Parkinson's at 33: How Coloring Has Helped Jennifer Suarez Cope

Coloring completely changed my mood that day from frustration, due to pain, to feeling utterly happy.
— Jennifer Suarez

We all have a story. We all have struggles and triumphs, all unique to us and our circumstances. When I meet people who have overcome great hardships and come out being stronger and more grateful despite setbacks in life, it inspires me and I think it is important to share with others to inspire hope. Jennifer Suarez is one of those people who has done the best she can to move forward and live a fulfilling, healthy life despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 33. I wanted to talk to her and learn about her background, and how she came to coloring as a therapeutic method of dealing with her diagnosis. According to the National Health Council, 40% of Americans are affected by a chronic disease. Below is my interview with her.

Jennifer, can you tell us about where you’re from and what you do?

I am from Monterey Park, California and I currently reside in Riverside County.  I am disabled and manage my household. Right now, I am helping my nephew through college. He is a math tutor, mentor, and student at Mount San Jacinto College.  I also help my father as best I can who suffers from end stage renal failure.

Please tell us a little bit about your story - how your journey began with Parkinson’s.

I started a free college course in March of 2011 (I was 32 at the time) for accounting and bookkeeping. I was laid off and needed new job skills. I noticed a month later that while working in Microsoft Excel, my thumb started to shake.  So in May of that same year, I went to see a neurologist. Of course, he quickly prescribed some medication to relieve my minor thumb tremor which quickly spread to my left arm shaking.  The neurologist sent me to see a movement specialist who diagnosed me with Parkinson’s. From there, my new life began.

How old were you when you were diagnosed, and how did it make you feel?

I was 33 when I was told that I had Parkinson’s. Honestly, my initial reaction was numb. I told the doctor, “Now What”? But as I researched this disease, I became terrified because I am head of the household. My family relied on me to take care of them.

At this same moment, I had already been caring for my father.  I also had my niece and nephew living with me, and they also needed my help.

What did you do to try and alleviate your symptoms?

 I quickly went back home to report to my neurologist of my official diagnosis.  We went over a medication regimen and referral to a physical therapist.

What would you say to someone who is diagnosed with a chronic illness?

The first thing to know, there is tons of help and resources you just have to be your own advocate.  Don’t give up. People are out in internet land with an ear to listen.

How did you discover that coloring helped you?

I follow many Parkinson’s foundations on Facebook that recommended “Color Therapy”.  At first, I had only seen geometric color books at my local Wal-Mart and it did not catch my eye. A while after, I received a care package with a beautiful under the sea color book and pencils. I can’t remember the organization that sent me that package, but it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Before this color book, I was clueless to illustrators, brands of pencils etc….

I began to color in this book and felt incredibly relaxed, calm and focused.  I realized when I was done, five hours had passed. Coloring completely changed my mood that day from frustration, due to pain, to feeling utterly happy. I was addicted.

How has using coloring as therapy changed you?

Color therapy has completely changed my mental state. I was suffering from depression and fighting hard to snap out of it. I just found coloring calm and beautiful.

Color therapy has completely changed my mental state. I was suffering from depression and fighting hard to snap out of it. I just found coloring calm and beautiful.  I find it easier to stay calm even on my most painful days. For instance, I had to call customer service for an error on my internet bill.  I knew this could be a long and aggravating call because I’d have to debate hidden charges on my bill. I put on my headset and while waiting to speak to a representative, I had my book open and pencils ready. I colored while waiting for customer care to come on the line and continued while we debated charges.  I have a hot temper and usually would have been irritated, but I wasn’t. For me, coloring totally whisks me away to a calm state of being.

How much time do you spend coloring, and what’s your favorite subject matter and materials to use?

Since I cannot work anymore, I can spend hours coloring in a day.  I color all day off and on between tasks and bill paying. I love cute books like Sanrio’s “Smile” color book and using Faber Castell Polychromos.  But I have branched out to different themes like Rachel’s Botanical Wonderland. It is outside my comfort zone for coloring. I came across a review and loved Rachel’s enthusiasm for nature. When I looked through the book, her drawings caught my eye.  I did not know how to color flowers and such, but I liked her work. So I challenged myself to learn and I found the change satisfying mentally.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is just getting started with coloring for therapy?

I would say start off by coloring in a quiet space and let the beautiful colors fall on your book of choice. Don’t worry about going outside the lines, just enjoy.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I have been really lucky to have family and friends that support me especially my mother.  I have met many people online who have been very supportive and for that I am grateful.

I’d like to say that if anyone needs mobility aids due to Parkinson’s, The Melvin Weinstein Foundation is incredible. Please consider donating. They have been like angels to me.

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. "



How to Use Derwent Inktense: 5 Tips and a Tutorial

*Warning!* I do not refer anything unless I absolutely love it, and I have not been paid to write my opinion in any way. These are just great products that I believe in and use often. This blog contains referral links, so if you click and purchase any of these products, it directly helps me as an artist in a small way – win/win! :)

All my coloring enthusiasts, art lovers and colorist fans- If you haven't tried Derwent Inktense pencils, it is time (And YES you can get them on Amazon Prime - free one day shipping!) 

Don't be mistaken these are NOT watercolor pencils. They are actually India Ink and are permanent. Beyond that, they are incredibly vibrant and so versatile - you can layer on top of them without lifting the color, plus they are travel friendly! Here are my essential tips for using Derwent Inktense pencils. 

