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Howdy all! The piece we have here today was done for a competition over at itsartmag.com a few months back. The topic was "When We Left Earth”. We were pretty much given free reign to interpret the topic however we chose. At first, I happily nipped at the idea of something along the lines of sci-fi, but then I realized nowhere did it state that it *had* to be sci-fi and since most entries would probably be sci-fi, space ships and the like, I decided to throw a few ideas into the blender and come up with something a little more fantasy-esque.
I first asked myself, within a fantasy setting, what sort of beasts would at least semi-convincingly be able to carry away both themselves and great burdens upon their backs. I'd want them to be large, enormous actually (scale generally helps bring significant interest to an image), preferably have wings instead of exhaust coming out of their rears… and also be recognizable enough to not detract from the narrative. So, of course I came up with… Pandas! And then I realized that made no sense so I reverted to the fail safe; a dragon.
Now that I had established my character and knew my topic, I needed to fashion a story behind it all. I came up with something not all that original really. There's an old civilization and its gluttonous rulers control great beasts of burden who slumber beneath their luxurious palaces. They wait for the day when the sky rains fire and ember, or some such prattle. Then their great wings will spread miles apart and they will carry their masters to lands far beyond this one… tada!
And so, with that image in mind, let's get on with the process already!
First off, I wanted to nail down a dramatic angle/composition. It needed to illustrate both the scale of destruction upon the land and the sheer vastness of the dragon (Fig.01).
This loose sketch phase really is the most important stage in the creation process. I'm sure you've heard it many times before, but honestly if you nail down something you like at this point then the rest of the process will be much more pleasant. I'd suggest though, that after nailing down a sketch you make a copy of it and have it off to the side for referral. I find that too often the sketch of an artwork is more appealing than the finished product because the artist (and this includes me) loses the essence of what made the sketch appealing in the first place. It could have been the contrast of dark and light, the silhouettes, or the fact that it didn't need as much polishing as the final piece illustrates. Whatever the reason, having a copy of the original sketch around will help you follow through to your initial vision.
As you can see in Fig.02, I'd pretty much solidified the angle and the silhouette of the character by this point and was now mainly struggling with how to divvy up the focal points; what to place in the foreground, mid ground, and finally what colors to use. I didn't want to rush this part but I did want to keep fluid, so I wasn't too particular, just looking, adding and subtracting to the piece until it felt right.
Okay, after a bit (lot's actually) of fiddling I found my stride, added some trees, along with fire and pinkish clouds (Fig.03). The receding trees further help to sell the immensity of the dragon. I also added the palace to the back of the dragon, but it was only a place mat and I wasn't particularly digging how it looked at this point. Along with that, I added a semi-foreground element – a tower with people that were going to be hanging off of it… but I wasn't sure about this yet.
Fig.04 shows where I made the forest fire grow, refined the clouds and dragon and also sketched in the comets that are hurtling down. Made them look comety.