A Brief Note

This is my first post in a while. Just as I recommited to posting once a week, I suffered a detached retina, underwent surgery, and went into a fairly slow recovery which is still happening. I’m getting better each day, but the fixed eye is still quite blurry. It will take a while for the eye to get back to optimal vision, but I’m easing into work, and Ed Koehler Illustrator is still very much in business.

Thanks for reading my blog and joining me on this journey to grasp the magnificence of God’s grace in the mirthful marriage of Art & Whimsy.

Made to Play

Leviathan was a very large aquatic creature. I’m no ichthyologist (a person who studies fish), so I won’t give a definitive description of this creature. The image above is my whimsical and unscientific impression.

I drew this guy after listening to a TED Talk about play. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown spoke on play as an essential part of being human. Humans, said Brown, have a higher capacity for play than any other creature.

A traditional view of play is that it’s childish rehearsal for adult activity. Not so, argues Dr. Brown. He sees it as essential and transformational. Play is an important part of our biology, wired into us for larger purposes.

Our culture has largely relegated play to spare time activity. Business before pleasure. Brown offers a contrary view that play is not just post-work reward but a key ingredient to work itself. It’s most necessary for creativity and innovation.

As I listened to Dr. Brown, my mind kept going to a fun verse in the Bible which states that in God’s work of creation, the gigantic oceans were made for Leviathan to play in. Some translations read to sport in, or to frolic in.

A fair amount of the Bible’s poetry (Psalms, Job, et. al.) depict God as recounting his creation in a way that sounds jubilant and celebratory. And so with the creation of a playground big enough for this magnificent sea creature to frolic.

Serious Fun

Play, if Brown is correct, is serious (and fun) business. Play is often distinguished from work, but there is an increasing awareness that play is a component of our most serious endeavors.

I think Brown is right. Why shouldn’t play and work play well together? The best professionals I know are the ones who actually enjoy their work and embrace it as a fun adventure. I can’t think of any endeavor doesn’t benefit from creative freedom and creative freedom is fun.

Faith and Joy, Joy and Fun

I illustrate children’s books and educational materials for a living. This is my full time “work”. No, take away those quotation marks, it is work; hard work.

It’s not backbreaking, but it can be mentally and emotionally taxing. My work involves deadlines, budgets, editorial demands, revisions, and consistent quality. Every assignment is like a new audition.

Every assignment however, is an opportunity for joy. When I get a call from a new client, one of the first things I ask them is “what is your whacky tolerance?” I try to feel them out for the level of humor or whimsy they are comfortable with, even for serious materials.

If we have good rapport, I may let on that if the work they give me makes me giggle while I’m doing it, then that will give the best Ed Koehler art I can offer.

With Dr. Brown, I think that is very healthy.

When my eye health was compromised by a detached retina, I was quite frightened by the prospect of losing sight in one eye. Ordinarily an artist would be reluctant to share this concern publicly, but God is faithful and led me to a great surgeon in sufficient time.

I was told recovery would be a process, but was assured all will come back to normal. “Take off at least two weeks and watch a lot of TV” was my prescription (along with lots of eyedrops).

After two weeks, I was getting antsy and was driven to my studio. I assumed that I would fare okay on the computer, where I make most of my art. The sea creature was drawn on my Wacom tablet, before the retina issue.

As working on the computer is still difficult at this stage of recovery (and it will get better), I got the idea that I would try a canvas painting, just like the old days. My initial thought was to do an abstract or impressionist piece, considering my temporarily fuzzy sight.

I’ve never been that great at abstract or impressionist art. Both are much harder than you might think. So I thought, I’ll just stay with what I do best (whimsical) and see how it goes.

How it went is this painting of Simeon holding the baby Jesus. Surprising to me was that painting upright on an easel was much easier right now than enlarging a digital painting on the computer. This is probably the first canvas painting I’ve done in a couple of years.


I’ve done hundreds of canvas and illustration board paintings in my career, so this wasn’t a new thing for me. It was a surprise that it would go so smoothly and return me to the great fun of playing with creamy paint and gooey glazes.

I giggled.

I also cried. The joy of still being able to imagine, create, work, and play, filled me with gratitude. God is gracious.

Joy, said C. S. Lewis, is the serious business of heaven. Art and whimsy aren’t ends to themselves, but peeks into a future place where there is no one blind, no one, deaf, no one damaged, and no one dead.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Leviathan ©2016 Ed Koehler      Simeon ©2016 Ed Koehler  All rights reserved.





Psalm 104 is where we find that Leviathan was created to frolic in the ocean’s playgrounds.