Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2012 by jdonat20

It’s been quite some time since I’ve bothered to blog.  It’s time to try and make this a weekly ritual in concordance with a new project.  Initially I thought I would begin the arduous task of illustrating a graphic novel I’ve had sitting on the shelf for several years now.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s time for that.  I am inspired towards a new learning experience that I am hoping will project me forward.  Since I have started teaching, something I have been trying to impress upon the students I am instructing is that; “…we should never compare ourselves to other artists.”  While I still believe this to be a truism, it’s incredibly hard to do if you desire to call yourself a professional- and beyond that, a commodity.

When I was in an illustration self-promotion class taught by Richard Krepel, I was inspired by a project he shared with us.  A student had spent the better part of 2 years filling sketchbooks, using only ink, with at least one drawing every day.  The student drew from observation as well as imagination in order to develop a personal, visual vocabulary.  This process aided in developing and enhancing the artist’s personal style.  The more I look at my own style, the more I feel like it is not distinct enough.  It doesn’t have what I am looking for.

Something very strange happened to me after I finished grad school…  I realized I now know less about myself than I ever have in my life.  I actually feel a little bit lost.  Even after I spent over 3,000 hours on a project that meant so much to me… I am left unsatisfied.  I need to evolve.  So, I am going to begin this “sketch a day for a year” project next week (following Fort Ligonier Days).  Keep your fingers crossed for me that I can follow through and that this new course I am about to begin charting will satisfy whatever it is inside of me that keeps telling me; “It’s not enough.”


The signs are everywhere…. but what do they mean?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2011 by jdonat20

Unfortunately your style does not suit our project at this time…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 3, 2011 by jdonat20

Over the years I’ve gotten this response to quite a lot of my submissions.  After a while, it starts to really grate on ones nerves.  It makes me want to go find out whose style actually DOES suit their project and prove to them that I can do it better than whoever they decided to hire.  I have enough confidence in my ability to illustrate just about any subject matter
effectively that I know I am the right man for the job.

If you hadn’t guessed it, this particular blog entry was an excuse to vent.


Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 by jdonat20

The plight of artists is, more often than not, finding a proper platform for their passions so they can share them with as many people as possible. These platforms often come at a price.  Whether that price be an investment of time or money (most likely both), it’s difficult to come by either in this day and age.

I have spent thousands of hours and more money than i care to count on the projects that mean the most to me.  I would love to share them with everyone, but that is easier said than done.  Of course nowadays with all the social networking going on, it’s a hellovalot easier to get the word out. But it seems like very few people actually pay attention since EVERYONE is doing it.  “Look at this!”, “Read this blog!”, “Comment on my photos!”, “Check out this video!” It gets overwhelming and so we ignore everything that doesn’t jump out at us.

I have no delusions about my ability to convince people to fund the ‘Kickstarter’ project I proposed about a week ago.  I set the bar incredibly high because, unfortunately, that is how much it is actually going to cost to have my ‘Tarot D’ printed so I can distribute it.  Yeah… I know… it’s crazy.  But, it matters to me, so I figured I’d do it just for the hell of it.

I am so bad at self-promotion.  Anyone who knows me knows this.  My approach to my ‘Kickstarter’ video was in keeping with that notion.  I provided my own voice over, I claimed my project to be “the greatest creative endeavor of all time”, and other nonsense like that.  I made a fool out of myself for the sake of entertaining anyone who bothered to take a few minutes out of their day to watch it.  That was my silly way of thanking anyone who was supportive enough to show interest.

I have been meaning to conduct one final interview in accordance with my practicum, but the subject of the interview I want to do is in the midst of her portfolio semester at Goddard College, so i figured now is probably not the best time.  So, in the meantime, I will be working like a mad man to complete my ‘Tarot D’ by the end of the year.  Regardless of whether or not I am able to fund the production of a physical deck, I will see it through to completion.  I believe it’s been worth it.  All the time, effort and money had to go somewhere.  I am glad it was spent on something that I care about.

