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Art and Illustration
Children's Publishing

Do you have advice for young artists?

I was asked by a friend to give advice to a young artist in high school. Here is what 50-year-old Tony would say to daydreamy-teenage Tony:

• Don't stop drawing. It's a talent that takes years to refine.

• Listen to what people say, even if you don't agree with them. Teachers, friends and family usually offer advice from the heart and their experience.

• Copy every artist you love. If you want to learn how they did it, you have to be them.
• Being afraid is okay. But pushing yourself leads to realizing what you're capable of.

• Failure is part of success. I never get it right the first time, EVER. There are times I never quite figure it out, but I take what I learned and apply it to the next drawing.

• Success isn't money and it isn't fame. Its a feeling of accomplishment and creating something that didn't exist before.

• Satisfy yourself first. If you love what you do, others will too....and, of course, good luck!
Back to Questions

I am writing a research paper on you. Can you answer some questions?

As much as I am honored by your consideration of me as the subject of your paper, my schedule just doesn’t allow me the time to answer your questions in a timely manner. This is why I have created an extensive FAQ list here.

If you have one or two questions that you can’t find an answer to my studio manager may be able to help:

Please remember to give me plenty of time to respond as I can’t always reply quickly.Back to Questions

Do you do commissioned artwork? Will you design a tattoo for me? Can I use your art for a tattoo?

My schedule is full of various contracted book projects. Consequently, I’ve no time to take on private commissions, including tattoo design. However, feel free to use my existing artwork as the source for any tattoo you’d like. If you do get some ink work that you'd want to share, I’d love to see it. Send pics to my studio manager at: studio@diterlizzi.comBack to Questions

Where did you get your vivid imagination? Do you ever get creative block? What inspires you?

The truth is there are times when I do get stumped, where I do not feel inspired or very imaginative. Often I return to the place that sparks my mind—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.Back to Questions

Who are your artistic influences?

This is a very long list, but there are some who stand out that really affected me:

Arthur Rackham, Jon Bauer, Ernest H. Shepard, Norman Rockwell, Arthur B. Frost, Jim Henson, Beatrix Potter, William Heath Robinson, Dr. Seuss, Edward Gorey, Harry Rountree, Maxfield Parrish, Heironymous Bosch and Heinrich Kley have continually been an inspiration to me.

Some of my favorite contemporary artists are Brian Froud, Alan Lee, William Joyce, Scott Gustafson, James Gurney, and Kadir Nelson.Back to Questions

Your artistic skill is unique. How did you develop it?

For me, an artist’s “style” is simply an expression composed from a combination of the elements in other artist’s work that the artist finds appealing.

There is a quote (attributed to Pablo Picasso) that says, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I believe there is truth to that, especially since we emulate the things we desire to aspire to. The trick is to have MANY influences as too few may leave your work appearing derivative.

I suggest exploring as much art as you can and not just art within your chosen field. Despite the fact that I am primarily a children’s book illustrator, I have found mind-boggling inspiration in natural history, fashion design and vintage packaging for products. Keep your eyes and your mind open and just draw. Your style will follow.Back to Questions

I just graduated from art school. Now what? I want to break into illustration. What should I do?

I was overwhelmed with the prospect of finding work when I graduated art school in 1992. I soon realized I needed to polish my social networking skills and gain an understanding of business etiquette in the field of illustration. I contacted established illustrators and asked a lot of questions to those who would give me the time. From these conversations, I learned a lot. So, if you were to contact me, here are some basic points that I think may help a recent art school grad:

(Obviously, these suggestions are based on my experiences and may not apply to all. Consider them starting points for entering the field professionally.)

  • Create What You Like: If you like to draw caricatures, and want to get work doing editorial illustration, don’t put your fantasy drawings in your submission portfolio. Have a focus of subject matter and illustration type.
    This goes for mediums as well. If your desire is only to paint in oils, don’t put your pen & ink piece in your portfolio: chances are that’s the one style they’ll pick.

    I remember a friend of mine who excelled at watercolors, but did a real nice pen & ink pointillism piece (for a school assignment) that took him forever to complete. Though he was happy with the results, they did not come easily or quickly to him. He added it to his portfolio anyway, and guess what his first professional job was…a pointillism piece.

    So draw subjects that you like, and play up your strengths.

  • Assembling Your Portfolio: I’d rather see 10 amazing pieces of art than 15 with some mediocre images in them.

    Professional illustration jobs almost always involve intense deadlines, and a lot of input from the client’s creative team. With that kind of stress in mind, your submission portfolio is not always judged by the best piece (that you could have labored over for months and months), but by your weakest piece—what the client could possibly get as an end result. Make it look like everything you do is golden.

    As for adding sketches to your portfolio, it’s a mixed bag: Some art directors like to see your thinking process, others may confuse them for unfinished pieces. If you really want to present them, your best bet is to do so as a separate section apart from your finished work.

  • Apply Your Skills: Mocking up tear sheets is a great way to show how your art will work with their product. Don’t just show them your final art floating on a background, place it on the end product to make it easy for the client to visualize working with you.

