This post is somewhat of a recap covering my processes, failures, and triumphs of how to design your ultimate dragon world.
There is something really fascinating about designing a fantasy world. I am not sure if it is the unknown factor that is more exciting or that it offers an opportunity to explore and potentially become part of an alternate reality.
Just to be clear, designing a dragon world, is not something that I had planned to do as part of my artistic journey.
This opportunity (challenge) was presented to me as a collaboration project working with an existing story. After initially hesitating, I decided to give it a go.
So I am writing this post now from the stance of a novice dragon illustrator with everything to discover.
The good news is that we did finally manage to finish our first illustrated short story. If you enjoy this sort of content, you can support us by following the link provided at the end of this post to get your e-version of the book.
Introduction to Illustration
The origins of illustration prior to the invention of “writing” – date back to the cave painting at Chauvet, Lascaux, and Altamira, when paleolithic artists used charcoal and ochre to illustrate what they saw around them (c.30,000-10,000 BCE).
Such techniques are still used today.
I am an art enthusiast and I enjoy working in a variety of mediums.
For this project, the combination of traditional and digital drawing mediums has helped me to go through the various stages of design, formatting and page layout for the story and illustrations. The three main mediums that I have used are:
Paper & pencil
The learning curve is steep. But I encourage you to start somewhere and see where it leads you.
So! What does illustration mean?
The word illustration means to visually portray something in order to make it clearer to understand.
Illustrating a written story is a great way of accompanying the reader into the environment that you have created. Emphasizing emotions, features, and context can help a reader to relate better to a story.
Especially true to fantasy art and imaginative worlds.
An illustration is a decoration, interpretation or visual explanation of a text, concept or process. Designed for integration in published media. Such as posters, flyers, magazines, books, teaching materials, animations, video games, and films.
The origin of the word “illustration” is from the late Middle English (in the sense ‘illumination; spiritual or intellectual enlightenment’)
Illustrating and storytelling go hand in hand
Sometimes a story is developed from sketches or visual ideas first. But more often than not, illustrations are created based on an existing story or at least a design brief. I was fortunate enough to have both.
At the time this project was discussed I had no experience with drawing dragons and no prior knowledge about the main subject of the story.
Nawsheen Golam Hossen, the author of the story; was able to share with me her visual interpretation as well as give me several inspiration images that fit her style of writing and what she had imagined some of her characters could look like.
Essentially this created a road map for us to start developing our characters and landscapes for the story.
“The Curse of Engan”
The Curse of Engan is about a dragon who lived 8 million years ago on the small island of Mauritius.
As an illustrator. Detailed, short, descriptive sentences are extremely important to have, especially in the early stages of character designing.
I now had a story, a description and some initial inspiration pictures to work from. With all these elements already somewhat established the last essential part for me to start actually drawing, was to understand the context of the story.
In order to do this, I had to get a little bit more help.
Let’s go through a few technical terms
What is the definition of a story?
We all love a great story. Some prefer fictional others’ fantasy or true stories.
No matter what the subject is a story will allow you to briefly immerse yourself into the life or context of others.
Coming up with a good story
The making of a story requires you to have a good knowledge of the subject that you want to write about.
Being confident with the information you are providing will certainly help in building credibility in your story.
The more details you include in your descriptive writing, the easier it will be to illustrate characters in an accurate and dynamic manner.
Characters are the individuals that the story is about.
All characters should stay true to the author’s descriptions throughout the story. So that the reader can understand and relate to the characters.
Consistency in repetition is essential to building character integrity. If you have multiple characters in a story.
Consider treating each character differently.
Viewers can associate themselves easier with the story and what each character represents.
A plot is an actual story around which the entire book is based. A plot should have a very clear beginning, middle, and end.
Location of the action – where will your story take place? Describe the environment of the story in such detail that the reader can picture the scene.
There is a problem – the plot is centered on this problem and the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve it.
Resolution is the way the action or conflict is resolved.
Set down rules and follow them. Even if the story is fictional – you owe your reader that. Equally as important is the emotional connection – the story has to make you feel things.
How to set up a storyline that is clear for your readers.
Set in Mauritius eight million years ago, the curse of Engan tells the story and fate of a special dragon who was the best at everything, until he met one challenge that he could not overcome.
Let us take a quick look at the structure of this paragraph so we can use it for our visual inspiration.
We can already see that it has a clear definition as well as a reference to a location and time period and a geographical setting.
Contact with the main character is made and we know his name. We can also guess what to expect of the character’s role in the book.
The paragraph finishes with an open-ended comment. Leaving the reader curious. hopefully wanting to read more.
How will this introduction translate to illustrating characters?
Now that we have a basic understanding of the story we can start to make some preliminary decisions to do with the visual interpretation of this story.
Here are 5 steps for illustrating characters and landscapes based on a written story.
1. Research references that can help you with illustrating characters.
Illustrating a new character with unique qualities that suit the story requires careful analysis of detail which is not always so straight forward especially when you are working with fictional characters.
Having no previous knowledge of how to draw dragons I started researching existing and extinct creatures such as reptiles, birds, and insects to find inspiration as well as become familiar with particular traits that a dragon character may have.
2. Step two is all about referring to the story to capture the same interpretation visually as read from the text.
I took into consideration textures, colors themes, landscape settings, time of the day, weather conditions, and the general atmosphere
3. Finding consistency when illustrating characters
Step three was probably the most difficult part of the process.
It is important that characters remain consistent throughout the story. Each additional slide needs to coincide with the previous one in order to keep a clean visual flow. This contributes to achieving a professional result.
The final result looked a bit like this. After playing around with a few different compositions.
Deciding how to design your ultimate dragon world is never straight forward.
I found myself on many occasions starting drawings that had to get scrapped. For example, in the next slide, this scene didn’t turn out to meet our initial expectations and was not used in the final draft.
Although it still helped me to work out a few composition issues that I was struggling with. To which I eventually settled with a clearly more defined scene for the context of the story.
4. Illustrating characters for supporting roles.
Once our main characters were defined we had a good enough idea of the composition in relation to the storyline. It was time to include the supporting characters to help build up the intensity of the illustrations and tell a more compelling story.
In this case, I did a few sketch studies to find a second dragon character as well as a turtle. Going through a similar process to Engan, here are some of the results.
During this process on several occasions, I had to reconsider some initial decisions. Resulting in having to start drawings from scratch.
5. Scene selection and finding the flow of the story.
Inserting text into your illustrations allows you to determine if the context of the story is working in harmony.
In some cases. This requires adjusting the visual elements to leave room for the text without affecting the overall composition.
When you are illustrating graphic stories it is important to always keep the text in mind.
This will save you a ton of time when you get to the page layout phase.
The trick here is to look for a balance. For example in the positive and negative spaces of your page.
Keeping in mind that the negative space will eventually be filled with text which can also be referred to as a graphic element.
The final draft is 64 pages with 18 illustrations.
Our aim is to release a book in 2020. I hope this information has helped you in some way. Perhaps given you some inspiration to start your own project.
Or to understand a bit more about the processes involved in creating illustrations for stories.
If you prefer writing as a creative outlet than there is no better time than today to start practicing your storytelling skills.
We encourage anyone who wishes to write a story or illustrate characters for stories to just give it a try. See what happens when you put pen to paper.
Why not let your imagination take you on an adventure by illustrating characters for stories that everyone can enjoy. Bye for now.
Sharpen your pencil | Learn to Draw | let your imagination free
Until next time