Barbara DiLorenzo

About Barbara DiLorenzo

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So far Barbara DiLorenzo has created 25 blog entries.

Five Months

By |February 20th, 2017|Syndicated Content|

Five months ago, I began working with an autistic artist living in a group home. On the first day I was due to meet him, I was an hour late. My classes at the Arts Council of Princeton let out an hour later than I expected, so sheepishly I called my new student's mother to explain. She was very kind and understanding, and said there was no problem. Her son would be waiting for me, but unfortunately, she had to leave and couldn't meet me on our first day together. This seemed fine over the phone, but in reality, I wish she had been there to introduce me to his particular likes and dislikes. As a result, I stumbled over everything in the first five minutes.
Although my new student was eager to engage with the art materials in front of him, he seemed extremely interested in my bag full of additional materials. I had been warned that he can pinch people on occasion, so I stayed out of his way as he dug through my bag, emptied every new box of pencils, markers, paints, and shredded the cardboard containers they came in. I almost cried, because at the same time, he seemed agitated and his tics were seemingly aggressive. He made loud, scary noises with his mouth, and I couldn't tell if he was ok or not. I flagged down one of the aides in the home, and he explained that my new student loves to unwrap packaging, that it gets him very excited, and his noises were not signs of distress, just excitement. He added that I should probably bring different containers next time. At the time I was frustrated that no one warned me about this, but looking back, I can understand how a busy mom would not even think to mention it as she was long exposed to this particularity, and had probably avoided it for years. I forget to tell people that my own son has asthma. And that is a big deal. So I don't blame her. But at the time, I was shocked and not sure I wanted to return.
When I finally did set up watercolors for him to use, he dragged the brush through every color, turning the new set into pans of various shades of mud. He then poured little jars of acrylic, mixed that to the point of mud, and flung paint all over the place. By the time he was done, paint was on his face, even his lips as he tried to open jars. I realized that if I did come back, I needed to buy non-toxic paint in case he ingests any. When we wrapped up, the aides told me that that was the longest he had engaged in an activity in a long time. I think it was what they said that made me want to return. Despite being a roller coaster of a lesson, he benefited from it–so that made it worth it to me.
When I did return, I bought giant containers of non-toxic tempera, and poured paint into cups for him to do whatever he wanted. This proved to be a good solution. He poured the colors he wanted, then scumbled the brush across the canvas in an almost hypnotic rhythm. I learned to love watching him paint. He would create gorgeous work, then smush the brush through it and start over. It was a lesson for me to watch him focus on the process, not the end product. He no longer ripped anything, and never pinched me. He didn't fling paint as much, and because the paint was easy to access, it didn't end up on his lips while trying to open a jar. I watched him paint for months, unsure of meaning in his work. One day he painted all in red–though typically he loves cooler colors. Some days he painted for an hour, and other days, 15 minutes. I would always wait for him on those shorter days, and sometimes he would return after a break and paint again. I noticed he had a sign to indicate he was done. But other than that, there was no back and forth communication.
A few months ago, his mother drew my attention to an art show for autistic artists. She asked me to select art, and submit it to the show. I'm so accustomed to this practice, so I was happy to help. Just this week, we learned he got 2 pieces juried into the show that had over 80 artists submit! I don't know how many pieces were accepted, but no matter what, I was proud of him. And I assumed he wouldn't understand until he saw his work framed, on the wall, during the show's opening. This past Saturday his mother met me at the home to pick up the work to get it framed. When she was there, her son seemed distracted, looking away as she spoke to him and tried to explain that his work would be in an art show. I saw her try to explain, and thought it was kind of her to do, but clearly he wasn't interested.
But then something unbelievable happened. He grabbed her iPad, which had a keypad on display. She held his arm as he started to type. At one point she was focusing on the iPad, while he was typing and looking away. She asked him to pay attention. And then he did. He typed, "I am very proud of myself." You could have knocked me over, I was so stunned. I had absolutely no idea he could write. His mother explained that he can't write with a pencil, and this technology involves training that costs money, and the staff has a high turnover, so only two people do this with him. I was floored. He was proud! He knew his work was special. He understood! My eyes welled up.
His mother and I spoke for another half an hour. By the time I was about to leave, she asked me to come into his room for a quick look at some of his other paintings. He seemed perturbed to be interrupted, but he allowed us in. At one point, his mother turned to him and said, "By the way, did you know Barbara is expecting a baby?" He grabbed the iPad, and with her help, typed, "Congratulations." Then, he typed, "I hope you have a safe delivery." Again, my eyes welled with tears. I couldn't believe such sophisticated thoughts were inside a person that appeared chaotic from the outside. I just couldn't believe it. Five months, and I didn't push him harder based on my own assumptions. Five months.
When I left, I had a whole new idea of how to tackle future lessons. I also learned that he knows about 300 signs, so I hope to use them to communicate in the future. His mother said that at one point in his life, he had wanted to support himself with his paintings. Wow. They are beautiful, and he could have done as well as any of us. He still can–if only his teacher can catch up with him.
The funny thing is that I don't make these assumptions of the very young or the very old who are nonverbal. I treat them differently, understanding that their brains are working well and can comprehend what I say. But I am so humbled to realize that even someone with loud noises and repetitive tics, who appears to not notice or respond to instruction, is actually quite capable, bright, willing and able to make beautiful work. My student has taught me far more than I have taught him. For that, I am truly grateful.

