How to draw cute while capturing natural realism

Shirley, girl with puppy

So that's Shirley's prompt for the Marks & Splashes Group Critique set for 1 p.m. (CST) Wednesday, December 20. "Please illustrate one of the following prompts using a young animal (or animals) in your narrative piece. Choose one or a combination of these words to convey in your sketch.

Patience        Optimism

Warmth         Kindness

Gratitude       Being Present.


Shirley Ng Benitez has worked as an illustrator and author of children's books for more than five years, and as a graphic designer for American Greetings, Inc. and many other clients in the technology, medical, toy and publishing industries. "I paint traditionally in gouache and watercolor and also create mixed media pieces as well as digitally on the computer.


She's a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Picture Book Artists Association, Pacific Scribes and Friends of Calligraphy.

Shirley is a guest teacher in a new Marks & Splashes online workshop series, Drawing Children for Children's Book Illustrations. Other guest instructors in the six month interactive series are Patrice Barton (January 30), Tracy Nishimura Bishop, Juana Neal-Martinez  (April) and children's book literary agent and artist rep Christy Tugeau Ewers (March.)

Registration for Shirley's December 20 workshop covers you for all other workshops in the spring series, the video replays and to the recording of last month's live workshop with licensed artist and online drawing teacher Cindy WiderHow to Draw 'Cute' While Capturing Natural Realism.

Please Save My Seat For November 30

You can buy a ticket to participate in just this month's single event with Cindy and Mark ($27) or subscribe for this and future sessions and videos of all past sessions, too ($10 monthly.)

Develop your own totally original young character

Here's her assignment for us in her words: "Design a totally original cute character (either animal (anthropomorphic) or human child) and place that little character in various different positions or scenarios.

"Consider the facial features as well as body proportions and aim for consistency as best you can. Practice various body parts individually and a lot before you bring all of the parts together - so that you feel confident to draw your character and most of all have fun!" she says.

As soon as you register, you'll receive an email with directions on where to upload your submission for Cindy's challenge. (It's OK to fit all the exercises on one sheet) You'll also discover how to participate in this week's interactive live event – and receive permanent access to the video replay.

Cindy Wider block text

In addition to being a leading online teacher of classical drawing methods, Cindy is an ambassador for Derwent Cumberland pencil company as well as St Cuthberts Mill paper (both long-standing UK companies.) She has appeared on live national television twice in England demonstrating Derwent colored pencil products.

Cindy's fine art is represented by one of the world's leading commercial art licensing companies, the U.S-based Art Licensing International. Check out Cindy's website.

You can catch her latest video/blog post, a nice lead-in to what she'll be talking about in our November 30 session here where she shows the very first stages of taking just an idea through to the construction sketches on location at the gorgeous Lake Placid in Cairns, Queensland, Australia.

Come join us Thursday, November 30 for the live workshop with this professional artist and remarkable teacher!

Monthly group critiques are 'perfect practice'

They tell you...

  • What isn't working

  • When to push harder

  • When to just stop

And help you...

  • Get a fresh perspective

    Our guest critiquers – illustrators, author-illustrators, children’s literary agents, art directors, maybe an editor or two  – examine your final in a spirit of teaching and mentoring.

  • Think more like a pro

    Watch up close and personal how full-time creatives evaluate and troubleshoot their own and others’ pieces.

  • Prepare for... that thing

    That upcoming kidlit (or illustrators’) conference, important promotional mailing, post or sit-down with a client or a prospect.

And nudge you to...

  • Sharpen your discernment powers

    Remind you of those bedrock principles of draftsmanship, design and communication. (Funny how they keep bringing you back to those.)

  • Meet your tribe

    Your colleagues and the expert practioners. Who share their What I Wish I Knew Then stories and become your contacts in ‘the biz.’ (It’s called networking.)

  • Get better at... getting better

    Practice with critiques helps you understand the hierarchy of feedback and how to navigate it wisely – knowing what’s valid for you now, vs. what to set aside for later.

