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.......

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Word: GIVE

This is an example of working backwards.  On the list I made of different looking locales was Hawaii.  I thought of the tradition of giving a visitor a lei.  Going down my list of words, there it was...GIVE!  Aloha!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I think I have  every single color of the rainbow on my list.  Here are a few examples.  I tried to think of  something different for all of them.
There's a funny story that goes with each one, but .......WHADYA THINK, I'VE GOT ALL DAY TO SIT AROUND AND THINK UP FUNNY STORIES TO AMUSE YOU???  I've got sketches to do!!!!!!!!

He could only find one BROWN sock.
He held his breath until he turned BLUE

He was captain of the YELLOW team.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working Backwards

One way I use to come up with different ideas is to work backwards.  I start by making lists of things like, time periods, occupations, famous people, fictional characters, etc.  Then I choose one, for example,Venus Fly Trap is an interesting looking thing.  I guess that was under the category, "interesting looking things.  So I start going down my list of words to see how I could use it.  It didn't take long, when I came to CLOSE (V).  So there it was, a Venus Fly Trap closing on a poor little fly!
My List (along with some notes about having some double hung
windows made, which has nothing to do with this job.)
Word: CLOSE (V)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Progress Report.....

Here's a progress report for the month of April......uh, do we really have to talk about this?  My goal was to have 100 sketches done by the end of the month.  I have a long way to go.  There is no way I could have a job where I had to show up for work every day and just start coming up with ideas, 9-5.  My boss would look out the window and say,"what the hell is she doing outside pulling weeds?"  Today is the day though, here come the sketches.

Monday, April 25, 2011


When I attended a Veterans Day event this year, there were a group of girls who performed some patriotic songs in sign language.  Every time their arms went straight up I thought it was for the word AMERICA, which I also thought represented the Statue of Liberty.  So that's how I came up with the image for AMERICA.  I don't remember which songs they performed and after watching all the patriotic songs being signed on Youtube I don't see anyone making that motion.... it's not America, freedom, bombs bursting in air, stars....If anyone out there knows what that sign means, let me know, it's bugging me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Something For Everyone

                                      HAPPY EASTER

Word: EAR

The Little Ant That Could

Word: ROCK
One of the picture books I've illustrated is called "Hey Little Ant".  For those of you who have written a children's book and never been able to get anyone to publish it, here's a little encouragement.  The man who wrote "Hey Little Ant's name is Phillip Hoose.  I believe he tried for ten years to get his story published.  He never gave up, when finally Tricycle Press agreed to publish it.  That was in 1998.  It's now been in print for 13 years, sold over 1,000,000, copies and is in something like 12 languages.  It is now an imprint of Random House and is soon to be an ebook.  That just goes to show you, if you really believe in your story, don't give up!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Tomorrow, Friday April 22 is Earth Day.  The very first Earth Day was in 1970.  I was in the 6th grade .  I'm proud to say I won my school's poster contest!  Notice my nifty balloon letters? It was quite a thrill.  What is a little disturbing though, today, when I went to the website look what I found!  Have they been using my idea for 41 years?  Oh well, I guess I'll let this one slide, it's for a good cause.
My (original) winning poster design in 1970

copy cat

Wednesday, April 20, 2011



This is a picture of Gilly, myself, and Rosie, Gilly's best friend.
Apparently Rosie's hands were disagreeing with each other

Word: TALL

In sign language, there are two different signs for the word TALL. One means tall (people), the other means tall (object).  Since I'm showing basketball players, I wanted to congratulate the Gallaudet University Women's basketball team!  This year they finished their season with a 23-2 record.  What makes them so amazing is that they are a non hearing team. They signal to each other silently using nods, hand signals, and sign language.  Instead of cheering, the people in the stands stomp their feet so the players can feel the vibrations. Great Job!
Gallaudet University Winning women's basketball team!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not Exactly On the Same Page

Joy's spreadsheet


A few months ago I posted what Joy's spread sheets look like , all perfectly notated and aligned.  Well here's what I use to keep track of things.  I know, pretty bad.  I have been dragging these papers around for about two years.  On airplanes, at the beach, in my car, wherever I have been.  Some of the words I've highlighted have faded away, some words I forgot to highlight so I'm not sure if I've done them yet.  Joy said I haven't done the word MANY yet......I KNOW I'VE DONE  THE WORD MANY!!!!!..... ok, where is it...what was it...

