by Donato

A few months ago, Jon Schindehette (the main art buyer/director) at Wizards of the Coast asked me to write a post for his blog, Art Order, about how I broke into the illustration industry ( I highly recommend Jon’s blog for insightful, informative and vital information about not only breaking into the business, but also great advice on how to stay in the loop!)

In that posting, I mentioned generating a handful of book cover samples back in 1992, fresh out of college, for my then ‘pending’ representative Sal Barracca. Sal had seen my work at a portfolio review and expressed interest in working with me if I could generate some appropriate samples for the book cover marketplace. Anyone asking you to generate six highly detailed and complex images for a client before they hire you would seem out of this world crazy…Go take a hike Man!!…but that is exactly what I did.

Actually, there was no limit on how many samples I would have needed, or was willing, to create- four, six, eight – I kept showing up on Sal’s doorstep like clockwork month after month after month with a new sample painting and drawing- asking for his critical input, absorbing those comments, implementing the changes, and moving onto the next work. These sample images were critical in introducing to Sal my working methods and commitment to professionalism and were all targeted towards the fantasy and science fiction book cover industry, taking in considerations for type design, appropriate figure content and knowledge of the current marketing trends. My first images were not strong enough for Sal to put his reputation on the line to represent me, I had to prove to him I was capable and consistent enough to deliver professional quality jobs before I could accept a professional level commission.

This awareness that it was not my reputation which was at stake, but rather his changed my whole impression of how I deal with clients. When an art director hires you, yes, your name will be on the art, but it is the art director who must answer to everyone else in their place of business if a project stumbles, a deadline is blown , a budget exceeded or, heaven forbid, just plain bad art is turned in. They may have far more to loose than the artist does, an issue I had not really thought of until I worked with Sal, and one I keep in the forefront of my mind as I work on every new project. Illustration is a collaborative process.

Here are those first six samples. There is no sample for August as I was moving to New York City that month and recovering from a critically damaging eye injury which destroyed the macular region of my right eye (the part that lets you see detail, and yes it was permanently destroyed). So I had a few good excuses! But that didn’t slow me down much…

The final sample is unfinished, the last time I touched it was the day Sal called with my first professional commission!

20″ x 30″
oil on panel
June 1992

My first sample, created just one month out from Syracuse University.

Science Fiction
24″ x 36″
Oil on panel
Sample number two
July 1992

The Sword and the Pen
20″ x 28″
Oil on panel
Sample number three
September 1992

Gwindor at Angband
24″ x 39″
oil on panel
Sample number four
October 1992

20″ x 30″
Oil on Panel
Sample number five
November 1992

Omega Corps
24″ x 36″
Oil on panel
Sample number six
December 1992