“Painted: Old Art, New Skin” takes a look at paintings throughout history that are “foreground” focused in order to help shed some light on the classic works that have become part of the public unconscious serving as wells of inspiration for commercial graphic design as well as body art.

If you’re familiar with tattoos you’ve probably seen tattoos of dragons.  This post and several others will explore a few different styles/treatments of dragons in the world of fine art.  To kick things off we take a look at Katsushika Hokusai’s “Dragon.”  It’s done in the Ukiyo-e wood block style.

What makes this particular dragon captivating as a work of art is how you are immediately drawn to the dragon’s eyes and its outstretched claw.  When you look at this piece, you almost feel as if the dragon is looking back at you.  Hokusai, famous for his waves (which will be featured at a later date) is a master when it comes to conveying an almost fairy tale mystique in his images.

As a matter of technique we are drawn to the eyes because their perspective (relative to the frame and content) is centered within a center.  In other words, although the dragon’s head would be in the upper right quarter of the painting, the head is centered almost equally between its two front claws as well as centered almost equally between the upper curve of its body and its lower curve.  Within this center, are the dragon’s eyes… and within those eyes are the pupils (centered) which make them appear to be looking outward.

Another point of technique that gives this dragon an almost meditative quality is how it seems to pop out of its red background.  Part of this is due to the fact that the blue waves which frame the “red glow” make your brain expect purple even though no purple is actually in this painting.  SO, the purple is formed in your mind as opposed to in the painting.  Interestingly, yellow (the color of the dragon’s face) is a complementary color to purple which makes the face stand out even more.  As a final point of technique, the background isn’t a pure red but lightens up (becoming brighter) behind the dragon’s face.