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A look inside Zellene Guanlao's colorful work & illustration process

Zellene Guanlao Meet Zellene Guanlao, a graphic designer and illustrator based out of Manila, Phillippines. Keep reading for a glimpse into Zellene’s colorful world as she reveals her unexpected sources of inspiration.

Who are you? Tell us about yourself:

Hello, I’m Zellene. I’m an illustrator and graphic designer living in Manila, Philippines. I do stuff for both print and web. Currently, I work remotely with the team at Motion Story, illustrating stories for animation.

In my free time, I enjoy working on personal projects that involve trying out new color palettes, styles, or simply trying to improve on what I already know.

Describe your style in 3 words:

I don’t think I have a specific style (yet?). My style changes from one project to another, but I do love working with colors that go well together. So I’d probably describe it as colorful, versatile, and changing.

  1. Fruit Stickers drawing illustration art artph fresh lemon peach fundraising fruit stickers food
  2. Cool, Thanks. type cool 3d graphic design phrase texture typography
  3. Maneki Neko food retro japanese fish noodles cat ramen character design vector illustration
  4. Look abstract eyes mysterious building drawing vector illustration
  5. Balcony art cat texture vector illustration


What inspires your illustration work?

Frankly, I think I’m a boring person, so a lot of the inspiration for my personal work comes from the mundane. I like to observe my surroundings or see them through another person’s photographs, and take mental notes. For example, “Oh this plant’s placement is interesting because the light touches it nicely.”

A lot of the inspiration for my personal work comes from the mundane. I like to observe my surroundings.

Other times, inspiration comes from simpler things like the food I ate, that game I recently played, or from memories that I suddenly remember.

Take us through your illustration process

I save a ton of references online and on my desktop because it helps a lot when starting on a project. Sometimes, I start with a sketch in Adobe Photoshop, but most of the time, I jump straight into Adobe Illustrator.

With the illustration below, I used a reference photo from earthsworld.com and went straight into Illustrator to sketch the pose using the brush tool. Then I added more details while polishing the linework. After that, I filled in the shapes with solid colors including the background. I like to use Khroma
 and Palettte app
 for generating nice color schemes. Lastly, I try to figure out lighting and shadows while adding in more detail until it looks nice enough to share!

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What’s the most challenging part of your job as a designer?

Right now, the most challenging part would be avoiding burnout. I’ve been there twice before and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. But because of that, I now know what it feels like, and I know how to survive and recover.

If you think you’re on the verge of burning out, it’s important to take a step back and relax.

If you think you’re on the verge of burning out, it’s important to take a step back and relax. Talk to people, especially those you work with, and tell them what’s going on so both parties can plan accordingly. No one can be 100% all of the time.

I find that doing no-brainer activities also helps. Watching my favorite monster movies is a comfort on its own!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a designer?

A professional organizer, perhaps? I’m proud of my layering and naming skills, and I also like to put actual things in order by category. Have some boxes that need organizing? Let me apply my Tetris skills!

Advice you would give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to not do everything yourself, and it’s okay to rest without feeling the guilt of being unproductive or being slow in progress.

Fast facts:

  • Favorite design tool: Adobe Illustrator
  • What I listen to while I work: I listen to a lot. Rock or punk rock if I want to be in the zone as soon as possible, soft rock and pop if I want to take it easy but still have to beat the deadline. Video game music (like those from Nintendo games and Stardew Valley) to help me through long hours, and a bit of upbeat K-pop, particularly Akdong Musician, if I want to concentrate without worrying too much.
  • Name a Dribbbler who inspires you: I really admire the works of Tracy J Lee and just recently discovered Aliz Buzas. I love their details, textures, and colors.

Want to keep up with Zellene? Find her on Dribbble, Instagram, and at zellene.com.

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