The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . . In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. The seemingly simple They All Saw a Cat, gives an animal-eyed perspective of an approaching feline – who can appear friendly, fierce, fuzzy - depending on the viewer. The beautiful illustrations and lilting text offers young readers an opportunity to experience and explore perception, observation and imagination.
Brendan Wenzel is an illustrator based in upstate New York. His work has appeared internationally in children’s books, animations, and magazines. An ardent conservationist, he is a proud collaborator with many organizations working to ensure the future of wild places and threatened species, especially within Southeast Asia. Brendan is a graduate of Pratt Institute, and this is his debut childrens book. We were so thrilled to be able to ask him a few questions and find out more about his inspiration and process!
How did you become an illustrator and how long have you been doing this?
Both my parents are artists, so I was fortunate to start making pictures pretty early on in life. I graduated from Pratt Institute in 2003 and my first job out of school was creating an animation that was incorporated into a music video for the musician Joanna Newsom. I got that job by introducing myself to the directors- two incredibly talented guys- who ended up teaching me a ton about making art and working collaboratively. After that first project I spent many years working as a sort of creative handy man, doing everything from art direction to puppet design, the whole time developing book ideas whenever I could find a spare minute or two. Years later, in 2013, Angela DiTerlizzi contacted me about teaming-up on her book Some Bugs, after coming across some of my work online. Having wanted to work in picture books most of my life, that call was a pretty momentous occasion.
How would you describe your style? Has it changed since you started?
My process and the materials I use tend to change a bit from book to book depending on the tone of the text. It’s fun for me to push outside the boundaries of familiar approaches, and keep an eye out for the thread that ties things together. That being said I use a lot of watercolor and cut paper, and they both frequently end up in the mix. Aside from the smaller shifts from book to book - I don’t feel like my work has changed drastically in recent years, though my images from art school were much different.
What other artists have influenced your work?
Many! Quentin Blake has been a huge influence. There may not seem to be a ton of commonality in regards to our approach, but the energy and tone of his work has always blown me away. As I mentioned before my dad is the illustrator David T. Wenzel, and he has also taught me a ton about making pictures. Other artists currently hanging in my studio include: Maurice Sendak, Peter Sis, Leo Lionni, Lois Elhert, The Henris - Rousseau and Matisse, Ben Shanh, Georgia O’keefe, Bruno Munari, and Alice and Martin Provensen.
Where do you work? Can you describe your studio or usual work space.
My wife and I rent a little house in upstate New York, and my studio is a third story room with a low ceiling and a big standing desk my father in law helped me build. The wall in front of my desk is covered from top to bottom in any and all images that are resonating with me at the time, as well as things like bird feathers, colorful currencies from around the world and anything else that might get me excited to work. I do everything I can to maintain a playful atmosphere, so that even on a rainy day, I can walk into the space and feel excited to make pictures.
Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?
I just turned in final artwork for the book LIFE by Cynthia Rylant, a beautiful manuscript I was privileged to illustrate. I am also having a blast making work for my second project as author and illustrator with Chronicle. I can’t say too much yet, but I am thrilled to share that I have been creating images of some of my favorite creatures from around the world!
Do you have a favorite picture book?
It’s such a tough question to answer. There are so many that have stuck with me. Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen is one that I loved as a kid and that made a huge impact. I still have dreams that feel very much like that book.
We are so thankful for Brendan taking the time to answer some questions for our Tiny Readers audience and couldn't be more excited about the new release! Here are a few interior images from They All Saw a Cat, courtesy of Chronicle Books.
You can watch the trailer, download an activity kit, and preorder They All Saw a Cat here from Chronicle Books!