The other day my muse woke up a little and hit me with a strong desire to update the Heart of the Empire Music article, so I did. The list has gone from twenty to thirty songs and I created a proper playlist on YouTube too! The ten new additions had been rattling around in my head for a while and it was high time I got them added to my personal playlist as well as here on the website. The choice of these new songs was inspired by (or because they inspired) changes to the story that I’ve been contemplating in the last year. Enjoy!
The plot changes are in-progress (still working on not being a slow writer)…but updating the soundtrack wasn’t all my muse had in store for me!
Something I had started working on this past summer was a species redesign for the ardrakin. At the time I hadn’t drawn any ardrakin art since 2007 (good lord, a decade ago!) but one day in July I was looking at the old pieces while contemplating getting some art commissioned and my head just said nope! The existing design, while not bad, wasn’t going to cut it for me anymore. All at once I decided I wanted something a bit thicker and heavier body-wise, with cranial and snout construction that didn’t seem quite so…horsey. Sure, the ardrakin are supposed to be a bipedal alien evolution of dragons, which means they should have snouts. But… I dunno. Every time I looked at the old art of Daenan my brain said horse, not dragon, with respect to her face. That just won’t do. Out came my tablet and after an afternoon’s worth of work, I had the sketch at right.
Many of the lead characters in Heart of the Empire are female. There are some really important males too, but I’d never before finished drawing any of them. Other than taking away breasts and making the overall physique more traditionally “male” I never really had much of an idea of what the males would look like or what would make them distinct from the females. Perhaps this is why the redesign came out as male… If I could come up with something I liked, I might have thought it would be easier to feminize it afterward. Plus, since it wasn’t something I’d done before, I could stand to have a challenge.
I made good progress with the sketch. It was nobody in particular… I was just drawing for the sake of seeing what came out. By the end of the night the next day I’d made a few tweaks and started work on a three-quarter view, trying hard to maintain consistency. After all, what’s the point of coming up with a design if I can’t reproduce it? I enjoy drawing but don’t consider it a talent per se, especially since I have no real training, don’t do it regularly, and it generally takes me even longer to draw something than it does to write. It also occurred to me that if I really wanted to get commissioned work done, it would be helpful to the other artists to have a turnaround done for each gender, and maybe even each character (depending—sounds pretty ambitious!). Would be helpful for me, too, if I was ever going to do more art of my own!
I liked where things were going, and felt rather pleased with myself that the three-quarter view seemed reasonably recognizable at that point as compared to the profile. But already I had caught myself thinking, He reminds me of Mufasa. A number of the characters in The Lion King have fairly prominent lower jaws/chins, and that three-quarter view absolutely brought that iconic Mufasa image to mind.
Well, I thought, whatever. He’s not Mufasa, and there are plenty of good reasons that the male of a draconid species should have a heavy lower jaw.
It took a little while, but by August 4, 2017 I had what I thought was a final redesign:
I planned to keep going with other angles for the turnaround…but ended up not doing anything more with it. Later that month I went to Wyoming for the eclipse; when I got back I was buried in work, my stress went back through the roof, and my muse went back to sleep.
Imagine my dismay last Friday when, after dutifully updating the HOTE soundtrack as my muse demanded, I loaded up this redesign and heard my brain whisper, Nope—still too snouty. Juts out too far from the neck. Do it again!
Aw man, really? (My muse can be a real bitch! Never happy with anything!) So I flailed about with my tablet for the afternoon, chatted about the issue with a professional illustrator friend, and eventually came up with the more stubby-snout version at right. I liked where this was going too… The shorter jaw really appealed and he looked meaner overall (as dragons ought to)…and yet, I didn’t like it. The smaller frill bothered me. The upturned frill spine was ugh. The brain case had gotten really small (and these are not dumb creatures!). So, it was in the right ballpark…but not close enough to be happy with.
I showed it to Shannon (my pro illustrator friend!) who agreed it was a general improvement. She’s been following HOTE since its very earliest days arriving online (late 90s/early 00s)—probably the most dedicated fan I’ve ever had—and has always been supportive and encouraging of the work. ♥
She did something amazing for me!
These are fantastic! I was aware that she was sketching during the course of our conversation, but I didn’t expect anything like this. How lucky am I that Shannon so generously spent some of her free time to help me out and provide advice and guidance, just because she could?? Thank you so much, Shannon!
In the end, based on these concepts and with Shannon’s blessing, I pieced together the bits I liked…and now have what I feel is the winning design. It has room for individualization (for example, an extra horn on the brow ridge or at the back corner of the jaw) and gives the frill back its prominence without it looking wimpy. It looks suitably powerful (in a you don’t want to mess with these guys kind of way), dragonlike enough for my tastes…and yet still has an elegant or even regal air about it, which dragons absolutely are supposed to have too!
I’m excited about this design. It’s still not necessarily anyone in particular. I’m already rolling around ideas in my head as to who would get which characteristics (more horns for the villain, for example) and how it would translate to different facial shapes (a chubby ardrakin, a lean one, etc). This design should be fairly easy to feminize too. The shorter snout should be easier for an amateur like me to draw (foreshortening, arg!).
Once that sketch was done, just for fun I made a timeline of all the versions this species has had throughout the years:
Evolving an idea… You never know what might come out of it. :)