“There once lived a prince among dragons,
An exquisite dragon was he,
Not quite green and hardly blue,
But greeny-blue, just like the sea.” – The Reluctant Dragon
I’ve been thinking about inspiration a lot lately, but moreover about where I find it as an artist and storyteller. At college, I remember being delighted when told I didn’t just have to look at fine artists for inspiration, but also to illustrators, film makers, writers, and even fashion designers. Suddenly, where my research journal had been a stodgy brick wall of the same old fine art fantasy paintings (which are still lovely in their own way) I was bombarded with what the world really had to offer when it came to tickling ones fancy if creative block struck.
Now, since I have been focusing more on the dragon side of things, I thought I’d take a look at how I’ve come to see dragons the way I do; as gentle, sociable creatures with impeccable manors and a love of all things civilised. The funny thing is, I can go back to almost the beginning of my short little life, and find an animated version of the Reluctant Dragon, a 1898 children’s story by Kenneth Grahame. Admitedly the book is still on my to-read list (smack on the wrist for me) but what did spark my interest as a child was taken by this most beautiful adaption by a gent
named Willis Hall (He also did a wonderful version of The Wind in the Willows, featuring David Jason as Mr Toad. You can see some of it here). Unfortunatly I couldn’t find a picture of the whole dragon, only this little one thanks to Toonhound. This dragon, in the way he looks and behaves, is probably the single biggest influence on the way I create dragons. I was lucky enough to have somebody close who took the time to find a copy of the original animation so I could see it again after loosing the video I watched, enchanted, as a child.
But it didn’t stop with the reluctant dragon. A few years down the line, when diagnosed with asthma, I was presented with a book about ‘Desmond the Dragon’, who also suffered with asthma, and sought to teach us newbies about how to use our inhalers. Again I was smitten with a dragon who wasn’t all smoke and fire.
Of course, it hasn’t just been dragons that have played on my mind, in my work and even into my dissertation. Writers like Roald Dahl and Alan Garner made sure a healthy interest in fantasy, and slightly macabre fantasy at that made a permanent impression on a young artist. Not only that, wonderful movies like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Legend and Willow made sure I was watching as well as reading. Of course, the more what I saw scared me, the better.
Of course, it would be a good few years until I reached university and really began to spread my wings (however green and scaly) and discovered the people behind the films, most predominately Brian Froud, who continues to produce a most inspiring collection of work. Later, I discovered (among others) Gris Grimly and Dave McKean, both masters of the macabre.
Not only did The Reluctant Dragon make me fall in love with fantasy, but also with animation. So far, I have not gotten my teeth into any animation (save for short film ‘Jimmy Dork Face’ which no longer exists) but it hasn’t stopped a love of sculpture and set building. A teenage obsession with Tim Burton (I saw the trailer for Frankenweenie yesterday, and I wont deny I squeaked with joy) relighted the fire of facination with stop-motion, and prompted me to create the art dolls which have sold world wide. I can admit my Grail would be to create a dragon puppet, but so far the logistics are a nightmare and I get a headache just thinking about it!
Still, outside of the Etsy shop, I can now focus my energies on Sheridan and his clan, the family of dragons who play a pinnacle part in my children’s book ‘The Fourth Ouroboros’, which is currently in the editing stage before hopefully being sent off to pastures green. Sheridan isn’t exactly a prince among dragons, but looking at him now, I realise that I have come full circle, and the things that continue inspire me now are none other than those that brought my family and I so much joy all those years ago.