February Hedge a Gram

I had a little needlepoint vacation yesterday! My husband, Joe, and I went up to our cabin in the Berkshire Hills. We had a big fire in the fireplace inside and watched the snow drifts turn blue as the sun slowly went down outside. We went for a walk in the woods with snowshoes and tried to identify the animal tracks we saw. We found some fox prints, and something larger too, but we couldn't find a clear print of the large track. It will always be a mystery!

While we were up at the cabin I had time to reflect about our trip in January to Guilin, China. I've written a children's book about a hen who learns to stick up for herself, and about the little girl who cares for her. I wanted to set my book in China after we visited Shanghai last spring. Have you ever read a book called The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack? It was my mum's favorite book to read to me and my sisters, and it was set in China. After seeing the illustrations in that book, I wanted to visit China very much. Forty five years later, I have!

We saw fishing cormorants, they're diving waterfowl that catch fish for their owners. They were pictured in The Story about Ping and now I will be able to draw them in my new book.

The city I went to, Guilin, is known for its fantastic mountains. I had seen the mountains in pictures, but they looked even more mysterious and amazing in real life. Many of them look like giant creatures frozen into rock. The people of Guilin must think so too, because we saw mountains called, The Elephant, The Camel, The Snail, and The Dog. There is one pictured in my book about Guilin called Seven Horses. It's a challenge to imagine the Seven Horses in the creases and valleys of the rocky peaks! The Li River that flows through the Gui Mountains is crystal clear, and boats are always going up and down it. We spent an entire day on a house boat travelling up the river. We saw hundreds of ducks, like Ping from my favorite book, and many water buffalo. My daughter-in-law Yun Li said people called them "yellow water cows" when she was growing up in China. Little children like to ride them, and often there's a calf tagging along behind.

Since the main character of my book is a chicken, my number one goal was to see a Chinese chicken close up. We drove by a huge bustling market and we saw baskets of chickens for sale. I felt self conscious stopping the car and wandering around since we weren't buying anything. When I got to the chickens, I didn't trust my memory so I had to have my request to "take out a chicken" translated. I got to take a picture, but the chicken seller kept showing me how fat the chicken was and how young it was (it had yellow legs, that's how you can tell it's young). "Why didn't I want it? Wasn't it good enough?" I felt a little sheepish, but I kept thinking... "It's important for the book."

The next day, we had to laugh, as morning came and lit up the courtyard next to our hotel there were any number of saucy chickens parading around - with no strings attached!

I bought a memento from our trip that I will treasure. It's a stone stamp carved with my name in Chinese characters. I use the stamp with a special red ink and press it on my artwork to sign it. If you go to an art museum and see Chinese scrolls, you will see this method of signing artwork. If you live near an America city with a Chinese population, you might be able to have one made with your name.

I love to travel, it makes my stories come alive. Curiosity is a big motivator. I want to explore by drawing or painting a new place. How about you? Do you like to explore and describe? Let me know about your creative work and good luck.

Bye for now.


Jan Brett