Illustrator Angela Rizza: Old-school storybook, folk, geometric, carefree, ink and calm

Angela Rizza has long been obsessed by detail, “starting with ballpoint pen drawings in high school where I’d render each illustration with pens using them like graphite, to FIT where I’d zoom in at 200 percent on the computer and go to town on some animal scales.” Rizza’s early work was influenced by the realistic style of her grandfather, John Leone, an oil painter of American West scenery.

“The Golden Compass,” by Angela Rizza

For Rizza, art is life… and the bigger the audience and the better her drawings’ detail, the better. Her career’s fast rise, and the fact that she does art that she loves, holds many lessons.

“I’ve been told ‘less is more’ and to only render focal points. But there’s something about capturing each line in a row of feathers or creating embroidery patterns in a dress.  I find a calm that I love, hence all of the detail in my artwork,” says Rizza.

“The King Who Lost the North Small,” by Angela Rizza

Throughout college Rizza experimented with traditional mediums, mostly in black and white. While she had an eye for color, she says she had trouble applying it while protecting her drawings. She experimented with gouache, watercolor, acrylic, pigmented inks, and oils.

By senior year, she honed a technique for creating tightly rendered graphic drawings, to which she applied layers of oil paint glazes.  “It created this great old-school storybook effect, but is was less practical when it came to real life jobs; I didn’t have a month to let the oils dry, and they were difficult to scan and photograph.”

Angela’s development as a professional, what empowers her to create great work, emanates from both traditional skills and  problem-solving abilities. It’s what empowers her to create great work. What is outstanding is how she is able to apply her imagination. she has a unique vision of what might be.” – Ed Soyka, Chair, Illustration

“Wilder Things II” by Angela Rizza

Her first year after graduating in 2011 was spent experimenting.  In order to color a piece and not smudge or undermine the meticulous line work, she transitioned to Photoshop to create graphite-like drawings that were colored digitally. She also started using ink for a crisper look to her work. “The end result was a finished, print-ready illustration in two or three days, and I could get really elaborate with coloring my drawing,” she says.

To illustrate children’s books, she began creating illustrations based on favorite stories like Tolkien’s work and Game of Thrones. She also created fan art to build a larger audience on social media.

“Garden Wall,” by Angela Rizza

“Draw what you love and the work you want will find you,” was the advice from other artists that she took to heart.  It worked. By her second year out, Rizza’s Tolkien art was featured in a book about his stories. She was invited by HBO to attend the Game of Thrones season premiere in New York City. She stood on the red carpet and got to watch the first episode of the season.

“Cosmic Egg” by Angela Rizza

Her next turn was creating geometric, carefree work with a folk art twist. She reinterpreted animals and plants as clusters of patterns within a shape. “I’d begin with a basic silhouette of, say, a chicken and draw the shape of the wings, then shapes within the shape and shapes within those. I would had a colorful piece filled with details I love, that were less serious and more lighthearted.”

“I got to draw dinosaurs!…It was a dream job to create something that my childhood self would have begged for!” Angela Rizza

“Eowyn vs Nazgul” by Angela Rizza

Her love of line and detail work was ideal for activity books. In 2016 her first coloring book was published. “The Book of Beasts” is filled with monsters of myth and fantasy. Her sequel, “The Book of Prehistoric Beasts,” came out last year.  “I got to draw dinosaurs. I was obsessed with dinosaurs throughout elementary school. It was a dream job to create something that my childhood self would have begged for!” Two Scratch Pad activity books on nature and mythology followed. She is currently working on two more.

Her work next appeared in shows hosted by Light Grey Art Lab run by young illustrators. One themed-exhibit, “Skate or Die,” featured her work on skate decks for Halloween, and her work was part of a tarot deck for another such collaborative show.

Angela’s work and craftsmanship has soared since she graduated.  Her composition has grown more complex. The maturity of her work is really phenomenal. Part of her evolution comes from adding new ways of working, which she continually does in new work..She is always creating! – Illustration Prof.  Kam Mak

“Knave of Stripes,” by Angela Rizza, 2012

Once she had “a decent portfolio” and audience, Rizza started indulging in her love of birds and nature. While her first pieces were in simple settings, Audubon-like, she began finding parallels between flora and fauna, such as a flower sharing the same accent color as a specific type of bird, or the patterns on an owl looking similar to a piece of bark. In some pieces she found parallels between animals–like the eyes of an owl and the markings of a moth.

Angela Rizza at her desk

Rizza’s work now alternates between pen and ink (for books) and folk style (for greeting cards and merchandise).  Since graduating from the School of Art and Design she has created work for Sterling Publishing, Blizzard Publishing, Papyrus, Boom! Studios, Bioware video game developer, Buster Books, and Capstone. She is represented by the agency Astound.

To see more of the artist’s work go to: AngelaRizzaIllustrations

Images used with permission.


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