How to Draw Magical Mythological Creatures: Create Unicorns, Dragons, Gryphons, and Other Fantasy Animals from Legend

How to Draw Magical Mythological Creatures: Create Unicorns, Dragons, Gryphons, and Other Fantasy Animals from Legend

by J.C. Amberlyn


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A step-by-step guide for people who love dragons, unicorns, griphons, and other creatures of legend.

Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Shape of Water, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, even My Little Pony are just a few examples of the mythological, fantastical, and supernatural stories currently in popular culture. Artists old and young enjoy drawing beasts and characters from their favorite fantasy stories.

How to Draw Magical Mythological Creatures continues a rich tradition of mythology and art. In this step-by-step guide to drawing all manner of creatures—from the Hydra and the Phoenix to Cerberus and basilisks—in pencil and pen-and-ink, J. C. Amberlyn combines her love of fantasy and mythological storytelling with her beautiful, detailed drawing style and love of all non-human creatures. Amberlyn covers all the basics of drawing so that even beginners will feel confident and successful. Included is introductory information on art technique and material basics and detailed, step-by-step instruction on anatomy, features, and finishing details.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580935241
Publisher: The Monacelli Press
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 92,534
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 10.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

J. C. Amberlyn is an award-winning artist, animator, graphic novelist, photographer, naturalist, and animal lover. She's also the author of successful art instruction titles: How to Draw Manga Characters, How to Draw Dogs and Puppies, How to Draw Cats and Kittens, Drawing Manga Animals, Artist's Guide to Drawing Animals, and Drawing Wildlife.

Read an Excerpt

Mythology is a language of stories and imagery that helps define a culture. Every culture has its own mythology, a collection of tales that almost everyone knows. It provides people with a common narrative and visual framework that can inform them about their society’s language, moral systems, religion, and social life. One of the interesting things about this mythology is how there are common elements in these stories shared across cultures; a common human experience we can all relate to. Animals are part of this culture and the human imagination has given rise to many fantastical creatures, often based on real animals but with an extra, often magical, twist. Many things lurk in our subconscious, a common thread among humanity that vast groups of people can relate to and understand. These archetypes, or recurring motifs in art and stories, occur repeatedly in sometimes (seemingly) vastly different cultures. The legend of a bird that can regenerate itself by fire, or is associated with fire somehow, is repeated with the phoenix as well as several other mythological birds ranging from the Russian firebird to the Chinese fenghuang. Many mythological birds have a special antagonism towards serpents, much like how hawks and eagles will attack snakes. Lions, or lion-dogs, tend to be symbols of power and guardianship across the world. One of the wondrous things about learning mythology is learning about not only our differences across cultures, but our similarities.  Understanding mythological creatures is a part of understanding ourselves and the world around us.
About This Book
This book will take a look at some of the mythological creatures that share a place in the world around us through our legends, art, history, and hearts. Including all the mythological creatures around the world is beyond the scope of this book, but I have aimed to include many commonly known creatures as well as tried to get a sample of some of the lesser known ones. This book focuses primarily on animals and animal-like creatures rather than the more humanoid ones like mermaids, centaurs, or goblins (which would almost require their own book). I’ve tried to include a range of step-by-step drawing demonstrations, from the very simple to more advanced instructions. Having a step-by-step drawing demonstration for each creature was out of the scope of this book but I’ve attempted to include as many as possible. Each creature feature does include at least one illustration and an explanation of the creature’s basic habits or history. I hope this book will fire up your own imagination and get you drawing creatures of your own, as well as fuel the desire to explore the rich and diverse cultures of the world, all with their own wisdom to share.
There are many ways to approach art nowadays, from a simple pencil, eraser, and paper to drawing on the computer. When using traditional media (paper and pens, color markers, painting, etc.) look for acid-free paper and pens with acid-free ink. This will make sure your drawings last longer and don’t yellow with age. If you use colored markers, the more expensive professional markers will provide you with better results (but will cost more). I personally use a lot of Tombow ABT Acid Free markers and Copic markers. I often sketch with a mechanical pencil and then finalize a drawing with an acid-free ink pen before erasing the pencil lines once the ink has dried. I used a Pentel 0.5 mechanical pencil and a Tombow Calligraphy pen for many of the drawings of this book. I enjoy using a kneaded eraser, which allows me to shape the eraser into a point if I want to only erase a small part of a drawing. Having a good scanner allows you to scan your images in and continue working on them on the computer or save and publish them online.
When it comes to digital art (on the computer), there are many programs to choose from as well as many ways to draw. I find using an artist’s tablet with a tablet pen is helpful and much easier to draw and color with than trying to use a computer mouse. There are a variety of artist’s tablets on the market. Look at reviews and price range to buy the best quality one you can afford. There are many programs, including standards like Adobe Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, or Autodesk Sketchbook Pro as well as free programs you can find online. When creating art, try to make images as high resolution as possible without slowing your computer down. Making images 300 dpi (dots per inch) or 600 dpi is a good start. (Many web images are 72 dpi and look good online but are not good enough quality to print at a large size.) Computers with fast processing speeds and high quality graphic cards help, too.

