An Interview with Caili Dalian of Dilly Dalian

Just over three years ago, while spending the weekend in Michigan for my younger brother's college graduation, I had the fortune of meeting the very talented and charismatic artist, Caili Dalian. Prior to meeting Caili, I had listened to my brother rave about her beautiful illustrations, but it wasn't until I saw her infamous 'Ann Arbor Map' in person that I understood what the hype was all about. After all, if a young woman can create a piece of art so captivating it manages to pull 21 year-old boys away from the beer pong table, you know she must be the real deal.

Fast-forward to the present day and I've paired up with Caili to design the logo for my jewellery line, Marissa Irwin Designs. A huge thanks to Caili for putting up with my obsessive and picky tendencies over the course of the past few weeks. I absolutely love what she created and hope you do too! If you're interested in learning more about Caili and her artistic journey, I invite you to continue reading on to our interview below.


Let's start with the basics. Where are you from and what's something we should all know about you? 

"I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan alongside my twin brother during the winter solstice of 1991. Upon reaching the age at which you'd expect a baby to start speaking, I simply could not muster the words. But by the time I celebrated my 1st birthday, I could already write my name. I like to think that this is why to this day, I opt for visual communication over sound."

Dilly Dalian 'Talk to the Palm' Print

Dilly Dalian 'Talk to the Palm' Print


Who first introduced you to art and how did you end up in art school?

"My mother, a talented artist herself, used to set up still life fruit bowls for my brother and me to recreate with paper and a paint brush. I'm forever grateful to her for showing me how to draw at a young age and cementing my love of art. Without her guidance and support, I may never have discovered this talent.

By the time I was old enough to apply to college, my family and friends were all convinced I'd attend art school. But as a rebellious teenager, I had a different plan in mind and enrolled in the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts. Shortly after my freshman year started, I found myself signing up for multiple "Art for Non-Major" classes and decided it was time to officially transfer into the Stamps School of Art and Design where I went on to study textile and pattern design."

Dilly Dalian 'Home of the Water' Card

Dilly Dalian 'Home of the Water' Card


At what point did you decide to go digital with your designs?

"As I was approaching my senior year in college, I grew increasingly worried about my future and what life might look like once I was out of school. I decided to take a digital painting class and learned how to create just as much magic on the computer as I could with my hands."

Can you tell us about your first big break?

"I drew a map of Ann Arbor for my digital painting class and posted it on social media. At the time, I happened to be interning for a small shop on Main Street in Ann Arbor called Rock Paper Scissors. My boss, Lisa Roberts, loved my map and decided to sell it in the store. I couldn't have been more excited! I'm truly thankful to have had the opportunity to work for Lisa, who not only supported my art, but gave me the opportunity to study what other artists made and how they made it. It was an incredibly inspiring job that offered me a sneak peak into running my own business."

Dilly Dalian 'Ann Arbor Map' Print

Dilly Dalian 'Ann Arbor Map' Print


Speaking of other artists, are there any who inspire you and your work?

"Of course! Back in college and even now, I continue to be inspired by Anna Rifle of Rifle Paper Company, as well as Moglea PaperLilian Farag, Kristen Droz of Worthwhile Paper, and a number of my talented classmates: Emily Thomas, Grace LudmerSarah Renken, and Kyle D'Arcangelo. Look them up! They're incredible."

Can you talk a little bit about your day job and why you decided to supplement your freelance business with something more corporate?

"After a full year of dedicating myself to establishing Dilly Dalian as a freelance handlettering, greeting card, and art print business, I realized I was falling behind the trends in my industry. Truth be told, I got to the point where I didn't even know what I didn't know. This realization pushed me to look for a job that was a bit out of my element: Corporate Design. I now work for the University of Michigan Credit Union as a graphic designer. I spend a lot of time playing with maize and blue, but my skills and style have developed immensely. Prior to accepting this job, I often turned away freelance opportunities out of fear that I wouldn't be able to give the client what they were looking for. I now feel far more marketable and can do pretty much anything (except people, I cannot draw people). It's very empowering to have the confidence to know that I can not only do the job asked of me, but that I can do it well. In fact, now that I have a full-time job, I have more freelance work than ever before."

Dilly Dalian 'I LOVE YOU a WAFFLE' Card

Dilly Dalian 'I LOVE YOU a WAFFLE' Card


What's the hardest part about your job?

"This might sound cliche, but the hardest part is saying 'no' to a project. All of the assignments I get are truly awesome and I want a hand in helping all of them come to life. But in order to create high quality work, I know I need to take on less jobs and say 'no' more often."

Outside of your 9-to-5, where do you sit down to focus on your work?

"My freelance office is in my apartment. I have all my cards and prints on a shelf in the living room. I like to think my roommate enjoys this setup, especially because she'll never need to shop for a greeting card ever again, but admittedly, it can get a little messy sometimes. Fortunately, she's a good sport. If I'm not working form home, I usually go to my favorite coffee shop in town, Roos Roast. As a tried and true 90's baby, I always carry a pencil case filled with milky pens, gel pens and a sketchbook of some sort which enables me to work form anywhere."

A huge thanks to Caili of Dilly Dalian for the insightful discussion! If you'd like to get in touch with Caili to discuss a custom piece of work, please send an email to her here. To catch a glimpse of her latest work, be sure to follow her on Instagram and check out her recently updated Etsy store.

Marissa IrwinComment