by Justin Gerard
I’ve been slowly working away on my 2018 Sketchbook (emphasis on slowly), the theme of which is based around a terrible sell which results in an invasion of dragons into our world.
I was very surprised when I posted this image to social media to see just how much genuine sorrow (and even outrage) there was over the loss of so many dragons.
It’s my own fault I suppose. I’m painting everything out of order and I never established that these particular dragons were evil. The Plague of Dragons series has many images which show ruin brought about by these dragons. But instead of painting things in order like a sensible person, I am painting in the order of whatever-is-most-interesting-to-me-right-now method.
But more than that, these creatures are completely fictitious, and from a fictitious world. They aren’t endangered elephants living on a reserve! No real animals were hurt here. But the image itself still seemed to carry that awful theme of humanities penchant for violence and murderous excess. I hadn’t really established that these creatures were evil in any previous image because I had assumed that it was self-explanatory that a dragon would an existential threat to human civilization and the natural world at large. (I can’t imagine the local hoofed mammal population would be sad to see this image.)
But I hadn’t established that dragons were evil, and so when people saw this image, I got comments like:
“I want dragon rights!”
“Those poor dragons. :(“
“I feel kinda bad for the dragons… part of me wants to see a dragon collecting THIS guy next”
“This is animal cruelty the dragons must have revenge!”
“Beautiful painting. I can’t help but be sad for so many dead dragons though.”
Among others. I was really surprised, but I also loved seeing it! I think it is a good thing that the scope of people’s empathy can be broadened as such. Hopefully if we can sympathize with dragons in such a way, it means that we can also continue to expand our circle of sympathy to include other humans who are different from us as well.
Either way, in the end I felt bad for killing so many dragons. (Had to be though you know. They are dragons after all and they are getting out of control. I promise that I filled out all the proper forms, my license is up to date and I have not harmed any dragons under 23 feet in length.)
Traditional drawing. Graphite on Smooth Bristol, mid-way point.
When I was drawing the image I had experimented with several different faces for the main figure. Do I try to give him a wise and caring face? A sinister and cruel face? Each different attempt brought a new backstory to these dragons. Was he a noble protector? A paid hunter? A maniacal zealot? Or perhaps a dilettante princeling who wanted his picture painted here to take credit for the work that others accomplished?
So many choices, and in the end it was crippling. I went with the helmet because it looked grim and mysterious and I felt that the audience could read their own story into it better than if I had a specific person there. You might say that I used a “let the audience write their own story” excuse to weasel my way out of a tough decision (and you would be right) but in this case, I do like having that mystery there. I like that with the helmet the audience can choose to put themselves in the scene for a moment. I wonder though, if I would have used the kindly face of the old man pictured below, would the audience have seen the scene in a different light? It’s too late to go back now, but I would be terribly curious to see if people might have responded differently.
The image was created in traditional graphite on smooth bristol and colored in Photoshop.
The general process for the colorization of the image I have tried to capture in the GIF below:
Thanks for reading!