Different Styles of Dragon Sculptures I’ve Made

I’ve had dragons on the brain recently! And on the studio floor! If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my recent Redwood Dragon sculpture. I’m also working on another dragon sculpture at the moment which is going to breathe fire!
Dragons are a fun subject for a sculpture and obviously there’s a lot of room for imagination. Did you know there are actually some established considerations though when it comes to types of dragon though?
Read on and I’ll share a bit more about dragons in art, and share a few different styles of dragon sculptures I’ve made over the years.

Close up of a 9' redwood dragon sculpture made with chainsaws by artist simon o'rourke
My most recent dragon in redwood

Types of Dragon

There is a startling amount of information about different types dragons online considering they’re a mythological creature! Some of this is because of games, books or movies that have created different breeds and roles. The popularity of How to Train Your Dragon and Game of Thrones has definitely fueled that! Some of it however is that over time dragons have evolved into some well-defined types. There are some very long and detailed explanations, but I’ve chosen a pretty simple illustration from Mediachomp’s Guide to Dragons that explains the key types and differences:

How Dragons Evolved: The East

So how did we end up with so many types of dragon, and why does it matter as an artist? Is one of them more correct than another?

Dragons feature in literature or art as far back as 6200BC. What’s interesting is that every culture seems to have had its own ‘dragon’. In China they appeared as early as 6200BC and were wingless, reptilian bringers of good fortune. By 256 the depiction had developed wings which later disappeared again, leaving us with today’s Chinese Dragon which seems to have influenced other far-eastern Asian cultures.

In the near east they feature in Babylonian, Mesopotamian, Persian and Zoroastrian art and literature and again, are portrayed as giant snakes. In Persian tradition they represented the sensual self and spiritual battle, and in Zoroastrian tradition were more of a personification of greed.

A sleeping dragon bench I made for Hafan Y Mor in Pwllheli

How Dragons Evolved: The West

In the Americas the earliest references to dragons were also snake-like creatures. In Mayan culture it was Kulkulkan, the Aztecs had Quetzacaotal and Andean civilsations referred to Amaroca/Amaruca/Katari. The Illini people of North America included Illini in their murals or ‘the horned serpent’.

All these snake-like dragons might be making you wonder where today’s dragon came from where it appears much more like a fire-breathing, winged dinosaur. You’re not alone!

It appears that today’s idea of a dragon came from Greek Mythology. Their ‘draco’ was adopted by the Romans who used it as their military standard, which of course, meant the imagery travelled round the empire. During the middle ages interest in dragons in Europe was at its height and images have been found of the more dinosaur-like dragon from 1260. It seems that’s where today’s most common idea of a dragon comes from, and this is the one that has influenced most of the dragons I’ve made.

Sculpture of a dragon carved into a fallen oak trunk overlooking the A5 in north wales. The dragon of bethesda by simon o'rourke is an example of a western dragon, and is used in this case an an example of different styles of dragon sculptures he's made
The Dragon of Bethesda is an example of a western style dragon

Different Styles of Dragon Sculptures: Dragon

One of the types of dragon I’m most often asked to make is the one that’s been named ‘Dragon’. It’s basically a four-legged reptile with wings. I’ve already shared two photos of my Dragons: The Dragon of Bethesda and my recent Redwood Dragon. You can see that even with only those two examples that within the Dragon style there’s room for variation. Scales, size, leg length, wing shape, frill or no frill. I tend to make these stockier with a larger head and base things like the shoulders on horse anatomy which helps give the suggestion of strength and power. Another example of a Dragon is Hemlock who also has a saddle, reins and moving head so people can ‘fly’ her!

Hemlock the dragon, an oak dragon sculpture by artist simon o'rourke, used in this blog about different styles of dragon sculptures as an example of a dragon style dragon with four legs and wings
Hemlock is an example of a ‘Dragon’ dragon.

Of course, there are also variations in character to consider too! Whilst most people want something that reflects the idea of a fierce fire-breather, sometimes dragons need to be made a little friendlier – like the ‘Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil’ dragons (also examples of Dragon style) for Hafan y Mor, Pwllheli. Either way, they’re a fun subject!

Cartoon style ‘Dragons’ blending two different legends at Hafan Y Mor

Different Styles of Dragon Sculptures: Wyvern

The next type of dragon I’ve carved a lot is a Wyvern. It’s a bit like a Drake or Dragon in terms of the length-height proportions, but rather than having four legs and wings, it only has two legs and then a set of bat-like wings instead of the front set of arms.

When I’ve made Wyverns, sometimes they’ve been similar to a dragon in terms of power and strength. Examples of this type would be Zephyr the Dragon at Wyvernwood and the Dragon Throne for RAF Valley. You’ll notice that the latter has a more ‘griffin’ like face similar to the RAF Valley emblem. One of the nice things about dragons is that although there are some rules there’s also a LOT of room for flexibility and imagination!

The Wyvern also lends itself more easily to something more slender and lizard-like as its body and a bit more ‘slippery’ or sneaky, like the illustration below…

A pen and ink sketch of a Wayvern dragon, and example of different styles of dragon sculptures by simon o'rourke
Wyverns have bat-like wings instead of front legs

Two examples of Wyverns I’ve carved with this more slender body shape are the dragon in my ‘George and the Dragon sculpture‘ and Maggon, the fire-breathing Dragon featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Do you have a favourite Wyvern so far?

Different Styles of Dragon Sculptures: Wyrm (Eastern Dragon)

Whilst most of my dragon sculptures have been Dragons or Wyverns, a few years ago I did have an opportunity to explore an Eastern style dragon or Wyrm – basically a giant snake with wings and the powerful typical ‘dragon’ head.

In 2019 I partnered with Japanese artist Keiji Kikodoro for Husky Cup where the theme was Dragons. We wanted to create something that reflected both our cultures and would showcase both our strengths, and we came up with an eastern style ‘Wyrm’ dragon with traits more commonly seen on Dragons or Wyverns. We wanted it to be a water dragon so it has elements of something aquatic such as the spiny wings reminiscent of flippers, a ‘mermaid’/whale tail, and scales that could be fish or reptile. Shout out to Keiji for his patience and skill!

Different Styles of Dragon Sculptures: Evoking Dragons!

While I’m writing a blog about dragons, I couldn’t let it pass without sharing one of my favourite commissions related to dragons, even if it isn’t technically a dragon. It’s the piece I created for HBO’s Game of Thrones. In this case I used yew to create a casket to hold the eggs given to Daenerys as a wedding gift. You can read the full story and how I arrived at the design in my Game of Thrones blog but essentially I wanted to give the impression of the eggs being guarded by a dragon, held in its mouth.

It’s amazing how even people who hadn’t seen or heard much of the show knew immediately it was a dragon and dragon eggs. This is because, whilst there are lots of different types of dragon, there are some things they all have in common, such as scales and sharp teeth. By using these (and maybe some nostrils!), it’s possible to create the impression of a dragon in almost anything – like this archway from 2015:

Future Dragons

And so, the possibilities are endless when it comes to dragons! You can turn anything (furniture, casket and more!) into a ‘dragon’ with some key features and even with a dragon sculpture there are many, many options to choose from. Being based in the UK, I’m sure many of my dragon sculpture commissions will be variations on Dragons, Wyverns, Drakes, or an occasional Amphitheatre. No matter the style of dragon sculpture though, they will always be a fascinating subject.

What about you though? What type of dragon would you choose?

If you would like a dragon of your own by Simon (or indeed, any sculpture!), please contact him via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact and someone will be in touch to chat details.