We know how the constraint is a necessary ingredient for any creative work’s eventual success. Obstacles spark the ideas. Limits raise the right questions. Laws that bind can be levers that lift or launch. That’s because the rules of the game (constraints) are the game.

Constraints faced by picture book author-illustrator Aiko Ikegami included language. A native of Tokyo, she came to the U.S. to attend college in Arizona where she began using the little bit of English she was taught in elementary school. Her native tongue is Japanese. She wanted to write in American English and be published in America.

Another constraint: Her lack of academic, formal art school training. Not a complete stranger to the arts, as a child she did take painting classes from Kimie Tanaka, a well-known oil painter in Japan.

But she studied not art, but psychology in college, following up with other hard sciences. She received her doctorate in neuropharmacology from the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.

For best viewing results, watch full screen (right bottom corner icon on video player once the video starts) and adjust the resolution to HD in the settings (gear icon, right bottom corner of the player.)

She worked for a few years as a teaching assistant and lab research associate in Austin, and later Columbus, Ohio where she lives now.

She started doodling, cartooning, drawing and painting again with an eye to becoming a children’s book illustrator and author-illustrator. She had finally decided to “follow her heart,” she states on her website.

But how to catch up? She took online classes, including Make Your Marks and Splashes and joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She learned new things, worked hard toward her new goal and found an established New York literary agent, Ana Olswanger who believed in the work she was developing.

Two picture books, Friends (Albert Whitman and Company) and Seed Man (Sleeping Bear Press) have come out since then. They didn’t happen easily, without rejections, rewrites and a lot of commitment from her agent, she points out in the video.

Constraints tend to confront anyone brave enough to try something.

A new one popped up for her in the making of even the presentation above. She thought of performing a read-aloud picture walk on YouTube of the just-published Seed Man to help with the book’s launch. But her publisher’s sales manager said she could show two pages and the cover image at most.

Aiko thought of her cello, and how string music might fill in for the illustrated page turns she couldn’t show in her storytime.

Constraints can shake us up when they appear. But they forge results that make them worth the trouble.

She’s now on assignment illustrating a new edition of an old picture book, Why Worry by Eric Kimmel for Graphic Arts Press.

Aiko Ikegami with Mela Wolf, owner of the Cover to Cover bookstore in Columbus, Ohio

Cindy’s online color pencil course starts Friday!

The course Aiko and I talk about in the video that we took from the Cairns, Australia-based fine artist Cindy Wider of DrawPJ.com was Shading and Form(unit 2 of her Complete Drawing Course.)

A few years ago Cindy personally (through the miracle of Google Hangouts) taught it to my students and me over at Marks and Splashes Learning over a period of eight weeks. We found it to be an exquisite course, the learning transformational. Here’s my version of the old shoe that served as our ‘final exam.’


Cindy and her team of instructors are offering another live special class that starts this Friday, June 1. Not Shading and Form, this time, but a different class. The Coloured Pencil Bootcamp designed to help anyone interested to master effective color pencil technique. It’s based on unit 5, the color theory of her Complete Drawing Course.

Last year I had the pleasure of being a student in this course, too. Again, her classes were a tour de force of demonstrations, exercises and individualized instruction and critiques (through the magic of online video and done on a private Facebook page.

I’ve had the pleasure to experience.  Here’s my ‘apple assignment’ from it:


Each media – be it graphite, charcoal or color pencil – has its special ‘language’ and Cindy absolutely has each figured out. She has a unique way of analyzing and breaking down representational drawing into the simplest steps. Her method brings you to a deep connection with your materials and your subject (the form in the light) so that as you develop it on your paper, it comes to life before your eyes. Naturally. Your way. It’s something to experience.

Discover more about Coloured Pencil Bootcamp…