Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Puppeteer to Award Winning Illustrator- Interview with Cindy Derby

by Dorothia Rohner

I fell in love with her whimsical yet sophisticated art work and was intrigued to learn that she was also a puppeteer. She agreed to answer a few questions about her unique path and her artistic journey.

Q.  Can you explain how you transitioned from puppetry to creating illustrations for children's books?

A. My transition began while studying for my masters degree in Scotland and getting involved in the puppetry scene. There was an incredible culture of rich and dynamic theater with jaw dropping design. It was truly magical being a part of it.

Edwards House of Stringat the REDCAT, Los Angeles
I was a theater actor for many years, then an actor turned puppeteer, a production designer for film and to an art teacher, and even a stand up comedian.

The experience I gained from writing, designing and performing in my own shows opened my mind to what is possible. I secretly always wanted to do a book tour alongside a puppet show!

One-woman show Mr. Kyotos Aquarium Shopat the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles

My heart has always been pulled towards creating visually captivating stories. I find that picture books are another stagefor the quirky characters in my head to come to life. 

Q. Where do you find your inspiration for your illustrations?

I am constantly on the look out for inspiration. Recently, I have been researching compositions I like in old photographs and traditional paintings. While I am out and about, I take photographs of interesting shapes I like or sketch it out in my journal.  

I like collecting odds and ends and set them up near my workspace as a reminder of what I loved as kid (and still do today). 

I have been a painter for a long time- and love to revisit my room from childhood and relax into that world (I am happy it was just as messy as I left it!).  Its important for me to stay open and curious- the way I always was when approaching a canvas. 
Childhood Room

Q. Can you describe your process, tools and media that you prefer?

I use mixed media. My favorites right now are watercolor, charcoal pencils, ink, crayon and Photoshop. I am always picking up new tricks along the way- so it is always evolving for me- which keeps it fresh and fun.

First, I paint on various paper surfaces:
Splitter, splatter, drip drop plop, scratch, rip rub and cut it all up into shapes!

Paint and cut out paper shapes.

Then, I do a high resolution scan of the cut outs on my Epson Perfection scanner and collage them all together into Photoshop. I use a Wacom tablet while I do this.

When I am happy with the way it is looking, I work on the background. This is usually painted on a large piece of paper with very big brush strokes. Then merge it all together- with lots of edits and re-scanning.


Q. Congratulations on winning the 2014 SCBWI LA Portfolio Showcase. How has that experience helped you with your career in children's book publishing?

Thank you, Dorothia!  I feel incredibly honored and am super thankful for the support that the SCBWI has given me. 
Sarah Baker, Director of Illustration programs at SCBWI, organized a trip for me to New York and set up meetings with art directors at different publishing houses. It was a busy week- as it was following the SCBWI Winter Conference.  

During my meetings with the art directors, I shared my illustration portfolio, my current project ideas and a book dummy. I received wonderful feedback that is propelling me to the next steps in my storytelling. It was fascinating to find out which pieces in my portfolio the art directors were most drawn to and why.
In the next months, I plan to add new portfolio pieces that are more character driven.  I was told by Patti Ann Harris, art director at Scholastic:
 Don't be afraid to let your characters be the star of the show!

Currently, I am back in my studio in the Bay Area with my big fluffy dog working away in front of an audience of puppets.  

~Dorothia Rohner enjoys illustrating and writing stories for children that combine nature and the magic of imagination.
Twitter: @dorothiar
Instagram: @dorothiar


  1. Great post, Dorothia! It was lovely to see all the images along with the interview. Big congrats to you, again, Cindy!

  2. Wonderful interview -- I'm so enchanted by the worlds that Cindy creates!!

  3. Wonderful interview! I can feel your freshness and fascination with what you do. Love your work, too. I bumped into you on SCBWI. Your illustrations drew me in. I can't wait to see your work in a book.
    Children's Book Reviewer