Illustrator Interview – Shirley Ng-Benitez

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IforJoanna1 have been enjoying Shirley’s animal sketches so much over the past few months on Facebook that I decided it was about time to have her on Miss Marple’s Musings so that we could all share in her artwork.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

I’m an illustrator but early last year I began writing. As an aspiring author/illustrator, I begin with words and now that I’ve begun the journey of writing, I have an even larger admiration for writers! (and of course a huge admiration for illustrators.)

[JM] Where are you from and how has that and/or your culture influenced your work?

I was born and raised in the Mountain View, California, middle kid to two brothers and wonderful parents. I’m Chinese/American. My parents met and married in San Francisco, and as they set out to start their family, they headed south to “the boonies” (as dad called it) which were orchards before what Silicon Valley is today. My parents took the three of us in our big stationwagon-with-the-seat-that-goes-backwards to San Francisco on Saturdays for our weekly gathering at my grandparents for a full 5-8 course homemade Chinese meal. Many birthdays, weekends, celebrations, and meals were enjoyed with our huge family, for mom was the youngest of 6. I enjoyed a very suburban upbringing, so a lot of that has influenced my work (childhood memories like floating sticks in the gutter, and playing baseball til the sun went down) are things I like to sketch and paint to this day.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

My first memory was selling copied drawings of Bambi to my neighbors for a nickel as a 5 year old until mom and big brother caught me. I didn’t start really thinking about art as a career until I visited a friend at Cal Poly University SLO during a spring break during junior college. I was supposed to be an Engineer of some sort, but seeing people working in Graphic Communications courses made me curious and think…ah! I can make a living doing art since I constantly doodled during school but never took any courses. I attended San Jose State University and graduated with a BS in Graphic Design/concentration in Illustration and landed my first job at American Greetings, Inc. as a Professional Lettering Artist (one of my other loves). After that I moved from different design firms in the toy, design, and marketing industries and worked on some super projects from cereal boxes, to Koosh ball packaging, to Klutz books, Cisco marketing, and direct mail advertising (a.k.a. junk mail!). In ’98 I started my own company,, and have been so fortunate to work with so many great clients. About 4 years ago, all of my focus changed to illustration and I started posting to, and started my blog which I’ve posted to ever since.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

Watercolors, pencil and paper, and the computer.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

I always seem to draw mice. I don’t know why, though as I’m afraid of them! I once had to shoo one away from our doorstep and freaked out my little ones and the dog so much that they ran inside and locked the door. I do love bunnies, too though.


MonsieurOlivet_relaxingbyfire_72 copy

[JM] I confess to adoring M. Olivet. Tell us a little about him!

Goodness, thank you, Joanna! Monsieur came from a windy fall day, and I just started painting an elderly gentleman mouse. I love France and so I just had to name him Monsieur Olivet. He’s a kind ol’ single gentleman who cares for his friends of the forest, but is looking for a companion Mademoiselle. He is known to play the violin, and make a mean peanut brittle for his friends during the Christmas holidays.


[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

Yikes, it truly is a mess! I share my space with my youngest, who is an amazing creator of 2-D and 3-D we are constantly battling for space on the table!



[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

Here are two recent pieces I created this week for my online course I’m taking. The challenge was picture books and illustrating the Aesop’s fable, The Fox and the Crow. During a review of last weeks work, Lilla Rogers recommended doing two pieces “a piece for you” and a “piece for your client”..and so with that, I started working on sketches (lots and lots of them) for about 2 days/nights, and then just “went for it” and started painting the watercolor traditional version. The sketch needs to “work” for me design-wise before I can commit to painting it because there is no “undo” button and I have to feel a sense of contentment with the sketch before painting. I scanned the sketch in and looked at it to make sure the pieces of the layout were working (perspective, size, depth) etc. This helps to commit to the painting.


