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Girl and Dragon

My Introduction to the Girl and Dragon in Fantasy Art

It’s a commonplace to find the girl and dragon in fantasy art. As a fantasy artist, I’ve drawn and painted my fair share of a ‘girl and dragon’ over the years. If you are a fantasy artist, it’s a given that you will draw or paint a girl and a dragon at some point. There is no shortage of the two types of characters within the fantasy genre. So it stands to reason that every other fantasy artist that’s come before and ever will have a good chance of being inspired by this fantastic duo pairing.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

My original introduction to dragons was in grade school while being exposed to JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit and ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ It also helps that I discovered comic books before I learned of Tolkien. I was preconditioned to accept dragons as fantastic characters overall.

Developing the Girl and Dragon 2023

My ‘girl and dragon‘ painting for 2023 is labeled as such because it will be featured in my 2023 fantasy art calendar. I will outline the steps I took in approaching the painting and my thoughts as the painting began to develop.

My Original Girl and Dragon Pencil Drawing

girl and dragon fantasy art original drawing
The original ‘girl and dragon’ drawing from one of my sketchbooks, from the year 2000.

The inspiration for the girl and dragon painting comes from an original drawing in one of my sketchbooks, dated sometime in the year 2000. One of the benefits of keeping a sketchbook is they hold potential ideas for future work. In this case, I’m sure I planned to paint this in oils or watercolor at the time. Or perhaps I was going to grab my comic book inking tools and render it as a pen and ink illustration.

However, there are only so many ideas one can execute. At the time, I was painting with either watercolor or oil paints. Committing to working in either medium was just that, a commitment. My art workspace has always been manageable in all my years of making art. But now that I’m painting digitally, I have as much space as I need. I don’t have to worry about physical paint tubes, canvas, illustration board, or easel taking up any space in my work space.

So digitally painting the girl and dragon in Adobe Creative Cloud Photoshop using my Wacom Intuous Pro made this painting possible and faster for me to execute.

Beginning a New Girl and Dragon Painting

Phase 1 – Dragon values and girl drawing

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 1
In the early stages of the painting, I’m not really sure what color to make the dragon, so I begin by rendering it in monochromatic warm gray.

In the first phase of this painting, my goal was to redraw the girl. In the original drawing, you’ll see she’s wearing clothing that reveals a bit too much. So I changed up the girl from the original drawing and gave her a dress. However, she’s still in a kneeling position, right beside the dragon.

During this phase, I’m also working on the color composition. A red dress would make the girl pop out in the composition. You can also see where I’ve changed the foreground and background quite significantly from the original pencil drawing. Both characters are now on a hilltop with the dragon bolstered up against a lone tree.

The mass of the tree and the ground they are on are all blocked in, using flat colors to determine the shapes of the blocks of color.

Phase 2 – Dress color change and blocking in dragon colors

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 2
This phase of the painting is still rough, but you can see the beginning of the muscle formation on the dragon.

The dragon has so many elements, so I wanted to jump right into it at this point. There is much to plan for, from its wings to its body (tail and feet). So when you have a character like this with all these elements, it’s like working on several drawings.

Each element requires me to focus intently on creating the drawing and textures for all these elements. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down with these many elements because it takes forever to complete each piece. And this makes this part of the painting go slower.

During this phase, I figured out the color scheme of the dragon. It was significantly based on the surrounding colors found in the ground and the tree itself. As I started rendering the dragon and its surrounding environment, I felt the girl’s red dress clashed with everything else.

I wanted the girl to compliment the scene, not dominate it. So I changed the dress to yellow. While red and green are complementary colors, I found red distracting. I wanted the girl to be a highlight and not a spotlight. With the girl in a yellow dress, I’d also be able to add some green reflective colors to it.

During this phase, at least an evident purplish tone took shape throughout the entire painting, and a yellow dress complemented that purplish color.

Phase 3 – Rendering the dragon

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 3
Adding the darkest values to the dragon starts to define it’s shape.

Here I’m entirely into rendering the dragon’s head, torso, and upper arms. Creating all the scales and bumps in the dragon’s lower front legs was intense and time-consuming. I treat my paintings as if I’m working with traditional painting tools.

