Puzzles have always been a fun pastime to help unwind from a long day or to enjoy time with family. In lieu of the pandemic, virtual learning, and remote work, more people have found themselves gravitating to puzzles because they can be a healthy distraction that help reduce stress at any age. This resurgence in your favorite childhood pastime led to many new puzzle businesses emerging and creating puzzles specifically designed for adults. These elaborate puzzles are far from the character or animated cartoons of yesteryears- they have now become living works of art that people can do solo or collectively and hang when completed. With the holiday season coming up we compiled a puzzle gift guide from Black and AAPI-owned businesses to help you decompress. Check out our interviews with 5 different artists and entrepreneurs who share their artistic process.

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Ananda Nahú

Tell our readers about your background as an artist/animator

I was born in Juazeiro, in Bahia, Brazil, in 1985. I moved to Salvador in 2001, and in 2003 I attended The College of Design and in 2004 attended the Fine Arts School at the Federal University of Bahia. During this period, I became interested in studying photography, Fine Arts Paintings and engravings, inspired by studies and research of lithography, Serigraphs, metal engraving, and consequently a deeper study of posters, the main references for my engraving techniques.

Who are your artistic inspirations?

I love study and integrating differents cultures and peoples, cultural references from ancient times to the present day, harmoniously working and interacting together in the same composition, where all elements of different aspects come together for a single purpose : the creation of Works of Art, where the plurality of shapes, colors, styles, cultures and peoples, are peacefully integrated into a single composition, united with characters that transmit messages of strength, beauty and positivity that reflects all of the beautiful and divine nature of the human being.

What was your creative process like when creating "Mae Africa"

To honor the Black Consciousness Day, which is celebrated in Brazil on November 20th, the Zumbi of Palmares day, the United Nations created, in 2013, a special project "Encontro das Africas" to raise international awareness against racism. I was invited to participate in the project along with three other artists, each of them had to select a theme from African history to represent. I chose to work on the theme 'African Empires'. The artwork is an acrylic painting on canvas, (210 x 160 cm), that represents an imaginary mother of Africa giving birth to a new society full of splendor and wealth, in harmony with nature and rich in traditions and culture. 

What types of artistic tools do you use (pencils, paint, etc.)?

I love to experiment with different materials, but my favorite is acrylic painting.

How has the experience been seeing your work go from the canvas to a puzzle?

It's amazing because we can have fun and see art at the same time!

Kaitlin June

Tell our reader about your background as an artist

My name is Kaitlin June and I graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a BFA in illustration. I currently work as a freelance illustrator and tattoo artist in Jacksonville Florida. 

Who are your artistic inspirations?

Much of what inspired me as a child is what inspires me now (sailor moon, astrology, ethereal daydreamy backgrounds, fashion, tattoos, color).

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What was your creative process like when creating "Strength"

The process for creating “Strength” was quite chaotic. It started out as an oil painting I was really unhappy with. I was starting to feel more depressed in my life and it was affecting my work. I decided to approach the piece digitally so I took a pic of the work and reworked it in photoshop. 

What types of artistic tools do you use (pencils, paint, etc.)

My favorite means of making art is through Procreate on my iPad. I have been in love with digital art for over ten years, I love the control digital art gives you. I enjoy working in traditional mediums as a hobby and a fun break to digital art. 

There is a comfort to working digitally as I can make infinite changes and versions of a piece. I leaned into a lot of negative feelings to get the original version of “Strength” and when I was asked about making it into a puzzle I wanted to make a few tonal changes to read a bit more like hope and optimism.

How has the experience been seeing your work go from the canvas to a puzzle?

I’ve loved seeing my work as a puzzle. I do love the idea of people putting this work together because it adds another element to the meaning of this work. 

Putrice Thomas

Tell our readers about your background as an artist/animator 

I started through the love of puzzles and raising my 3yrs old daughter. A search for diverse toys and educational products led to me using my hobby in digital art to capture the details found in the compositions. I have over 15years in business and managing people in organizations in the Caribbean and North America.

