Every month I take some time to reflect on my profession, children's book
illustrator and writer, and write down what's important to me and what could
possibly be helpful to others.
The book I'm working on, THE TALE OF THE TIGER SLIPPERS is well under way. With 5 spreads completed I have established some of the ground rules for the world I am creating in my book. First, I have my tiger characters. This is very exciting because four years ago we went to Maghya Pradesh province in central India to prepare for my book. In the first nature preserve Bandhavgarh National Park we visited, we saw a close view of a very large male tiger. We had been visiting the park for three days, seeing many mammals and birds new to us, but we were rewarded with a sighting of a Tiger on the fourth day. First, the Langor Monkeys make a ruckus with warning barks, and the Spotted or Chital Deer also warned with bark like vocalizations. When I first saw the Tiger on the move it met my high expectations in many ways. He was perfectly camouflaged by his color and stripes. His roar was very loud and elemental, giving me goosebumps and making my hair rise. No question a part of my brain was telling me this was a dangerous predator! The animal was huge. he was much larger than the mature male Lions we had seen in Africa. The Tiger was very catlike, and like a House Cat preferred to walk on the soft sand of the road rather than the forest. This was to our advantage because we followed him for a quarter mile down the road in our open jeep at a walking pace until he gave us a performance. Standing on his hind feet he stretched to his full height and sharpened his claws and scented the tree. His legendary grace and striking beauty was in every way, awesome. I remember thinking that I should save the word ''awesome'' for an experience like this! Although I trusted our guides, I was still fearful of this creature. You can look on my website and see a video we took of the Tiger. The man with me is Martin Benadi our South African birding guide, and Joe is filming. Surprisingly, initially I was worried that I could transform this formidable beast into a loving book character! After a little time went by and after watching videos of Indian Tiger festivals where Tigers' faces were painted on men's large round bellies and jiggled to look like the faces were making expressions I felt more relaxed about portraying this magnificent animal. The key piece of knowledge was that our Indian park guides knew instantly which Tiger we saw because each has unique markings on its face. When I draw the adult Tiger in my book, far away in India a park guide would recognize him has their Bandhavgarh tiger. The forest where we explored the flora and fauna was unlike what I imagined. It was a mixture of bamboo, deciduous trees and hilly with rocky outcrops and chasms. We came across rivers and natural fields as well as deep woods with ferns and moss. It was not like the rainforest of Costa Rica, although India is a large country and we only went to three parks in this central plateau area. I think if I have this right, the park's land has been kept unchanged for centuries because in olden times the all powerful rulers kept great tracts of land pristine for use as hunting preserves. There are also Leopard, Civet Cats, Sloth Bear, huge cattle like creatures called Guar, many species of Antelope, Indian Fox, Mongoose like Riki Tiki Tavi of Kipling's creation, and my favorite, Indian Wild Cat. The Indian Wild Cat, like a large Longhaired Tabby Housecat with tassels in its ears looked exactly like my sister Jeannie's Maine Coon Cat, Trout. If you want to see him, he is featured on her artist's website, if you goggle Jeannie Brett. India also has amazing birds, including Peafowl that roam through the woods, a common sight, and Red Jungle Fowl that crow early in the morning just like our domesticated chickens. The way you can tell them from the farmers domesticated chickens is that they are somewhat larger, and they go into an eclipse phase, like wild ducks, when their feathers get drabber and shorter when the breeding period is over and the females lay and have chicks. The animals I did not see, but was happy to know about is the Indian Hedgehog. I add a Hedgehog or a stand-in for a Hedgehog in all my books.
Happy Creating, Jan Brett