Seven Questions Over Breakfast
(the Winter Blog Blast Edition) with Jim Di Bartolo

h1 November 19th, 2009 by jules

Freelance illustrator Jim Di Bartolo is one happy man. First, if we’re keeping our priorities straight, there’s his brand-new daughter, Clementine Pie, who—as you can see below—is so STINKIN’ adorable that he’s considering having her for breakfast. He’s also getting RIGHT TO his daughter’s introduction to Neil Gaiman’s world, as you can see left. He’s not gonna waste any time, no sirree. Smart.

Second, there’s his talented wife, author—and artistLaini Taylor, of whom Jim is very proud (and obviously enamored) and who has written several books Jim has illustrated. If ever there were a pair of … well, true literary sweethearts you knew were absolutely rooting for each other and working in tandem under a shared artistic vision (much as we saw recently with the DiTerlizzis), it’d be Jim and Laini. And, just last night, they attended the 60th National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner, as Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine, October 2009), written by Laini and illustrated by Jim, was one of five titles nominated for the 2009 National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. Yup, Jim is having one exciting week.

Last, but far, far from least, are Jim’s own burgeoning career and impressive artistic talents, which he’d probably be too modest to claim. As you’ll read below, Jim has worked for Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, White Wolf Publishing, and many others. He’s done the jacket art work and interior illustrations for many of Laini’s titles, including Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Penguin/Putnam, 2007) and Dreamdark: Silksinger (Penguin/Putnam, 2009). Lips Touch: Three Times, for which Jim created the cover art work and interior illustrations, is a collection of two short-stories and one novella, each story a tale of supernatural love and, as Jim writes at his site, “each pivoting on a kiss that is no mere kiss.” You can read more below in our chat about what else Jim is up to, as well as his description of the “prelude” illustrations he provides for the tales in Lips Touch, what Publishers Weekly called “tantalizing,” Booklist adding, “Di Bartolo…provides skillfully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations that are a fine match for the lyrical, romantic text.”

Jim’s breakfast-of-choice is a) a first for 7-Imp and b) the Best Breakfast-of-Choice Ever in the Short History of My 7-Imp Breakfast Interviews. What has he requested this morning? The “still-hot-breakfasts of my fleeing enemies. And, on those rare mornings when my enemies haven’t cooked before fleeing, I have a zombie-like hunger for adorableness.”

Okay, let’s just get it out of the way. Say it with me now. You know you want to, as that is one seriously beautiful puddin’ head child:


(Punkin head. Puddin’. Punkin. Puddin’. Punkin. Puddin’. When will the Cute Attack end? I seem to be mumbling and twitching a lot here….)

I’d like to thank Jim for stopping by. Again. He helped me out tremendously in March of this year, contributing questions to the Dave McKean interview. Ever since then—and, really, before then—I’ve wanted him to stop by for a breakfast chat, and I’m so pleased he’s finally here. You can also head over to Shelf Elf today for Laini’s chat with Kerry for this week’s Winter Blog Blast Tour. (See the bottom of this post for the rest of today’s schedule.) Let’s set the table for our breakfast chat and get the basics from Jim…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jim: Illustrator, who wants to eventually have something published that I’ve illustrated AND written.

Magpie, 2008

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

Jim: The Drowned (graphic novel from Image Comics, 2004), Rex Mundi (several issues with both Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics in 2005 and 2007), Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Penguin/Putnam, 2007), The Dragon’s Pearl (Simon & Schuster, 2009), Dreamdark: Silksinger (Penguin/Putnam, 2009), Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009). I’ve also sequentially illustrated a Ray Bradbury story for Scholastic Inc.’s educational line (2009), contributed art work to about two dozen role-playing game manuals for White Wolf Publishing between 2002 and now, and done some random magazine editorial work from time to time.

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Jim: It’s always pencil to paper first — usually on Strathmore’s Plate Bristol board, since it’s forgiving for lots of erasing, if needed, and it’s versatile for painting on or inking (or both). So, while I pretty much always finish my art in Photoshop to varying degrees, I most often will draw and then at least watercolor before doing whatever I’m going to do on the computer.

The three images above and the one below are some of Jim’s “random art — some that I’ve done for fun, but some that is in progress and
may lead somewhere in the future.”

7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Jim: Well, Laini and I have something that we’ve been working on for younger readers (not yet pitched!), and it is/will be very suited for 7-10 year olds. This is probably most in contrast to the comic book and role-playing game work I’ve done, because those latter two tend to have a smattering of neck-punching or face-kicking. I’m not going to lie to you…I do really enjoy drawing and painting some action-oriented scenes, but I don’t have any desire to go down the “gore” road. Because of a fair amount of action (though no face-kicking or gore), the aforementioned “young readers” project has been absolute fun, and I’m hopeful that it sells, so I can happily dive face-first into the lighter adventure-filled world we’ve created.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Jim: Portland, Oregon.

