Twenty-two-year old sketch artist David Zilich is a man of few words.
He makes up for that in his art, drawings that bend reality and tell a story with cartoon-like exaggerations.
“I’ve drawn my whole life, as far as I can remember,” Zilich said. “I guess just naturally.”
Since February, the St. Petersburg native has been working on the illustrations for Gulfport author Jamie Casasanta’s new children’s book, “Vio and Ceci’s Great Adventure.”
It’s a first for both of them.
Zilich has never been commissioned for a published work before, and this is Casasanta’s first endeavor into the world of children’s books.
“The book, it’s about my grandchildren,” Casasanta said. “I thought it would be great to have a student who was at the Abstract Art for Autism art fairs be the one to illustrate it.”
That person was Zilich, recommended by his former teacher and Abstract Art for Autism founder, Caroline Duvoe.
Duvoe left the corporate world to pursue a career helping the community in 2014.
It’s an age-old story, for her, that meant landing a job as a teacher at Lift Academy, a school in Seminole for those who are not neuro-typical.
That same year, she met a young Zilich, who, unlike many of her students, picked up a sketch pad with ease.
“I have never taught David anything about sketching or drawing,” Duvoe said. “I didn’t need to. He was already gifted.”
Pre-COVID, students sold their creations at the regular Special Abilities Art Opening and fundraisers.
Normally reserved, the young artist is animated at the art fundraisers, sketching on the spot and dancing in bursts of energy.
“He’s a phenomenon. When I met him, he would barely speak to anyone and would move away when someone got too close,” Duvoe said. “At these openings, he’s a star.”
Creating a Book
A lack of social outings, and a lack of Abstract Art for Autism fundraisers, left Zilich without a driving purpose for his art.
The pandemic also ended his job as an usher in a St. Petersburg movie theater, leaving him homebound with his sketchbook of “silly little comics,” as he calls them.
“Based on my observation, he became a little reclusive,” Duevoe said. “We all have.”
Casasanta’s book, ripe with drawings of squawking pelicans and wavy beach life, gave Zilich a renewed creative purpose.
His early work consisted of surreal sketches of butterflies and unnamed fields, according to Duvoe. He went through a spell of creating band posters before he settled on comics of young people.
“[Commissioned work] was a struggle at first. He’s used to drawing anything that comes into his head,” Duvoe said.
But for Zilich, the challenge of matching that talent with Casasanta’s words gives him more than an artistic outlet – and turns a beloved hobby into his first creative commission.