July Hedge a gram

Happy July,

     This is the month that we celebrate our country's independence.  It's a great time to have a cook out with your family and think that summer is really here.   Every summer morning, I raise our U.S. flag, then our Marine Corps flag.  The Marine Corps flag is in honor of my daughter and her husband who serve in the marines and for all the Marines they have served with and work with today.  I'd like to thank all the people who have a mom or dad that is far away right now.  Thank you!  I am very grateful to live in a free country and to be able to do the work I love.
          In my life as an artist I am at a very exciting point.  I've finished the story and book dummy of my new book, THE THREE LITTLE DASSIES, an African version of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS.   I finished a double page spread, and gave it to my editor Margaret and art director, Cecilia to look over.  I always wait with great anticipation for their reaction.  Many, many children's books have been published with their guidance and they put their experience and talent to work helping me see my work with new eyes.  Because I'm the author and illustrator, I have the last say, but it's rare for me to disagree completely with them.  The borders are a big part of my book.  There's a story that runs along as the main story unfolds.  I like choosing elements that make up the borders, for example pussy willow branches in THE EASTER EGG and beads for HONEY...HONEY...LION! which is set in Africa.   I chose thin strips of the printed fabric I saw on the dresses of Namibian woman for this book.  I was relieved when the editors liked the choice.  When I was in Namibia, I bought lots and lots of fabric that I could be inspired by when I got home.  Most of the art direction is about making the visual story more readable.  If a brownish animal is sitting on a brownish page, it's hard to find.  Because I like to put a lot of detail in my work, I have to pay attention to colors and to texture.  I use the sky - which seems very large and clear in Namibia to contrast with the Rock Dassies and their houses.
     Cecilia came up with a good thought.  I pictured the grass house with a yellow gold dried grass roof, like the ones I saw in Namibia, but the grass would have been freshly cut according to the time line of the story.  That would make the grass green.  I wonder if I would have figured that out on my own in time.  I hope so!
     It's very hard for me to pull myself away from my African mind set, but I had to spend two weeks illustrating the All About letter for my Spring 2010 book, THE EASTER EGG.  It tells the different breeds of rabbits I used for my book and about the fancy chickens that pull the Easter Bunny's wagon.  It will have a team coloring page that can be used for spring decorations.  I have filled in the background, but I left the rabbits white so children can color them.  I admire children's drawing very much for their individuality, but I remember being a young artist and experimenting with techniques like drawing fur, or shading.   It was fun to use an existing line drawing to start with.  I hope children like working on my team coloring those rabbits!
     Lastly, I have to make travel plans for my next book, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, which will be for the Fall of 2011 and is about a troll.  I will go to Sweden to draw the countryside.  I've been to Norway two times and to Denmark once, so I think it's time to go to Sweden, especially since one of my most admired illustrators, Carl Larsson, lived there.  His house is a museum now, which he painted and decorated in a charming way.  I would also like to go to Finland to the Oulanka National park on the border of Russia, just below the Arctic Circle.  I read an article about it in National Geographic.  It looks like trolls could live there.  I have to work on my troll story so I know what parts of Sweden I should visit.
     What does an artist do when not working on a book?  I'm making punch needle embroideries of snakes for my two grandsons, to be sewn on their jackets.  One boy requested a Black Mamba, a poisonous snake from Africa, which I've seen in real life, and the other boy would like a Spitting Cobra, which I have never seen.  When I sew the finished pieces on their jackets the final touch will be a few meticulously placed silver beads to represent the venom.
     After I finish the snakes, I will get to work on two poultry portraits for the New England Poultry Congress in January, held in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The winner for 2008, a Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock bantam cockerel, and for 2009, an African Goose will be a challenge to paint, since they are so exquisite in reality.  But I only work on these projects when I have accomplished a good bit on my book.
     I hope you are savoring all your art projects!  Bye for now,

                          Your friend,

                               Jan Brett