Sunday, February 22, 2015

Working as a Children’s Book Illustrator - Artist Shirley Ng-Benitez

This week we are celebrating over 210,000 page views and 4 years of fun, memorable art, and lovely friendships!!

On March 13 we will announce 3 winners of a special giveaway that is being organized (United States only).

I will post photos of the unforgettable prizes starting March 1st on our FB Page, Instagram, G+ and Twitter. If you haven't yet, you will only need to sign up for one of the above social media and leave a comment to qualify for our random selection!

In the meantime, here is a fun interview with the very talented Shirley Ng-Benitez. Her enthusiasm about her creations and life is contagious!

WHO YOU ARE, WHERE YOU ARE FROM AND WHAT YOU DO: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, CA, and after living in Ohio and Arizona I came home to my favorite state and am a happily married mom of two awesome daughters. I've been in the graphic design industry for over 20 years and am now fulfilling my dream of illustrating and writing children's picture books.

YOUR FAVORITE DESIGN/ART STYLE: This is a tough question as I have too many favorites! I've always admired Cezanne's brushstrokes, Cassandre's and Saul Bass' designwork, and am such an admirer of so many artists including Mary Blair, Theodor Geissel, Beatrix Potter, Lisbeth Zwerger, Holly Hobbie, Jan Ormerod, Freya Blackwood, Arnold Lobel, R.W. Alley, Ernest H. Shepard, the list goes on…

THE MAIN INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR WORK: My main inspiration comes from the love for my children and fond memories of my own childhood. After my mom passed away nearly four years ago, being able to connect with moments that bring me joy and peace with a little bit of silliness thrown in is where most of my work comes from. I now see how quickly one's life can fly by, so it's incredibly important for me to celebrate each day and be inspired by the people I love, the surroundings I live in, and appreciate the ability I have to create things. I am also very inspired by music, nature, creators, makers, artists, teachers, and our elders.

WHAT YOU REALLY LOVE, I.E. YOUR PASSION: I really love to draw. I have found that it not only gives me peace, especially with such a busy schedule these days, but it gives me strength. Drawing has always been a place of refuge for me as a shy kid. I was the kid in school who would hide in the crook of my elbow as I scribbled and doodled while not really paying attention to the teacher. I have found that I really really love to sketch every day and especially at night which helps me to create the pictures I see in my head. I haven't drawn this much ever in my whole life and I think it truly is what my passion is.

WHAT YOU DON'T REALLY LIKE: I don't really like the never-ending cycle of laundry that seems to creep up on me every week...but I am grateful for my washer and dryer, so no complaints! Truthfully, what I really don't like is a lot of what has been in the news these days concerning the health of our planet, the health of the people on our planet, and the very tragic horrors across the world we are now so quick to view and read upon on the internet. It's incredibly upsetting to think about what the state of the world will be like for my children in the next 5, 10, 15 years. I am hopeful for a better world for them.

A FAVORITE SOMETHING: A little sticky note on my monitor from my youngest when she was 7…it states: "With your good thing, do it good."

A MEMORABLE EVENT IN YOUR LIFE: In my Beginning Illustration course in college, my professor assigned us a project to illustrate the Gilroy Garlic Festival Poster. This was the first watercolor painting I had ever entered into anything and it won first place for that year (1988). The best thing about winning was not the $500 cash prize but the fact that they gave me 20 printed posters and that it would be printed for many years to come. It was my first professionally printed piece and I was over the moon with that!

A FUN MEMORY: Probably on the top five memories in my life was spending a vacation just with my mom on a "Watercolor painting trip in France" - we visited the South of France: Nice, Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Aix-en-Provence, and then ventured up to Paris and finally Monet's home in Giverny. At one fun dinner with the tour group, after finishing our main course, the waiter brought us large spoons and placed them at the top of our plates. These spoons were enormous! As large as cooking spoons one might use for stirring pasta sauce. As we waited for our desserts, I leaned over and whispered to mom, "My spoon is too small." I will never ever forget my mom's laughter that was priceless!

YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD AS AN ARTIST: Wow, I thank you for asking now makes me feel as though I need to work on this part! For now, beyond donating some prints of my work to charitable foundations, I feel that my work can be taken as a "warm and gentle place that harkens back to the good ol' times." I hope for a bit of that feeling when people view my work. In this complex and fast paced busy-ness of life, I hope that when people view my work it brings them a smile, or maybe even a good memory of a less complicated time.

THE NEXT CHAPTER IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE: Recently I signed with my fabulous agent, Nicole Tugeau of and I am thrilled to say that my next chapter is to primarily work as a children's book illustrator! I'm currently working on 4 books with a potential of two more (keeping fingers crossed!). I am so very grateful and feel very blessed to be working on such wonderful projects with such great people. I am also working on my writing skills and have a growing collection of books on writing, as that is another chapter I am working on in my professional life.


1. Build exercise into your job; it's something I have neglected for many years, but have re-committed to recently and it just has so many benefits! My daily walks make for great ideas for illustrations, too…a sweet bonus!

2. Play! I recently completed an online course that basically helped me discover the importance of "play." For me, I have always felt that the picture I see in my mind is what the goal is; and that there is one direct line to that end. But there are so many other avenues to get to the end result, and by "playing" with different tools and approaches, the end piece becomes something "richer" in my opinion. My process had been quite linear and so discovering this has now allowed me to consider new possibilities I'd not ever thought of before. Going back to that creative place we all had as a child where it didn't matter what the end piece was gonna look like has been invaluable in my creative journey and I think if you're more of a linear kind of artist, this is something you might want to try.

3. Observe nature in its tiniest details, from sunrise to sunset; there is an unlimited amount of images you can draw from. Even in the coldest of winters there is so much beauty! A twig, a seed pod, a frozen birdbath. Really examining the small details can give you patterns or images that are right there ready to be made in your own personal way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A New Art Licensing Agency - Jennifer Nelson Artists

Life lately has been very busy and fun. My recent trips and adventures in the Southwest have inspired me to create new and unique collections. I can't wait to start painting again!

While taking a break from traveling and other design projects, I want to introduce you all to a new art licensing agency called Jennifer Nelson Artists. I am sure you've heard of it on other social media but I am happy to publish this exclusive interview with Agent Jennifer Nelson:

WHO YOU ARE, WHERE YOU ARE FROM AND WHAT YOU DO: I grew up in Atlanta, GA and went to school at the Pratt Institute in NYC. I live in Arlington, MA now. I've been a graphic designer (primarily books) for 25+ years and agent for nearly 4 years.

Agent Jennifer Nelson
I worked on some big accounts such as General Mills cereals, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated Kids and Nickelodeon. My work has been recognized by leading trade organizations and publications including American Institute of Graphic Arts, Association of Educational Publishers, Boston Book Builders Association, Creative Child Magazine, Communications Arts Magazine, Dr. Toy, Fat Brain Toy Award, HOW Magazine, International Book Award, Mom's Choice Award, Print Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, The Toy Book and has been awarded several Parent's Choice Awards.

YOUR FAVORITE DESIGN/ART STYLE: I like so many things but lately my focus is on painterly work, vector art, anything cheerful and colorful, and art combined with strong lettering. Ask me again next month and I'll likely name something else.

THE MAIN INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR WORK/AGENCY: After years of working with illustration as a graphic designer I really wanted to get into the meat and potatoes of the art world.

Now I get to work directly with artists and that's satisfying on many levels.

WHAT YOU REALLY LOVE, I.E. YOUR PASSION: Since I was 5 years old I've loved art, color and design. And especially lettering. I'm passionate about lettering.

Right now I'm looking for another great letterer so please start getting your portfolios together and show me your work!

WHAT YOU DON'T REALLY LIKE: I really don't like agents who take advantage of illustrators. I'm striving to be the agent who is fair as well as successful, who has a personal approach and time for one-on-one with my artists as well as our clients.

A FAVORITE SOMETHING: My absolutely favorite is the work of these 5 artists! I mean it. Monika Forsberg's honest, direct color and design sensibility. Jennifer Orkin Lewis's sophisticated painterly approach. Bee Brown's fun, playful lettering. Lauren Lowen's whimsical wit and irreverent attitude. Victoria Johnson's eclectic technique, combining embroidery, painting and collage. All is this brings me immense joy.

