This is Jan Brett. I am hard at work creating the finished pages of THE MERMAID. It?s a under the ocean version of GOLDILOCKS, one of my favorite stories. I have been to my publishers with the first six spreads and a jacket design, and I am trying to complete a few more double page spreads so a mock up can be made for sales conference. Even though the due date for my books is in January and it will be published in early fall of 2017, the wheels are moving to get the book visualized so plans can be made for its release. It is somewhat disorientating to jump out of my time line to paint pages from the beginning, end and middle of my book, but I am getting used to the idea. I was pleased that my jacket sketch was accepted at our meeting in New York. I felt the title should be THE MERMAID and that readers would quickly recreate the Goldilocks story. My publisher felt that a reader would be attracted to the book because it was a recognizable story. My reasoning was that a long title doesn?t leave as much room for art. I am particularly offended by the term fractured fairytale as I would prefer to think there are archetypal themes to all our cultural stories and telling them in different guises makes the core truth more evident. When it comes to the jacket art and title, I am more willing to bend to the publisher?s wishes, but in this case my publisher was happy with my suggestion. A children?s book is a commercial venture and it is my job to elevate it as best I can to be a book for a child. The child in my case is partially my own six year old self. Although it sounds very egocentric, artwork is an expression of oneself. This is why I am very excited about my school visit in Maryland with this year?s winner of our yearly school visit contest. In the moments I am in front of the school?s children, I am keenly aware of my lack of experience teaching, but then I remember back to when I was in sixth grade in school and how much I would appreciate hearing an adult speak about the importance of drawing and being creative. I will also have a chance at the end of next month to do so, on our book tour. Before each signing, I have a half hour or so to talk about the new book, and draw the children a picture, and make it an art lesson.
My favorite part, besides meeting the children, moms and dads, grandmothers and teachers and librarians, is telling some of my drawing secrets. They are not really secrets but more like tools the children can use when drawing their own pictures. I am always struggling to finish my book on time, and so I limit my school visits to just one a year, but this year, there is an exception. I will visit my seven year old granddaughter?s school in Virginia. She is a talented artist herself, and very creative. When I was her age, I drew horses exclusively with my best friend Marla. My granddaughter prefers reptiles and amphibians, and especially dragons. Drawing a creature is a great way to explore its special place in the world. I have to rely on my website where there are lots of how do draw videos to connect with children that can?t come to the booksignings.
The wonderful part about being an artist is that the discovery process never ends. I knew I would be over my head when I chose Octopuses to take the role of the three bears in my mermaid Goldilocks, knowing that Octopuses are highly intelligent shape changers, but I was even more daunted after reading Sy Montgomery?s THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS. I highly recommend it. Then, after my visit last month to Boston?s New England Aquarium, I felt supercharged after meeting another ?Sy? a Giant Pacific Octopus. I actually got to be touched by her as she tasted my arms with her sucker covered ones. She was playful and mischievous like so many of the children?s book characters I have loved reading about and trying to create myself. I was pulled deeper into this mysterious world of sea creatures by researching some of the other characters in the Octopuses? house like the Nudibranchs and shells. Nudibranchs are beautifully colored and ornate soft bodied animals that are prevalent in the coral reefs around Okinawa, Japan where I set my book. Shells, many that are like themselves works of art are particularly colorful and ornate as well. Only a few books show the shell?s bodies which rival their hard protective jackets in patterns and color combinations. Today I was very appreciative of the Internet when I was deciding what mother Octopuses? chair would look like. In my story, the chair was slippery and the mermaid fell right off it. Not seeing much seaweed in Okinawa except wrack a brown black stringy rubbery rock clinging kind, I was excited to find out about mozuku. Not only is mozuku bright green and fun to draw but it is exceptionally slimy! Perfect for Mother Octo?s chair seat. When in Okinawa, I love tasting bitter melon (very healthy) and sea grapes (also called sea caviar), but I missed mozuku, also esteemed for health benefits. Another reason to go back!
I hope children everywhere enjoy creating their own worlds in a picture and add a little fun research to fire their imaginations.