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Challenging Creativity: An Interview with Artist Elyoo dela Cruz

by Karz Montealegre

In June 2015, artist Elyoo dela Cruz posted on Instagram a portrait she painted of Frida Kahlo. Perfectly capturing Kahlo’s prominent features, it was a vibrant take on the Mexican painter’s portrait that could easily pass as a character from a storybook.

It wasn’t the first artwork Elyoo shared online, but it was the first of a hundred—a start to a personal project that has since given many a visual feast (and a much-needed kick to get creative!).

This March, we celebrate women and their achievements. And before the month ends, we put the spotlight to this lady who, in her own way, continues to make a mark in the field of arts.

Elyoo, formerly featured on Bookbed with her partner Erwin Hilao for FoldYard & Co., is an illustrator and graphic artist, who, in pursuit of growth in her craft, challenged herself to a #100DayProject.

With a goal to paint 100 portraits using a new medium and document it online, Elyoo has not only participated in an exercise that allowed her to develop as an artist, but also allowed her to share her art that, we can say, has created a ripple of inspiration and creativity that has gone beyond the borders of the Internet.

Get to know more about Elyoo, her craft, her 100 Days of Portrait Project, and more!

Elinore Dela Cruz (or Elyoo) is a freelance illustrator/graphic artist based in Manila, Philippines. Follow her @elyoodelacroix.


Tell us about your background. When did you get acquainted with graphic design and illustration? Was it something you’ve always been into? Did you get formal training?

I have always been into illustration for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t really a very outdoorsy child and I would spend countless hours reading or drawing by myself. Drawing became a part of my life and I would doodle or paint whenever I could.

When it was time to pick my college course, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted and I ended up taking Creative Writing in Ateneo de Manila. After three years, I came into the conclusion that writing was not for me, so I shifted in this new ‘experimental’ course that the School of Fine Arts was offering: BFA Information Design. Everything was very new to me and I loved every minute of learning anything about graphic design. I graduated in 2007 and have been working as a graphic designer and illustrator ever since.

I understand you’re a freelance graphic designer/illustrator, can you walk us through your day? What kinds of project do you usually work on?

I have been working as a freelance graphic designer/illustrator for about five years now – I was doing branding identity and collaterals at first, but I am now focusing more on doing vector/traditional illustrations and infographics for my clients.

I always start my day with a big mug of coffee! I usually just work the whole day and take constant breaks to eat, irritate my cat, or read a book. While working, I like to listen to podcasts, radio comedy shows on BBC 4ex, or audiobooks.

How would you describe your technique, style, and aesthetic?

I do prefer my illustrations to be more stylised/cartoony (but with a lot of details) and colorful. I think the initial reaction with my work is always ‘cute’ – so I guess that’s it! My works are cute!

Who are the artists that inspire you or influence your style? How have they affected your craft?

I have a LOT of artists that I admire and influence/inspire me in my creative work! It’s so hard to choose, but here are some of them:

Carson Ellis: It is because of her that I discovered the existence of gouache. I have always worked with watercolor, but gouache is just love at first sight! (Haha!) I learned about Carson Ellis because of her illustrations for several middle grade adventure books (that I love reading!). Her works are very whimsical and her colors are very beautiful!

Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are will always have a special place in my heart. I am always mesmerized with his use of hatching/cross-hatching in his line works!

Coralie Bickford-Smith: I love beautifully designed books – and almost all of my favorite book designs/covers are by her! Last year, she also released her own book, The Fox and the Star, which is just gorgeous!!

Wes Anderson: It is no secret that I am a big Wes Anderson fan. I just want to live in his movies – preferably “The Grand Budapest Hotel” so I can try and get a job at Mendl’s and be surrounded by pastries all day!


In one of your posts you mentioned you began the 100 Days Project in an “attempt to practice using gouache,” did you have other reasons that encouraged you to start the project?

I have been mostly illustrating on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for the past few years and I just miss doing paintings with traditional media. When I learned about the 100 Days Project, I thought it was a nice way to kickstart my way into doing more watercolor/gouache paintings.

Can you share with us your approach in making a portrait? How long does it take for you to make one?