If you are interested in watching my goofy video (masterfully produced by Brent Ross), go to:

The Mountain Jam…

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2011 by jdonat20

The fellow in the photograph above is Mr. Colyn Fischer.  He is the two-time National Scottish Fiddle Champion.  For those of you who have had the privilege of hearing him play, you know why.

(You can check out some of his music here:

Colyn is a troubadour.  His art is exquisite because his love and passion for his heritage run deep.  If you sit down to share a bottle of single-malt whiskey with this Scotsman, you best be sure you are following protocol- else he will most certainly give you an earful.  Colyn is a gentleman and a scholar.  He is a teacher as well as a student of life.  He is someone I am fortunate to know and to call a friend.

Roughly two years ago, right before I made the decision to further my education and attend the Goddard College of Vermont in pursuit of my Master’s degree, Colyn and I got to talking (just as artsy folk do) about a collaborative project.  Colyn regularly performs with a pianist by the name of Shauna Pickett-Gordon.  Together they have been developing a new set of recordings based on the theme of the four elements.  Of course, this is right up my alley.  I thought I could do some abstract paintings for the liner notes of their new musical venture.  Colyn seemed reasonably interested and so I produced a set of digital color comps to inspire me towards production of the actual paintings.

The project got postponed however, due to… well, life.  Colyn lives in San Francisco and only visits the sylvan mountains of Pennsylvania for a few weeks out of the year.  This summer, fortuitously, our paths crossed for an evening of music and art-making.

I am back in Vermont this week, reflecting and preparing my study plan for my G4 semester.  I decided to take a look back at my ‘study plan as a whole’, as our overall curriculum goals are referred to.  Oddly enough, I had completely forgotten that I’d mentioned doing this project way back in January of 2010 as a possible component of my eventual practicum.  How cool is it that it just so happened to work out that I got around to doing it immediately following my G3 (practicum) semester.  My subconscious, artistic alarm clock must have been set to go off just in time.  Don’t you just love how magical life can be some times and how it makes a point of nudging you and whispering in your ear so that you take notice of such serendipitous occurrences?

Here are a pair of photos that feature my friends Dan Kunkle (bass) and my brother from another mother; Joshua Carns (lead guitar).  Behind Josh you can almost make out Matt Gretz on the drums.

The jam session took place at Michelle Lenhart’s house, out in ‘the cut’, as we yokels call it.  Michelle also took all of these great pictures I am posting throughout this blog entry.  You can check out her website at:  I am so fortunate to have so many amazingly talented and artistic friends!


The evening began as a rather disorganized quartet of musicians just trying to feel one another out and decide what exactly they were going to do with an entire night of artistic freedom amid the moist, mountain air and the glinting of fire flies.  As soon as I sat down on the wooden planks of the porch and began squeezing big globs of acrylic into my palette pans, the music seemed to take shape.  Maybe it was because I was focusing and putting myself in the proverbial ‘zone’, or perhaps there really was some kind of energy exchange that began right then and there between the musicians and myself… who knows?

                                                                                                                                                                                         To the left is JC.  He’s cheesing it up for the camera… what a ham!

To the right we have Colyn, Dan and JC having a conversation comprised solely of musical improvisation.

The language that exists between like-minded artists transcends the spoken word.  It conveys complete thoughts and emotional depth that cannot be related through our limited verbal pontifications.

Capturing a mood or tone with a photograph is an art form all its own.  What was initially a dual collaboration became a triad when Michelle began soaking the moment into her camera lens.  This picture of Dan is one of my favorites.  I can still hear and feel his bass bouncing, bobbing and humming away, blitzing me with it’s rhythmic thunder.  Although, that might be because I was sitting right next to his amp the whole time I was painting.

