The fine artist on selling his first drawing at the age of 14, and the problem with globalisation
What art-related event changed everything for you as a child? Watching Star Wars for the first time at a local drive-in. Little did I know how strongly that movie would resonate with me as a young boy. I can’t think of a more perfect movie to have watched as an inspired ten year-old. I still get chills when I hear John Williams’ opening refrain – that’s powerful stuff to tap into as an artist. Tell us about the one person who helped you on your way? At 19 I enrolled in a drawing class – my first formal art training. I enjoyed the challenges the teacher, Chris Campbell, placed upon us. She saw my passion and potential, and recommended that I ‘go somewhere else’ to study art more seriously. Chris’s advice resulted in a transfer into Syracuse University two years later, where I blossomed as an artist, and built my confidence to then move to New York City, where I still live.
What was your first paid commission? It was a drawing inspired by The Lord of the Rings. I was 14 and showing my friend Tony an image of a ring wraith I’d just finished. Tony’s mum was a fantasy reader and picked up the drawing for $5!
What’s the last piece that you finished? My latest works have included 12 images for the 2015 George RR Martin Calendar for A Song of Ice and Fire. The final piece, Forging the Iron Throne, was delivered in early March. George has been wonderfully supportive, giving me freedom to interpret his visions. What’s changed in the industry of fantasy art the most in the 20 years that you’ve been working in it? As much as you may be tired of hearing it, the internet is the greatest change – from how we shop for art supplies, to research content, to advertise our work. Imagine back when you emptied a tube of paint: you had to leave the studio and go find one out in the real world, like some primate looking for food. Now you press a few images on a glass screen and it shows up the next day at your doorstep. Magic! And most importantly, no time is lost from the studio work hours.
The pleasure of creation is enough to keep me happy and eager for the day to begin
When did you become a teacher of art, and what’s the most important thing that you’ve ever taught someone? I first began to lead classes a few years out of college – what a disaster! I was too young and inexperienced to truly teach the students in attendance. I began to teach properly about six years ago, after spending countless hours presenting, lecturing and demonstrating my art at conventions. A decade refining the various aspects of my skills, business and maturity as an artist enabled me to more effectively share what I had learned with others. The most important issue I stress in becoming an artist is to be prolific – keep making the art. It’s through this process that an artist will find their audience, and their voice, in what they wish to passionately create. What advice would you give to your younger self to aid you on the way? Take more chances. Shoot higher for your dreams.
What are your painting rituals? Wake up and hit the studio! I don’t need any rituals to be motivated to create art. The pleasure of creation is enough to keep me happy, inspired, and eager for the day to begin, and regretful as the sun sets that there’s not more daylight, because I work in a natural light setting. If there are any rituals to my labours, it’s the pleasure taken in laying out a new palette, or the contemplative assessment of the art at the end of the day as I wash my brushes and close down the studio. What sucks about the illustration industry right now? What sucks is also a boon. The industry is huge, massive, global! Need an artist for a commission? Which country would you like to hire them from? Competition in the commercial field reaches far beyond geographical and language barriers – there are thousands of artists to choose from. The flip side of that is the potential is nearly limitless in regards to the worldly influence, popularity and business dealings an international market can offer. Being savvy to what’s happening in the marketplace is smart business for a freelance artist. Reach out, advertise and share your art, and others will find you and support you. For good and bad, it’s now the world we live in. Visit www.donatoart.com to see more of Donato’s sci-fi and fantasy art
A Song Of Ice And Fi re The cover for the recently released George RR Martin calendar 2014.
Boba Fett and Han Solo Pencil and marker from 1982 – another
old art piece from my early days.