Illustrator Interview – Diane Perruzzi

Diane and I have known each other a couple of years online, originally through our work on uTales, I believe. More recently I have had the privilege of a collaborative project with Diane, a picture book  focusing on themes very dear to both our hearts — acceptance and gender non-conforming children. Normally I would be hesitant about such collaborations, but I fell immediately in love with Diane’s idea for PRINCESS MAX.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[DP] Author/Illustrator.

[JM] What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?

[DP] My family is Italian.  My mother’s side is from Sicily, my dad’s family is from Italy.  There are a lot of Perruzzi’s (spelled with one “r”) in Florence.  Being of Italian descent, family is very important to me. My stories are mostly family-based.  I’ve written stories about my father, my grandmother and grandkids.  One of the main characters in My Name is Ashley, a current work-in-progress, combines my Sicilian grandmother (Nana) with my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer decease.  Another work-in-progress, Grandpa’s Backyard uses my father as one of the two main characters.  My sister and I have been talking about doing an Italian cookbook for kids.

Grandpa's Backyard

Grandpa’s Backyard

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[DP] I’ve been drawing since about the age 12.  My aunt owned a cosmetic store; she seemed very glamorous to me at that time.  In her bathroom were Vogue magazines.  I absolutely adored thumbing through them. I started copying the fashion photographs in pencil.  I still have all my fashion illustrations. I thought I wanted to be a fashion illustrator.  Then Twiggy came along and, wow, I was in love!  I drew Twiggy over and over again by copying her from magazines.  My parents were very supportive.  They bought drawing pads and paints.  When I had kids, I started noticing the art in children’s books.  I still have my very first book I wrote and illustrated, Harry and Snuggles, about a boy who brings his pet snake to school. It was only 10 pages long.  I joined SCBWI right before they added the “I” for illustrators.  One day I went to Illustrators’ Day in San Gabriel when I noticed a group of editors going “gaga” over one particular artist’s portfolio.  She told them she went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.  From that day on I was determined to get into that school.  I was 49 years old.  After two portfolio viewings at Art Center, I finally got my acceptance letter.  Yay!

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[DP] At Art Center I got over my fear of acrylic.  Now, I love the way it dries fast letting me quickly paint over mistakes and layer as much as I want. I still have a fear of watercolor because it’s not as forgiving as acrylic.  It’s still hard to put the first bit of color on the page. I’m really petrified of painting large areas. One day I decided to think like a child, to just START with no worries about making mistakes and enjoy the process.  Honestly, this feeling kicks in after a week of fearful anticipation of beginning an illustration.  But when it does, it’s so freeing.  Now, I feel comfortable using both acrylic and watercolor.  I’m starting to experiment using mixed media and collage.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

Diane's workspace[DP] This mess is fairly typical.  My dream is to have an Ikea designer give me a studio makeover.  I’m using what used to be our master bedroom. I have the space, I just need to de-clutter and use it only for me.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

Close to the Sun

Close to the Sun

[DP] Right now, I’m working on several WIP’s.  One of them is near and dear to my heart called Close to the Sun about a little boy who doesn’t fit in.  He imagines another world close to the sun, where everyone is kind.  I’m using a conceptual style in acrylic, collage and pencil.  I’m very excited about this book.

Princess Max

Princess Max

I’m also excited about Princess Max about a boy who loves to dance and dress like a princess.  I’m actually tired of princess books, but there are not enough of these books for boys.  It’s about not being afraid to be true to yourself, and the importance of a supportive family.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to again and again?

[DP] I’ve been mostly writing issue-based stories, such as a granddaughter who is afraid her Nana doesn’t remember her name. It lightly touches on Alzheimer’s disease; children who are different in some way; relationships between grandfather and granddaughter, etc.  But I also have a few WIP’s that are whimsical, dealing with Halloween witches, magical tailors and saving the world.

[JM] Do you have a routine to begin each creative day?

[DP] Oh, my, I wish I had a routine!  I’m the kind of person who when I feel I’m in a routine, I get out of it fast. I’m a horrible procrastinator.  This is probably why I tend to self-sabotage myself.  I probably have a sub conscience fear of success.  I work at home, with a lot of time and I’m terrible at managing it.  But, when I have to, I get the work done, I just make it harder than it has to be sometimes.

[JM] How as being a member of SCBWI benefited you?