Beast Assassin, watercolor and ink (for White Wolf Publishing)

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Jim: The road was either short-to-medium in length or verrrry long, depending on when you start counting. It was filled with far too many uncomfortable interactions at events like the San Diego Comic-Con, where I was trying to smoothly work my way into conversations with editors who were complete strangers. I don’t recommend doing this, as it’s more likely to induce flop-sweat or nausea, rather than publication. Even so, it was through one of those nerve-wracking conversations that I landed a meeting with an acquiring editor at Image Comics, where my first book was published.

Specifically to the children’s market, it had to do with Laini’s Penguin/Putnam Editor, (the incredibly cool, smart, and funny) Tim Travaglini, liking my art well enough to ask Laini if I’d want to take a stab at doing the cover to her first novel. There were no guarantees I’d get the job, but he promised that if he liked what I did (on spec) that he’d take my samples to the decision-making meetings about the book. While I don’t recommend artists doing a ton of work on spec, sometimes it’s the only way to get considered and it CAN pay off. Here are some early pieces I presented to Tim, as well as a piece (the orange one) that was ALMOST the cover:

7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jim: I’m currently working on several projects, but unfortunately I can’t talk about a couple of them with any sort of specifics. (One of them is the project I mentioned earlier.) Here’s a teeny sneak peak of the art style of that one, though:

Two current projects I can mention a bit more specifically, though: {One} is a comic-strip for Barry Lyga’s very recent release Goth Girl Rising. The strip will run online for a limited time and was a lot of fun, since Barry is such a clever and pleasant guy — and an effortlessly talented writer to boot! Furthermore, it was a bit cartoony (which isn’t a style most people have seen me work in, so that was fun to play around with). I’ve also just been hired by Simon and Schuster again to do some interior work on an upcoming (2010) novel. I’m not sure if I can mention the book specifically, but I’ll just say that it’s a different sort of job for me as well.

Mmm. Coffee.Our table’s set now for six questions over breakfast. Jim’s got Clementine Pie, and I’ve got my coffee. Let’s get a bit more detailed, and I thank Jim again for stopping by.

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

“They’re already here!”; Promotional art work; Oils on Bristol paper

Jim: Maybe the most interesting way I can answer this might be to briefly walk through my process of illustrating a particular book. In the children/teen market, the most heavily illustrated book I’ve worked on has been Lips Touch: Three Times with Arthur A. Levine Books. This is a book which consists of two short stories and one novella that Laini Taylor (my wife) wrote. We were hopeful of it becoming a book the likes of which we’d been talking about creating together since our days in art school (where we met) — a heavily-illustrated novel. Lips Touch has forty-one pages of two-color artwork that, process-wise, was a long time in developing both in style and in concept. When we initially pitched the book, this was the art style (at the drawing-stage only) I included for the publisher:

I had done thumbnails for the book as a whole, choosing various details from each story to depict with my art. Once we sold the project to the publisher, I began to reconsider that more stylized (slightly cartoony) approach. Since we wanted to re-create the type of book that was reminiscent of long-ago illustrated novels (the sort of thing you’d see Arthur Rackham or Edmund Dulac illustrate), I began to experiment with a more classic finishing look that (once approved by the publisher) would be printed in two-colors (black and red). At this point, I was still choosing key moments from the stories to illustrate. Here are the three examples of finished art I completed for the book at that point in its development:

While the publisher and his team liked the look of the art, they began to wonder if there might be a more unique approach to using the art that wouldn’t simply show what the text was already describing. At an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Seattle, where Laini and I were doing separate classroom presentations, we had a long meeting with Arthur (Levine, the publisher of the book), who was in town for his keynote presentation at the conference. We brainstormed different ideas and later had the epiphany of prelude artwork. Since each tale has a backstory to it that also involves a woman from one or more generations prior, I could use that opportunity to tell her story. Our hope was that the reader would be able to get a vague idea about what was happening to that character, but still be somewhat in the dark. Then, when the text of Laini’s stories began, the reader would have these lingering questions about what they had just seen. So as you read each story, the tale told in the prelude artwork would click into place as her story unfolded. It was potentially a risky concept, but we’ve gotten a lot of feedback via e-mail and at signings where people “got it” so to speak and we’re just thrilled! Here is some of the finished art for the book:

Click to enlarge each image.

So, while that doesn’t describe how most books are illustrated (I assume!), it was an interesting, fun, and ultimately HUGELY rewarding experience. Other books I’ve illustrated have been lots of fun as well, but they more involved the straightforward depiction of a character that’s described in the text of the book, which involved a fair amount of concept design before settling on a final look for the person/creature. Like I said, I’ve still had a LOT of fun on those books, but Lips Touch offered such a different journey and rewarding end-result, because of its unique use of the art and since it was the culmination of an idea (i.e.– a heavily illustrated novel) Laini and I have had for over ten years!

