May Hedge a gram
This is Jan Brett, and this is my May hedge-gram. Every month I stop my work so I can write about what I'm doing in my life as illustrator and children's book writer. It gives me a good feeling to think I could talk about my work in a way that would help aspiring illustrators know what it's really like. My version, anyway.
I am very anxious to begin the finishes for my turtle book, MOSSY. I've done thumbnails of the 32 page dummy, and collected a lot of the research material , but several other projects have gotten in the way. For the last week I've been working on the news notes or "all about" letter to kids about HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. I reassembled all my books and photos from our trip to Sweden last year with our friends Elof and Gudrun, who are Swedish. Since my book takes place in the Swedish countryside I bought lots of books showing the plants and animals that live there. For one thing Swedish squirrels have long tufts on their ears. Also their bumblebees look like they've been dipped in white paint - just the very end of them. There were lots of plants that were new to me, and many birds. I've been in quite a few arctic countries - ones that are above the arctic circle, Baffin island, in Canada, Iceland, Norway, and now Sweden. Next Spring I'm planning a trip to Russia, and St. Petersburg must be fairly close to the arctic circle too.
One of the birds I saw in Sweden that I drew in my news notes is the Capercaillie, which is the world's largest grouse. It lives in wild places that are fairly remote, so it has become a symbol of unspoiled nature. We got up at 3:00 in the morning to be up at sunrise in order to see the male's courting dance that he performs for the females. It is a gathering called a lek, and the males compete with each other. On our walk into the forest we saw a few females, but the males were not to be found. The Capercaillie also lives in remote parts of Scotland where conservationists have had a tartan, the name for Scottish plaid cloth, created using the colors of the Capercaillie, black, white, brown and blue. The money from the sale of the tartan helps to preserve the habitat.
In Stockholm, Sweden's best known city there is an open air museum. They have brought historically important houses from all over Sweden, and reassembled them. One building was a log storage barn, quite small. It was standing on 6 trees, that were peeled of their bark, and the spreading roots at their bases were left intact. It looked all the world like the hut on fowl's ( chicken's) legs that appears in Russian folk tails. I made sure I added one like it on the troll's farm. Skansen is the name of this wonderful park in the heart of the city. I was also able to see all the animal characters in my book, moose, bear, otter, lynx, grey owl, squirrel and bumblebee. The only character I couldn't find was a troll. Maybe they saw me but I didn't see them.
I am very eager to get back to my turtle book. I am taking note of the wild flowers in our yard and in the woods, and when they are blooming so I will have it right when Mossy and Scute, my two turtle characters are shown in their natural habitat. I have yet to see a real live turtle this year, but that's because I need to spend more time in the woods. When we move up to the Berkshires for the summer in a few weeks I will spend quite a bit of time on the Appalachian trail, and maybe I'll see some turtles. We have created a turtle pond, and so far only a huge bullfrog has moved in. I've been wondering why there hasn't been any spring peepers in our pond, when we've been hearing them out back, but it may be that they don't want to share the pond with the huge bullfrog! I read that a bullfrog will eat hummingbirds. We are adding a sandy spot next to the pond so female turtles will be attracted to an ideal nesting site. I have heard that turtles like soft fluffy soil that they can dig in, in order to lay their eggs.
I hope story ideas are coming to you fast and furiously, and you are jotting down ideas that you can work into a story. I find it works best to write the story first. Maybe you have written a story, and now are ready to create illustrations. I usually make a 32 page dummy first, at about half the size of the finished book. Then I can work on the ups and downs of my story. I'm trying to let all the energy of spring energize and motivate me! Good Luck with your creative projects. Happy Spring,