How To Sculpt Your Dragon
I've been a long time collaborator with Otherworld Theatre Company, and in 2018 they opened their own venue in Chicago. During their fundraising campaign to buy the new space, I talked with Tiffany Keane Schaefer, the Artistic Director, and I asked her if she would like any fantasy or sci-fi themed artwork for their lobby. She said, "You know, I've always wanted a dragon." I said, "You know, I've always wanted to build a dragon." And so this project began. The plan was to finish it before their opening night gala.
In the Beginning . . .
I knew I wanted this dragon to be big, but that meant there was no way I was going to be making a clay sculpt and either a hydrocal or silicone mold. The cost would have been too high. So, this guy was going to be an epoxy putty sculpt. If I really had to, or wanted to, I could make a mold of the finished dragon out of silicone later. But, for now, this dragon would be one of kind.
The first thing I did was order the largest deer head form from a taxidermy supply store online. A little modification was necessary to make the mouth open. But, since these things are made out of rigid foam it was relatively easy.
After that I built up the dragon form with tin foil and hot glue to make it less deer-like. It's a cheap way to figure out the primary forms, and it's very easy to change your mind without wasting expensive materials. Once I was happy with the shape, I covered the tin foil with Free Form Air epoxy putty. Free Form Air is great for basic forms, as it's really strong and light weight. The Apoxie Sculpt that I would use for detail later is much heavier, so the Free Form Air is a great way of keeping the weight down.
Sculpting the Primary and Secondary Forms
I sculpted the teeth with the Free Form Air, and once they were cured I used a Dremel to shape and sand them, as well as add a little texture. I had to take the lower jaw off again to apply the teeth to both the upper and lower parts of the mouth. Essentially, I carved away some the deer head rigid foam to create a large cavity in the upper and lower parts of the mouth. I then filled it in with more Free Form Air (in case you haven't noticed, I love this stuff). Before it was fully set, I plopped in each tooth. Once cured, the teeth weren't going anywhere.
I covered the belly with Free Form Air and sculpted the breast plates. Free Form Air isn't great at detail, but it can pull off a few tricks. The texture in the breast plates was simple vertical scoring with a needle tool. I also applied it to the side of the neck, and tried to use a texture stamp for skin detail. I thought I might get away with it, but the Free Form was not up to the task this time, and the end result looked like a popcorn ceiling rather than skin. No problem though, the Apoxie Sculpt was ready and waiting.
The large horns started as Styrofoam cutouts, which I then covered with tin foil and hot glue and more Free Form Air. Like the breast plates, I was able to get the layers and texture I wanted without using the Apoxie Sculpt.
I used a super-ball cut in half for the eyes, making sure the seam on the ball wasn't visible. It fit perfectly into the deer head eye sockets. Then, I began detailing with the Apoxie Sculpt. There are many ways to texture, the quickest being a texture stamp. I could have put a layer of putty on, and used my sculpting tools to score a dino-skin pattern. But, what I thought looked best was to roll tiny, tiny balls of putty and place each one on the head, then press them down with a texture stamp. This created the scaling I was after; over-lapping and without a pattern. The scales would have a flow to them, but a distinct pattern of rows would've looked to "sculpted" in my opinion. I feel like this method looked very organic. The downside was that I would have to lay down every single scale on this beast.
The Devil IS the Details
I added horns on the head and spikes on the back, made, of course, out of Free Form Air. The spikes were textured the same way as the breast plate and large horns. For the smaller horns, I detailed them with a layer of Apoxie Sculpt, with the same vertical scoring.
Meanwhile, I was plugging away at the tiny scales across the head and body. I also added the large leaf-like scales on the upper back. Certain parts, like the immediate area around the eyes and the nostrils, were detailed to look flesh-like. And, the beak was scored like the horns, only with lighter, finer scoring so that it was a little different.
It was about that time I needed to finish the mouth. I added the tongue, but I knew once the lower jaw was permanently attached, there was no way I would be able to paint inside the mouth. So, it was painted first, then glued on with epoxy and detailed sculpting was completed to cover the seam. I started my base coat of black paint on the head with a brush. I would be able to spray paint the body, but I didn't want to risk spraying over any part of the mouth.
The Joy of Painting
At long, long last the sculpting was done. Thousands of scales now adorned this dragon, and it was ready to come to life with paint. This was going to go much quicker than the sculpting phase, which took about a month, but there's still a lot of detail work to do. As with anything, a bad paint job could ruin all the work I did.
First thing's first, start with a base coat of black. Most of this dragon was going to be dry-brushed using Liquitex Basics acrylic paint, with some airbrushing. The first color was raw sienna over the whole dragon. Then, light green over the small scales, and dark green over the large leaf scales.
The horns and breast plates were dry brushed with dark and medium browns, the darkest being at the seams to create more depth. After that, more raw sienna and even metallic gold were used. The tips were given a touch of white.
It would be easy to stop here, but as you can see in the last picture, the green looks fake. Just like flesh tones, it's going to need some red and blues to make it more organic.
To bring the dragon to life, the green needed a lot of help. It was dusted with raw sienna and the large scales got a little metallic gold, too. Then, I airbrushed it with acrylic ink; yellow for the high-lights and earth red for the shadows. The high-lights on the head got a little extra help with dry-brushing the raw sienna. Light blue was also dry brushed on certain parts to help break up the green.
Next comes the fun part: splatter. I used acrylic ink again, and splattered the entire dragon with earth red, blue, yellow and white. Again, it breaks up the green for the eye. Always splatter. Always.
Then, the fleshy parts were given more red to differentiate between the dragon's skin underneath and its scales. The beak was given a little more raw sienna to make it slightly off from the rest of the green, and the scales around the mouth got a little extra blue, creating a sense of lips. Some of the small scales were painted dark brown, like freckles. Again, this helped the large areas of green be more interesting to look at without changing the fact that this was a green dragon.
Last was the eyes, which went through a few versions before I settled on a red and gold paint scheme. The eye slit was rounded out so he would be a little friendlier, as per Tiffany's request.
The only thing left to do was seal it with Krylon Acrylic Clear Coat and a little Krylon Dulling spray so it wasn't too shiny. The mouth and eyes were then covered with Quick Cure Clear Epoxy to give it an extra shine, making them appear wet.
Delivering the Dragon
With a week to spare, the dragon was delivered to Otherworld Theatre's new space in Chicago. Tiffany and the other company members were very happy. After an contest, the Dragon was given the name Wyvern Drakespeare.
Want your own dragon? Head to the contact page and inquire about pricing and information.