I know quite a few CBIG members have their own blogs. I certainly do. And I post three times a week. That's a lot of talking about one's self and all my creative endeavors. So when I was asked to create a post for the CBIG blog, I figured it was time to hear from someone else. So, I asked one of my favorite children's illustrators to do an interview; Shirley Ng-Benitez. Her adorable style just rolls right off her paint brush and you just want to give a great big bear hug to all of her cute characters. Even the bears!
Sharon Wagner: Your adorable watercolor animals just seem to flow off your paint brush. Your art never appears forced or overworked. When did your style click?
Shirley Ng-Benitez: First of all, thank you so very much for that wonderful comment. I had been working in the graphic design field for many many years, without having picked up a paint brush throughout all of that time. In college, I tended to watercolor as I found that I was quite horrible with acrylics, oils, and other mediums such as airbrush or multimedia. I have painted in a representational manner and since returning to my watercolors about three years ago, I’m letting myself go away from being ultra-realistic and sketching every night (I have been for many years now)..and I think that has helped my work tremendously (to feel more free and fresh). So, to answer, I think my “style” is finally clicking. It’s taken many years.
Sharon: What really gets your creative juices flowing?
Shirley: An idea, a sketch from the night before, a holiday, the sky, animals, my children. I am constantly inspired by my surroundings..especially my youngest daughter’s creativity.
Sharon: Did you have any mentors who helped you along the way?
Shirley: I had a wonderful Graphic Design professor in college, Bob Pease. He gave me such insight into what communicates and what is unclear. His goal was to make great visual problem-solvers through design, and I think the lessons I learned, seeing white-space and appreciating the “less-is-more” and “K.I.S.S.” (keep it simple, stupid) mentality has helped my illustration work as well.
Sharon: Can you describe your first job in art or illustration?
Shirley: My first job was working at a small design firm making photo-stats. Does anyone remember those? I absolutely hated it. From that very short-lived job, I ended up working on my self-promotional mailer and ended up getting my first real job at American Greetings, Inc. as a Professional Lettering Artist.
Sharon: What about your favorite assignment?
Shirley: I absolutely love hand-lettering..and there is an illustrative aspect to it..the brushwork, the swoops. So my most favorite assignment so far was doing the lettering and design work for the Klutz book, Fairies.
Sharon: Have there been any jobs from Hell?
Shirley: A long time ago when I was 4.5 months pregnant and set to leave out of country for a vacation, a client of mine made major revisions to a board game at 2am. I was a novice, I was not able to say “absolutely not”, and so I continued to make edits until a few hours before my flight.
Sharon: Do you have any art tips you'd like to share?
Shirley: If you watercolor, one of my most favorite tips is to use a watercolor block..it’s always stretched for you and ready to paint on..I use the Arches Cold Pressed line of blocks. Another tip is to sketch on 8.5x11 sheets of paper on a clipboard. I find that I’m more apt to sketch freely without worrying about “wasting a page in a sketchbook” on sketches that might not look so great. Thanks to reams of cheap laser paper, I feel that this has really benefited my overall sketch-ability which translates to “fresher”, more natural illustrations.
Sharon: What are you working on now?
Shirley: I’m wrapping up design work on a new Klutz journal. It’s been a fantastic job and team to work with. Over the holidays, my youngest daughter and I fleshed out our first collaborative picture book and I created a dummy which is now being edited. We shall see where this may go, but we are enjoying the process and learning so much along the way.
Sharon: If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Shirley: I would be creating illustrations or characters for motion pictures, picture books, and the children’s market.
Sharon: What is your favorite thing in your studio?
Shirley: A post-it note that states, “Your fortune: With your good thing, do it good” – written by my daughter when she was 7.
Thank you Shirley for taking time to speak with us!
See more amazing work from Shirley Ng-Benitez by visiting her Website: www.shirleyngbenitez.com
Sharon Wagner is the illustrator of "Mary Rode to Bethlehem on Me."
Learn more about Sharon and her wonderful children's art by visiting