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Lost Weekend with David Diaz (Part 1): Art, Food & Friendship

As some of you already know, I was thrilled to be picked for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program at last year’s Summer Conference in LA. Thrilled as in “can this really be happening to me” thrilled, especially when combined with the offer from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers to illustrate Michael Ian Black’s new picture book, I’m Bored.

The six of us got together during the conference, just to chat and get to know each other a little better: Eliza Wheeler, Andrea Offermann, John Deininger, Kimberly Gee, Ashley Mims and me. We discovered (to our mutual relief, I suspect) that we all got along very well, and we decided to launch our own website at

We also kept in touch via group email about what we were all up to, shared successes and disappointments, critique and encouragement. We hung out when we attended the same SCBWI events.

At the SCBWI Summer Conference this year, some of us were joking with Caldecott-winning children’s book illustrator & SCBWI Illustration Mentor David Diaz, saying we’d love to snoop through his studio (I believe it was Eliza who was nervy enough to suggest it). David surprised us by saying it was a great idea. In fact, he sent out an invite soon after the conference, and said he wanted to invite some other mentees as well.

And so LOST WEEKEND was born!

Sadly, not all the 2010 and 2011 Mentees could make it to Lost Weekend (we missed you guys!). Here’s the attendee list:

Mentees: Class of 2010:

Andrea OffermannEliza Wheeler and me

Mentees: Class of 2011:

Christina ForshayJessica LananJuana Martinez-NealAndrea Zuill

Others invited by David:

Bonnie Adamson and Alice Ratterree

Note: This wasn’t an officially sanctioned SCBWI event but rather an act of generosity by David. I admire his courage, inviting a bunch of strangers into his private home. I think he was a tad nervous at first, wondering what he had got himself into.

(Above: piece by David Diaz)

Some of us stayed at the hotel, some at David’s. I loved David’s house with its high ceilings, full of light and color. There was art everywhere, including many gorgeous and interesting pieces by David and his son Ariel.

(Above: Piece by Ariel Diaz)

David did most of the cooking…and he’s really good at it! My mouth is watering even as I type this, remembering these home-baked popovers fresh out of the oven, light as air and slathered with fresh cream, jam or savoured plain:

Here are just some of the other things we feasted on during the weekend:

German pancakes, scrambled eggs with sautéed spinach, smoked bacon, sausage.

“Sin-cleansing” French pressed coffee.

Handmade pasta, with an Putanesca Sauce with Hot Italian sausage

Salad with goat cheese, candied walnuts, crasins, and white balsamic vinegar dressing

Sformata di Ricotta

Oven roasted garlic

Fresh bread

Jambalaya rice with sausage, mushrooms, grilled tri-tip

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate chip coconut brownies

Apple raspberry crumb pie and ice cream.

I’m pretty sure I left Lost Weekend heavier than when I arrived.

Plus Bonnie introduced me to Pickled Okra (yummmmmmmmmmmm):

which go wonderfully in these:

I loved the buzz of activity in the kitchen as we chopped and stirred under David’s tutelage, conversation and laughter (a LOT of laughter) filling the house.

Even food shopping was fun:

I discovered Von’s, which is apparently a chain grocery story in California. “V-a-u-g-h-n-s,” said David, when I asked him how to spell it. I believed him and started writing it down until I heard the others sniggering. Kidlit illustrators can be so MEEEEEAN. 😀

We spent a lot of time just chatting in front of the fireplace. We each gave a brief demo of how we worked, talking about our process. It was funny, really — each one of us basically felt like our own process was SO boring yet when it came to seeing how the others did their work, we were each fascinated. Lots of kidlit and art talk and picture book writing talk, plus browsing of each other’s portfolios.

On Sunday, the weather cleared up so we decided to go walking on the beach. SUCH a nice change from Toronto weather!

We left our shoes in a pile on the beach:

David reassured us that no one would steal them. 🙂

And holy cow, I know it sounds like a cliché, but it felt SO GREAT to walk barefoot along the beach!

and we saw pelicans:

and hang gliders:

David took us to the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Garden, with its beautiful gardens and koi ponds:

We got in trouble from a security guard in the gardens when we laughed too much as we tried to get this photo taken:

Darned noisy kidlit illustrators!

Above: David let us snoop through some of his archives from earlier in his career

It was fascinating to see some of David’s earlier work, and hear his explanations of how and why he changed his illustration style. We also got to see sketches and drawings from Mother Earth Watches (working title, will change), his upcoming book with Chronicle Books (tentative publication date: Spring 2013).

David taught us a new technique: taping down a framed area on masonite, painting a background texture/color using acrylics, then a layer of matte medium (or at least I had to do this since my base layer of acrylic was already so textured), then drawing in conte, then spraying with a fixative.

Some of us (hand waving here) didn’t normally work with acrylics, so were a bit nervous about the process. BUT it ended up being a lot of fun as well as enlightening — it was good to push beyond our normal creative comfort zones, especially in a safe and encouraging environment like the one at Lost Weekend.

Also very cool to see the different approaches everyone took in their projects.

Andrea Zuill, who drove to David’s, brought some of her paintings later in the weekend for us to look at. I LOVE her work! She also brought a print for each of us as a gift. Here’s the one she gave me:

You can see more of Andrea’s work at

Continued in Part 2: Lost Weekend With David Diaz.

Tags: Inkygirl