Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fantasy Art - Donato Giancola

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Donato Giancola is an American artist, born in 1967 and raised in Colchester, Vermont. After studying electrical engineering at the University of Vermont between 1985 and 1988 he pursued his love for art at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the Syracuse University where Donato Giancola graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BFA in painting in May 1992. Donato Giancola is specialized in science fiction and fantasy illustration, but since he started his professional career in 1993 his list of clients includes from major book publishers to concept design firms, such as LucasArts, National Geographic, CNN, DC Comics, Wizards of the Coast, Tor Books, Random House and Hasbro just to name a few. Donato Giancola’s talent was recognized with an impressive list of nominations and awards, Hamilton King Award for Excellence, World Fantasy Award for Best Artist, eight Chesley Awards, three Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist and multiple silver and gold medals from the juried annual Spectrum: The Best of Contemporary Art.

Interview with Donato Giancola

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Donato, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
With such an impressive career I would like to ask you first, how did it all begin? When did you decide to become an artist?
Donato Giancola: Although there are milestones in my arts career, I can't really say exactly when I 'began' drawing and painting in a serious manner. My childhood is peppered with memories of making models, toys, drawing military hardware, spaceships and finding highly creative projects in almost anything in the afternoons. Reading comics, painting lead figurines for Dungeons & Dragons, creating maps and art for role-playing, producing art projects for school, producing my own 8mm films… the list is endless! Art was a passion, yet always a hobby as I was as gifted in Mathematics as I was in art.
My formal training came late. I began my college career at UVM majoring in electrical engineering, but it wasn't until my second year at the University of Vermont that I withdrew from this career path, frustrated with the lack of creativity in classes, subjects and assignments. I still remember the day I dropped out of three engineering classes in mid-semester, shocking my friends, my family and even myself. Do not try this without proper adult supervision! I enrolled in an art course the next semester, and began my very first formal lessons on drawing. That same year I picked up my first set of oil paints, created some horrible initial paintings, and realized I need guidance, lots of guidance.
Very quickly it became obvious to take painting seriously I needed to pursue an education at a more challenging art college with competitive peers. I enrolled at Syracuse University in the fall of 1989 and majored in fine art painting. The doors which were opened to me at Syracuse proved unfathomable; from color theory to composition, anatomy, paint techniques, experimental drawing, post-modern, modern and abstract theorizing. Anyone who talks about god given talent hasn't seen the hours labored to understand how to properly put an oil glaze on a painting. Practice, practice, practice. Create, create, create. One of the greatest lessons I learned at school: no art is perfect, keep moving onto your next project/vision with additional challenges. All told, my 'college career' lasted six years, but it paid off: I'm doing what I love to do. Yet with that all said, my training did not stop after I graduated in 1992.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Some of your favorite artists are classic painters like Velázquez, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Rubens, just to name a few. How did these artists influence your development as an artist? Do you have some favorite contemporary artists?
Donato Giancola: For me, the most important issue about painting is not the commercial printed image which reaches millions, but what a person takes away when experiencing the original work. I moved to New York to be near its wonderful museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frick Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Pierpont Morgan Library, and Museum of Modern Art. I still spend many afternoons visiting my favorite artists -- Hans Memling, Jan Van Eyck, Velazquez, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Mondrian, Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian. I strive to comprehend their complexity and bring that into my work. There is nothing so impressive to me as standing in front of a huge Velazquez that is 16' wide and 10' tall with fully life-sized figures! ( a pilgrimage to the Prado Museum in Spain was made to see that one.) Or I will spend long stretches of time gazing into the minute details of a tiny Van Eyck, 8" by 12", bumping my nose on the glass straining to see details almost invisible to the eye (Philadelphia Museum of Art has that one). It is the combination of classical aesthetics with my love of Modern abstraction that I attempt to meld into one art form in my paintings. You can see these influences in some of my illustrations. For example the portrait Cartographer is inspired after Lorenzo Lotto’s portraits; the dense compression of figures in Faramir at Osgiliath are the melding of Caravaggio-like renderings with the surface patterning of a Pollack; and the vertical columns in Ashling recall Barnet Neuman while building upon the atmospheric illusions of Van Eyckian perspectives.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): What difficulties did you encounter at the beginning of your career? How hard was it to start your artist career?
Donato Giancola: In the Spring of 1992, at a portfolio review offered by Syracuse University in New York City for graduating seniors, I received a few potential leads for representation in the illustration field. I drove down for interviews with two agents immediately. The first agency, Mendola Brothers, thought I had potential, but found my work lacking in finish and suggested I return when I had a better polish to my paintings - read between the lines -'come back when you are already a professional'. A Catch-22 situation. At the second interview with Sal Barracca & Associates, I received the same response regarding my quality of painting, BUT Sal extended an invitation of representation if I could create samples of professional quality worthy of book cover work. Sal's specialty was representation in the New York book publishing market. I saw my chance to become a book cover illustrator, concentrating in the science fiction and fantasy field. Immediately upon returning to Vermont, I began to create those samples at the rate of one new painting a month. At the completion of the work, I would drive to New York for a brow beating from Sal as he pointed out deficiencies in my samples, and head back home to work on the next one.
In September, I finally made the move to New York City to be closer to the largest arts scene in the world. It was a big leap. It would still be several months before I landed any commissions, and NYC is not a cheap place to live. I resisted the temptation to get a 'regular' job and supported myself through part time work at the Society of Illustrators. All of my free time was spent creating monthly illustration samples for Sal, visiting museums, examining other illustrators and artists work, attended life drawing classes and art openings. I shared a small apartment with two other aspiring artists, and painted every day for 8-12 hours. By December I was in the middle of my sixth sample, they were progressively improving, but money was running short and I didn't know how long this could last. I resorted to borrowing money from my girl friends parents. Yet the hard work, gamble and move finally paid off. Sal called me one Monday morning with commissions to produce covers for three classic science fiction books The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I could not have asked for better commissions for initiation into the work of professional illustration. Since then I have not had a free moment without work as a free-lance illustrator and am expanding into other market places as I push my art further. I owe a debt of gratitude to Sal Barracca and the art director Joe Curcio for sticking their necks out for a young, inexperienced artist looking for a break. All I can say to the other agency is 'aren't you sorry now you didn't take a chance on me then?!' It is a wonderful lesson about the potential in mentoring and supporting young creative talent.

