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!
Great article on a awesome painting! Thanks for sharing!
This is awesome!! I do love how you kept the face hidden. Love the lighting, thanks for sharing!
Hey thanks ashley!
Personally, I would have preferred the kindly face rather than the helmet but agree that it was probably wiser to let users create their own persona.
Assuming this is something you want to make prints of, what size and resolution is your final image?
Thanks for posting more of your excellent work
Thanks Lester! Yeah I am still torn over the face! As for the size, I always try and work at around 18 x 24 inches at 300 dpi so it can be blown up fairly large if needed. It can make the file sizes insanely large, but I still prefer it! I’d go larger if my computer could handle it.
Beautiful painting. It also shows that, true art touch people:)
Lovely stuff Justin. You are a wizard with gorgeous lighting……especially on the sword. I guess that shelving isn’t from Ikea.
HAhaah! Yeah it’s doubtful that is Ikea. Definitely not today’s Ikea anyway. I believe medieval Ikea was very different. Very high standards for woodworking back then!
Great stuff, especially the GIF, it is quite informative as to how you proceeded on the image.
You made a good decision to make the slayer anonymous. The old man version is not that strong! Final result great. A like that you abstain yourself of colour till the final stages. It provides subdued colour harmony. Very nice..
I really like your process of starting tradiocionally and then painting it in digital and i am looking foward to make illustrations this way but i also would like to know the reason you choose work in this method
Great painting Justin. My thought on the helmet question was that if he poses for a painting in front of all those skulls he’d be proud enough to want to show his face. Rather like hunters of old posing for photos with their trophies. Or the apes and the “primitive” humans in the original Planet of the Apes film. As for the necessity of thinning the dragon ranks, well you showed us that in your Plague of Dragons painting, didn’t you? Beautiful work in both instances.
P. S. Glad to hear you are throwing the little dragons back. Catch and release is the best policy. 😉
Awesome painting i like it