Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Daria Peoples

© Daria Peoples

May 22, 2015

Today we introduce the talented author-illustrator Daria Peoples! Welcome.

Tell us about your background and how you came to children's illustration.

I always read about author/illustrators who make their first book the minute they have a pencil grip, so I hope readers won’t be too disappointed when I tell them my road to children’s illustration was unconventional to say the least. I honestly didn’t even like to read as a child, and I’ve never taken an art class, except for the mandatory semester in high school. But after I had my son and daughter, I had an unexplainable desire to color again. 
I set out on a creative journey, and photography was my first stop. For several years, I worked as a professional photographer, but over time, I became discontent with the digital aspect of photography and started to experiment with new mediums. Messier mediums.

As a child, I liked to paint and draw with my father, so I returned to what I once knew, and reached out to a friend who was an artist.

I asked her to work with me, and I think she was pleasantly surprised with my skill level because before our first drawing session was over, she kicked me out her kitchen and told me to just go home and make art, and the rest would figure itself out. I did exactly that. For the next year or so, I worked really hard and practiced a lot. Soon, I realized that making art was something I wanted to do for a living, and I explored and tried many different ways I could make money as an artist, from print design, to graphic design, to licensing to editorial and commissioned-based fine art, but I couldn’t find anything that really felt like a good fit, so I kept searching. Most importantly, I kept making art, and then one night something spectacular happened.

© Daria Peoples

My husband usually tells the bedtime stories in our house, but he happened to be out of town on this particular night, so I had to step up to the plate. I ended up telling my kids a bedtime story called “Boogie Nights.” It was a story about Harold, an owl who kept all the forest animals up at night because he liked to get his party on. I thought it was ever so dope, and really the best bedtime story of all time. In fact, I think after I told the story, I asked my kids to kiss their brilliant mother goodnight. That night was the moment I realized I should try writing and illustrating picture books.

In college, I majored in English and read the works of hundreds of writers, so a career in writing and painting seemed to make sense to me, and it came more naturally than anything else I’d ever done. I came home to a career I knew I could do for the rest of my life.

I love your fluid, collage and watercolor style. Can you tell us how you approach an illustration and what your process is?

I always begin with my protagonist. To be honest, I have a really good idea of what my protagonist looks like the minute I write a story on her behalf, but I do like to spend some time capturing the personality and emotion of the character spread by spread before I move on to the environment.

To resolve environmental decisions, I usually choose settings for my stories and know where they take place rather early in the process. I have an affinity for urban places. I look for reference photos when my mind’s eye doesn’t have one for me. But, more than anything, I enjoy creating an illustration from a memory of a place I’ve visited and it’s icing on the cake when I can refer to one of my own photographs. Once I have an idea of the picture’s content, I sketch a few thumbnails that explore the best composition.

© Daria Peoples

As far as composition, I consider the voice of the narrative or the world in which the characters live, but I make sure my choices have a specific purpose and helps me tell the story more authentically and effectively.

I sketch the thumbnail in more detail and in a larger scale. I do move very slowly in the beginning stages, allowing 3-5 days to pass between steps. I know my best ideas happen when I’m nowhere near my studio, so when I leave work unfinished each day and come back to an illustration every 3-5 days, I know better ideas will show up to save the day.

When it is finally time to paint, I use gouache, charcoal, watercolor, and ink. I paint the picture “brick by brick” by painting every element of the illustration individually, from hair to clothing, to background on separate pieces of paper. I like working like this just because I like to play when I paint. I like to be brave enough to try new techniques and explore ideas that might not work, and by working with layers, textures, and elements separately, I don’t worry too much about messing anything up permanently. I’ve tried more traditional approaches, but it’s rather stifling for me.

I scan about a million paintings into Photoshop and manipulate the placement of them to build the composition. After I’m satisfied, I add final touches in Photoshop using techniques and actions primarily associated with editing photos.

I “sit with” an illustration a week or so before I decide if I like it. If I’m still digging it after some time goes by, it’s a keeper.

What projects are you working on these days?

Currently, I have two picture books projects I am preparing for submission. They are companion books with lyrical stories very close to my heart. I hope to find a home for them one day soon!