Zinc Oxide?

The word here is stomach, or maybe it should be, "what happened to my stomach?"  When my editor, Gilly, age 11 looked at this she wasn't happy with the guys white nose in the photo, "He doesn't look cool".  So I had to explain to her that when I was a kid sunscreen didn't exist.  All we had was this disgusting thick, white, creme called Zinc Oxide that you would slather on your nose, and that was it.  You were fully protected to go out and bake in the sun!  This was another small example of a generation g..a..p 

Sunday, April 17, 2011


NEVER, is one of those words where it's challenging to show something that didn't happen, or you've never done.  This is what I came up with, I think it works.  I know one thing I never thought I'd do is a  blog. Sharing my thoughts and little antidotes about my life, nope, not for me.    I'm much happier watching, than being watched.  But Joy Chu, the designer for this project told me,  "cmon  Deb, get with it, it's the  landscape of the future". It sounded funny to me,  like something you would have heard in the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland.   "You've got to get yourself out there, be heard and seen in cyber world".  So, ok, if this is what it takes to continue to get work as an illustrator then here I am.  At least this blog has a beginning, middle, and when I'm done with this job, an end.

Friday, April 15, 2011



Here's a good one.  I'm the type who laughs when people slip, then move along quickly, or in the case  of this girl singin her heart out for jays-us.  That's what's happening in my drawing, and I laughed at this video (watch for the 40 second mark) ha. 

Word: DEAD

Sometimes when I see a word like dead, it's like, oh great, what am I supposed to do with  this?  Grandma's funeral?  Family dog hit by a car?  Then I remembered the possum that showed up in my living room.  After snarling at me for a while, then stinking up my whole house with some kind of green slime that came out of him, he just laid there.  I thought he must have had a heart attack and died.  So I got a shovel to scoop him up when.......the creepy damn thing opened his eyes and  reared up with his 400 pointy little teeth showing.  I thought I was having a heart attack!!  That's when I knew possums actually do play dead!  I don't really remember how I got rid of him, I think the disgusting little thing slunk out on his own.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


When I was working on the word CIRCUS, my dearest and oldest childhood friend DeDe came to mind.  After high school she ran off and joined the circus and rode bareback doing a hand stand...... hmmmm.  You know, I never actually SAW her do this, and one thing I know for sure, she was the wimpiest, least athletic person I knew.  She spent every p.e. class in the nurses office (you know the type)  So I found this circus story a little hard to believe.  Ok, yes, here she is in a circusy type costume, but that doesn't really prove anything. So this drawing is how I imagined DeDe would look trying to ride a circus horse bareback!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Word: LOSE

LOSE (an object)
LOSE (a competition)
In sign language there are two different signs for the word LOSE.  One meaning is to lose a competition, the other is to lose an object.  The sketch for the (object) one was fine, but on the losing a competition I had to take out my little joke.  In the sketch I had her sash spelling "Miss LOOO-SAH ana".  Wouldn't that have been funnier?  I guess they can't have misspelled words in a dictionary.  Anyway, her musical selection "Tears of a Clown" made it in, that made me happy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011



ok, I just finished up inking and coloring a hundred drawings. I'm really tired of inking and coloring.  I don't think I can ink and color another drawing in my lifetime.  Now back to doing sketches.  The way I'm working goes like this.  First, I start going through the list and write  some of the words down, do some sketches, then find some more words, until I've got 100 done. At this point I really believe that I cannot ever come up with another idea in my lifetime. Then its time to ink and color again......

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Two Cents

original sketch for ONE CENT
The Concept for this image was ONE CENT.  On the top is the original sketch, which by the way was approved.  I was about to go to finish when my 11 year old daughter said, "hey Mom, since when was gum a penny?"........ ok, maybe I should re think this one.  I went ahead and sent two finishes, one of the original sketch and this one with the man. It was faster to just go ahead and finish two versions, rather than get another sketch approved.  I wonder which one will end up in the Dictionary?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Art Imitates Life

I've used mice for a few different words, this image is for the word BLIND.  What's  funny is when I moved a cabinet in my basement I couldn't believe my eyes.  Mice really do chew those cartoon shaped holes!