    If it’s illustrating books you are after, make sure there is a book dummy enclosed, along with a few finished images from the dummy.

  • Leave the Goods: I don’t know if art directors even look at a physical portfolios anymore. They take up a lot of space and are a pain to pack-and-ship. My best advice nowadays would be to create a nice postcard or brochure pointing the art director to an online portfolio. Keep your website simple and easy to navigate while showcasing your artwork and a client list.

    Back in the late-1990’s I created several portfolios that could be left with potential clients. If the portfolios came back, or were rejected, I sent them to the next potential clients. If they kept them, or I heard otherwise, I assumed they were filed. From there, I would periodically send updated images (prints, postcards, etc.) to keep my name fresh in their minds.

  • Breaking into The Industry: Breaking into the field is the toughest part. Angela and I moved to New York City and I solicited my artwork for about a year before I was hired. Prior to that, I sent in numerous mailed submissions. But how did I figure out where and who to show my portfolio to?

    I tried to keep my goals realistic. I knew I wasn’t going to get my own children’s book series fresh out of art school but I liked drawing fantasy stuff, so I submitted my work to TSR, the publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons.

    Although I enjoyed working on Dungeons & Dragons, I really wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. While I worked for TSR, I continued to send samples to various children’s publishing houses. I visited bookstores to browse books and figure out where my artwork might fit in with a publisher’s aesthetic. With a stack of books in hand, I now had a list of places to submit my work.

    Most publications list their address somewhere on their product. As for getting an art director’s name, you can try contacting the publisher directly to inquire about their submission guidelines.

    For children’s publishing, there are also organizations that greatly benefit newcomers. The Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI for short) is a national organization with a great success rate. For artists, the student show at the Society of Illustrators offers another way to get exposure as well as illustration annuals you can enter like Spectrum: The Best in Fantastic Contemporary Art or Communication Arts. Many children’s magazines are usually more conducive to using new talent. All of this will help you get exposure and hopefully open more doors for you.

    When I could, I tried to drop my portfolio off in person—even if that meant I had to travel to meet the client. When an art director meets a potential illustrator the director has to determine whether they want to enter a working relationship with the illustrator. Personal contact could provide a memorable moment (something in common for instance) that may have you stand out amongst the hundreds of other people they meet and interact with.

  • Friendly Reminder or an Annoyance? A friendly reminder to an art director can quickly become annoying if done incorrectly. The art directors I know are always busy. They are handling multiple projects, with numerous deadlines, and are working with many people all at once. They have an intense job; therefore, dropping an email, or phoning repeatedly can sometimes damage your chances.

    If you’ve submitted work and haven’t heard back in 30 days, there is a good chance that they haven’t even seen your portfolio yet. Most art directors get numerous submissions a day and up to hundreds in a week!

    So, a friendly reminder can consist of a new postcard, a new tear sheet, or new personal piece, with a reminder that they can see more of your work online.

  • How to contact a client: “Don’t call them, they’ll call you”; however, many art directors do have assistants or secretaries. I found that talking with them (many recent college grads, by the way) gave me inside information as to what to send and when to send it—all while leaving the busy art director alone. If you contact the publisher for submission guidelines, ask if you can get the art director’s assistant’s name as well. That could be your one chance in.

    Lastly, don’t give up. I was rejected many times with my artwork and ideas. But with each rejection my resolve grew stronger, my portfolio expanded and I became more focused on my art and my career. If this is something you really want, keep at it—you’ll get there!

Back to Questions

Where did you go to art school?

I went to several schools during my college years. I started out at The Florida School of the Arts from 1987-1988. I then attended my local community college, back in Palm Beach, for my required academics. Finally, I completed my degree in Graphics Design in 1992 at The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. Back to Questions

What mediums do you work in?

I have worked in quite a few mediums.

1992—1993: The Dungeons & Dragons books were Pilot V5 extra-fine ball-point pen on laser bond paper. They were colored in Berol Prismacolor alcohol-based graphic markers and detailed with Prismacolor colored pencils and pastel pencils.

1993—1996: For Planescape I upgraded my tools. Understanding mediums comfortable to my evolving style, I moved into working on both cold and hot press Bristol board, which I would purchase by the pad. I began inking my work with Crow Quill dip pens (using Speedball's Hunt 102 and 101 nibs with sepia FW inks). Images were then colored in student watercolors and various diluted FW colored inks, which were also run through an airbrush. Details were then added with Berol Prismacolor colored pencils.

1996—2003: Magic cards, Magazine covers and my first books saw an evolution of my painterly work. I paint with Holbien Acryla Gouache on Strathmore 3 or 4-ply plate Bristol. Sepia or Dark Umber Berol Prismacolor colored pencils are used for layout and detailing. During this time, I stopped using an airbrush.

Pen & ink work was either done with the FW inks or Pilot microball pens. Preliminary sketches were done with a standard #2 Ticonderoga pencil.

