Monday, May 15, 2017

Donato : An Original

-By Arnie Fenner

"Prometheus" by Donato Giancola. Oil; 77" x 95" on stretched linen. 2005.

The day before this year's Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, Donato Giancola and Kelley Hensing came to our house to stretch (and, to our surprise, hang) the latest—and by far largest—addition to Cathy's and my art collection, "Prometheus." It was a Gold Award-recipient in the Advertising Category and was featured on the cover of Spectrum 13 in 2006; at the second Spectrum Exhibition held in 2009 at the Museum of American Illustration in New York "Prometheus" greeted attendees in all it's big, beautiful glory as they entered. I remember turning to Dan (yes, "Donato" is his professional name but he was born Daniel) at the show with a lop-sided grin and saying, "This is going to be ours!" He laughed, Cathy laughed, I laughed: how absurd, right?

The purpose of relating this story or sharing these photos isn't to brag (okay, maybe it is a little), but as an opportunity to say a few things about Donato and about our field as a whole.

I first noticed Dan's work when he was still extremely fresh in his career with his covers for Penguin, Tor, Bantam and a batch of others in the early 1990s; I wish I could say that my expert eye had spotted a talent in the rough, someone who, with a little time and encouragement, would eventually grow into a skilled pro...but I can't. He was already hot stuff; he was already making heads turn and giving more established artists a run for their money. I mean look at his covers for Otherness by David Brin (1993) [below left] or Lethe by Tricia Sullivan (1994) [below right] and tell me he wasn't already painting memorable pieces right out of the gate.

Donato first entered Spectrum with the second volume and has been included in every book since. He was twice a juror and was featured on the front cover an unmatched three times (volumes 5, 13, and 20). It wasn't friendship that got him there (others always had input as to what ran on Spectrum's covers): it was the quality of the art and the way others responded to it that earned him distinction. And, yes, he has been routinely recognized through the years by other art annuals and competitions, winning all manner of honors along the way. It is all attributable to his hard work and his unrelenting—and uncompromising—pursuit of excellence. It doesn't hurt that he's focused, smart, and, let's face it, a genuinely good person to boot. His compassion for others is projected through his art and allows him to connect with an audience regardless of subject matter. Remember Lauren's post about empathy? Yep, Dan has it. By the boat load.

For a number of years we set up with Donato and Stephan Martiniere (and various other artists) at the San Diego Comicon and it was during one of those shows that I spotted a drawing of Dan's and commissioned him to do a painting of it [below left]. Three other commissions followed over the years, including a wonderful portrait of Cathy [below right].

It's easy to be enamored with Donato, easy to understand why his fans, admirers, and collectors are now legion. The fact that he enthusiastically gives back—through workshops, classes, and mentoring—heightens my respect for him. Several weeks ago I watched him (as well as Dan dos Santos across the aisle) review student portfolios and offer career advice pretty much nonstop. His interests and tastes are far-ranging and he takes delight in all types of art; when he teaches or offers tips it's always done with the goal of helping the other artist becoming a better version of themselves, not a clone of Donato.

Without trying he's become a leader for our community and hero to many. And, yes, there's the old saying of "never meet your heroes" out of fear of disillusionment, but if Donato is one of him. You won't be disappointed. 

I've been involved in the field of fantasy and science fiction since I was, quite literally, a kid and have been sometimes disheartened by what had-and-has been generally described as the ghettoization of genre. Regardless of breakouts and "serious" works finding audiences and acclaim, contributors—whether writers, artists, or even filmmakers—often felt they had to leave the F&SF field in order to be successful, even if they were really only swapping one genre for another (like Western or Wildlife art). It's gotten better over the years for a number of reasons, but there are still prejudices that can prevent worthy creators from getting their due—or frighten them away from associating with the "wrong type" of artists, events, and collectors. There are temptations to turn away from, not only genre, but illustration as a whole in order to court acceptance from more pretentious, deep-pocketed, and, frankly, more fickle markets.

Early on I was a little worried that, as someone who could literally paint anything he could imagine—and paint it exceptionally well—Dan would make a huge splash then start looking for greener pastures. Who could blame him if he did? Money is money and a family needs to be clothed and fed.