This is the fire-breathing antagonist of many a European fairy tale or fantasy role-playing game. The western or European dragon is often fire-breathing, scaly, horned, and has bat-like wings. Great heroes and heroines are often needed to come dispatch the dragon and save a village from its reign of terror. It eats livestock and often people, too. This type of dragon loves to hoard treasure in its lair, sometimes located in a castle or cave. In more recent times, artists and story-tellers have begun to explore these situations from the dragon’s perspective. Maybe sometimes the dragon isn’t so bad but just wants to protect its belongings from greedy, treasure-stealing humans?
A Western Dragon lays upon its vast hoard of treasure, reminiscing about glorious days gone by.
Drawing a Simple Dragon Head from the Front Top.
Draw a circle, then draw a + shape dividing it into four equal parts. Draw a smaller circle below it but not touching it. Extend the lower horizontal line inside the larger circle down to cut through the smaller circle (which will be the nose) in two even halves.
Now connect the head and nose using curved lines. Draw a sharply curving line from the outside edge of the horizontal line of the biggest circle. Extend the line down the face in a less sharp curve as it finally meets the middle of one half of the smaller snout circle. In the very middle, draw a teardrop shape for the nostril. Draw the same connecting arc on the other side of the head, then add two teardrop shapes for the ears just above the horizontal line of the bigger circle.
Now add eyes in the lower halves of the larger circle, using the arcing lines for the top part of the eyeballs. Draw horns on the top of the head. I added marks where I made the horns slightly thicker and more angled where they curve inwards. I made an egg shape between the horns, connecting them on the skull with that curved line. Draw the outside top of the ears on the top of each ear “teardrop” next to the base. Then draw the outline of the snout, keeping it thinner than the main part of the head. Finally, add a slightly sharp tip to the nose on the bottom.
To finish, add pupils in the eyes. (I drew cat-like pupils.) Erase the back part of the head between the horns. Draw some lines indicating webbing inside the ears and perhaps a little tuft to their tips. Erase lines that are not needed anymore but keep some of the lines you drew connecting the corner of the eyes to the nose. You can add bumps above the nostrils to indicate fleshy protrusions.
Drawing a Dragon (Whole Body).
Draw two equal sized circles lined up horizontally near each other. (This will become the dragon’s chest and hips.) Leave about a half-circle of space between the two. Measure another circle height above the two circles already drawn. I added horizontal lines indicating the height of the body circles and then measured another circle’s height above them.
Extend a curved line for the neck up the chest, in, then forward (left), and draw a smaller circle for the head (the top of that circle should hit the topmost measurement line). Then draw a similarly curved line to indicate the back of the neck, extending down the back of the head circle and curving to meet the top of the left body circle. Connect the two body circles by drawing the back as well as another line for the belly underneath along the bottom horizontal line. Add the back part of the front leg, making a slight pie slice-shape on the back of the chest to indicate the elbow, which lines up with the right side of the left-most body circle. Sweep down from the elbow and draw an oval for the front foot below. Draw the hind leg, knee jutting left of the right body circle. Add the heel and an oval for the ball of the hind foot.
Now add the muzzle, keeping it about as thick as the rest of the head circle and rounded at the tip. Add a horn on the top. Draw the front of the front leg, then begin sketching in the front leg on the further side, using the horizontal line as the place the elbow connects and moves the leg forward (to the left). Leave space for the front foot. Draw an oval behind the closest hind foot to place the further hind foot. Draw the tail, letting it curve and taper to a tip.
