Brett demonstrates drawing techniques
By Angie Landsverk
Jan Brett loves drawing, exploring, animals and the natural world.
She often combines them all in her work as a children’s book author and illustrator.
“I discovered when I was in kindergarten that this was what I was going to do,” Brett said Sunday, Dec. 4 from inside the bus taking her across the country in a 23-market national tour.
The bus is wrapped in artwork from her latest book, “Gingerbread Christmas,” and Brett arrived in Waupaca during the first snowfall of the season.
She has more than 35 million books in print and has been one of this country’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators for more than 30 years.
Brett has created more than 30 books, and each one is still in print.
The Waupaca Area Public Library hosted this week’s event at Waupaca Middle School, and the visit coincided with the library’s current exhibit, “The World of Jan Brett.”
On display through Friday, Dec. 23, the exhibit features more than 50 of Brett’s original paintings, as well as children-friendly graphics and labels.
As snow fell outside, Brett sat inside her warm tour bus.
In a box next to her were two of her ornamental chickens, which she raises.
Before speaking to her audience, Brett talked to the Waupaca County Post about growing up in Massachusetts, the traveling she does as part of the research for her books and how she enjoys speaking to children about her work.
Brett began drawing at a young age.
Her mother taught 3-year-old preschool and believed in having lots of arts materials for her own children and encouraging them to be outside and to be creative.
The family had horses, a donkey, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, multiple cats and a dog, Brett said.
“My parents believed it was great to have animals. It taught responsibility,” she said.
Brett remembers visiting the library with her best friend, where they checked out books about horses and copied the pictures.
With one of her great-uncles an illustrator, she was aware at a young age that illustrating was a possible job.
“I loved Beatrix Potter, and I still do,” Brett said. “I just remember feeling that was what I wanted to do.”
After high school, Brett attended a junior college for two years, followed by additional training at the Tufts School Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston.
She considers a day to be a great one when it is interspersed with drawing, caring for her chickens and getting some type of exercise.
Brett works into the evening and of her books said, “The ones people love are the ones with children and snow.”
The research for her various books has taken to her to Africa and Baffin Island.
The trip to Baffin Island took place about eight years ago when she was working on “The Three Snow Bears.”
Brett and her husband, Joe Hearne, who plays the double bass in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, have gone to Africa seven different times for research on three of her books.
The book Brett is working on now is set in Japan.
Her latest book, “Gingerbread Christmas,” is set in Switzerland and in it, Gingerbread Baby takes his gingerbread band to a Christmas festival.
They are a hit at the festival, until their aroma reaches the children, and they must escape or get devoured.
Brett’s audience in Waupaca included children, parents, grandparents and teachers.
She describes her programs as celebrations of books, reading and teachers.
Brett showed the audience her two ornamental chickens, accompanying her and her husband on the tour, before demonstrating how to draw one.
“Pay the most attention to drawing eyes,” she said, explaining that is how someone can tell how a person or an animal is feeling and if they are trying to convey something.
Brett also told her audience to look at their work in a mirror when they are almost finished with it and something about it just does not feel right.
“Something will pop out at you,” she said.
Brett’s advice to children, who are perfectionists, was, “Part of being an artist is making mistakes and then fixing mistakes.”
She said that is why there are erasers on pencils.
“The best artists,” Brett said, “can make you feel like you’re in a different place.”
Brett said she has been drawing and illustrating for probably 64 years.
She challenged those in attendance to set a kitchen timer for one hour when they have some free time and to use their art supplies to work on one drawing.
They should date the drawing when they complete it, place it in a drawer and then continue to draw over the next several months.
Brett advised opening that drawer back up around Easter to see how far they come.
“It’s important to use your creativity,” she said. “No one else in the world can do a drawing just like you can.”