THE TALE OF THE TIGER SLIPPERS is finally finished. I spent several weeks painting the art for the endpapers. The endpapers are sometimes a solid color, or they can be embellish, of course, I chose the latter. The Peacock is the national bird of India, and after seeing flocks of Peafowl in the wild in some of India's beautiful wildlife parks, it seemed a choice that summed up the amazing creatures we saw there. It took a long time because the iridescence of feathers is difficult to paint. There are other magnificent pheasant-like birds native to India and the lands North. I did see the Red Jungle Fowl, ancestor of the domestic chicken on our wildlife viewing trips, and I added some of the more exotic pheasants I have seen in aviaries wandering in the Tiger's garden.
It is very hard to leave the world of the Mughal emperors and empresses and the court paintings of the era. I was attracted to the art since an art student at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. The tradition at the time was to give students at the school plenty of access to the museum, which is across the street. Like most of the other students, I spent hours wandering and exploring the vast collections.
The Mughal rulers who governed Northern India and adjacent lands were unique in that they commissioned art aggrandizing themselves, but also natural history portfolios of flora and fauna, and illustrated tales. Because of the detailed style the viewer can get lost in these small paintings that are filled with exotic beauty. After pouring over book after art book I became curious about several things that were later made clear in the author?s description, for example, if a character was witnessing an amazing scenario, they might bite a finger, as if to prove they were not dreaming. I copied the idea and in a page of my story one of the tigers bites its paw to show it is not dreaming. I also noticed that romantic paintings often showed two doves or pigeons. We saw many doves and wild pigeons birdwatching in India. I made sure to put a pigeon couple in the Tiger's bridal scene. I didn't want to completely replicate the Mughal court painting, but rather be inspired by them. Not wanting to make any mistakes, my publisher, by way of my editor and art director's connections in academia, were able to contact two scholars that looked over my artwork. They found two places I had hit wrong notes. One was the architecture. I was somewhat at a loss of finding adequate models of palaces, so I made up the Tiger's palatial house. The domes had to go. The experts said they generally belong on tombs. The other reference I made was putting feathers on the tiger's turbans. Feathers belong only on royalty. Although I couldn't bring feathers back from India, I did have some magnificent pheasant feathers from birds kept in American aviaries. Alas, I had to paint them out.
One of the striking qualities about the court paintings is the use of color and color combinations. They are very stimulating to an illustrator like me, exploring new territory. The attire and fabrics were very exotic, with many gauzelike and metallic fabrics. The jewelry was also extraordinary, I had many books showing precious stones to refer to, although never equaling the bejeweled Mughals. Luckily, I could rely on the tiger?s natural fur coats to set off anything that struck my fancy. The beautiful saris by the Indians we saw on our trip were equally beautiful, but they are from a different era. Even though I have finished my book, I have many art books in my library, that I can go back and revisit.
The tigers we saw in India certainly made a lasting impression. The National wildlife Parks we visited, Panna, Bandhavgarh and Kanha were very protective of the tigers that are endangered by poaching. Mahouts, Elephant masters astride their elephants patrol the forests on the lookout for dangerous poachers. We were able to see many of the mammals I show in my illustrations, as well as many gorgeous birds, and scenes such as the pristine stream where the young tiger finds clay in the river bank. I was very excited to find that two varieties of Hedgehog lived in the forests we explored, and although I didn?t see one, I felt free to put a hedgehog couple I my book. The Indian Hedgehog has all the attractive features of the European and African ones.
I love to use my imagination, and the setting of Mughal India was a wonderful inspiration. Because the Mughal's encouraged different religions, purposefully married into other cultures to ensure peace, and embraced the influence of other culture?s art style I felt there was freedom given to me to admire their artworld in my illustrations.
April is a wonderful month to create in, as Spring bursts forth. I raise chickens and my first baby chicks have appeared, and more on the way. Every year the year's youngsters are given a certain color band so when they are grown I can with a glance know how old they are. But my flock is unique, because each year's birds are named after various images from that year?s book. When I walk out to the barn, the gorgeous , now full grown Cockerels are called Akbar, Jahangir, Barbur and so on, and the lovely pullets are Maham, Salimeh, Layla, and Nur Jahan!
Happy reading, creating and illustrating, Your friend, Jan