In my last post, I shared with you the portfolio assembled to tackle the freelance artist market as it was in 1992. I was fresh from graduating college and ready to become a practicing professional artist. The only problem was just how to do that, and to do it quickly for I did not want to end up in my old career of landscaping and selling retail electronics.
Syracuse University has a wonderful program which displays the portfolios of students (now come pro) for the browsing pleasure of editors, art directors and other artists. This review offers a chance for students to gain a foothold in the marketplace through an initial contact with alumni or other professionals who may either hire the artist directly or redirect them as a referral.
Raunok 1992 Oil on panel Sample I
I was lucky to have an artist representative, Sal Barracca, find interest in my work at the portfolio review. I set up an appointment with him immediately, driving to New York City a few days after the portfolio reviews. Not knowing much of anything about Sal (there was no internet to provide research possibilities) I was heading to New York not knowing where this may lead, but willing to pursue any opportunity at this early a stage in my career. Luckily Sal proved to be a wonderful person. He was working with a dozen or so artists in the book cover marketplace and was looking to expand his range of artists in the area of fantasy and science fiction. Sal recognized my developing painting skills, but could not represent me without a few samples appropriate for the genre. Eager to enter the marketplace as an artist, I returned to Vermont and began working on the first samples for him within days.
354 West 110th Street Studio in NYC 1992
My relationship with Sal began to grow; driving down to see him every month with a new painting finished for his critiques and sketches laid out for ideas on the next sample. I eventually moved to New York City in the Fall of 1992 to immerse myself in the varied and intense world of the arts and to better foster the business relationship with Sal.
Like clock work I arrived at his offices each month with new paintings to take a brow beating of critiques and return home with changes and improvements. I was working on my sixth sample when a phone call in late December change everything. Sal requested that I come into his office the next day…he had lined up my first professional commissions! Once in the office Sal handed me a list of 30 titles of classical novels which needed jacket illustrations, destined for the shelves of a mass media publisher. He asked me how many I could do in two months time. ‘ALL OF THEM!’ I wanted to scream, but good business sense won the day. I was already creating one image a month, if pushed hard I knew I could produce three covers in that two months time. I left the office with three unforgettable commissions, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, The Time Machine by HG Wells and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. What a trio to illustrate for my first covers and the beginning of my career in the arts.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 1993 Oil on PanelFirst book cover illustration
Over the course of the next months I added more covers, samples and clients to my portfolio, replacing nearly every single piece from my graduating portfolio with that from the genre of book illustration. What a change one year can bring. In twelve months I had over 12 new paintings to start a career with and was on the path to creating the style of art you likely now know from me.
Below are a few other highlights from that first year of change…and thank you Sal for taking a chance and finding the time to nurture young, untested talent.
Best of luck to all those artists beginning their careers this year!
Sword and the Pen 1992 Sample III
Gwindor at Angband 1992 Sample IV
Two-Edged Sword 1993 First Berkley Books Cover
Voyage 1993 First Tor Hard Cover Illustration
Alien 1992 Sample V
Still Life with Money 1993 Sample cover for Mystery Novels
Born in 1967 and raised in Colchester, Vermont, USA, art was always a hobby for Donato as a young man, he would steal away into the basement of his parents' home to work on drawings, create his own maps for the game Dungeons & Dragons, paint figurines, read comics, and construct model tanks and dinosaurs. His love of imaginative play dominated his childhood, both indoors and out. At the age of twenty Donato enrolled in his first formal art class, the beginning of his professional training. Immediately after graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BFA in Painting from Syracuse University in 1992, Donato moved to New York City to immerse himself in the inspired and varied art scene. Formative years in the early nineties were spent as the studio assistant to the preeminent figure painter Vincent Desiderio, and long days of study in the museums of New York. It was then that his love and appreciation of classical figurative art took hold. He continues his training even now, visiting museums regularly, learning from and sometimes copying original paintings by Rembrandt or Rubens, attending life drawing sessions with illustrator friends and constantly challenges himself within each new project. Pilgrimages to major museums are his preferred reason to travel.
Over this past year Donato has released the revised hard cover compilation of his works on the theme of J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle-Earth: Journeys in Myth and Legend from Dark Horse Comics.