"The House of Black and White - Arya Stark"

30"x30" oil on panel
© 2014 Donato Giancola
collection of George R.R. Martin

For over a year I worked upon twelve new oil paintings for the 2015 Calendar for George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, also known to many as The Game of Thrones. One of the great pleasures of this commission was the chance (and requirement!) to read all five novels of the series currently in print. Luckily I had a buffer of a few months to start reading before we needed to settle on concepts for the first image of the calendar, the cover. The novels were a pleasure to read. George is an amazing writer, taking you on a roller coaster ride of places, events and emotions as first you hate someone then learn to appreciate their inner workings. And there are others we just keep on despising, page after page...

As I began to delve deeper into the novels looking for potential content to develop as calendar images, the clarity of simplified personas which can strike clear as a bell in a short story character were getting muffled and complex. Where was the easy hero, the epic battle, the righteous quest for good? Who was the protagonist now that Ned has lost his head? Who's storyline will lead to the Iron Throne and who are these books about anyway?!

I LOVED this questioning content in George's writing. There is no black and white (well except in Braavos), there are only shades of gray, very much like our own world. It is for this reason I wish there were 36 months to each year, as ideas for the calendar came flowing like a river and twelve was far too few a number to choose to create from such a rich universe! I love ambiguity, I love the reluctant hero, I love seeing through the lenses of the other side and most of all I love a challenge.

Very early on I decided to create a series from these paintings. Rather than approach each image as a separate solution to solve, I wanted the set to read as a wonderfully unified whole, with plenty of variation within each unique piece of art, but brought under a common size, complexity and interpretative voice.

As the concepts unfolded the ideal size for the paintings became 30" x 30", and all oil on panel. I knew the first few would be easier to undertake given the time for the final deadline, but found myself heavily burdened by these size and detailed constraints as the final three paintings needed to be finished in one month! And these last few were not the easiest of compositions either (twelve plus figures of the Night's Watch in one of them!) The challenge was stressful, but made the results all the more satisfying.

With the source material of the calendar as the original writings from the novels, I was not beholden to the likenesses nor portrayal of the actors from the Game of Thrones HBO series. I was at liberty to interpret as I saw fit, from castle creation to cultural invention to character physiques. George Martin is an avid lover and collector of art, and it is his desire that the artists commissioned for these calendars be free to exercise their own visions of his worlds. I owe a deep thank you to George for both the confidence and freedom he has given to push my abilities to their limits in creating this series. I hope it lives up to his expectations.

The HBO show has created an beautiful world from the novels, and it is very difficult to compete with those creations as a visual artist. It is hard not to imagine Ned without seeing the face of Sean Bean. How do you compete? I took an approach which has always been successful and my focus within illustrative art commissions, that of conveying intent and emotion without chasing after details.

I found myself asking larger questions about conflict, family, and wealth imbalances as a way to tap into concepts which resonate with our modern world. Seeing the worlds of Westeros through these lenses opened my work up to broad interpretations of the story which went past simple character portraits. It is for this reason I am extremely happy with the results, and a reason many fans may not be satisfied with my paintings. This is not a calendar of specific moments from the novels, but rather a way to taste the bitterness, brutality and passion George brings with his words.

Drink deep.