[DP] Wow, SCBWI has benefited me in so many ways.  Every time I attend a conference or workshop, I learn something new. Maybe it’s learning something new about myself, or some new technique I’m anxious to try.  Being able to meet and ask questions of very successful writers, illustrators, art directors, and editors is an honor.  I’ve never met a member I didn’t like.  I have to say though, there have been times when I’ve left a conference feeling very defeated with a sense that I’ll never have success.  Some of the portfolios I’ve seen are absolutely beautiful and you kind of get that “what’s the use!” attitude.  But this feeling doesn’t last very long, in fact it makes me even more determined to work hard.  And there have been times when my portfolio has gotten positive attention.  I remember at one portfolio show, Arthur Levine left a positive note on mine and then at a New York portfolio viewing, there was another positive note from him.  I still have it hanging on my wall over my drawing table.

[JM] Which artists/illustrators have been a great inspiration for you?

[DP] Lisbeth Zwerger, Maurice Sendak, Arthur Rackham; Chris Van Allsburg; Michael Sowa, Tim Burton, Shawn Tan, Bagram Ibatoulline, Mercer Mayer, Marla Frazee, Charles Bragg,  Kelly Murphy, two European  illustrators Barbara Canepa and CatZaZa, Oliver Jeffers, and my newest favorite, Melissa Sweet.

[JM]  FIVE FUN ONES TO FINISH?

What word best sums you up? 

[DP] nevergiveup

If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[DP] Florence, Italy in the fall.

What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

[DP] Unfortunately, I love to snack on M&M’s and coffee.

Cats or dogs?

[DP] Dogs, although I respect the arrogance of cats.

If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, dead or alive, with whom would that be?

[DP] That’s a hard choice, probably Lisbeth Zwerger or Maurice Sendak.

Where can we find/follow you and your work?

[DP] I have a website that’s I’m updating.  www.dianeperruzzi.com

Diane, How could I not agree with Florence in the Fall. Firenze mi piace molitissimo! I love your determination to go to art school at 49 and how you are gathering all those positive notes about your work. That nevergiveup attitude will surely pay off and I wish you every success with all your projects, present and future. 

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9 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Diane Perruzzi

  1. Love this interview! Diane, I’m so glad you shared your initial fear of painting a bigger space and w/c, and about self-sabbotage, well, everything really! But especially about perseverence. The image for Close to the Sun is a gorgeous melding of color! Can hardly wait to explore more on your website. Best of luck on your journey. Thanks for the introduction, Joanna.

  2. I really enjoyed this interview I think your work is lovely. We would both like to spend time in Florence. I am sure I can see the Italian Florentine influence in your work. Good luck with all your projects I admire all the issues you are dealing with. I did my illustration course when I was 53 so you were a spring chicken when you did yours.
    I love the colours in Grandpa’s backyard.

  3. Jen Hill says:

    You go, Diane! Never too late! You’re an inspiration to us all. And I, for one, would love to see those early fashion drawings!

  4. Beautiful interview, ladies. Your work is lovely, Diane. Loved the colours in “Near to the Sun” and “Grandpa’s backyard.”
    You sound very much like me, procrastinator is my middle name…lol. But I somehow get there in the end.
    Thank you Joanne for introducing Diane to us.

  5. This is amazing actually… a boy who loves to dance. Wonderful. Where did you find the beautiful old photos of dancers?

  6. Twiggy? There is someone else out there near my age.

    Seriously, this was a wonderful interview. I guess illustrators share the same anxieties as authors. I could totally relate. I love Diane’s work and look forwar to Princess Max — brilliant idea for PB. Diane, you’re going to do very well!

  7. Diane Perruzzi says:

    Thanks all! I appreciate the positive feedback! Beverly, I found the dancer images on google image. I appreciate that there are other procrastinators out there! There is hope! 🙂

  8. Erik - This Kid Reivews Books says:

    Wonderful interview! I love your illustration style Ms. Perruzzi! 🙂 I like “Never give up”!

  9. Rhythm says:

    Great interview! I really like the look of that Grandpa’s Backyard. It looks welcoming. And Close to the Sun looks soaring. And I know a couple of boys who like to dance like Max! These artist interviews are inspirational. I’m noted for never giving up! Especially when tennis balls are involved! Thanks for sharing.

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