In this guide, I will show you how to draw a dragon with easy to understand steps. I drew two dragons, one in traditional mediums (Watercolor and charcoal) and one Digitally. The theory and the basics are the same with both illustrations only the approach differs. I will start with the Traditional Drawing and then I will cover the digital drawing.
Drawing A Dragon Traditionally
This is the finished drawing of the dragon, that I drew traditionally. This dragon is drawn with pencils, charcoal, and watercolors using water brush pens.
If you want to see a list of my drawing tools and where to get them, then you can check out my article here.
Let´s Start With Drawing A Dragon. Step One!
First up, like with every drawing, we will draw a rough sketch. Draw very lightly and use the kneadable eraser to erase and redraw every line, that looks off.
Don´t expect your first sketch to be perfect. Just keep on exploring the rough form until it looks right. Keep your lines very light and don’t commit to anything in this step.
As you can see below, my lines are very light and only establish the very basic forms and stance of the dragon. No details nor any strong lines are seen in this step.
The lines are so light, in fact, that it is actually hard to see them in this image. Sorry about that…
Step Number Two. Establish The Forms Of The Dragon Further.
After establishing the very rough forms and the stance of the dragon we are now going to further establish the forms of the dragon.
Everything can be broken down in basic shapes. It is hard to see those shapes when you are starting out to draw but with a little exercise, you will be able to break down everything in basic forms very quickly.
As you can see below, I simplified the dragon with some very basic forms.
Step Number Three. Let´s Ass Our First Basic Details
Don´t get too detailed in this step! Only add some very basic details as seen below. Don´t focus too much on the little details yet. And only focus on the most important details in this step.
I choose the face of the dragon and his breast. Because I want these two things to be the focal point and the most detailed areas of this drawing.
As you can see I only very roughly added the most important detail.
The Dragon has a very humanoid statue and anatomy. The arms and the torso are very much drawn like a humans I just overexaggerated the size of the ribcage, to give the dragon a bigger and mightier look.
You can see above I added some more rough detail and even some little detail on the head like teeth and horns.
I also redrew the feet to make them look more dragon-like and not like creepy hands and I defined the claws of the dragon.
Step Number Four. Let´s Add Some Color!
So now, that we have our sketch detailed to this point, we can add color!
I used basic watercolors and to apply them I used these very handy water brush pens. They are really great especially if you are on the road and you want to draw with watercolors as you don´t need to clean them afterward and you don´t need any water extra as the pens have a cartridge, that you can fill with water.
But you can also just use brushes, they will do the job just as good.
When you are drawing with watercolor, you should always, before laying down the first layer of color, make the surface where you want the color to go wet. Then you can apply some color to the wet areas and the color will only spread on the wet areas.
This is a simple trick to control the color and create shard edges with watercolor.
Another great thing, that you can do with watercolor, is mixing the color on the drawing canvas. You can first apply one color, in my case green at the head, and then you can apply a second color next to the first color, in my case blue, and slightly mix them. This will create a smooth transfer between these colors.
Some things you should keep in mind using this technic is, that you should not use complementary colors to do this. Use colors, that are not contrasting each other too much. Otherwise, the result will look either to extreme or weird.
As you can see below, I only added a very thin layer of paint to the painting. This way I can still see the line drawing underneath.
Step Number Five. Let’s Add Some Detail In Color!
So in this step, we will add some more detail but this time in color.
I used the same technique as I explained above to color in the rest of the body. Then I added some details in the areas, that the viewer is supposed to look at. In my case, that is the face and the torso.
When adding details with watercolor you should use very little water and more color. If you feel like the detail is too strong you can always go back over the lines with some water to soften them. I did so in the breast are of this drawing.
Step Number Six! let’s add more detail and shadows!
In this step, we will add some more details like shadows and fine lines to show some texture.
I don’t use watercolor anymore but I will wait till the canvas is dry and then I will go over the drawing with charcoal and at some parts, I will add some lines with a very soft pencil.
Be careful! The drawing surface has to be completely dry before going over it!
Be very light with your lines and work slowly towards the shadow parts of your drawings. Slowly build the darker areas up with light lines in different directions. Don´t press down too hard or it will look weird and too harsh.
You can use the kneadable eraser again to lighten some parts of the drawing up if you accidentally made them to dark.
In this step, you should also start to think where the light in your drawing is coming from and where it hits and which parts are cast in shadow.
You can use a reference image to help you with this. Don´t be afraid to use reference! It will really help you!
And with this, your dragon is going to slowly take shape. Be patient at these steps, they naturally take time and your dragon will slowly but surely take form.
