Snow’s Corral

Little Snow has gotten a lot bigger since his roll in my 2014 book THE ANIMAL’S SANTA. He is corral is next to my art desk, and he has a view into the woods.little snow in pen

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July 2017 Hedge a gram

Birch Bark

Research for THE SNOWY NAP

Happy July!

This is probably the most interesting time of the year in regards to my new book, the working title being THE SNOWY NAP. I always stop my work so I can write a bit about my work process. I like hearing about other artist’s approaches, so I we will describe my own for anyone who is interested.  I am, and always have been fascinated with the children’s book form. I think it is unique in commercial products because it is individually crafted. I do have a team I work with, the art director, Marikka, and the editor, Susan, and I don’t want to minimize their impact and efforts.  Much of a traditional children’s book though, is from the mind and hand of one person.
I have written the manuscript for THE SNOWY NAP, and completed the 32 page book dummy, a miniaturized and sketchy, cartoon version of my story. I had a meeting with the editor and art director at Penguin Random House in NYC last month, where they offered me their ideas and reactions. I’ve completed several finished pages and this is where the fun begins, because I can see the world that I am creating. Because I am using the characters, setting, and trim size of THE HAT, a picture book I wrote 20 years ago, I had the challenge of making it different, but I am still trying to stay true to the culture of Fyn Island in Denmark.
My husband Joe Hearne is a classical musician, and I have always loved the concept of themes and variations. If you are teaching children you could illustrate my idea with two pieces of music. Benjamin Britten’s The Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra, which is variations on themes by Purcell or Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn. THE SNOWY NAP is a variation on the theme of THE HAT.
In order to make THE SNOWY NAP distinctive I changed the palette, especially in the border.  I love birch, it is my favorite tree, and over the years I have collected books about crafting with birch, and various artifacts made from birch. I have Lapti, plaited shoes from Russia you can see in THE TURNIP, ornate layered birch boxes also made in Russia, and carriers and vessels made from Native Americans.  Splendiferously I had an old copy of INTERIORS magazine (I never throw them away), that has a photo shoot displaying China in a quaint setting of shelves decorated with old newsprint cut in serial geometric shapes kind of like paper dolls, where you fold the paper, cut the design, then open in up. Instead of using newsprint, I used birch bark with the pink side out. If you find a piece of birch bark it is hard to decide which side is more gorgeous, the papery, white exposed outer bark, or the interior shell pink side. Well I chose the pink because I’ve used the white in other books like THE MITTEN and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. The rest of the border is knitted stitches with Nordic patterns, some of which I kept from Danish Museum trips when I went years ago for THE HAT to give the book a cozy feel.
One of the changes I’m making in my art, is to make it a little more crafted. It is a bit of a reaction against the use of technology and computer art, which I accept is its own thing, and possibly a new art form, but I feel my work is a continuation of the art style of Beatrix Potter.   It is a little hard to explain, but I feel that painting each stroke in a picture over time gives the art a soulful quality.  I read once that in some cultures, I think one is Navajo, and another culture is Middle Eastern, that when creating a weaving or perhaps beadwork in the Native American art, the artist intentionally flaws the design in a subtle way to show their humility. I think all artists grapple with the perfection and extraordinary beauty of the world around us as we try to create art.
Good Luck with your endeavors and creations!

Your friend,
Jan

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July Hedge a gram

blog

In Okinawa Japan with my grandson Brian

Happy July!

Although summer time usually includes a vacation for many, for me, I am gearing up with the illustrations for my new book. This July it is THE MERMAID AND THE THREE OCTOPUS. Every month I pause for a time to talk about where I am in the process of my book in hopes that you may share my interest in creating books and drawings for children.
What I’ve accomplished so far is a retelling of the classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, and I’ve created cartoon-like illustrations in a 32 page book dummy. I completed the dummy and then went back and reworked the ending, changing the images after completing the first version. I wanted a final spread showing the mermaid with her new and old friends swimming away through the beautiful coral reefs. But to get the full effect of the undersea gardens I wanted a double page spread. The book actually ends on a single page. For the last page, page32, I show a happy ending for the octopus family, especially baby octopus who after a big commotion and confrontation finds herself with a gift from the mermaid, a beautiful pearl and coral tiara. The beauty of working on a dummy is the ability to change things when they become clear In the language of pictures, before too much time is spent on the finished spreads. I make the dummy with typing paper cut to about 2/3rds the size of the trim dimensions in the actual book. The trim size is one of the first things I, the editor, and the art director, decide on. Since I have done two “Goldilocks” books in the past each with a different trim size, I chose a size that would leave room for my border idea. In the original story the three bears go for a walk while their porridge cools. In my undersea version they go for a stroll but the baby octopus is unhappy because her parents make her wear a peculiar and she thinks, ugly, hat. In the borders she tries to lose the hat. That makes it an especially happy ending when the baby octopus ends up with a gift from the mermaid, a beautiful tiara. I find that children enjoy a little humor and I am hoping they will think its funny that the baby octopus is given a live hat.
I have always loved porcupine fish. They remind me of ocean going hedgehogs. It seemed natural that the mermaid would be traveling with a friend, and that the friend could move the story forward by prickling the grumpy octopus. I had to walk a fine line between making the octopus mad by having their things eaten and played with and just being curious. The funny looking porcupine fish makes the scenes kind of funny. I have a reference book called FISHFACE and it is full of very expressive fish faces, although its anybodies guess what the fish are really thinking. I have been to the New England Aquarium twice since starting my book, and it is easy to get lost in the world of fish in the central tank, and in the reef fish exhibit. Sometimes I am amazed I have a job where its important to look at fish! The trouble is like iridescent birds, it’s impossible to capture their beauty. I have an invitation to see the aquarium’s octopus from the aquararist’s side but a date hasn’t materialized yet. I have seen Anna the octopus twice from the public’s side, but she is remaining very shy. Apparently octopus have very individual personalities, and for now, Anna is settling in. I’m very glad I saw a baby octopus in the wild in Okinawa while snorkeling. It was right beside a baby Lionfish. That is a beautiful but venomous fish that lives in the coral reefs in Okinawa. When reading the hard to find but wonderful A DIVER’S SCRAPBOOK by John Chandler he remarks that if a sea creature does not move away from you, ask yourself, “Maybe it doesn’t have to?” Luckily when I went snorkeling my son in law gave me booties and gloves along with the advice not to poke anything.
The fun part of painting the illustrations is reliving my underwater experiences, although they were fewer than I would have wished, knowing what I know now. Two of the adjustments I have had to make are how everything is almost weightless, as in the mermaid’s hair and how almost every view fades into deep blue. The other adjustment must be utilized in painting the fish. Almost every fish guide show the fish from the side, while in reality they are seen in all perspectives. Add to that, many sea creatures are iridescent and some, like the octopus change color and shape plus some are see-through!
Because I set my story in Japan I am very glad I lugged back lots of big colorful books about that culture. My story is set in the olden days, so I rely on art books too. On the twelve or so trips I’ve taken to Japan I have brought back toys, antique printed indigo cloth and folk art. If anyone has visited Japan they will recognize lots of references to Japanese culture. The octopus wear kimonos and Okinawan hats (except for Baby). Even the seashells and coral shards found on the beach I brought home have found their way into my pictures. Even if the child knows nothing about Japan, it is nice to think their frame of reference has widened a bit. I think that is why as a child I loved reading THE JUNGLE BOOK about India, ALADDIN AND THE MAGIC LAMP about Persia and THE STORY ABOUT PING set in China.
Happy armchair traveling, or even better, the real thing!

