Ice Cream man is off to work! This cheerful, surreal story follows a stylish, hard-working confection as he navigates the work week. Happy to find different ways to help out, Ice Cream man works as a road cone in a construction zone, a golf ball and tee, a party popper, a nightlight and more. Not one to melt down on the weekends, Ice Cream Man joins friends for karaoke, a baseball game and shops for a new outfit, too.
Ice Cream Work by Naoshi is a simple, colourful children’s book made using an interesting technique – sunae (砂絵). Sunae is the art of creating a picture using coloured sand, which gives Naoshi’s work a very distinctive style.
The book is quirky and sweet, with a clear message that seems very Japanese. Basically, I think the message is to work hard and play hard, and to give everything your very best. The main character, Ice Cream Man (who looks like a woman to me!), has to go off to work and be useful (doing a variety of both dull and dangerous jobs), but he does what he has to do with joy and lots of effort, and then has a good time on the weekend, singing karaoke and playing sports with friends. Working hard and giving everything your all seems to be a very Japanese idea to me, and it’s one that I like. I think in today’s society there is a tendency to want the easy way out or to want things handed to you on a platter, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hard work as long as it’s rewarded and appreciated.
The book features a ‘look and find’ section, which I adore. It introduces some characters, such as ‘Pretending Interest Cheetah’, ‘Bathing Lemon’ and ‘Ice Cream Dog’ and encourages the parent and child to find them together in the book. I have to say, I didn’t notice any of them at first, and searching for them really made me look further at the detail. The level of detail in the sand illustrations is impressive, and this is the kind of book you could pick up and look at again and again. I think this ‘look and find’ section teaches another important lesson: be creative and look at the world around you. It’s so easy to get bogged down in things and miss the colourful detail of life.
This is Naoshi’s first book aimed at a Western audience, and at the end of the 40 page book there is a brief explanation of what sunae is and a little ‘how to make sunae’ section. I think it’s a lovely idea to have this included in the book, and hopefully it will encourage parents to be creative with their children. You could even use glitter instead of sand, as this is readily available in craft shops (Naoshi sometimes uses glitter too!).
Here’s a short Q&A with Naoshi, author of Ice Cream Work (courtesy of the publicist):
What do you love most about working in sunae?
I have the most fun when I’m working with sand. I love the process of using vibrantly colored sand to transform a white board. I feel very gratified at the end of each project.
When learning the art of sunae, what did you find most difficult?
Making tiny pictures is really difficult because every line must be cut. I think size is a limitation of sunae.
What other mediums do you work in?
I don’t use any other artistic mediums aside from sand. Except for glitter. Sometimes I use glitter!
Do you identify with Ice Cream Man? If so, what about this character is most like you?
I’m most like Ice Cream Man in that I approach every task seriously. He doesn’t set limits for himself; he seeks new challenges. In those ways, I’m like the character I draw. Daily life happens in Ice Cream Man’s world, just like ours. He doesn’t show emotions like joy, anger, sadness or fun, rather he tries his hardest everyday. Being a golf ball, for instance, would be a very dangerous job! His head would be knocked around all the time, but Ice Cream Man bravely meets the challenge. I hope I can be the type of person who enjoys life to the fullest and faces my work matter-of-factly every Monday.
At what age did you know you were an artist?
I was about 25 years-old when I knew I was an artist, but Ice Cream Man is a character gleaned from a drawing I first created when I was just 7! I re-discovered this character in 2007 and began expanding his daily life and world. When I started making sunae, I never thought I’d be an artist; I just loved this art form!
The colors in sunae are so vivid and beautiful. Do you ever work in black and white?
I really love vibrant colours, so I’ve never used black and white.
We love the smaller characters in Ice Cream Work, too! Did you draw “Ice Cream Dog” or “Pretending Interest Cheetah” before or after you created “Ice Cream Man”?
I drew the smaller characters after I created “Ice Cream Man.” I imagined the daily life of this character – his friends (both good and bad), his girlfriend and other creatures around him. I had so much fun imagining these characters.
What are some of your other hobbies?
My hobbies include going to rock and dance concerts, reading manga and watching comedies – they make me smile and inspire me.
What other artistic projects are you working on now?
I participate in art shows and events in Los Angeles, New York and Japan.
What surprised you most about living in the United States? [Naoshi is from Iwate Prefecture in Japan, but currently living in Los Angeles.]
The wide roads and freeways! While in Japan, I hadn’t driven in a decade, so I felt completely unable to drive in LA. Today, I sing while I drive!
What is your favourite flavour of ice cream?
I like chocolate ice cream so much! In Japan, there are some flavors you won’t find here. Red Bean ice cream is unique to my home.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your art?
Artist Kin Shiotani has been a real inspiration to me. He’s an illustrator and performer, and since meeting him in 2004, he’s been a large influence on me.
Ice Cream Man works hard, but he also takes time to have fun and relax. How do you balance your life between work and play?
For me, if it’s work, it’s work. To balance my life, I go to music concerts, eat dinner with friends, read comic books and eat sweets. I’m gonna have fun!
Where is your favourite place to have a vacation?
I prefer to go back to my hometown in Iwate, Japan. I find it relaxing to spend time with family and friends. I always feel renewed by my hometown.
I’m so fascinated by this sand art created by Naoshi, and I hope you will be too. Here’s a cute video I found on YouTube showing how the pictures are made:
Ice Cream Work by Naoshi will be published in October by Overcup Press. Find out more here and pre-order your copy on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Find out more about Naoshi on her Facebook page and website.
(All images courtesy of Naoshi and Overcup Press)