New England Watercolor Society Signature Members Show!

By |February 5th, 2016|Syndicated Content|

New England Watercolor Society Signature Members Show!

I am so excited that the above watercolor, "Moment Before Opening," won the "Bernice & Albert B. Cohen Family Trust Award for Excellence in Light and Shadow" in the 2016 New England Watercolor Society's Signature Member Art Show.




From a Nova Scotia boatman to Barcelona’s Plaza de la Seu to a winery in Italy’s Chianti region, the paintings at the New England Watercolor Society’s new show on Newbury Street carry viewers on a spirited imaginative journey enlivened by scores of arresting images. The exhibit of paintings by the society’s signature members, held each February at the Guild of Boston Artists gallery, offers a choice opportunity to appreciate the high degree of artistry and technical mastery attainable in this unforgiving medium.

The society’s signature members represent watercolor art’s elite – chosen after a rigorous vetting process from all over New England. “This year’s show represents the largest number of signature member paintings we’ve brought together in recent memory,” said Dawn Evans Scaltreto, the society’s president. Several of the most intense and dramatic paintings were singled out by the juror, Susan Weintraub, for awards. “In a show of this caliber … there are far more deserving pieces than there are awards to bestow,” Weintraub noted.

The exhibit runs from January 30 to February 27, with a reception and awards presentation February 6. Free painting demonstrations will be given at the gallery by artists Robert Noreika, Robert O’Brien, and Peg Scully on three successive Saturdays: February 13, 20, and 27.

Organizers say they expect unusually high traffic through the gallery, given the favorable weather predicted for early February. The society, which  traces its history to 1885 and numbers such figures as John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth among its past luminaries, today claims more than 200 signature members and an overall membership approaching 500.

New England Watercolor Society Signature Members Show, Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury Street, Boston, January 30 to February 27, 2016, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. Reception and awards Saturday, February 6, 3 to 5 pm. Painting demonstrations Saturdays 1 to 3 pm February 13, 20, and 27.


[For further information contact: Frances Schreiber, Exhibit Chair,,617-566-2516.]

Keeping the Faith

By |October 28th, 2015|Syndicated Content|

Keeping the FaithYesterday I learned that instead of being published in the summer of 2016, RENATO AND THE LION is looking at a potential spring/summer pub date in 2017. It was nice to hear from the editor that RENATO is her main focus right now. Over the past year, I got the sense that there were numerous other projects on her desk. I am grateful that it's my turn. And with 48 pages of text and art to edit, this is not an easy book to bring to the final stages–ready for print.