Draw a line to divide the dragon’s head in half horizontally. Then draw another horizontal line closer to the top of the head. Use this line to draw the nostril and the eye, placing the eye inside the head circle. Add a bat-like wing, folded back where it meets the top horizontal line, and drawing three segments spaced a little bit apart stretching out behind. Draw a tuft to the tail and finish the front foot and hind legs on the further side. Sketch smaller ovals on the feet, halfway overlapping the feet in front (and one behind in the front foot’s case). These will be toes.
Add the mouth, using the line you drew earlier to divide the head in half as the upper jaw. Note how I made a subtle curve (I exaggerated it in the little sketch placed next to the head). The line dips down then pulls back up, indicating a thickness in the middle of the muzzle’s length. The mouth extends a bit past the eye, which you can add a pupil to. Add a teardrop shape for the ear along the back of the head and the other horn. Complete the bat-like wing with curved arcs between each segment, ultimately connecting to the shoulder. Draw circles on the ends of the toes for joints and add claws (as well as toes on the further-most front foot). You’ll add more toes eventually but work on the shape of the closest toes to begin with.
Now to finish the drawing. You can erase or lighten the lines you no longer need. Then add details, including the rest of the toes on the feet, mostly echoing the previous lines of toes you’ve already drawn. Draw teeth, a highlight in the eye, details in the ear and a tuft on the tip if you’d like. You can draw fire coming from the dragon’s mouth. Add some thickness to the bat-wing segments and main base of the wing, then indicate the further wing. Finally, add pointy scales going down the dragon’s back and broad scales on its belly (first draw the line separating the belly from main body, then draw short, more horizontal lines to show the scales). If you’d like, you can experiment with this dragon, adding a longer or shorter muzzle, smaller or bigger or differently shaped wings, maybe more scales or longer horns, etc. There’s a lot of variation you can explore. 
Asian Dragons
Asian dragons have long been revered as symbols of power, magic, and wisdom. Where Western dragons were often portrayed as evil monsters to conquer, Asian dragons have often been seen as wise and just guardians of people or places as well as sources of luck and prosperity. They can be divine beings with important connections to the heavens or bodies of water, with links to thunder, rain, and good fishing. Chinese dragons have been an important figure in art and stories for thousands of years and Chinese Imperial dragons are associated with the Emperor. In Japan, the dragon is known as Ryu. The King of Dragons, Ryujin, lives in a palace at the bottom of the sea made of red and white coral. His servants include fish, jellyfish, and sea turtles and he controls the tides with magical tide jewels. He is also the lord of snakes on land and possesses a range of powerful medicines, including some which ensure a long life. Korean dragons are much like Chinese dragons but they have longer beards. They also have 81 scales on their backs.
Japanese dragons are often portrayed with three toes, Korean and Chinese dragons with four, and Imperial Chinese Dragons with five toes. Korean dragons come in three types: the Yong, the sky dragon, the Yo, the ocean dragon, and the Kyo, the mountain dragon. All dragons are powerful and impressive, with long, sinewy bodies and, unlike Western dragons, they usually do not have wings. They can have horns, long whiskers, and many tufts of hair, scales, or flame along their spines, legs, or around their heads. There is a tale in China of a man named Ye Gao who loved dragons so much he had their image everywhere around his house. A dragon heard of this and was impressed enough to descend from the heavens to see him- at which point Ye Gao ran for his life, terrified at the sight!
Asian dragons have all manner of horns, bushy fur or scales as eyebrows, whiskers, sometimes small manes, and other decorations on their heads. Note that they are frequently depicted with a sort of pug nose as shown, which can be blocked in by drawing a circle with two smaller circles on either side for the nostrils.