Who are your artistic inspirations?

Too many to mention. I typically like fantasy art which brings out the playful narratives seen on the puzzles mixed with realism in modern digital art that helps portray the realities of the scenes.

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What was your creative process like when creating "All Better Now"

With art being my hobby, I knew I needed to find someone with a skill set to master the sketches. I collaborated with Jefferson Jacome, a character designer and illustrator from Queens, NY. Jeff sketched the design for “All Better Now” which was inspired by imagination, play, and pretend while being at home during the pandemic. The story shows a little girl dressed as a veterinarian trying to help her puppy feel better. “As a mom, I would always tell my daughter, you’re all better now, whenever she gets a boo-boo so, the title for the puzzle came naturally”. In the picture, you can see how the little girl wraps her puppy’s paw with a bandage and soothes him with a hug. This puzzle was so much fun to design, and it provides a great teachable moment for parents as it shows emotions such as compassion and kindness. 

How has the experience been seeing your work go from the artboard to a puzzle?

From doodling in an art journal at 2 am to never letting go of my dream to own my own business , I enjoy every minute of being an entrepreneur. “Having people walk to me and admire the work solidifies the mission but when a child smiles after receiving one of our puzzles it makes my heart warm”.

Marianne Rodriguez

Tell our readers about your background as an artist/animator 

I am an Filipino-American artist and abstract contemporary painter based in Covington, Louisiana. Due to my parents’ work with the United Nations, I spent 15 years living abroad in West Africa, Central America, Europe & Asia before landing in the US. Marianne went on to study in New York where she obtained a B.A. in media studies & anthropology from the City University of New York at Hunter College, and a degree in fashion design from FIT.

Who are your artistic inspirations?

Matisse, Klimt, Yayoi Kusama

What was your creative process like when creating "Island Hopping"

It was joyful, upbeat and free. Island Hopping was a part of a collection titled Islands which was inspired by my Filipino heritage, infused with tropical, sunshine flavors.

What types of artistic tools do you use (pencils, paint, etc.)

Island Hopping is a mixed media piece, composed of acrylic paint and fabrics. In hindsight, the process of creating a mixed media artwork is very much like improv puzzle-making, except on a canvas. Moving pieces around constantly until something clicks.

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How has the experience been seeing your work go from the canvas to a puzzle?

It's been so exciting to have this totally new way of being able to allow people to interact with my art, and to be a part of a shared process in creating something together while being apart - if that makes sense? Haha. When someone is honed in on the process of puzzle assembly, and analyzing each piece with careful thought, the feedback I've gotten from people is that the nuances of the art are brought to light, the process of the painting is dissected, details are noticed, and the artwork as a whole becomes better appreciated. The icing on top is when puzzle-lovers end up framing the piece once completed. It's a massive compliment.

Jackie Ogidan

Tell our readers about your experience working with different artists

As Founder of Little Likes Kids, I enjoy working with a team of talented artists, channeling my passions into creating an inclusive line of products that represent a diverse array of cultures and contemporary themes. I have worked with a number of different artists and each person has brought unique perspectives to creating art for the company. However, all of them incorporate our core values of diversity, fun, and relatability. I am proud to have kept my original vision as I grow the company.

What was the inspiration behind creating your business?

I founded this company as a mom who wanted to see quality screen-free toys that were inclusive of children like my son and his wonderful and varied gaggle of friends. And I did so not just for children, but also — and maybe primarily — in service to other moms. The quality, diversity, and broad availability of our toys make it easy for mothers to stock their children’s toy boxes with items that show them they are seen and loved.

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What can we look forward to in the future?

I am excited about our future. Currently, we are available at Target, Nordstroms, World Market, Uncommon Goods, and Amazon in addition to wonderful independent retailers like Kido in Chicago and Mahogany Books in Washington, DC. In 2022, we are "movin' on up" as Upbounders® by Little Likes Kids. Please stay tuned as Upbounders® by Little Likes Kids brings even more joyful diversity to toy shelves at your local retailer."