How To Draw An Anime Dragon – Full Process With Video


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In this article, I go through how to draw an anime dragon. What was the thought process, what was used as an inspiration, and what to consider when drawing an anime dragon? I will also share some key takeaways and a process video to show you how the dragon came to be.

Key Takeaways

  • Find a lot of reference images from multiple sites and places.
  • Start from the sketch phase with an open mind for new ideas to implement in the drawing.
  • To get your dragon to look like an anime dragon, think of using cel shading as the coloring technique.
  • Add final details to the image, check colors, and make final adjustments before sharing the artwork online.

The Starting Point

So I had this dragon on my mind for a while. Huge inspiration came from Tan Zhi Hui (artist) and Granblue Fantasy (game and anime series). While I haven’t played the game or anything, I do love the imagination behind the visuals. I own the Granblue Fantasy artbook and used it to find concepts, references, and inspiration for this artwork.

  • Japanese (Publication Language)
  • ??? (Publisher)

The art book has so many inspirational images, characters and creature designs that you can only be amazed by the talent behind those images.

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. I just don’t know what to put to them. I always focus on the main thing and 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 (more than often).

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 and intimidating. Pinterest, Google, and Gran Blue Fantasy all provide a lot of references and inspiration to start the sketching.

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.

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 can say that it is already line art.

The idea for the face of the dragon
The initial sketch and shape of the dragon

Drawing Line Art For The Dragon

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 of the dragon 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 in Clip Studio Paint.

The golden ratio and rule of thirds applied to the drawing

You should lower the opacity of the sketch layers 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(s) blue (which I do suggest), do lower the opacity of the layer quite a lot to really see the line art you are drawing.

For the line art, I choose a textured pencil, slightly modified from the standard Rouch pencil you can find from Clip Studio Paint. I think this is an excellent brush for this work.

When doing the line art, keep your mind open for opportunities and see if some lines could be drawn differently, thus giving the drawing better feeling and flow. Making it more interesting.

Completed line art for the anime dragon

Tip for the Details!

Make sure there aren’t too many details, as too many details make the image cluttered. This image already has a lot of details, and adding more of them, could quickly make the image look cluttered.

Creating A Mask For The Drawing

After finally getting the line art done, it is time to start cel shading. Start by creating a mask for the different elements and objects. This way, you can color without the color leaking.

I always create a mask, so 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.

Cel Shading The Dragon

Adding shading to the dragon

After I have created the needed masks. Dragon, Liquid, Background (no mask). I can start the shading process. I select my custom cel shading and coloring brush for the work.

Important in this phase is just to get the shading right, which means you need to keep the light source in mind at all times. We can adjust the shading color and other features later on. I usually pick quite a light color to shade against. Usually, a warm grey base color and a cold shadow color works nicely. We can pick the right colors later when it is much more fun.

Modifying The Colors

Trying out different color palettes for the drawing

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 a balanced color palette.

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. Keep searching and experimenting until you are satisfied. Never settle less. Instead, always aim for the 95% perfection.

Process video showing parts of how to draw an anime dragon

Adding Lighting To The Drawing

Having the color scheme in place, I move on to lighting. I pick a light blue color to get that cold light feel to the lighting. Warm lighting colors sometimes work, but I usually use cold colors. I set the lighting layer to screen layer mode, so 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. I, for example, used different hues for the red flesh parts. It is those small details here and there that make the image look more polished.

Giving The Drawing That Extra Depth

I select a custom brush of mine to create a gradient effect to few major parts. Skin, scales, and wings will get the treatment this time. When you are doing the cel shading, do try adding some gradient effect to it. Gradient colors create a nice effect when the color surface is big.

I think gradient effect is not needed for small objects, items, or surfaces. The gradient was created with the same shadow color as the main shadows.

Making Final Adjustments To The Drawing

Final adjustments are made in Adobe Photoshop. Finalizations are easy to do in Photoshop. Adjustments, color corrections, and value checking are things that I sometimes do in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can try to make mentioned adjustments in Clip Studio Paint. I added color balance, brightness, and a bit of vibrance.

The most important thing is to check that the image looks nice and interesting even when zoomed far out.

How To Know A Drawing Is Ready

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 share it with the world, but hold back for a few days.

After a few days, come back to the drawing and see if some mistakes need correction and if the colors are still something that you are happy with.


What happened with my drawing was that I left it in the WIP (work-in-progress) 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. Something felt wrong, and so I had to change it. The golden color scheme worked better in my eyes, and so the drawing was completed.



Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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