Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 2
Spring 1994
Family pet, neighborhood children fill Piazza's portfolio

     Move over Charles Dickens. Make way for Gail Siena Piazza.
Piazza, Delaware '78, is an illustrator who stands a chance of gaining
fame and glory in the same manner as the 19th-century author-through
serialized novellas.
     Currently, Piazza (whose work has appeared in past issues of The
Messenger and in University brochures) is working away in her home
studio in Elkton, Md., drawing the illustrations for a l0-week test
edition of the serial idea, a new venture by The New York Times and
the New York-based publishing/ advertising company, Gauthier & Gilden.
     Although mum on specifics, she will say she is illustrating two
works of adult fiction that will be printed in weekly episodes and
test-marketed for reader and advertiser appeal in two New York Times-
owned newspapers in northern California and Florida.

     If response is favorable, who knows what the future holds?
     Piazza's work, in pastel and color pencil, has a softness that
lends a dream-like quality to the realities she captures. She is most
fond of drawing children, depicting them in such an endearing way that
you want to scoop them off the page and give them a hug.
     "One summer, when local jobs for freelancers were pretty much
drying up, I sat down to enlarge my portfolio. I'd plan to draw a
standard piece that I knew needed to be included, and I'd find myself
drawing children instead. I think I did some of my best pieces during
that time, and, finally, I realized, 'Hey, if this is what you really
want to do, why not go for it?'"
     Piazza found a natural outlet for her type of illustrative work
in textbooks.
     The artist often uses her own children, Rachel, 10, and David, 6,
as models. In fact, many of her neighbors and friends have enjoyed
their 15 minutes of fame, modeling for Piazza over the years.
Reviewing the work in her portfolio, she points to her textbook
illustrations and says, "That's our school and that's my daughter and
that's my daughter's friend and that's the family that lives down the
street and this family goes to our church...." The list goes on and on.
     She has used a neighbor family extensively for the Times project,
featuring local children and the family dog as well. It has been time-
consuming and exciting work.
     "I read the stories and decide what I think should be
illustrated," Piazza says. "Each episode has 12 illustrations and
there are l0 episodes in each story. I was very fortunate to get two
stories to illustrate."
     Because she loves her work and is prone to adding details to each
sketch, Piazza sets a kitchen timer and gives herself one hour to work
on each illustration. At the end of the hour, she tacks the work up on
the wall and forces herself to leave it alone for a while. Sometimes,
she decides the work is finished; other times, she goes back to add
detail-again, with the timer set.
     Piazza, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the
University, says she has always preferred illustrating to other forms
of art.
     "I've just always loved being able to work in connection with
words-trying to convey what an author might say," she says.
     She decided to try illustrating as a full-time job after her
second child was born.
     "It sounds great to say, 'Oh, I've decided to stay home with the
children and freelance,' but, in reality, it's really scary. It's
stressful having to do it all yourself, trying to market your work,
sell yourself to local advertising agencies. I got lots of jobs-sort
of odds and ends-but I really didn't know how to feel my way to the
large publishers.
     "I was so naive. Once, I read a wonderful book to my children
that had just horrendous illustrations. I actually called the author
and told her I'd love to illustrate her work. Well, she disdainfully
told me that's not how the system works: The publisher picks the
illustrator for an author's work.
     "Oh, well," she says, with a sigh and a laugh, "everything's a
     Eventually, Piazza hired a representative responsible for
marketing her work. It's a system that has worked well for her,
although she says it's not for everybody.
     Her most important advice to future illustrators would be to
network with other illustrators. "I was fortunate in having an
illustrator friend who took me under her wing," Piazza says.
     But, then, "I was fortunate" is one of Piazza's favorite phrases.
She exudes a refreshing cheerfulness when speaking of the exciting
turns her career is taking. Recently, her work was accepted into the
New York Children's Book Illustrators Show and another show in
Greenwich, Conn., and she has received a prestigious Certificate of
Merit from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.
     Meantime, keep an eye out for her work in textbooks. It appears
in the new Houghton-Mifflin Dictionary (l00 black-and-white
illustrations), the curriculum Never Take Drugs: A Family Plan, and
twice in the book America's Children Real-Life Stories and Poems About
Children, Past and Present published by Western Publishing, in the
take-home reading book T-Ball and in many more academic publications,
including posters for classroom use. Locally, her illustrations can be
seen in brochures for the University Visitors Center and for the Ice
Skating Science Development Center.
                                                          -Beth Thomas