PLAY! so important….more from IWAI on that!

I have to share another sub-story post from our artist MELISSA IWAI about her process of sketching (and posting) daily.  I think you’ll find this funny and so inspiring!  Play IS so important to the children’s book artist particularly. I feel it is for EVERY life, what ever the age and situation, but how can you be in children’s books and be too serious and driven without PLAY!?  The ol’ inner child….but truly being let out.  See what you think after reading this inspiring post~!  thank you Melissa…. and very MERRY PLAY TO ALL!

Creative Playgrounds and 2015 Advent Challenge

December 8, 2015

Happy December, Everyone! I wasn’t going to do another Advent Challenge this year because last year’s almost killed me! But I was inspired by a Creative Playgrounds for Artists webinar by sister and brother design team, Salli Swindell and Nate Padavick, on Maker Mentors last month. You probably know Salli and Nate from the wonderful sites they’ve founded, They Draw and Cook and They Draw and Travel. They created these sites to connect hundreds of artists from around the world with their recipe and map illustrations. In doing so, they’ve also built a whole library of books featuring collections of works from the sites and have helped to launch freelance careers for many contributing artists!

I’ve only done a handful of illustrated recipes and haven’t attempted a map yet, but it’s on my list of goals for 2016 and I hope to more create more recipes as well.

<img src=”″ alt=”Three Recipes for Tofu!   Melissa Iwai 2015″ />Three Recipes for Tofu!   Melissa Iwai 2015

Three Recipes for Tofu!   Melissa Iwai 2015

But back to Creative Playgrounds… They are “spaces” where you create something just for fun — for play — and share it in a community of like-minded people. They offer a structure and goal, and also encourage artists to experiment and have fun. It is also, happily, a space where art directors can go to view work great work!

I really love the idea of “creative play” in my work, and now i find that it is a necessity for me to be engaged in it in order to be happy and feel nourished from my art. There was a time when I was solely focused on “paid work”. I had no time for “spec” work or just work for myself. I can’t really say how I got there, but I was very unhappy. I was also distracted. I didn’t find much joy in my artwork. And I think it showed.

I remember being in a hotel room in California with Jamie when he was just a toddler, and we decided to cut out photos from a magazine to make Valentine cards for his dad and grandmother. Since we were traveling and didn’t have art supplies on hand, that’s what we had to use. We made beautiful collages, and it was so much fun! I started messing around with collage when we returned home, and that’s how some artwork for my book, Soup Day was born. I literally changed the way I worked (which was solely acrylic painting on board up to that time) from there on.

From Soup Day, Henry Holt 2010

Cut to several years later, and I found myself again in a rut. And I know it was because I had again forgotten how to “play”! The curse of freelancing is that you are either really busy with work, or you aren’t busy, which means you are stressed about getting new work, so you are busy trying to do so. And somewhere along the line, I forgot to focus on the “fun”.

Then, I happened upon MATS Bootcamp, and I decided to try it out. I’m so glad I did, as it rejuvenated my creative spirit which I desperately needed at the time! And I finally realized that the reason was because it gave me permission to “play”, to experiment, to have fun — just because! Such a simple concept, but one that had become practically non-existent in my life. MATS turned out to be a wonderful “creative playground” because there is such a fantastic community there filled with amazing, inspiring, supportive, and lovely artists. Again, I started playing, and I ended up changing the way I work completely! Denis had just bought me a watercolor set, and I loved experimenting with it and other water based media like India ink. I illustrated my newest book in this new way. It will be published in March of 2016, and I’m so excited about it! It is written by Anne Rockwell and it was such a dream to work on. I literally loved every minute of it!

<img src=”″ alt=”From Let’s Go to the Hardware Store” />From Let's Go to the Hardware Store

From Let’s Go to the Hardware Store – which just received a lovely review from Kirkus!!

So after seeing Salli and Nate talk about the importance of Creative Playgrounds last month, I decided that even though I am crazy busy with (paid) work, I am going to make time in my daily schedule to do the Advent challenge and try to create a greeting card a day. I saw an invititation to artists on Instagram by the Four Corners Art Collective – a lovely group of designers based in the UK – and decided to give it a go.

This time around though, I am really trying to limit my time spent on each design because I don’t want drive myself batty. The point is to have fun, after all! I’m treating it like my daily sketches which I normally do every day. My wonderful rep did a nice post about my sketch process here if you are interested.

Melissa Iwai 2015


Basically, I start with a quick sketch and move on from there. I try to spend between 20-50 minutes on each one. These Advent pieces take a bit longer, but I’m and doing them much quicker than last year.

I start with a very rough and quick thumbnail — the first thing that comes to mind in the morning! I then scan it in and blow it up in Photoshop. While doing my to-do list and drinking my one cup of coffee in the morning, I may do some ink doodles I think could be incorporated into the design. I do my contracted work during the morning, then in the afternoon, I create the card.

<img src=”″ alt=”Can you spot some of my thumbnail sketches? I have a wreath on the left, some bells, a fox with cocoa, and a little village. Other bits of doodles are sketches for fun and some sprigs of pine for reference.” />Can you spot some of my thumbnail sketches? I have a wreath on the left, some bells, a fox with cocoa, and a little village. Other bits of doodles are sketches for fun and some sprigs of pine for reference.

Can you spot some of my thumbnail sketches? I have a wreath on the left, some bells, a fox with cocoa, and a little village. Other bits of doodles are sketches for fun and some sprigs of pine for reference.

Here is the one I completed today. For some reason, this one took the least time to create—maybe 40 minutes.


Here are some others.

Iwai bear 15

Iwai let it snow

Iwai doggie Xmas

About catugeau

art agent
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