Poaching Dragons on Christmas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Dragon Eye

I often impose some large gift project on myself for Christmas. This year, in addition to lighting up a Borg Cube I wanted to make a couple of dragon skin books full of blank pages for my kids, because, nothing screams Christmas like poached dragon skin wrapped on a book. I was inspired by some custom books I purchased a few years ago that sported an eye with some shaped leather covering a standard sketchbook. These books were created by Randy Cieszynski of Abbots Hollow Studios. Check out his store, he has many great things for sale, and having now created similar books, I can attest that the prices are fair.

Book with eye
This is just one cool product from Abbots Hollow Studios on Etsy. I purchased this for one of my kids a couple years ago. It’s now full of my son’s drawings of fantasy armor and equipment. Photo from Etsy store.

I wanted to create a book like this myself and set out to find out how this book was put together; how was the leather shaped and how was the eye created. So, off to Youtube. I did not find a tutorial for this exact method, but pretty quickly got distracted by an alternate method of creating dragon skin, using broken egg shells of all things. The first tutorial, Alchemy Themed Altered Dragon Book, I found shows how to make a dragon skinned alchemist’s book with little drawers in the book. I wanted to keep my project a sketchbook, and the eye in this tutorial was a printed eye. Instead, I wanted a nice rounded eye like in the book I purchased. Mainly what I got from this video was the excellent egg-shell dragon skin method. For the eye I found a Polymer Clay Dragon’s Eye Tutorial. All I used from that second video was how to paint the glass bead.

Materials for the project included:

  • Hardbound Sketch book: In looking at multiple brands, some have a cover that already looks like leather, others are smooth. Go with leathery.
  • 35mm Round Glass Cabochons: At first I bought some at Michaels, but they weren’t clear, so I could not see my painted eye through the glass.
  • Tacky Glue: I seem to use this for everything. I attached the painted eye to the sketch book with it. Other glues would likely work fine.
  • Mod Podge Glue: Per the video. This did work great.
  • Folk Art Paints: Pick a paint combination per your taste. I did not like white as a primer (as used in the video) since when I opened the book, cracks developed and the white became exposed. I used black. Get a large black acrylic for all the priming. I also had a large Reaper paint set that was useful for eye details, as well as dragon scale highlights. A good supply of Folk Art, or other paint brand would be fine too.
  • Spray Finish: I used Matte, you may prefer glossy.
  • Decorative Paper: (optional) I used this for end sheets. It’s not necessary, but it does result in a slightly higher-class looking book. If you do this you’ll also want spray glue.
  • I also had a good supply of varying size paint brushes and tissue paper (gift/filler style).
  • Last, you need a great many egg shells!

Again, everything you need to know is covered in the videos, Alchemy Themed Altered Dragon Book, and Polymer Clay Dragon’s Eye Tutorial. As already mentioned I made the following main modifications.

  • Instead of printing a dragon eye, I painted eyes on 35mm round glass cabochons. This is the most enjoyable part and the eye ends up looking much more realistic.
  • I kept the books as functional sketch books rather than making the alchemy book with drawers.
  • I did not prime with white, instead using black.
  • I just used the eye painting part of the Polymer Clay Dragon’s Eye Tutorial. I did not build the eye socket with polymer clay.
  • Note: Be very careful when painting not to get paint on the edge of the book pages. Use wax paper as described in the video to protect the pages.

The following images show varying steps in my process of building eight of these for Christmas gifts for my kids and some of their cousins.

Painting eyes.
Four eyes in various state of design. The blue eye ended up being my favorite and painting the eyes was by far the most enjoyable part. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Eye Socket Structure
The tissue paper and Mod Podge is used to create some structure for the eye socket. I pretty much just followed the tutorial here. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Starting the egg shells.
This step was tedious but not too difficult. The video showed much larger scale pieces than I used. I was happy with my result. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Covered in eggs!
You can cover as much of the book as you want. In my final photos you can see how some books are only partially covered while others wrapped around onto the spine. I did not do the back of any of the books for the sake of time. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Blue Dragon
Painting was simple. I primed in black with three coats, then dry-brushed with a base color and highlights. This one is one of the metallic dragons. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Glass eye covered with paper towel
When spraying the finish I was sure to have all the pages covered. I also used a moist paper towel to protect the glass eye. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
End Paper
I used decorative paper for end sheets. It made the original sketch book just slightly more fancy. Photo by Ryan Hiller

This was a fun project that without much necessary skill generated some pretty good results. My favorite was the red dragon as it was the most obviously dragon of the bunch. They all leave me wondering just how this slab of dragon skin came to be on these books!

Six finished dragon skin books
Here are six of the eight books I made. The two metallics were sent away before these were finished. Notice the paint on the black dragon book pages, whoops. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Dragon eye close up
I see you…

Get the Official GeekDad Books!