Happy April!

     Spring is my favorite season, and although we've had a bit of snow,   Spring is on its way.  I am beginning work on a new picture book, for now called THE SNOWY NAP. My book is a continuation of my book THE HAT, and is set in Denmark.  Often we make plans to visit the country the book takes place in, but I kept all the photo research we did previously. The main character is a Hedgehog, who hears all the farm animals, who I have introduced in my 20 year old book THE HAT, talk about the wonders of winter. I have been digging out all the photos we took on our trip to specifically the island of Funen were I saw traditional thatched roofed houses and typical farms. In THE HAT, Hedgie sees snow, but he is running through it to get to his borrow in a rush, not really enjoying it! I'm really looking forward to painting lots of winter scenes for Hedge to see.
     Recently I visited the Virginia Avenue Charlotte  DeHart Elementary School in Northern Virginia. It was a heartwarming and uplifting experience. The teachers, librarian, and school staff together with their principal were all about learning and they inspired their students with much energy and warmth. I was really taken by their school's design. We arrived early and had time to see every classroom's door designed in the theme from one of my books. There were miles of bulletin boards with artwork, and the building was configured so there was an interior courtyard, open to the elements, but totally enclosed on the sides. It had shrubs and flower beds all around with park like benches and areas to get together to read or listen. We visited a little too early for their emergence from hibernation, but two turtles lives in the courtyard. Some years a wild mallard duck flies in and nests.  She brings up her ducklings right in the center of school for everyone to see. Because of the season I talked about my book, MOSSY (she's a turtle). It takes a lot of effort to win the contest that brings me to the winning school and in this case I felt the school continued their enthusiasm by preparing the children with introductions to my books and a warm enthusiastic welcome. I wrote and illustrated ARMADILLO RODEO several years ago, and one of the librarians who rode in rodeos invited two professional rodeo champions to demonstrate roping and barrel racing. They brought their own horses and saddles. In the gym where I spoke there were beautiful western saddles the children were able to try out, and several classes had made stick horses from hockey sticks. If I had been a student I would have loved creating my own stick horse, choosing its color and markings, and its bridle. What a great idea! The children at the school asked a lot of great questions. Children are naturally curious and they wonder how the world works. I try to let the children know a little about my job as an artist. When I am not working on my book (which takes a year for each one) I also use a cartoon style to illustrate my newsnotes. I do needlepoint which could be considered an art style since I design my own canvases. It might surprise you that I am doing a portrait. The surprise is that the portrait is of one of my white crested black polish bantam chickens! I will do a portrait of one of the pullets, "Odelle" that won a big prize, reserve AOCCL at our National poultry show in Ohio. Most chickens have iridescence in their feathers, and my chickens are black with a beautiful beetle green sheen that is very hard to capture. I very rarely just paint for fun because almost every moment of art time   is devoted to my current book. I need to balance all that sitting with an activity, and I like to run in long distance races. Early spring is a pleasant time to train because I can see all the spring flowers and shrubs and the newly arrived migrating songbirds. It's easier to see them before the trees are fully leafed out.
         In the next few weeks I will be preparing my newsnotes, which is a full color, four page letter for children that I will print and send out and post in my website as well.  I will write about the current book, THE MERMAID. I usually devote one page to an activity, such as a coloring page. The trouble is, I can't decide if I should make it an octopus or a mermaid! I will divide the letter into sections, giving information I learned creating my book. There will be tidbits about the fascinating Giant Pacific Octopus and my watery, arms on experience with Sy, the resident Octopus at the New England Aquarium in Boston. My book is set in Okinawa, Japan so I plan to show what the traditional houses and dress is like on the island. I begin the newsletter explaining how I got the idea for the book in hopes that kids will join me by creating their own illustrated stories.
     I hope you are all feeling energetic and creative as spring begins and stories and illustrations will burst forth along with the new life of spring!

               Your friend, Jan