When Ray found his clan

Posted: 01/05/2024

Ray Bowler is a name well known to long-term devotees of Innovative Resources’ products and training. His quirky, soulful illustrations and designs have helped thousands of people explore their feelings, prompted important conversations about strengths and mental health, and inspired people to share stories about their most meaningful life experiences.

But before he began changing lives with his first Innovative Resources publication (The Wrong Stone, 2002), Ray spent almost 30 years as a commercial graphic designer, working with clients to design packaging, brochures, annual reports … ‘all the usual suspects,’ he says.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but it was time to take our sister company, Ark Publishing, into new territory—working with publishers.’

To promote their services, Ray sent out monthly promotional calendars to publishers, demonstrating his illustration and design skills.

‘The silence was deafening,’ Ray recalls, ‘but as I became braver, the calendars became more creative.’

One of those publishers was a small outfit in Bendigo called Innovative Resources. After seeing an article in a trade magazine about a new set of cards called The Bears, Ray reached out and, naturally, added IR to his calendar list.

‘I inundated them with my calendars for many months without hearing a peep,’ Ray jokes. ‘Then one day the phone rang … “Would you like to illustrate a children’s book for us?”

The rest, as they say, is history. Ray made the trip to Bendigo and felt right at home amongst the IR crew.

‘Creatively, it felt like I’d found my clan,’ he recalls. ‘I loved the products, but more importantly I was welcomed with such warmth and enthusiasm by then Director, Russell Deal, and Managing Editor, Karen Bedford.

‘They gave me so many great opportunities and had such trust in my work.’

Ray brought a diverse range of skills and styles to the many products he designed for Innovative Resources, from cartoon characters to digital illustration—even original photography. But it was while exploring a new software program that he discovered the joys of 3-D illustration.

‘After some practice I created a wooden top that scrolled in circles over a page,’ Ray says. ‘I sent it to IR thinking they may consider 3-D digital artwork as a way to complement their traditional hardcopy resources.

‘The response wasn’t what I expected at all—”We’d like to use your spinning top as our logo!”’

Ray’s iconic spinning top logo would endure for more than 20 years, only replaced early this year with Innovative Resources’ new branding rollout.

In a period of intense creativity, between 2002 (The Wrong Stone) and 2011 (Cavepersons), Ray designed and illustrated four card sets and two picture books for Innovative Resources—it’s no wonder he finds it hard to choose a favourite.

‘Each project dictates its own needs, particular style and graphic flavour,’ he says. ‘Two projects that stand out for me, because of a calculated design risk that paid off, are Ups and Downs and Storycatching.’

Many SOON readers will be familiar with the “everyperson” character who sails the billowing ocean of life in Ups and Downs, but as Ray explains, there’s more behind the creation of the character than is immediately apparent.

‘I created the bright pink “jellybean” character to represent us at our most vulnerable,’ Ray says. ‘The choice to place them in a bathtub was both absurd and strangely powerful.

‘Are we ever more vulnerable than when we’re in the bath? Yet it’s also a place of comfort and warmth and a space that allows contemplation and “philosophising”.’

The 2008 card set, Storycatching, was visually inspired by Ray’s and the author’s (yours truly) shared love of all things found and pre-loved, along with contemporary kitsch sourced from discount stores.

‘Op shops, flea markets and bazaars are emporiums of potential photographic props,’ Ray says. ‘With a bit of “tricking up”, a toy elephant, plastic fruit or rubber dog poo (that’s right! Storycatching is the only Innovative Resources card set to feature dog poo!) look so convincing in front of the lens.

‘All those years of hunting, searching and perhaps hoarding, both my own and John’s, definitely paid off. We had no shortage of story-inspiring props.’

More than a decade on from his last Innovative Resources product, Cavepersons, Ray is enjoying retirement, but has not lost any of his infectious curiosity and creativity. He’s still drawing, painting, producing digital art and photography, reading and, as he puts it, ‘letting the sands of time slip quietly through his fingers’.

‘I certainly don’t miss the stresses of commercial life,’ he says. ‘I have even come close to achieving a sense of calmness which allows for better creativity.

‘I still can’t get to the end of my street without discovering something funny, profound or downright intriguing.’


by John Holton

2 responses to “When Ray found his clan”

  1. Diane Bischoff says:

    I absolutely love the Ups and Downs cards which I use with my clients. They are fun and humorous totally lacking intimidation. The cards help clients easily open up about how they feel on a deeper level. I use them to evaluate the clients progress in therapy. The cards chosen at the beginning of therapy are never chosen at the end.
    Thank you Ray for your brilliant inspiration and artwork

    • Sue says:

      Hi Diane, thanks so much for your lovely comment – I’ll pass that on to Ray. I’m so glad you and your clients find the cards useful and fun – that is such great feedback. We love to hear how the cards are being used! Cheers, Sue

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