Sea Serpent Saga - dragon illustration by artist Duncan Long

Dragons, like the water dragon above (about to snatch a pair of pirates), are not easy to paint. Their complexity makes an artist devise painting shortcuts and hone his skill. And while dragons may be mythical creatures, everyone seems to have a pretty specific idea of what they should look like. And if the artwork is off even a little, critics high and low will be left howling. (And what artist likes howling critics?)

So over the years I’ve worked at my “dragon painting skills.” One of the first commercial successes I enjoyed with my dragon artwork was a “crystal dragon” for the cover of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Here’s the result of that work:

Illustration for Union short story -- artwork by illustrator Duncan Long for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine64

Since then, I’ve worked on a variety of more “traditional” dragons for several book projects. Here’s one of those dragon illustrations (with, of course, a princess to feed him an apple, perhaps at risk to her hand).

Painting - Feed the Dragon - art by illustrator Duncan Long

Sometimes dragonish creatures appear in science fiction stories as well as in fantasy and fairy tales. These allow a little more leeway in creature design since viewers are willing to imagine less traditional monsters in their stories.

Here’s one such creature ready to snap up an android who has one of its eggs. Or perhaps you can make up your own story for this one (the illustration has no “home” yet on a magazine or book cover, so feel free to create your own legend to go with it).

Dragon's Egg artwork by book cover artist Duncan Long

Finally, a black and white dragon (below) that became an inner illustration for a book about demons and supernatural creatures. This picture worked well as a book illustration, but I discovered (after finishing it), that the viewpoint angle has a lot to do with the viewer’s perception of size with dragons. Reptiles tend to maintain the same ratio of head size from tiny newbie to a giant old centenarian. Too, because a dragon’s size varies from one story to another, there’s no clear “scale” to their size. The creatures may be the size of a skyscraper in one tale, and a tiny creature sitting in the hand of a child in the next.

So here’s what I’ve realized. In addition to “scaling” a dragon’s size with buildings or human forms, we tend to judge their size by the viewing angle. Thus “viewing” downward on this creature (as in this drawing) tends to make it seem small. It isn’t hard to imagine an outstretched hand holding it.

At least not for me. And maybe that will be my next dragon project.

dragon2e drawing for a inner book illustration by artist Duncan Long


Duncan Long creates illustrations for books and magazines, both for covers as well as inner pages. You can see more of his artwork at Duncan Long’s Online Gallery of Fantasy and Science Fiction Artwork.