Asian Dragon Step by Step

Start by drawing the dragon’s body and head. Draw a small circle for the head then draw what is basically a tube winding up in an arc, then down to a larger circle (for the chest). Continue the tube in another arc then draw another circle (same size as chest, this time for the hips) and continue the tube up, down, and up again for the tail, ending at a tip.
Flesh out the head, adding a muzzle by drawing a smaller circle in front of the head circle and attaching it with two lines. The muzzle should be more slender than the main head circle. Add the nearest front leg by extending the chest circle outline down, then angling forward to an oval which will be the foot. Draw up to the elbow and back to the chest circle about midway. In preparation for the next step, you may want to extend the belly line forward in front of the chest to guide your drawing of the other front leg later. Add an oval for the hindquarters that extends down past the hip circle and loops back to the rear. Draw a tuft on the tip of the tail and begin drawing scales along the spine.
Finish the scales along the back. Now go to the head and draw some guiding lines: a horizontal line that curves along the head’s round shape up towards the center of the neck and a vertical line curving along the left side of the head. This will be a three-quarter view of the dragon’s head. Add the nose on the top half of the smaller circle of the head, drawing one circle and two smaller ones on each side for the nostrils. Draw four curved toes (three front and one back) on the nearest front foot and use the guideline you drew earlier to draw the further front leg extending out with another oval for a foot. Finish the hind leg, sweeping back to the ankle (making almost a square) and extending down to another oval.
On the head, add horns. Draw the far horn sweeping up from the far side of the head, have it come back down to the vertical dividing line, then up again and back down to meet the horizontal dividing line of the head circle. Draw the mouth under the nose and extending down the muzzle. Add toes to the further front leg and hind foot, then draw the hindquarters of the further hind leg using the rest of the hip circle as a guide.

Now add the eyes along the horizontal dividing line, add the whiskers on either side of the nose, and an ear (more flat on top and curved underneath) just under the horn on the side of the head. Complete the further hind leg, echoing the nearer one and adding toes. Draw a line along the underbelly to indicate belly scales.
Add the other ear and some bushy eyebrows, using the head circle and horizontal dividing line as guides. Draw some cheek spikes and add some spikes above the horns. Define the toes further, adding claws, and draw some hair on the elbows. Use the tuft on the tail to guide you as you draw more flame-like hair.
Finish adding details on the head, including the pupils in the eye, beard and more spikes along the jaw, and a small mane. Draw a line separating the inner and outer ear and add a tuft and draw a tuft on the other ear, too. Add the nostrils and emphasize the furrow of eyebrows between the eyes. Indicate each belly scale with some slightly curved lines.
Now finish the drawing, placing final pencil or ink lines and erasing unneeded ones.
Quetzalcoatl is a Mesoamerican deity, sometimes represented in human form and sometimes as a feathered serpent. He has filled many roles in different cultures. He was the god of many things including wind, learning, books, the arts, science, agriculture, the inventor of the calendar, the bringer of rain clouds, and the one who gave humans maize (corn). Quetzalcoatl is linked to the morning star and the evening star (Venus), conch shells, and credited as a creator of humans today and the world we live in, using his own blood to bring life to human bones. His feathered serpent form is a blend of earth and sky, a snake and a Resplendent Quetzal, which is a beautifully colorful bird of the region. It can be considered an allegory to the dual nature of spirit and sky up above and earthly beings on the ground below. This form is depicted with a large, showy crest of feathers around his head and a plume of feathers for a tail. He is usually shown mostly green in color (much like a quetzal) and without wings.



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Copyright © 2019 J.C. Amberlyn.
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