Cindy Derby – Illustrator Interview

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Cindy and I have been FB friends for years and we tried to connect this summer when I was in San Francisco, but our timing never quite worked out. But that is okay as I always believe in leaving things to do so you’ll make a return visit. So next time I am in SF, I plan on drinking mochas with Cindy (as well as hiking around Point Reyes and up Mt. Tamalpais!)

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[CD] I am an author/illustrator. My most interesting ideas come when the words and picture arrive at the same time, and have a very symbiotic relationship.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[CD] I am from Marin County, California. I grew up on a hill in the woods— and I spent a lot of time in the trees with my two cats.

When I got older, I lived in Glasgow, Scotland. This is where I studied theater, performed in plays, and where I got passionately involved in puppetry.

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

[CD] While living in Glasgow, I went on a solo journey building puppets in my bedroom, and figur- ing out how to create a one-woman puppetry show. After coming up with an interesting con- cept, I received funding from Puppet Animation Scotland, which helped further my develop- ment and allowed me to travel and perform in festivals. Then I moved to Los Angeles to con- tinue my work as a puppeteer. During this time, I was also doing a lot of art journaling, and painted a lot of surrealist-style pieces during the late hours of the night.


Creating picture books is a conglomeration of everything I am passionate about—storytelling, theater-play, building new worlds and characters— while investigating the depths of our intri- cate personalities and emotions.

[JM] What did you enjoy about studying in Scotland?

[CD] Devising shows in a rehearsal space with various performers, artists, and musicians.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[CD] Watercolor

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a soon-to-be-released book or a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[CD] Certainly, Joanna!

So, my debut book as an author/illustrator is How to Walk an Ant. It comes out March 26th, 2019 with Roaring Brook Press.

This idea stemmed from a sketch of a character I did four years ago of a girl walking ants. She really fascinated me, so I investigated her further and after many various storylines, hun- dreds of book dummies, I finally landed on a Nine-Step Guide. Amariyah, is the Ant Walking Expert, so she is going to show you how its done in this book. Because…everyone needs to learn the crucial task of walking ants.

I created all the final artwork with watercolor and pastels. I used a wire and black ink to cre- ate Amariyah’s hair. I wanted her hair and the ants to have an erratic energy. 

Cindy and ants

After I painted all the individual components in the book, I gathered the pieces onto separate boards. Then sent them all to the publishers to be scanned.

How to Walk an Ant spread

This was my first book, and the very first time sending final art. So I definitely overdid it with the bubble wrap.

Anyway, after I received all the scanned files from the art director, I collaged everything to- gether.

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[CD] Pretty sure it was a Babysitters Little Sister book. I remember there was a necklace that came with the book that turned green very quickly.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?

[CD] I keep coming back to birds.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[CD] Right now, its somewhere I enjoy going running: around The Lily Pond at Golden Gate Park.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[CD] I don’t have any pets. But I pretend I do. There are cats in the neighborhood that pass through our garden. I named them: Garfield, Oreo, and The One That Stares.

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city/town!

[CD] La Boulangerie in Cole Valley, San Francisco. The mochas are $5 and dangerously caffeinat- ed. They also serve them in a giant bowl. After I drink one of those, I go on a cleaning ram- page.

[JM] What was your first paid job out of high school?

[CD] Working in the storage unit of a medical office alphabetizing thousands of patient files.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[CD] hard boiled egg.

You can preorder How to Walk an Ant here: and my website is here:

[JM] Can’t wait to become an ant-walking pro after I read your book!

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1 Response to Cindy Derby – Illustrator Interview

  1. Ha! Ha! What a very clever idea for a picture book – absurd and hilarious at the same time. I love her use of collage. Look forward to your review, Joanna.

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