Cultivating Creativity


At the start of each day for the past week, I’ve been doing an ink warm-up drawing to keep my ink skills flowing. A lot of my final illustrations are done using traditional dip pens and nibs. I find that I get a little stiff and rusty if I’m not using them frequently, and with the span of time between final art on projects, I tend to have months in some cases where I’m not inking at all. Nibs have a specific direction and movement that they allow for and you have to get into a natural flow or your lines look really stiff.

One morning I sat down and thought, I’ll draw a frog man. No other thought. The result was a little, squat toad with some wanderer’s accessories. Cute enough. I posted it to Instagram, as I usually do, in hopes of inspiring someone out there watching me. My wife, Gina, who was sitting out on the brick patio pulling weeds and tending to the moss growth, happened to be that person on that day.Old Roger Ribbit 1 web

No more than ten minutes passed before I received a text from her. While out on the patio, she had checked her Instagram and saw my drawing. She paused her weed pulling to write a little poem about a toad friend named Old Roger Ribbit. (You can read it in its entirety here.)

I smiled from ear to ear reading it, impressed that a little practice drawing could inspire her writing to bubble up so quickly. She considered each detail of the drawing. One of my favorite lines was,

He uses his thistle thorn just like a hoe
To create little rows where the new seeds should go.

I loved it so much that I felt it deserved more art. So I drew more. Then I sent it right off to Sam Smith, who loved it as well and saw the value of sharing this through Story Warren.

Old Roger Ribbit 2 web

A day or so later I drew a little girl searching under rocks for bugs and snakes, and wouldn’t you know, Gina sent me another text a bit later with another wonderful poem about a little girl catching critters and spending the day with them. I’m sure this will be shared on Story Warren as well.

Critter Girl

This in turn inspired me to explore this little girl some more. The next day found me drawing her fishing and singing with the birds, which was inspired by the critter choir in Gina’s critter poem the day before.

Fishin Girl

We are careful not to turn this newfound joy into a daily expectation, or it may feel like work. But its been great fun to be inspired by each other’s creativity and to cultivate that creative landscape in our home.


  1. Hannah

    Not at all to make it feel like work, but if you realize one day next year that you have a whole pile of these pictures of yours and poems of Gina’s, you should put a little book together. Culling the best, maybe, but not redrawing or editing. Just an idea.

  2. Laure Hittle

    Oh, i LOVE that last drawing. It makes me think of Homer Price.

    My husband and i do some co-creation. All my best writing is in the world that he made. He’s great at big-picture stuff—culture, politics, killing off perfectly innocent characters—and i find it so hard to come up with world-level details. i prefer to make people and swim in their hearts and live with them and see how they grow. His world gives me the context for my people’s experiences, which shape their characters and thus their actions. i love the details, though. i am constantly asking him ridiculously minute questions about berries and authors and the airspeed of unladen swallows. My questions force him to develop the world more fully, to flesh it out. So we help each other. i have no idea what i’d be writing if he hadn’t made his world.

  3. Stephen Hesselman

    These are fantastic. I admire your ability to use traditional nibs/ink… I’ve never got the hang of those (its on my to-do list to spend some more time with those, but too many other things are on that list already). You’re reminding me a little of Bill Peet in the last two illustrations… really cool! And your frog illustrations make me want to see you illustrate Wind in the Willows…

  4. Jamin Still

    Something weird is going on with my comments. If one pops up that says, “I did it, Joe,” I’m not sure why. Regardless, wonderful work, you and Gina both.

  5. Lisa

    Wonderful. It’s true that sometimes two heads are better than one. I love how the two of you are sparking ideas off each other. It’s a great example of creative collaboration.

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