Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of quality research on the acclaimed children’s author-illustrator, Jan Brett. Her whimsical style is absolutely irresistable, and her attention to detail is unrivaled. She takes care to ensure that each feather, quill, and hair is its proper place; animals are Jan’s specialty. She chooses topics that spark her readers’ imaginations, like the adventures of a hedgehog or a gingerbread man celebrating Christmas. It’s easy to see that Jan is a talented artist, but what makes her such a sensational storyteller is her ability to transport the reader.
In an interview with National Geographic, Jan Brett described her technique. She’s been traveling her whole life – it’s one of her greatest passions, and one she happens to share with her husband. The two of them have traveled all over the world, sometimes for the sole purpose of finding inspiration for her writing. Jan spends approximately a year writing and illustrating each of her picture books, and in that year, she does plenty of research regarding the locations she presents. What does she call her research? A treasure hunt.
When she visits the places about which she writes, Jan Brett views each moment as an opportunity to find the hidden gems, the elements of the place that make it unique, special, and memorable. She comes armed with a list of things that she’s hoping to find in her travels. Sometimes, these things can be as simple as the texture of the bark of a tree, because she wants so desperately to be that precise in her painting. Then, she implants those discoveries in her writing and her art, making her stories so realistic that her readers feel as though they have jumped into the pages of the book.
Jan’s office is full to bursting with glorious mementos from her travels – these keep her inspired while she paints and writes. This is something from which we can all learn. It is integral to surround ourselves, as artists and writers, with objects and stories and people that inspire us, that light the fire under our feet to pursue our dreams. We cannot be content to be content. We must always reach for new heights, and the best way to do this is by keeping our minds AND our hearts engaged. Jan Brett has mastered this by discovering her deep passion for travel, and if each of us finds this sort of inspiration, we, too, can be renowned in our respective genres.