I usually don’t use textures at this early stage because I continue to draw, which is the backbone of my painting and art.

Phase 4 – Reposing the figure

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 3
I created a white layer over the entire painting at this phase so I could focus on redrawing the girl’s right leg and the dragons’ rear right leg.

After starting the rendering on the dragon, I began questioning the relative positions of the girl and the dragon. In the original pencil drawing, everything seems to fit into place. The girl’s placement, where she is kneeling, neatly fits in a space under the dragon’s belly. Her knees are neatly bent, and the dragon’s hind legs work nicely toward the back.

But in the painting, it no longer works. Instead, what changed this spatial relationship is how much more the tree is defined and expanded. For example, the distant mountains in the background and the new hilltop setting changed the dynamics of the placements of the girl and dragon.

So I now had to reconfigure this spatial relationship. To that end, I extended both the girl’s and the dragon’s legs.

On the girl, I extended out her right leg, revealing her right foot. These drawing adjustments give the scene a more grounded look and make it logical for her pose. Her left leg is fully bent and supports her left side, keeping her close to the dragon. Her right leg extends, by comparison, adding additional support to help keep her propped up on the hill.

Extending the dragon’s right rear leg helps balance the dragon’s weight. It also helps to give the dragon the feeling of pushing off of it to keep itself bolstered to the tree. Overall, this redraw helps make the overall composition feel a lot more grounded.

Phase 5 – More details on the dragon and expanding the tree

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 5
A lot of the base colors and foundation for the painting itself has pretty much been established by this phase.

By this phase, details are added to the background and foreground. Using rough texture brushes, I add details to bring volume and depth to the tree, the grass, and even a little bit of the background mountains. I only spend a little time on the background mountains, but I explore that area early to see if I can riff off the details in the foreground. So far, nothing has come to me at this phase in the painting, so I leave the background mountains alone.

I’ve also painted much of the dragon’s face and head details by this point. The dragon’s head and face details were all done purely from imagination. If I reference anything at all, it was the original pencil drawing. I’ve also painted in the dragon’s rear left leg, adding a lot of detail to that area.

I’ve also removed the moon in the background. Or was it the sun? I am still trying to remember what I plan to do with that spherical shape. Ultimately, it didn’t do much for the painting, so I removed it. I added some texture to the sky, perhaps indicating some clouds. The slight value changes to the sky help add a little interest but don’t compete with the tree’s branches.

Phase 6 – Rendering dragon paws

girl and dragon fantasy painting - phase 6
What are the tiny bits of color up by the girl’s face? Those are the color swatches I am using for painting most of the dragon’s color.

Rendering the dragon’s paws took some patience. They are essentially long, large fingers, just with huge fingernails. This part of the dragon’s anatomy took some time as well. I was figuring out the lighting, having them appear grounded and slightly gripped onto the tree’s exposed roots.

I also began to work on the girl’s left leg. I used a reference for the girl’s legs. In fact, I used two separate photo references: one for her left leg and another for her right leg.

Final Painting

girl and dragon fantasy painting - Final painting by Rene Arreola
The final painting of “Hilltop Protector.” Artwork by Rene Arreola.

I added a lot of the final details at the very end. These details include finalizing the girl’s hair color, the specks of red and orange that dot the grass and tree trunk, and the delicate white flowery part of the upper tree.

In rendering the girl at this final stage, make sure to add a subtle mixture of cool greenish hues in her face and upper body to help reflect some of the overall colors from the dragon. I also make sure to reflect some of the cool green shades on the girl’s yellow dress.

I add more cool colors near her legs, also helping to reflect the cooler colors of the ground. I also add subtle details to the background mountains in this final phase.

One of the fun things to do at the very end of the painting is to experiment with being spontaneous. Some of the most fun for me while painting was adding those random, tiny brush strokes at the top and bottom of the picture. Are they exacting in detail? Not very. Do they help break up the solid masses of the composition? I think they do. Plus, they help tie in other elements of the digital painting, such as the oranges in the sky, the girl’s belt, and the top of the dragon’s head.

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Looking for how I paint using Procreate on the iPad Pro? Check out my other blog post here.

Procreate digital painting tutorial
Here’s my article on digital painting in Procreate on the iPad Pro.




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