I am so glad Michelle was inspired to document the evening.  Look at what we now have to look back on.  I can see the intense concentration and affection Josh exudes when he plays in this quintessential image.  His guitar is his heart’s voice and it sings with purity.  His expressive quality is fleeting, like a moment of impending joy suddenly washed away in a tide of raucous noise and then swept back into your ears by a dulcet lullaby.  You never can tell just where JC is while he is playing.  His body is here, on Earth, but his soul might just be blasting through the cosmos, flying perpendicular (inside joke).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As the night progressed, there were definite shifts in interest, mood and conveyance.

At times I felt that I was painting alone and at other times each musician was painting with me.

There were moments of discord and harmony, times when everything seemed to gel and other times when it all seemed very disconnected, as is the case with any lengthy conversation among friends.  It was unpredictable, and it was beautiful.

As each painting was completed, the previous jam session was dubbed.  We started with a ‘Fire Jam’, then moved into and ‘Earth Jam’.  After a brief intermission we proceeded into the ‘Air Jam’, which to me seemed the most insubstantial and confusing.  Then i realized that we very well may have been tapping into the essential ideas behind each symbolic element.  Fire was a starting point and everyone threw themselves into the fray with reckless abandon.  Each expressed themselves in their own unique way.  Then, when Earth became the new mode of thinking, we all seemed to take our time, slowly building and defining the intricacies of what was being shaped by our cooperative efforts.  There was a genuine respect and well-mannered exchange of ideas that you could sense as the foundations were constructed, layers were added and branching, conical spires stretched upwards towards the star-speckled sky.

Once we climbed all the way up there… it’s like we didn’t really know what to do.  So we all just kinda did our own thing.  It was strange, and yet it made a lot of sense.  Afterwards, Josh said that the ‘Air Jam’ was his favorite.  I think the ‘Fire Jam’ was Colyn’s.

We took another break, a longer one this time.  We could sense that the evening was coming to a close.  It was time for the ‘Water Jam’, or ‘Aqua-Jam’, whichever you prefer.  It was during the final jam of the evening that I finally felt the music take hold of me and really move my hand.  There was a moment of pure bliss, a sensation that cannot be described by any one artist’s musings because it is exclusively a shared experience.  It is something that can only happen when several individuals all come into genuine accord and begin to ride on the same wavelength.  There is a pulsating power that starts to guide you and the world drops away as time ceases to exist.  It is in those absolute moments, those pure, indescribable moments, when you see each others’ essential beings come forth.

Plato believed that in order to become one with the universe and rejoin with the essence of God, we had to first be purified through a filtration process that included all of the prime elements.  Perhaps, in a way, that is what we were doing all along. Maybe, just maybe, for a fraction of a nanosecond, we were all vibrating at precisely the same frequency.  As time ceased to be, our spirits, bodies, minds and hearts came together and coalesced and I think we were all aware of it.

The jam session ended.  The cognitive and meditative project was complete. Once Michelle has a chance to photograph the paintings themselves I will post them here.  In the meantime, consider this: If individuals of different practices can commune in an unequivocal way such as this- simply by doing what they most love to do, does that not go a long way in proving the importance and validity of interdisciplinary art as a form of bridge-building and interstitial communication?  Does it not perhaps suggest that art is something that, despite all of its esoteric and idiosyncratic mysteries, might be a key to unlocking the true nature and meaning of our existence?

What a profoundly sublime experience.  I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 by jdonat20


This awesome photo was taken by my friend Michelle Lenhart.  Check out her website




TAROT D: The Process of Creating a Visual Metaphor (part 2 of 2)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 by jdonat20

Creating your own Tarot deck is very much like being an alchemist.  You are using all the esoteric knowledge you have at your disposal to refine things down to their most basal forms.  The amount of consideration a project like this requires (and the deep investigation it more often than not inspires) creates a sense of isolation.  When you are trying to translate a universally unspoken language by contriving one of your own, things get heavy.  You feel like it has become your responsibility instead of just a project.  It is drawn from passion as well as curiosity.  It swells into an obsession and expands into something more than a trick-taking card game or a tool for divination.  It becomes a philosophy, a religion and a way of life.

