I’m very pleased to bring you an interview with the very talented, Deb Pilutti. Deb has been designing and illustrating fun stuff for a long time. She feels fortunate to have a job where playing with toys, reading picture books and watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons is considered “research.” Her design and illustration work has earned many awards and has been published in magazines including Step Inside Design, HOW Magazine’s Best Digital Designs issue and Print magazine. While design partner at Oliebollen.com, Deb designed toys and products for the children’s market.
Deb now applies her childish sensibilities to writing and illustrating for children. Her illustrations for Idea Jar were featured in my post on Creative Writing. And her author-illustrated book The Secrets of Ninja School was featured in my post on Finding Your Talent. She is represented by Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (extracted and adapted from author website)
Thanks for joining me, Deb! Our entire family adores your newest book, The Secrets of Ninja School. I especially love that the main character is a girl who exhibits talents that are often considered feminine — empathy, compassion, communication, crafting, and a willingness to share her feelings. Best of all, embracing these talents is a key step to becoming a ninja. Can you speak a little about how you developed Ruby’s character?
Thanks, that’s great to hear. I knew I wanted to write a story about a ninja and I thought it would be funny if the character was not actually very good at being a ninja. Being a bad ninja wasn’t quite enough of a story, though. So I thought about what Ruby could be good at in order to come at the problem from a different angle. This might have something to do with my own athletic shortcomings, but I imagine that after the story ends, Ruby is still a little awkward at some of the ninja skills, or easily distracted during meditations, but she keeps practicing.
Ruby cures her companions’ homesickness by making each a stuffed dragon. She clearly understands the power of toys to be more than entertainment — to create a safe space, provide comfort, be a companion, and inspire courage. How was this storyline influenced by your own history of designing toys?
Well, I DO love toys, it’s true, and will probably try to get them in a story when possible. I have such nostalgia for the toys of my past, and for what they represent.
Your talents include print design, illustration, web design, lettering, and pattern design. How did you discover your talent for writing? Could you tell us a little about your journey into picture book creation?
Reading has always been one of my biggest passions. Still, I never thought about writing as a career option. And then one day I had an idea for a story. That idea was never published, but I was hooked and kept writing. Designers are visual storytellers, so it really was a more natural transition than I thought it would be.
I love your illustrations for Idea Jar — they definitely bring the ideas to life! Where do you find inspiration for your stories and illustrations? Do you have any advice for how to develop an idea into a complete story?
A lot of my story ideas start out as a doodle or a sketch of a character. When I’m intrigued by a drawing, I start asking questions of the character and try to imagine what type of situation she might be in and poke around to see if I can find a story.
You’ve spoken in past about loving the process of painting your illustrations in goauche. What is it about this method that you enjoy?
I like the smell, the little tubes of paint, the tooth of the paper. I worked digitally for a long time. It’s really nice to get away from the screen and to have a tactile experience. I think my work is different when I paint – It’s less precise. More surprises occur.
What’s currently in your idea jar?
I’m glad you asked! I’m working on illustrations for a story called Old Rock (is not boring). The idea for it came from a doodle in my sketchbook. A story about a rock sounds like it could be boring, right? At least Old Rock’s friends think so. Old Rock reveals her own surprising story, slowly and languidly, as rocks do.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m also illustrating a sequel to Ten Rules of Being a Superhero. It’s called Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero. I had so much fun with the characters from the first book that they are back for another adventure. Lava Boy’s superhero toy, Captain Magma, wants to fly more than anything. They devise a plan, which does not go as anticipated. Yes, I know…more toys.