Creative process: the opening illustration for “The Tea House Diary”.

What started off as a festive celebration ended up being the creative process for a notebook’s opening illustration. A year ago today I was sitting at my desk having just finished the full text for “The Tea House Diary” edition. I was in a celebratory mood, upon successfully completing a project right before the holiday break.

Celebrating with creative play

I decided to take some time for a little creative fun. With a few origami paper sheets lying around and an open laptop, I searched for a Christmas-themed origami tutorial. It didn’t take long to find a winning combination – Santa and his sleigh from origami artist Fuchimoto Muneji. That combination looked easy enough to try, and just the right amount of cute to deck my desk for the holidays.

What is exciting about engaging in any creative task is that the more you play, the more creative you get. Creativity as a process builds upon itself. When I finished folding my red Santa and green sleigh, I felt like picking up my sketchbook again.

Suddenly, I wanted to draw an imaginary tea house landscape, complete with its surrounding garden. A way of marking the edition milestone, I suppose. I had been reading Kawabata Yasunari’s “The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa” and found the black line illustrations from Ota Saburo delightful. I rarely used that style, even though I find it very appealing. Over the next hour or so I slowly built up the tea garden in my mind, stone by stone, element by element.

From creative play to opening illustration

When I put the black brush pen down and looked at the image on my sketchbook, poised next to that playful origami Santa, a thought emerged. With a few minor edits wouldn’t the result of this creative process excursion make for a perfect opening illustration for “The Tea House Diary”? It is monochrome, so it will not change the agreed color plans. There are still a few days before we lock the final layout. Those few days are just enough time for me to get this image readied. I grab my smartphone for a quick readout of the bookbinder’s thoughts. And the rest, well, you can see the final result for yourself.

Paying creativity forward this holiday season

Today I am sitting again at the same desk, wrapping up a copy of “The Tea House Diary” to ship as a gift. I decide to go full circle and share with someone else that reminder of playful time. This year for every order placed in the holiday season (through January 6) I will add a little origami Santa inside the shipping box. In order to celebrate creativity, and to add a small dose of cuteness to your gift opening.

How about you, when was the last time creative play led to a great idea for a project of yours?

If you enjoy reading about the creative process, here is some other content you might enjoy:

The Autumn in Japan edition diary. On developing a new book.

Inking 100 Japanese birds

To purchase “The Tea House Diary” and other editions, this link will take you straight to the shop