I just choose a character/person that I feel like painting for that day. It usually takes me an hour to sketch – it’s a bit tricky doing portraits of known characters/people, because even though my style is very stylized, the portrait still needs to be recognizable. Depending on the colors – sometimes it takes me forever to mix colors to my liking – and details needed, it takes me a few hours to paint one portrait. (I do take a lot of breaks, though!)

I see you have the signature “blush cheeks” on your portraits. Can you share with us the reason behind it?

I have been doing those circle blush cheeks for a few years now! No real reason behind it, other than I just don’t like the cheeks to look very flat/empty. Haha!

What were the challenges you encountered in doing the project? What were the best parts?

I think the only challenge that I’ve encountered while doing the project is having time to actually do one portrait a day. I really thought I could do it, but other work just kept pouring in, so it was a bit hard to keep up.

Best parts: When I finish a very detailed painting/portrait and when people like and comment on my paintings! I didn’t really anticipate that a lot of people would like my work and I am definitely overwhelmed by the amount of love that I get from the internet.


Why did you choose to do portraits for this 100 Days Project?

No particular reason. I just decided on it while doodling a portrait of Frida Kahlo – my first portrait painting for this project.

Your portraits range from personalities in art, music, and fashion, to TV and movie characters, and of course, book characters. Before starting the project, did you already have a list of names in mind or was it something you developed as you went along?

No, I didn’t! I only had a general plan, which is to paint people/artists/musicians that I admire and characters from movies and books that I love. For the list, I just add people/characters whenever I remember them.

Let’s talk about the book characters like Harry Potter for example. How was it like bringing to life characters from a book? Did you try to follow how they’re depicted in the movie, or did you try creating them as you imagined them while reading?

I wanted all portraits for this project to be based on real people, so I tried to follow how they are depicted on the movie adaptations. In the future, I might do more illustrations of characters/scenes from my favorite books, but will be illustrating as how I imagined them while reading the book.

Any other book characters you’d want to illustrate?

It’s not very exciting, but I have been thinking of doing illustrations of characters/scenes from the novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Were there certain portraits that were more challenging to do than others? How was it like creating them?

Yes! The most challenging portraits to paint were the ones with a lot of really intricate details on them! My favorites are: Iris Apfel, Edvard Munch, Mr. and Mrs. Fox and Pablo Picasso. It took a lot of patience (and back pains!) just to finish all the small details on those paintings, but I do think it was all worth it! I still love looking at them, just staring at all the details and wondering how I managed to paint it.


How has the project helped you? In your practice of using gouache? In your creativity as an artist?

The project has helped me become very familiar with gouache. While doing the portraits, I was trying out different techniques and mixing different pigments and I think I have become more confident in using the medium.

I understand you have yet to complete the 100 portraits, what can we expect in your upcoming illustrations?

As of writing this, I have already finished 86 portraits and I am planning to finish the 14 portraits in the next two weeks.

What do you plan to do with the finished portraits? (Sort of hoping you’ll sell them.)

The 86 portraits are now framed and displayed at Restock Curiosities in Guijo Street, Makati. Most of the portraits are already sold, but you can still visit to see the portraits in person. (Plus, Restock’s coffee is awesome!!)

Any new projects we can look forward to in the future?

I have a couple of ideas but I’m not sure yet which are the ones I want to work on after finishing my 100 portraits – stay tuned to my Instagram!

Any advice to those who want but are hesitant to engage in a project like your 100 Days of Portraits Project?

Just do it!


Current read?

I have a habit of reading multiple books at one time, and my current reads are:

  • Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) by Jim Butcher
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie
  • More Than This (audiobook) by Patrick Ness

You shared with us your favorite books last time, do you have any addition to the list?

  • Stormlight Archive (#1 and #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • Mistborn trilogy (especially the third book!) by Brandon SandersonThe Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

Any reading/book/writing-related quote you’d like to share to our Cheer Readers?

“Reading takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”—Hazel Rochman


2 responses to “Challenging Creativity: An Interview with Artist Elyoo dela Cruz”

  1. […] many times I have seen Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in favorites-books lists, it was a recent encounter of Elyoo’s that gave me the final push. The movie, after all, comes out in June, and having seen Sam Claflin […]


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