The scale of the problem
Do you struggle to paint scales? Then see Sara Forlenza’s article in this month’s Q&A section, where this and other art quandaries are solved in style.
Searlait Boucher, Canada
There are many types of scales, and painting each of them requires a different approach. For this article I’m illustrating a half-dragon girl. Because dragons are fantastic creatures inspired by reptiles, I obtain some references for those types of scales, in particular photos of lizards and crocodiles.
Such scales are tough, rough or leathery, and in some examples take the form of spikes. They appear in a regular pattern (more or less), depending on the area that they cover: the back, stomach or snout of the beast, for example. This means that you can’t use a default pattern brush to recreate their look; they need to be drawn into place.
Once I’ve got my references I sketch the figure and lay down basic colours. With a simple brush, without any texture, I paint cool lights that I contrast with warm shadows, and I define her face, neck and shoulders, even going into detail because the scales will follow the shape of the body. Then I start painting scales one by one. When I paint the horns, I make their colour fades into a darker one on the ends, for a more realistic look.
Adding cracks and irregularities to the scales and horns helps to give these elements a more realistic appearance.