Introduction: How to Build Your Dragon

Whether you're a fan of Anne McCaffrey or George R. R. Martin, you need a little dragon on your shoulder. This one is fairly simply made using a wire armature, foil, tape and some other odds and ends. This was my first attempt at this sort of thing and I can tell you it's easier than it looks to get a great effect.

Step 1: You Will Need

Two gauges of galvanized steel wire, 16 and 20 (1.6mm and .88mm)

Aluminium foil

Masking tape

Nail-hole filler (Spackle in the US, Polyfilla in the UK)

Polymer modelling clay such as Fimo or Sculpey

Thin cotton cloth

White glue (PVA)

Paint and varnish

Step 2: Beginning the Armature

Using the thicker gauge of wire, create the curve of the head, neck, body and tail. The head can be a simple loop at this stage. Bend two shorter pieces of thick wire into V-shapes to make the front and back sets of legs, leaving the feet as simple loops too (needlenose pliers are useful here). Using short lengths of the thinner wire, bind the legs to the body, using as much wire as needed to make them secure. This is probably the fiddliest bit of the whole enterprise.The best way to do it is wrap the thin wire tightly around one of the legs, then continue wrapping it around the spine. Do this a couple of times for each leg.

Once everything is secure, bend the body and legs into shape. If you want your dragon to sit on your shoulder, just space the legs apart until it does, with the tail wrapped comfortably around your neck. The thicker wire is fairly stiff and holds its shape well.

Beginning with the hindquarters start building up the body of the dragon, using crumpled aluminium foil and thin masking tape. You can crumple the foil directly onto the armature, or make "muscles" of the foil and secure them with tape. Add layers as needed and squish the foil and tape around until everything looks right. Leave the feet for now, and don't do too much to the shoulder area as you still need to attach the wings.

Step 3: Wings

It is much easier to make the wings separately from the body, and them attach them afterwards. Like the legs, the wings are one connected piece. Shape the two top "fingers" and arms out of one piece of wire. The next two fingers are another, separate piece of wire, bend in the middle. As you did with attaching the legs to the body, bind the lower fingers at the "wrist" joint with thinner wire.

Now you can start building up the flesh with foil and tape. I simply wrapped the fingers with tape (no foil) to keep them thin. Before you wrap the "biceps", bind on a couple of strands of thin wire, which will be used to attach the wings to the body.

Bind the wings to the body, and start building up the forequarters and shoulders with foil and tape. This will help make the wings secure. Follow your own sense of anatomy. (Who knows how a six-limbed animal works anyway...)

Step 4: Feet

Remember those little loops of wire you left for the feet? Now it is time to make the toes. Bind on two loops of thinner wire to each foot, securing tightly with tape. When you snip the loops, you will end up with four toes on each foot. Shape them into place, cut them into length, and form them into feet using more foil and tape. If you look closely you can see the tips of the wire poking out uncovered, like claws. This helps the dragon cling to the fabric of your clothing, like a tenacious kitten.

Step 5: Head, and Hole Filling

It's finally time for the head!

Use some modeling clay to make twisty horns for your dragon (if you want your dragon to have horns) and bake them until set. Then, you know the drill - foil, tape, squish, taping the horns in place, until the head looks right. I think it's important to have eye ridges, a strong lower jaw, and a bit of a chin. Just roll up short cigars of foil and tape them in place. It helps to have a few images of dragons to look at to see what the general effect should be.

Taping is done! This next step is more or less optional, but recommended. Give your dragon a coat of lightweight nail-hole filler to smooth it out and remove the worst of the wrinkles and tape creases. You might want to do this over a couple of days for ease of handling, focusing on a different part of the dragon each day and letting it dry. You can also add some fine details with the filler if you are inclined. Note that once you have added the hole-filler you can no longer bend the dragon or it will crack, so make sure it is shaped how you want it first.

Step 6: Finish the Wings

Cut out the rough shape of the wing membrane using paper and scissors, then trace around this pattern onto some thin cotton cloth. You can use an old bedsheet, or a cloth sample from a craft store, or anything, really.

Soak the cloth in white glue, then drape it onto the wing fingers, holding in place with clothes pins until dry. Trim off any excess with scissors, and shape the ends as desired. I think dragons should have a tear or two in their wings.

Step 7: Spines

Dragons tend to have all kinds of spines. I don't know what evolutionary purpose they serve, but they do. Form the spines out of more modeling clay and bake them. Make a few of them of different sizes and shapes.

To attach the spines, bore holes through the hole-filler and tape with a pointy screw. Dip the spine in glue and push into place.

Step 8: Paint and Finish

I won't go into too much detail about the painting, since I'm not very good at it, and there are plenty of tutorials on model painting out there. I gave the dragon a couple of coats of gesso to smooth out the hole filler, then painted with two shades of bronze spray paint. For the belly and spines I used ivory white acrylic. I used some black acrylic on a dry brush to add some shading.

I gave the dragon a few coats of a satin spray varnish, and finally attached the eyes with glue. The eyes are two rhinestones.