But as proponents of Fantastic Art, Cathy and I know that the health—the acceptance, the growth—of our field and community is dependent on the active participation—and leadership—of the best and brightest. They open us all up to possibilities; they challenge us and raise the bar for quality that ultimately helps us all become better at our craft; they alter the perceptions of the public or break down the prejudices of patrons that grow the opportunities for everyone.

During dinner at one Comicon many years back, I leaned across the table and said to Donato, "Please...don't ever leave."

God knows I've got no dictatorial power or mind control abilities, but at that moment I simply wanted to express to Dan not only Cathy's and my appreciation and respect for him and what he was creating, but also the importance of his—and of many, many others'—contributions to our very specialized field and role in its continued success.

Of course, I didn't have to say anything at all, but it felt good to do so. If you've been reading Donato's Muddy Colors posts, you're well aware of his unapologetic passion for fantasy and D&D and Star Wars and comics and Tolkien. He can go off and paint historical subjects or landscapes, portraits, figures, flowers, or anything he might choose as much as he wants and that would be great—but I'm 100% confident that Dan will always express his love of genre in some way and in some form. Perhaps via traditional narrative works for publishers, perhaps through allegories for galleries, patrons, or himself—but I know the Fantastic runs through his veins.

Yeah, I guess I am bragging. Not about adding something to our collection, but about knowing an artist who has done and continues to do so much for our field and for the community that surrounds it.

And I'm thankful.

So thanks, Donato Giancola. For creating wonderful art through the years. Thanks for your ongoing community leadership. Thanks for nurturing young artists. Thanks for being a positive role model. And above all, thank you for your friendship. (Oh, and thanks for being the one up on the ladder on the stairs hanging the painting—with Kelley on the other side—instead of me.)


  1. As a long-time fan of Donato's I must say I was a little anxious at the thought of meeting him because of the old saying you mentioned and that's generally holding me back, but meeting him at Comic-Con was without a doubt one of the best things that happened to me last year.

    I agree with everything you said. He is kind and generous, and his passion for the craft and the genre is contagious. As I got home from San Diego and reflected on our conversation, I felt particularly lucky to be a part of the same big, welcoming community.

    Thank you for this beautiful post Arnie. I can feel the strength of your friendship and it is a wonderful thing to have. I'm happy for you.

    And you're right to brag! The painting got itself a nice spot. I can't imagine what it must be like to stand there and let yourself wander amongst the spacemen and the stars. Ahhh!

  2. Couldn't agree more about Dan in every respect. A true giant in the field of fantastic art (and really, painting in general), and an all-around incredible person. I'm honored to call him a friend.

  3. That piece wouldn't fit anywhere in my house. I'd have to move.

    1. Cathy was sure we didn't have a place for it, but when Donato and Kelley arrived his eyes lit up when he saw the space in the stairway. I kept saying, "We'll have to hire somebody with a bunch of different ladders to hang it," and Dan kept saying, "We can do it!" And what do you know, he was right. :-)

  4. Wow! Thank you for all the kind thoughts and words Arnie. This post was a surprise. Your's and Cathy's friendship has been one of those things that just keeps growing deeper and deeper, year after year. I am honored that you think of me in such light, and plan to 'stay' in the genre for as long as it will have me! We are lucky that this field inspires such passion and heartfelt connections not only to the art, but between all the creators and fans alike. Thank you.

  5. I don't have the honor to meet him or any of you in person. I only discovered his art by chance when I was looking in desperation for a path for my own art and even if my style is not even close to his, I find that looking at his art brings me excitement and curiosity again. That much that my husband considers him as part of the family as I talk about his pieces every time I have the chance! I hope to be able to participate in one of his workshops someday! Congratulations on being able to find a perfect spot for that awesome piece, and what a beautiful blog post you wrote. Thank you for sharing this experience!

  6. Granted, Donato is the best f-sf artist working nowadays. A big art book on him is long overdue. When will some publisher see the comercial appeal of such a book (no less than 300 pages long, of course)?


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