Monday, October 24, 2016

Woodland Wonder Shirley Ng-Benitez

There are some artists that create characters so distinct and so wonderful that you can't imagine that you've never seen that character before. That's what I feel like when I see Shirley Ng-Benitez's illustrations. I know that her characters aren't characters I've seen before, but I can't imagine the world without Shirley's wonderful characters.


Dani: You have a distinct style in your artwork. How did you arrive at this style?

Shirley: In my illustration courses in college, I was able to try different mediums: watercolor, charcoal, colored pencil, gouache, oil, pen and ink, etc. I remember distinctly feeling overwhelmed in my bedroom/studio while painting with oils because of the smell of the turpentine. I thought, wow, I don’t think I can do this much without endangering my health! This was many, many years ago, and I suppose that really pushed me to find a medium that I could add color to my pencil drawings. Watercolor fit the bill and I would say about five years ago, I’ve been experimenting with different approaches with my watercolor work, i.e. starting with waterproof inks, using digital layering, and various papers and mixes of watercolor and gouache. It’s still definitely a work-in-progress, and I’m now tempted to try oils again!

Dani: What is the worst/hardest part of starting on a new project?

Shirley: If it’s for a client, I’m actually really excited about starting the new project as usually there is a manuscript that I’ll read that just starts generating images in my head. I really love to sketch, so things pop in and I jot them down..sometimes words, sometimes sketches. If it’s for a personal project though, the hard part for me is coming up with something truly interesting and compositionally interesting. I have been trying very hard to focus on the narrative of the illustration and so telling that specific story in one image is really challenging. It’s exciting when it starts coming together but it sure is hard sometimes at the start.

Dani: How does your Agent help you in your career?

Shirley: My agent has helped move my work to focus on picture book work. I’ve loved how she (Nicole Tugeau continues to ask her artists to produce new pieces throughout the year so that she has fresh work to show. She also produces promos for the group as well as shows our work at different events throughout the year. She’s been great to discuss contract issues with; work-progress issues that might come up with specific clients; and she’s a great sounding board for all kinds of issues that come up regarding my artwork and writing.

Dani: What's your favorite part of illustration? 

Shirley: My favorite part is also the hardest part for me, which is coming up with a narrative for the piece. I find works that draw me in emotionally and pique my curiosity are so amazing and I shoot for that when sketching. It’s a big, wonderful journey. I also do very much love being in the “play” zone when creating personal pieces..trying new mediums and how they work with one another, as well as messing around on the computer and playing with layers and transparencies is always fun.

Dani: Any words of wisdom you can give for people finishing up their dummies?

Shirley: Enjoy the process. I think we so often hope for this ultra-great, awesome, perfect end point, and that blocks you from enjoying the work you’re doing. I had a BIG birthday this year and so I’ve been reflecting a lot about this career and what I’ve gone through and the things I’d go back and re-do. I must say that with a lot of confidence, that it’s truly wonderful when you hit that sweet spot of moving a piece of art in a direction that delights you, and that doesn’t happen as easily if you’re too worried about the end result. It’s not easy for me too, as I am completely a planner and an end-result kind of gal, but I’m more conscious of making sure that I open myself up to “play” when creating (getting messy, trying new things, focusing on something else vs. worrying about the perfection of a piece) while working on any project. If you can build in some time to play during the work needed for a dummy to be completed, I highly recommend it. Best to everyone!


Illustration site:
Graphic Design site:

Twitter: @shirleysillos
Instagram: @shirleysillos


  1. Shirley, I can see the fun you have in your art. Now, time to go play.

    1. Thanks so much David! I hope you have fun in the process of your dummy!

  2. Love her ! and her illustrative style! Huge Massive Fan.

  3. Shirley's illustrations are truly delightful and bring a smile to my face whenever I see them!

    1. Teresa, that is really kind of you, thanks so much!

  4. I'll try to remember to have fun and enjoy the process of trying new mediums.

  5. That picture with the flowered painting wrapping around the world is amazing - so charming and clever and beautiful!

    1. Allison, thanks so very much..I titled it "Grow Peace"..and I think we all really should try in my own perfect world. :) Thanks so much for your kind words!!

  6. Dani, what an honor to be interviewed by you..and congratulations to all of your Smart Dummies participants! Thank you for doing what you do and supporting this community so generously. All the best to you on your creative journey!

  7. Charming characters, Shirley! Such cozy settings, these are wonderful.