One of fantasy’s most famous creatures, dragons have inspired and delighted people of all ages for generations. A combination of some of the real world’s most unusual creatures and mythology’s most powerful stories, dragons as an idea have blossomed in almost every culture around the world.
Yet, for all the differences between each incarnation, every story seems to come with its own sense of timelessness.
Earlier this month, Jon Schindehette launched a Kickstarter campaign designed entirely to celebrate dragons in all their forms. The series of three art books features the work of hundreds of artists offering their own take on the legendary creatures. In opening up opportunities to new talent, one of the books will boast art exclusively drawn by children.
We spoke to Jon to find out more about how the idea of Tiny Dragons came about and the hopes he has for the campaign.
Kirstie: How did you get into art?
Jon: That was kind of a “tripping into it” kind of a scenario. I wanted to be a musician and music teacher, but after an auto accident on a band tour impacted my ability to play, I chose to chase my secondary passion of photography. After a long and convoluted creative career, I’ve ended up where I am today – as a former Creative Director of Dungeons & Dragons, a current Art Director for Dire Wolf Digital, an independent publisher/manufacturer of creative products, as the founding member of ArtOrder LLC, and an occasional lecturer and adjunct instructor.
Kirstie: If you could design the poster for any movie, what would it be? What would your design be like?
Jon: Wow, that’s a tough one. I’d probably want to do a reboot poster for one of my favourite cult movies, The Goonies. I’d also want to do it the way I like to do so many things. I’d like to gather ten of my favourite artists and work with them to each create their own unique vision and release a collection of all ten movie posters.
Kirstie: What made you want to launch ArtOrder?
Jon: ArtOrder originally started life as a way for me to answer the hundreds of emails I would receive every day when I was creative director for Dungeons & Dragons. I would do a daily post that talked about the issues and concerns of illustrators in the SFF industry.
Later on, at the request of many artists, we started “ArtOrder Challenges”, where artists would create pieces around a specific theme. Many artists got gigs from these challenges. Granted, blogs and challenges aren’t that big of a deal today, but I started this over a decade ago when little to none of that existed at the time.
That was also how ArtOrder as a publishing entity started up, I wanted to offer a different publishing experience and model to creatives … and here we are.
Kirstie: What kind of techniques did you use to help further the careers of emerging creators?
Jon: I primarily work with artists in a casual mentoring type relationship. I also help create products like Tiny Dragons, where emerging artists can get visibility that might never have happened in such a public forum.
Kirstie: How did you get into drawing dragons?
Jon: If memory serves, I first started noodling with dragons back in the ‘70s when I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. I had always been a big fan of dinosaurs, but dragons upped the ante on awesome. I first began copying the dragons I found in the D&D books and then later I would dream up my own. Many years later, I would have the opportunity to work with some of the best dragon artists in the industry when I worked on D&D myself.
Kirstie: What is it about dragons that makes them stand out to you from other fantastical creatures?
Jon: I guess it is a combination of the awe, might, majesty, and wonder that they exude. I also appreciate that dragons exist in so many different cultures and mythologies – and each depicts them in their own unique ways.
Kirstie: There is a huge amount of diversity when it comes to designing dragons. What, for you, are the key features that make a creature a dragon?
Jon: That is really tough to answer since dragons are so different depending on the culture and mythology that they grow from. I’m open to all of those expressions – from the European dragon to the dragons in the Far East to the dragons in Latin America. They are all amazing and wonderful in their own right.
Kirstie: What gave you the idea for Tiny Dragons?
Jon: I’ve loved dragons for much of my life, and I’ve infected my kids with that passion as well. Now that I have grandkids, I wanted to give them the chance to find the wonder in dragons. That was the original intent of the Tiny Dragons art book.
I wanted a book that was easy for young readers to handle, felt very approachable to them, and didn’t dumb down the art for them. The project was so popular, that we quickly expanded the program to include a book for adults, and then later on, a lot of our young fans started submitting their works and I decided to offer a book that featured their amazing works as well.
Kirstie: What made you want to make a book of dragons drawn by a variety of different artists?
