Mint Museum Randolph: Behind the Exhibition

By Vanessa Infanzon

Tony DiTerlizzi drew monsters and dragons as a kid. He still does.

DiTerlizzi, 49, is a New York Times-bestselling author and illustrator. He’s known for his children’s books, Spiderwick Chronicles, Kenny & The Dragon and Wondla Trilogy. But it was designing for Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering that launched his career.

Running from now through Nov. 3, 2019 at Charlotte’s Mint Museum Randolph, Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi features illustrations from his books, earlier works and personal effects. It offers interactive activities throughout the exhibition. Sketch at a desk like the one DiTerlizzi uses in his studio. Read one of his books in a beanbag chair or take a photo with a friendly monster or an angry goblin.

DiTerlizzi carries a small plain notebook when he travels. Each is decorated with random stickers so he can tell them apart. He never knows when or where something might spark an idea for another book or character. He admits some have come while sipping a tropical drink by the pool.

DiTerlizzi spoke to AAA Carolinas about heroes, imagination and how a note from Billy Joel inspired him in high school:

What can readers expect from the heroes in your books?

“My heroes generally are not extraordinary, but they’re ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances. They’re forced to be resourceful, creative. They’re all compassionate. They may be flawed, but they’re kindhearted. If I’m saying anything to the younger generation, I would hope it is that their actions convey compassion.”

How can travel help people become imaginative thinkers?

“When I think of travel, I think of leaving the comfort and the familiarity of home or my microcosm. I think breaking the structure and the scheduling of our normal lives, at least for me creatively, tends to open a lot of doors. It [imagination] really kicks into overdrive when I leave the country. Seeing the architecture and visiting the museums inspires my imagination.”

What do you tell budding illustrators and authors?

“You are not going to achieve your skillset quickly. It’s a learned skill. At least, it was for me. It took many, many years to learn how to do it. You’re so impatient when you’re young, you want it now. I didn’t grow up in the age of social media, but I can only imagine the pressure that is put upon the younger generation to have that instantaneous gratification in some skill that they want to do.”


What do you read when you travel?

“I read a lot of novels, so I’ll either pick something that’s trendy or [something] I’ve never read. We spent a lot of time in the Keys, so I started reading Hemingway. I was like, ‘This is where you should be reading Ernest Hemingway.’”

What do you hope people gain from the exhibit?

“[I hope] it demystifies a little about how modern children’s books are made. You get to see where ideas come from for children’s books. You get to see the finished art. There’s book dummies in there, so you get to see a little bit of the process of how bookmaking is done and the environment that books are made. You see my giant bookshelf in my studio. You get to see a little of what’s it like to be an illustrator.”


A young museum guest enjoys the exhibit.

How did you get the attention of musical icons like Billy Joel, Daryl Hall and John Oates?

“One summer in high school, I drew a caricature of musicians that I was into. By the end of the summer, I had a whole book of these musicians. I started sending Xerox copies to some of them. I got a letter in the mailbox from Daryl Hall and John Oates, who were huge at the time. They had signed this really crummy caricature that I had done of them. But in high school, it was like a deity blessing you. I sent them to loads of people, and I got all these amazing signatures. Billy Joel wrote me a letter back. He said, ‘I think you have a future in illustration.’

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“I was just out of art school, and I went to an opening for Peter Max and he said, ‘Draw every day.’ And he was right.”


AAA Members receive $5 off museum admission. The Mint Museum Randolph is located at 2730 Randolph Rd., Charlotte, N.C.For more information about the exhibition, visit Mint Museum Randolph.

Responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Photos by Ann Gonzales/Mint Museum.

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