Inspiration and Experimentation

November 25, 2022
Illustration of cute character wearing a bobble hat


One of the design styles I love the most comes from Dick Bruna and his Miffy books. I loved those little square books filled with cute characters, bright colours and bold lines way before my son was born, so already had a small collection to share when he came along.

Photo of page taken from The Illustrators - Dick Bruna
The evolution of Miffy, taken from the book "The Illustrators - Dick Bruna"

While outwardly uncomplicated, I hesitate to call the style “simple” as Dick Bruna clearly put much thought into every design decision. As described in the wonderful book “The Illustrators - Dick Bruna, by Bruce Ingman and Ramona Reihill”, everything from the choice of colours used, the line weight, the shape of Miffy and even the format of the books were carefully considered. Miffy (Original Dutch name “Nijntje”) herself underwent many incremental design changes and refinements over the years as Dick Bruna became more fluent in Miffy’s visual language.

“Because there is so little, that which is there needs to be perfect. The weight of the line, the positioning of the eye - he creates expressions using next to nothing… The Chinese have an apt expression for this “Nearly right is completely wrong” — Wim Pijbes, General Director of the Rijksmuseum until 2016

As we progress through our own artistic journeys, It’s quite easy to overdesign a piece, adding more of which we have discovered throughout our experiments with various styles and techniques. Reducing a design down to it’s core elements of colour and form requires just as much consideration and thought.


With this design philosophy in mind, I wanted to experiment with my own style and reduce it down even further. Starting off with a fixed line weight and a reduced colour palette, I used the items around me as inspiration. My desk and it’s contents, the consoles and games that I fill my free time with, even my coffee cup and various plushies were turned into their most basic forms while remaining recognisable.

I discovered that the colours I chose for my limited palette worked incredibly well for most items. The Taiko no Tatsujin drum appears very close to it’s true colour,  as does the console to which it’s often connected. View more at WFH Illustrations.

Illustration of Taiko no Tatsujin game controller
Taiko no Tatsujin illustration

I also produced a collection of profile images based on this design style for a recent client, each one reflecting the persona of the team members. The main structure of the characters are the same, but accessories vary between them, including AirPods, bobble hats, different hairstyles and t-shirt colours.

Cute profile images of client team members
Profile images for client team members

Even my own profile picture underwent this treatment, using key elements from how I define myself, from my often worn Baseball Cap and Headphones to the group-select icon t-shirt. It has become my go-to profile image for my online presence, and can be adapted easily, catering for changes in mood or special events such as Halloween.

Cute profile images of Andy Carolan
Andy profile images

Next Steps

I’ve enjoyed playing with this style so much, and wanted to develop it further, so have created  “Icons of Coffee”, an Art Book in Zine format.

Photo of Icons of Coffee Artbook in Zine format
Icons of Coffee Art Book in Zine format

"Icons of Coffee" is now available in my Etsy store. I also hope to produce some stickers and art prints, as I feel the designs, especially the more abstract pieces, would lend themselves well to posters and maybe stickers. Details to follow!