Friday, September 22, 2006

Legends (Leo & Diane Dillon)

Leo grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Diane grew up in southern California. They met at Parsons School of Design and spent four years competing with each other. That's why they decided to join forces. They began freelancing soon after graduation. For several years they also taught Materials and Techniques at the School of Visual Arts.

The Dillons have won awards, which has helped build their confidence over the years. "It's great to know people appreciate what we do but we don't work for awards. They are the result of doing our best." They have been illustrating for over forty years and have completed over forty books as well as many book jackets and posters.

Illustrating is a fascinating career. When a new manuscript comes in, we read it then discuss what the essence of the story is and how we can illustrate it in a unique way. There are many ways to interpret a story. We toss ideas back and forth for days, even weeks. When the right idea comes along, we both get excited. Then we start with sketches.

Illustrating is a mysterious process. The ideas that float around in our heads seem clear until we translate them into image on paper. Then we realize how amorphous they really are. At that point we find we are both agreeing on the idea but the images in our heads are not the same. When one of us starts a piece of art and gives it to the other, we're often surprised. We have learned to flow with whatever develops. That's part of the process.

Sometimes we think we know exactly what we want but when the picture takes form it might lead us in a new direction. Being flexible and taking advantage of accidents and surprises is important.

Our next step is to work out the drawing. A slight change in a line can alter an expression dramatically and we may do several drawings or change one, erasing and re-drawing until we get what we want. It's magical watching the image take form. Often young people believe they should do a perfect drawing the first time, but that rarely happens.

The drawing is then transferred to the paper or board on which we will do the finished art. Then we start the color. One color might dictate what the color next to it should be. Throughout the process, we discover new ideas and possibilities, and decisions must then be made. The process is sometimes scary but also exciting.

The most anxious time comes halfway through when the piece is not looking good yet. We have to keep working through that bad period with faith that we have control and will work until we're satisfied. At the end, when everything is painted in and the anxiety is over, the fun starts with refining the details and painting in highlights.

Every job is different with its own challenges. We go through the same stages of anxiety, the unknown, surprise, and discovery. It's never boring.

Some jobs require much more research than others so we're learning things too. For our latest book, Rap a Tap Tap, Here's Bojangles—Think of That!, we researched what New York City streets looked like in the 1930s and 1940s, and collected photos of dancers during that time. At the Shomberg Library, we saw murals by Aaron Douglas, a painter of the same period. We admired his work and were inspired by the murals' overlapping shapes and colors. His work triggered ideas of how we wanted to illustrate Rap a Tap Tap, and while our final work is different than Douglas' murals, he was the inspiration.

We are inspired by many things: sculptures, paintings, architecture, and design. Most of our traveling is through books, discovering the beauty people have created over the centuries and around the world. We're blessed to be doing something that brings us so much pleasure and can enrich others as well.

For a list of their complete works Click Here

My Special Easter Egg
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