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Artist and Cartoonist

by Richard Vasseur - (Posted: 8/19/2007)

Robert W. Brunelle Jr

Richard: Why do you think you started drawing?

Robert: I was a sedentary child, due to the fact that I had chronic migraines. Thus, while the other lads were running about in the fresh air and sunshine, I was indoors, passing the time copying pictures of my favorite comic strip characters. I was fortunate enough to be a kid during the last golden age of newspaper comics, when most of the old time strips from the 1920s, 30's and 40's were still being published. The Sunday Funnies in those days were an inch thick! I learned how to use pen and ink by looking at the work of Charles Dana Gibson, and I learned about setting up panels and punchlines by looking at the work of Al Capp.

Richard: What do you personally get out of drawing?

Robert: Art is "concretized" thought. That is, it is abstract ideas made solid. I never outgrew my childhood thrill of making my daydreams real on paper!

Richard: Why do you use acrylic paint?

Robert: I was trained in art school to be an oil painter, and for the first 15 years of my art career I painted only in oils. However, oil paints, and the solvents used with them, are toxic, and led to health problems. Also, used oil paints and solvents are considered toxic waste, and are very hard to dispose of properly. I switched to acrylics about a decade ago because they are safer. It was difficult at first to make the transition, because the rapid drying time of acrylics made certain painting techniques impossible. I had to learn how to mix colors quickly! However, acrylics are very durable, and since they dry quickly, the artist can correct mistakes and make changes within hours, rather than waiting days. In the early years galleries preferred oils to acrylics, but thankfully those attitudes are changing nowadays.

Richard: Do you enjoy teaching others about art?

Robert: I do if they have a genuine interest! Art is made of two parts, The Poetry, and The Technique. The Poetry is what the artist has to say, and the The Technique is how the artist says it. Technique can be taught, but The Poetry cannot! We art teachers can only teach the technique. Poetry without Technique is clumsy and inarticulate. Technique without Poetry is trite and slick. Great art happens when the artist finds the right technique to express his or her Poetry. A talented person is merely someone whose Poetry has motivated them to devote hours of practice to acquire their Technique. Anyone can learn Technique, but if one is not motivated by the Poetry, one will find all those hours of practice to be very tedious.

Richard: You also draw with pen and ink what type of drawings do you do?

Robert: Most of my paintings begin as drawings. I like drawing with old fashioned dip-type ink pens, because they can make many weights of line with one nib. My drawings usually feature many fine line details that are later edited out of the paintings. Ink, of course, is also the ideal medium for cartooning.

Richard: You have an interest in antique comic books can you tell us about that?

Robert: I am very interested in history, especially the years between 1850-1950. I am a great admirer of the early comic strip pioneers, especially Winsor McCay, author of the greatest of all comic strips; Little Nemo In Slumberland. Those early comic strip artists had greater freedom, more space, and a greater range of colors to work with than do the cartoonists of today. My students are astonished when I show them examples of McCay's work!

Richard: Which artists do you admire?

Robert: In addition to McCay, my "Art Heroes" are Edward Hopper, Goya, Brueghel, Robert Crumb, C.D. Gibson, Al Capp, Daumier, Roy Lichtenstien, Edward Gorey, Maxfield Parish, Chuck Jones, Charles Addams, Gahan Wilson and Tex Avery.

Richard: How would you describe your cartoonist drawing style?

Robert: When I first started to draw cartoons, in my youth, I had a "big foot" style, similar to the comic strip Broom Hilda. My characters always had big noses, three fingered hands, and a minimum of details. When I launched my political cartoon strip Mr. Brunelle Explains It All in the 90's, however, I changed my style so it was less broad and "cartoony", and more like strips such as Doonsbury. I don't allow my characters to "squash and stretch", but instead they conform to the physical laws of the real world. I do try to keep the style simple, so I can draw the strip rapidly. I avoid shading, and instead compose each panel in sold blacks and whites.

Richard: What other jobs have you held?

Robert: I have been an art teacher for 27 years, but before that I was a librarian and a museum curator. For a brief period I also worked in a pinball arcade, back when Space Invaders was considered "high-tech"!

Richard: What do you do with any free time you have?

Robert: I am a violinist, and I spend my spare time repairing and playing old fiddles. I also collect 19th century photography and old books. I am also the president of the Northern Vermont Artists Association (to learn more about the NVAA, visit )

Richard: Who is Grace Brunelle?

Robert: Grace is my wife, and fellow artist. We have adjoining studios in our home.

Richard: What is most important to you in your life?

Robert: Like most artists, I value free time more than anything else. I divide life between "Time making art" and "Time not making art". The trick is to figure out ways to reduce the second and increase the first! I would rather be robbed of money than of time!

Richard: How can someone contact you?

Robert: People may email me at, or visit my website at

Richard: Any last words of wisdom?

Robert: Never try to make your art fit the "style du jour," or the current art world fad. Do what you like to do, and do it well, and eventually the art world will find you!

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