Every month I look at my life as an illustrator and Children's author in a
different way. Even though every year I have created a new book the process is
always as fascinating and surprising as the very first one. Each book has its
own special challenges and unexpected happy surprises.
I am at my favorite stage, having done the dummy and discussed it with the
editor and art director at Penguin Random House. My story is based on a fable
with adult human characters and one of our goals has to make it childlike and
playful without losing the story that works on a deeper level. My characters are
all animals, not a human in sight. That said, the animals talk and wear clothes.
Because the main character is a tiger, I set the story in area that historically
was ruled by the Mughal emperor Akbar where Tigers roamed. He surrounded himself
with scholars, and patronized the arts. I have many books with paintings of this
time in history. He was born in 1556, but the arts continued to flower under his
son and grandson. His empire extended from Afghanistan and throughout India.
When we were in the great game reserves in India, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, and Panna.
We saw the beautiful unspoiled landscapes and wildlife preserved in these parks,
and had our bird guide and friend from Africa, Martin Benardi to identify birds
as well as Indian guides. Most of the birds I was seeing either for the first
time, or in the wild for the first time, like the peafowl. The mammals were
spectacular, and we saw four tigers, a large male seen from the vehicle, (the
video of it is on my website), a tigress and her teenage cub, and another male,
but at a distance. Any one of the sightings would have been worth the trip.
Because Tiger poaching is a terrible. unacceptable problem, the parks are
policed by wardens on elephants. The elephants keep the wardens out of danger
and the elephants can travel through the forest making a good vantage point. We
did not see wild Indian elephants, but we met the oldest elephant in India. She
was over 100 and had two caretakers and partners, called Mahouts. The Mahout
gets to know his elephant as a boy, and often stays with the Elephant for his
life. Seeing the flora and fauna was a big catalyst in telling my story. The
history and art of India is vast and rich, not easily grasped by someone like
me. I did return with many huge books, and acquired even more art books from the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On the more practical side, my story has evolved a bit, and I have
added some lighter moments. There are some fascinating Indian creatures to
populate my story with, the Indian Rhinoceros, the adjutant Stork, Indian
Mongoose, Indian Elephant (much different than the African elephant I am
familiar with from our travels to Africa, the Languor, a monkey relative, the
Peafowl and best of all the Tiger. It was so informative to be guided in these
parks, and see how the animals behaved and see their babies and feel totally
safe while doing so. In Africa the level of concern for guests in the wildlife
areas was very thoughtful, but at one of the lodges in India I went for a run
and came back to find a Leopard was roaming around. We had Leopards in camp in
Africa but we were never ever supposed to run! On that same run (the Boston
Marathon was right around the corner and I was training) I saw one of the native
small wild cats. It looked exactly like my sister Jeanie's Maine Coon cat - long
striped and spotted long grey brown fur, large size and tasseled ears. I would
like to see the DNA work up on her cat, it looks awfully close to those Indian
I am just starting on the finished painting of my book. Even though I am
using the same watercolors I always use I am layering them a bit more to get the
color more saturated. The court miniatures are done in gauche (opaque
watercolor) and I am very taken by the intense color and unusual color. I am so
glad I have been The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and The Metropolitan Museum
of art in NYC to see the paintings for real. Many have been enhanced with gold
leaf and crushed precious gems, but the ones I like best are just beautiful
paintings. It is a thrill to contemplate the artist's vision from so far back in
time. All my books note where the art is mounted and it coincides nicely to a
concert tour I will take with my husband, Joe, a member of the Boston Symphony.
The orchestra will go to most of the European capitals, and I hope to visit
museums that display Persian and Indian minatures.
This summer I will focus really hard on my book, and I am looking forward
to the intensity. I love being lost in another world, especially one where
Tigers wear clothes and Peacock bestow best wishes to lion cubs.
Happy Creating, your friend, Jan Brett