How to train your dragon – Creating the Award Winning Scene by Chris Suhre

How to Train your Dragon – the PRELUDE

How to train your dragon actually came about almost through coincidence and was initially going to be two separate entries for Crystal Brush. So, I wanted to take some time and talk about one of my most recent pieces I did for the Crystal Brush 2017. A month or so after Gencon 2016 I decided I wanted to take my next step to becoming a better miniature painter. I had in the past wanted to attend Crystal brush to see what is arguably the best miniature painting competition in the states. A chance to be inspired by numerous beautiful pieces and attend classes with artist whose work astounds me. I knew I wanted to try and paint a few pieces for the competition; a bust, a single large scale figure, and a monster but how did that involve “How to train your Dragon?”

For my large-scale figure, I settled on Morgana le Faye. This would be a new challenge for me as I had never painted a female figure before. I wanted to depict her in the forest with green robes and red hair working her spells. I began pulling bits and pieces on Celtic lore and information about Morgana from the tales of King Arthur. I began gathering images of the freehand I wanted for her cloak and even began some rudimentary construction of her base.

how to train your dragon

how i initially planned to present the female

Along the same time, I also began to narrow down my choices on what monster I wanted to paint for Crystal Brush. I had originally thought of painting up the dragon from Nocturna but when the Kickstarter was delayed I gave up on that idea (well at least for now). I began searching for other large scale monsters and came across Gorthang from Karol Rudyk. To be honest it didn’t fit my preconceived notions of what a dragon is at first. But the more and more I went back to that piece the more and more I began to love the eerie beauty in it. The shipping was very quick and by the time he arrived I had already begun developing a story in my head for him.

I had read the fluff Karol composed when he made the ancient creature but I saw my Gorthang as a beast of immense knowledge who ruled the swamp. A beast that would trade his knowledge for tasty sacrifices from the local tribes. I also began constructing on this piece removing the shackles and saddle on Gorthang from the Orcs and letting him be my vision of the ancient ruler of the swamp. Yet in the end, life happens and neither Gorthang or Morgana would come to be in these forms.


A brief insight into my life I guess. My day job is as a paediatrician. As such we are required yearly to keep our knowledge and skills at certain levels and every decade or so we have the option of maintaining our Board certification by taking a test. I wanted to prove to myself I still knew what I was doing so I began studying. This however, meant hours a day would need to be dedicated to study and wanting it to impact my family as little as possible, meant that my artistic time became almost nonexistent. In fact, the only real time I had for art would be a brief 30 minutes or so where I would sit at my desk, staring at my unfinished projects, thinking of the stories I wanted them to tell. I would occasionally steal some additional time to work on my Sharki bust and I began to develop a story and vision for Kaptain Albrock the four times damned, leaving Morgana and Gorthang on the table, How To Train Your Dragon wasn’t even an option at this point!

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kaptain albrock – another of my entries that was warmly received

One night with a week or so left to go before my Board exams, I sat staring at Gorthang and Morgana. I wanted to finish each piece but had lost the vision and passion I once had for them. While playing around with their pieces I began to mash the two together in a scene. I had recently read an article by Roman Lappat where he had taken two different scale models and combined them into a single vision. Could I do that here? I began to play around with their position and saw a story develop. My friend Guillame gave the piece a joking title of “How to Train Your Dragon” and the adventure truly began. You can see in the mini gallery below some of the references i used for inspiration.



Now I must admit there was a big portion of me reluctant to do a diorama for Crystal brush. Dioramas are amazing in my opinion but are often best done by the European artists. I felt like there was little chance I could measure up to that however, a friend had recently just completed a bike travel across Europe, Anthony Rodrigeuz. Anthony made me realise that we should be fearless in our art. Go for it, experiment, try new things, be bold!

How to train your dragon began to come about as I began constructing my diorama. The first part was to start pulling ideas together of what I really wanted the project to be. I decided I wanted the piece to feel similar to the animated films of How to Train Your Dragon. I pulled reference images of the dragons, the trainers, of Vikings, of Viking runes, and of sea stacks in northern Europe. The story for my diorama began to form in my head about a female rider or companion to a water dragon searching for connections to his past.

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the basic construction is completed

The first thing to do was start constructing the base and arranging the figures. At this scale that was fairly difficult. I constructed the sea stack out of thick cork board and lots of pine bark. To make the large rock formation I actually used multiple pieces of pine bark held together with super glue and green stuff. While constructing the base I also began working on the figure. I wanted to do little to the Morgana figure but needed her to feel more Viking like. I trimmed down the leather on her right boot and made a fur top with green stuff. I then added a fur lining to the top of her cloak. I went through my various bit boxes to find a short sword for her, a pouch for her herbs, and a claw that I then turned into a calling horn with some minor green stuff work.

Now I’m fortunate enough to have several great friends in the miniature artist community and openly discuss projects with them on a regular basis. We had discussed trying to have Morgana place her right hand on the dragon’s neck which would have been ideal. However due to the way the miniature was sculpted I opted not too since it would have caused an abnormal bend in the arm not at the elbow.

