Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 14, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Barbara DiLorenzo

Barbara Willcox DiLorenzo is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (1998 BFA in Illustration). She is a painter who until recently, ran a gallery in Ipswich, MA. The Wavepaint Design Studio was a combination graphic and web design studio as well as a fine art gallery featuring local award-winning artists. Wavepaint was also an intimate venue for lectures and performances, as well a classroom for instructed art lessons and open figure drawing.

In 2010 Barbara moved to Manhattan with her family, where she studied painting at the Art Students League of New York. Mary Beth McKenzie was her teacher for over a year in the field of realistic portrait painting.

Barbara is currently teaching a watercolor class through The Creative Center at Confucius Plaza one day a week. The rest of the time she is working steadfastly on building her children’s illustration portfolio. Barbara is also the proud mom of a wonderful nine-year old, and wife to a great cook.

On left, Barbara on location painting Hans Christian Anderson’s statue in Central Park during Saturday Story Hour – Sept. 18, 2010.

Barbara’s painting “The Parade” (below) has been accepted into the New England Watercolor Society’s 13th Biennial North American Open Show. The exhibition will be hosted by the Attleboro Museum, in Attleboro, MA.

Show: April 19 – May 12, 2012
Reception: April 28, from 2 – 4 PM.
Location: 86 Park Street, Attleboro, MA 02703

Here is Barbara explaining her process:

Process 1 – In the sketch phase, I try to work out my values and composition. Everything is a little rough and subject to change. But if I am happy with the overall concept and design, I proceed to painting.

Process 2 – These next three photos are a bit poor because I took them with a camera phone on wet oil paint in uneven light. But you can get the idea that the very first thing I do is lay down large areas of color for the background. I try to follow my sketch as closely as possible for placement because even small variations can alter the composition considerably.

Process 3 – In this step I begin to lay in the basic shaped and colors for the charachters. I also start to lay in a little more definition in the background trees and mountains, and light on the rocks and path. The colors aren’t there yet, but with oil I have the freedom to keep layering paint until I am happy.

Process 4 – Sometimes midway I take a slight break so that the paint can dry a little, and I can rethink any decisions that seem awkward. For example, I decided the left side needed rocks lining the switchback, and added them in this step. I increased the vibrancy of the colors, and punched up the contrast in the lights and darks to give everything more definition and form.

Process 5 – In the final stage, after adding a few more details, I scan the image into Photoshop and color correct the image. Often I use the rubber stamp tool to smooth out brush strokes that have become too prominent and disrupt from the flow of the image. I make sure to do all this correction at a high resolution so that when I print it for my portfolio, it is already at the right size. I can always resize it from here for the web.

KT: How long have you been painting?

BD: My mom is an artist, so my brother and I practiced basic drawing and painting at home in our kitchen from an early age. My school also had weekly art classes all through elementary, middle and junior high school. During the summer before high school, I took sculpture, figure drawing, and pen and ink classes at the local art college, Montserrat, in Beverly, MA. That was a turning point in my focus on visual art. I continued to take classes at Montserrat during the summers before college.

KT: Your website says you use OIL, WATERCOLOR AND GRAPHITE. Do you have a favorite?

BD: Watercolor is alive to me. When I place clean water on my paper, then drop color into a specific area, the pigments flow and interact. I can drop orange into a puddle of deep blue, and the colors won’t turn brown – they actually weave together, maintaining their integrity as blue and orange. A good watercolor painting is like a dance. The artist asks the paint to do something, and the pigment performs in it’s own unique way. If I place oil on the canvas, it needs me to tell it exactly where to go for anything to happen. But the beauty of oil is in it’s visible brushstrokes and rich colors and values. Plus, it is more forgiving than watercolor since I can paint over mistakes in oil. Graphite is simpler because I only need to consider structure and value, not color. I sometimes love my sketches more than the paintings because the mark-making itself has so much energy. So to answer the question, I really love all three.

KT: Have you changed your approach or style over the years?

