By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
Art show “Cat in the Night” offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the illustrative work of OBU assistant professor of Art Joshua Brunet.
The show displays the oil painting illustrations Brunet created for publication in the children’s book “Cat in the Night” by Madeleine Dunphy.
The book tells the story of Rusty the cat’s night time adventures. The show is free and will remain on display in the OBU art building through homecoming weekend in November.
Brunet’s display shows the detail and effort that goes into making of a single children’s picture book.
“What I wanted to do with the show was to not only show the final images but to show the process as well and the sketches and the conversations, the kind of artistic conversations that happen between the illustrator and the author,” Brunet said.
The process of illustration “Cat in the Night” began with a phone call.
“My agent called and said ‘do you draw cats?’ [and I said] ‘I don’t but why not? It’s an animal and, well, I can draw animals’ and she said, ‘draw me a few cat sketches,’” Brunet said.
Then in April of 2015 Brunet got word about the publisher’s decision through his agent.
“She decided that I was the guy for the job,” he said.
Next came drafting the layouts.
“The first thing I’ll do is start off with a series of thumbnail drawings on a 32-page layout,” Brunet said. “So, I’ll have these tiny little thumbnail boxes on a big sheet of paper and do the entire children’s book really rough but just to see how it all flow and relates right from the very beginning.”
These layouts are based around the text of the book.
“Each publisher’s different but basically, they will break down the body of text, like this will be on page one and two, this is gonna be on three and four,” he said. “So, they give you some idea of what they want where and then just how the paragraphs break down especially with children’s books. It’s usually pretty obvious ‘cause there’s usually some sort of ebb and flow to the words and the meter of the story.”
After complete the layout he moved on to rough drafts, and more drafts.
“There’s this constant process of sending what you think is fine and then somebody else going through it and looking at how it reads and showing people in their world, the publishing world, and then sending it back with suggestions,” Brunet said.
Three drafts of each of the final images are included in show next to the final painting, showing the way the concept and details of each spread changed throughout the process.
Part of the early draft work focused on finding a way of portraying the main cat character in a way that satisfied both Brunet and the author/publisher.
“Early on, after I kind of figured out the flow of the story, then I need to go back in and get a pretty good sense of how cats are built, how they move,” Brunet said. “So I’m observing cats in real life, I’m watching way to many YouTube videos of cats just seeing them do different things, fight with their own or with toys, running and then trying to understand the breakdown.”
He also used several more hands-on methods to find clues for portraying the cat.
“There’s a few poses in here where you can’t find a cat to pose exactly the way you want or even find the right google image,” he said.
“I mean you can find two or three that kind of fit the image you’re looking for but not exactly so you can mix all those together but you have to know what’s happening underneath the skin,” Brunet said. “So, I did some early sketches.”
He also used clay modeling to help him understand how to depict one of the images.
“The one specifically in this show, I was trying to figure out how cats might fight and fall,” he said.
These sketches and the model are in the foyer of the art building as viewers enter the art show space.
However, the inspiration for one of the cat images in the book came from a slightly unusual source: his son Coleson Brunet.
“I was doing that first image of the girl laying in bed and in the story the cat’s named Rusty and that’s her cat,” Brunet said.
As he sketched out his ideas he ran into some roadblocks.
“It was my idea to hang some pictures that she had drawn of him next to her bed,” Brunet said. “And in my original sketches it was just me sketching out simple cat drawings like maybe a kid would. And when the publisher sent back her notes and she had asked a lot of friends and other publishers and everybody said ‘oh we like the idea of her having sketches of the cat in her room, but it looks like an adult trying to draw like a kid’.”
It was the publisher who proposed the solution.
“She said […] could you find a seven-year-old to draw a picture of a cat and we’ll use that,” Brunet said. “And so my son was seven years old so I said ‘Coleson, draw me some cats that look like this guy.’ So he drew two or three different ones and I kind of took what he did and filled it in a little bit more with value and color to match the rest of the illustrations.”
When the book was printed, Coleson’s name showed on the book’s acknowledgement page.
“He even now considers this our book, like we did this together,” Brunet said.
The final images were painted over the course of about four months.
“In that process is then drawings on Bristol board which is like a really thick posterboard,” Brunet said. “It handles a lot of mixed mediums, and then I’ll cover it with a special, it’s essentially Elmer’s glue, it’s fancy artistic Elmer’s glue called […] matte medium and it protects the paper and then I do oils on top of that and if I hadn’t protected it then the oils would just seep in and ruin the drawing and ruin the paper and colored pencil.”
This series of illustrations developed relatively quickly – in about four months of work.
However, the work often takes longer.
The project wrapped up in 2016 and Brunet is still searching for another illustrative project.
“Nothing just comes like that [snaps fingers] and I think when you think it’s got to be like that it’s a lot of pressure,” he said.
When artistic work is viewed as a process rather than an instant result, it becomes more achievable.
“The rough sketches can be appreciated alongside the final images and again each step of the way has its own beauty and you can appreciate it,” Brunet said. “But just the idea that this didn’t just come together. It’s a process and it’s something that anybody could accomplish.”
Understanding these processes from both an artistic and commercial point of view is important in illustration.
“The nice thing about Josh [Brunet] is that he understands fine arts really well, but he also understands the production process that comes along with commercial art,” associate professor of graphic design, chair of division of art and design and Ruth Jay Odom Professor in Fine Arts Corey Fuller said.
“And so he’s very familiar with pre-press and how you get something from your final comp[osition] that you’ve created, get it to a press and then get it turned into a book.”
“Cat in the Night” is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for 15 dollars.