Sharing my creative process here: A Dragon Devouring a Princess

‘A Dragon Devouring a Princess Next to a Yew Tree’, ink on Two Rivers Paper, 40.5x42cm

There’s something hypnotic about a Yew Tree, they’re so ancient it’s intoxicating. When you see one it’s a communion with all those years that have passed before us and a nod to the future eyes that will look upon the same tree. Their gnarled, tangled branches, the spikes of the leaves, the air of loneliness about the Yew.

Traditionally they were used in churchyards. The exciting reason being to guard the dead from witches, the more practical one being the poisonous nature of yew acting as a strong deterrent to grazing animals over the graves1.

Crowhurst Yew, door in Yew tree, ancient yew with fence around it King Harold's Yew tree, ancient mystic tree
The Crowhurst Yew, Surrey, famous for containing an ancient door. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Yew was my jumping off point here. Part of my obsession with the folklore surrounding the tale of George and the Dragon is the thrilling mix of magic and believable elements. The relatability of the characters is compelling. So many myths across cultures cover the dynamic between a lovely princess and a monster (such as Andromeda and Cetos2).

Feminism may question why so many patriarchal cultures have an urge to sacrifice voluptuous virgins to monsters, but that’s a line of enquiry for another day…

All this floated around in my head yearning to be released onto paper as I began drawing ‘A princess being devoured by a dragon next to a yew tree’.

process drawing in pencil by charlie kirkham princess dragon skull yew tree
Initial pencil drawing laying out the elements of composition

Drawing is the backbone to everything I create. Take any artwork of mine down to its naked bones and it’s a drawing. Every act of observational art pushes your own thoughts onto the surface.

“Painting from nature is not copying the object,” Paul Cézanne wrote, “it is realizing one’s sensations.”

Paul Cézanne3

My eternal battle is to upskill enough to convey what’s in my head to another person, via an artwork. There is no fast fix for this and it’s an ongoing learning process.

detail of charlie kirkham ink drawing princess and dragon by yew tree
Detail of the background skeletal princess with sickle

One of the things I enjoyed most about this drawing was researching the characters. The skeleton princess in the background is still wearing her heels and tiara, she’s a badass character with her sickle at the ready. The skeleton princess represents death as well as standing in for luxuriant blissful life.

From a technical perspective, I invariably begin sketching in HB pencil before moving onto pen once I’m happy with the layout. The amazing Two Rivers Paper4 will stand a lot of erasure and still look fabulous it means I am now able to sketch and erase on the paper. Rag paper is life-changing!

canva photo of rag paper
example rag paper showing the thickness of the deckle edges, ideal for watercolourists and ink artists, photo from Canva

The princess in the legend is a lot like the dragon, neither have freedom to choose their destiny. My series explores the parallels between the princess and the dragon, both puppets to fate. In the same vein, George is unable to challenge a situation that has escalated beyond redemption. So in the end, we observe three likable, noble characters each battling their own pre-ordained path.

There’s no magic without a little humour. The dragon in this piece is a monstrous beast, a dominating character, but his horns are a tongue in cheek reference to the next meal.

ink drawing of princess and dragon by charlie kirkham
detail showing the knife and fork horns of the dragon, you can also see the scribbled pencil notes on the edge of the paper (subsequently erased)

What I really enjoyed on this drawing was creating the detailing on the dress and the dragon scales. The lace of the dress is all drawn out in a 0.05mm nib. It took a devoted process to create! The detailing in the dress was something to revel in. I wanted the dress to feel spectacular and daring, to be sensual against the hard, reptilian skin of the dragon.

There are two woodcuts from the Wellcome Collection that I referenced in the skeletal forms 5

From the Wellcome Collection: left a human skeleton, seen from the front resting...after Vesalius, engraving 1769 after Prevost 1762, after 1543 woodcut. Ref 36316i. right Two figures: a kneeling human skeleton, with hands tied behind its back, and an écorché figure tied to a tree-trunk. Engraving by Barlow, ca. 1800.
From the Wellcome Collection: left a human skeleton, seen from the front resting…after Vesalius, engraving 1769 after Prevost 1762, after 1543 woodcut. Ref 36316i. right Two figures: a kneeling human skeleton, with hands tied behind its back, and an écorché figure tied to a tree-trunk. Engraving by Barlow, ca. 1800.

The George and the Dragon series is my current exploration, I’m charting its progress via my Instagram and expanding on the thought processes involved here. You can follow me to see new works as they happen.

The finished drawing, 'A Dragon Devouring a Princess Next to a Yew Tree', ink on Two Rivers Paper, 40.5x42cm, Charlie Kirkham
The finished drawing, ‘A Dragon Devouring a Princess Next to a Yew Tree’, ink on Two Rivers Paper, 40.5x42cm, Charlie Kirkham

What are your thoughts on this drawing? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!


REFERENCE LINKS

  1. https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/yew/
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Andromeda-Greek-mythology
  3. MoMA | Paul Cézanne. Still Life with Apples. 1895–98
  4. https://www.tworiverspaper.com/
  5. https://iiif.wellcomecollection.org/image/V0007856ER/full/760%2C/0/default.jpg
  6. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/bky24692

        

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