Artist profile: Leo and Diane Dillon

If you’re anywhere from ten to fifty years old, Leo and Diane Dillon’s artworks have likely been part of your life. Their long career began in the 1960s when they started producing illustrations for sci-fi novels and soon expanded into children’s books.

I was reminded of the husband-and-wife artistic team when it was Contemporary Art Week on Medieval People of Color – I recognized their style immediately as that from some of my favorite YA books, the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix.

You may recognize them from their artworks for The Chronicles of Narnia, The Legend of Earthsea, A Wrinkle in Time, The Halloween Tree, Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, Aïda, and The People Could Fly.

They were both born in 1933, Leo in New York and Diane in California. Diane moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design in New York City, where they met. It was 1953, and they married in 1957. I admire their artistic talents and ability to have a joint career, and I also admire that they got married and raised a bi-racial son in a time when it was really difficult to do so. (Their son, Lee, is also an artist.)

It’s interesting to read about their partnership. Until Leo’s death in 2012, they both worked on their pieces – one would start, give it to the other, and then maybe take it back again to finish it. I personally can’t imagine handing off my artworks for someone else to touch, but they developed a system that worked.

They called the concept the “third artist” – treating themselves as one person who had a style of his/her own. This required them to relinquish their egos and individual styles and go with the flow of the artwork/style itself. I think it’s a very special pair of people that can do that – it seems it would require a lot of trust, respect, and communication.

Below are some of my favorite pieces by the Dillons. Most of them show the influence of Klimt and Art Deco. Please visit the links I’ve listed below and also read the Abhorsen Trilogy because it’s super cool.

Atalanta from Classical Greece by C.M. Bowra (1965)
The Ring in the Prairie (1976)
from Aida (1990)
from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1994)
from The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese: And Other Tales of the Far North (1997)
from Earth Mother (2005)

Links for Leo and Diane Dillon:


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