A MEMORABLE EVENT IN YOUR LIFE: Aside from enormous pride in my teenage son and the support I get from my wonderful husband Baz, my most memorable event is actually very recent.

I honestly have to say that the January launch of Jennifer Nelson Artists was amazingly successful, beyond my wildest dreams. I feel very grateful to all who have come out of the woodwork with encouragement, well wishes and assignments!

A FUN MEMORY: I vividly remember the first time I saw a book of mine being printed back in 1992. The smell of the ink and watching the paper flying off the presses. It was thrilling.

YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD AS AN ARTIST/AGENCY: I'm proud of the fact that we're providing an alternative. Now art directors have another option for smart, beautiful illustrations.

THE NEXT CHAPTER IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE: We will be at SURTEX 2015. The artists each have their own booth, as the agency just opened in January 2015 - but I will be there assisting the artists and meeting with clients.

We are looking forward to it very much. If you are going to be at the show and want to connect with me, send me a note beforehand and we will make a date!

A HELPFUL TIP TO OTHER ARTISTS: Remember to be true to yourself. Clients want to see your unique hand and the delight you take in your work. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The 2015 AmericasMart Atlanta - Artists & Trends, Part II

As mentioned in last week's editorial, Ming and I visited many showrooms at the 2015 AmericasMart Atlanta, although we only saw a fraction of what's there. It'd have probably taken a whole month to go through all of them!

While passing through we interviewed a couple of signing artists and noticed many interesting trends going on, some of which have been around for a while but some which seem to have the potential to branch out and develop more "new" directions.


We met many fellow artists and took a few pictures to share with you all. Next time I will try to take more, although the lighting situation at the Mart and other meeting places is not in our favor, so I apologize if the images are not perfect.

Studio M had a great get-together with artists from around the country. It was so much fun to hang around with the very talented Ronnie Walter, artist, writer and agent for Two Town Studios and her husband Jim Marcotte, also a writer and agent.

Alex Colombo & Ronnie Walter at Studio M ~ Atlanta 2015

Ming and I had fun talking to artist Patti Gay of Two Can Art about her new product lines at the Mart. Patti did an artist signing with C & F Enterprises, featuring her Two Can Art coastal pillows she designed in collaboration with her son Noah, who is autistic.

Artist Patti Gay ~ Atlanta 2015, C & F Enterprises Signing Event
© Patty Gay, C & F Enterprises

It was also a great pleasure to meet R.B. Hamilton, a self-taught artist who has won Best-in-Show and First-Place (in acrylic mediums) for his work in various art shows. His wife, interior designer Betsy Drake, has expanded his art to include pocketbooks, totes, towels, and designer pillows. Hamilton's original art, limited edition reproductions, designer pillows and pocketbooks can be seen in fine gift shops, home furnishing stores, and galleries throughout the United States.

Artist R.B. Hamilton painting at the AmericasMart Atlanta 2015
Artist & Interior Designer Betsy Drake


Watercolors are a strong trend seen at Surtex last year and also in Atlanta this year. This is a style that goes well with just about all trends.

© Alessandra Colombo
We have already seen the emergence of themes like woodland, forest animals, including owls, foxes, hedgehogs, and deer, but we heard people asking for "hunting, fishing & wildlife" several times, so this appears to be a branching out of the same trend: Nature, Earth, Organic.

Courtesy of Design Design ~ Trendspiration 2015

Birds are still going very strong along with more and more colorful botanical, florals and gardens. Farmhouse has a strong appeal with elements like distressed wood, roosters, pigs, cows and bunnies. And don't forget the dogs, cats and other domestic animals, they are also in demand.

Courtesy of Studio M
Consequently, the Rustic trend that started a while back, along with Primitive and Native Indian art appear to be stronger, although they are caught into the big mix of what is being called the "new Industrial Revolution" - the Makers Movement. I found a good definition for it:

"The maker movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise."

Industrial & Urban Chic featured lots of metal, wire, textures and grays or neutral colors. We saw some beautiful hand stitching & embroidered details and natural textures (variations of burlap, twine, bark and other similar materials). Below here you can see a new collection from Cathy Heck Studio featuring their new product line with Primitives by Kathy.

