February 2001 Hedge a Gram

My life as an illustrator has peaks and valleys, and this last month has had both quite literally! I'm exploring my next book project, a folk tale from Norway. I was attracted to this tale because in it a polar bear tricks a pack of trolls who are bothering a family on Christmas Eve. What could be more fun to draw than a troll and a polar bear?

This story is told in Finnmark, the northern most part of Norway. My husband, Joe, and I spent time first in Oslo, and then in Alta, Norway, which is a town in Finnmark above the Arctic circle. We wanted to see what it was like in the winter, when the sun never rises, because this folk tale takes place then. We wished to see the Northern lights which is a phenomenon of shimmering lights you can often see in the sky near the North Pole. We didn't get to see them because it was too cloudy and snowy. We saw an unusual sight though. Even though the sun doesn't rise about the horizon, the sky turns red and violet like a sunrise or sunset. And it stays like that for three hours!

We saw reindeer, they live on people's farms, especially the Sami people. I might put one in the story. We drove for hours and explored the Alta river valley. Many of their birch trees are short and look like they have to survive a long winter. We saw mountain ranges that are so snowy they look like someone ladled whipped cream across the country side. They are unlike any mountains I have ever seen.

In Oslo, we visited an open air folk museum. Traditional houses from different areas of Norway have been transported there so visitors can observe the log construction, turf roofs, wood carvings and the other details that make them unique. I learned a lot about how to draw the Norwegian farm I will create for my story!

On our way back home, the nice man at customs couldn't believe all the books I brought back from Norway. I cant' wait to recreate the atmosphere of the wonderful Norwegian houses, their furnishings and the tradition clothing I saw with help from my new books. The next step is re-writing the folk tale from the different versions I've found. Wish me luck. And I wish you luck in all of your creative projects.

I'll sign off....still looking for the Northern Lights. Bye for now,

Your friend,

Jan Brett