But of course I'm a little sad that this book is taking so long. I'm sure I'm far from the only author to ever feel this way. A debut book arrives, and to the outside world it appears that the person got lucky overnight. But when you hear their story, sometimes a decade went into making the book. In this case, the original spark occurred when my son was 3. Today, he is 13. And he will be 15 if the book is published in 2017. 

When I think about this book, though, I can't help but feel that the behind-the-scenes struggle to get it out into the world is fitting. This is my best work. I believe in this book. If it was a book about a talking asparagus stalk, I'd feel less conviction to fight for it. (Though who knows, that kind of book may be amazing.) This book has given signs that it's on its own path and timetable. When I was in Italy doing research this past August, unbelievable nuggets of information and helpful people just appeared. Despite my wanderings and lack of a formal research process, I was able to collect rich stories and details that will be folded carefully into the illustrations and text. I am merely the conduit–this story wants to be crafted thoroughly. 

Although the story will likely move and change a bit in the editing process, the core arc resonates with having faith. Faith in love, in friendship, in good despite a dark world. And without sounding too religious, faith in something bigger than ourselves. I guess it would be hard to tell this story without experiencing these feelings throughout the process. So although it is painful to attend another Society of Illustrators Original Art Show Opening (tomorrow night) and know that I am years away from even being considered, of landing on the map–I will keep the faith and attend. After all, I will get to see and celebrate my literary and illustration heroes. 

And heroes don't become heroes without struggle. Seeing them will remind me of that. And that this industry is not for the faint of heart. 

Slow and Steady

By |July 3rd, 2015|Syndicated Content|

Slow and Steady

What have I been doing for ten months? Not posting here. Eep!
I have been focused on my first picture book, RENATO AND THE LION. Also, my husband opened a new farm-to-table restaurant in Hightstown, New Jersey called 12 Farms. I have never worked in a restaurant before. At first, I was overwhelmed. Now, I am mining it for stories. There are so many characters that come through our doors. Sometimes when customers are poorly behaved, I draw cartoons of them and give them to our staff. Everyone shares a giggle, and we all feel slightly better about serving folks that left their manners at home. 
I've also learned something else from the restaurant. Before it opened, I imagined perfection. Every dish was going to be perfect. Every customer would be satisfied and think of us as a 5 star restaurant. We were going to be special. 
Then we opened. 
To my surprise, not only were we not perfect, we made a LOT of mistakes. But the kitchen learned from their errors. Dishes in the first month were not consistent. But five months later, they are. The restaurant just needed practice–to make hundreds of each dish–before everything settled down. But strangely, the restaurant keeps making new mistakes–though smaller ones–and probably will for it's entire lifespan. 
What a long way from perfection.
I realized this is going to be the case with my work too. I'm going to make mistakes. And many people will not think my work is awesome. My job is to practice until the work is consistent and good. My job is to show up at my drafting table, and make the best work that I can–and know that it won't be perfect. But I can listen to the critiques from my editor, art director, agent, critique partners and friends–and get closer. I watch my husband tweak dishes after hearing criticism. The food almost always comes out better. 
I wanted perfection, but that isn't possible. So now, I want to work at honing my craft, and listen to the generous insight from others that can help my work be even better. Better and better is the new goal. 

But if someone lets me know my work would be better with bright pink polka dots, I reserve the right to put them in a cartoon.

RENATO AND THE LION sold to Viking Children’s!

By |September 12th, 2014|Syndicated Content|

I am so excited! My picture book, Renato and the Lion, will be published in 2016 by Viking Children's Books! I am thrilled to work with the talented team at Viking–and look forward to the book reaching it's full potential under their guidance.Here are ...

Is it fall yet? I have some paintings to finish…

By |July 23rd, 2014|Syndicated Content|

Although in my last post I said I would update readers on the status of my book projects, I am advised against making this information public. So, for now, I'll mention some fun experiences in art this summer. The first, and most fabulous experience, h...