Happy November!

     Every month I take the morning off to write about my comings and goings as an illustrator.   When I was little, I knew a little about the profession of an illustrator, because my great uncle, Harold Brett was an illustrator of children's books.  He was of another generation and I wasn't able to speak with him about what his day-to-day life was like.  This is my time to tell what it is like to have my job, writing and illustrating and also my time to sort out in my own mind, current challenges and breakthroughs.
     I'm about to leave on a 2 1/2 week book tour.  We'll go to 24 cities and towns.  At each signing I will have the opportunity to talk about how I got the idea for CINDERS a Chicken Cinderella, and give a drawing lesson on how to draw the main character, a silver Phoenix pullet.  A pullet is a female chicken under one year of age.  At about six months this breed starts laying eggs.  If all goes as planned I will bring along Eddie (Edwina) who was the model I used for the book, and Tanya a silky hen who posed for the fairy godmother.  My husband, Joe will go with me on the tour, and will help give out posters to the first 100 people in line, give everyone a tour button, and a letter to children about my new book.  The best part is signing the book for all the book lovers.  Loving books is a wonderful thing to have in common, and I really admire the parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians who introduce the world of books and authors to children.  I'm eager to show off my beautiful chickens.  I'm bringing them lots of mealy worm treats so the chickens will enjoy the tour too.  On our off-hours they will be able to go in the exercise pen and get some grass and fresh air.
     I'm also bringing artwork on the bus, because I am working every minute I can on my newest book, THE ANIMAL?S SANTA, even though it won't be published until next fall.  The artwork for the jacket and title page has to be at the publisher's now so Marikka, the designer can work on the display type, which is lettering on the jacket that is very important to the look and personality of the book.  One of my challenges is to make the pressure I feel be motivating and clarifying and not let it make me rushed or demoralized.  My editor, art designer and me, are all part of a team and our goal is a great book.
     At this point in my year long project I have to be positive about constructive criticism and hold onto my true feelings.  If you're working on a creative project, you know how hard it is to achieve the balance between letting fly one's joy and enthusiasm for an idea with the difficult job of self-criticism to make the art better.
     In the ANIMAL'S SANTA, I'm constructing a world where my tribe of  sub-arctic animals live.  The place is located in the far North, so it is well away from human civilization, and the clothes and toys are made from natural materials except for trade-cloth, just like the native Americans had in the 1800's.  One of the decorated crafts use in adorning clothes is porcupine quill work.  The quills are dyed with natural dyes, flattened and embroidered to create a lovely unique art.  I studied the quill work but rather than copying Native American people's designs, I've tried to dream the design elements.  This project has not been as easy as I thought it would be, and sometimes I have to fall back on creating images from the natural world.  The place my animals live is northern Canada not Europe, so as not able to use a hedgehog as one of the animals since hedgehogs only live in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  I have illustrated red squirrels, snowshoe hares, arctic fox, porcupines, ravens, moose, polar bear, and badger.  The hardest animal to draw is the porcupine.  So difficult in fact that last summer I started looking for roadkilled porcupine.  I saw one that had been hit by a car and I stopped at a hardware store and bought a giant bathmat, tough gloves, and a big wide shovel, and brought him home to take pictures and observe his paws and the coloration of his quills.  I also had a chance to see quite a few live porkys at my friend's property in New Hampshire.  I was surprised in the variation of color and was glad to see one strawberry blond colored porky.  A black coat or plumage on any creature is very difficult to paint.  I can't use my usual modeling of the face to create humanlike expressions.
       I finally buried the porcupine I found deep in the woods.  He was extremely large and heavy and now I know how the porcupine got its nickname ?quill-pig?.
     I'm so grateful to the wonderful Canadian store, The Snow Goose, who has sold me some lovely and rare examples of Lorraine Besito's art of quill work on birchbark.  Not knowing I would ever decorate the borders on one of my books with quillwork.  I had been collecting Native American quill work boxes for years.  Not only do some artists use the quills like embroidery, but a three-dimensional effect can be made by "tufting" the quills so a rosette can be made looking like a miniature chrysanthemum.  In one of my boxes the ?quill" feathers on a great blue heron are three-dimensional.  I wish I had another lifetime to learn porcupine quilling.    The quills are dangerously sharp and barbed and must be handled with caution.  I marvel over the artistry of the native American items I have seen at the Peabody Museum at Harvard and an equally enchanted by the evolved art tradition of today.  Pow-wow culture is fascinating, and I would like to experience a pow-wow and see the dances and traditional items.  Native stores like the Snow Goose in Ottawa do us a great service by presenting authentic native art.  The borders in my books I painted to look like quill work, but try as I might they do not do justice to the real thing.
     Good luck with your creative project, follow your heart and mind when inspired by others who have tapped into the beauty of the natural world.

                                           Happy Creating,

                                                Jan Brett