Drawing is Therapy and Dirty Dishes are Annoying

I’m not entirely sure how strange a concept this is to other creative folks, but I’ve discovered that while I’m working on illustrations for a book, I’m thinking about everything. I mean, really…all the things. My mind jumps back and forth from the decorations in my childhood bedroom, to my friend’s desire to own a corgi, to my failed attempt at making beef stew the night before, to wondering if I remembered to take the garbage out. I try to block out that last type of thought because those are the distractions that have the ability to make me get up and lose focus. For instance, all of a sudden desperately needing to do the dishes; that stuff can wait. Or can it? Gah!

Letting my mind run totally free is something that enables me to infuse heart into my drawings. It has a bit of therapeutic element as well, helping me to de-stress. I can’t exactly pinpoint where all of my thoughts come from, but I suppose that’s part of the creative mystery. If there’s a challenge lingering that I can’t stop thinking about, I literally cannot create a thing until I’ve resolved it. FINE, I will do the #%@* dishes!

Because not every reflection that pops up in my brain can be fixed in twenty minutes, I’ve started to deal with some overwhelming emotions in the form of sketches. The quick drawings that litter the pages of my sketchbooks all come from a particular challenge I’m facing at any given moment. Maybe I was sorry about some words that came out wrong:


Or desperately wishing I could muster up the confidence to say what I need to say before it’s too late:


Or craving independence, but realizing how much I truly need a strong foundation and the support of others:


Or trying desperately to be brave, but all the while being terrified:


Every single drawing is a metaphor. Surprise! On the inside, I’m actually a total nervous wreck! Without that, though, where would my characters and illustrations come from? What would I be without all of that internal worrying and thinking?

After a few years of sketch therapy every single day, I realized I had dozens of sketchbooks piled up on my shelf. Together, we had dealt with some serious emotional baggage and collected hundreds of Instagram hearts. Pretty shocking, albeit impressive. Instead of letting these little personal moments be forgotten, I decided to do something brave and also terrifying. I launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish a compiled book of my favorites.

By nothing short of a miracle, the campaign was successful, and I now have a 60 page book filled with all my favorite sketches from the past few years. It was like granting closure to a chapter of my life that was really difficult for me creatively. Packaged together in a clean, pretty book with flowery endpapers, can you even tell it was a struggle?


Now that the metaphorical dust has settled, I find myself working away on all sorts of book projects. I haven’t had as much time to explore my own emotions through sketching, but I’m finding ways to infuse this exercise into my client work and getting more projects that require this sort of emotional connection. It’s the best.

In any spare time I can muster up, I’m beginning to flesh out some of my personal sketches into real, actual stories. Elaborating on these brief moments in time is proving to be one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. Cross your fingers that I’ll be able to make sense of the wreck but, until I do, I’ll be over here up to my elbows in suds.


Berkley, the Terrible Sleeper by Mitchell Sharmat –Simon Spotlight 2015


Renee is the illustrator of many books for kids including Orangutanka: A Story in Poems by Margarita Engle (Holt 2015) and the forthcoming Berkley, the Terrible Sleeper by Mitchell Sharmat (Simon Spotlight, Sept. 2015). She lives and works just south of Boston, MA with her illustrator husband and fluffy orange cat.



You can follow her online in these places!

Website: http://www.kurillastration.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/reneekurilla

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kurillastration

Instagram: http://instagram.com/reneekurilla/

Tumblr: http://kurillastration.tumblr.com/

Renee’s sketchbook is currently available for purchase: http://kurillastration.com/kickstarter-sketchbook