Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What is your story?
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and grew up there for most of my life. In the last 10 years, I have been living in Melbourne, Australia. Creativity has always been a central part of my life, my parents always encouraged it and have been huge supporters of my career in graphic design. I have always really enjoyed what I do for a living and since starting my own creative label, “Thomas Makes Stuff,” I’ve been able to express my creativity in a way that can be purely focused on experimentation and curiosity.
Have you always loved graphic puzzles? When did you first become interested in designing them?
As a child I remember always enjoying optical illusions and magic. There was a book that was given to me that was called ‘Photomosaics’ that had a big impression on me. It was a book of images that were made up of hundreds of smaller images and then when you stood back from a distance, you could see what image they made up. I was very curious about how things like that worked and It’s become the foundation of my own personal creative practice.
You’ve created Dot-to-Dots, Querkles, and Spiroglyphics books for Thunder Bay. Will you describe your creative process for us?
All of my book ideas have come from seemingly simple challenges that I set myself. I remember thinking of dot-to-dot drawings and wondering what would happen if I made one that was far more complicated. Querkles came about through wondering if I could create an image from just circles, and Spiroglyphics came from a challenge to create an image from just one continuous spiral. My creative process has been to set myself these challenges and then essentially problem solve until i figure out if I can achieve a good result.
The work itself is extremely tedious. I’ve tried more automated ways to speed up the process, but I have found nothing that generates the same results as doing the work manually. A dot-to-dot book for example, involves me placing on every single dot one-by-one.
We are so excited for your new book 1,001 Dot-to-Dot Amazing Animals that’s coming out this Fall. It’s so many dots, but so satisfying and challenging. How do you create a dot-to-dot puzzle that’s so large?
It’s a very time-consuming process, but having created so many dot-to-dot images now, it’s almost become second nature for me to create them. Every image offers its own unique challenge. The animals in this book are all so different, it’s almost like a science to work out how best to place all the dots on the page that gives the optimum level of detail without making them really tough for people to complete. Patience is the key for me and if an image is just not working the way I want it to, it’s a matter of starting again from scratch until its just right.
Did you invent Spirogylphics? How did you come up with it?
This was my third series and I still have a lot of my original pieces that I made when I first started experimenting with the technique. Some of the early tests were quite rough, but after a few months I managed to refine the style a lot. Spiroglyphics was the first colouring book to come out in that style that I developed.
What is your all-time favorite project that you've worked on?
All-time favorite would have to be the very first dot-to-dot book that I published which featured 20 Icons. It’s so meaningful to me because to have a book published was completely unexpected for me. It completely changed the path of my career and to receive so many kind messages from all over the world from people who have enjoyed the books means so much to me.
Where do you like to work? Do you have ideal working conditions (early/late, must have coffee, listening to music, etc.)?
It’s been a challenging last year dealing with lockdowns and disrupted living patterns. Working from home took a while to get used to, but after a few months, it became something I have quite enjoyed. Having the books to work on last year was one of the best things for me, it kept me busy and distracted from the stress around the world. Because so much of my process is quite tedious and repetitive, I need to have some kind of audio stimulation. Audiobooks, podcasts and music are essential to me.
How do you handle creative slumps?
Exercise is so important for me. I’m sitting down for so many hours each day, exercise is non-negotiable. Taking breaks away from the computer and doing something completely different to what I normally do is so important to try to keep fresh.
What do you love most about puzzles?
The satisfaction that my books have given people always amazes me. I’m so happy when I get a kind email and it’s amazing how all ages can get pleasure out of them. I’m also really touched when I hear from people who have been going through tough times, mentally or physically. So many people have written to me to share how the books have been a really helpful distraction. Even during lockdowns all over the world, I was amazed to hear that people had been using the books to help them through this really tough time.