Happy June!
I hope you are stretching your creative muscles and not letting this pandemic distract your inner spirit from its story telling mode!
In my April and May Hedge a grams, I began a mini-course on how to create a children’s book. I have written and illustrated children’s picture books my whole life and I am happy to share my ideas with you. In April I wrote about getting an idea for a book, and in May I wrote about making a book dummy and some of the conventions the book world takes for granted, for example, a children’s picture book has 32 pages and it begins with a title page and if published, copyright material. If you are a young person and want to experiment with graphic novels or other forms I don’t know much about, go for it!
About the art, I start a manuscript and while reading it, basic pictures form in my imagination. Let’s say there are mouse soldiers, like in THE NUTCRACKER the book that I am working on now. I think about the tone of my story, and the age child I am writing for. I am well aware that this story is a Christmas classic and the expectations are that it will reflect the wonder and excitement of the Holiday. I start by sketching the mice in their battle with the little boy’s soldiers, led by the Nutcracker. My first sketches made them too sinister. I spent some time in St. Petersburg, Russia and marveled at the incredibly ornate and colorful military uniforms in the rows of portraits in museums. My goal to make the battle less fearsome will depend on me changing the weapons from rifles with bayonets to lollipops and cannons filled with bon-bons. I do have to keep it somewhat suspenseful and realistic though, for the plot to have meaning. I and the reader have to cheer on Nutcracker against those mice! One way I solved the problem is to not put lots of mice on one page. Many mice, climbing around, give people the creeps. I will sketch the mice until I get a mouse soldier that is sort of humorous and buffoon-like.
Another example is the Nutcracker. Because the seven year old Marie is enamored of the “ugly but cute anyhow” Nutcracker a wooden figure that turns into a prince, I have experimented with sketching this character a lot. In the original story he wears a violet uniform with lots of buttons and shiny boots. I will keep that. He is often pictured with a white beard and I will show him with a boyish face instead. I will minimize his teeth so that don’t look bizarre. I ordered two antique nutcrackers from Europe that are soldiers and three more that are animals and people. Hopefully my friend will carve me my own nutcracker according to my finished sketch. There is a certain way the eyes were painted in the olden days that I love. In my mind that is when Marie is first captivated by the Nutcracker. She sees his human-like expression.
I go through this back and forth process with all the settings and characters. I have an extensive library, and I will rely on the books I brought back from Russia. I have lots of old Antiques magazines that show the kind of quirky but superb craftsmanship found in the past.
In my April Hedge a gram I recommended Stephen King’s book on writing. He talks about his muse being a bunch of guys in the rec room basement playing cards and having a few laughs. My muse is my six year old self sitting at my shoulder with braids and blue jeans smelling like my horse. I loved my books, the good ones, but oh the scorn if the book did not ring true or failed my expectations. I count on that muse and I hope you will try to find that special compass that directs your mind and hand.
Good luck with all of your projects. Your friend, Jan Brett