Is Debbie Tilley Available?

Is Debbie Tilley available?
On June 28, 1995, yes that was 15 years ago, my rep, Richard Salzman received a call from the art director at Gallaudet University Press. Is
Debbie Tilley available to do samples for an up coming project? We're going to be publishing a signing dictionary for children, needing
around 1000 illustrations.... and that's how it all started....

Fast forward 15 years:
On December 4, 2010, Richard, my rep received an email from the Editorial Director of Gallaudet University press, they were ready to get started
on the Children's Sign Language Dictionary! I think that is the longest lead time in freelance history! As it turned out, I had been illustrating children's picture
books nonstop for a long time. The thought of doing 1,000 individual drawings sounded so great to me, I couldn't wait to get started.......

Monday, February 28, 2011


She could only stay on her toes for a BRIEF time.
One of my words was BRIEF.  That was a  really tough one for me.  Think about it, how do you show brief, with a single image?  Anyway  this is what I came up with.  Last week when I saw this video on YouTube, it reminded me of the drawing I did, and also cracked me up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pete and Repeat

After doing hundreds of drawings, I sometimes worry that some of them might be to much the same.  And for good reason...look at these three!!  (mental note, STOP DRAWING THE SAME DAMN LADY REACHING FOR SOMETHING!!!!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Word: OFF

The sketch I did for OFF came back, not approved.  I now know (taking something off )and (getting off of something) have two different signs.  This particular OFF meant, not on something.  Hey, it happens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


You know how I mentioned that I probably wouldn't have been able to take on a job like this when I first started out. Yeah, there's life experience and all that, but one huge reason I left out was TECHNOLOGY!! Let's say I had a job to illustrate bears.  If I didn't have any reference books about bears, I'd have to go to the library and look for one, it took forever.  Now, oh my god, with a punch of a button, go to Bing images, there are a zillian pictures of bears.  Black, brown, polar, old young, and on and on..... And not only that, I scan the sketches, scan the finishes and email them off.  I can't even imagine packing up and shipping off all these drawings, much less having some of them sent back for corrections.  I think there was a good reason this job didn't happen fifteen years ago.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Page

The first two images in the book are "a little bit", and "a lot". Since they are next to each other I decided to use extreme examples of the same idea, feeding something tiny, and feeding something huge.  They are the only two drawings in the dictionary that actually relate to each other.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

I more than love you, I LURVVE you!
Just kidding, the word for this one is ROSE.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Word: BEST

In case you were wondering who Ivey is.  She is Ivey Wallace the art director for Gallaudet University Press, which is part of Gallaudet University.  Rarely does she ever reject a sketch, she's one of the reasons this dictionary is going to be so awesome.  She never puts any pressure on me to hurry up, likes just about everything, and pays me very well.  What more could an illustrator ask for! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Babies start walking AROUND one year.
Babies have their own LANGUAGE.
I don't think I could have done this job early in my career.  Having  been an illustrator for 31 years, living in different places, having a kid, illustrating a bunch of picture books, blah, blah, blah.... really helps.  I've illustrated a couple of books about babies, so from time to time I use drawings inspired by those books. Babies Don't Eat Pizza and The Difference Between Babies and Cookies.  I like drawing babies a whole lot more than I liked taking care of one. Gillian, I'm glad you're 11.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Word: COAT

Ruby refused to wear a COAT.

Where I lived in Canada, I had a neighbor who was 2 years old.  Her name was Ruby, and most of the time she was buck naked.  It's not that warm in Canada, but that didn't matter.  There was Ruby, running up and down the lane, naked and screaming.  I'm sure Ruby is a proper young lady by now.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Word: SEE

When I send more than one idea for a word, unless it's a total reject, I can usually find another use for the other sketch.  In this case, Ivey chose the sketch of the girl and the eye chart. Ok, so if at all possible, I'll find a word for microscope guy somewhere.  So I'll just scan through the words and come up with one, I think TINY is one of the words, (mental note......check for TINY...)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Word: BOSS

The first step is doing sketches.  Usually I put 4 on a page and send them off in batches of 50.  When I have more than one idea, I'll just send it along.  In this case, with the word, Boss, they went with the straight forward one.  I kind of liked the other one, but I guess it doesn't really send out a good message.  It's funnier though.  Just noticed the lousy quality of these sketches.  It's a miracle Ivey could even pick one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Layout

This is a sample layout, from Joy Chu.  I'm not  sure if this is exactly what the pages will look like, but I think it looks really nice.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


About half of the words in the dictionary are just objects, the other 500 are concepts, which is a lot more interesting for me.  These are four examples I did for the concepts, AND, BEHAVE, APPEAR, and BELONG. I think the best ones work without even using them in a sentence.




Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Word: SEW

Sometimes when I can, I throw in a little fact, so the kids can be learning two things at once.  In this case, sew, I had Betsy Ross sewing the flag.