Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 19, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Daria Peoples-Riley

Daria’s first job was at nine years old in the children’s section of her hometown library in Paso Robles, California. She worked a little, but she mostly read picture books. Daria loved basketball, drawing, and painting. Her dad gave her art lessons in their garage on Rose Lane, and Daria’s mom rescued her first self-portrait from the kitchen trash can, and had it professionally framed the next day. Today, it hangs in her parents’ living room as a reminder that our life’s purpose almost always introduces itself to us as a child. Daria earned a BA in English from UC Santa Barbara, where she found herself shelving books in the library once again and reading the writings of many notable authors. After earning a Masters in Education and 10 years of teaching, Daria became a full-time author and illustrator. Daria lives in Las Vegas with her family.​

Daria Peoples-Riley’s debut picture book THIS IS IT was published with Greenwillow/HarperCollins (February 2018) and I GOT NEXT (July 2019). Daria is also the illustrator of GLORIA TAKES A STAND by Jessica M. Rinker, a picture book biography about the life and work of Gloria Steinem (Bloomsbury, March 2019).


Below is an example of my process for I GOT NEXT. Each element is hand-painted and added individually as I move into Photoshop, so I work with several layers for one illustration.

Approved Final Sketch

First Painting–gouache and ink – This is a double page spread, so I placed the pole in the center and used the gutter to my advantage – mindful to not put anything in the gutter that is crucial to the visual story.

Added layers: sky color, leaves, shoes, hero, sidewalk texture, more foliage

Final Art: Added layers–mural, hoop/net, texture and color to sky, foliage – Deleted layers–tree, foliage to give room for the story text.

Here is my interview with Daria:

How long have you been illustrating?

I began creating my first illustration portfolio in December/January of 2011/2012. My students gave me gift cards for the holidays, and I promised them I’d use them to buy art materials.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

In 2012, I was asked to do a painting for a very small exhibit in downtown Las Vegas. I gave the original painting to my parents, but ordered a few prints of it and shared the image with Barbara Mulholland, a family friend, and she asked me if she could purchase one of the prints. I told her I’d just give her one, but she refused and paid me for it. Barbara taught me the value of my art.

What made to you go for a BA in English from UC Santa Barbara?

In all sincerity, I wasn’t brave enough to be an art major in college, though I knew early on I was supposed to be. At that point, I didn’t have a concrete understanding of what being an artist looked like as a career, so I chose English in pursuit of becoming a lawyer. A lot of lawyers write for children, so either way, I think I would’ve found my way to children’s literature.

What types of classes did you enjoy the most?

I actually petitioned the English department in my junior year because UCSB had a very British canon for core requirements, and I didn’t enjoy many classes at all. Changing my major wasn’t an option, so I expressed to one of my professors that I wished I could take more American Literature classes. She walked me through the process of obtaining approval, and I enjoyed all of my classes once I was introduced to writers of color—Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Sandra Cisneros, etc.

Was it studying English that inspired you to write?

No, I don’t think so. I never thought of myself as a creative writer in college, but I was inspired by story, which probably planted a seed.

Did the college help you get work when you graduated?

No, they didn’t.

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

I decided to pursue children’s book illustration (exclusively) around 2013. I took my first portfolio to SCBWI Illustrator’s Day in November of 2013.

What you think influenced you style?

I’m not sure. I think I just drew what I drew the way I drew it. Along the way, I studied the picture book form, but I didn’t pay much attention to style. With a limited background in art, I could only do what I could do, and the styles of the illustrators I studied intimidated me. Perspective, scale, pacing—the tools they used as storytellers influenced me much more.

Was THIS IS IT published with Greenwillow/HarperCollins (February 2018) your first picture book?


How did you get the contract to illustrate that book?

That book was found in a slush pile. An editor worked on it with me without a contract, and then passed on it a few months later. As she was working on it with me, I was offered representation. My agent and I continued to work on it together, and then we submitted it to editors, and Greenwillow offered a contract.

In July of 2019, you followed up with another book I GOT NEXT with Greenwillow/HarperCollins. Did you sign a two book deal or did you sell the second one after THIS IS IT hit the book shelves?

