March Hedge a gram
Hi, this is Jan Brett, letting you know what's happening in my life as a
children's book illustrator and writer. If you have ever traveled to a foreign
country, you may recognize the feelings I experienced after a trip to Africa.
I did miss drawing and painting every day, which makes me feel like my true
self. What made the trip valuable, was that I was filled with new images of
landscapes, animals, birds and African people with traditional clothes and
manners that impressed me in a way that makes me want to draw them. I am filled
with a motivational excitement that makes me want to bring the images to life on
In the traditional village I visited in Namibia, Otjongombe, I admired the
long dresses, shawls and turbans the woman wore, especially since they were
created from beautiful fabric. Most of the women made their own dresses and
kept to a certain style that has been worn for generations. I bought many
samples of cotton printed fabric to use when creating the clothes for the
mapindi (rock hyrax in English) that will be characters in my book. I brought
colored markers with me, so I could experiment with just how I could transform
the tradition dress of the stately Namibian woman to the mapindi who I will
dress just like them, but who are a bit chubby and short limbed.
My husband and I went to a school where I met the children of the village.
They performed a program of song and dance which we greatly admired. We had
some time to chat with the children who liked practicing their English with us.
Their birth language is either Herero or Himba. They were interested in how old
I was, so I told them that I was 59. I left some of my books for their library,
since they all could read English and a beautifully illustrated science book
about extreme animals that I bought especially for them, as well as President
Obama lapel pins since the President's father was from Africa. Everyone we met
in Africa is elated by our country's choice of President Obama.
During our two week trip to Africa we went for our second time to Namibia
and our first time to Tanzania. Spending time in the bush or wilderness area
learning about African birds, mammals, and reptiles is my idea of an energizing,
inspiring, awesome time. Our African guides, Martin Benadie, who is South
African and specializes in birds, Uanee Karuuombe, a Himba guide who introduced
us to the Herero people, and Peter, our guide in Tanzania, brought events and
encounters into focus and shared their knowledge. For example, Martin could
walk into a stand of acacia trees listen carefully, and then point out eight
different birds. Sometimes he would hear a bird call and then would imitate it
with a whistle, and the bird would come out to investigate. Often he spotted
birds unknown to the local guide.
In Namibia, Uanee helped me understand about the pride the Herero have of
their beautiful cattle. Peter, whose family have lived on the Serengeti plains
for generations, looked at a herd of zebra (properly known as a dazzle of
zebra), and saw that they were intently staring at a fixed point not far off.
He drove us in his Land Rover slowly that way, and soon we saw the elegant
cheetah the zebras were looking at but who had been hidden from our sight.
Excited as I am by all the new African ideas, I am still finishing my Easter egg
book, correcting, polishing, and adding to the year's work. It will take all my
self control not to start work on The Three Little Mapindi!
Happy creating, reading and especially drawing.