The following list of process steps provides a glimpse into Donato's method of producing book cover paintings and various other types of commissioned illustration. This process has evolved over the years and is subject to change from project to project as the work dictates. May it provide you with information that may better reveal the creative processes of his art.


The most difficult step in creating a book cover is securing the commission in the first place.
There are various ways to draw the attention of an art director or editor at a publishing house: these include dropping off a portfolio of work, advertising in trade annuals, securing a representative/agent, entering juried competitions, exhibiting original art in shows, meeting the art buyers at openings and having friends in the business. The samples you see here are advertisements in trade annuals and postcards I produced myself to remind art directors of my style and availability.
Yet the most important and successful way to advertise is to consistently produce high quality work and meet the demands of the client, whether it be for old or new accounts.


After receiving the initial call from a client, due dates and fees are negotiated for preliminary sketches, color studies, and finished art. A short description of possible cover concepts is given to the artist and in some cases the entire manuscript as well. I read through the manuscript circling and selecting passages of character descriptions and potential cover designs. The time allotted for completion of each painting varies from one week to three months with factors such as sales conferences and marketing deadlines dictating the final delivery date.


While reading the manuscript I generate small value and vector orientated abstracts. These small sketches allow me to see how different cover ideas may function on a very basic level: strong silhouettes, harsh lighting, scale relationships, diagonal actions. I can produce as many as a dozen or as few as two. It is difficult to describe what I am seeking visually, but I usually find at least two to three of these abstracts worthy of producing final drawings from.


From the abstracts, I produce two to three comprehensive and detailed drawings to present to the art directors. Many times revisions and new concepts are requested until a single composition is arrived at that will be used as the basis for the cover.


Once the final concept is agreed upon, a professional photographic shoot of models in costumes is then scheduled if necessary. I extensively research props, costumes, environments, textures, and character types during this stage, formalizing any of the elements I wish to include in the final illustration. I actively seek out influences from other art forms -
Islamic textile patterns, East African clothing, Egyptian architecture- and artists to inject my work with. Researching the diversity of the world in museums, libraries and on the streets of New York City is what I love most about illustration. In addition, I purchase one to three books of photographic reference for each new commission. For this painting, "An", I acquired a book on the Space Shuttle launches, photographed some clouds during an airplane trip to Houston, and painted a Christmas ball black to observe reflections on a dark surface. Half of the time I allot for a cover commission is spent on sketches and research.


With all the reference material gathered around my drafting table and the final rough composition nearby as a guide, I then create a graphite cartoon for the painting. A cartoon in this context is a large black and white drawing produced at a one-to-one ratio to the final painting (a preparatory step I learned from Medieval and Renaissance artists, like Hans Memling and Michelangelo).
I begin by sketching in vectors and volumes of shapes and progress by adding details from the photographs and observations I have made.

This is a stage which allows quick experimentation in "grays" and abstract vector placement to determine lighting, values, scale, and composition. Playing around in pencil at this level saves me from hours of corrections that could occur in the final painting.


With the final cartoon in hand, I make a trip to the local copy store and have the drawing reduced down to approximately 40% of its original size.
This reduction helps me to see the strengths and weaknesses of the composition at a small scale, and gives me material to produce color sketches from. Complex relationships in values and color can be quickly experimented in by painting on the black and white reduced copies of the cartoon. By using the copy as a foundation I can concentrate on pure color choices, a liberating and wonderful time saving exercise.


From the cartoon another copy is created onto 100% acid-free cotton paper from an engineers oversized copy machine. This copy is then mounted onto masonite and protectively coated with acrylic medium - I save the original drawing. I then tint the image in acrylics to remove any traces of white and begin work in oil paint and glazing medium. I use the color study as a guide and follow the shapes and structures created in pencil, making oil painting resemble a "paint by number" exercise.
Oil painting is a very time consuming process and I am constantly referring back to the material I have gathered to include in this one painting. I invariably make changes from the original plan as the painting develops its own language and speaks back to me. Being flexible through this stage helps to keep the process fresh and intense all the way to the final coat of varnish.