M(DW): What attracted you towards the Science Fiction and Fantasy themes? Is it correct to say that you enjoy these genres outside the art field as well?
DG: To be honest, I didn't set out to become a sci-fi/fantasy artist. While Comic books, Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons were a very important part of my formative years it was fairly easy for me to dive in to those sorts of genres when I started my career. However, I think the more important thing was the highly detailed narrative style that I strove for really lent itself to what was happening in the industry at that time, and so it became a very natural progression as a book cover artist to end up in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

M(DW): May I ask you, please, who are your favorite authors and novels?
DG: Well the most obvious is Tolkien. As a visual person, discovering Middle Earth is a life-changer and I will never tire of painting scenes from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. On the science fiction side, the classic authors like Philip K. Dick, which explore man's relationship with technology, really get me going. Also classic epic tales like The Song of Roland, and Eric Bright Eyes have given me a lot of inspiration. These days I read more non-fiction however. I'm fascinated with science magazines, national geographic, history, physics, evolution… the science/history behind the stories fascinates me just as much as the stories themselves and give me the tools I need to make my narrative paintings more real.

M(DW): You describe yourself and your work as a “classical-abstract-realist working with science fiction and fantasy”. Did you think that the SF and Fantasy art needed a new approach and an innovative style? When it comes to SF and Fantasy art, how did the different classical art currents made an imprint on your style of work?
DG: A lot of this was covered in question 2, about what inspires me about classical art. I never set out to give the genres a new style, but simply apply what I love about painting to everything I do. I always strive for the highest level of and realism and narrative in my craft in the vein of the old masters.

M(DW): The fantasy literature is in general underappreciated and is not seen as a valuable literature. Does the fantasy art suffer from the same symptom? Do you consider that the SF and Fantasy art is underappreciated?
DG: This is a hard question, because it depends on whom you're asking. Certainly illustration and narrative realism in general is still seen widely as 'low art' by the fine art world, but the point is to not look for validation from places where you won't get it. Most people work in these genres because there is something about the subject matter or the storytelling that is exciting and that is what you have to focus on.

