How to Draw a Dragon Anime Style

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Feature_image how to draw a dragon

Written by Juha

Haven’t been drawing like in a month or so and it does feel like it. I kicked myself in the head and started a new drawing. I have had this dragon on my mind for a while. Huge inspiration coming from Tan Zhi Hui. I was also inspired by GranBlue Fantasy, while I haven’t played the game or anything but I do love the imagination behind the game. I bought this artbook of Granblue Fantasy and I think it is quite a treasure.


It has so many inspirational images, character and creature designs that you can only be amazed by the talent behind those images. Hit the link below to gain access to the book and for more information. It is one of the best buys I have made.

So those two sources of inspiration are driving me this time. I have also recognized from the beginning that, I have a problem with the backgrounds. Just don’t know what to put to them. Always focus on the main thing and usually don’t think too much of the background elements. I do know that the background elements should be supporting the main point of interest but my mind just throws a blank. Can you relate?




Let’s get to the drawing!


Starting the drawing process

Drawing a dragon is not easy and thus reference images are needed. I want to make the dragon feel confident and steady. Make it look strong, intimidating. Pinterest, Google, Gran Blue Fantasy, Tan Zhi Hui… Ideas start to flow.

“Surfing on Instagram”

New inspiration came from Ching Yeh, having this split like effect on objects. Also drawing those vein looking things to the skin. One word that describes my current state of drawing is procrastination. Added a little concept behind the drawing but I still have to work on the story a little bit.

I am however happy that I am drawing again as it was on hiatus so long, or at least it felt such. You should always check if the sketch is clear enough before moving on to the line art phase. If the sketch is too loose, it might be hard to do any line art on top of it. You should aim to do the sketch to a state where you could actually say that it is already line art.




Starting line art phase

Finishing the sketch stage gives the opening for the line art phase. The sketch is still kind of fresh and I haven’t given the image that final pass and view if everything is just like they should be. It is okay to keep the idea still a bit loose. Don’t lock everything to a place. Keep your mind open even in line art phase.

I check that different objects are in correct places by activating my guides layer. Guides layer has the golden ratio and rules of thirds visible. I make the sketch layer blue in color by activating “change layer color” button from the top right corner.

An awesome feature in Clip Studio Paint, have to admit. You should lower the opacity to around 40% to make the sketch layer(s) barely visible. So that when you start the line art phase you can clearly see what the line art looks like. So even if you don’t make the layer blue (which I do suggest), do lower the opacity of the layer quite a lot to really see the lineart you are drawing.

For the line art, I choose my Rough pencil Okuha Dark II, slightly modified from the standard Rouch pencil. I think this is an excellent brush for this work. Doing the line art, keep your mind open for opportunities and see if some line could be drawn differently thus giving the drawing better feeling and flow. Making it more interesting.


I quickly notice that this artwork requires time and effort to get the lineart complete.






Tip for the Details!

Make sure there aren’t too many details. By details, I mean how the image looks with tiny details drawn. Making sense? Too many details, make the image cluttered.


Creating a mask for the drawing

After finally getting the line art done. Which by the way took quite a long time. It is time to get the shading going. Start by creating a mask for the different elements. I select the dragon and leave the liquid intact. This way you get the dragon selected only and are able to color without the color leaking. You can see the structure from the CSP/PSD file to get a better understanding.

I always create a mask so that I don’t have to worry about coloring over the edge. I select the Auto Select -tool and use the ‘Refer other layers to select’. This way you can use the tool on any layer and get the parts involved that are needed.


I used the G-pen Okuha Coloring brush when I fine-tuned the masks. I used plain color and also transparency ‘color’ to create the masks.


Shading the creature

After I have created the needed masks. Dragon, Liquid, Background (no mask). I can start the shading process. I select G-pen Okuha Coloring and start the shading process. Important in this phase is just to get the shading right. We can adjust the shading color and other features later on. Just start shading. I usually pick quite a light color to shade against. Usually, a warm base color and a cold shadow color works nicely. We can pick the right colors later when it is much more fun.


Having color challenges

As can be seen from the video I changed the color scheme quite many times. Even in the end, it was very difficult to find the best colors. I first thought of doing quite muddy like colors. Just didn’t like those, so I picked colors from a reference photo I had and BAM! Got quite nice results, slightly modifying the colors here and there and I was on the right track.

Usually green is the first color that comes to mind from dragons. With so many details in place and elements scattered, it was a difficult task to find working colors. Reference, reference, reference. Pick ideas, even color scheme ideas.


Quick Coloring Tip!

You should keep in mind to look for the right colors from different places. This time a reference image gave me the needed color scheme. Didn’t expect that to happen. Keep searching and trying, until you are satisfied. Never settle less instead always aim for the 95% perfection.


Drawing the lighting

Having the color scheme in place I move on to lighting. Pick a light blue color, to get that cold light feel to the lighting. Warm lighting color sometimes work but I usually use cold colors. I set the lighting layer to screen layer mode so that the color goes nicely with the underlying color.

You should slightly change the lighting color for different materials. This is to give the different parts a bit more personality. Also to get better results considering the colors. I, for example, used different hue for the red flesh parts. It is those small details here and there that complement the image.


Giving the drawing extra depth

I select my own created brush Uneven layering brush. With the brush, I add a gradient effect to few major parts. Skin, scales, and wings will get the treatment this time. When you are doing the shading do try adding some gradient effect to it. It really does work nicely.

But do also keep in mind that, sometimes it is not needed. I think it is not needed when there are lots of small details. Not really a surface where to implement the gradient efficiently. I think it works best on big surfaces. I might be wrong. What do you think?

The gradient was created with the same shadow color as the main shadows. You can find the color from the PSD & CSP files. The layer is quite on the top. Small circles left and right.


Making the Reverse G Dragon come to live

Final adjustments are made in Adobe Photoshop. I think the finalization is good to do in Photoshop. Adjustments, color corrections, value checking and all is easy to in it. If you don’t have photoshop, you can try to do mentioned adjustments in Clip Studio Paint also. I added color balance, brightness a bit, vibrance slightly and few extra. Check the PSD file for more info. It’s all there.


Most important thing is to check that the image looks nice and interesting even when zoomed far out. I do this and find it helpful.




How to know if you are ready with the drawing

When you think you are ready with the drawing, leave it for a couple of days alone in the folder. I know it is tempting to see the final result and share it with the world. But don’t do that. Not yet. Wait for a few days and correct mistakes if you see any. When you have done the mentioned. Post it online and get creative again.

What happened with my drawing was that I left it in the wip folder for a few days. Got back to it and noticed that I didn’t like the colors. Even though I was so pumped at first with the color scheme I found. Aqua-like wing, yellow skin… it just didn’t work. Not for me. Something felt wrong and so I had to change it. The golden like color scheme is pleasing my eyes and I called it the drawing complete.




So what was the story behind this image?

It could go somewhere along these lines. The dragon is an ancient beast with a gravity control ability. The gravity is controlled by this dragon but somehow the dragon got cut in half. Exposing the gravity shell. The gravity-controlling core got away and is now causing reverse gravity. The dragon waits for the next move… Yea, I know. The story ain’t so interesting but that’s still a story.


We artist might not always get the desired attention we believe our work deserves but I guess it is just down to the fact, that there is so much competition out there. We just have to give it our very best and see if someone notices us at some point. Keep creating, keep sharing. Leave a comment below if you liked this tutorial and art.

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