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In Memoriam: Leo Dillon June 9, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Uncategorized.
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Maurice Sendak now has company in the corner of the Elysian Fields reserved for Caldecott artists. Leo Dillon, part of famed illustration team the Dillons, passed away early last week.

Leo and his wife Diane met while they were students at the Parsons School of Design in 1953. From 1957 on they worked together on book jackets, record covers and eventually children’s illustrations. They are probably best known for their Caldecott Medal winning Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Ashanti to Zulu from the 1970’s, as well as the iconic covers of many books, including A Wrinkle in Time and collections by Virginia Hamilton. I was lucky
enough to find a secondhand copy of a book devoted to their early work, The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon, edited by Byron Preiss. While it doesn’t include their later work, it does have some great commentary, from such luminaries as Harlan Ellison (who writes “The Dillons and their work personify perfection.”) and the artists themselves, who go into detail about their inspiration and technique for different pieces.

The Dillons are probably best known for their use of luminous color and the sheer variety of techniques they have used over the long course of their career. They began using a woodcut style for album covers and eventually turned to various methods to make the work go faster, including simulating the style with pen and ink or scraping a coating off a sheet of acetate. The Dillons experimented with crewel work, painting on plastic and marbleized paper to find the desired look for each piece. Their method has always been to find the style which suits the subject, or in the case of some books like To Everything Thing is a Season, the several styles. In that one book alone, the Dillons cover ink, watercolor, acrylic, gouache and pastels on various backgrounds such as bark paper, bristol board and scratchboard to simulate art techniques from sixteen different cultures and time periods. Each style complements the line of text with which it is paired. As Ellison said back in 1981, perfection. 

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