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a lot of cutting and pasting would be needed to get the dragon to fit the idea, again major changes were in order

The dragon, who I was now calling Wavechaser, was not nearly as easy to manipulate in the scene as Morgana had been. The saddle and rider was removed from his back and re-sculpted. The tail had to be cut in multiple pieces and re-scultpted in some cases to fit the scene. The collar around the neck had to be removed and altered too. The wings had to be slightly re-positioned. The legs had to be re-positioned and the toes cut and re-sculpted to fit the base. There was one night, when I first started cutting up the dragon, that I looked down at all the cut bits and said to myself’ “What the hell have I done.”


I focused on building the base and the composition of the piece. The basic composition of How to train your dragon, is that of a cross using the dragon’s wings, the girl’s extended arm, and the main portion of the dragon’s body. I also began toying with the idea of adding the rock formation on the front of the plinth at this point. It reinforces the cross configuration and also designates a front view for my piece. In addition to the cross configuration there are diagonal lines you can draw in the piece, such as the rock formation and across the upper left wing and lower right wing. This gives the piece a sense of motion.

With the majority of the construction done on How To Train Your Dragon, I primed the entire piece black and then white for some general lighting. I then broke out the airbrush and applied a series of turquoise coats to the outer perimeters of the piece to try and set the atmosphere as I have read on Massive Voodoo numerous times.

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here we have the revised idea of including both projects in one larger base composition

I tend to like to see the whole picture as I progress on a piece. I’m not really good on painting one small area and then another. So I applied some turquoise base coats to the dragon knowing I wanted to associate it with the water. I also painted the girl’s cloak in turquoise at first too, to try and unite the two pieces. But that was simply too much turquoise so I went with an orange hue to complement the dragon. Like I said, I’m fortunate to have several talented friends to talk with about my artistic endeavours. At this time, Aaron Hunt and I were spending a lot of time discussing colour theory.

I began working purple into the shades of the orange to create more complex colours. Orange being a mix of yellow and red and purple being a mix of blue and red meant the blue and would combine with the orange to give me a de-saturated shade but a bit of the red remained making it more visually interesting. I could then go in with small thin glazes of red to enhance this effect. I also began working on the texture in the cloth with small lines and dots at each of the transition layers. This not only added texture but also helped optically blend the colours together.

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morgana’s colour was changed to better contrast with the tones of the dragon

I pretty much completed painting the girl Runa before starting on the dragon, Wavechaser. As I mentioned earlier I started with the turquoise skin to help relate the dragon to the water. I began working on the wings in layers after rereading an old blog post by David Soper on how he painted veins into wings. I would base coat the wing membranes, then speckle in some colours found elsewhere on the dragon, then paint in the blood vessels, and then do multiple thin glazes to incorporate everything.

Jay Martin was another friend who’s advice was incredibly valuable on this piece. We began talking about using colder colours on the outer perimeter of the wings to help draw the eye back into the main part of the piece. It’s around this time too that we discussed applying patterns to the back of the dragon to add more visual interest. The patterns on the back of the dragon were made with the same colours found in Runa’s cloak to help further unite the two pieces. I also turned back to Runa and added body paint to her in the same colour as Wavechaser’s body. Weeks passed as I continued to paint on the piece when I had time. Working on refining colours, adding texture, etc.

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patterns added, detailing too such as the veins and colours across the palette were used to harmonise the whole piece


As I got closer to finishing the painting of the two main pieces of How To Train Your Dragon, I began focusing more and more on the base. I painted the various rock formation using combinations of the colours that were already on my palette. I added a layer of Neptune’s weed to the bottom of the rocks to simulate dead grass and then began adding more and more plant structures. Some of these were natural plant structures and some were created by using fake animal fur. I read several articles on how to create water effects. I painted the water surface of the plinth to help make the future water feature feel deeper and more realistic with darker colours where the deepest water would be and lighter colours as it approached the rocks.

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here you can see the use of various basing products and the interaction between the two figures

I started doing various test resin pours. Out of my first 14 or so tries only 1-2 succeeded. Then I actually took the time to really read the directions. Turns out mixing the resin for required 4 minutes really helps. After another successful trial I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. I created the barrier to hold the resin and did the pour. Within just a few hours I could tell it was going to set. I gave it a little over 24 hours to cure before testing it. The resin had set. I went to remove the barrier and it wouldn’t budge. Stupid me hadn’t considered that the resin would bind to the barrier just like the base. After a lot of cursing, I grabbed a scalpel and spent the next 1-2 hours slowly cutting the resin free from the barrier. This unfortunately messed up the beautiful plinth forcing me to sand it down and re-stain it.

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my piece alongside some masterpieces at Crystal Brush 2017

The next couple of weeks was spent making minor adjustments to How To Train Your Dragon, filling in scenery, adding the claws to the wings, etc. Finally, the day arrived to travel up to Adepitcon and submit “How to train Your Dragon” into the diorama category. It was a remarkable feeling to have put months into a piece and finally be able to show it off. To have tried so many new things in it and feel like they came out in a single coherent piece. In the end I was fortunate enough to win Bronze in the Diorama Category. But being able to show the piece to other artists, to hear their reactions and tell the story, was really the best feeling. One of my favourite complements was from a friend who told me his young son enjoyed the piece so much that he went home and started looking through various How to train your Dragon resources trying to identify Wavechaser. Thanks for reading my musings over this large project, I hope you find it useful and thank you once again to Jay for the opportunity to collaborate with this awesome site! Peace!


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the official CMON competition photo for Crystal Brush 2017