BD: Ten years ago when I was pregnant with my son, I gave my oil paints to another artist to avoid the toxic fumes (if they stayed in the house, I knew I would use them). I began to work in acrylic, which was key to my painting series of plein air paintings called, “The Places We Shop.” With fast drying paint, I was able to capture the feeling of stores in a couple of hours. This led to a very loose style of painting. Having loosened up thoroughly, I later felt the need to tighten up again, resulting in another shift in my work when I returned to oils. Now I try to adapt my different styles to what suits the project the best.

KT: When did you get interested in illustrating children’s books?

BD: One of the classes that I took at Montserrat during my high school years, was “Introduction to Children’s Books.” Cut-paper illustrator Giles Laroche ( was my first teacher on this subject. He did acknowledge the long road for artists to become illustrators, so I think I have always embraced this can be a big mountain to climb. (continue…)

When I went to R.I.S.D. my major was illustration. I had a terrific collection of teachers that explored various aspects of illustration. Illustrator Mary Jane Begin ( was my color teacher, but also continues to be a mentor. Illustrator Fred Lynch ( was the first of several teachers that got me excited about the conceptual part of illustration. Most of our homework consisted of mock-ups on tracing paper with markers – just ideas. Senior year I took a class with Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges ( and Megan Tingley from Little Brown. This was the class where I identified that while I enjoy painting, the ideas and concepts of storytelling were difficult to get right. At that stage in my life, I worked so hard yet floundered so badly in my storytelling. I think they took pity on me for all my efforts and gave me a good grade. (continue..)

But my classmate, Jarrett Krosoczka ( ) made it look natural and easy, and dazzled our class with his stories and illustrations. He still does that today, but for the global audience. Even my 9 year old son eagerly awaits the newest “Lunch Lady” book release. Although I struggled and was not on the fast track to be an illustrator, I knew that I loved it enough to practice and be patient, and the stories would come. This year I am finally working in my studio full time on illustration, and lo, the stories are flowing faster than I can edit them!

KT: Since you live in New York, do you feel you have an advantage showing off your portfolio?

BD: I moved to New York in August of 2010, and did not work on my illustration career much during the first year. Instead, I immediately signed up at the Art Student’s League of New York, and studied with the incredible painter, Mary Beth McKenzie ( At the end of 2011, it dawned on me one day that I was on the wrong path. I want more than anything to create beautiful, funny and touching stories with words and pictures. Painting from life is a great exercise, but I had been doing it for 5 days a week for over a year. It was time to put illustration in front, as my one and only focus. So in December of 2011, I signed up for the SCBWI conference in New York, and worked on my portfolio. This year I could attend the conference by hopping on the 6 train and arriving in ten minutes – that was fun. I met a lot of people at the conference that live in and around New York, so I have started to meet for critique groups or SCBWI Metro events. I can see how living here would give me more access to portfolio reviews, but right now I have only sent out postcards. Oh, and I can walk to the Society of Illustrators, and drool over the paintings of my favorite illustrator, Peter de Seve (

KT: Do you have a specific portfolio to promote your children’s illustration?

BD: This past January, I started to build a portfolio of oil paintings for children’s illustration. But currently I am trying to work on several dummies at once, so my focus has shifted to story pacing and sketching characters, and isn’t that polished to post online yet.

KT: What types of classes did you take at the Rhode Island School of Design?

BD: I took a variety of painting and conceptual classes in addition to the required art history and English classes. Freshman foundation included three-dimensional art which was a lot of fun. One winter-session I took a metal-smithing class, which was fantastic and different. But my absolute favorite combination of classes was during the last semester of senior year. I took a creative writing class, where I wrote a story of a girl who still believed in mermaids, but was learning how to surf. I took this text to my print-making class and etched plates with the words and illustrations, that were then printed. With these prints, I worked in my book-binding class to complete my surfer girl book. This was my own thesis project for myself. The book-binding class was required to give one of the final project books to the R.I.S.D. library, so perhaps mine is still there.

KT: Did you major in a certain aspect of Art while you were there?

BD: Illustration, but had I understood how awesome Industrial Design is, I might have chosen that as my major. It’s functional sculpture.

