How to Draw a Dragon | Discovering Epic Fantasy Creatures

Sometimes in order to learn how to draw a dragon or other fantasy creature, you have to get in the right mindset. Dive in to the history and the lore. William O’Connor takes you on a great journey to discover the dragons of the world in Dracopedia: The Great Dragons. This tutorial on how to draw a dragon focuses on the Welsh dragon.

The great Welsh red dragon of folklore and history is by far the most famous within the Dracorexidae family of dragons. Although the red dragons do not have as large a range as the white and blue dragons and are far rarer (estimated fewer than 200 remaining), they hold the distinctions of living in such close connection to the humans in their area that the relationship is almost symbiotic. Dragon-human contact, however, is almost unheard of. “They’re like your American grizzlies,” Sir Geoffrey explains. “If you leave them alone, they don’t bother you. But if you taunt them or threaten their hatchlings, you’re in big trouble.”

The current range of the Welsh red dragon stretches north to the Faroe Islands, south into Wales, and across much of the northern islands of Scotland, where the dragons hunt seals and small whales from the sea.


Dragon Songs
Welsh red dragons bellow deep sonorous songs that can be heard over long miles. This helps them to navigate among other dragons even when visibility is low.

Wings as Protection
The large sail-like wings of dragons are filled with blood vessels. Lying in the warm sun, even on a cold day, can warm large dragons. Similarly, on a hot day the wind blowing across their wings cools them off, very much like the ears on an elephant.

Make sure you practice sketching the elements of the dragon before you jump into a larger piece. Practice the ridged scales, the wings, the snout and the poses.

Color Variations
Like other dragons, the Welsh red dragon has a wide variation of patterns and colors between male and female. The frills and horns of the male are absent in the female, as are the bright markings that become deeper in the fall.

Welsh dragon wingspan from underneath

How to Draw a Dragon

Time to draw a full dragon in a scene! Now that you know the basics of coloring and anatomy, let’s get into the step-by-step instruction for how to draw a dragon. This Welsh dragon will be breathing fire off a large rock on the coast. Use your sketches of studies to develop a full painting of the dragon.

Here is a list of aspects of the dragon to include in this painting:
• Elegant dragon figure
• Bright red markings
• Dramatic fire display
• Dark Welsh landscape

Step 1:Create an Initial Sketch
Plan your painting with one or more rough preliminary thumbnail sketches. At the earliest stages of the sketch I begin the composition with the large fireball as a major compositional element.

Step 2: Establish the Underpainting
Refine the drawing in grayscale to render the dragon’s form. In this early stage, I include a large fireball as a major compositional element. Establish the form and value of the lighting and light effects.

Step 3: Set the Base Color
Change the file’s mode to RGB and use the color balance adjustment toggle to slide the painting into the purple hues. Or if you’re working traditionally, paint a wash of color over the piece to establish a base layer of color. 

Step 4: Establish the Colors
Apply 50% opaque Normal mode layer over the painting to establish the local colors of the elements. Choosing complementary colors for this image is quite obvious. A red dragon and a bright yellow fireball dictate a dark purple and green background. This creates both color and value contrasts in the composition.

Step 5: Complete the Background
Working back to front, lay down opaque paint to complete the background’s range of purple tones. The background should act as a frame for the composition, enhancing the subject without being distracting. Adding tonal texture is helpful as well.

How to draw a dragon | Dracopedia The Great Dragons

Step 6: Add the Finishing Touches
Rendering the little details is the hardest but most important part of finishing a painting. At times it can be daunting, but the rewards are well worth it. As I often told Conceil along our expedition when he would grumble, the difference between a professional and an amateur is that an amateur quits when it gets difficult. You may have no desire to be a professional artist, but to achieve professional results, in art as in anything in life, there are no shortcuts. Final details such as cheek, horns, bright highlights on the teeth and a sharp reflection in the eye help pop the focal point into even sharper focus.

Tutorial: Practice Lighting With Sculpture

Practice and study sculpture to better understand the behavior of light and shadow on objects. When you are stumped on how a certain object should look under particular lighting, work from a model. I have a collection of toy monsters and dinosaurs that come in handy for this.

Straight Forward Side Lighting: The light creates shapes of value that contrast against one another, creating the illusion of a three-dimensional form.

Lighting From Below: Dramatic lighting from below creates a stark contrast of black and white forms. In Eastern art theory, this is referred to as Notan.

Reflected Light, Single Light Source: This image shows a single light source from the side, but much of the information is lost in the shadows.

Reflected Light, Double Light Source: Add a simple secondary light source to illuminate the shadow side of the form. This helps give much greater dimension to your subject.

You can find more about how to draw a dragon and the many kinds of dragons in different cultures in Dracopedia: The Great Dragons as well as more dragons and mythical creatures in the other Dracopedia books from William O’Connor

Dracopedia The Great Dragons | North Light Shop Dracopedia | North Light Shop Dracopedia The Bestiary | North Light Shop

For more tutorials about drawing fantasy creatures check out these other blog posts:
Learn How to Draw a Unicorn
Drawing and Coloring a Mermaid for MerMay
How to Draw a Mermaid: Proportions and Tails


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