Thursday, May 10, 2012

Simple Beginnings

-By Donato

"...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species 

Gandalf - Defeat at Caradhras   11" x 14"   2002  
Although Darwin was speaking of the evolution of species, I find the quote quite appropriate when discussing the flow of ideas and inspiration within the context of my love of drawing.  

For years the creation of oil paintings had relegated  drawing to that of mere process - stages to pass through while on the way to creating a final solution in color and paint.  Much of the drawings for my commercial projects were created on the back sides of manuscript paper, never really intended to be preserved nor seen to have worth or value.

The  exception to this was my love of creating full sized cartoons for the oils.  I gathered all the references together to produce a highly detailed and rendered value study which, for all purposes, was only created to ease my progress in the final oils.  As soon as I had transferred the drawing onto my board, the drawings were cast aside, shelved and lost in storage.

This all changed when I began to attend conventions.

Suddenly my art had value beyond its commercial uses as covers or trading cards.  There were collectors out there who loved to purchase oil paintings, and if they couldn't afford oils, then they were willing to settle for...drawings!  All those sketches on manuscripted pages now had worth and I began to create all preparatory drawings on fine, archival papers.

Voice of Saruman   14" x 17"   2010
 A major change came in 2002 when I began to create drawings for the shear pleasure of just drawing.  Sure, I had created drawings before in my youth and college years and did hundreds of nude studies at life drawing in New York City over the years, but never before as a professional had I taken the time to enjoy the exploration of pushing around pencil and chalk as a final end point to the process. I had always thought about what the image would need in color, resolving lighting, atmosphere and background complexities.  I rediscovered drawing and  could now stop worrying about the final color solution in works like these- it was liberating!

The first drawing which broke this new ground was Gandalf - Defeat at Caradhras.  It was a pleasure to create and surprisingly the image quickly sold to a collector.  I immediate began to explore other portraits and characters in this new found method.  Within a year, the toned drawings were a regular accompaniment to the oils at all the conventions I was attending.  The greatest thrill in creating these drawings is that when the inspiration hits, out comes the paper and pencils to create art almost anywhere - at airports, on planes, in cafes, around convention commons, in doctors waiting rooms and even in the subways of New York.  Try doing that with oils!

Over the years, as this body of work has grown, a few of the images began to gnaw away at the painter inside and I had to exorcise the oil demons and render a handful in full color.  Below are some of my favorites.   And while I love to take a few of these to a more formal color finish, the love of drawing is what originally fueled the fires of creative desire and will continue to explore this format  for hundreds of drawings to come...



Legolas in Mirkwood was one of those first drawings created as I explored the medium.  It took nearly seven years for the demons to come out and demand oil paint as a sacrifice.   It took less than a day for the painting to be picked up by a collector upon its first showing at IlluxCon.

Legolas in Mirkwood   11" x 14"   2003
Legolas in Mirkwood    oil on panel   24" x 30"
This image of Red Sonya grew from a small head shot I found in a fashion magazine while flying over the Mid-West on my way to the San Diego Comic-Con that year.  The face was all I needed as I then resolved the body from imagination.

Arnie and Cathy Fenner fed me to the oil demons a few years later when they asked if I would be interested in taking it into a final color.  It is one of my best portraits ever.

Red Sonya    9" x 12"  2006
 Red Sonya    20" x 29"  2009

Another Red Sonya. Again while at Comic-Con Arnie leaned over my shoulder while I was working on this drawing 'Is that for anyone??' The Fenners are oil demon lovers!

Red Sonya- Lovers Quarrel    11" x 14"   2009

final oils 24" x 30"
Have I ever mentioned I love to paint hands...

Lastly a special peek at an image who's demons (almost literally here!) came to the surface immediately after I executed this drawing in one of my Limited Edition Middle-earth books.  I was so excited about the idea that I rushed into the final color, dropping all other projects.  The oil painting will be on display for the first time next weekend at SpectrumLive in Kansas City.

When the demon fires of inspiration run must feed them.

'...I threw down my enemy.'    2012     8.5" x 11"


  1. These are such strongly developed drawings, the use of toned paper definitely brings them to a new level when you introduce that strong white value. My only question is regarding the subject matter, since I know a lot of people enjoy buying art from old stories like Lord of the do you approach creating and selling work that was originally conceived by another creative mind?

