Artist Spotlight: Leo and Diane Dillon

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Monday, April 13th, 2015

Leo and Diane Dillon are among the most skilled and versatile illustrators in the United States. The husband-and-wife team are most known for their wonderful contribution to children’s story books, such as Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears. Their work can also be characterized by stylistic diversity, with influences over African folk art, Japanese woodcuts, old-master paintings, and medieval illumination.

The Dillons produced thousands of images found on book covers, editorials, movie posters, album covers, and advertising, while constantly changing the media and techniques used to suit each project. Leo said in an interview with Step-By-Step Graphics magazine in 1997, “People always ask us why we do so many styles. We gave up our individual styles. Now the whole history of art—all the world’s styles—are our inspiration.”

It has been known as a commonality for artistic teams to collaborate on illustrated books, one partner furnishes the text while the other illustrates the pictures. However, it is far less common for both to produce art in tandem. Because of this, the Dillons have been able to turn collaborative art into creative masterpieces, combining their unique skills and focused vision into a kaleidoscope of new and vibrant styles.

Leo Born: March 2, 1933, Brooklyn, NY

Leo Died: May 26, 2012

Diane Born: March 13, 1933, Glendale, CA

Famous work: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975)

Facts about Leo and Diane:

  • Husband and wife illustration team who met at Parsons School of Design in New York in 1953.
  • Have collaborated on over 40 book illustration projects since their marriage in 1957.
  • Over the years they have seamlessly integrated their styles.
  • Only artists to win the Caldecott medal two years in a row (in 1976 and 1977); Leo was the first African-American artist to win the award.
  • Often use a motif-based on the number 3, as they were both born in the 3rd month of 1933.
  • Inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1997.

QUOTE: “Our challenge as illustrators is to decide how best to graphically portray words and attack the viewer. We don’t illustrate words literally. It is our job to expand on the words—to illustrate between the lines”

Illustration by Amanda Chronister ‘08