Colorist Spotlight with Shirley Yao

I've had the pleasure of watching and learning from the brilliant colorist, Shirley Yao (@shirley_tutopia) as she brings life to some of my illustrations online. And now, I've interviewed her so that you can all get to know her and learn about how she creates her dazzling, dreamy colorings! She has some solid advice and encouragement for all colorists, no matter what level. As the queen of bokeh backgrounds, Shirley is full of talent and you'll see why!

Shirley also has a FANTASTIC YouTube page with 9.5k subscribers, and you can see how she colored my cactuses from Botanical Wonderland here. Make sure to check out her Instagram to see all of her truly incredible work! 

Shirley, can you tell us a little about yourself- your age, what you do and where you’re from?

I’m a 29 years old expectant mother, from China. My career is accounting.

Did you study art or are you self-taught?

When I was 11 years old, I started to learn black and white sketching for several years. To some degree, I am self-taught of this coloring world but have a little painting basis.

How much time a week do you spend coloring?

I spend around 2 hours each day for coloring.

On average, how long does it take you to complete one coloring?

Usually I finish one project per week.

Many of your colorings have incredibly beautiful glowing backgrounds! Do you have any tips on how to create dreamy backgrounds like yours?

I got lots of inspirations of background from what I had seen everyday. For example, the posters on the street, the photos on Instagram or some advertisement pages on magazines. In order to make the subject stand out, the background could be some dark solid colors. If the subjects are birds, background can be light blue sky with white clouds; if the subjects are country style houses, you may use the forest in any season you want as the background. Use your imagination and have fun!

What are your favorite materials to color with?

My favorite material is colored pencil, which is the best medium for all the coloring book papers. I gained lots of fun by using them for blending and burnishing. In addition, I’d like use gel pens and paint markers for details and embellishing. 

What do you do with your finished pieces? 

To prevent losing color, I will use fixative spray after I finish the picture. I’d like to frame some of my favorite pictures and hung them in home. They are wonderful gifts for my family and friends.

Do you have any advice for beginning colorists?

1. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up. Coloring is a good way to please ourselves. The most important thing is enjoying the coloring itself.

2. Making a simple color scheme plan at first. An awesome coloring project includes two aspects: a suitable color scheme and a great technical skill. However, the color combination seems more important to me. Before starting coloring, I would consider which tone I’d like for the picture, in order to avoid the dizzying mishmash of colors.

3. Using your brave imagination. I found someone using eye shadow as the medium. That’s so cool, isn’t it? Art originates from life, feel free to use a medium or technique to make the page your own style.

4. Making a color chart of your coloring medium to help you choosing colors. It will help you get familiar with all the colors, especially if you own a 120 or 150 color set.

5. Be patient. We will get pleasure and fulfillment from the beautiful turn out. In the end, you will find it definitely worth your time.

Here is Shirley's video on how she colored the cactuses from Botanical Wonderland!

"This coloring page is from my new beautiful coloring book: Botanical Wonderland by Rachel Reinert. I am a big fan of succulents and cactuses, there is no doubt that this picture is the preferred one!! Thanks Rachel for giving me a chance to enjoy her wonderful book. "