This is Jan Brett, and this is my August hedge a gram- the time I take each month to describe what I'm doing in my art world.
It takes a year to create one of my picture books, and I begin in about February, so by August I have finalized the story part of my book. Many kids ask, " which comes first, the story or the pictures ?" For me the story comes first, but it is always a story that can be illustrated with images that I would like to draw and paint. For example, I like to draw furry creatures, but mechanical objects or things that require a lot of perspective are hard for me. Like for example, a car with a personality. I feel a kind of excitement that is hard to explain about certain things. I love moss, snow, birch trees, lichen, the color gray-green, coral, reindeer, hedgehogs, feathered creatures, pussy willows, sea urchins, red mushrooms and orchids to name a few things. That interest bubbles up in my drawings. I am fascinated by reptiles, but when I draw them I find it hard to capture their essence in the same way as when I draw a hedgehog, a mammal. In the book I'm working on, the main characters are reptiles, turtles, and the star of the story is Mossy, a turtle who grows a garden on her back. It wasn't until I completed my book dummy that I realized I needed all the moss, ferns, and flowers to make her into a being I could then make into a main character. I spend a year working on the pictures, and that spark of interest and obsession I feel at the beginning has to last. Someone once asked me if after working on a book for a year, if I was ready to move away from the character and setting, was I tired of it? No, No, No! I stall until the very last minute before parting with the finished artwork. I never feel like it's ready, and I feel like I'm leaving my best friend when it's all packed up and sent to the publisher.
Today would be a typical day in my life as an author illustrator. At breakfast, Joe and I plan a photo session for an ad and discuss an upcoming trip to Russia, for a 2012 book THE TURNIP. We are also going on a trip to India and we will go bird watching but I will also be trying to find some stories and fables that work for an idea for a book I have that I'm calling Dancing Slippers. I have definitely fallen into the trap of being infatuated with the character - a tiger and a setting, India,without a fully formed plot. When I was little my mom read lots of stories set in faraway places that I loved - the JUST SO STORIES by Rudyard Kipling set in Africa, THE STORY OF PING by Marjorie Flack set in Asia and THE TAIL OF MRS. TIGGY WIGGLE by Beatrix Potter, set in England. Also, I devoured all the Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm stories as well as my favorite ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. They took me to strange and exotic places too.
Back to my day, after breakfast I worked on a double page spread for THE STORY OF MOSSY. Now that I have two spreads done, I will send them to my editor. She will troubleshoot and make suggestions about the look of my future book.
I stop working to get ready for a photo. In the photo, I am reading HEDGIE'S SURPRISE to one of my chickens. It is for an appearance in Indianapolis at the national poultry show this October 29th. My husband Joe and I reviewed the photos, and worked on the copy, finishing in time to go to one of his concerts at Tanglewood. He plays the double bass like Berlioz the Bear in my 1991 book by that name.
During the concert, I let myself be taken away by the music - it often leads my thoughts to unexpected places. I'm going to be juggling some thoughts about my tiger/India book and also a possible Cinderella peopled by poultry that was my editor's idea. Sadly, at the concert I can't get out a pen and paper because it would look extremely rude and distract the concertgoers. They will be in their own listening worlds!
Tonight I will sign 10 books for a contest winner and record the Hedge a gram. Finally I settle down to planning another spread for my book, and if I have time, plant a terrarium I just bought. There are a lot of mosses and ferns in the Berkshires in Massachusetts our summer home. I want to keep the moss fresh and happy all fall while I paint them for my book, moss models! I also will write a note to a man I just met that has a beautiful avairy with hundreds of exotic birds. One of the pages I plan for Mossy is set in a natural history museum and I'm painting different collections in the borders. I'm hoping I can borrow some of his feathers. He also has tame Eastern box turtles and I would love to photograph them. Good models seem to be popping up everywhere, and a wood frog hopped across my path yesterday. I have been taking my iPhone everywhere, especially trail running on the Appalachian trail. I have one eye on the path and one eye on the moss, ferns and little waterfalls along my route. My day ends with the promise of a dream that may unfold into another book or open a door that fires the imagination.
Good luck with your days ahead, and save some time to create a lasting story or picture!
Happy reading, Jan