KT: Do you feel the time and classes helped develop your style?

BD: I think I struggled a lot at R.I.S.D. But that struggle helped me learn three valuable points:
1. Every artist has a unique voice. We are not in competition. We are as individual as fingerprints, be it 3 artists or 3 million.
2. To express our unique voice, we owe it to ourselves to master the tools and to understand the concepts that great artists have already discovered. Ignorance of perspective or anatomy does not validate a choice to paint naively. Make choices from a point of strength, not weakness. If you understand perspective, you can more effectively break it’s rules if that is what you choose to express. Learn as much as you can from teachers, students, books, museums, nature and life. Many opinions will conflict, but keep learning.
3. Your ideas and concepts are the most important part of your work. As my teacher, David Porter, once said, “Anyone can learn to paint the sweat on a soda can.” Technique is valuable, but the idea, essential.

KT: Did the school help you get work after you graduated?

BD: My first job at DreamLight Inc, was a owned and operated by a R.I.S.D. grad, Michael Scaramozzino ( He tended to hire mostly alumni.

KT: How long did you run the Wavepaint Gallery?

BD: I ran my own graphic and web design business since 2001. When the “River Gallery” closed in my town, I thought it might be fun to have a combination art space and design office. So for a year, I enjoyed juggling my usual client work with the responsibilities of running the gallery. We had lectures, classes, weekly figure drawing, musical performances and author readings in the space. The artwork was mostly from local artists, as the North Shore of Massachusetts is made up of a cluster of artist colonies. I barely had time to paint, so my contributions to the gallery were low.

KT: What made you get out of doing that?

BD: My husband received a job offer in New York city, which at the time felt like the right move to make. A year and a half later his old position, and the entire Boston office completely folded. It was sad to hear of friends that were laid off in this process.

KT: Is it still in Ipswich, MA?

BD: Since I loved that gallery and was sad to leave Ipswich, it was important to me that the tradition continue in someone else’s capable hands. And thankfully, that is exactly what happened. Kristina Brendel took over, and changed the name to Time & Tide Fine Art ( She continues to run themed shows of local artists, and has added her own photography to the gallery. She also has theatrical performances from time to time. When I go back to Massachusetts, I try to pop in and say hi. But I follow a lot of the gallery’s happenings on Faceboook.

KT: Can you tell us a little bit about the Art Students League of New York?

BD: When I first attended the League, I was amazed at how many students could work in small spaces. But that cramped feeling didn’t last long, because within a few months, most of the steady students had become good friends. I relied on their feedback, and enjoyed seeing breakthrough pieces by students. The day I received my membership pin I felt so proud. Those are hallowed halls to me, and I plan to return soon. It is a place of community for artists as much as it is a place of learning.

KT: Is there anything you learned there that could be shared with us?

BD: The one thing I really learned is that when in doubt, observe in real life. You can expand on what you see, but you first need that foundation.

KT: Are you represented by an agent? If so, who?

BD: No agent yet. But I haven’t really talked to anyone, so that is on my to do list.

KT: Where do you paint?

BD: With a system of fans, open windows and air filters, I am able to work in my apartment. During the day it is my studio, and at night it is the family room. I have a cat named Boo and a dog named Bailey who keep me company during the day.

KT: Do you have a strict schedule for working in your studio? Or just a loose weekly routine?

BD: The Art Student’s League got me into a good routine which I have preserved. I work like a dog from 8am until 10:40 am, (which is the 20 minute model break at the League). Then I work from 11am until about 3pm when I have to pick up my son from school. By then I am on duty as mom, and less productive for the rest of the day. I teach one day a week through the Creative Center (

KT: Are there any marketing things you have done that helped you get additional work?

BD: Right now I send postcards out, maintain my website, try to post weekly on a blog for Illustration Friday, and post in-progress photos on Facebook. Attending SCBWI events helps as well, since it’s easy to meet people and talk about something we all love.

KT: What was the first thing you painted and got paid for?

