I have a horrible turn around time. I will admit to that. Sometimes ideas will hit me and I’ll sketch and finish them up in half a day, or I’ll pace myself for a deadline. But other occasions I will come up with ideas, sketch them out and set them aside until I pull them out later and see what I can do with them.Though even I have to admit 2-3 years is a bit extreme even for me.
So back in 2012, I was drawing random knights in armor or ladies with unicorns. I was binge reading Game of Thrones at the time, and it takes little for my inner 10 year old to be unleashed and draw fairy tale bullshit.
Sadly my dragon drawing skills are pretty bad, usually they end up looking like some rejected muppets and not the least bit threatening. But I liked the movement in this sketch so I refined and edited this smoothing out kinks while I went.
The dragon in this drawing was inspired by the Lambton Worm which I recall reading a snippet about as a kid. The Worm (or Lindworm if you want to get specific,) was snake like, venomous and terrorized peasant folk, eating sheep and small children and killing brave foes by constricting and suffocating them. Eventually someone got spiked armor and the dragon stabbed itself upon trying to strangle them. Sadly the poor knight in this picture doesn’t have spiked armor, so I’m not sure what sort of ending this encounter promises.
After a bit of Photoshop jiggery pokery and resizing I get the size and shape of the dragon and knight right. I was trying to get art together for a convention that was fantasy-themed and figured there was nothing more fantasy traditional than a dragon and knight so I started planning a composition to place these two in. I wanted to do something like an illuminated manuscript but mess with the figures breaking the confinement of the borders for visual interest or impact.
The final line art is pretty different from the original. The elements are the same, and recognizable but a lot got refined and changed. I actually looked at snakes and how they are shaped and move, and let myself have too much fun making the sinuous curves. If left to my own devices I will in fact just draw spirals, and swirls, and curves all day.
This piece started falling apart, sometime around the point I got obsessed with The Black Hours. The Black Hours is an illuminated manuscript that is done on black vellum, with lots of blues with gold and silver highlights. I just loved the way the colors popped and how different it looked from other manuscripts. I decided to try to get a similar look and dabbled with materials I knew very little about.
At the time I was working at a craft shop and picking up odds and ends as they crossed my path. One of the things that I picked up was some black Strathmore paper that I was trying to figure out what to do with.
My first attempt at this, I don’t have documentation of, I had the piece half inked, but the pen dragged, or the ink bottle farted, and it became an un-salvageable mess.
There was also another round I tried using Artbars (thick waxy water soluble crayon) which turned into another undocumented waxy mess.
I tried using my color pencils on it so I could retain control of the materials. But the colors didn’t pop as much as I wanted to against the gold. In the end I went the more traditionalist route and dug out my gouache paints. Gouache is an opaque watercolor, and some medieval manuscripts used similar paints, and it often is suggested in calligraphy guides for touches of color.
The gold ink I used is an iridescent gold calligraphy ink made by Dr. Ph. Martin’s. It’s a nice thick application and didn’t need any retouching to get a full effect. I’ve seen some pretty sad watery gold ink which this beats hands down. (For those curious the gouache is whatever I had laying around so nothing brand specific there.) I’m pretty sure by this point I had long ago given up meeting the convention deadline I had originally intended.
Finally after a lot of trial and error I get the piece to this stage. and it stays this way. For a long time it hangs by my drawing table because I’m scared of messing it up again and not sure what to do with the border. I had assumed by the time I got to this point I’d have had some epiphany but after all the failed attempts to get to this point I just have no ideas left.
Cut to now, I am trying to wrap up loose ends and stuff I’ve had laying around and decided to get this piece off my cork board wall. I break out the research and start looking for a border design that works with this piece. I play around in Photoshop to keep from mangling my painting again. I try many different patterns and slap them around and change details trying to see what works best.
I have no specific influences I’m shooting for, just trying to avoid doing knot work or anything dainty and fiddly. Something simple and repeatable with less chances of complication is what I’m looking for. Anyone on my friends-list who is online while I’m doing this gets swatches and sketches desperately shown to them demanding reactions. In the end I do a variation of a border from a book from the 1860s that was a copy of a 15th century design. So a copy, of a copy, of a copy. The red I think helps tie the border to the image, and reminds me of folktales where flowers grow from spilled monster blood or blood of heroes.
Once that’s sorted I hold my breath, say a few prayers, and pencil in the border design. Layering the red gouache over the dried gouache, is a tricky balance of getting the paint wet enough to manipulate but not wet enough to start the older layers running. Thankfully there was no major kerfuffle and this piece is now done and can be matted and removed from my drawing table. I’ll have it for sale later if anyone is interested.