Clad in red suede slippers with pink silk tassels, a tiger blazer and carrying a hedgehog purse, prolific author/illustrator Jan Brett looked the part when she came to town with a message of creativity to share this winter.
Los Altos-based Linden Tree Books hosted Brett earlier this winter in a talk geared particularly to children. Known for her detailed illustrations in books such as "The Mitten" and "The Hat," Brett shared pointers on how a drawing comes together with the audience. Using Prismacolor markers, she drew a tiger from start to finish as she spoke, describing both technical tricks and overarching insights into how to foster and feed the creative process.
Brett said that listening to music has often led her thoughts to follow a creative path they might not otherwise have found, and she referenced animals in her own life - a hedgehog, chickens, a dog - as sources of persistent inspiration. She offered pointers as she drew the tiger, noting that she works particularly hard on eyes, whose expression of emotion usually first draws an onlooker’s gaze. She walked her young listeners through how the shape of eyes move and change with the flow of feelings.
Some tips for young artists at home, gleaned from Brett’s tiger-drawing talk:
• As you’re drawing, if something looks off to you and you don’t know why, hold your picture to a mirror. Seeing it backwards can feel like seeing it for the first time.
• Always sign your work - no one can draw exactly like you can.
• Set a kitchen timer for 1 hour and tell your family that you want alone time to work.
"The world around you becomes less important and the picture unfolds by itself," Brett said.
She told the audience that she has been practicing for 65 years, and that "every time I do a book I think maybe this one will be the best because I’ve been practicing."
Brett’s latest book, "The Tale of the Tiger Slippers" (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019), reimagines a folktale originally born in Baghdad but creatively reset, by Brett, in the lavish style of Mughal court painting.
"It is like looking through a portal into the past," she said of the ornate artwork now found in museums around the world, its gilt borders twined with animals and flowers.
In an interview with the Town Crier, Brett explained that visiting with young people around the U.S. on her three-week book tour gave her a reassuring sense that books still have a thriving place in the digital age.
"It is very inspiring to see these young people who love books," she said. "Parents are in such an unusual situation because they want to prepare their children for the future and want them to be comfortable with technology, but we don’t want to lose our grip on all the wonderful venues books have taken us through in our lives."