Precious moments. Practical stuff. Group critiques – in the classroom or around a cafe table with friends – have been training artists for centuries. Be part of a time-tested tradition, updated for the 21st century.

Join us around the table in new, live, online group sessions every month – and enjoy watching replays of past sessions at your leisure.

SubscribeFor monthly group sessions, including November 30 with Cindy Wider!

Only $10 monthly.

Improvement comes from consistent focus

Sometimes it will be your work being discussed. More often than not, it will be someone else's. 

You'll benefit by being there. Watch and listen. Absorb the insights to help you later, when it's just you behind the drawing board making all those essential design decisions.

You don't have to go it alone...

Participate in all of our monthly live programs. Access replays of all past sessions...

Like the ones we've enjoyed and learned so much from last year, taught by these wonderful children's publishing professionals:

Mira Reisberg

Mira Reisberg, author-illustrator, teacher and founder, Children's Book Academy

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby

Jeff Crosby, author-illustrator

C.S. Jennings

C.S. Jennings, author-illustrator

 Giuseppe Castellano, senior art director, Penguin Random House

Giuseppe Castellano, senior art director, Penguin Random House

Jodell Sadler and KidLit College

Jodell Sadler, founder KidLit College and agent

Len Smith, animation character designer

Len Smith, animation character designer

Abigail Samoun, children's book agent, co-founder of Red Fox Literary

Abigail Samoun, children's book agent, co-founder of Red Fox Literary

Author-illustrator Kelly Light

Author-illustrator Kelly Light

Karien Naude

Karien Naude, illustrator

Marsha Riti

Marsha Riti, illustrator

Nicole Tugeau, agent and artists' rep, Tugeau2 Children's Illustrators

Annette Simon

Annette Simon, author-illustrator

Renowned author-illustrator Robert Quackenbush

Author-illustrator Robert Quackenbush Halloween Critique Bash (explains the scariness)

Terry Widener, illustrator

Terry Widener, illustrator

Jill Corcoran, founder of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency

Jill Corcoran, founder of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency

Just us, with Mark and Chris, illustration art by Chris Perry

Just us, with Mark and Chris, illustration art by Chris Perry

Page Street Kids publisher Kristen Nobles

Page Street Kids publisher Kristen Nobles

Karien Naude

Chris Schechner, designer, illustrator and art director for 20+ years for "Pockets" magazine

Christy Stallop

Christy Stallop, illustrator

Award-winning children's illustrator Larry Day

Award-winning storyboard artist and children's illustrator Larry Day

Mark Mitchell,

Mark Mitchell, author-illustrator and moderator

Wendy Martin, author-illustrator and teacher

Wendy Martin, author-illustrator and teacher

Kelly Sonnack, senior agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Picture book series author-illustrator Janee Trasler

Picture book series author-illustrator Janee Trasler

Mira Reisberg, Round 2, illustration by Lisa Goldberg

Mira Reisberg, Round 2, illustration by Lisa Goldberg

Loraine Joyner

Loraine Joyner, senior art director for 23 years with Peachtree Publishers

ustyme books art manager Nick Balian with the cover of his

Nick Balian, illustrator animator, art manager for digital publisher ustyme Books

Denise Fleming

Denise Fleming, award-winning author-illustrator

Mary Sullivan

Mary Sullivan, award-winning author-illustrator

Catch up critique - Illustration by Kathryn Powers

Catch up critique - Illustration by Kathryn Powers

Mira follow-up critique, illustration by John Wanczyk

Mira follow-up critique, illustration by John Wanczyk

Illustrators' Agent Melissa Turk

Illustrators' agent Melissa Turk of The Artist's Network

A bit of art school...

For $10 per month.


Video thumbnail illustration by Mariama Ross.

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Try out the subscription. You can easily cancel at any time. If you find your first experience of a session not helpful or just not your cup of tea, write me (c/o the How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator blog) and I’ll refund you same day, no questions asked and no worries (and we’re still friends.)