January Hedge a gram
Happy New Year!

     Our family celebrates two new Year's.  Once on January 1st, when the calendar changes to 2004 and a second time on January 22nd, Chinese New Year.  I usually begin a new book in January, and this year I'll sit down to retell the story of the Honeyguide, a bird that loves to eat honeycomb.  This bird lives in Africa, and after I write my story, I'll travel to Botswana to get ideas for the pictures.  There will be lots of animals in my book, and a little girl too.  My trip will be like a treasure hunt.
    Before I start on my African book, I will be putting the finishing touches on the jacket of The Umbrella which will be published in the fall of 2004.  The large lettering or display type takes some thought.  Right now, the title, "The Umbrella" is spelled with chunky yellow letters set in a curve.  They are shaded with red just like a Toucan's large beak.  They look too smooth as if they were made in a computer or molded from plastic.  After the designer gets the letters just right, I like to paint on top with my paint brush, so they have a crafty feel.  I want them to reflect the illustrations inside.  A fun exercise for you to do is to draw an object 10 times, each time using a different style.  It's not as hard as you would think, because even when you draw something twice, it's always a little different the second time.  Artists even have a name for this exercise, it's called variations on a theme.
    A theme I like to work on is a border.   My goal is to put pictures in the border that tell a little more about the story -- things that may not fit in the big picture.  In The Umbrella, I used leaf shapes.  The cloud forest, where my story is set, is made up of trillions of leaves.  Many of the leaves end in a long point that cause the droplets of water that fall on it to drip off.   My borders are made up of leaves that end in long curly tips.  Many cloud forest plants climb up tall trees to reach the sun.  They hang on with tendrils that look like curlicues.   I put the tendrils in my borders too.
     Children sometimes ask, "How do I know a book has ended?"  And, "How do I know a book has begun?"   My January Hedge a gram is a perfect time to answer these questions.  I'm finished when I feel I can walk right into my story.  I feel like I can smell the forest, feel the temperature of the air, and hear the unfamiliar bird calls.   I'll be saying goodbye to this year's book, The Umbrella, soon, and it's kind of sad.   I'll miss working on it.   What makes me happy is holding a Guinea Hen feather.   I wrote to a man who raises Guineas and he sent me some feathers.  They are beautiful, black or grey with white polka dots.  They will decorate the border of my next book.  Guinea Hens are seen everywhere in Botswana, Africa.  They're like wild chickens and everyone loves them.   That feather says my thoughts have turned to Africa, and to the new book.  That's how I know I've really begun.
      Happy drawing, Happy exploring!
                                  Your friend,

                                      Jan Brett