This is Jan Brett, and this is my September hedge a
gram- the time I take each month to describe what I'm doing in my art world.
It takes a year to create one of my picture books, and I begin in about
February, so by September I have finalized the story part of my book. Many kids
ask, " which comes first, the story or the pictures ?" For me the story comes
first, but it is always a story that can be illustrated with images that I would
like to draw and paint. For example, I like to draw furry creatures, but
mechanical objects or things that require a lot of perspective are hard for me.
Like for example, a car with a personality. I feel a kind of excitement that is
hard to explain about certain things. I love moss, snow, birch trees, lichen,
the color gray-green, coral, reindeer, hedgehogs, feathered creatures, pussy
willows, sea urchins, red mushrooms and orchids to name a few things. That
interest bubbles up in my drawings. I am fascinated by reptiles, but when I draw
them I find it hard to capture their essence in the same way as when I draw a
hedgehog, a mammal. In the book I'm working on, the main characters are
reptiles, turtles, and the star of the story is Mossy, a turtle who grows a
garden on her back. It wasn't until I completed my book dummy that I realized I
needed all the moss, ferns, and flowers to make her into a being I could then
make into a main character. I spend a year working on the pictures, and that
spark of interest and obsession I feel at the beginning has to last. Someone
once asked me if after working on a book for a year, if I was ready to move away
from the character and setting, was I tired of it? No, No, No! I stall until the
very last minute before parting with the finished artwork. I never feel like
it's ready, and I feel like I'm leaving my best friend when it's all packed up
and sent to the publisher.
Today would be a typical day in my life as an author
illustrator. At breakfast, Joe and I plan a photo session for an ad and discuss
an upcoming trip to Russia, for a 2012 book THE TURNIP. We are also going on a
trip to India and we will go bird watching but I will also be trying to find
some stories and fables that work for an idea for a book I have that I'm calling
Dancing Slippers. I have definitely fallen into the trap of being infatuated
with the character - a tiger and a setting, India,without a fully formed plot.
When I was little my mom read lots of stories set in faraway places that I loved
- the JUST SO STORIES by Rudyard Kipling set in Africa, THE STORY OF PING by
Marjorie Flack set in Asia and THE TAIL OF MRS. TIGGY WIGGLE by Beatrix Potter,
set in England. Also, I devoured all the Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers
Grimm stories as well as my favorite ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. They
took me to strange and exotic places too.
Back to my day, after breakfast I worked on a double
page spread for THE STORY OF MOSSY. Now that I have two spreads done, I will
send them to my editor. She will troubleshoot and make suggestions about the
look of my future book.
I stop working to get ready for a photo. In the photo, I am reading HEDGIE'S
SURPRISE to one of my chickens. It is for an appearance in Indianapolis at the
national poultry show this October 29th. My husband Joe and I reviewed the
photos, and worked on the copy, finishing in time to go to one of his concerts
at Tanglewood. He plays the double bass like Berlioz the Bear in my 1991 book by
During the concert, I let myself be taken away by the
music - it often leads my thoughts to unexpected places. I'm going to be
juggling some thoughts about my tiger/India book and also a possible Cinderella
peopled by poultry that was my editor's idea. Sadly, at the concert I can't get
out a pen and paper because it would look extremely rude and distract the
concertgoers. They will be in their own listening worlds!
Tonight I will sign 10 books for a contest winner and record the Hedge a gram.
Finally I settle down to planning another spread for my book, and if I have
time, plant a terrarium I just bought. There are a lot of mosses and ferns in
the Berkshires in Massachusetts our summer home. I want to keep the moss fresh
and happy all fall while I paint them for my book, moss models! I also will
write a note to a man I just met that has a beautiful avairy with hundreds of
exotic birds. One of the pages I plan for Mossy is set in a natural history
museum and I'm painting different collections in the borders. I'm hoping I can
borrow some of his feathers. He also has tame Eastern box turtles and I would
love to photograph them. Good models seem to be popping up everywhere, and a
wood frog hopped across my path yesterday. I have been taking my iPhone
everywhere, especially trail running on the Appalachian trail. I have one eye on
the path and one eye on the moss, ferns and little waterfalls along my route. My
day ends with the promise of a dream that may unfold into another book or open a
door that fires the imagination.
Good luck with your days ahead, and save some time to
create a lasting story or picture!
Happy reading, Jan