Dungeons & Dragons Map Donato Giancola ~ 1984 24″ x 18″ hand drawn 1/4″ graph paper
Reviewing recent work for entry to Spectrum and reflecting upon the entirety of my studio creations within this past year, my thoughts drifted back to years long ago and the body of work I would create around specific themes and motivations. With a little post-modern analysis and 20/20 hindsight, I can now see the work ethic and approaches I practiced back as a teenager structured my career to this day.
Star Wars-The Empire Strikes Back Donato Giancola 1980 24″ x 18″
A recent raiding trip to my parent’s cellar allowed the recovery of a couple portfolios of drawings from periods of my artistic pastimes. As a teenager, I never considered myself an artist, nor did my friends identify me as one with a capital ‘A’. Rather, my talents for creative thinking and drawing were always harnessed to clarify stories or create vehicles through which story could be conveyed – drawing maps, castles, and dungeon descriptions for role-playing with Dungeons & Dragons, creating a rule system and accompanying charts for a science fiction game we called ‘Omega Corps’, and reinterpreting visuals from other works like the Star Wars universe.
Omega Corps Rules Donato Giancola and Vincent Schelzo ~ 1983
Art was always a ritual around the transferal of narrative, never designed to make a ‘statement’ or celebrate a mere play of ‘shape and form’, art as an end unto itself. Looking back now, it is easy to see why formal modern art has no power to hold me and why I seek to build greater complexity into the images and narratives emerging from my gesture drawings.
Speaking to the title of this post – Possessed, Prolific, Talent -I wanted to share with you a small sample of the volume of material produced and passion I had with these forms of expression. It was not just a developed or innate ability I had as a ‘gifted’ child which allowed me to succeed as an artist. Rather, I believe, it was the unstoppable desire to create, express and tell stories which propelled me to produce such a quantity of material that I am shocked, even now, at everything I produced.
I was never bored as a child. My hands were never idle. Never. From drawing stories and coloring with markers, to painting plastic model kits of dinosaurs and WWII aircraft, to attempting stop motion animation with my parents 8mm film camera, to painting lead figurines for D&D and creating dioramas out of them, to creating science fiction starship cockpits with electric lights and dials, I cannot recall a single day of leisure. For me, to play was thrilling, challenging, and full of pleasure and passion. I had no inhibitions. When I tackled projects for my games, I became Possessed.
It is for this reason I seek to channel those interests and ethics to this day, in service of my professional career as an artist.
Star Wars-The Empire Strikes Back Donato Giancola 1980 24″ x 18″
Certainly my ability to draw like nearly no others around me helped fuel my hobbies, but talent alone cannot explain the sheer quantity of art pasted through out this blog. And this is but a small, small part of my output as a teenager. The prolific outpouring of visual imagery for so many of my interests nearly insured that my skills would be honed and matured, even if as an outside/self taught hobbyist artist.
My interest in expression was not satiated with initial success within an art form, I would constantly revisit themes – exploring, adding, manipulating in an obsessive way. I could not stop at making one dungeon map, I was constantly creating new adventures for my friends to play within so that in the end scores of handmade encounters and visuals were produced. This obsessive nature carried over into nearly all creative endeavors I engaged in as a teenager. I would guess that art saved my life, for what would this enormous energetic outpouring typically fuel? Violence? Dissidence? Frustration?
Thankfully art was a massive pressure release value for teenage anxieties.
Dungeons & Dragons Map Donato Giancola ~ 1983 24″ x 18″ hand drawn 1/4″ graph paper
Assessing my output as a professional artist, I can see that formative years as an illustrator in the mid 1990’s continued the productive level of creation I began in my teenage years and nurtured through my time at college. I was not exceptionally talented compared to the scores of artists working in the book cover and game industry, but rather believe much of my success has come from the tenacity to keep pushing through project after project, building new challenges into my portfolio, and attempting to be uninhibited in the types of content I seek to embrace.
I certainly stumbled many times with my rendering, style, and execution, but the large volume of output guaranteed a fair number of successes and nurtured confidence in my career.
When asked what is the best advice for artists, the answer is a simple one – be prolific.
I cannot teach talent, only help a bit in its development.
I cannot inspire an artist to fall passionately in love with their content, that can only come from the heart.
But what I have learned as a teacher working these past decades is that I can train and educate an artist how to be as prolific as possible – how to build upon their strengths, pry out their weaknesses, and bring challenges into their creative process so that they can mature their work ethic, and develop a high degree of confidence in their performance.
I have learned that building a stronger link between talent and passion through work ethic is the path to success as an artist.
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.
Donato has released a 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.
Yall are a valuable resource for people climbing the ladder. Thank you
As a high school art teacher, I find posts such as this one immensely helpful. Students always have a tendency to compare themselves to professionals, and to be able to show them the work that professionals did at their age is an eye opener to many.
Question: How old were you in 1980?
You are welcome! I was 13 in 1980. The prime target age for Star Wars -Empire Strikes Back. I have great memories of creating art and mini films inspired by the movie! And as you can see, I was not a painter back then. I just loved to draw. I enrolled in my very first painting class when I was 20.
Really cool! Thanks for this!
Wow! I was just like that when I was a kid! Hours was spend, drawing maps and castles.
Those were the times, thanks for sharing.
Dude. Those maps are rad. I mean, the paintings are great, but those maps… top notch!
So great to see these. Brings back great memories of being a teen DM. People too often assume that success at artistic or other endeavors is primarily the result of talent. Einstein famously observed, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
I wonder whether the amount of content available for easy consumption by the modern teenager drowns the impulse to create (rather than merely consume). Having content to consume for inspiration is important, but I wonder whether there is some threshold after which the content drowns the creative impulse for lack of oxygen.
Awesome post. I wish I had saved some my earlier work. Never felt it was good enough to keep but it sure would have been fun to look back on. It's also nice to see that with determination you can be the best in your field regardless where or when you start. Keep inspiring!
Donato I love those drawings you did while you were young! Great to show my kids to inspire them ? Thank you
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