January 2003 Hedge a Gram

Happy New Year!

This is the time of year when we look forward and back. My children's books follow the same cycle. I'm finishing one, On Noah's Ark and starting a new one, The Great Green Umbrella. Going to Africa to get ideas for On Noah's Ark filled me with wonder that lasted the whole year. The best part was seeing the animals from different angles and observing their interactions with one another. Animal books tend to show the animals from the side or as a freeze frame photograph.

The animal that surprised me the most was the warthog, because in the wild it doesn't look ugly. It looks jaunty and self important as it trots off with its tail straight up in the air like a little flag. I put some animals in my book that are pets. Buffy our hedgehog, my friends Gretchen's chinchillas, Speedy and Stella. My husband Joe's mandarin and black indie ducks, my Silkie hen, Rose (this breed is very old and was documented by Marco Polo), and a grey parrot for my vet Hillary. Ross, a boy I met on a trip, gave me great photos of his lizard and gecko. I am grateful to my friends at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Dr. Cera and Dr. Meehan, I was able to meet their giraffes and okapi. The okapi, a giraffe like animal has a very velvety coat the color of purply chocolate and a black prehensile tongue. "Prehensile" means that it can grasp things like a hand does. Giraffes tongues are like this too, I can tell you that giraffe tongues are very slimy and that they love to lick you when they meet you. No one minds, because giraffes are slow motion, long lashed beauties and it is an amazing experience to interact with them.

In Africa, I also had a day long encounter with three habituated elephants. They are such a challenge to draw, I would like to do a whole book about them. The texture of their skin changes according to which part of their body you look at. Even their tails have a funny kind of thick hair. I am still mystified about their complex personalities because they are unlike any animal I've ever met. To me they seemed to have a towering intelligence. They seemed rascally and curious too. I say complex because you can have two opposite impressions to describe the elephant and both can be correct, such as "eager to please", and "dangerous".

I put animals in my book for friends and relatives. A polar bear for my son in law, Tom, a cheetah and a snail for my daughter, Lia, a penguin for my niece Lee, a badger for a friend who's name means "badger", a hedgehog for me, guinea hens for my friend Janet, a fox for a friend who likes foxes, and a great blue heron for my husband Joe, because his last name, Hearne, sounds like "heron".

My daughter and I always talked about having a "totem" animal after reading the book, "Clan of the Cave Bear". Some people collect an animal or have a special enthusiasm for a particular one. My challenge to you this month is this, chose the creature you most identify with, and then draw it. Sometimes we choose animals that mirror our personality, others we gravitate towards because of their uniqueness and others....well we just don't know why we like them we just do! How about all of you Tasmanian Devil aficionados?

Next year, my studio will be filled with Costa Rican images. Our trip to Costa Rica to get ideas for The Great Green Umbrella will be in February. I'll look forward to writing about my year as an illustrator, so all of you interested in art will get an idea of what it's like.

Be creative in 2003! Bye for now,

Your friend,

Jan Brett