Poppy, interior full-page illustration for Dreamdark: Blackbringer
(Penguin/Putnam, 2007); Mixed media

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Jim: Well, it’s a medium-sized studio space that I attempt to keep neat, but it often doesn’t stay that way for long. I draw and paint on a drafting table I bought from a retired architect off of Craig’s List, with my easel to my right (for the rare occasional oil painting). Next to the easel is my other desk that has my computer, Wacom tablet, scanner, and printer.

I work surrounded by a variety of inspirational art books, a small selection of robots and vinyl character statues, and—until painfully recently—our old dog, Leroy. Not to get on too much of a downer, but just this week {Ed. Note: Rather, the week in which Jim typed up these responses} we had to put him to sleep at the ripe old age of sixteen. He’d been with me since well before I entered art school (rescued him from the pound and was told, as I paid for him, that he would have been put down in two days), and he was always beside me on his bed on EVERYthing I’ve drawn, painted, and worked on digitally since. I miss him so much, like there’s some phantom pain from his absence — it feels like an appendage has disappeared.

3. 7-Imp: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Jim: Wow. There are so many people’s writing and artwork that has influenced me over the years, especially since going to art school. But, as an early reader, I would have to say that, art-wise, the things that most lit my imagination on fire were Saturday morning cartoons and old Hulk and Spider-Man comic books. Not realizing at age eight or nine that new issues of comics came out every week, I must have read the handful of issues I had fifty times each until they were fairly ratty. Thankfully, I still have them all!

Elegance, mixed media, 2007

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Jim: Well, I was lucky enough to have two of my favorite contemporary artists (Barron Storey and Kent Williams) as teachers of mine — and lots of others I’ve met at various conventions over the years. Without question, though, two of my all-time favorites are Dave McKean and Mike Mignola, and I’d love to chat with them over drinks. I’d especially have many a process brain-picking question for Mr. McKean! The final one is tough, but I’ll say Claire Wendling. LOVE her art.

“Venetian Jazz”; promotional piece; oils on canvas

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Jim: I almost always listen to something while I work. It can be anything from ambient or classical (i.e. wordless) music, to some form of alternative rock, to NPR or Air America Radio or a book on tape, to comic book or movie or tech/geek podcasts. It just depends on my mood and what stage I’m at in working on something.

The music with the highest rotation in the studio (some of which also crosses over to what I listen to in the car or at the gym) has got to be the two albums by Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. (Here are Laini and me meeting him after his concert in Portland a couple weeks ago.)

Other current and/or long-time faves include Bell X1, PJ Harvey, The Pixies, Tricky, Radiohead, Eels, The Radio Dept., Now, Now Every Children, Scanners, Faunts, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Aesop Rock, Animal Collective, Alexandre Désilets, Telekinesis!, The Joy Formidable, and lots of others.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jim: I also have some Partridge Family songs on my iPod. YEAH THAT’S RIGHT! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?! *ahem*

Interior art work for The Drowned by Laini and Jim, published by Image Comics (watermedia and digital)

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Jim: A tie between: “Laini” and “Clementine.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Jim: “Cancer.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Jim: Well, Laini is my muse, so she’s the answer to all of those, but in addition to her, things that “turn me on” creatively can include anything from action scenes/monsters/giant robots/tough guys & gals, to romance/the human form/whimsy. (How’s that for a broad answer?)

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Jim: Close-mindedness and the lack of empathy for others.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jim: “Asshole.” Have you ever used it creatively? For example, next time you take a bite of food that doesn’t taste good, call it an asshole. Stub your toe on a chair? Call it an asshole. It’s just fun.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Jim: Laini and I are both pretty in love with Clementine’s various noises, so I’ll go with one of those.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jim: Rush Limbaugh’s voice.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jim: I’d love to add writing (in a published capacity) to my list of accomplishments.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Jim: Auto insurance claims adjuster. (Note: That was my job straight out of college. A few years of doing that caused me to search inside myself and ultimately lead me to art school. So, I’d never want to go back to doing that.)

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jim: “How on EARTH did you and your wife live to be 400 years old?”

“Alien Girl,” mixed media

* * * * * * *

Photos of Jim and all the illustrations and drawings are courtesy of Jim Di Bartolo and used with his permission. Photo of Laini and Jim and Leroy and Jim taken from Laini Taylor’s blog. All rights reserved.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred. He was created by Matt Phelan, and he made his 7-Imp premiere in mid-September. Matt told Alfred to just pack his bags and live at 7-Imp forever and always introduce Pivot. All that’s to say that Alfred is © 2009, Matt Phelan.

