There is nothing quite like using a friend or loved one as a source of inspiration to drive a project forward. For the entirety of my professional career I have turned to this motivating trick to keep me focused in the studio as I work on painting after painting, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Whether the project be for a commercial client, private commission, or personal expression, my audience will likely never know the actual people used within my works as models. In nearly all cases the personalities, faces, and likenesses will remain as strangers to the audience. Therefore it is with much enthusiasm that I attempt to portray my model’s exact likeness whenever possible, for there will never be the distraction of recognition and familiarity that can dilute or redirect my intent with the figure.
It is also exciting to see my family and friends point to an image and state ‘that’s me!’
This extra challenge pushes me to work that much harder on a painting or drawing and make it special for that waiting fan for two reasons. If I can pull off the likeness I will have advanced my own technical expertise and provided a gift for someone eager to view the results.
Here are a few select ‘portraits’ over the years and the models who have helped with their creation:
Journey to the Center of the Earth
cover art 1993
Model – Michael Mrak
One of my very first commissions. Mike was my roommate when we lived in Manhattan, he is now the Senior Designer at Scientific American
Stratego – Board Game
Models – (L-R) Michael Giancola (father), Robert Johnson (father in-law), Donato, Kevin Elliot (cousin), Michael Giancola (brother) bottom row: Al Vitagliano (cousin) Steve Ellis (comic artist) Tony Rossetti (Playboy model), Tim O’Brien (illustrator), David Giancola (brother)
This may be my favorite portrait collection of my entire career. I was commissioned back in 1996 to revise the board game Stratego , from Milton-Bradley, and update it with full color portraits for the game pieces.
I eagerly embraced the desire to make all the pieces people I knew and love, yet place them in the Napoleonic era.
My brothers also appeared on the cover, flanking the generic soldier in the middle (art direction).
Highrises PlayboyMagazine editorial illustration
Model – Tony Rossetti
Tony is one of my best friends. We grew up together in Vermont playing D&D, hunting, mountain stream swimming, and ‘goofing off’. Never thought I would have shared the same bedroom at beer camp with a Playboy model!
A Father’s Love – Uther and Arthur Pendragon
Models – Fred Harper and my daughter Cecilia
Fred is a fine artist and editorial illustrator and Cecilia is now studying Theater Tech at LaGuardia High School.
Fortune and Fate
Model – Kristina Carroll
Kristina is a fine artist and educator and was my assistant for 5 great years when she lived in New York.
Model – Francois Moret
Francois was our beloved Dungeon Master for the few years he lived in the New York area. Then he packed up for a better life with his wife Jen and now has two lovely children!
End of Eternity
Model – Carey Johnson
Periodically I can coax my wife to pose for a cover, but the fees are outrageous!
I was able to capture three likenesses in this painting, although my daughter Naomi had to be put back into the giant fish tank soon after the shoot was finished. Grant has been my go to model these past ten years, playing parts from heroes, to dead mermen, to fire demons. He is a freelance artist and web designer.
Naomi is studying Mathematics and Physics at Midwood High School in Brooklyn – she also loves soccer!
St. Crispin’s Day – Battle of Agincourt – right panel
A Band of Brotherly Rogues came together for this one! Grant made his first appearance in my portfolio for this painting.
Reader and Raelynx
Model – Scott Murphy
I first met Scott when he visited the studio with a couple of his friends Owen and Liz, just after they made the move to New York City after graduating from Hartford Art School. Scott is a talented freelance illustrator working in the science fiction and fantasy field, you’ll find him at many conventions and tournaments around the States!
Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol and Melian
Models – Kelley Hensing and Leanna Hieber
And lastly the incomparable Kelley, with her writer friend Leanna, who posed for the entire court of the Elves of Doriath! Kelley is a fine artist, illustrator, and has been my assistant for the past 6 years. She has modeled for over 50 projects, from Red Sonya and the cover to Spectrum 20 to working with Grant for my Joan of Arc painting video.
A thank you to all of those who have modeled for me through the years. Your collaborations have helped bring a greater integrity to my art through your willingness to strike painful poses, and hold them!
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.