December Hedge a gram
         This is my December hedge a gram, the time I take to say a few words about my books.   Right now I'm finishing Honey, Honey...Lion the book I've worked on since last January.  It will be published next September.  This is my favorite time to work on my books, because all the main thinking is over, and I can paint and let my thoughts flow.  I add a lot of finishing touches, because I can see almost all the book laid out.  I can redo a page here, take away a confusing piece of scenery there, correct an expression somewhere else.  It's my last chance to decide to change the course of my book, and sometimes I do.  In this book, I decided to get to know my badger character better at the start.  He's a loveable fool type.  I inserted a page at the beginning showing badger in a close-up and I took away one of the later scenes.  I have to remember that a picture book is thirty two pages.
      I had a meeting last month with my editor and art director Margaret and Cecilia.  They suggested that I put more bright colors in my book.   Now, I have mixed feelings about this idea because one of things I love about Africa is the array of colors, sometimes called a "palette" that distinguishes that place from any other.  I would like to communicate that reality to children.  For me, drawing is like a conversation.  In my story the main characters are the honey badger, which is blacky-brown and white and the honeyguide bird who is brown.  There are no bright colors there.  I can't replace them either because they are the only animal and bird that find honey together.  I will also be showing eight more African creatures.  I chose animals and birds that made my heart go pitter pat.  Not from fear, but from joy.  It turns out only one is a bright color.
     The animals I chose were the lion, elephant, hyena, giraffe, wart hog, hippo, zebra, and bishop bird.  Only one is colorful.  First, there's the lion.  He's tan and melts in among the grasses.  If we stayed in our jeep we could get so close to the huge lions that we could hear them breath and speculate how they got their scars.  We could see their whiskers twitch.
      Then there's the guinea fowl that I had to put in because I love my chickens and the guinea fowl is like an African chicken.  It troops around in flocks and Africans sometime keep them to collect their eggs which taste like hen's eggs.  Although they are black and white polka dots, they look gray from a distance.  The guineas blend in so well that they startled us when they flew up and away as we drew close to them.
     Doesn't the name "warthog" make you think of an ugly animal?  In truth, they are so cute you can't help but smile.  The warthog trots along in small fast steps on its little hooves very importantly, with his tail straight up in the air.  The warthog is grey and he hunkers down in the mud and is practically invisible.
     Hyenas are not well liked because they are scavengers, but we were introduced to hyenas in a dramatic way that made me appreciate their beauty.    Coming back to camp in the moonlight our headlights illuminated a pack of hyenas playing "toss a tussock", a ball of grass weighed down by a root ball, and grass sticking out on the top.  The spotted and maned hyenas leaped and played as we marveled at their agility and grace.  Not brightly colored, the hyenas can hide out of sight waiting for a chance for food.
       When a herd of hippo spot people they mosey over under water and pop-up surprisingly close.  They open their hug mouths showing their jagged tusk-like teeth.   It's important to remember how dangerous hippos are because their round chubby pink and grey bodies and froggy eyes and  blubbery noses give them a comical look.   They make a "ha ha" grunt that sounds like the hippo is saying "Hi, how are you.", but they're not, they're saying "Clear out! This is my place!"  The hippo is not bright and colorful, but they had captured my imagination.
     After we spend a day with Doug and Sandy Groves' three habituated elephants I walked away changed.   An elephant is a very intelligent monumental being of great importance.  I can't explain how an elephant makes me feel.  I just know that killing an elephant even for food seems like a great tragedy.  It may be their complexity and strong family ties that elevate it in my mind.  The elephant is grey and their beauty is in the texture of their skin and their remarkable shape.
     The shape of a giraffe's head when it's staring at you is like a star, the ears stick you to the side and the horns crown the head.  The long-nosed head when pointed at you, forms a triangle.  It's that silhouette that you see on the African plain not the eighteen foot tall animal because its tan and cream blotches are hard to separate from the foliage it grazes on.  You can read about how the giraffe astounded Europe in the olden days, but I was still rubbing my eyes in disbelief when I saw my first giraffe, an old darkish male in Africa.   This was an animal that had to be in my book, no contest!
     All my life I've seen zebras in zoos or in photos and because I love horses I reserve a special place for this animal in my mind.  Black and white stripes, what could be bolder or more astounding?   The surprise is that in their natural habitat they blend in.   The stripes, seen from a little distance reflect the vertical shadows in the tall grass.  The black and white stripes at a far distance make it grey.  Again an animal I wanted to give a place to, but too bad it wasn't a brilliant sparkling color.
     On the very last day of our trip we spotted the bishop bird.  They nested in a pond of reeds by the airport.  It was the time of year the males show off or "display" to the females.   Their feathers turn a fire-engine red and they puff up their bright plumage so they look like pom-poms.   Their tummies are jet black so the red is dazzling.  "You are going to be in my book," I thought as I watched the bishops show off.
     If the animals in my book are not brightly colored, it's because I chose them out of sheer admiration.  In my heart, I don't think children will find the pictures boring because the animals are brown, grey, and tan.  We know they are not just any brown, grey, and tan.   They're golden molasses brown, and mauve pearly grey and tawny cream gold.  Children can appreciate the nuances in nature, shades of color and how beautiful dots and stripes and speckles can be.
     Often I say I surround my art with borders because I have too many ideas.  Sometimes I use the borders to tell what comes next.  In Honey, Honey...Lion I put bright colors in the decorative bead work to add some bright colors to my grey brownish golden African book!
     When you create your next drawing, use your imagination.   You might find your ideas changing as you work on your art.  Sometimes the subject you chose, and the story you tell in your pictures will surprise you.  It will lead you to a new idea you've never tried before.

      Good luck and happy reading.   Your friend,

                                  Jan Brett