Dragon Design Challenge for Art Elements

Flower dragon box top viewHere there be Dragons! The theme for the winter design challenge from the Art Elements team is dragons. I love dragons. Love! So naturally I signed up to participate. I usually make jewelry for these design challenges. But, since Art Jewelry Elements became Art Elements, I did not have to limit myself to jewelry or jewelry components. However, I stayed in the general vicinity of jewelry, by making jewelry boxes.

I’ve been enchanted by dragons since childhood.  I got lost in the world of the Dragonriders of Pern novels, by Anne McCaffrey.  Long before there was Daenerys and Khal Drogo (from Game of Thrones, for you non-fans), there was Lessa and Ramoth.  I have a small collection of Pocket Dragon figurines by Real Musgrave.  They’re adorable and whimsical. I also have a few less cuddly looking dragon sculptures, from unknown artists (who did not sign their work).  And some dragon jewelry, made by other artists.  All of my dragon collectables are of the winged variety.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’ve dabbled in sculpting with polymer clay a tiny bit.  I used to be afraid of sculpting, convinced I could not do it.  The reality is, anyone can sculpt.  Perhaps not well, especially not at first.  But, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Black dragon box side view

I had a bit of “beginner’s luck” when sculpting this first dragon. Everything came out reasonably well proportioned on the first try. Subsequent dragons required some plastic surgery along the way.

My sculpting technique is naive. As in, untrained.  And this challenge was the first time I attempted to sculpt something with legs.  Legs are scary and intimidating. Or rather, they were until my epiphany last weekend.  Why were they scary?  They have bendy bits called joints that are supposed to bend in the correct direction to appear realistic.  I knew the front and back legs were supposed to bend differently but despite the various tutorials I read or watched, as well as having knees and elbows myself, I just couldn’t get it.

Black dragon box top view

My first dragon sculpture is an antique gold color with emerald green eyes. She’s perched on a rocky cliff, guarding her clutch of sapphire blue eggs.

And then, as I was intently staring at one of my Pocket Dragon figurines (which I didn’t think to look at until after I made all my dragons for this)  I had a palm-to-forehead moment.  Elbows point toward the back like a ‘greater than’ symbol (>) and knees point toward the front like a ‘less than’ symbol (<).  Or, put another way, their angles point toward each other ( > < ).  Why, oh why, did I never see that before?  Who knows.  But now I can’t not see it.

The great tragedy of this epiphany of mine is that it came after I finished sculpting my dragons for this challenge.  I did, completely by accident, get it right on the first dragon (the golden black one).  And then, even though I had that dragon in front of me as a model for the second and third, proceeded to get it wrong. Wrong as in I have the knees bending the wrong way.  Oh well. You can’t really tell on the white dragon because of the wings.  And the purple dragon, which I made last, has other, more serious flaws that mean she will forever be part of my personal collection.

black dragon box open view

Here you can see how I painted the inside of the craft paper box with metallic gold acrylic. The outside of the box is covered in polymer clay, including the bottom.

My dragons for this challenge are sculpted from polymer clay in custom color blends that are even more shimmery in person.  I began with brown craft paper boxes as the base, and covered the outsides with polymer clay “habitats” designed for each dragon. I used mica powders, chalk pastels, acrylic paints, and gold-leafing pen to add highlights and accents.

White dragon jewelry box top view

This white dragon is about the same size as the black one. Her horns are slightly different and she doesn’t have a tail spike. Her scales have a glorious luster and shimmer that I wish I could capture in photos. Her eyes are light sapphire blue.

The habitats for the black and white dragons are intended to resemble rocky cliffs.  The dragons do not stand out dramatically from their backgrounds by design.  The dragons need a little bit of camouflage in their surroundings for protection.  There’s possibly an easier or faster way to create the look of rock walls than the approach I used.  Shaping and positioning each “rock” one at a time was not it.  But, I am happy with the end effect overall, so it was worth it.  I’m also pleased with the vine details that are continuous from the base to the lid.

white dragon box side view

The jewelry box that this dragon is guarding is about 4 inches across and high. It’s painted metallic gold inside, similar to the black dragon box.

I had this brilliant idea for the last dragon, which is about one-third the size of the other two.  She was going to be napping inside a flower.  My idea for how to construct the flower around the box, leaving room for the dragon, was ill-conceived. Due to my lack of experience and training in sculpting.  It didn’t turn out as planned and I think some of the leaves may be easily broken off.  So, she’s staying with me.  And now I know some things not do next time.

