Sunday, April 4, 2010

Featured Artist: Shirley Ng-Benitez

Ever since my introduction to the blogging world in 2008, I have crossed cyber paths with countless interesting, artistic, friendly and supportive people. Illustrator Shirley Ng-Benitez is one of them, and I've recently had the pleasure of interviewing her about her work and other fun facts.

KP: What 3 words would you use to describe your illustration style?

SNB: Wow, this is a tough one, as I'm still figuring it out - though I would say, 1) story-like 2) heartfelt 3) warm

KP: Do you have an illustration that is especially close to your heart?

SNB: I have two: La Partie de Thé dans le Bois (; and "Monsieur Olivet" ( I feel that the first one is special to me because the sketch came from a thought from a lovely friend and I just started sketching the idea out quickly. Miette's face came first and then the party crowns, the tea, and the whole forest scene came to life. I just keep sketching and everything just came out so fluidly...that is something that doesn't happen very often for me. Monsieur Olivet is very special to me because of his expression. This expression just "spoke" to me and he came to life one day. I found the "right" name for him, and he is off on his adventures. It has been such a treat to come up with his friends and story..which is still unfolding, by the way.

KP: An artist/illustrator whose work you admire?

SNB: Oh so very many that I can't say just one..can I name a few? Holly Hobbie, Amy Bates, Lisbeth Zwerger, Maurice Sendak, R.W. Alley. So very many more!

KP: Please tell us a bit about your artistic process, from concept to finished artwork.

SNB: When there is a problem to solve visually, there is an initial period where I have a few immediate thoughts about how to go about illustrating the piece, and so I quickly sketch out ideas on regular bond paper. After I sketch a few ideas, I move on to my daily chores and work-load all the while thinking about the problem. I tend to work on my illustrations at night when all is quiet in the house, and when there's time to think. Each night, before I go to sleep, I sketch. I think this has helped me a lot this past year, feeling more comfortable with just letting the pencil go. I erase a lot, and keep sketching facial expressions, poses and environments until I get to a point where there is a special something that I see in a sketch. Then I get pretty excited, and eager to work through all of the details to enhance the entire piece. Once I'm happy with the sketch, (and hopefully have succeeded in solving the visual problem), I define the sketch more with detail. Not a completely detailed piece, but I add enough detail so that I can then move to the next phase, which is to photocopy the sketch and enlarge it by about 150%. I tend to sketch small, so I blow up the sketch so that when I paint, I can add a bit more detail. Once the copy is made, I turn it over and add graphite all over the back so that I can transfer the copy to a watercolor block. I use Arches Cold Pressed 140lb. currently because I really like the texture of the paper and enjoy the format (12 1/8" x 15 1/8"). Once the pencil is transferred to the watercolor block, I wet the entire area I'm going to paint on with plain water and let it dry. Sometimes I float color into the backgrounds at this stage and leave it clear where I might place a character or animal. Then I start laying in color here and there in light washes. I move back and forth between focusing on the main character, or the background as I find that I like the differences (detail work, and then soft washes). I start adding fine detail with my favorite 00 Winsor Newton Sable brush throughout. I really enjoy the whole process...and it's always hard to know when to stop..but I'm hoping I'm getting better at knowing when. I am still a student, that's for sure!

KP: What have you found to be the greatest challenge as an illustrator? What is the greatest reward/Why do you love what you do?

SNB: Greatest challenge: overcoming self-doubt. I have always loved drawing ever since I can remember. I drew all along the sides of my papers as a kid, and would always scrunch up and cover my work as a child. Even after finding my direction in college, I remember hesitating to show my work to the class for any sort of critique. It was much too personal and I remember feeling that to show my portfolio to anyone was like wearing my heart on my sleeve. It was SO hard to break through that self-doubt and fear of rejection.

The greatest reward is to have my girls respond with a verbal, "Awww!". (Extremely awesome when you're aiming for illustrating something sweet and cute!). I just asked my little one to help with question 1, and she said, "what does that mean?". After I said "what does mommy's work look like to you?", and she said, "it brings you into the forest". Heck, I was just so tickled to hear that because that's what I'm shooting for - bringing people into my work and having them feel as though they've just been transported to a childlike world again..full of innocence, light, and fun. I love to illustrate because it brings me such joy to be able to send a cheerful break to anyone who might chance upon a piece. I believe in living each moment to the fullest, to stop and smell the flowers, and enjoy what nature brings us, so when we can pause a bit in our busy day to relax and ponder, it makes me happy to know that my work might be a part of that levity that we all need.

KP: As a child, what did you aspire to?

SNB: I always wanted to be a veterinarian and own a horse. I now, crazily have a barn but no horses, just a dog, a fish, and lovely family. And up until my first year in college, I thought I was going to be an Engineer, just like my dad. Thankfully he has been so supportive of my quite-the-opposite career direction.

KP: What do you do in your spare time?

SNB: I walk the dog; ride my bike; in the spring through summer I enjoy pretending to play golf; love to bake and cook; read about the illustration industry and about artists, illustrators, lettering-artists, and designers of the past and present; crochet scarves, sketch, sketch and sketch some more. I also love chatting with my girlfriends and catching up with my favorite blog friends and artists!

KP: Chocolate, Strawberry or Vanilla?

SNB: Chocolate - all the way. Especially dark of any kind.

(Love this lil' guy)

Find Shirley's work here (illustration blog) and here (graphic design website).

All images copyright Shirley Ng-Benitez.


Shirley said...

OH Sarah, you are SO kind for posting this..I am honored to be a part of your series. You are a gem and I'm so glad we crossed paths here in the blogworld! I continue to learn and grow and am continually inspired by your work (art) as well as your poppet creations! Big hugs to you, my friend!

Koo and Poppet said...

It was my pleasure Shirley! Hugs back to you and continued success on your creative journey. You have also been such a great supporter of Koo & poppet, this feature is the least I can do!

Unknown said...

Ahh yes the wonderful world of 'Shirley and the gorgeous little woodland creatures'!!!!!
I am always delighted by Shirley's work.. this is great to hear a little more about her life and process!
Cheers , Helen

PS Sarah your little people are just too gorgeous for words as well!

k.h.whitaker said...

Nice interview. I love Shirley's little characters, they all have the sweetest expressions and her illustrations are always warm and friendly.

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Sarah, what a fine job you did on this wonderful post of my dear friend Shirley. You have truly captured her spirit and her art. This is wonderful! Your blog is beautiful. I just love these little guys. So whimsical and fun!

Heather said...

This was a great interview! I enjoyed reading Shirley's words after enjoying her adorable characters for quite some time! thanks for sharing. Heather

Cheryl Lynn said...

What a lovely interview of my friend, Shirley! She is such a major talent and a sweet soul. She has inspired me to no end. I positively love her character, Monsieur Olivet! He is adorable to say the least.

Your blog is wonderful and so was this interview.

Have a great day!

Susan said...

What a wonderful interview! It was great to have insight into Shirley's amazing talent - she has brought much joy, inspiration and friendship to me and so many others - thank you Sarah!

I also love your blog, your creations are adorable. I'm so glad I was directed to your blog via Shirley, I'm following you now so I don't miss anything! I too have such a soft spot for stuffed creations, and these are exceptional - I'll be sure to order one sometime soon!

Bella Sinclair said...

YAY, brava, brava to both of you. Wonderful interview. Thanks!