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 ancientÂ 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).