Thursday, March 15, 2012

Abstract World

by Donato

One of the most important steps in my process is the use of abstract studies.  More commonly known as thumbnails, I prefer to think of these explorations as weighted heavily in the realm of abstraction where form and content merge together quite closely.   'Thumbnails' for me imply a miniaturized version of my final narrative/content, and this is not where I want to begin the creative process.

The  intertwining of the abstract with a vague awareness of a narrative fosters a broader freedom for my imagination, freeing my visual sensibilities up from preconceived ideas about figure, ground, and details.  I love to explore the relationships of pure form, geometrics and interlocking shapes like puzzle pieces, building off the flatness of the images and developing structure from those base blocks.  Inevitably I wind up projecting realistic content into the forms I see evolving, but the initial structure derives from the free play of gesture, shapes and scribbles with my pencil and chalk.  When I am at my best, I have only a very vague idea what the content of the image may become!

Following are a few pages from my sketchbooks, illumination the various stages and approaches taken to these studies.  Some are obviously focused and suggestive of figurative forms from the start, while others are a pure play of abstraction.  I never know what each image needs for its development until I put pencil to paper.

I think the way I develop and form my visions through this process of exploration of is one of the main reasons why I have stayed a traditional artist while the digital media has subsumed the illustration field.  The idea in its abstract form is always in 'motion', vibrating like a string as I attempt to find its 'true' note.  Aspects of the design and elements are constantly jostling against one another as they find a balance in my minds eye. Once chosen or realized with decisive stroke, color or detail, I move onto the next note tackling the entire composition until the 'song' is played.  This act of making the gesture concrete is a way I proceed to finalize and express my intent in a work of art.   Every phase of my process, from the abstracts, to the rough drawing, to a preliminary drawing, color study and into the final oils are all ratchets that keep me moving forward toward my goal of completion.  The idea that the entire song can be kept in motion during the entire phase of the process does not work for me!

One of the greatest frustrations I now experience in my career is the lack of time to execute the successful compositions and content I am discovering within these abstracts. My sketchbook is filling with them!   We are all inspired by the potential expressed in a study, so much could happen from that initial bud,  and we are constantly humbled by the lack of satisfactory completion of that original ideal,  but it is the pursuit of perfection which brings enthusiasm to my studio time.  I gladly chase that fulfilling goal, even if it forever remains just out of reach...

Below are the sample pages, with the last image displaying the fruits (and even a couple award winners) of a few of those initial buds of inspiration.


  1. It's so nice to see the beginnings of such wonderful pieces. Thanks so much for sharing these, Donato!

  2. Thx for sharing some of your Abstract studies ! I was asking myself where do you find those toned sketchbook ? Is it kraft paper ?

  3. Thanks Donato, hopefully from your lips and sketchbook to my students' mind.

  4. Man I love looking at your sketches. They really are beautiful pieces in themselves! I wonder though, is this the same process you use when doing commissioned work for a client? I find that I tend to get really hung up on the thumbnailing stage whenever I have specific guidelines that I need to follow. Or do you still just work abstractly and then somehow make all the necessary details fit within that?

  5. Wonderful little sketches. They are so important and everyone says they are but its only when one starts doing them oneself, the value of them becomes apparent. Small color tests as well, really fun to do.

    Getting these to translate to the final however ... a completely different battle, usually riddled with compromises, but also some bonuses.

  6. Beautiful pencil work! Two stand out for me, though. First image, top left thumb (caster with three balls of something floating around); tons of movement there and stellar composition! I'd love to see that fully developed.

    One other just screams for a Donato (TM) metal-rendering-fest; Image 5, second page. The woman's head in battle-armor.

    For myself, I've tried doing abstract thumbs in a sketchbook but I always end up filling the page and rendering too much detail. My solution is to draw my abstract compositions on a post-it note, which forces me to work within a small size. Once something 'gels' at that size, I redraw it larger in my sketchbook.

  7. thanks for the great post Donato, so inspiring to see your thumb nailing process knowing the possibilities of where you'll take them!!

  8. Seeing the Temple of Dendur from the Met among your sketches reminds me that there is great inspiration in our real surroundings that can be used to effectively convey the fantastical.

  9. Emotional appeals to me in your work

  10. Firstly, I love your posts! Your paintings, tips and tricks, and helpful advice have always provided a source of thoughtful exploration when it comes to evaluating my own work.
    Secondly, where did you get the sketchbook with the toned paper? I found a recycled paper sketchbook by Cachet, but the paper is too smooth and doesn't take the white chalk very well if at all. Which is backwards of what I had intended since the reason I got it was to do some three tone drawings with white chalk as one of the mediums.