Every month I look at my life as an illustrator and Children's author in a different way. Even though every year I have created a new book the process is always as fascinating and surprising as the very first one. Each book has its own special challenges and unexpected happy surprises.
I am at my favorite stage, having done the dummy and discussed it with the editor and art director at Penguin Random House. My story is based on a fable with adult human characters and one of our goals has to make it childlike and playful without losing the story that works on a deeper level. My characters are all animals, not a human in sight. That said, the animals talk and wear clothes. Because the main character is a tiger, I set the story in area that historically was ruled by the Mughal emperor Akbar where Tigers roamed. He surrounded himself with scholars, and patronized the arts. I have many books with paintings of this time in history. He was born in 1556, but the arts continued to flower under his son and grandson. His empire extended from Afghanistan and throughout India. When we were in the great game reserves in India, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, and Panna. We saw the beautiful unspoiled landscapes and wildlife preserved in these parks, and had our bird guide and friend from Africa, Martin Benardi to identify birds as well as Indian guides. Most of the birds I was seeing either for the first time, or in the wild for the first time, like the peafowl. The mammals were spectacular, and we saw four tigers, a large male seen from the vehicle, (the video of it is on my website), a tigress and her teenage cub, and another male, but at a distance. Any one of the sightings would have been worth the trip. Because Tiger poaching is a terrible. unacceptable problem, the parks are policed by wardens on elephants. The elephants keep the wardens out of danger and the elephants can travel through the forest making a good vantage point. We did not see wild Indian elephants, but we met the oldest elephant in India. She was over 100 and had two caretakers and partners, called Mahouts. The Mahout gets to know his elephant as a boy, and often stays with the Elephant for his life. Seeing the flora and fauna was a big catalyst in telling my story. The history and art of India is vast and rich, not easily grasped by someone like me. I did return with many huge books, and acquired even more art books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On the more practical side, my story has evolved a bit, and I have added some lighter moments. There are some fascinating Indian creatures to populate my story with, the Indian Rhinoceros, the adjutant Stork, Indian Mongoose, Indian Elephant (much different than the African elephant I am familiar with from our travels to Africa, the Languor, a monkey relative, the Peafowl and best of all the Tiger. It was so informative to be guided in these parks, and see how the animals behaved and see their babies and feel totally safe while doing so. In Africa the level of concern for guests in the wildlife areas was very thoughtful, but at one of the lodges in India I went for a run and came back to find a Leopard was roaming around. We had Leopards in camp in Africa but we were never ever supposed to run! On that same run (the Boston Marathon was right around the corner and I was training) I saw one of the native small wild cats. It looked exactly like my sister Jeanie's Maine Coon cat - long striped and spotted long grey brown fur, large size and tasseled ears. I would like to see the DNA work up on her cat, it looks awfully close to those Indian wild cats!
I am just starting on the finished painting of my book. Even though I am using the same watercolors I always use I am layering them a bit more to get the color more saturated. The court miniatures are done in gauche (opaque watercolor) and I am very taken by the intense color and unusual color. I am so glad I have been The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and The Metropolitan Museum of art in NYC to see the paintings for real. Many have been enhanced with gold leaf and crushed precious gems, but the ones I like best are just beautiful paintings. It is a thrill to contemplate the artist's vision from so far back in time. All my books note where the art is mounted and it coincides nicely to a concert tour I will take with my husband, Joe, a member of the Boston Symphony. The orchestra will go to most of the European capitals, and I hope to visit museums that display Persian and Indian minatures.
This summer I will focus really hard on my book, and I am looking forward to the intensity. I love being lost in another world, especially one where Tigers wear clothes and Peacock bestow best wishes to lion cubs.
Happy Creating, your friend, Jan Brett