This is Jan Brett, and this is my May Hedge a gram, a continual reflection of what Im doing as a childrens book illustrator and author. It is wonderful to be experiencing the exuberance of spring and at the same time having a new childrens book unfold. In the past, I have written a story and sent it to my editor, interspersed with notes describing what I had in mind for the illustrations. If I got the go ahead, the next step was to make a 32 page dummy when the illustrations took center stage. When I was writing my Hedge a gram several months ago, I was descibing this process when I realized that my first books, FRITZ AND THE BEAUTIFUL HORSES, and ANNIE AND THE WILD ANIMALS, I created in a different way, by doing the dummy first. This year for my Tiger book, I started with the dummy, and refined and edited the text as the next step. I have always thought of myself as an illustrator first, and I like to think my imagination runs freer when I am in the art element. I showed my dummy to my editor, but also the art director at an early stage, so we could evolve the story on both fronts. The comments and suggestions from the Penguin team were very helpful, and I changed several of the illustrations around. I even changed the beginning by introducing some animal friends for my main character. I will have finished the changes in a few days and will go on to the finishes. I will probably paint a complete double page spread and talk about it with Susan and Marikka, my editor and art director before going forward with the whole book. That day is a very unique and challenging one, because once I establish the border design there is no going back.
I have spent hours looking at the ten or so books I bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive bookstore in NYC, studying Mughal Court miniatures of India and Persia. There is no end to the amount of background I need. I will set my book in an earlier time so I will not have to stick to a specific date and place. I will be able to get ideas about men's, boys and women's clothing and then can compare different eras and so on. Also there are at least 100 paintings that depict princes, princesses, laborers, holy men and gods. Many of the animals and birds shown I saw on our trip to India. I will not copy the style of the court paintings but I can take elements that I have found very beautiful and add to the art of storytelling. I especially love the fancy trappings on horses and elephants! Most of the manuscript pages and court painting have borders and i hope to use some of the design element as well as cross reference the extensive flowers depicted to add to the garden scenes. I did not go to anything like a formal garden when I was in India, mostly fancy hotels near the huge game reserves.
When I was studying at the Boston Museum School, we students had a free pass to go into the museum, even on Mondays when it was closed to the public. I remember being thrilled at the beauty of the Mughal and Persian miniatures and paintings. It is a wonder that a book has come along that I am illustrating that will take inspiration from one of my first "art infatuations".
I am so grateful we live in a country with so many superb museums and art collections. The inspiration and joy that radiates from the historical art from the flowering of begone ages is wondrous. My sister who taught 6th grade would always take her class from NH to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for one of their valuable tours for school children. My wish is that every child would have an experience like that, or like the ones we had when my mother took us frequently to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. My visits as a child has had its effect all these years later.
Happy reading, creating, and finding your inspiration.
Your friend, Jan Brett