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Taming Dragons

Taming Dragons

Some of you enjoy glimpses of the design process I use for my projects. So I thought I’d share a few details about the development of the Vigilant-Dragons Cookie Jar.


What inspired the design?

For many years, Karen has kept an old, Chinese ginger jar in our living room. I’ve seen this delightful artifact every day and enjoyed how the snaky shapes form a continuous surface decoration. The notion that a field of dragons could make an excellent surface decoration has been with me for a long time.




A very early sketch of canisters decorated with dragons appears in one of my sketchbooks from 2012. 


You often say that design projects don’t move forward in a straight line, was that the case with this project?

Yes. Absolutely. In 2015, I took the dragon idea all the way to cookie jar prototypes and then stopped.

At first, I liked the cylindrical shape of this jar. But eventually I realized that because it had parallel grooves molded into the surface near the bottom and a sloping shoulder, the area to be decorated was too small.


Because I didn’t like the prototype I put the whole idea on hold for a few years.



Then, In 2018, I produced a tea towel design using a pattern of dragons holding coffee mugs (below). People liked it. That experience convinced me it was time to bring back the dragon-covered cookie jar idea.



Finally, in the early summer of 2018, I found a square cookie jar shape that I liked better than the cylindrical design. I especially liked the gentle curve of the top of the side panels.


How do you develop a design to fit the shape of the canister? 


brush pens

Designing a panel of dragons to fit the shape of the cookie jar exactly required drawing and refining individual dragons over and over. I prefer to use brush pens for that work. 


The first sketch (above) explored how many dragons might fit on a side panel.


Subsequent sketches, like the one above, looked at how dragons could intertwine.


Then there were some sketches (above) to work out how many arms, legs, wings, flames, ears, and horns might fit.


 Finally, it was time to try to draw a complete panel (above).


Almost done. The best panel designs were symmetrical with a patch of four or five dragons repeated vertically and horizontally. In the drawing above, I am looking at alternative dragons to complete the curved arc at the top of the side panel. The one on the right is much better, so I went with that.



A similar process of sketches and alternatives was needed for the lid.


Finally, I decided some element was needed to highlight the shoulders of the canister—like epaulets. The space wasn’t large enough for a dragon, so I used the target shape that appears in the negative spaces of the dragon pattern.


And here’s how the final design turned out. I love that from across the room the design looks traditional but up close we see that most of the dragons are munching cookies. But perhaps, I am easily amused.

The Vigilant-Dragons Cookie Jar is currently funding on Kickstarter.


Pittsburgh, June 17, 2019

Comments on this post (12)

  • Aug 23, 2019

    Fascinating look into your process! Just discovered your work, and am endlessly amused. :-)

    — Ted Jerome

  • Jun 28, 2019

    How do I subscribe to your blog???

    — Carrie Yardley

  • Jun 24, 2019

    I am so happy about this cookie jar. I got one for myself and one for my friend who collects and uses the white and blue porcelain dishes and mugs. He will surely not be expecting dragons but I know he will really be delighted when he takes a closer look. I love their heads…very much human-like.

    — Nora

  • Jun 24, 2019

    Where there are cookies, now there be cookie dragons!

    — Joshua Blythe

  • Jun 23, 2019

    I’m more of a pretzel guy than a cookie guy so I wasn’t quite sure if I needed a dragon cookie jar. However, I loved the M. Raymond suggestion that it’s the perfect repository for my ashes at some point in the far distant future.

    — Gary Moyer

  • Jun 23, 2019

    I love your work! I enjoyed giving the cups to family and watching the expression of delight. I am sure the cookie jar will get the same reaction.

    — Anne Hughes

  • Jun 21, 2019

    Perfect for a loved ones ashes!
    Vigilant dragons will protect them, whilst looking attractive on the mantle.

    — M Raymond

  • Jun 21, 2019

    This will make an amazing housewarming gift for my sister and bro-in-law, fans of the Calamityware dining ware. Thanks for continuing to forge ahead with creativity, humor, and practicality!

    — Jennifer McKay

  • Jun 21, 2019

    I LOVE this post showing the details of how this unique cookie jar was made! There’s no way anyone could imagine what’s involved when all they see is the final product. This just makes this piece, along with every Calamityware piece, a true statement piece!

    — Cindy

  • Jun 17, 2019

    I swear that iteration is the largest part of inspiration.

    Keep up the good work. The world needs these products.

    — Ken

  • Jun 17, 2019

    Virginia, Thanks for your question about the “target” on the shoulders of the canister. I’ve added a photo and paragraph to cover that topic. Don

    — Don Moyer

  • Jun 17, 2019

    I enjoyed this post. And it made me think: so instead of counting how many angels would fit on the head of a pin, you went with dragons on a cooky jar lid. 😂. Pins have been done before. Lovely work. Is there a rationale for the tiny targets on the shoulders? Are we playing a game tossing cookies in the jar?

    — Virginia

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