Every month I set aside some time to write about my profession as a children's book illustrator and author because when I was an aspiring illustrator I appreciated any knowledge a professional could offer about how it was done and what it was like doing it.
I like being by myself, so illustrating is a good fit for me. I'm a slow thinker and I like to work on a project over a period of time, doing research, changing things around and observing the results and fine tuning and polishing. This would be as opposed to creating an artwork in a manic surge of energy with a burning focus. My books take about a year, but often the idea behind them has been in the back of my mind for a while. I think about the idea when I get one of those random inspirational connections. Maybe this could be called my style, but I enjoy the longer time period associated with making a 32 page picture book.
I am way behind on this year's title, The Nutcracker. It will be one of those very lush books that will encompass a lot of detail. Even though I have completed a dummy showing the borders and the decorative treatment I have in mind for the pages I still leave some decisions for the final pages. I will have more room in the next step after the dummy, and the scenes will be more completely rendered, which changes the art's focus as well. My trip to Russia five years ago for CINDERS and THE TURNIP has proven fruitful for E.T.A. Hoffmann's short story. The short story was made into a ballet score by Tchaikovsky, and the ballet score was intensified and shortened into what is known as THE NUTCRACKER SUITE. I have always loved seeing the different versions of the ballet and I am eager to create my version of the music from the Suite. Ideally the music could be played while reading my picture book. The ballet's music is over an hour long so it would be too long to accompany a picture book. I have been attending Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts since I was a girl, with my mother and grandmother. In my junior high, we also had the opportunity to go to nearby Boston to listen to youth concerts to listen to the BSO. I remember distinctly Bartok's Concerto for orchestra which I found amazing. All the music wasn’t as approachable as The Concerto for Orchestra, but at some point I realized how exhilarating listening to music could be. My imagination was fired up and I felt familiar feelings that I couldn't name. I guess you could say by creating my version of The Nutcracker I am trying to relive those times.
During this period of staying at home, and in my case having to cancel my trip to Alaska to see my daughter and her family, it is always nice to try and find a silver lining. I am kind of a homebody, and my favorite activities outside of listening to Boston Symphony concerts are taking care of my exhibition poultry (Polish chickens) and running. I was exploring the margin of woods at the end of our garden where the Foxgloves were in full bloom. In one area, hidden from view stood an amazing one. It was slight pink spire, and the bell like blooms were spotted on their inner surface. What was remarkable was the top flower, which was much larger, huge really, and in the form of a gently cupped saucer. I took a picture and sent it to my cousin, Leslie Van Berkum who has a successful and exquisite perennial and native nursery in Deerfield NH. She informed me that it was an unusual genetic mutation called Digitalis Peloria (Peloria being a variation of Greek, meaning monster, or maybe hopeful monster) I was given a link to Kew Gardens in England. I immediately joined their organization! It has a page called "Weird and Wonderful Foxgloves" that was a big incentive. Apparently Foxglove aficionados never go by a garden of Foxgloves without looking for this exotic, rare mutation. The weird thing for me, is that it looks very much like the flowers I invented for my book HEDGIE BLASTS OFF. They are on the tiny made-up planet of Mikkop. That is one of my silver linings.
I hope you too are taken on interesting paths, and especially creative ones.
Your Friend, Jan