by Donato

The Silk Road  25″ x 35″ Oil on Panel 2011

Over the course of my lifetime I have seen and been entertained by thousands of dragons, from fire breathers and world eaters to fliers and crawlers to bestial and wise.  The greatest challenge and thrill for me was to bring a creature like a dragon to life on the panel in front of me as a work of art – to make the imagined real.  I would spend hours laboring with discrete scales flowing over the arching back, fill the wings with veining and patterns of color, and hopefully breath life into a mass of lines, shading and paint.

Early on, during the execution of my second or third dragon commission as a professional,  I began to conceived of the dragons I was creating as flying dinosaurs.  Not that I really thought that dragons should be related to dinosaurs, nor turn to dinosaur anatomy as a referencing point, but rather formulated for myself a cognitive structure to help wrap my mind around the justification of how and why a dragon came into being.  As a lover of science, I sought to have a deeper feeling of why this animal existed and distance myself from the act of creating images about dragons for the sheer pleasure of their own power, symbolism, and exotic nature.  I wanted them to be as real as a dinosaur was – to feel that they walked (and flew) on an earth parallel to ours with similar environmental feedback loops related to evolutionary heritage and species relationships.

DragonFlight  Oil on Panel  1999

Thus began my visualization of dragons as possible flying reptiles, sporting a coating of scales, wings, anatomy and coloration related to and found with other classes of species within our own world.  This was nothing new as you can obvious guess.  Artists have been doing exactly this ever since dragons and mythological creatures were first visualized!  What it did for me though, was squarely root my creation and development of a dragon in the world of nature.  I no longer placed my love and fascination of dragons into the world of entertainment where the creation of a dragon image allowed for any choice in its design and anatomy to be excused as long as it resulted in a dragon that looked cool.  I wanted a creature I could point to and state, thus could have walked on our earth.

DragonShadow  22″ x 27″ Oil on Panel 1998

From that point forward I began to heavily research and reference every aspect of my dragons before putting them to paint.  From incorporating lions and tigers as inspirations for body language, to embellishing wings with butterfly patterns, to sizing my creatures to fit harmoniously into a narrative scene with other characters, I sought to make the dragon a part of the world I knew and filled with as much truth as the illustration of the human standing next to it.

This pursuit of realism has produced wonderful explorations on the theme of dragons and their accompanying characters, and I have thoroughly enjoy the ride!  But as I move into the next phase of my career, I have begun to turn to a way of understanding the dragon which pulls me in a new direction.

Gone are my fascinations with the physical structure of the dragon, as my interest now rises in the mythological significance of the creature.  What inspires me the most in new dragon commissions is the psychological implications of the animals existence in juxtaposition to that of other human characters in the narrative.

My dragons have become sentient!

What I attempt to create is an empathetic relationship between the figures and creatures, weaving a narrative which binds the elements closer together than superficial actions.  What makes these images more powerful is the knowledge I bring to the creation of the dragon as flying dinosaurs.  I could not confidently create this new wave of work without being so well grounded in the naturalistic renderings I have for years undertaken.  I feel my two latest images, St. George and the Dragon and Nienor and Glaurung, convey the mystery surrounding these creatures more effectively than any of my earlier paintings.

I do not know where dragons will take me in the future, but I look forward to the journey!

Nienor and Glaurung,  18″ x 24″  Oil on Panel  2012

St. George and the Dragon,  24″ x 30″ Oil on Panel  2011