Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dragon Chase

by Petar Meseldzija

Dragon Chase, oil on MDF board, 56 x 100cm / 22 x 39,4 inch, 2011

The commission was clear – three women + one or more dragons + one or more dogs. They are all companions, and traveling to a central gathering. When the client asked me to do this painting, there was a number of artists who were already taking part in this project: Donato Giancola, Raoul Vitale, Todd Lockwood, Steven Hickman, Julie Bell, Bob Eggleton, Boris Vallejo, Scott Gustafson, Matt Stewart, Heather Theurer and Ruth Sanderson. All of them were doing a variation of the main theme, therefore the different environments, different dragons, different nationalities, and different types of dogs were required.
I was given the opportunity to choose between the two scenes: an icy polar scene at night with the Aurora Borealis, or a scene where the travelers camp near or in a graveyard. However, the client was open to my suggestions for the environment and the types of women and dogs.
When I started to think about both the icy and the graveyard scene, I felt that nothing moved inside of me, which is often a bad sign, for it meant that I was not inspired, in spite of the fact that I found the general concept of the project very appealing. So, I tried to come up with an idea that would be inspiring to me, an idea that will create the feeling of excitement which would stay with me for the biggest part of the work on the painting. I then closed my eyes and started to envision a forest scene, letting all sorts of images to ascend from the depths of my mind to its surface. When in this kind of meditative state, I often see vivid pictures in front of my mind’s eyes, pictures that are so much more vivid than any painting I have produced until now or will ever create, I am afraid. As soon as I open my eyes and start sketching them, they are gone. Therefore I am often forced to sketch these images with my eyes closed. Anyway, while doing this “pictorial meditation” of a forest scene, the image of a dragon flying low through a dense forest just popped up in my mind.

This is a very poor depiction of what I have seen in my mind. However it was sufficient to “catch” the idea and to “freeze” the emotion that went with it. The idea of a chase followed quickly after. I then did a drawing of the scene (this time with my eyes widely open, of course), by using some photo reference, as well as drawing from imagination, looking at the sketch and remembering the image I saw in my mind.

In order to be more precise about what this scene is all about, I will have to explain the genesis of the painting’s title. The initial, working title was Dragon Chase, for I envisioned the scene as a dragon hunt scene. But then I remembered that they are all companions and therefore do not kill or eat each other. “Damn it”, I thought…
However because this is all about friends having a pleasant time with each other during the long trip, and in order to keep all the composition elements in place, I turned the basic idea of a hunt into the concept of a friendly race, and renamed it Dragon Race. Later on I finally chose to call it Dragon Chase anyway, purely because of the sound of the words, in spite of the fact that the word “chase” often implies a hunt situation.
I than started to realized that this new concept offered me a new set of challenges. The question that presented itself was: what do I actually want to say with this new concept, what do I want to show?
Gradually it became clear to me that my main goal with this painting was to depict a situation wherein the requested elements/characters from the composition interact with each other in a specific way and are connected by one common thing, or a feeling. That feeling, I thought, should be a feeling of joy of freedom, movement and speed.
Although it seemed at first a little strange, even a bit ridiculous, I in fact intended to depict a universal aspect of the mental state of the human being, as well as these two animals in question, regardless of the nature of the surrounding environment, something that, one could say, belongs to the domain of psychology rather than the fantasy. In other words, I wanted to depict the feeling of joie de vivre, or cheerful enjoyment of life.  I guess I needed to infuse the painting with that kind of content, to add an extra layer to the painting’s story, in order to inspire and amuse myself during the process of its creation, and to give myself the feeling that this is not just a superficial depiction of a scene from the story, but rather something….well, more!
 As for the technical side of this painting, the low horizontal composition was chosen to emphasize the dynamic movement and to imply a claustrophobic feel of the forest, suggesting that, although it seems obvious that the flying dragon is quicker than the rest of the company, however the complex pattern of the tree brunches, roots and boulders prevent him to fly full speed, giving his slower friends, his “opponents”, more chance to ketch him, or to win, whatever the point of their game is. By introducing a situation of confronting horizontal and vertical lines / forms (tree brunches, position and the movement of the characters) I tried to emphasize the general movement in the painting, and by doing so to accentuate the feeling of speed and joy. In other words I first of all tried to present the spectator with a certain feeling. This was my primary objective. The other elements and layers of the picture’s story were of the secondary importance, although some of you might see it as to be the other way around, which is perfectly ok with me, for if the painting is good, it must offer more than one door for entering it.

Have a creative day!  


  1. Petar, your posts are always such a joy to read. (the others' are too, of course!) It's nice getting a little insight into the non-technical decisions that you make when painting. Beautiful piece!

  2. Petar, I've been waiting to see this one finished. Outstanding! Those brush strokes look so effortless and free. Well done!

  3. I have such a hard time trying to wrap my mind around how you can make the loose brushwork that is evident in some places of the painting in the zoomed-in versions work so well in the picture as a whole, when I try that myself it just looks like a mess, but I suppose you have to know where to loosen up a bit depending on the different focal points in the picture?

    Beautiful work!

  4. Krysjez - “…Thought must come first", as the great master Odd Nerdrum would say. I am glad you were interested in the “non-technical decisions” part of my post. There has been a huge amount of almost obsessive writings about the technical side of painting (although often excellent), but very little about, I dare say, the true source of art: thought and feeling.

    Soutchay – Nice to hear from you again! The brushstrokes might look effortless but it often does not happen without a fight. However, the feeling of effortlessness is one of the goals.

    Steven - Thanks!

    Staffan – As you have probably suspected, the answer to your question is practice, rigorous and persistent practice, and the clear focus on the goals that you want to achieve. I call it “taming the Genie of the oil paint”. I suggest you to read the posts on my painting technique first, and if there are still some questions left, I will gladly give you the answers.

    Thanks, guys!