Introducing: Len DiSalvo

Len DiSalvo originally hails from San Jose, CA. He attended San Jose State University and earned his illustration degree before entering the real world, illustrating for print (mostly magazine) and a few years for a small game company in Santa Clara. Len has freelanced on many print projects including greeting cards, temporary tattoos, comics, licensing, etc. In 1999 he moved to Tucson, Arizona where he mainly works as a children’s book illustrator for Lima Bear Press on the series of books called “The Lima Bear Stories” by Tom and Peter Weck. Len also teaches at the Southwest University for Visual Arts (specializing in 2D traditional animation and illustration), and moonlights as a scorekeeper for a company that keeps detailed records of minor league baseball games.

We spoke with Len about his experiences in the art field:

Why did you choose to go into Illustration?

Len: It was always something I wanted to do. I like telling stories and since I had always been into art, it was a natural route for me to take. I do a good amount of editorial/print illustration that allows for storytelling opportunities, especially in children’s books. Animation was also something I wanted to do for the same reasons, and luckily I can cross over into each with no problems.

Who is your role model and why?

Len: A very good question. I must go with Walt Disney; I will likely never raise myself to his lofty heights, but he was very persistent—he came from nothing, and through all the struggles achieved much. I have great respect for what he and his studio were able to accomplish, as well as the high standards they set and the innovations they created and continue to create. Animation and story telling, as well as film and entertainment in general owe a great debt to him. My earliest drawings as a child were often of Disney characters, particularly the seven dwarfs

What is your favorite art media to work in?


Len: My absolute favorite is gouache; a watercolor type of paint that has finer pigment and can be used in a more versatile manner, both opaquely and transparent. I like to add prisma pencil, or even pastel. It works well with it’s sister paint, watercolor. I favor the Windsor & Newton designers gouache overall, with Graham coming as number two. I use a variety of round brushes, and they vary by maker (Grumbacher, Robert Simmons, W & N, La Comeille); I also use both sable and the synthetic. Whenever possible, I render on two ply cold press illustration board. I start with a graphite drawing, fix it to the paper (with workable fix or just water), start with transparent washes and build from there. Prisma pencil details are last if I decide to use them.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Len: There are so many places that inspire me. Nature is huge—hikes through the desert or forest can be very inspiring. Museums, dark theaters. Doing a lot of kid’s art, I find being around children is a huge inspiration.

If you hadn’t become an Illustrator, what might you have done?

Len: Wow. Like many artists, I have a large and eclectic love of many things. I still use my acting in animation, and I still pursue my love of baseball through scorekeeping—I might have gone further into baseball, though not as a player (although I do still play on a low level). Just before I began teaching, I was to be a backpacking guide—I may have done that! The biggest thing may be in the cooking field—while I have never aspired to be a restauranteur, I have cooked for many parties, particularly barbecue, which I began competing locally; my wife would love it if I ran a food truck and served up comfort foods and meat dishes that I specialize in.

If you were writing your epitaph, what would you say?

Len: Hmmmmm… Not sure of the exact words, but maybe something in the storytelling range. Actually, having surrounded myself with stuff I marveled at and enjoyed as a kid, it would probably go something like: “He never lost his child-like love of things he loved as a child.”

What was the best day of your life?

Len: The day I married my wife, Shannon. If children are ever in my future, that may trump it. I have had many great days.

Where is your creative place?

Len: I have my studio set up so that the rest of my inspiration is there with me; heavily illustrated books of all manner of subjects—animals, costumes, architecture, nature, films. My studio is loaded with movies to have as background or primary inspiration—animation, pirates, westerns, old monster and sci-fi films (my favorites). Monster and Disney toys litter the room. I made my studio my happy place.

If someone was thinking of becoming an Illustrator, what advice would you give to them?

Len: Be persistent, and embrace opportunities when they come up. Draw as often as possible. Good drawing skills are the key to good illustration (or animation) regardless of how cartoony or abstract your work is, or if you work in digital medias. Having a positive attitude and good communication skills are essential.

What is your “super-power”?

Len: In art, it may be the speed in which I can turn out a project. My tumbler account has a lot of pieces that were done in less than two hours- also lots of detail in a small format. Outside of art, it is barbecue sauce and a good dry rub.