Your friend, Jan Brett

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June Hedge a gram

Lucasville OhoAt the Lucasville, Ohio Poultry Exhibition

Happy June,

This is the time I stop every month to write some tidbits about my life as a children’s author and illustrator. If you know of me at all, you know that the illustration part of the process is the creative engine for my books. I am an avid reader, and I marvel at the level of nuance and creation of other worlds that authors can create. It never ceases to be a miracle that someone else’s mind can be seen via their books. And all the time, we readers are receiving those words and believing them or not believing them. It is so deeply satisfying when a writer’s words ring true and allow you to see a part of humanity, or part of the animal kingdom that has never seen the light of day in one’s own mind. I am reading the autobiography of Oliver Sacks, an author who’s work I deeply appreciate. The first book I read was THE MAN WHO MISTOKE HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. Sacks was a neurologist who described in an eloquent and loving way some of the bizarre mental conditions he has seen in his practice. One of my favorite books he has written though, is OAXACA JOURNAL, a book about a trip he took with the Fern Society. Anyone who goes to Mexico with the Fern Society to see ferns is walking an unusual path. I love ferns, but have never gotten further then buying a few books about them, planting a lot of varieties, and putting them in every book I can!
But Oliver Sacks always thinks in great depths about a subject. This last book though is rather shocking as I had him pictured as a curious, sedentary, friendly uncle type. He has a quote at the beginning of his book that was written by one of his teachers when he was of a young age. “Oliver will go far, but I hope he doesn’t go too far.” It reminded me of a similar remark a teacher made about a relative, “All geniuses are odd, but all odds are not geniuses”. Human being have such a large capacity to explore a subject, and let it become their whole world. I’ve known a few geniuses in my life and it is really interesting how they manage to come up for air when engrossed in their field of interest.
I am just finishing the first spread for THE MERMAID AND THE THREE OCTOPUS. We moved up to our summer camp (cottage) and I got to look through all the coral shards and shells I collected in Okinawa, Japan over the last 20 years. My daughter and her husband who are Marines were stationed there three times. Little did I know way back then how much my heart would be captured by that place and that in the future I would set a book there. A year ago I was snorkeling at one of the incredible dive sites where I saw a baby Octopus. By now it is probably huge, or been eaten by another sea creature. I love to sit at my work table and recreate my memories of the ocean there. I was astounded that so many people video tape their spear diving excursions. It’s as if you are swimming through the coral reefs as you watch YouTube. Of course I have to close my eyes when they spear the fish! I am in absolute heaven working on this book. The experience is going to get even more emotional when next month I will visit the New England Aquarium and visit their Giant Pacific Octopus. If you are curious about the natural world I would suggest THE SOUL OF THE OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery. She has also written a children’s non fiction book, a companion to it called THE OCTOPUS SCIENTISTS.
Joe and I just drove from Massachusetts to Lucasville Ohio to a Poultry Show (not a fair) and for some reason an idea popped into my head about a house hedgehog. A friend, who I gave a chicken to, made the chicken into a “house chicken”. It watches TV with them and is a pet. I got thinking about how Hedgehogs hibernate and never are able to see the depths of winter. I love winter and all its beauty, so I’d like to write about a Hedgehog that gets taken in for the winter by a little girl and gets to see the loveliness of snow through the window. Obviously fiction but a great way to to paint winter scenes and especially a Hedgehog!
I hope the changing of the seasons is invigorating for you, and ideas pop like popcorn for new creative projects.
Your friend, Jan Brett

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