It's so invigorating to see all the signs of spring in New England. The first migratory birds are back, Red-winged blackbirds, Cowbirds and Robins. We have 4 pairs of Cardinals in the back yard. The Sharp Shinned Hawk has been around, and I hope that the cover around our feeder will give the songbirds a chance. There are lots of young Goldfish and three large ones that made it through the winter in our turtle pond. I haven't seen a turtle or heard peepers yet. We still have patches of snow. The outlook from my studio into the woods and vernal pools back there reminds me of a scene from ANNIE AND THE WILD ANIMALS. The change of seasons is so inspirational. My favorite is pussywillows. A few warm, light filled days and our 5 acres change like a kaleidoscope. The energy flowing through the earth is powerful.
All this talk of changing seasons makes me think of today's project, which is blocking out my new storybook, THE SNOWY NAP. That title may not stick, but I am calling it THE SNOWY NAP for now. When I say "blocking out" what I mean is separating my manuscript into segments that will fit in a thirty-two page picture book. Thirty -two pages is the traditional length. A book is made of multiples of four pages called signatures. I will leave room for a title page and copyright and dedication page as well. If my story is on the short side, or if I just like the effect, I can add a half title page as well. Because I am the illustrator, I can go back and adjust my manuscript if I have a strong visual image that I want to use.
My story takes place in the same setting as my book THE HAT, on the same Danish farm we visited (and I re-imagined) for the book. Twenty-one years ago I used my daughter for the model of Lisa, the little girl in the book. I hope I can use my granddaughter, who looks very much like her, as the model for Lisa this time.
I am very torn when my finished book goes to the publisher and then off to the printer, as THE MERMAID just did. The last thing I painted were the end papers. I made them look like Shagreen, which is the skin from a stingray. It was used in the olden days, and maybe still, on sword handles as it is bumpy and offers a good grip. The making of swords in Japan is an art that I don't know much about, but I have seen many swords in museums in Japan. Many of the extraordinarily beautiful objects I saw in museums in Japan on my numerous trips found their way into my book. This week I will also start on my newsnotes, the letter to children I write about each book. I illustrate it with tidbits about what happens behind the scenes. I often tell children that the book is like the tip of an iceberg. Most of the iceberg is underwater and not seen. Same with the research and thought process behind a book. In each new book there are some curious images that I can go into detail explaining in this letter to kids. For example, hanging on father octopuses' bed are eight decorated cases. They are traditional carriers for personal things that Japanese men would attach to their Kimono, called Inro. I'll bet you can guess why he has eight. All around the underwater seashell house there are what looks like bird cages. Inside are colorful little creatures called Nudibranch. I will go on about these creatures in my newsnotes. When I visited The New England Aquarium to observe and meet Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus, I asked Bailey, the Curator of Fish, if they had a Nudibranch exhibit. It turns out I was pronouncing the word incorrectly. One says "Nudibranc". Although Nudibranch sometimes sneak in with a wild caught exhibit, they are not kept in aquariums because their food source of very tiny animals is impossible to replicate. The sea is dazzlingly complex and bewildering.
Next week I am very excited about going to the Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School in Winchester, Virginia. I will tell the children all about getting the idea for my book MOSSY, and draw her for them. This school won a free visit after voting on my Facebook page. They are motivated! I especially enjoy seeing the artwork up in the school and meeting artists and writers.
For last three months I haven't felt my time was my own, since THE MERMAID took longer than most of my books. This month I will have time to go to my husband's concerts. He is a Double Bass player in the Boston Symphony. I can also hatch baby chicks and exhibit my Polish Bantams, and enjoy some long distance runs. I get a lot of book ideas listening to music and running. Taking care of my chickens is just happy time.
Spring is a great time to start a creative project. I am trying to shake off the cobwebs and let the fun begin, I hope you are too.