Happy February,
     This is my February hedge-a-gram, the time I take to give a picture of what is current in my life as an author/illustrator.  When I was an aspiring illustrator, I took to heart any information I could get on the profession.  I hope my thoughts will help you achieve your goals, or at least give some understanding about creating children's picture books.
     I am currently reading a revealing and thoughtful biography of Beatrix Potter, my idol in the field.  It is by Linda Lear, and was given to me by an artist cousin, Judy Haas who is known for her trout pastels.  She makes the pastels herself and I am lucky enough to own one of her originals.  My sister, Jeannie Brett, also a children's book illustrator visited Beatrix Potter's house in the Lake Country in England.  I am eager to make that pilgrimage myself.  The most admired talent had, among many, was her relationship with her child readers.  She had great respect for them, and never made her books too precious or too simple.  I am a big beliver in not dumbing down children's literature and I often wonder if I feel that way because of two important influences, Beatrix Potter and her great champion, my mother, Jean Brett.
    These thoughts are very important at the moment because at the beginning of the month I passed in my last page of art for GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS that will come out next fall.  I did the endpapers last.  I have the option of having illustrated endpapers or not, but I find it fulfilling to create a mood filled, light hearted addition to the story in the endpapers for Christmas.  I have showed the musical instruments as they have come out of the oven, and then facing each on "flopped" as the say in the design world, the same instrument after it has been decorated.  The background is white frosting, and I've scattered candy decorations, all around them, and musical notes.
     I hope someday music will be written to go with my story.  My mother, who was a teacher, always had a piano in her classroom.  She never missed an opportunity to play a tune on the piano and teach her students a song.  Music is a big part of my life, my husband being a double bass player in the Boston Symphony.  I have had many a great idea listening to the exciting and varying programs in Symphony Hall.
     This week, I'm planning a trip to the Boston Aquarium, a world class aqua-museum not far from where we live.  I'm going to see the octopus and peruse their book section.  My new book, and under-the-sea Goldilocks envisions her exploration of the Three Octopus' sea shell and coral house.  I've set the book in Okinawa, a Japanese island placed in the Southern part of the archipelago.  My daughter and husband, and two children have just moved back to the US after living in Okinawa.  We all just loved it there.  It was their trips snorkeling, and they inviting me to go along that have inspired an undersea book.  Although the tropical beauty of the creatures is very daunting to paint.  I feel similar to when I saw the incandescent hummingbirds in Costa Rica.  Some of the creatures such as corals, nudibrach (sea slugs - yes they are often beautiful) and ornamental sea worms are so colorful that I worry if I paint them, no one will believe they really exist.  And that is if I can paint them!  The colors are so intense I don't know if I can come close.
     I will spend the next few weeks sketching my little mermaid.  Because she lives in Japan/Southeast Asia, I would like her to look Asian.  On the other hand she is called Goldilocks so her hair color will have to be ...gold!  I would like the tail portion to be similar to some of the reef fish in Okinawa.  In my mind, as in keeping with the traditional tale, she will be a child, rather than a teenager or young woman.
    Not only does my Goldilocks character give me many choices, but Octopus are even more varied.  A single octopus can not only change color, but its skin can form textures.  Luckily, in the story there is a father, large, a mother, medium, and a baby small.   When I saw a baby octopus in the ocean around Okinawa, it was lightly sand colored, with speckles.
     There are beautiful shells in the water around Okinawa, and in my story, I would like her to leave a beautiful shell for the octopus family when she exits their beautiful watery house.  I brought back many shells and pieces of coral from Okinawa, never imagining I would use them in a book.   Sometimes, I'm critical of myself for collecting all sorts of stuff.  Now I am very happy I did!
     Good luck with your collecting if its collecting words, shells, feathers, or whatever, maybe it will become something new and beautiful with your creativity added.

                                        Jan Brett