Interview with Artist – Suzanne del Rizzo

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I thought it would be fun to commit many of my Wednesday interviews to up-and-coming illustrators. As a picture book writer, I am often left speechless by the communicative powers of illustrators, and yet so much of my reviewing focusses on the words, because it is my area of expertise. I wanted to learn more about the illustrating side of the industry and promote some of these wonderful artists. Today kicks off with a new 12X12 friend, Suzanne del Rizzo.

Ten to tempt us:

JM What’s your nationality and where do you live? I am Canadian, and I live in Oakville, Ontario.

JM Illustrator or author/illustrator?  S I am an illustrator, but I have just started writing my first PB manuscript and working it up into a picture book dummy. I’d ideally love to write and illustrate.

JM You have an unusual art medium, can you tell how that all began and why you enjoy it? SdR I used to create polymer clay jewelry in my spare time, and always loved sculpting. When my children and I discovered picture books illustrated by dimensional illustrators like Barbara Reid, Jeanette Canyon, Susan Eaddy, and Kim Fernandes, we were all completely  captivated.  And the rest is history, once I tried it, I was totally hooked. I love the challenge of creating lots of different textures with plasticine.  For me, it strikes the perfect balance between sculpture and 2D art. Plus the dimensional aspect really seems to resonate with children, and captivates them in a unique way.

Tell us a little about your latest project(s). SdR I will be illustrating my first picture book by Lisa Dalrymple “Skink on the Brink” by Fitzhenry & Whiteside(Spring 2013)

JM What books (or authors and illustrators) influenced your childhood? SdR I was not an avid reader as a child, I just couldn’t sit still long enough. With my boundless energy, I would be busy drawing, painting, or exploring in the back-yard . But I do recall enjoying the classics like Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

JM What were your beginnings as an artist like?  SdR I was a very curious and energetic child. I would always be doodling or drawing something. I had a passion for both art and science from a young age and I had a quite a circuitous route to becoming an illustrator. I chose to do a science degree in university and worked in a Medical Research Laboratory before having my children. Only after having kids and delving into children’s books with them did I decided to follow my love of art and switch careers to become an illustrator.

JM How do illustrators go about critique? SdRI belong to a fabulous critique group called “The Creative Cup” (  We are a small group of illustrators with a vast range of styles. We aim to give constructive critiques by first pointing out the strong aspects of the illustration then noting areas of possible improvement ie. in composition or  perspective that might strengthen the piece. It is very helpful to have a few sets of fresh eyes to make helpful suggestions that we may not otherwise consider.

JM What does your work-space look like?  SdR I don’t have a separate art studio, so I have taken over our dining room for now. I have a big art desk with space for the containers that hold all of my yummy plasticine colours, and a big jar that holds all of my clay tools, and some kitchen implements too. I store my plasticine illustrations in pizza style boxes to keep them safe from little fingers. I have a big bulletin board above my workspace full of my illustrator friends’ promo postcards and artwork to inspire me.

JM Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them? SdR This piece I created for my submission to the SCBWI Tomie dePaola award. This year’s passage was based on “Chicken Licken”. I like to look at lots of photographic reference material to get my ideas flowing. I always start with thumbnail sketches then move to a full size tight pencil rough. From there I trace it onto tracing paper and use it as reference to ensure my individual elements remain the proper size. Plasticine has the tendency to flatten out with the weight of your fingers and before you know it, the character is too big.

I always start with the background and work forward.  The background is also plasticine that is smeared and pressed onto illustration board. Then the background elements are modeled and pressed on, using various tools  to achieve the desired texture. Creating the textures is such fun, and I use everything under the sun to create them, from clay tools, kitchen implements, I even make tools out of polymer clay (which I  can harden in an oven) if I can’t find just the right tool. Next I work on the characters separately, usually on top of a ziplock bag so I can peel them off easily.  Then I place the characters on the illustration and rework areas as necessary. I often end up with a pile of rejected faces or animals that my kids love to raid to use in their masterpieces.

Once the illustration is complete, it is digitally photographed.

JM Please name a couple of people that have mentored you or inspired you most and why?

SdR I have not had a mentor per se, but I have been inspired by many wonderfully talented artists and illustrators.  Many have been so forthcoming with advice -illustrators, and authors are the most encouraging and supportive bunch, and that is one aspect of the industry that I really appreciate. My earliest inspiration was Robert Bateman, I recall doing a speech on him and his artwork in grade 4.  This might explain both my fascination with texture and detail and my great admiration of hyper-realism. I also must mention Barbara Reid and her husband photographer Ian Crysler. They were both so very kind to take the time to answer my questions, in great detail I might add, when I was first starting in plasticine illustration and photographing my own work.  Another inspiration is my friend Jonathan Woodward, a fabulous paper collage artist/illustrator who started up this amazing blog called zero2illo( which  was instrumental and helping me get started in the industry.  I am currently loving  the work of David Wiesner, Cybele Young.