When I first set forth on this path, I saw myself as ‘The Fool’.  I was relatively naive, a day dreamer, empty and waiting to be filled with divine inspiration.  As my study of the Tarot has progressed I have recognized that ‘The Fool’ represents all of us.  We are all (in the words of Jedi Master Yoda) “luminous beings”, drawn forth from the source of all life.  Each of us has an unlimited potential, and no matter how far we have come and no matter how much we’ve experienced we are still, beneath all the fancy titles and adornments, beginners.

At the beginning of this project, I was focused specifically on the drawing aspect (as documented in my previous blog entry).  It was not until I started grad school that I began taking those drawings (at the time I had only rendered the trump suit) and finishing them.  I knew that a mixed media approach would be best and I’d already been experimenting with some techniques.

In the photo above you can see four stages of one of the first cards I completed.  After I sealed in the pencil drawing with a thin wash of yellow acrylic, I used the compliment (in this case violet) to paint in the value.  I used acrylic gesso for the highlights. Once the entire image was toned, (giving it a much deeper, more substantial look) I applied another light wash of the base color to equalize the contrast.  In the case of this card I also used light washes of the primary triad (yellow, red and blue) to create temperature shifts.  Finally I inked and colored the image with waterproof pens and colored pencils.  After this card was completed I decided that I could skip the step of adding the ‘temperature shifts’ as the colored pencil provided more than enough local color.

After I finished the first few images, I started to pay more attention to the way I painted in the value.  I created a gradient of five or six different shades and tints, rather than simply relying on the base coat to act as my mid-tone and only adding the darkest shadows and brightest highlights.  This helped the image to feel more finished after the painting stage.  Going into the inking process with a really well-defined underpainting makes things go faster (or so it seems).

There’s something about a solid value painting on a perfect piece of cold press illustration board that just SCREAMS for me to put some ink on it.  I love inking!  Line work, as I have said many times before, is a hallmark of my personal style and so I try to take full advantage of the skill I have acquired after years and years of cartooning.  Ink has pretty much always been a mainstay with me.  I rarely think that any image I create feels finished until I have reinforced the lines and used some mark making to create modeling and contrast.

Although my intention as I continued creating this new body of work was to refine and boil down my process to the fewest steps possible while still retaining the same quality, things don’t always quite work out the way we plan.  I realized that I could enhance the coloring stage by not only reinforcing the line work and shadows, but also by reinforcing the highlights. The purpose of reinforcement is to make the image as sharp as possible.  The addition of white gel pens makes the saturation of the colors I layer on top of the highlights much more vivid and striking.  So now, I essentially end up rendering each image four times before it is complete.

After all is said and done, the quality of the resulting work is indicative of the time spent on each one.  Attention to detail and a willingness to rework something if it truly cries out to be changed is what shows how much something matters to you and also what establishes one as a professional. I think what makes me the most proud of what I have done with this project is that it is personal and honest.  Of course the Tarot is something that belongs to everyone, but we each have our own way of perceiving the world and through that perception emerges a profoundly true manifestation of what the Tarot means.

I hope you have enjoyed this sneak peek at my TAROT D.  By the end of this year I am hoping it will be fully available to be viewed online.  For now, I have one more leg of the journey to go…..

TAROT D: The Process of Creating a Visual Metaphor (part 1 of 2)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2011 by jdonat20

I have been studying the Tarot for roughly thirteen years now.  It has long been a source of meditative fantasy and imaginative, psychoanalytical catharsis for mythologists and fortune tellers alike.  Being a student of “story” and all things symbolic, i suppose it was inevitable that the Tarot and I would eventually cross paths.  I never could have imagined just how deeply I would fall into the eternal, self-perpetuating mystery that the Tarot embraces.

