July Hedge a gram

Happy July,

     This is Jan Brett, and this is my July Hedge a gram - my monthly update on my work as an author illustrator. I often reflect on how lucky I am to wake up in the morning and look forward to work on my illustrations and book ideas. At the same time, I'm keenly aware that others enabled me to live and be productive the United States. July is marked with our country’s July 4th celebration, and for me it is time to thank all of the men and women, and their families, in the United States military. I know personally many members of the military and I'm particularly grateful for their dedication.
    I am hard at work on THE ANIMAL'S SANTA. Every book evolves differently, and this book started as an ethereal description of who the animal's Santa could be. It was poetic and simple. My editor suggested that I focus on the story behind my idea, that I form characters and put a little tension in the words by creating more of a story line. At the time it seemed a momentous task but to my surprise the story line just appeared. Sometimes a book will appear in my mind almost fully formed, or in the case of the retelling, like this year's book CINDERS, the creativity was in taking a historical tale and putting in new characters and setting. When I come up with an idea myself I'm exploring, and I have to be ready with an open mind to get my story just right. In most of my books a great source of inspiration comes from travel. I usually decide on the setting, and then travel with my book dummy in hand, collecting costumes, architecture, flora and fauna, in a part of the world that fascinates me. I visited a school several years ago in Newfoundland, and I was very taken by the people and culture. For THE THREE SNOW BEARS a book published in 2007, I was in Canada in Baffin Island. Once I had sketched out the ANIMAL'S SANTA, I wanted to set it in the boreal forest of Canada a belt of wooded wilderness, very thinly populated by people that felt unspoiled. It seemed like a place my story could unfold, and I relied on my experiences in Canada for inspiration.
     When I illustrate my books, I decorate the borders with folk art, or natural elements of the setting. I love birch bark with its pale color whorls of moss, and dark markings, but I used birch bark in THE MITTEN and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. One thing you never want to ask an artist to do is copy oneself! Strangely, the fascination of painting something new and intriguing has an exhilarating effect I think it adds a magical ingredient for the illustrator. When I go to Canada, I try and seek out native American's arts. It started with a small box made of native porcupine quill. I find the embroidery fashioned from the flatened quill beautiful. The colors are nuanced and the texture wonderful to touch. Only a very few Native Americans are doing this work today. They're carrying on a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The borders on my book are my version of this kind of embroidery. Rather than copy native American designs, I am following the craft but trying to search my own thoughts for the designs. In my reading about American Indian embroidery, the artist often say they dream about designs, so I am going to try it. The animals in the boreal forest are coincidentally animals I love to draw - Showshoe Hares, Arctic Fox, Lynx, Moose, and Wolf. Whenever I think of Christmas I set the scene at the North Pole. Although few animals live at the North Pole, I populated the mythical north pole with the animals of the boreal forest. When we went to Baffin Island, I was stunned to learn that nearest tall trees were 1,000 miles away. In my book, THE ANIMAL'S SANTA is a Snowy Owl, a bird that lives above the Arctic Circle. The elves are lemmings, and my cast of animal characters live further south, but still in the Canadian wilderness. These animals in the framework of my story are so isolated, they are untouched by notions of a commercial Christmas.
     As I work through my story I am making one decision after another that will reveal the story to me. It sounds strange, but part of the fun of telling the story is when it turns the tables and takes charge, dictating the elements that tell the tale.
     It is summer, and I hope that you can set some time aside to create your own story or pictures. It is something we humans have, the storytelling ability that tells us something about ourselves. In a way we can merge with beauty around us, and give freedom to the creativity that bursts out of us all in unexpected ways.

Happy creating,

Your friend, Jan