What are the 1 or 2 things that you have done that have most advanced your illustration career to date?

It may seem obvious, but it is extraordinarily important not to give up. I try to make art everyday and share it with the world. So much of being successful in this industry is out of our hands, and left up to unordinary blessings. The only thing we as artists can completely control is our consistency to make art and our willingness to share it with the world. I’ve also done many practical things, like join and participate in SCBWI, and I took a wonderful picture book course with the Children’s Book Academy that helped propel my confidence and my connections. But at the end of the day, it is most important that we make art and share it. Providence will show up when it’s time. 

© Daria Peoples

Congratulations, I heard you recently signed with an agent! Can you tell us about that experience?

Well, after about a year of developing my portfolio, I wrote a picture book, made a dummy and sent it out to my top three agents. All of them responded, and passed.

However, when Marietta Zacker (of the Nancy Gallt Agency) responded, she complimented my illustrations, so I decided that after some time went by, she’d hopefully forget she passed, and I could submit to her again. The next year came around, and I wrote another picture book and sent it to the same three agents, including Marietta, but I didn’t hear back from her immediately.

I did hear back from one of the other agents, and he said he needed some time to think about it. While he was thinking about it, Marietta requested a revision. I sent it to her, and while she was reviewing my revision, the other agent who was sitting on it decided to pass. However, he suggested I reach out to Marietta for representation. (I never told her that.) 

But, I knew that Providence was on my side, and waited on Marietta to respond to my revision. Within a couple of days, Marietta emailed me back, we scheduled a time to talk, and she offered me representation.  In our conversation, she told me that she saw the potential of my career by looking back at the enormous growth that occurred between the two submissions I sent to her. So, see, never give up and continue to share your artwork with the world.

It is a pleasure to have someone who believes in my potential. I am fortunate to have her guiding my career. She’s wonderful to work with, and I’m very grateful to have her as my agent. I’m in good hands!

Who or what inspires you?

I am a believer, so I feel a lot of my story ideas are Divinely inspired. God guides the direction of my stories and art, so I really just look at myself as a vessel for the stories in which I’ve been chosen to tell. I truly believe that I am the only one in the entire world who can tell the stories I write and illustrate! And the best part, I’m never worried about the competition.

© Daria Peoples

Artistically, I am inspired by the work of Ezra Jack Keats, Ludwig Bemelmans, and contemporaries like, Vladimir Radunsky, Marla Frazee, Sophie Blackall, and Peter Reynolds. I love the writings of Gary Soto, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemmingway, Maya Angelou, and Zora Neale Hurston. I also love artwork created by children. Aren’t they the real artists we are all trying to imitate? I do believe so.

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I am a HUGE Stephen Curry and Warriors fan. As a former Laker ball girl, I’ve been secretly cheering for the Warriors for over a year now. It’s time to share the real me with the world. I love the Warriors. Of course, the Lakers will always hold a special place in my heart, but I admire the spirit and passion of Warrior basketball.  I also like that their colors are the same as my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. Go Gauchos! I plan to be disowned by Laker fans everywhere! Ha! Ha! Bring it on!

Thank you, Daria! Check out more of her work at

Daria uses watercolor, gouache, ink, and charcoal in her illustrations. She currently serves as the SCBWI IC for Nevada. Daria lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada.


  1. Congratulations to Daria on her success! "It is extraordinarily important not to give up" is wonderful advice....something I need to be reminded of daily, unfortunately.

  2. Love, love love Daria!! Looking forward to watching her career zoom!

  3. Beautiful artwork and I loved hearing that coloring books kind of started it all. :)

  4. What a wonderful interview. Congratulations on all your successes so far, Daria. I look forward to whatever comes next!

  5. Your work is beautiful. Thanks for sharing your journey with us

  6. Very intriguing work! Ha ha, I love how "dope" you thought you were! :) Congratulations on the agent, and wishing you much success in the future!

  7. The working process is interesting as much as the illustrations themselves.
    I feel tension between the watercolors and the looseness of the shapes to the sort of a heavy atmosphere. It's a kind of contradiction that makes these pieces interesting and attracts me seeing them again.
    Wishing you good luck with the agent and your books!


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