species you can prove evolution, for your various wild and tame breeds of canine, feline and equine are proof enough. But I’ve never seen anything to suggest solid proof man came from a monkey.  And the odds are astronomical against even a single cell coming to life without a guiding mind behind it. So it’s not like gravity, where you can drop something off a cliff and instantly prove it. If you want to teach science, you can’t claim all science is reproducible except this one thing! That makes it a scientific theory, not a fact. Whether I believe (or want to believe) the alternative theory is besides the point. I, for one, know I can’t really prove either.

The truth is the beginnings are so far back no-one knows for sure. They can claim they do, but to some extent it’s all belief. Why they can’t admit it, is beyond me. At the same time, are we so sure we want to prove everything?  Even bringing a child into the world is a perilous venture. And we’re trying for artificial intelligence. Who knows what will happen when the imperfect intelligence of humanity succeeds? It’s unlikely to create perfection. Many a sci fi movie is based on the robots rebelling against mankind. (Well, if mankind rebelled against God than I guess that would make us the robot’s god and turn about is fair play.)  And we’ve already seen ‘Planet of the Apes’. No, I definitely am not keen on that being proven. I’m pretty sure my alarm at the idea isn’t soley due to a belief in God.

On the other hand, the creation story is an account no doubt passed on for generations by storytellers before written. It seems to have lost some details along the way. For instance: if Eve came for Adam, where did Seth’s wife come from? Was she from his rib? Was she his sister? Was she a monkey? (I find that thought disturbing for a lot of reasons. No one said imagination is always a good thing.) And these children of the nephilim they mention, like the giants,-what did they look like? It says ‘giants’ came from them. And giant bones have been found. (Even now the human race seems to be getting taller all the time. Would we seem giants to our ancestors?) We know dinosaurs existed, was that before humans or a different part of the world? At least some of it does dovetail with science: there is plenty of evidence, both scientific and in world myth that there was a great flood for Noah. And the evolution with the animal kingdom could explain how he stuffed so many beasts into the arc. You don’t need every breed of feline, just a starter set. And of course, some creatures were born for life in the water anyway.

Young children seem to ask these questions automatically. Then as they grow older whether Christian, Atheist or any other, their curiosity gets squashed. ‘Don’t ask’, the adults say, we don’t have the answers and fear we wouldn’t like them. Why not, I don’t know. Okay, so you believe God wrote the Bible through man. That means for all humankind, not just the rocket scientists and biologists. He certainly didn’t write it with picking apart the DNA of dinosaurs in mind.

I for one, wonder if some of our ancient religions and myths aren’t connected. Science fiction is unafraid to confront such questions. Stargate dared think ‘what if the ancient gods’ were aliens. Well, what if they were these ‘children’ of nephilim or nephilim themselves? They don’t have to be actual ‘gods’ in a pantheon for there to be a Zeus or a Hera. Just someone bigger, more powerful and maybe more high tech than humanity at the time. Were there centaurs? Or was there someone with poor vision in a horseless society who was attacked? Perhaps all his colleagues, having heard it, then saw what they expected to see. Perhaps Pegasus sprang from ancient versions of the modern western: the legendary wild white stallion. As the ancient people saw it make a mighty leap away, perhaps on a high mountain, the sun and clouds contrived wings.

I believe we need the ability to dare to imagine, even if we don’t believe in others viewpoints. Myth and legend often starts with a grain of truth. That’s no surprise. There probably always were storytellers who’d master a stories ‘spin’ (now they work for politicians) and capitalized on the best features of a true story and expand.

Unicorn Tapestry #8 ; photo by nhyder 51 Photobucket
Unicorn Tapestry #8 photo by nhyder 51 Photobucket

Unicorns and dragons probably, in some form, did exist. Maybe they still do and we just don’t recognize them. Ancient tapestries show unicorns that looked like goats with one horn. Yet now we expect a magnificent horse like creature. A one horned goat would be a mere genetic mutation to us. Paintings show Sir George battling a dragon much smaller than he and the horse. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the ‘dragon’ of Revelation, the devil. If so, he’s smaller than expected. On the other hand, maybe dragons were lizards descended from dinosaurs and were (or even are) just unrecognized. Maybe it’s not that unicorns and dragons have gone, but our ability to see them. We’ve lost it either to science or faith, when we need imagination. A dragon is supposed to be terrifying by our ‘western’  standards (as opposed to the friendlier eastern dragons) . So as we become more confident and build better weapons, our imagined dragon must be bigger and scarier. He needs more than fangs to attack the children and a powerful body. He now needs a flame thrower gullet and giant wings to take to the skies.

Is your mind full of the mundane or is it full of wonder?

Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau
Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau, photo by mafiashaolin on Photobucket

But to some extent, we need them all. We need the faith (for even a belief there is no god can be considered ‘a faith’ for you can’t prove there is no god, either.) We need science. We need imagination. Perhaps imagination is the place where science meets faith and either creates a war or releases a sense of wonder. If our faith can answer the question science asks, it will be all the stronger. And if it can’t? Then we maybe we either need to think outside the box or we need a bigger box.  We have far too much war. We need far more wonder.

Wonder creates answers and solutions to problems the ‘wonderless’ accept as the status quo. It invented the wheel, encouraged someone to tame the first dog and ride that early horse. It created the car and the computer and sent satellites into space. It painted the Sistine Chapel and Cinderella’s castle. It creates problems, true, but also dares to dream of solutions. It dares challenge the possible. Wonder guarantees there is joy and beauty to be found round nearly any corner: if we only have the imagination and courage to look.