2003—present: Nowadays, I use whatever medium will help me create the finished image I see in my mind. From The Spider & The Fly onwards, I started using Photoshop to help clean up my preliminary sketches and to fix minor errors in final paintings.

In 2005, I colored my work digitally for G is for One Gzonk! in an effort to recreate the spot color process that was prevalent during the mid-century. I continued this exploration with Adventure of Meno and with The Search For WondLa.

For general pen & ink work, I still use Speedball's Hunt 102 nib with FW inks. Usually I work on Strathmore smooth Bristol board. If I color the image, I usually lay down a base underpainting of Liquitex acrylics (usually Raw Umber or Burt Sienna) and build up layers of Holbien Acryla Gouache. My preferred watercolors are Yarka St. Petersburg professional watercolors.

My art mediums have evolved organically over years through trial and error. Experiment with as many mediums and art styles as you can to discover which work best for you.Back to Questions

If I send you samples of my work, can you critique it for me?

These days, I just don’t have the spare time to look through prospective illustrator’s portfolios and offer up a critique. Here are some tips and pointers based on common problems I usually see with a students’ portfolio:

The most common weakness in many young artist’s work is an inability to render the human form. Take life-drawing classes. Understanding anatomy really helps you understand how to get your characters to act on the page. Think of what animators have to do to relay emotion in the drawing. You need to be able to do it in one or two images. Don’t just focus on drawing humans from life, fill your sketchbooks with animals, plants, architecture…everything.

Experiment with a variety of art mediums to find what works best for you. Just because you admire another artist’s work does not mean you have to work in their exact mediums. Find your niche.

Study many artists, both present and past. My art is but a link in a chain of influences from all over. If you really like my work, you’ll find that I am influenced by Brian Froud who was influenced by Arthur Rackham and Jon Bauer. The list goes on and on. Find your own inspirations and it will help you develop your own unique style.Back to Questions

Any ideas where I can take a life-drawing class?

I cannot place enough emphasis on the importance of life-drawing. Try visiting malls, train stations, beaches, parks or any place that numerous people gather. Many colleges offer beginning drawing classes and if you audit the class it is usually cheaper. Often, independent artists groups will organize life-drawing classes though art schools or art supply shops. Lastly, there are a plethora of online courses and tutorials available.Back to Questions

What size are your final images?

Most of the time, my rule is to render an image 150-200% larger than its final printed size. But there are exceptions. Most Magic cards are 11 x 14″. Some book covers can be as large as 20 x 30″. Generally, most of my paintings are around 15 x 20″ in size and I usually gauge it by my ability to comfortably render the focal point in the image. Back to Questions

Can I use your artwork and images on my website?

TD: Most of the images on this site are published works. And many of these publishing companies that I have worked with own the copyright to the artwork.

If you are interested in posting my work from the gaming field (this includes Magic) on your site, you will have to contact the appropriate companies for permission. Several of the game companies that I have done work for have their legal policies online so check out their websites for more details.

If you’d like to use a few of my pieces on your own personal website, I ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

Personal/Non-Profit use only. If you’re using your site to make money—and this includes selling ad banner space—then that’s commercial use and that’s a no-no.

Acknowledge the copyright. Please acknowledge my authorship of the art either in the art or in text on the same page as the art.

Link back here. Put a link back to this site ( as the source for the art.

No modification. While you can crop art as needed, please refrain from using it for a composite done in an image-editing program.

The art that I create is my only source of income and, though I am happy you are a fan of it, I would hope that your respect its use as I do. Thanks!Back to Questions

How did you break into the gaming industry?

TD: After graduating art school in the spring of 1992, I began gaming again with college pals, and decided to submit samples of my work to TSR…I was rejected.

Most of what I sent to them was lots and lots of sketches of monsters. I just couldn’t draw enough of them. And they would be just sitting there, floating on a blank sheet of paper (a la the Monster Manual). It was like I threw out all that I had learned in art school about setting, mood and action and was just concerned with re-interpreting their designs.

With some help from my gaming buddies, I then went on to send sketches of player characters (dwarves, elves, hobbits, etc.) to TSR – I was rejected again.

Their first criticism was — nice monsters, where are the people? So, I sent them drawings of the player characters and they felt that they were a little weak. A good friend of mine suggested that I really try to make the characters as well designed and interesting as the monsters, and then it all clicked into place for me.

My last submission had the player characters doing things: fighting monsters, finding treasure, and exploring environments. Finally, in the fall of 1992, I was asked to illustrate a boxed set for TSR’s Dungeon & Dragons line entitled Dragon Mountain. It had taken me almost a year, and 3 separate submissions, to finally get in.

The following summer I went to the Gen Con Game Fair which is a huge fantasy and gaming convention (at that time) held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, I met with many art directors from various gaming companies and other artists working in the field. After sharing my portfolio there, I was on my way to illustrating many games including Werewolf, Planescape and Changeling.

This period of my life was detailed in the book Realms: The Roleplaying Game Art of Tony DiTerlizzi.Back to Questions

Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.