Encased in a warm golden linen fabric, Bill Canales’s Book of Dragons is a beautiful sight to behold. Opening the case feels like a seminal experience; it’s looking straight into the soul of an artist's process and emphatic devotion.
From first loose sketches to finished Sumi-e painting, the Book of Dragons is a culmination of years focusing on preparation and work. Over time, Bill’s satisfaction with the stylistic and technical output was honed into what we see today: stunning examples of an iconic Japanese subject. “The dragon book idea started about two years ago. I initially had the dragon book idea about six years ago but all the artwork I drew for that book I thought was just not right, so I scrapped the idea. All those old dragons no one will ever see I hope.”
For Bill Canales, dragons are of particular interest partly due to their elaborate symbolic and aesthetic background. “Dragons were always a great design to try and master since it is extremely complex in all its intricate parts. The dragon is said to have the horns of a deer, paws of a tiger, talons of hawk, body of snake, belly of mizuchi, which is a kind of snake with legs, the eyes of oni, scales of koi, ears from cow and the head of snake. So, that being said, it takes a lot to figure all these out to make it look proper. If you can master a dragon, you can master anything in my humble opinion. I was hoping to capture my version of dragons that I have been chasing for the last 30 years and I think I’m getting close.”
A proverbial father to the contemporary tattoo industry, Bill is well known for the great lengths he’ll go to make sure projects are produced with the utmost quality. From this great Book of Dragons to his annual San Diego Tattoo Convention, everything Bill undertakes is with the utmost levels of dedication and heart. But he acknowledges that his pursuit of perfection comes with a price, “Putting this book together was an uphill battle with me and time. It’s never really finished but I had to stop and say, ‘Ok, that’s enough!’ As all artists know, it's a struggle balancing doing your art and family. One is always going to lose out in one way or another. With this book I sacrificed my family. I know it will always be a struggle as I try to be better as a family man. My mistress will always be tattooing and all it encompasses.” This sentiment is made even sweeter when, within the first few pages of the book, a dedication to Bill's wife and kids is revealed.
The quality of the Book of Dragons is absolutely inherent, immediately. The fabric box with cream colored toggles, the weight of the paper, the photography...everything has been curated beautifully. Produced with the helping hand of Kintaro Publishing, Bill had specific reasons for working with them. “My friend André started Kintaro and the way he has run that book and art company has always impressed me. He has a very great understanding of Japanese aesthetics and has a keen eye for details, which is very important when undertaking all of the projects he takes on. Also, he has become a true friend and it's always nice to give your friends work when you can. I knew, once I made up my mind to ask him, he would be the absolute perfect person to help in this endeavor.”
Books have always been an integral part of tattooing but in times of quick cyber access, they can often be overlooked for their overtly sacred value. Bill says, “Books are such a bare necessity in these times of digital everything. It's nice to hold something that took time and thought and love, which is a rare commodity these days. Every book I have, I hold dear. I know it will be a great investment whether it be monetarily or personal. This project is something I have been thinking about for years and to see it come to fruition is a real dream come true. I only hope people get as much joy out of it as I had making it and only hope it's not my last book.”
To purchase your own copy of Bill Canales’s Book of Dragons, visit Kintaro Publishing.