Jon: I’ve always loved working with lots of different artists. My first personal work, The ArtOrder Journal, featured nearly 200 artists, and was a huge success. I had a lot of fun doing it, and wanted to continue to offer products where I could offer a curated collection of works, by a wide range of artists and styles, and introduce new voices to the world.
Kirstie: What made you want to make it a series of three, instead of a single book?
Jon: HA! That happened simply because of the popularity of the program.
Originally, I was hoping to get about 100 artists to participate in the project. Once the call went out, it blew up. I ended up having over 2000 artists want to contribute. I had to get a jury pulled together to help me thin the herd. In the process, we realized that we have three distinct types of entries – those that followed the original intent of dragons for tiny people, but we also had a lot of dragons that were more aggressive and had a more mature theme to them, and a lot of dragons by our young fans.
So I made an executive decision to expand the book into three books so that we could showcase more artists, more styles, and more personal visions of what a dragon is.
Kirstie: What inspired the idea to have a book entirely consisting of children’s drawings?
Jon: At some point in the art development process, one of the artists that was working on the project shared with me a drawing that their child had done in response to notion of the Tiny Dragon art book. I was immediately enchanted. The image took me back to my childhood, reignited my imagination, and tapped into my long standing passion for dragons.
I didn’t know if anyone else would be interested in playing along, but I put out a call to the artists that were participating and asked if their kids wanted to participate in a Tiny Dragons by Tiny People book, and the images started coming in.
Kirstie: How did you decide which artist to get involved in the project?
Jon: Originally, I started out by sending messages to some of my favourite dragon artists I’ve worked with through the years. In no time, word got out and folks started contacting me to participate. At that time, I decided to open it up and did a public call for art.
This was probably the best “accident” that happened in the project. With that call, I was introduced to so many new names and voices that I had never had the chance to meet previously. This greatly enhanced and expanded the art in the book.
Kirstie: Why did you choose Kickstarter to fund the project?
Jon: I originally decided to crowdfund the project simply because I didn’t have the cash to bankroll the project myself. I’ve done a handful of Kickstarters myself and helped nearly 20 other creatives with their Kickstarter programs. I appreciate the “all or nothing” approach of Kickstarter. It ensures that I get enough backers to make the project financially viable, and I’m able to interact with so many more potential buyers than I can in my own promotional circles. Kickstarting offers me a great ability to bootstrap a product with minimal risk.
Kirstie: You hit your initial goal less than 24 hours. How did that feel?
Jon: Amazing! I wanted to hit our goal in the first few days so that we could have some good momentum to hit my stretch goal of $5 worldwide shipping. To actually fund in less than 24 hours, blew away my expectations and hopes. Today, we busted past 500 backers and are over half way to hitting our $5 worldwide shipping stretch goal! And we still have weeks to go!
Kirstie: Did you expect the campaign to be so popular?
Jon: I expected it to be popular, but the excitement and anticipation for the books is beyond my expectations. I figured, hey, it’s dragons… People have got to love them, right?
Kirstie: What’s your plan for once the campaign is over? Do you have any future plans for the dragons in the book?
Jon: Currently, I’m only focused on the Tiny Dragon Kickstarter, and getting everything ready so that we can go into production as soon as the Kickstarter is finished. Who knows what mischief those tiny dragons might get into in the coming months or years? Time will tell.
Kirstie: Would you ever consider doing something similar with a different fantastical creature?
Jon: We are! I’ve been getting tons of calls to do themed books about all kinds of different subject matter – robots, space aliens, unicorns, faeries, and more. After I get past the Tiny Dragon Kickstarter, I’ll start looking for my next project.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Jon: Never give up your dream of creating. Always stay focused on your goals. Create every day. Find a mentor to help inspire and guide you in your career. Never stop learning your craft. Don’t forget the magic that started you on your artistic path – it will give you the strength you need to continue when everyone else is telling you to quit.
We wish Jon the best of luck with the Tiny Dragon Kickstarter campaign and offer our thanks for taking the time to talk to us! You can find out more about it and back it here. You can check out the ArtOrder community that brought Tiny Dragon to life and follow Dire Wolf Digital, ArtOrder LLC and Jon Schindehette on Twitter!