M(DW): You’ve studied for three years the electrical engineering and I know that the engineer studies involve technical drawing too. Did your experience in technical drawing have an impact on your artworks? How did it influence your art technique?
DG: Certainly having a curiosity as to how things work fueled both my interest in engineering and desire to create realistic worlds in my art, but technical drawing never became a huge part of my education.

M(DW): Your work is done almost exclusively with the traditional tools, oil, pencil… Did you use the digital tools as well? Do you believe that an art piece is more powerful if it’s made in the traditional methods or in the digital ones?
DG: I simply prefer to work traditionally because of the sort of art that inspires me and I love having a physical work of art at the end of my labors. The genre is always in a state of flux, a condition that I love as new ideas and artists find their place while others disappear. Currently the proliferation of digital illustration and its speeding up of production times has put a bit of pressure on traditional, painted illustrators. I find the need to be faster with my turn around. But at the same time, my work as become more highly valued as original art is produced less. Digital hardware still does not substitute for a powerful idea and strong composition, these things are fueled by a creative mind whether working traditionally or not. There are some amazing digital illustrators out there, but when it comes to viewing an original I personally find an actual work of art more powerful than a print.

M(DW): How does a usual day of work go for Donato Giancola?
DG: I have two children now, so I have basically turned my studio into a 9-5 job so I can spend weekends and evenings with my family. My studio is on the top floor of my house and I will spend the day doing research, drawing, painting or doing photo shoots as needed. Sometimes I have to spend a day talking to clients or running errands, but I have an assistant that helps a lot with the more non-art related necessities of running a business.

M(DW): Every year you make numerous cover illustrations for novels. What process involves the making of a book cover? Which book cover did you enjoy the most to make?
DG: A book cover always starts with a manuscript. I read what I can, depending on the length of the book, and find something about the story or characters that speaks to me. I do several thumbnails of ideas and send them to the art director to choose from. After initial approval, I compile reference with models and photos make a preliminary drawing. After that is approved, I go on to the final painting.
A painting of The Hobbit: Expulsion which hangs in my living room is my favorite. It represents everything I aspire to and am passionate about in my career as an illustrator and realist painter; interpreting J.R.R. Tolkien’s work; displaying the humanity of characters in epic conflict; and creating emotionally charged, large paintings. Inspirations accumulated on trips to museums around the world finally found expression in a work like this. This piece, coupled with 'The Lord of the Rings' has proved to be a major springboard for a large body of work now comprising my second stage of narrative picture making.

M(DW): Throughout your career your works has been recognized with numerous awards. How did you feel when your efforts are awarded in this way? What award winning took you by surprise? Is the winning of awards a motivation for you? Do you set an award winning as a personal goal?
DG: It's always nice to be appreciated and I am continually honored and surprised by the recognition I get, but I try and make my personal achievements in my career more important than winning awards. If you focus overly much on outside validation, you end up placing too much weight on awards and becoming too disappointed if you don't win.

M(DW): You have been invited as a guest of honor to many galleries, art shows and conventions. How is the interaction with the admirers of your works? How important is their opinion in your development as an artist?
DG: It is always a pleasure when your work is appreciated but much like awards, you can't base too much weight on outside opinion. If you maintain integrity and sincerity in your work, then people will respond.

M(DW): Do you believe that your style or technique of work needs to improve further on? What other art domains would you like to explore in your work?
DG: I am always looking for ways to improve. As an artist, you have to or your work becomes stagnant. Currently I am making more time for personal projects and gallery work and I think that has opened up a lot of doors for me with my art.

M(DW): At what are you working at the moment and what other future projects do you have?
DG: Currently I am working on a lot of Middle-Earth themed paintings for my upcoming art book "Visions of Middle Earth". I am very excited for this project, as it's an opportunity to dive into one of my greatest loves on a grander scale.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been an honor and a pleasure.

For complete biography and a more comprehensive portfolio of Donato Giancola, please visit his website, Donato Arts.

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

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