The Tarot represents life.  It is a visual metaphor for and a comprehensive inventory of human existence.  It reveals itself to each of us differently.  I believe we are all life long learners, and therefore we never completely understand anything.  However, we may reach moments of clarity and enlightenment that allow us to travel deeper into the unspoken language of the universe.  As we live in a realm dictated by the passage of time, our lives are most easily studied through the recognition of patterns.  Once we fully realize these patterns, we can master them, move past them and focus on new adventures.

The creation of my TAROT D has been one, lengthy, patterned process.  In fact, it was through this repeating pattern that I established, refined and mastered the process itself.  I suppose this act of creation could be considered as much a metaphor for life as the Tarot is.  We do what we do, learning and working to become better along the way.  It is only by being, doing, thinking about what we are doing in order to better understand it and then following our hearts that we will ultimately reach our bliss.

What I am about to reveal to you are some images documenting the technique I have been using for the past year and a half throughout the creation of my TAROT D.  There are several stages to the process I have created.  It is a mixed media technique that employs graphite, acrylic paint, ink and colored pencil.  Each image has taken me approximately 25 hours to complete.  There are 115 images in the set.  Once all the art is complete, I will be drum scanning and enhancing each image in Photoshop.  In the end, the process of executing the art (not taking into account the years and years of research that have gone into this project) will have taken me about 3,000 hours.  Presently I have between 400 and 500 hours left to go, which is why I figured it was time to begin revealing what I have been working on for so very long.

The image above is a process summary of how I created the reverse side design for the entire deck.  This image is geometric and elemental in its motif. I began by drawing the design on a 15 x 20 piece of cold press illustration board.  I then painted in the value map with a gradient of prussian blue.  Next, I inked the line work, then I colored the image with colored pencils.  Last, I reinforced the line work with ink again and the image was complete.  This is basically the same set of steps I have used for each and every card.

I am an illustrator before I am any other type of visual artist.  Therefore, I hold the belief that a great painting must first begin with a complete idea and a solid drawing.  As you can see in the image above, the drawing begins very simply and gradually becomes more and more rendered as detail is added.  The end result is stunning when compared to the initial sketch.

Drawing is truly my greatest strength artistically.  I spend about 8 hours completing the drawing before I seal the pencil work in with a light wash of acrylic.  Because I now recognize my strength, I am able to draw upon it (no pun intended) and use it to showcase just what I am capable of.  This work is, in my opinion, the best thing I have ever done.  I would go so far as to call it my masterpiece.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

The three previous images are all ‘court cards’ from my TAROT D.  Each one represents one of the signs of the western zodiac.  In part 2 of ‘TAROT D: The Process of Creating a Visual Metaphor’, I will detail the value painting process as well as the inking and coloring.  I hope these images have whetted your appetite and peaked your interest in my work.  I look forward to showing you more!

Munch Chair…

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 by jdonat20

So I was shuffling through some old photos and I found this documentation of a project I did back in 2003.  It was for a 3D design class (not really my forte).  The assignment: take a found object and use it to pay homage to one of your favorite artists.  I chose to create an Edvard Munch chair…

Munch was a bit of a symbolist.  He used the icon of the heart, the sun setting over water, skeletons and the trinity of the ‘maiden, mother and crone’ repeatedly in his work.  He was also very loose, erratic and expressive with his lines and color choices.  The cast shadow I created out of cardboard because some of Munch’s works were actually painted on cardboard.  There is no seat for the chair- and so I placed a small, wooden box on the floor between the chair legs.  Inside this box is a painting of a ghostly fetus surrounded by spermatozoa.  This strange motif was something Munch used as a border for one of his most famous self portraits.  I wonder if H.R. Giger was a Munch fan.

TAROT D (The Didactic Tarot)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6, 2011 by jdonat20

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a “phone photo” of the ridiculously self-aggrandizing teaser image I created for a project that has encompassed almost a third of my life.  Soon, very soon, I will unleash it upon the world.  By the end of this year the artwork will be complete.  Prepare yourselves, and remember the sacred mantra of the Reverend Isaac Sylvan: “Be.  Do.  Think.  Feel.  Change.”

Welcome to the world of the TAROT D!