Tony DiTerlizzi - Illustrator
Tony DiTerlizzi is the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book The Spider and the Fly and the coauthor and illustrator of the best-selling The Spiderwick Chronicles. He grew up in an artistic household in South Florida and quickly gravitated toward fantasy and whimsical stories. In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, he has also worked in gaming. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, Angela, and their pug, Goblin.
RIF: What was your inspiration for the idea and art of The Spiderwick Chronicles? What's the writing and illustrating process like with co-author Holly Black?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I am a tremendous fan of old fairy tales like those of the brothers Grimm and Hans Anderson. Spiderwick was certainly inspired by these dark and beguiling stories that Holly and I both enjoyed as children.
Holly and I have both written before (Holly has written several young adult novels, and I several picture books), so we met halfway in the format of middle reader books and collaborated together on the plot and story arcs. At the end of the day, Holly went off and wrote the books while I prepared the art.
Unlike other author/illustrator collaborations, though, we constantly exchanged feedback blurring the lines of our roles in an effort to create the best book possible. That is why there is no “written by” or “illustrated by” credit on the books. We both contributed so much to each other’s role.
RIF: Are you a part of The Spiderwick Chronicles movie ?
TD: I am as much a part of the movie as I need to be. Holly and I have both added notes and thoughts to the various incarnations of the script, and I have met with the folks at Industrial Light & Magic and Phil Tippett Studios who are doing all the creature effects for the film…and they are AMAZING! They’ve taken my designs and truly brought them to life. It is surreal when you see them moving around on screen.
The thing to keep in mind is that the filmmakers are taking a five-book serial and converting it into a three-act structure. So some scenes will be rearranged, changed, or not make it into the final movie. I am completely fine with that knowing that Mark Waters (the director) really understands the spirit of the books and is working hard to capture it on film.
RIF: How much research do you do before beginning an illustration?
TD: I do as much research as necessary. If the subject is something I’ve never rendered before, then I either take pictures of it, or find as many photos as I can. This can be seen in many of the antique artifacts illustrated in Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide.
If it is a made-up critter, like the creatures in G is For One Gzonk, then I just imagine freely with shapes and forms and fill in the appropriate features. In fact, many of the faeries in Spiderwick were done in the same fashion – I just supplied referenced details from living animals to make them appear very realistic.
Illustration is an illusion – a magic window into another world. For me, the world can be very realized or abstract and fun like a cartoon. It just depends on what the story is telling me it needs.
RIF: Do you spend a lot of time outdoors? What's the weirdest creature you've ever seen in real life?
TD: I do spend a lot of time outside, either poking around our yard or hiking on trails. I am fascinated by nature’s endless variety of shapes, forms, textures and details.
Insects have fascinated me since I was a kid growing up in South Florida. Their alien shapes and odd behavior are a great inspiration to me. All the sprites in Spiderwick were clearly inspired by insects and tropical flowers and orchids.
I would say the weirdest creature I’ve ever seen is my dog Goblin. (I mean, I guess you can technically call her a dog). She’s a pug, which means she snorts (and eats) like a pig, follows you around like a housecat, and is shaped like a potato…and that’s why I love her.
RIF: You've re-imagined art for Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan. How do you go about doing that?
TD: You go about it very carefully. Seriously, this is sacred ground for many readers, and you have to treat it accordingly. These two stories were very big in my household growing up. They are woven into my imagination and will always be a big inspiration to me. So re-imagining them is a daunting task at best.
For Pooh, I wanted to hearken back to the original drawings by Ernest H. Shepard, which were based on Christopher Milne’s actual toys. I wanted to capture the worn, loved/played-with feeling of the toys, I felt like that was what gave them their soul.
For Pan in the official sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet, it was a little more harrowing. Peter represents a notion and idea of never-ending childhood, and that is something that may be visualized differently by different people.
Interestingly, in both cases I wanted to go against what had been done in the Disney movies. It’s not that I don’t care for the visual design in these films, but I wanted to acknowledge that they were based on stories that were popular in books long before these animated films were made. It seems for so many that these movies are their only point of reference for these classic literary characters.
RIF: Was it hard to create all the creatures for G is for One Gzonk?
TD: It was hard picking which creatures I would keep and which ones had to be pulled to wait for another book to call home! I drew so many of them ...
You see, after coming off of the intensely detailed and realistic paintings of Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide, I wanted to do a book that was simple in design and concept. So I began doodling these alphabet creatures or "creachlings" as I call them. I love Dr. Seuss' art and the production of children's books from the 1940's-50's that were usually colored with flat tones and I wanted to explore that in a modern book.
RIF: You have such a great website? Do you communicate with your fans a lot through it?
TD: Thank you! I try to reach out and speak to my fans as much as I can through my website, which has been around since 1994 when I began working for Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and many other role-playing games.
Over the years many fans of my earlier work have also followed me through my other projects, like my kid’s books, and that is definitely due to my connection with people on my site. Also, it’s a great way to connect with the folks who have just been introduced to my work.
I wanted my site to not only represent my artwork, but also give a clear vision of my personality. In addition, I can explain what I was trying to achieve in my latest book and share with them some of the sketches and process that went into making it. I love having that open conduit to my fans.
RIF: Have you ever thought of creating your own game?
TD: I actually do have an idea for a game. It’s like a fantasy board game that the whole family can play. I showed it to my wife, Angela, and to Holly as well, and they thought it was pretty neat. I’ll have to add it to my lengthy “to do” list behind the bazillion other books I want to finish.
Learn more about Tony on his website!