TIC with Barbara DiLorenzo
For this month’s The Illustrator Corner (TIC), we’d like to welcome author and illustrator Barbara Dilorenzo!
Barbara has been illustrating for a long time. She has recently written, illustrated, and published several of her own books, including Renato and the Lion (Viking) in 2017 and QUINCY: The Chameleon Who Couldn’t Blend In (Little Bee) in 2018.
Illustration as a Career
Barbara began her career at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied illustration. After graduating, she made a living in graphic design and turned away from illustrating for a bit.
Recently, thanks to a deep love for illustrating, inspiration from children (both her own and others), and attendance at multiple Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences, she has started illustrating again.
Illustration as a Passion
When asked about her favorite learning experience in illustrating, Barbara mentions losing the comparison game.
“When I was a really young student, I mistakenly believed that art was a competition. It wasn’t until my freshman year at R.I.S.D. that I figured out that the goal is to master one’s medium for one’s voice to emerge clearly. If one’s voice is clear, there is room at the table for everyone’s creativity. Many people get bogged down by comparing themselves to other artists.”
She goes on to say that this truth is one of her favorite things to help students realize. Art is about finding a voice, not being the best.
Illustration as a Process
According to Barbara Dilorenzo, there is no such thing as a specific illustration routine. For her, illustration is an evolving process.
“Some people,” she says, “sit down at their desk, sip their tea, and type out a story. They edit, get feedback from peers, and repeat until the draft is workable. At that point, they sketch illustrations. Those people are organized and lovely. My process is sketch an idea, write a few sentences, and paint a final painting. Then I usually set everything aside for another deadline.”
She continues: “When I return to the project, I write something that changes the main character from a monkey to a polar bear. I then sketch new sketches, get feedback, get overwhelmed, cry a little, and laugh at my own sketch jokes. At this point, when I’m really frustrated, I usually decide to just start over and tell the story that amuses me. At that point, the whole thing gushes out in a more cohesive story. When I show my agent and then possibly win the art director’s love for the book, I inevitably earn the frustration of the editor that has to wrangle the text into better shape.”
She finishes with a piece of advice: “Don’t do it this way. Try to be like the organized and lovely people.”
The Illustrator Corner (TIC) with Barbara DiLorenzo Step-by-Step
Here is a step-by-step of Barbara’s writing and illustration process, in her own words (Thanks, Barbara!):
1. The sketch stage can be very rough for me. Sometimes all I need is an overall shape to get started. Shown here amongst my notes about submitting graphic novels, is a tiny little scribble of a seal (a Selkie) reaching a fin toward the water as her daughter pulls her back. I wanted the overall composition to be circular.
2. At this point, I did a very loose sketch and color study to see what this might look like. While I thought the emotion was strong, the seal looked like she wasn’t about to jump in the water. The grass on the rocks also felt unrealistic. Growing up near the water in Massachusetts, anything that the sea touched wasn’t that green. It was usually rocky and covered in seaweed or barnacles. I knew that would have to change. Although this preliminary study seems to be focusing on color and composition, this is also the time that I try to wrestle with the values, or lights and darks in a piece.
3. Once I study the composition long enough and get feedback from my critique partners, I make adjustments to the sketch. At this point, I’m happy that the rocks provide enough room between the characters and the surface of the sea. I also feel like my study looks deflated in comparison, so I make sure to keep the stronger structure in the new sketch.
4. I keep noodling with the sketch even though it’s on good watercolor paper and I should know better than to repeatedly erase on hot-pressed 140lb Arches.
5. When I begin painting, I try to put in the lights and darks so that my eye can calibrate to the scope of the painting. If I keep everything too light for too long, it feels jarring to lay in a dark area.
6. Getting the eye of the seal to look better was a concern, so I tackle that early in the painting process.
7. Painting ripples on the water is a lot of fun. I play around with texture in the grass.
8. At this stage, I’m laying in more values and refining the details.
9. After talking to my agent, who suggested I move the satchel, I scrubbed out the area and went over everything with some gouache. I pushed up the color vibrancy, and then cleaned up the image in Photoshop. Voila!
Illustrations by Barbara DiLorenzo
And thank you for checking out this month’s TIC with Barbara DiLorenzo! If you missed our previous episodes, check out the TIC page for more inspiration.