Saturday, September 22, 2012

Finding the Dragon

-By Tim Bruckner

I’ve never been much of a dragon guy. I know, saying that here, now, is kind of like saying I’m not much of a football fan in the middle of Lambeau Field during a Super Bowl play off. I’ve sculpted two dragons in over forty years. The first in the early seventies. I’d worked on a couple of projects with Harry Nilsson and Ringo Star. They were best buds and the time and knowing Ringo collected dragons, Harry commissioned me to make one for him. I knew two things going in; it would be bronze and it was for Ringo. This was before the internet. Research meant books. And, as it turned out, there were a bunch of them at the library. I spent a couple of days looking at various dragon images and then got down to work.

I did a rough clay, got some feedback, went to wax, got some more feedback and was finishing up the wax, ready to mold, when I got a call. Turns out that Harry and Ringo had a dust up and the commission was canceled. A few months later, my friend and Pulitzer Prize nominated photographer, John Partipilo funded the casting of two. One for me and one for him. In both versions, the dragon holds a hollowed hen’s egg painted with the portrait of the face on the hammer. I was a deep thinker in those days. Very profound. As with everything I’ve done, there are parts I like and parts I don’t Only I know which is which, which suits me fine.

A couple of months ago I got a commission to sculpt my second Dragon, a bust, of sorts. I really enjoy the collaboration that is a commission. Its like being in a band. You play off one another, work out the tuning and the progression and watch the song, or in this case, the Dragon, take shape. We had a long talk about what it was he was looking for and what I thought I could bring to it. My wife suggested it be a wall mounted piece which was a great idea and worked really well with what I had in mind. I spent some time looking at Dragons. Modern Dragons. Historic dragons. Dragons throughout art history. Humorous dragons. Who knew there were so many different kinds of dragons?

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted this dragon to give the impression of mass. I thought of him as a thug, a guy that likes to push his considerable weight around. A bully with attitude.
First pass was me trying to find his character. The under bite, the shape of the eye and the shape and fullness of the neck were formed early on.

The second pass I played with the shape of the head, worked the back fin and the eye. The shape of the lower jaw and those tendrils seemed like a good idea at the time.

The third pass saw the elimination of the chin tendrils, refinement of the shape of the head, deepening of the neck, change in the shape of the ear and some more detail. Started doing some round-out work. Up until now, I’d been concentrating on getting the profile right. When I thought I was pretty close, I started building the other side of the head. Sometimes symmetry is a bitch.

There was something not right. That something was the size of the eye. It made his face look small. So, I reduced its size.

The fourth pass was more refining, a change in the shape of the horn and the addition of the broken horn and deepening of the scar that runs across the bridge of his nose. With each pass the client gets a set of images just to make sure we’re still on the same page.

The fifth and final pass before finish work was to complete the head and try and figure out how the hell I was going to mount the piece. I didn’t want any obvious hooks or hanging gear. He needed to look as if he were suspended of his own volition.

It was one of those middle-of-the-night solutions that seem only to come when you’re away from the piece. If I modified a couple of the spikes from his right side fins, beefed them up with the idea of casting in two ¼” brass rods I wouldn’t have to devise a visible mounting system. All I needed was for the client to be willing to drill two holes in his wall. And he is.

I’m going to keep the piece kind of loose. Tighten detail on his face, eyes, muzzle and let the focus soften as I work away from the center of the face. The finish, at this point, is anybody’s guess. I’ll keep you posted. Having spent some time with this guy, I can say, I’m more inclined to be a dragon guy. Touchdown!


  1. Guess I agree about dragons, as it's begun to feel like "Dragon Week" has been going on forever, not but it hasn't yielded some really engaging posts.
    Um, about that bitch Symmetry, is one eye rolling back to regard the viewer, while the other eye rolls forward toward the snout?

  2. Look to your left. Your left eye iris is in the outside corner of your left eye? Looking to the left, your right eye iris is in the inside corner of your right eye? Makes sense to me.

  3. Great post Tim!

    I love that dragon bust and can't wait to see how it's gonna turn out :)
    It's always fascinating to see your process and witness all the small (and the bigger) changes that the sculpture goes through before it's finished.

    Thank you for your time!