 To watch the complete tutorial on how I created this look, click  here

To watch the complete tutorial on how I created this look, click here

1. Use a Water Brush

As a painter, I am pretty comfortable with and prefer working with regular brushes. But I often travel and sometimes just don't want to deal with the mess of paint palettes or cleaning brushes. I suspect many of you may feel the same way. I decided to try a Kuretake water brush pen to use with my Inktense pencils, and will never go back. It takes a little bit of getting used to squeezing out the right amount of water, but it is the most convenient thing imaginable. Inktense pencils + a water brush = zero clean up! 

The Kuretake brush pen also has a cap so it protects the bristles which is perfect for traveling. I've also used the Derwent water brush, but it hasn't worked for me unfortunately because it leaks too much water. 

TUTORIAL: Watch my step-by-step how to video on how to paint a cactus scene from Botanical Wonderland. Head over to Coloring Master Class to watch my free Inktense tutorial! 

2. Make a Color Chart

Because Derwent Inktense pencils are so vibrant once activated with water, you'll want to know what your colors will look like before you go crazy burnishing your coloring. Let's just say I found out how much I LOVE Deep Indigo and use it as my go to shading color! It's hard to know how the colors will blend together until you do a test swatch. They are magical in that way. ;)

3. Blend Analogous Colors

This is true for painting in general, unless you're aiming to create brown. Analogous colors are next each other on the color wheel and will blend nicely. You can blend other colors close to each other on the color wheel as well, but not across. 

4. "Activate" The Lightest Areas First 

This really is important. The brush can carry colors into other areas once you "activate" (add water to) it with water. In order to maintain your highlights, or the white of the paper, start with a clean brush in that area work work your way outward into the darker areas. Use a spare sheet of paper to clean the brush on after picking up color so it doesn't contaminate the next section. 

5. Wet One Area at a Time

Watercolors dry quickly, so it's best to activate one area at a time as you go. It's also best not to use Derwent Inktense pencils for a background, unless you're going to use a large watercolor brush that can cover it in a few swipes. 

Remember, with Inktense, the color will dry permanently. This is a good thing so that you can add more layers with water and it won't lift the color later. 

Have you tried Derwent Inktense? Please leave any comments or questions below. 

Happy Coloring! 

- Rachel Reinert


Products I used to create this: Kuretake (water brush), Botanical Wonderland (coloring book), Derwent Inktense pencils

Colorist Interview with Emily Laughlin!

I had the pleasure to interview professional colorist and illustrator Emily Laughlin, who creates dazzling colored pages and draws her own as well. 


Emily, can you tell us a little bit about you? Where you live, and what you do?

I’m an illustrator and colorist, living in the US.

 Are you a self taught artist or did you go to school for art?

I’m actually both.  I took a couple years of art classes, but since then, it’s mostly been lots of practice.

What are your go-to coloring materials?

My main go-to coloring materials are colored pencils.  I love Prismacolor Premier, Caran D’Ache Luminance, and Irojiten Tombow pencils.  However, it really just depends on what I’m coloring.  Lately, I’ve really been into using watercolor paints.

What is your favorite coloring book at the moment?

My first adult coloring book was a Johanna Basford book.  No matter how many different books I color, I always come back to those.  So, aside from creating my own coloring book, I think Johanna’s books will always be my favorite.

What inspires you?

The online coloring community is a huge inspiration to me.  There are so many extremely talented colorists, and they are always bringing something new to my eye.

What are you working on as an artist and illustrator at the moment?

At the moment, I am working on creating my own adult coloring book.  In between that, I also do freelance illustration.  Most recently I completed some recent interior illustrations for a Halcyon Works, based in Oklahoma.

How do you get over an “art block”?

When I’m stuck, it helps for me to try a new technique, or medium.  Perhaps, rather than coloring books and colored pencils, I’ll try my hand at water colors, or even just black and white illustrations.  Occasionally, I’ll get too caught up trying to think up an elaborate background, or what else I could add to a drawing, so I like to get back to basics.  I’ll pick a simple illustration (one that’s not too detailed or over-whelming), and use just a basic 12 count set of pencils.

What are your plans in the future as an artist and colorist?

As mentioned above, I hope to put out an adult coloring book.  However, down the road, I would love to become either a design illustrator, or an illustrator for children’s books.  Mostly, I just want to create beautiful and unique artwork.

Emily, you have a very strong grasp on blending.  What are the top 3 tips to help someone who has zero experience with coloring?

1. Don’t be afraid to experiment.  A lot of blending techniques just take a practice.

2. I have found that wax based pencils blend much easier than oil based pencils.  I can blend colors much more easily using Prismacolor Premier, or Caran D’Ache Luminance, rather than Faber Castell Polychromos.

3. When coloring something like a leaf, it is easier to get a smooth blend if you use at least 3 colors, rather than just two.  I usually choose, a light, a mid, and a dark.  For example, one of my favorite color combinations for leaves using Prismacolors is Pale Sage, Kelly Green, and Dark green.  Don’t be afraid to blend the colors into each other.

Where do you see the coloring trend heading?

I hope that the trend lasts a while still.  As long as it’s going, there will always be new books coming out.  I have seen adult coloring books help so many people, and with everything going on in the world right now, everyone needs an activity and a little time to unplug from everything.  Not to mention it’s a fantastic creative outlet for anyone who wants to create something beautiful.

Do you have anything else to add?

Try not to get too overwhelmed.  Coloring is supposed to be fun, and relaxing.  Enjoy your quiet time, sit down with your coloring tools, and just fill in the spaces, and let your creativity flow.

Make sure to follow Emily on Instagram or check out her website!