January Hedge a Gram

Happy January,

     The book that I'm working on now, MOSSY, is almost finished.  I have a few more double-page spreads to go.  I'm glad I have a deadline, as I'm forced to make decisions about my artwork and to dedicate all my time to finishing my book.  It is always a little sad to finish a book, and be done with all the characters, settings and "extras" that I've been painting all year.  I still feel that an Eastern Box turtle shell is a thing of beauty, and I've enjoyed painting it.  I'm intrigued with the miniature beauty of moss forests and they too have been a challenge to paint.  In MOSSY, because it is set mostly in an old-fashioned natural history museum, I decided to put various collections; butterflies, beetles, shells, and mushrooms, in the borders.  All my life, I have collected books on these kinds of collections, and especially the art work that showed them in the old days.  I had the most fun painting the butterflies and moths, but I had a much harder time painting minerals and gems.  One of the fun aspects of setting my book in 1913 almost 100 years ago, was dressing the characters in Edwardian fashions.  When I was growing up my mother kept boxes of old-fashioned clothes that we were allowed to go through and play with on special occasions.  I remember a top hat made of beaver that was silky and shiny, as well as ball gowns and beaded lace and fringed shawls.  My grandmother Brett had a lady's dress shop and she dressed in a formal way that wasn't that far from the Edwardian fashions the people in my book wear.
     As always, during the more focused efforts at the end of my book the characters become more fixed in my mind.  This makes them very hard to leave behind.
     This month, I'll be showing my chickens at the Northeastern Poultry Congress, January 13 and 14th.  I'll be taking lots of photos of poultry for next year's book ? a "poultry" Cinderella.  The book doesn't have a name yet, but it will be set in St. Petersburg.  It will have a large cast of poultry, dressed in opulent Russian finery from the days of Catherine the Great.  I will set my story in winter, but we will go to St. Petersburg in June to get ideas.   I will use my imagination to add snow!
         If you live in New England and would like to see 2,500 exhibition poultry, make a stop at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield.  It is free, and lots of fun.  If you are looking for laying hens or examples of exotic breeds, there are birds for sale.
      In my work, I have more than one story I'm working on.  There is a retelling of THE TURNIP, a rural folktale that I will also set in Russia.  We have a trip to the Russian countryside scheduled in June to get ideas and an overnight stay in a Russian Dacha ? or country house that I hope will be fruitful.  We will also stop in Sweden and look at the beautiful farms there, as well as a stop at artist Carl Larsson's  house.
     Artistically, I've gotten a little more layered in my painting.  I like painting one translucent watercolor layer over another with a goal in mind of reflectivity and depth.  The borders have given me a chance to play with different groups of colors too.  I like how the natural beiges and browns of shells, feathers, and mushrooms for example, contrast with splashes of red, purple and yellow in the more showy specimens in the collection.  Usually I travel to get ideas for the settings of my books, but in MOSSY I used my backyard and the Agassiz and Peabody Museums at Harvard in nearby Cambridge Massachusetts.  The building that is the museum in my book is my old nursery school, Wilder Memorial in the neighboring town of Hingham.  The most important part of my story, the turtle MOSSY, hasn't appeared in our yard though.  The turtle pond we built is for aquatic turtles, not terrestrial (ground living) turtles like the Eastern Box turtle like Mossy.  Lots of frogs have moved in and I'm hoping for possible painted turtle sightings next spring.  Two of my friends have pet Box Turtles and the Boyce family sent me some lovely photos of their turtle, Amelia.
     Happy writing drawing and exploring nature,

                                Your friend,

                                  Jan Brett