Looking at the work of Nate Williams, I see a nod to non-Western art, tribal patterns and figures, nostalgia for Fractured Fairy Tales and It’s a Small World, and a graphic interpretation of happiness. But I wanted to know how Williams would describes his style, so I asked him. “Bold, playful, impulsive, and optimistic,” he replies.

It’s that optimism that first made me look twice, and it’s having the same effect on Cartoon Network, Peet’s Coffee, Wired, Target, and The North Face, to name a few. Williams’ client list is varied, to say the least. As a result, his illustrations and lettering grace food and music packaging, shoes, pillows, magazines, and books. One constant, however, is the lively energy exuded by his bright, animated characters.

The prolific artist currently resides in Utah, an unlikely landing place after living in Buenos Aires and Seattle. But perhaps settling down in seemingly random spots around the globe keeps him inspired? “Curiosity, play, and discovery is my M.O.,” he adds. “By asking questions, I think about possible answers. This is where a lot of creativity happens—right between having a question, but before finding an answer.”

Williams also emphasizes the importance of personal work (a.k.a. the magical place where play and discovery happen) and the five human senses. “We experience the world through sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste, so why not celebrate them,” he says. “The more senses we engage, the more memorable our experiences will be.”

Born from his curious nature are The creACTIVISTs and PROCONist, two projects meant to flex creative muscles. Willams says The creACTIVISTs exercises are for inquisitive kids (and adults). “I originally made these to entertain my kids while waiting for a bus or to be seated at a restaurant. And then one day my stepdaughter asked me to come to her school and share the exercises with her classmates,” he explains. “It was a huge success. And now they live online so others have access to them.”

Remember mood rings and the red miracle fortune-telling fish that curled up in your palm? Williams tops them both of with PROCONist, his version of a mood analyzer. “I thought it would be interesting to data mine a journal or diary,” he explains. “While a journal is great, it’s linear. By visualizing the information and making it searchable, we’re able to see patterns in our lives. Patterns for best and worst days, what triggered them, and our emotional state—happiness, frustration, anger, accomplishment, and so on.”

With kids at home, it’s no wonder that Williams has ventured into writing children’s books, such as his recent Hank & snOliver series. His sense of play is also manifesting itself into a toy that will be an extension of his books, created by Alexander Blue. Alexander who, you ask? He’s Williams’s alter ego. We did mention a sense of play, right?