Happy September,

      I take time every month to talk about my progress on the children's book I'm working on. I would like to keep the continuity.

      I am well under way imagining my nutcracker book. I am illustrating music, The NUTCRACKER SUITE by Tchaikovsky, which in turn is based on the score for the ballet THE NUTCRACKER. The ballet strongly identifies with the short story of that name by E.T. A. Hoffmann. There are parts of the story that Tchaikovsky does not musically describe. The music is the epitome of ethereal beauty and whimsy. I am married to a classical musician who plays the double bass, I have heard it many times. I never once thought of illustrating it because although I have admiration and enthusiasm for the ballet world, it seemed too daunting a project. Then, I thought about telling the story without the dancers and dance steps. I could even let my imagination leap with effects that would be hard to show on a stage. One of the big incentives is that I can listen to the music as I'm designing and painting. It will be an interesting experiment. At this point I am experiencing wonder for Tchaikovsky?s masterpiece.  I am exploring the way the idea goes from the composer, then the orchestra, to my ear, my mind, to my hand and then to paint and paper, morphing in strange ways.

     The second double page spread is almost done. I am way behind schedule, but the scenes are extremely complicated and detailed. At the beginning of a project like this I am establishing the main characters and the house the Christmas party takes place in. I am deciding if the Dr. Drosselmeier character is in a transformative role, how dark the mysterious side of his personality is, and how large a presence he will be. It is always a struggle to stretch the limits of my ability but not overwork the paintings. Sometimes that tension can show in the artwork. When I feel pressure about a deadline, I try to turn it around and think that having a time limit forces one to decide and execute! The best moments are when something bubbles up from one's unconsciousness when we are lost in the physical painting or drawing. There is something magical about those mind, to hand. to paper movements.

      That said, there is nothing like a nice run for unexpected ideas to surface. I have lots of dirt roads to run on here in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. I was thinking about the personalities of trees as I was running, and how their shapes can look exuberant or threatening or peaceful. The willows at the lake's edge look graceful, the young birches look youthful and innocent and the oaks stalwart. My purpose in the landscapes in this book is to make them look dreamlike and otherworldly. I want to capture that Christmas essence one feels as a child and sometimes as an adult too. Why not unroot the trees and have them dance about? Maybe they could shake off snow crystals at will.  I've played with this idea before, making pictograms out of birchbark markings for example.  I think that is was in ANIMAL?S SANTA.

     Good luck with your stories and artwork.

       Your friend, Jan