-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 hot…you must feed them.
‘…I threw down my enemy.’    2012     8.5″ x 11″