Yes, Greenwillow offered me a two-book deal. At the time, I GOT NEXT was titled SHINE, and if was a text-only submission.

You illustrated a picture book biography GLORIA TAKES A STAND by Jessica M. Rinker, about the life and work of Gloria Steinem with Bloomsbury that came out in March 2019. Was this the first book you did where you did not write and illustrate the book?

Yes, it was.

How did that contract come your way and was it hard to work on two books at the same time?

Well, I’m not entirely sure. I think my agent submitted me for the project, and the publisher chose me from their top three or four illustrators. It was definitely a challenge to work on more than one book at a time, but it was a very good thing for my growth. It forced me to really push myself, and I think I became a much more experienced illustrator between THIS IS IT and I GOT NEXT because of my opportunity to illustrate GLORIA.

How did you connect with your agent Marietta Zacker? How long have you been with her?

I submitted to Marietta twice through her website. Once in 2014, and again in 2015. She offered me representation the second time, and I’ve been with her ever since.

Do you think getting you Masters in Education and teaching for 10 years has helped you with the picture books you write and illustrate?

Maybe. I spent many years close to the hearts of children, and they taught me how to tap into my inner child, and trust myself as an artist, and a storyteller. Children, I learned over the years, are very uninhibited, which is inspiring to me because I try to create from that space of wonder and innocence. I believe adults who write for children are better at remembering who we are as children.

I see that you were involved in Mira Reisbeg’s Picture Palooza the other week. Did you meet Mira by attending one of her online courses? Could you tell us a little bit about that if you did?

I did. I took Mira’s online class, and learned a great deal. It is actually where I illustrated THIS IS IT. Mira’s class was the perfect way for me to grow, and build the confidence I needed to send my work to agents.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, I do, but I mostly work outside. It would be really nice to have an outdoor studio one day!


Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Um, I don’t know. Never say never. I don’t know what the future holds.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

I haven’t, but that’s a great idea!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes. I’m working on one right now as a matter of fact, and I hope to get it polished for submission by the end of the year.


What do you think is your biggest success?

How much closer I am to becoming me. It’s been a hard road to trust God with who I am, but I’ve come a long way.

What is your favorite medium to use?


Has that changed over time?

Nope. Haha.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Everyday. If I don’t work, I flounder like a fish out of water. I guess you could say my work is my oxygen.


Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Oh, yes. I try to get to as close to the subject and setting as possible, and I love to travel and live the experience of my subject.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes, in my first three books I scanned my art and composited it in Photoshop. For my works in progress, I am only using Photoshop to make corrections for final art.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes, it’s very helpful.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill? 

Oh, I love to dream. Haha. I’m not sure what to do with all of my dreams! For sure, I hope to travel more. And definitely, film. I think studying picture books sparked my interest in film. It would be pretty dope to direct a live-action movie or two.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two new picture books. I can’t say much about them quite yet, but hopefully, I will be able to share more soon.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Experiment. I like to encourage people to try a lot of different mediums. You may never use it for any portfolio pieces or published work, but you might discover something new to help you in your preferred medium.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator? 

Well, it’s important for every writer or illustrator to define what success means for themselves, so they know how to measure whether or not they’ve reached it. Success can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it changes over time once certain milestones are reached. Establishing a personal definition of success is important. 

In my opinion, the most successful people are significant in our culture because they add value to the lives of other people.  When I read their stories, I find they have one thing in common—they and their work became one at some point in their journey. 

The work they create flows from every fiber of who they are, and we celebrate them as success stories because it’s a level of authenticity and transparency that resonates within us. Their work inspires us to want to become the highest, grandest versions of ourselves.

Thank you Daria for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure to let us know your future successes. To see more of Daria’s work, you can visit her at: 




If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Daria. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,




  1. Thank you for another wonderful interview, Kathy!

    Daria, I especially love the people in your illustrations. They’re full of life and real in their distinct own ways. Love them!


  2. Daria’s work if gorgeous!


  3. Your work is so beautiful, Daria. Thanks so much for sharing your art and your experience. And way to go challenging the stodgy white, British canon in college!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: