It is wonderful to be writing in my art studio with almost all of my new book, THE ANIMAL'S SANTA, including the jacket, up on my bulletin board. It takes up one wall of my room, and like most picture books, there are 32 pages. Once I finished the last page I can go through all finished artwork, color correcting the backgrounds, and making sure all the character’s clothes and details are consistent.
I love how the snowy setting matches the 2 feet of snow outside my window. It makes me think back to last summer when the hot weather, green leaves, and hummingbirds at the flower boxes made my winter scenery seemed very far away. In a way, the last month I work on my book is the most fun of all. I have a deadline so I hole up in my art studio, and say "no" to almost all other activities. One of the challenges of being an illustrator that works from home is the constant interruptions that a normal life brings, but that are not easily put off like if I were in an office somewhere. A gorgeous Flicker woodpecker just came to my studio window where there is a bird feeder. That's a perfect example of why I wouldn't want to trade my work place.
I've been reading Ann Patchett's new book of collected essays, and I felt all my inner bells chiming in sympathy when she described her writing process. I highly recommend her essay which is a response to aspiring writer's questions on how to begin and work.
While I'm working, my mind has been drifting back and forth to book projects I have to choose from for next year’s book. The day after I sent in my final page of art, I begin writing my new story. I have vied back and forth between a gingerbread story and THE TURNIP, a Russian folktale and finally decided on THE TURNIP. I have a really good idea for the border. This will sound silly, but I raise chickens and every year I bring up about 60 babies to adulthood. They get colored leg bands so I can keep track of who's who, but they also receive names on a theme. That way, when the ones I keep for myself grow old in my mixed flock I'll know how old they are by their name. For example, my hen Sugar Pie is from the year I created GINGERBREAD FRIENDS and Thule is from the year I did THE 3 SNOW BEARS. My hens went broody early this year, so I had to give them hatching eggs to set on. Those babies will appear in 3 weeks so I better be ready with names! I used every Russian name I could find for CINDERS, so I'm trying to think of another category for them that will relate to THE TURNIP and I've crossed off vegetable names. I don't want chickens named Potato and Brussels Sprout!
I'm always enthusiastic about new beginnings, and ways of improving myself, but this year I haven't come up with a New Year's resolution. I think now that I'm thinking about it, my goal for 2014 will be to use more color in my new book. THE TURNIP is the perfect place to start because number 1, it is set on a farm in rural Russia in the olden days, where brightly patterned clothes were worn, and number 2, turnips are the most beautiful of vegetables, with golden yellow bottoms and pinky purple tops! Maybe I will name my chicks after colors.
Good luck using your imagination and storytelling to create a unique story this January!