Just keep the forms of the dragon in mind and constantly ask yourself where the light would hit and where the shadow will probably be cast.
Don´t over detail your work. The eyes of the viewer will wander randomly over the art piece and the viewer will not know where to look if you perfectly detail every part of the dragon. Instead, you should just detail the parts of the dragon, that you want the viewer to look at primarily.
And most importantly don´t get discouraged! the first drawing will always suck, just stick with it, learn from your mistakes and try again!
Drawing A Dragon Digitally!
This is the second part of the guide, where I show you how to design and illustrate a unique dragon digitally. Like I already said in the introduction, the basics of drawing are the same just the process is slightly different.
Drawing digitally is, by the way, neither easier nor harder to do, it’s just different!
Step Number One. The Concept!
Everything you draw should always start with a concept. Especially if you never drew the subject or if the subject is purely fictional, as a dragon unfortunately is.
When I am creating concepts for a drawing I only draw very lightly and I usually only concentrate on the general shapes.
I am trying to find interesting looking shapes, that work with each other.
The lines don´t need to be tight or clean, just scribble around until you find something, that looks interesting and work from there.
After about 10 minutes I came up with these four very rough designs.
I don’t like the two designs on the left because they look more like plated dogs or cats and not like dragons.
The one on the far right looks very interesting but I found the shape a little bit too extreme and I wanted the dragon to look thin and snakelike. So I decided on using the design in the middle.
This design looks interesting, it has good shapes and the dragon already looks like a very curious character.
Step Number Two. Let´s Establish The Pose Of The Dragon
Now, that we have settled on one design we will create an interesting pose for the dragon, that fits its character.
So I copied the dragon design from the layer and pasted it on a new layer. Then I very lightly sketched the basic forms of the dragon trying to find a fitting pose.
As you can see, I kept the whole drawing very lightly and the lines very fluent. I didn´t add any details yet, I only established the basic shapes, as always.
Below you can see what shapes I think about when I do a sketch like this.
Also, you should keep the composition in mind. I used a very simple Composition trick here. The tail of the dragon swoops upwards towards the face of the dragon. This way the viewer’s eyes will be drawn back up to the point where I want them to look. In this case the main body and the face of the dragon.
Step Number Three. Let´s Start Coloring!
Now I usually don´t use any special brushes. I only use the basic round brush no matter if I draw in photoshop or procreate.
You don´t need fancy brushes to draw well and fancy brushes won´t make you draw better either.
If you want to use custom brushes, then go ahead, there is nothing wrong with that ut don´t overdo it and don´t expect these brushes to make you a better artist. There is no shortcut in becoming better at drawing, you just have to stick with it and learn it by putting the hours in.
When I color my work I usually create a new layer below the sketch layer. I also turn the opacity of the sketch layer down by like 30 – 60 %.
Then I will just add color and in this case, I mixed the colors in one each other with the “wish finger” tool. Just to give the drawing a similar color and style as the traditional dragon drawing.
I also added another layer to add some rough shadows just to further establish the forms of the dragon.
Step Number Four. Let´s Get Some Texture In Here!
One of the amazing thinks, when working digitally is, that you can add an amazing amount of detail very quickly.
When drawing traditionally you would have to draw a lot of this painstakingly slowly one detail after another and then render it.
But in digital drawing, you can just add some texture with pictures. I used some pictures of a chameleon to get an interesting pattern as the skin of the dragon.
When you add texture just try, what works best. Try different layer configurations and images until you find something interesting.
But don´t overdo it. You want to enhance your drawing here and not completely change it!
Final Step! Detail And Establishing The Forms Further!
You added some texture but your drawing is far from done, you still have to establish the forms with light and shadow and work with some of the detail, you just artificially added.
This is still a drawing and not a photobash, so let’s work, with what we have and enhance it by drawing over it and giving it a painted look.
I usually create a new layer above all other layers and set it to multiply and about 30% opacity to add the shadow parts.
I also created another new layer and added some highlights by just painting them in with a lighter color.
It doesn´t really matter what medium you draw with be it digital or traditional. The basics of rendering, forms, perspective, and anatomy will always be the same and you will always need at least a basic understanding to draw something in a believable way.
Again, if you want to know what tools I use, then you can check them out here.
And If you want to learn Anatomy, then here is an anatomy cheat sheet, that will help you learn anatomy.
I have also written a Guide on the basic human anatomy here. This is the first part where you can learn how to draw the human arm.
Until next time and don´t give up, you can learn how to draw!