Illustration West 58 Judges’ Interview: Tony Diterlizzi, Interviewed by by Co-Show Chairs Chuck and Wendy Grieb
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?
I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1969. My parents and I did not stay in California long and I spent the majority of my youth growing up in Jupiter, Florida. I am the oldest of three siblings (a sister and a brother), and all of us are artistically inclined thanks to a creative mom and supportive dad.
I attended public schools in Florida including Hobe Sound Elementary, Murray Middle School and South Fork High School. I enrolled in several colleges, including a brief stint at Florida School of the Arts, and received my degree in graphic design at The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale in 1992.
I have been making handmade books since I was a kid. In Boy Scouts I made a book on dinosaurs (which my mom helped me with) and a pocket field guide to insects I had collected. I also made a comic book about my pet hamster, Max. When I was 12, I created a book called “Gondwanaland” about a mysterious island full of weird and mysterious creatures. (I reminisced about it in Jon Scieszka’s Guys Write for Guys Read in 2005).
My artwork was first published in Dragon Mountain, a role-playing adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, which was released in 1993.
The first book that I wrote and illustrated was Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure, which was published in 2000 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Who or what inspires you?
I am most inspired by the great outdoors. Being in nature both stimulates my brain and helps me process. From hikes in the woods to walks on the beach, the endless textures, patterns, and colors in our outdoor world is the most amazing, overwhelming inspiration one could hope for.
I also find motivation from reading stories and copying art from masters. Whether I’m reading Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher or rendering an alien from The Art of Star Wars there are many things in books that rouse my imagination. Influential artists that inspired my growing talent would include Arthur Rackham, Brian Froud and Norman Rockwell.
What are some favorite projects that you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
I love all the books that I have done. I’ve spent so much time with them as a creator that love is the only way I’ll see them through to completion. Most of the ideas for my books have taken years to develop, and then add another year (at least) for producing the book, so you can see why each one has a special place in my heart. With that said, in regards for the characters that I’ve created, I adore my picture book, Ted, I wish I could meet Arthur Spiderwick and would love a pet giant water bear, like Otto (from the WondLa Trilogy).
What advice do you have for illustrators, beginning and pro?
Be open to feedback and criticism from those you trust. Explore different mediums or an approach to figure out what works best for you. Showcase the uniqueness of your style. Learn and imitate from those who inspire, then put them away to figure out who you truly are. Only then will you stand out.
What do you love about your job and what do you find challenging about your profession?
Drawing is not only a pastime and job for me, it is also therapeutic. I mull over many things on my mind when I am drawing or painting. It has been that way since I was a child. So I need to draw on a regular basis, otherwise I get edgy. I am thankful that I can do something I love for a living, which also nourishes me mentally.
The challenge is that it is something I love doing and it is ever-present. For me, time for work and spending time with my family, as well as maintaining my own sense of self, is an ongoing balancing act. I suppose for each artist the challenges are different although I suspect the balance of life and work are common for us all.
As you look to the future, what are you excited to explore, create, etc.?
I’m always creating and crafting my next story. It’s like a logjam in my brain. As of late, I have been thinking of collaborating with other storytellers whom I admire as well as other mediums to tell a story in besides with books.
What is your favorite medium to work in? Why?
Each book is different. I use whatever medium will help me create the finished image to complement the tone of the story. But, generally, I work with traditional mediums using digital to clean up the finished work.
I paint and draw on a variety of Strathmore Bristol boards and have worked with Holbien Acryla Gouache for years. For pen & ink, I use a Hunts 102 nib with FW inks. My preferred watercolors are Yarka St. Petersburg professional watercolors when coloring my inkwork.
I use Photoshop to help clean up my preliminary sketches and to fix minor errors in final paintings. I have colored images digitally, like the WondLa Trilogy, in order to achieve a desired style but, even then, it was over traditional pen drawings. I have yet to create my work fully on the computer. I still need the tactile experience of a pencil or brush moving across the paper. That hasn’t changed since I was a kid with a crayon.
All artwork ©2019 Tony Diterlizzi and cannont be used without consent of artist.