Five Fun ones to Finish?

JM What do you drink most during a day? SdR I drink strong Tetley tea with milk and sugar, must be the Irish side coming through. 😉

JM What word best sums you up? SdR animated

JM If a fire broke out in your apartment, what are the three things you would spontaneously save? SdR My family, plasticine illustrations, family photos

JM Cats or dogs? SdR cats

JM If you could be one children’s book character who would that be? SdR Wendy from Peter Pan

JM Suzanne, thank you so much for sharing your beginnings, and inspiration and process, as well as a bunch of fun facts! I love hearing from artists like yourself. I am now wondering how your science background influences you? Sounds like your kids are budding artists too! Wendy, huh? I would have been Peter, myself 😉

Do check out Suzanne’s blog here.

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27 Responses to Interview with Artist – Suzanne del Rizzo

  1. This is a great idea, and so interesting! You are amazing, Joanna!! XR

  2. Suzanne’s work is fabulous! Thanks so much for bringing other illustrators to us, Joanna. Looking forward to seeing more illustrations and reading their back-stories.

  3. This is great, Joanna! As a writer who wishes for enough artistic talent to be an illustrator as well, this was fascinating reading. I have admired Barbara Reid’s work for years, and Suzanne is obviously well able to carry on the tradition. Love the Chicken Little illustrations!

    I’m going to read this series with great interest. And I admire you more and more all the time!

    • Joanna says:

      Beth, i too loved the Tomie de Paola competition entry, especially all the kitchen utensils on the animals… really funny! Thank you for your enthusiasm for this idea.

  4. Suzanne’s work is so unique. I really enjoyed hearing about her illustrative process. She is very talented. Loved her website page. I love that she gave up her science career to pursue her passion. Although I see a hint of science in her creations. Also liked her Tomie DePalo entry. Great interview Joanna.

    • Joanna says:

      I love reading all about the process, Pat. I felt Suzanne gave us such a good glimpse, that we can picture her beavering away at the dining room table with a strong cup of tea beside her!

  5. P.S. I’ve posted a link to this on our Hub Facebook Group — hope that’s okay!

  6. Heather says:

    Great interview! I always enjoy reading about what motivates other artists and how they work. I look forward to reading more of these!

  7. Susanna says:

    What a great interview! Suzanne’s work is gorgeous! It makes me want to write something just for her to illustrate! I’m like you – very focused on the words – so it’s great to get an artist’s perspective. Thanks so much!

  8. Thank-you Joanna for the wonderful feature! I look forward to getting to know you and lots of new authors and author/illustrators through the FB 12×12 challenge. And thanks so you very much for all the wonderful comments, you made me blush!

  9. Joanna says:

    Suzanne, I was so happy for you to do the first post in this series. Good luck with moving more into the author/illustrator mode this year!

  10. Thank you for posting this wonderful interview. I find it very inspiring in that I too have decided to follow my childhood dreams of being an artist after having my daughter and spending nearly a decade working as a physio. Suzanne does amazing work: I’ve done some plasticine illustration as a teen and I can appreciate the challenges to work with it.

    • Joanna says:

      Helena, I am so glad you dropped in and excited for your new artistic direction, a,d wish you all the best in that. I hope you will drop by for more art interviews here 🙂

  11. Margo Dill says:

    Absolutely beautiful illustrations. Illustrators are amazing to me–I can barely draw a stick figure. Your medium is so unusual too. I really like it. Best of luck to you!

    • Joanna says:

      Margo, it was indeed Suzanne’s unusual medium that provoked me to ask for the interview. I am glad you found it inspiring.

  12. JenFW says:

    I’m a writer, and I’m fascinated by the illustration process. I especially love illustrations made from different art forms: sculpture, cut paper, etc. I’m curious how long, roughly, it takes Suzanne to make a single final page or spread with the plasticine, after it’s already planned, sketched, drawn, and traced.

    Thanks, Joanna. This is a great series idea.

    • Jen, Thank-you for the wonderful comment! To answer your question, most illustrations take approx. 20-30 hours each to complete(and that is just the plasticine, final art stage). It depends greatly on the amount of detail and size of the piece. I really enjoy other mediums as well, like paper cut,and collage. If you’re interested here are a few paper illustrators who’s work I just adore: Elsa Mora, Jonathan Woodward, and Kate Slater. Thanks so much for your question.

  13. khwhitaker says:

    What a nice interview. Suzanne is very talented. I love her work.

  14. I so love textured artwork – I have an affinity with collage/multi-media where the illustrations seem to jump off the page with a life of their own. Thanks for featuring Suzanne, it’s the first time I’ve heard of her work! So many fascinating discoveries in the kidlit world!

    • Joanna says:

      I chose Suzanne in part because of the more unusual nature of her artwork… and I want to choose from artists from different nations and those with very different styles.

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