I did it! I finally finished this illustration!
It's taken me about a month on and off (This month has been pretty busy with client work), and was a real challenging piece for me. This year, I've realized how important it is for me to find elements that I struggle with and apply them to current and future paintings. In this one, I wanted to focus on storytelling, lighting, composition, and perspective.
You can see in this initial sketch, I really liked the idea of a woman warrior looking down at a dragon who is climbing up a cliff or castle ruins. I initially wanted it to be castle ruins built into a mountain side, but even after looking at a lot of reference photos, I found it very difficult to get the perspective right.
My dragon, in the beginning, was meant to be much more like a lizard rather than a typical high-fantasy dragon. I wanted it to look a bit cute and curious, peeking upwards to see the commotion that this woman was causing. As I started working on it, I figured that the idea wasn't going to be communicated clearly to my audience.
Suddenly, I felt an emotional connection to the piece that wasn't there before. I felt like I had something a little more dynamic to work with. The story at this point developed, which changed the curious dragon to a more threatening one, who is dangling/climbing up the rocky cliff to snarl at the Lancer, all-the-while protecting a small nest of eggs hidden behind a waterfall.
I didn't know whether or not I wanted the dragon to have wings. On one hand, I liked the idea of not having wings because it kept with my original vision of a more lizard-like dragon... while the thought of having wings felt like it would make it visually more clear that it was a dragon. I consulted with my boyfriend who agreed that yes... yes, I should definitely have wings.
The next steps were trying to figure out how to fit those darn wings into the painting. NOTHING I did looked good. My dragon anatomy is so inept and unforgiving that even through doing some studies (that I, to be honest, didn't spend much time on), I couldn't get them to flow right with the composition or look accurate.
Here is one of the attempts I made (there were too many to count). In the end, I really liked this pose, but decided not to go with it because of how unbalanced it made me feel in the composition. I loved how the wings were dynamic and pointing towards the character, but it made the left side of the painting feel very heavy and a bit... like it was too much. I also didn't like the wings covering up so much of the arms and legs of the dragon.
I still don't feel that I picked the best solution for the wings, but I felt that I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out and that I just needed to pick something and move on from it. After all, I didn't really expect to be able to paint a perfect dragon my very first time. There will be other opportunities!