Thursday, April 2, 2015

Featured Illustrator Diana Magnuson


This questionnaire goes back to a popular parlor game in the early 1900s. Marcel Proust filled it out twice. Some of our questions were altered from the original to gain more insight into the hearts and minds of our illustrators. We hope you enjoy this way of getting to know everybody.

1. Your present state of mind?

Excitement. I’m in a life-changing transition with my art, my thinking and my focus.

2. What do you do best?

Currently: Allegorical-nature-activist illustrations and writing intermingled with magical realism.

3. Where would you like to live?

Right here in Marquette near Lake Superior surrounded by woods, rivers, cliffs, and gardens —or outside Seattle with its ‘Irish’ climate of misty forests and cool, soft rains.

4. Your favorite color?

Whatever the current art wants. Personally? —Blue-green or a sunset’s salmon orange-pink.

5. Three of your own illustrations:

Eden II

May's Garden

Seahag Ocean Tunnel

6. Your music?

Opera in my studio —and Leonard Cohen

7. Your biggest achievement?

I thought it would be my art milestones (97 workbooks, education and trade picture books), but it’s my family. We are blessed with an incredible, learning and sharing relationship with our two adult children and their spouses —and two infant granddaughters who out-energize us.
Learning to consistently think critically and to love a good challenge. My creative forces increased. Before, I often spent 85% of my time drawing and 15% designing/thinking. Now, it’s 40% drawing and 60% designing/thinking. I write three sequential columns —project parameters in the first and then any images/ideas that pop into my head for the next two columns; sketch multiple thumbnails and prepare value roughs. For the final art, each step is done with as much full awareness and openness to what the story and art want as I can muster.

8. Your biggest mistake?

I could always draw well, but I didn’t always implement critical thinking. Likely the TV that kept me company in my studio to dull the mind gremlins got in the way.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

Anderson and Grimm fairy tales. I also read every book on animals in the elementary school libraries.

10. Your main character trait?

Wide-ranging curiosity.
I’m fascinated by human behavior. Facial expression and body language are important in my art. It seems that in our hyper-speed world the instinctual ability to read those expressions is being lost.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

Loyalty, curiosity, empathy, openness, problem-solving abilities and depth.

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Those efforts resulting from #11

13. Your favorite children's book hero?

Actually my favorites are in animation: Po in Kung Fu Panda and Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. Both struggle yet continue to hold onto their dreams.

14. What moves you forward?

Humor, nature, and learning. The ‘dark side’ attracts me. My concern about the environment has skyrocketed, most likely connected to the arrival of my two granddaughters.

15. What holds you back?

Finally, nothing. At 60, I found confidence and at long last, an ego. I am much relieved to no longer sabotage myself. I can work through and past doubt, when it shows it’s gleeful face.

16. Your dream of happiness?

Writing and illustrating my own books: I submitted one in February and the 2nd is within a month of readiness. The third is fomenting.
Finishing a series of paintings inspired by my concerns over environmental degradation.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

Gennady Spirin: his Russian traditional art training, his research, and his focus.

18. What super power would you like to have?

A magic wand to vaporize weapons around the world and replace damaged environments with healthy habitats —for all species.

19. Your motto?

Eyes Wide Open

20. Your social media?

I cancelled with my agent in December to develop own marketing including my website and Facebook. Because my work is very detailed, it’s also time-consuming and since I like in-depth illustrations about life, various social media sites seem too limited. We’ll see. I do appreciate Arthur Levine saying it’s okay that one of his writers doesn’t do social media.

Thanks to all the good folks at SCBWI and a huge thank-you to my critique group. I hope to see you all at the October conference!


  1. Wonderful, inspiring post, Diana. Thank you.

  2. Diana, thanks for sharing your illustrations. They're all so vibrant and intricate, yet each is totally unique. Very inspiring.

  3. Beautiful illustrations and insightful interview! Thanks!

  4. I've always been a huge fan of Diana's art. Keep up the great work!

  5. Beautiful, colorful, and fun illustrations! Thank you, Diana, for sharing!

  6. My publisher crit for my submissision came back at midnight last night. I'm feeling good about it. (of course, better would have been if it had been accepted, but I can work with this)

    "Thanks so much for sending me ________, which I really enjoyed reading. I’m so glad you were able to attend the conference.

    The premise here is fascinating, and I found the folkloric details both engaging and richly drawn. _____ is a brave young heroine that young readers should root for. Even so, as much as I admire aspects of the project, in the end the telling kept me at a distance rather than pulling me in. Perhaps it was the third person point of view that made it more difficult for me to really connect with ______."

    I can rewrite it to first person -actually did last year, but changed the POV. Hunger Games is written in 1st Person Present Tense. Bought it. Don't like it It's too immediate for me. I ordered D.J. Hales Pendragon series. That's touted as a great example. I've been researching this for hours: middle grade kids need first person so they can identify more readily with the character. The 'telling' will take some thinking. But, there are questions I can ask to make sure I've worked it through.