Todd Lockwood Talks Illustrating (and Writing) Fantasy and a New Kind of Dragon in His Reddit AMA

You know Todd Lockwood’s gorgeous art from the ebook cover of The Gathering Storm and his fantastic illustrations of all the dragons in Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons series. Now, Lockwood is introducing his own take on those mythical creatures with The Summer Dragon, the first installment of a new epic fantasy series. You can read an excerpt and glimpse a handful of the 21 interior illustrations.

And now, Lockwood has taken to Reddit’s r/fantasy for an AMA about his favorite Magic: The Gathering cards to illustrate, his experience going from “planning a book of art to arting a planned book,” and excitedly chatting with Redditors about exactly which part of The Summer Dragon they’re currently reading. Read on for the highlights!


Kynadr asked the question that likely all the Redditors were wondering: How different is your mindset when it comes to writing a book compared to creating a piece of artwork? Lockwood answered:

At first, it was tricky switching back and forth between writing and painting. It would sometimes take me a week to “change horses” before I caught a groove and could write fluidly and spontaneously. The same thing would happen when I switched back. Eventually, though, it got easier. I can’t listen to music when I write if it has any kind of lyrics in it. Silence works best, whereas I paint best when I’m talking on the phone.


incaseanyonecared wanted to know which of his Magic: The Gathering card illustrations was Lockwood’s favorite. He responded:

That’s a tough call. Some of the fan favorites seem to be based on the value of the card as a playing piece, whereas I might have favorites based entirely ion the artwork alone. One of the times when the two came together was with “Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.” One of my favorite dragons and a popular card. I’ll always have a place in my heart for “Kiss of the Amesha,” because it’s possibly the tenderest Magic card ever.

Others that I’m always happy to see are the Walker in the Grove [a.k.a. Green Man—see below]; Observant Alseid; Prossh, the Skyhunter; and the Meddling Mage. There are probably more…

Todd Lockwood Magic: The Gathering Green Man card

Whereas StickmanAl asked for specific details about Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet:

Ooh… yeah, I liked that one too. It’s the sequel image to Bloodchief.

Bloodchief Magic: The Gathering Todd Lockwood

With Bloodchief, the important thing that brand wanted to see was the braids and adornments in his hair, so I chose a pose looking at him from behind. Because it’s a horizontal format, I went for the patented “Brom” arms-out-like-he’s-on-a-cross pose. Then when this piece came up next, I figured I’d just flip the pose. The art director got a laugh out of that.

Kalitas Traitor Ghet Magic: The Gathering card Todd Lockwood


Much of the conversation revolved around the writing and illustrating of The Summer Dragon, with LittlePlasticCastle asking if these two processes occurred on the same timeline or at different points:

I did the interior illustrations when the book was done and receiving [its] final edits. Prior to that I was entirely focused on the writing. When I first launched into this project, it was going to be entirely a book of art, with just enough story to string the images together. The working title in the beginning was The Dragon War (cheesy, hunh). But when I started writing the backstory, my long-slumbering writer’s muse awakened—and she was hungry!


Darthpoulson was curious about Lockwood’s addition to dragon lore:

[A] lot of fantasy readers feel that dragons are kind of getting stale and that fantasy authors should focus on new, original creatures rather than stick with the old-school elf, dwarf, dragon, etc. In what ways is your take on dragons new and original?

Lockwood responded:

My dragons are animals, highly intelligent animals, but not fantasy creatures. They don’t breathe fire and they don’t hoard treasure. I wanted them to be something that could really exist in the real world. However, there is also another class of dragons, entirely different, extremely rare and powerful and mysterious, called the High Dragons, or Avar, which are essentially the pantheon of my world. This is not a D&D world. I have no elves or dwarves or faeries, and the magic is very low-key and practical. It’s really a story about people. I wanted to talk about real-world issues… but with dragons. If you liked the cover art, then you might well like the book too.

Incidentally, I grew up on science fiction, so that sort of real-world practicality informed my fantasy world. When I played D&D, I never played one of the other races. I was always human.


When juscent asked about Lockwood’s favorite piece of art or book cover, they kicked off a side discussion about mythology:

Asking me which of my paintings is my favorite is like asking me which of my children I adore most. They all have qualities that make me proud, areas where I wish I’d done better. There are some still hanging around the house and some I wish I hadn’t sold. The same is true of my paintings. ;o)

See what I did there? Heh heh. But honestly, I had the most inspiration for the very few personal pieces: Cerberus, Kali-Prakriti, and the War of Angels:

Todd Lockwood Cerberus art

Todd Lockwood Kali Prakriti

Todd Lockwood War of Angels art

I have a long-abiding love of mythology and spiritual story-telling (which may be redundant). These pieces were cathartic in some ways.


ElodinBlackcoat wondered if we might see more books like The Summer Dragon in the future:

Do you feel that more fantasy novels should include art inside their pages?

I feel artwork adds to the immersion and helps create better visual images. I love that the Stormlight Archive novels add art work and Shallan’s sketches into the books. I’m big on maps too. Sometimes I’m completely turned off by books that don’t include maps.

Lockwood’s response addressed when to include illustrations and when to leave it all up to the imagination:

I knew that I had to have illustrations in my book or fans of my art would be upset! :o)

But I definitely like a book with illustrations in it—if they’re good and used appropriately. I tried doing a more heavily illustrated approach early on, and decided that too many illustrations interrupted the narrative overmuch. In the end I decided I’d do twelve interiors and a map. I struggled to narrow it down to twelve though, and ended up with twenty-one, including three maps. :oP

The main thing for me was that I [didn’t] want them interrupting the read, so I would only place them between chapters, never inside a chapter. Then, I didn’t want to show the readers anything they’d already pictured in their heads, if I could help it, or illustrate something that would be a spoiler. A tease, yes, but a spoiler no no no. That was harder than I expected it to be. And then there were some really great visuals that I ultimately chose not to illustrate, because the art simply wouldn’t match the mental image. Sometimes the pictures in your head are better. Especially with things like, for example, the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was described in a way that is creepy and supernatural and utterly chilling—and impossible to render. As cool as the Balrog in the movie was, it wasn’t as scary as the one in the book, nor did it really fit the description.


Read the rest of Lockwood’s AMA!

All art from Todd Lockwood’s website


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