  2. Very very cool works! looks great

  3. I am curious why you consider Red Sonya "one of my best paintings ever". Just the way you say that reveals that its special to you. Is it the composition? The execution? Curious minds want to know, thanks Donato, for all that you share.

  4. A while back I saw a picture of the interior of the Fenner home, showing numerous paintings on the wall. What caught my attention was a cool painting of a warrior woman, and the accompanying drawing. I wondered who created those, and now I know! Your portrayal of Red Sonja like a powerful tigress is how she should be, and in keeping with Robert E. Howard's stories. Quite a difference from the fashion model in a chain mail bikini version of Sonja that so many other other artists have done.

  5. Ogni giorno seguo il vostro fantastico blog, se ho ripreso a disegnare e a dipingere è anche grazie al fatto che ci sono artisti come voi che aiutano chi ha dubbi sulle proprie capacità a spingersi al massimo per migliorarsi. Grazie di cuore di condividere tutto questo!

    Every day I follow your fantastic blog if I re-started to draw and painting is also due to the fact that there are artists like you who help those who have doubts about his ability to go up and self improve.
    Thank you so much for sharing all this!

  6. I love seeing these pencil drawings! You are so inspiring!

  7. I'd love to see a Game of Thrones picture by you, your fantasy paintings are so well done.

  8. Hi, Donato! Thanks for sharing your art and experience! You're right in that drawings should be more valued, after all, good drawings have their own complexity as beautiful and fascinating as that of paintings.

    I was wondering when seeing your Lord of the Rings and Red Sonya drawings, are there any restrictions for selling art based on copyrighted characters such as these, or do certain characters have restrictions (i.e. the artist must have permission to sell art based on copyrighted characters) and others don't? I've read a little about it online, but I've never found anything conclusive. Maybe one of you could address this subject on a post, or at least comment on your own experiences with selling art of copyrighted characters? Thank you!

    1. Ceridwen, let me chime in here.

      After the ruling in the Gary Fredrich vs Marvel Ghostrider case—in which Fredrich lost in his suit to claim the copyright to the character and was ordered to pay Marvel for the prints he'd sold with Ghostrider art he had commissioned —the Internet was abuzz with warnings that Marvel or other publishers would go after artists selling art featuring their characters at conventions, et al.

      Not only did it NOT happen, no court would ever hear the case if a suit was filed. Why? Because artists can draw and paint whatever they want. What they CAN'T do is print, advertise, or license works for publication that infringe on the rights of others. Copyright and trademark are protections for reproduction and use, nothing more or less: an artist's painting of, say, Harry Potter, is a singular expression, a "statement" protected by the First Amendment (in the USA anyway). There are also common characters or situations that are virtually generic: a swordsman fighting a horde could be from anything (Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, Martin) and unless it is clearly marketed as being based on this or that, who is to know what the inspiration was? Now if an artist does 20 Harry Potter paintings and advertises an "Art of Harry Potter" gallery show, J.K. Rowling's lawyers will get in touch—not for the original art, but for using a copyrighted/tradmarked character in the ADVERTISING of the show.

      And, of course, Public Domain works (Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Tarzan, etc) are fair game for anyone to do whatever they want, include publish (you just have to be careful not to run afoul of some sneaky trademarks that have been registered by this company or that).

      As I said, artists can draw whatever characters they want and sell the original without a problem, they just have to make sure to clear the rights (if there are any) if they want to sell prints or sell repro rights to a publisher. AND posting on the Internet IS considered a form of publication, so I would strongly advize artists from filling their websites with their paintings of Spider-Man. Marvel/Disney PROBABLY wouldn't sic their lawyers on whomever...but they most certainly COULD if they wanted to. And win.

    2. Hi Arnie! Now I understand how it works.

      The "Art of Harry Potter" example reminded me of a real case that happened a few years ago, of a woman somewhere in the UK who organized Halloween Harry Potter-themed parties and advertized it as such. She received a cease & desist letter, of course. Thank you for the reply!

  9. Man, I'd never seen that second Sonja painting before. I think it's one of my favorites of yours. So beautiful. Can't wait to be one of the first to see that new painting next week!!


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