OBU Art Professor’s Illustrations Bring Children’s Books to Life

October 19, 2016

OBU Assistant Professor of Art Joshua Brunet has always loved to draw.

“For me, it was always obvious and easy. I always knew I wanted to go into art. In high school, I had a great art teacher. I didn't know what kind of art I wanted to do, but looking back, I probably should have known I wanted to do illustrations. I've always liked illustrations in novels, [album] covers, and movie poster art. As a young kid, I always watched Reading Rainbow. They would open up the books and the pictures would come to life and tell the story.”

From now through Nov. 22, a selection of Brunet’s illustrations will be on display in the gallery in the OBU Art Building, just south of University and west of Kickapoo on the campus of OBU in Shawnee. Many of these illustrations have graced the pages and covers of published children’s books. His most recent, “Cat in the Night,” released last month and is available on Amazon.com.

Those early years of drawing led Brunet to study art. While he loved to draw, it was in college where he truly found his niche.

“When I got to college, my professor, Ron Mazellan at Indiana Wesleyan, was an illustrator. We had a lot of things in common and he showed me that world. I realized I could do all the things I liked as a kid. Before he was teaching, he did some work on movie posters and had ties with the movie industry. A lot of the things he was doing and he liked, those were the things I liked as well.”

Brunet has a passion for illustration, one he has harbored since his own childhood.

“That's just what I've always enjoyed as a kid. Some kids love baseball, and then just can't continue in it. For me, I just loved children's books and I loved poster art. It's just something I kept following and focused on. I've been lucky to be able to find work in that field.”

After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan with a Bachelor of Science in illustration, Brunet started looking for freelance illustration opportunities and landed some jobs with Focus on the Family magazine. As a hobby, he began putting together illustrations for a children’s book, “When Pigs Fly.” It wasn’t until 10 years later that he found an author and published the book. Over the ensuing years, he realized a passion for two things: illustrating children’s books and teaching.

He and his family soon moved to Tennessee, where he went to work for LifeWay on their “Mature Living” magazine. He had a great connection with the publication’s art director, who gave him room to grow. He was also challenged through the process and speed with which he had to complete assignments.

After working for LifeWay and other clients for several years, he decided to go to graduate school and become qualified to teach.

“I called up Ron Mazellan about what to do about my degree. He had just finished the Master of Fine Arts from Hartford Art School and told me about it. It was a limited residency program and it was really amazing. I got to work with professors who were my heroes in illustration.”

Brunet enrolled and earned his own MFA in illustration in 2011.

He continued showing his work to various publishers and ultimately received a call from a company who was working on a project titled “I’m in Love with the Big Blue Frog.” It was based on a song by legendary American folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary.

“In working with the contract, they wanted me to have an agent. So, I worked with the agent used by Ron Mazellan. When the contract was done, we wanted to work together and continued doing so. That has worked out really well, so I can focus on teaching while she finds me the [freelance] jobs.”

Brunet’s work has seen commercial success through “Blue Frog,” “When Pigs Fly,” “When Butterflies Cross the Sky,” and many other works. In addition to his children’s book illustrations, continues doing many other freelance projects, staying current in the field.

“I do a lot of work for illustrations in elementary school textbooks. Just for fun, I'm always working on side projects. I'm also working on some children's book ideas that I've been developing as both an artist and author.”

After serving as an adjunct professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, from 2009-14, Brunet had the opportunity to serve as assistant professor of illustration at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Lakewood, Colorado. He was later promoted to on ground head of illustration.

When he learned of the opening at OBU, he was intrigued by the chance to teach at a Christian university. When he checked the job posting on the OBU website, he saw a familiar name.

“I looked at the website and saw that Chris Mathews had been hired [as the dean of the College of Fine Arts], and I knew him from teaching at Union. I had illustrated some stuff for “Mature Living” magazine and used his family as models for the illustrations.” He likewise knew OBU Director of Admissions Will Brantley, and had attended Sunday School with him in Tennessee at one point in time.

With the door open for a new adventure, Brunet and his wife, Julia, who is originally from Oklahoma, along with their four children, packed up and moved to Shawnee.

“I think coming to OBU was a great opportunity to continue to teach art. My background is in smaller liberal arts Christian universities, like Indiana Wesleyan and Union. Hartford wasn't Christian but was also a liberal arts college.”

The move has been good for him and his family, and he is excited to work with OBU art students as they train for their professional careers.

“It’s fun to work with students to help them enhance their skills and talents, then show them all of the career paths they can take, whether drawing, painting, digital illustration or graphic design,” he said. “I think my illustration experience helps show OBU students that there is another place they can go make money as another career option.”

When not illustrating or teaching, Brunet, his wife Julia, and their four children: Cara, Caleb, Coleson, and Carter, enjoy spending time together in the outdoors. They also enjoy playing and watching baseball and softball.