Happy December,
      Every month, I take the time to speak to you about what's going on in my life as an illustrator.  One of the reasons I do this, is that I remember being a young girl and wanting to know everything about what a children's book illustrator did.  There weren't any artist in residence programs in schools back then, and authors didn't come and speak to kids.  I know that many of you are considering being an author or illustrator.  I hope you'll gain some insight from my hedge a gram.
     I have just finished most of Big Sparkler.  We had a scheduled visit to New York City and so I took all the artwork, 16 spreads.  A spread is when the artwork spreads across two pages.  If the art was ever lost or damaged in the mail, it would be a year's work wasted, so I like to deliver it in person.  Many people ask if the art is the same size as in the book.  The answer is yes, but I extend the art outward by a half of an inch so when the printed sheets are cut into pages there will be a little wiggle room for the cutting.   Before I take the artwork to the publisher, I check to make sure the characters, objects and settings are the same all the way through.  Sometimes, I'll see a better way to describe something halfway through the book and I'll forget to go back and make the change on the previous pages.   In Big Sparkler, Hedgie wears a bright red space suit with racing stripes up the sides and down the legs.  I added a blue belt halfway through my story, and it wasn't until I was at the publisher that I discovered I forgot to color it blue on one page.  Luckily I had my paints with me.
     At the publisher, I made overlays on most of the pages indicating where a sparkley, see-through ink should go.   In my book, the fountain on planet Mikkop sends up a sparkley dust.  I also made the coins that the aliens throw into the fountain shiny and sparkley.  I'm excited about using a new technology in my book.  I'm using a more cartoony style for The Big Sparkler which is in keeping with the story line which is zany and fantastic.  I did not put borders in this book, because it didn't fit the story line.  I want the art to go to the end of the page and look endless just like space would look.  When you are writing a story, you may want to think about the art reflecting the story's personality.  Is your story serious, mysterious, kooky, funny, whimsical, dramatic, romantic or tragic?  Most children can recognize my art style, so I'll be interested in how many will know it's my book just by looking at it.
     Another thing about my book that might interest you is that I used an expert to give me advise.  Dr. Sean Hearne is a physicist at a big laboratory in New Mexico.  He works on materials at an atomic level which means he manipulates tiny molecules.  He had to study many scientific principles to be a doctor of physics. I could ask him about geysers and fountains and about formulas that would be used to launch a rocket.  Most importantly, I got to see the uniforms they wear at the lab.  They call the uniforms, "bunny suits" because they have lab jackets and pants, plus covers to go over their shoes and funny hats that look like shower caps.
     I also found that the scientists were very smart and have quirky interests.  They have post it notes all over the place with jokes on them.  There are warning signs everywhere, so in my book, I made up funny ones, having to do with dogs.  In my book, the scientists working in the lab are Labrador retrievers which are nicknamed "Labs".
     Think about who you know that is an expert at something.  Maybe in your book, you could use their knowledge to add to your story.  It's amusing when a tidbit from one's research adds to and can even change the story or illustrations.  I hope you enjoy working on your own story and illustrations.  What a great present a book you wrote and illustrated yourself would be.
     Before I sign off, I have one last thing to tell you.   I'm going to do a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that takes place in Northern Canada, in Nunavut.  Goldilocks will not have blond hair, because she is an Inuit girl with jet black hair.  Can you guess what kind of bears she will visit?  Next week I hope to see a polar bear close up thanks to my friends at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.  I'm excited and a little afraid!
                      Happy reading, your friend,
                                  Jan Brett