* * * * * * *

Today’s Winter Blog Blast schedule:

The master schedule for the week is here.

22 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast
(the Winter Blog Blast Edition) with Jim Di Bartolo”

  1. I had a lovely dinner with Laini & Jim at the Kidlit conf in Portland last year. They were delightful and now, seeing him so happy about Clementine and Laini’s book being a finalist and on and on…it’s just such a happy story for these two wildly creative people.

    And Jim’s artwork – FABULOUS!

    Thanks for this one, Jules!

  2. This is one of those posts you have to read three times.
    First, you scroll through, and look at the pictures.
    Then you start reading, and say Mmm-hmm, and “Oh, that’s cool,” and you snicker quietly about the Partridge Family, and hum “Come On, Get Happy,” to yourself for a few minutes, and then you read the rest.

    And then you scroll back and look at the artwork again.
    And now, maybe one more time…


  3. I remember meeting Jim and Laini at the 1st Kidlit Con, and being blown away by their sincere niceness and tales of art school and living a creative life together. It seems that they both (and Clementine) just grow more awesome by the day.

    Jim, after you pursue the multitude of projects that you have in your brain now, will you write/illustrate one using the phrase “still-hot breakfasts of my fleeing enemies” ? Thank you.

  4. Fabulous interview! I am so happy to know them! I cannot wait for Jim to have his own book come out…love his drawings.

  5. Fantastic post, as usual. What terrific answers – and artwork!

  6. Thank you for featuring the talented and inspiring, Jim Di Bartolo! I am a huge fan of Jim’s work, enthusiasm, kindness, and humor. Not to mention, his awesome use of swear words. Fantastico interview!!

  7. Johanna, I know! The coffee I had this morning wasn’t strong enough, so I just called it an “asshole.” That was fun.

    Thanks, you all, for visiting. Jim is inspiring.

  8. Loved getting to know more about Jim. Entranced by the art, warm and cuddly over the Clementine references, and tickled about the Partridge Family. Fabulous interview.

    Shocked that Jules said “asshole,” though :).

  9. I dig your art, Jim, and I wish you luck with your projects to come, especially your dream of publishing a book that’s all your own, text and pictures. Maybe someday I’ll be fortunate enough to be in the position to ask you to illustrate my book covers! 🙂

    I’m a fan of fairies. I think I’ve posted this before – quite possibly here at 7-Imp – but I think your family would LOVE The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks. You are probably already familiar with it, but if not, pick it up!

  10. Oh gush-oh-rama. The baby, the “random artwork”, the fabulousness of Jim’s answers…
    Thank you thank you thank you…

  11. Love that artwork! And what a scrumptious baby! Great interview.

  12. Beautiful baby, fantastic artwork and great interview!

  13. Congratulations on the nomination for the 2009 National Book Award, Laini and Jim! Those black and red illustrations for Lips Touch Three Times are gorgeous!!!

    Clementine Pie is adorable, Elizabeth. (echoing your AWWWWW!)

    The Pacific NW is home to so much amazing talent, both illustrators and authors. It used to be my home and I miss it! That cloudy, drizzly weather is so cozy and conducive to creativity.

    Jim’s breakfast choice was pretty incredible. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking of it in future mornings when I have my usual.

    Thanks for an intriguing interview, Jim and Elizabeth. And for all the art. Loved seeing it.

    ~ Joan Holub

  14. Jim and Laini have a purity of heart and art that challenges people to be better at whatever they do. They are deeply sincerely just good and nice people. Jim has a Superman tattoo, and that about sums it up.

  15. Holy talentedness in the Taylor-Di Bartolo household. Wow. It was such a treat to be able to sit down and take a long look at Jim’s work. I loved seeing the pieces that were contenders for the cover of Blackbringer (loving the second one, with Magpie and crows viewed from below). And don’t you just love how much he loves his girls? I will read anything these two create together.
    Thanks Jules!

  16. Great interview! Inspiring and sweet, too. Beautiful, beautiful artwork. Love the orange-y almost cover, among other things… The new-project artwork is quite intriguing. Can’t wait to see more. Thanks.

  17. […] November 19 Sy Montgomery Pt 2 at Chasing Ray Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman Michael Hague at Fuse […]

  18. :o) Another wonderful interview from 7-Imp. Thanks, Jules and Jim!

  19. Jim is THE MAN! His art is dope. He is a sweet guy. And his family is wonderful.

    The Venitian Jazz piece is SICK! You have any prints, Jim?

  20. […] Montgomery Pt 2 at Chasing Ray Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating Thomas Randall at […]

  21. Great artwork Jim, your work is unique. Happy to see your family pictures while you are reading books to your baby daughter – these are memorable moments.

  22. […] DiBartolo @ Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast shares the contents of his breakfast: Clementine Pie. Of […]

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