Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Forging Dragons by John Howe

To me, drawings are exciting. I prefer Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings to his paintings and I’m pleased when I spot an outline beneath any artist’s finished painting. That’s one of the reasons why I was thrilled to find John Howe’s book on the shelf of a nearby book store, it has his extremely detailed preliminary drawings for nearly every painting contained in the book. The artist has done numerous illustrations for fantasy books, as well as pre-production on movies.
The book is a great overview of dragons in general, as well as an art book. The author traces the history of dragons from all over the world, from Medieval Europe, the Vikings to the Far East. For instance, Chinese dragons are ranked by how many claws on each foot. They are often shown holding a ball of fire or a single pearl, which symbolizes thunder and is the explanation for how rain is created.
There are several volumes of Howe’s art, often labeled as workshops in book form. This one outlines his working methods in an accessible way; explaining not only how he puts together those meticulous drawings, but also the mediums used, including colored pencils and airbrush, all while standing at a small drafting table in a book lined room. His references range from Ancient Egypt to NASA photos of outer space. He bases some elements of dragon anatomy on real creatures, such as crocodiles, lampreys(eels) and toads.
Howe paints dragons in the usual ways, battling warriors. But also encircling the globe or archaic alphabets, in fire and fog and death. Their settings are often extreme climate conditions, storm-tossed seas and erupting volcanoes. All of them are vividly believable and atmospheric.
So far, I’ve not yet done a painting of a dragon, though I’ve toyed with sketches, the subject still intimidates me. They seem like kin to dinosaurs, though more elusive. But even if I never paint one, this book is still very inspirational, an invitation to let my imagination soar on giant bat wings to worlds I seldom think about, but surely lurks within ancestral memory.

A David & Charles Book 2008 128 pp. ISBN-13:987-1-60061-139-1

Jackie  hasn’t yet painted a dragon, but has done other wildlife, some of which you can see here

8 comments on “Forging Dragons by John Howe

  1. Chris Harding
    January 25, 2012

    This looks wonderful. Re your comment on dinosaurs, there was a TV programme a few weeks back, which claimed giants, dragons and other mythical creatures were created by ancient civilisations, like the Greeks, in response to their discovery of fossilised dinosaurs etc.

  2. Farah Ng @ Broken Penguins
    January 26, 2012

    Oh I love dragons! I’m Chinese and was always told that dragons were very good luck… and make for excellent restaurant decor 😉 It’s pretty cool how so many different cultures came up with roughly the same mythical animal – and all of it depicted through art. The last picture seems very eel-like.

  3. Hilary
    January 26, 2012

    What a wonderfully enthusiastic review of what sounds like a gorgeous book, Jackie! Just wait until you see my piece tomorrow – maybe you’ll be inspired yourself ……

  4. kirstyjane
    January 29, 2012

    Beautiful, eloquent post, comrade J.

  5. Llyn
    January 30, 2012

    I own this book!

  6. Marina
    February 5, 2012

    I’m with you on drawings, especially preliminary sketches. I love seeing in-progress artwork that is not yet finished and set in stone (or paint in this case) – it has the essence of the future work, but still contains the breadth of possibilities that the final work does not have. All the possible directions something could go… If that made any sense at all.

    If you like John Howe work, I can also recommend his Fantasy Art Workshop book. While the technical advice on material etc is not so interesting to me, there is a wealth of analysis of his work progress, including sketches with various detail level and paintings in different stages of completion.

  7. Clarissa Aykroyd
    February 9, 2012

    I love John Howe! I was so pleased when he was chosen to work on the Lord of the Rings films with Alan Lee – the two finest Tolkien artists – and my pleasure turned out to be justified.

    As for dragons, while I’ve always preferred The Lord of the Rings to The Hobbit, one thing The Hobbit has over LOTR is that it has a dragon – and the dragon will be Benedict Cumberbatch in the new film – how much better can you get?!

  8. Pingback: quem desenha dragões? [parte 1] – Conversamos?!…

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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