Thursday, July 18, 2013

Red Sonja and the San Diego Comic-Con

By Donato

I love to use 'wasted travel time' wisely to create drawings and sketches for clients or personal projects.  The accidents that occur in a rough drawing as the plane/train/bus bumps are easily corrected or assimilated into the composition, and being outside of the studio pondering concepts can many times open new avenues of experimentation.

Red Sonja     pencil on toned paper   8" x 11"

Years ago while flying to the San Diego Comic-Con, I created a nice little drawing of a warrior woman.  Begun from a mere head shot I found in the on board magazine, I had not intentions of turning it into a full color oil painting.  Rather sketches like these are my chance to play, dive back into my nostalgic past as a young artist and draw for the sake of drawing with no pressure or pretensions to make the image a 'masterpiece'.  Usually these drawings turn into works I can sell at a convention or event to fill a price point for collectors to own an original without having to pay thousands of dollars for an oil painting.

Thus it was with this drawing of a warrior woman.  I was tapping into the adventure gaming and stories I had enjoyed over the years and wanted to capture the portrait of a powerful, confident and strong warrior.  In the back of my mind was Red Sonja.  Not the bikini clad character from the comics, but a strong, weathered, muscled warrior - a swords master who you would not want to meet on the battlefield.

I was able to finish the drawing and display it at that years Comic-Con in 2005 (I think!).  No one bought it.  But that was fine, as I have learned it may take a few showings to finally sell the work, which it did a few conventions later.  I cataloged the image, scanned it and moved on.

Red Sonya   oil on panel  20" x 29"

All that changed a few years later when, in a down moment at the San Diego Comic-Con, Cathy and Arnie Fenner approached me about a new commission.  It seems they liked a drawing I had in one of my annual catalogs, this small portrait of Red Sonja and were wondering if I would be interested in turning it into a full color painting.  I provided a conditional 'yes' pending I could find my reference used for the original drawing - that little head shot torn from the pages of the inflight magazine (yes those magazine really are worth something, and yes I did tear it out!)

Upon returning to Brooklyn, I searched through my stratified pile of torn reference shots and discovered the photo.  The commission was on, and eventually turned into one of the greatest portraits in my portfolio.

Fast forward to this past year at the Comic-Con, and again I found myself displaying a new warrior portrait another 'Red Sonja', this time merged with another theme running through my work, that of the beach.  Once again we packed up the convention with the art unsold, and as before the Fenners saw the drawing (posted online somewhere) and asked if this was available to turn into an oil?  Since I now keep all my reference shots from these drawings, the answer was a quick 'yes'.

So here we have my third female warrior portrait, all begun as sketches for the San Diego Comic-Con and all completed as oil paintings after the fact of their original creative intent.  You would think someone is trying to tell me what to show and sell at the Comic-Con!  My message here is clear, do not try and guess what people will buy at a convention, but rather create the art you love to make and find the markets and buyers who will support your visions.  Although here before you are my success stories, I have created plenty of drawings which have not 'found' an audience, yet I enjoyed their creation every bit as much as I did with the Red Sonja works.

 I am off this Wednesday to my 15th Comic-Con (wow, has it really has been that many!) and as I pack my sketchbook for the flight I am looking forward to seeing what inspiration hits me at 35,000 feet... If you are going to be there, stop by the Donato Arts booth #4503 and share your own wasted time sketches!

Red Sonja - Water Sport   oil on panel    24" x 30"

Red Sonja - Lover's Quarrel   20" x 30"  Oil on Panel


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Donato, these are all awesome, but I always love your seaside works. I have got to get me a print of the water sport painting... unfortunately I'm not seeing it on your website :(
    James Gardner Art

  3. Awesome Red Sonja pieces Donato! I love to see your sketches and hear about the process.

    I was just out today picking up sketchbook supplies for a flight next week. I was thinking about how art has always been an enjoyable and productive way for me to use down time. That's a life saver with a short attention span like mine! I really appreciate what you said about the unexpected experimentation and inspiration that comes from being outside the studio. An artist going anywhere with a sketchbook is an explorer on an adventure.

    I hope you have a great 15th show!

  4. There're absolutely fantastic. I love these.

  5. Fantastic work. I always liked the version that was posted on the Black Gate site, instantly recognisable as Sonja but with a different outfit. I thought there was a lot of Rhona Mitra in the picture - is it fair to say you had her in mind while you were working on it>?

  6. I love how you've portrayed Red Sonja as a warrior, ready to fight, to do what needs to be done when it happens and not looking like she's ready to do a modeling photo-op on some beach ... Tantalizing attire and nothing practical about how as a warrior she's left wide open ... Sure it's all for comic books and attracting 14 year old boys but, this warrior woman you have here is as she should be ... Powerful, deadly and dangerous ... ready to get dirty, bloody and full of sweat.

  7. Beautiful sketches, Donato! I have long loved the subtle moods and atmosphere that can be captured on toned paper, and have gotten back into doing sketches that way myself after many years. I love your Red Sonja, too, strong, capable warrior woman who *LOOKS* like a strong, capable warrior woman.

  8. It was awesome watching you work on Water Sport at the IMC. The finished product looks amazing.

  9. Thank you for the comments everyone, these pieces have been a real pleasure to tackle and watch as they evolve into a series. Never did i think that something so fruitful would blossom from a simple play of lines and form.

    On my flight to San Diego I could not help but think about this post and the need to pull yet another Red Sonja drawing out of the 'sky'. I'll share that one with you soon, and it is a beauty!

    Best of luck in all your own work.

  10. Beautiful! I've always loved this interpretation of Red Sonja. It actually inspired me to create a costume based on it back in 2011. I wore it at Comic-Con that year!


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