Courtesy of Cathy Heck Studio

Beaded art was featured by several showrooms, and although is not new, it's being interpreted in new ways.

Courtesy of Certified International
Another strong trend that has been around for sometime is the Editorial, Sentiment & Inspirational art. This is coming out with more variations, in softer and perhaps more spiritual colors and quotes.

Courtesy of Midwest-CBK
Calligraphy and wedding styles with whites and creams are taking their spot in this market already full of ideas. Fresh and beautiful Paper Cutting art was found in several showrooms. Chalk art is still present although in the descending, it seems. Metallics are the new emerging colors.

Courtesy of Design Design
Another trend spotted although not new to the market is the Blue Prints, Science & Math one. Very nice, with deep blues and other elements.

Courtesy of Certified International

Personal & Essential is a trend that comes from Europe. This general trend of very eclectic expressions of all sort features also some colorful Bohemian & Folk mixes. Mid Century is alive as well as contemporary art, with strong, vivid colors over neutrals.

Courtesy of Transpac
Travel & Places takes a spot in the trendy markets, with maps, scooters, bikes and famous cities or places.

And finally, the traditional Coastal is everywhere but with Mediterranean blues becoming prominent.

I am sure we missed some... we wish we had more time to spend with many more talented artists and creative manufacturers but we ran out of time. To the next AmericasMart Atlanta show!

~ oOo ~


I saw this video through one of my friend artists on a social media site. I thought to add it here at the end of this editorial as I found it very inspirational and encouraging for those artists who are just beginning in this free-lance & commercial art field.

Four Disney Background Artists Paint A Tree In Their Iconic Styles

~ oOo ~

References with links:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The 2015 AmericasMart Atlanta - The Nation’s #1 Product Destination, Part I

Ming and I just came back from an inspiring and busy AmericasMart Atlanta. What a fun show - so many people, markets and amazing products! I walked the same show in 2013 for the first time and it's still my favorite one.

It's very different from Surtex in that the Mart has over 1,400 permanent showrooms and some 2,500 temporary manufacturer exhibits. This makes it the ultimate market experience because everything is there; three enormous buildings full of all kinds of merchandise on display.

There a buyer discovers the styles that start trends and sees the actual products of an overwhelming amount of brands and designs. In short, you can shop the largest collection of gift, home, rug and apparel in one easy-to-navigate downtown location.

The Mart was very lively and busy as usual but I heard many artists and manufacturers this year celebrating a high volume of sales and successes across the board. We only got a glimpse of so much excitement and with the permission of the showroom owners, we took some pictures to share with you all.

We went by lots of showrooms. We stopped by Jellybean to see my new rugs and meet with Edward Chu, the owner. It's always such fun to talk to him!

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Jellybean

Midwest-CBK was one of our favorites places and we got a very inspiring tour through their amazing product displays by the lovely Vice President of Design & Creative, Margo Tantau. It was a pleasure to meet her in person!

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Midwest-CBK

Another very colorful and beautiful showroom was Certified International, where many talented artist products are featured and trends are made. It was also a pleasure to meet the owner!

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Certified International

We dropped by Magnet Works, which is now re-branded as Studio M - you can see the official video presentation by the owners, Sue and Curt Todd. It was also great to meet up with Anne McFarland Brown, Director of Product Development, and admire the bright new products that surrounded us.

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Studio M

Phil Cowley, Chief Marketing Officer at Design Design Inc. was very kind, too, to take the time to show us the new products in their very fun and colorful showroom.

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Design Design Inc.

By the end of Saturday we were ready to take a break. It was party time at Leanin' Tree, Inc. so we joined the many artists celebrating their successful show! We met the amazing Susan January, Vice President of the company and took photos of their great displays.

Pictures above and below are © - All Rights Reserved - Courtesy of Leanin' Tree Inc.

We left Atlanta so inspired and full of industry good news! We hope to share more of our insights next week when we will post more details about the market, artists signing events, and trends - so stay tuned for more!

A view of Atlanta downtown from the AmericasMart bridge connecting the buildings.