BD: The very first piece of artwork I sold was an elephant done in scratchboard. The headmaster of the school asked to buy it from me, and I said, “The price is $100, but you can pay me $75 if that is better for you.” He paid $75, which was my first lesson in the world of business.

KT: Have you ever used Photoshop to readjust your illustrations?

BD: When I left college, I took a job as a web/graphic designer to support myself. I put my illustration career to the side, but continued to paint on weekends. My full-time job had me in Photoshop for several hours every day. I became fluent in Photoshop, and so to this day, when I scan in a painting, I cannot help but enhance it if it is an illustration. If it is a painting for an art show, I only attempt to color correct so that it reflects the real piece.

KT: Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow illustrators that might help them become more successful?

BD: The words of wisdom I have are simple. Illustration and storytelling is a journey. For some it is a quick, yet hard, path right up the mountain. For others it’s a longer hike, with many stops. No matter what path you are on, or how many set-backs you have experienced, just know in your heart that you can make progress towards your goal if you really work at it. So simply put, never give up.

Below is portrait titled, Over the Shoulder that was done in oils.

Below is a portrait titled, Nonna that was painted using watercolors.

Below is an example of one of Barbara’s Black and White drawings.

Thank you Barbara for sharing your work with us. If you are attending the June NJSCBWI Conference in Princeton you will be able to meet Barbara and see her artwork in the art exhibit. You can visit Barbar’s website at:  

If you have a minute, I am sure Barbara would love you to leave a comment for her, here.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a great interview. Congratulations Barbara!


    • Thank you Adrienne! We need another drawing session at AMNH!


      • I’m definitely want another session. I’ll email you.


  2. wonderful interview with a talented artist – really enjoyed this!


  3. Love your work Barbara! Best of luck landing your first children’s book!


    • Thank you very much Denise. I appreciate the encouragement.


  4. Barbara, your work has such depth, and the oils are so rich with brushstrokes so visible, it was like could “feel” the paintings. Wonderful stuff. And I have to say, the one with the three mice peering through the window made my heart melt, though they were looking at a snowy landscape. Adorable!

    Also, when you mentioned the Arts Students League, it brought me back about 37 years. I attended it for a very brief time, straight out of high school, ’cause I didn’t want to waste my parents’ money going to Pratt Institute (I wasn’t very driven as a kid) and the League enabled me to choose taking only a couple of classes that, if I wanted to, could be applied toward college credits. . At that age I wasn’t able to appreciate what the League could’ve taught, only took the couple of classes, and needless to say—I didn’t go to college. But—it was an experience, and I loved the old, weathered, historical feel of the place (though they may have changed things since then! lol).

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your work and process, and as always, thanks, Kathy, for the time this takes 🙂


    • Thank you Donna Marie. The Art Students League is still a great weathered place with a lot of history. And if you are able to return, I think you will enjoy the artistic community that continues to thrive for all ages, cultures, backgrounds and levels of experience. I love it for that reason.
      Well said in regards to Kathy. What a great service for the writing and illustration community! Thank you so much Kathy!


  5. Ms DiLorenzo is certainly a talented and versitile artist. While this is a wonderful selection of her work, I must say, the expression on the face of the wave getting ready to wipe out that kid’s sandcastle is my favorite. So simple, yet so expressive. Barbara did a great job on all of her drawings.


    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoy finding out which pieces resonate with different people. in the beginning I did not have eyes on the wave, but my nine-year old son told me they were needed. I have to say he was right, because it created two characters, whereas before the wave looked ominous.
      Thank you again for your feedback. I appreciate it.


  6. This was very interesting, thank you. Your (Barbara) oils and watercolors have very different feels. I look forward to seeing your finished book! I am sure it will be wonderful.


  7. I just saw your wonderful painting of a mermaid at her drawing board on this morning’s “Writing & Illustrating”. I love her. And she lead me back to this great feature. I love your work, especially your brushstrokes.


  8. Your work is just beautiful. What an inspiration. Thank you.


  9. Interesting interview and love the work. I would be interested in knowing what brand paints you use and what your favorite paper is, or do you work on canvas? Thanks!


  10. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.

    Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking and
    checking back often!


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