Hi, this is Jan Brett, letting you know what’s happening in my life as a children’s book illustrator and writer. If you have ever traveled to a foreign country, you may recognize the feelings I experienced after a trip to Africa. I did miss drawing and painting every day, which makes me feel like my true self. What made the trip valuable, was that I was filled with new images of landscapes, animals, birds and African people with traditional clothes and manners that impressed me in a way that makes me want to draw them. I am filled with a motivational excitement that makes me want to bring the images to life on paper.
In the traditional village I visited in Namibia, Otjongombe, I admired the long dresses, shawls and turbans the woman wore, especially since they were created from beautiful fabric. Most of the women made their own dresses and kept to a certain style that has been worn for generations.
I bought many samples of cotton printed fabric to use when creating the clothes for the 3 Little Dassie (rock hyrax in English) that will be characters in my book. I brought colored markers with me, so I could experiment with just how I could transform the tradition dress of the stately Namibian woman to the dassie who I will dress just like them, but who are a bit chubby and short limbed.
My husband and I went to a school where I met the children of the village. They performed a program of song and dance which we greatly admired. We had some time to chat with the children who liked practicing their English with us. Their birth language is either Herero or Himba. They were interested in how old I was, so I told them that I was 59. I left some of my books for their library, since they all could read English and a beautifully illustrated science book about extreme animals that I bought especially for them, as well as President Obama lapel pins since the President’s father was from Africa. Everyone we met in Africa is elated by our country’s choice of President Obama.
During our two week trip to Africa we went for our second time to Namibia and our first time to Tanzania. Spending time in the bush or wilderness area learning about African birds, mammals, and reptiles is my idea of an energizing, inspiring, awesome time. Our African guides, Martin Benadie, who is South African and specializes in birds, Uanee Karuuombe, a Himba guide who introduced us to the Herero people, and Peter, our guide in Tanzania, brought events and encounters into focus and shared their knowledge. For example, Martin could walk into a stand of acacia trees listen carefully, and then point out eight different birds. Sometimes he would hear a bird call and then would imitate it with a whistle, and the bird would come out to investigate. Often he spotted birds unknown to the local guide.
In Namibia, Uanee helped me understand about the pride the Herero have of their beautiful cattle. Peter, whose family have lived on the Serengeti plains for generations, looked at a herd of zebra (properly known as a dazzle of zebra), and see that they were intently staring at a fixed point not far off. He drove us in his Lad Rover slowly that way, and soon we saw the elegant cheetah the zebras were looking at but who had been hidden from our sight.
Excited as I am by all the new African ideas, I am still finishing my Easter egg book, correcting, polishing, and adding to the year’s work. It will take all my self control not to start work on 3 Little Dassie! Happy creating, reading and especially drawing.