Purple dragon in flower jewelry box

My sleepy little purple dragon in her flower bed. I initially planned for the bottom of the box to be covered in green leaves like those on the lid. So that the whole box looked like one piece and you would lift the blossom out fromt he leaves to open it. The mechanics of how to do that turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. The box itself is only 1.5 inches across.

Will I be making more dragons?  Well, now that I know how the leg joints work, and since my flower dragon didn’t go as planned, perhaps I’ll make at least one more.  Or several more.  Or many more.  I do have a tendency to get distracted though.  By shiny objects. Other design challenges. Specks of dust in the sunbeams. No, wait. That last one is my cats.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my dragons.  I certainly had a wonderful time creating them for this challenge.  Many thanks to the Art Elements design team for the inspiration and the opportunity to participate. Please be sure to visit their blogs and those of the other participating artists for more dragons.

Shai Williams
Kathy Lindemer
Anita Rao
Kelly Rodgers
Tammy Adams – you are here!

AJE Team

26 thoughts on “Dragon Design Challenge for Art Elements

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thanks so much, Anita. As far as sculpting, I realized I just had to get over my fear of being bad at it. Or, given my perfectionist nature, my fear of never being perfect at it. It really is fun to just let yourself play.

  1. Kathy Lindemer

    Tammy, you did a wonderful job with your dragon boxes. I envy your ability to create with polymer clay. Well done!

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Kathy. Polymer clay is such fun. And so forgiving. If you mess up, you just ball it up and start over. No pressure.

  2. niky sayers

    I throughly loved reading your post Tammy, I was going to attempt a polymer dragon but I chickened out and stuck to what I know! Yours are truely delightful! They are all wonderfully expressive and I love all the detail you have put into them. Thank you for joining us x

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you so much, Niky. You chose a great theme and I had so much fun. I’m inspired to keep working on my dragon sculpting skills.

  3. Divya

    I love your idea of dragons on boxes Tammy. The white one looks a bit scary as it camouflages well with its base (shows how well its been conceptualised) but the purple is delightful with its flowery base

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Divya. The idea to do boxes really sprang from my reluctance to try sculpting dragons tiny enough to be worn as jewelry. That’s a challenge for another day when I feel more confident about the technique on a larger scale.

  4. Cathy S. Mendola

    WOW!! I absolutely LOVE all your dragon boxes, but I think my fave is the white one. Your details are wonderful. I wanted to do something simple in polymer clay but didn’t have time. I really need to work on my skills after seeing your beautiful work.

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Cathy. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have as much time as we have ideas for things to create? Those two things never seem to balance out.

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you so much, Caroline. My style is very much a work in progress, but you are correct, I did have a lot of fun.

  5. beth

    I was so happy to see your photos on Facebook because I had remembered that you were a bit gun-shy about sculpting before…. and you’re right, anyone can sculpt! You did a great job with these! I’m partial to the white/gold one, but think they’re all wonderful! The flower idea was a brilliant one, and I love the craggy rock with vines treatment to the other 2 boxes. I look forward to seeing more sculpting from you in the future!

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Beth. I will keep working on my sculpting. There will no doubt be much trial and error. Unless I manage to sign myself up for some classes. Now that I am over my fear of failing, sculpting is something I will enjoy doing more often.

  6. Jenny

    You made Ruth in his rocky Weyr. OMG. Ramoth guarding her clutch. Clearly I too am a HUGE Pern fan. Well done you! I think they look great – and at that scale you CAN keep the legs simple. Now do you think you might attempt a Fire lizard? Hmmm. Pour some klah and think it over… 😉

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Jenny. I grew up with those books. She couldn’t write/publish them quickly enough for me. And now I think I need to read them again, from the very first one. Fire lizards are a definite possibility. So great to know another Pern fan. 🙂

  7. Shaiha

    Those boxes are so precious! Peen was also one of the worlds I loved so the first box is my fav and I can’t wait for the fire lizards.

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you, Shaiha. I don’t think I can render dragons and fire lizards in true Anne McCaffrey style – hers were more horse-like. But I think I can create more of my style dragons in her colors. Bronze, green, and blue are on the to-do list.

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thank you so much, Susan. I tried to do a “fierce” looking face for one of them, but they just kept turning out cute. I don’t know whether to blame my technique or my subconscious. LOL.

  8. Diana Ptaszynski

    Wowza! I love the dragons you made! I’ve been starting to attempt to sculpt more as well and while I’m not sure I’ll ever make anything as cool as your dragons, I really want to try!

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      Thanks so much, Diana. I adore your funny face beads and would love to see larger sculptures in your style.

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