As for the digital piece, I sketched that too, and placed the sketch on a top layer in Photoshop. Once that layer is there, I can start creating the characters on different layers and group them so that I can take each piece and move or re-size them as I needed to. In this piece, I shrunk the squirrel in the end as he was too dominant in my initial sketch. One of the great things about digital is that you have that flexibility to shrink actual final images! Hooray!


[JM] How do all your different creative skills feed your children’s illustration work?

Every tool is an opportunity and is a bit like magic to me. Every line with each tool has its merits and I think that feeling of moving your pencil to the paper and seeing what pops up on your page is completely fabulous. Many, many sketches go to the trash bin, but when one sings to you, it is like a friend has come to play and then it’s fun to bring them to the world through the internet and emailing friends and family with them. Watching my kids create 2-D and 3-D art encourages me to keep playing and that also hugely feeds into my work…just that aspect of making/doing/playing and having fun.

[JM] What art do you have hanging in your home?

Works by Sheila Waters, lettering artist extraordinaire, a piece by Becky Dreistadt, one of my travel watercolors (I should replace that one), and a new lovely piece by Melissa Sweet (she’s such an inspiration).

Five Fun Ones to Finish.                                                                                                 [JM] What word best sums you up?


[JM] If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go?

Provence, France.

[JM] Bon choix! What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

Lime bubbly water and mandarin oranges, with a handful of tortilla chips (I know, I know..bad.)

[JM] Cats or dogs?

Dogs 🙂

Zsófi, she's a Hungarian Pointer or Viszla.

Zsófi, she’s a Hungarian Pointer or Viszla.

[JM] Which literary bad guy do you like the most?

The Grinch in all of his grinchiness.

Where can we find/follow you and your work?                                                                                                                                                                                        twitter @shirleysillos                                           

And I want to give a shout out to Shirley’s 12-year old daughter, Noelle, who has her own creative blog, Here is some of Noelle’s work:



Shirley, I especially hope to see Monsieur Olivet in his own book someday! Thank you so much for joining us on the blog today. To your success!

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20 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Shirley Ng-Benitez

  1. Alex says:

    It was great to find out more about Shirley I am a big fan of hers 🙂 – Her work is so expressive and it makes me smile. Thank you for such a lovely interview!

  2. Shirley says:

    Joanna, it has been such a pleasure and honor to be included in your interview-Wednesdays. I am marveling at the fact that you lived in Nice for so long, and are now living in one of the states I’ve longed to live in. I am wishing you all the best in your writing endeavors..can’t wait to see more books from you, and yes, Monsieur Olivet surely will have his place in the sun one day. I will try my best to make it happen..thank you for being such a wonderful supporter of his! 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      Shirley, I am so glad you were able to share with us today. You have so many characters just bursting for a story! I am indeed very luck to have lived in Nice and NOW New York. I am thankful daily for my life path.

      • Shirley says:

        Thanks Joanna..I hope the characters will make it into books in the future 🙂 You truly have and are are on a wonderful journey..I am wishing you much happiness along the way. I’m gonna keep my eye out for your books on my journey too!

  3. What an interesting path Shirley has taken from greeting cards to Klutz to illustrating books. Can’t believe she created two covers in two days. Her animal characters are so endearing. I’d purchase the books to look at all of the illustrations. I love Monsieur Olivet. Great interview ladies.

  4. Shirley is as cute as her characters, but it would seem her tenacity is not to be underestimated! So glad you’ve turned your focus to illustration, Shirley! I’m glad for the smiles I have for every post of yours I get to see. Thanks for shining a light on Shirley, Joanna!

  5. Shirley work is adorable! I’m not afraid of mice, so I really love the mice art. 😉 I see that artistic and creative talent runs in her house, how lucky! I, too, hope to see M. Olivet in his own book one day soon.

  6. Rhythm says:

    A great interview ladies!! I like that word tenacity. Tenacity and compassion. Nice combination. I’ve been known to chase a mouse or two in my time, but they were not quite as cute as M. Olivet!! I’m looking forward to seeing his story!

  7. Shirley says:

    Thank you SO very much! 🙂

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