Thursday, January 26, 2012

'In the Spirit of the Year of the Dragon'

Here are some sketches for you guys. Christina had mentioned if anyone else had been so inspired by this year's patron beastie. I guess I have been because my sketchbooke has been quickly filling with writhing tails and gnashing teeth and gouts of searing flames (not to mention maidens in distress :P). Enjoy! Smaug, the King of dragons, is a disgarded cover concept for 'The Hobbit'. The other Smaug is an element included in the final cover layout I chose. The other image is just a sketch.


  1. The dragon-fest continues!

    Thanks for posting these, Justin. I absolutely love' em!
    Something that I think is working very well in these (and in all of your work), is your handling of abstract lines and shapes, even when they are part of recognizable objects. Your dragon wings look like convincing strong wings, but they are also great strong shapes. You're putting angular lines and shapes against graceful curvy ones, with exciting and pleasing results. Sometimes mythical animals give you a lot more freedom to do these things and you seem to enjoy taking full advantage.

    This isn't really a criticism, but something I've been trying to improve in my own work lately that may apply to yours, is how to manipulate the proportions of things to create a really epic scale.
    There's a devil inside of me that wants to draw everything so that it's easily seen and appreciated, so I make sure the teeth are big and the eyes are big, and so on. Looking at the Smaug cover, I wonder if it would be more fearsome, if the large archway were a pile of treasure instead, and the doorway was shrunk to half the size of the dragon's head. Adding tiny details like skulls and helmets are always useful for creating a sense of scale, but shrinking scales and markings, eyes and teeth all help as well. Even shrinking heads in relation to bodies help "enlarge" a beast. I'm not a big fan of overly detailed work —a little goes a long way, but a few tiny flourishes in the right place can do a lot.

    I enjoy your artwork so much that every time I see something of yours, I get to wondering what you'd do if you escaped from Middle Earth and took on a subject that's less familiar. American folklore or Aztec mythology or even something crazy right out of your head.

    Again, don't take these thoughts too seriously unless they help. Your stuff is pretty amazing as it is and it's always getting better.

  2. Well done Justin! I really like the composition of the one with the girl in the background. A lovely art nouveau flair.

    The biggest challenge I find with sketches is keeping the freshness alive through the finish.

  3. dragon time abides! Love the compositions and line work...very tasteful

  4. Beautiful sinuous lines and powerful arrangements of angles that give them an explosive feeling, even though they're so gracefully composed.

  5. Thanks to everyone! I appreciate all of your criticisms and comments.

    Chuck, I really appreciate all the feedback you give me. It really is helpful. And, yes, the Smaug piece could definitely do with some scale play and perhaps a bit more tweaking in terms of making Smaug more aweful. Though I find I do not want him looking terrifying, or gross. Tolkien describes him as being 'cat-like', which always fascinated me. I want to capture with him a kind of playful allure with an underlying feeling of dishonesty. I do want him looking scary, though. But scale and subtle signifiers can do more to get that across than being completely obvious (as you pointed out in your critique). Thanks, man. I always take your advice seriously. Everyone here, actually.

    Christina, thank you. I agree, keeping the freshness is a challenge.

    J and Pam, thanks, guys. I like hearing that the things I strive to put across most are being noticed by others. That is very satisfying :) Dragons are a combination of harsh, predatory, angles and graceful, playful lines. The art of predation is a game of entrapment and deceit :) Something dragons know a considerable amount of (along with patience) :P

    1. I have found the best way to achieve freshness is not to worry about it, lol.

  6. I agree. I always thought of Smaug as a halfway classy brute —if that makes any sense. I think you've captured the character very well. I should have mentioned it before, but you did a great job on the claws on his forelegs.

  7. Thanks, Chuck. I designed the back cover to feature the Arkenstone shining brightly atop the hoard, thereby creating the high key area for text to fill the center of the back cover. Thanks, I was happy with those claws :P