Cat's First Baby by Natalie Nelson

Hello, Natalie Nelson! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate Cat’s First Baby! Lou Grant, my 16-year-old orange tabby, stared at me as I read Cat’s First Baby (true story!). He reached out his right paw and meowed multiple times. I think he was saying, “I LOVE this book!” I agree with Mr. Grant! (Or maybe he was saying, “Cat’s First Baby is a WONDERFUL read aloud!”)

Natalie Nelson: Thank you so much for having me, John! It is an honor to be here. And I’m always delighted to hear that the humans AND pets of the household are equally enjoying my work.

Indeed! What should everyone know about the cat in Cat’s First Baby?

Natalie Nelson: Cat is a habitual, yet curious creature. He doesn’t crave attention from his humans, but he doesn’t dislike it either. Before the baby arrives, he has a very comfortable daily routine and he’s not at all interested in changing it. For example: his favorite sunbathing window is in the room his humans are now calling “the nursery”–does this mean he’ll have to find another sunbathing spot? Cat is not thrilled about this. And yet, this new baby seems to make his humans so incredibly happy (and also SO tired!)…maybe he can learn to appreciate this wiggly, squawking creature in his own way.

                                               Illustration Credit: Natalie Nelson from Dog's First Baby

Please tell us about the materials you used to create the art for Cat’s First Baby and Dog’s First Baby.

Natalie Nelson: My process is usually a hybrid of cut paper collage and Photoshop, but for these books I ended up creating them completely digitally. There were a few reasons for this:

I think that board book art often benefits from being bold and clean, since the art and text tend to be so minimal and baby eyes only take in so much in the early years. I felt I could keep the art sharper and tighter by sticking with digital, while still incorporating some of my favorite textures and messy linework here and there.

When I started working on this book it was May 2020, the early yet very troubling days of the Pandemic. I was worried that if I locked myself into a fully analog style, I might reach a point where I ran out of materials and wouldn’t be able to find what I needed to finish the job!

I was pregnant when I began these books–so I knew I’d be starting the artwork before baby, and finishing it after he arrived. I’ve had to work on the illustrations at all phases of my son’s early life, and much of that time I’ve not technically been in my studio. Working on my laptop at the kitchen table or other random spots in the house so I can keep an eye on my busy baby has proved very helpful!

So anyway, I worked in Photoshop exclusively for the final art for these books. I did make early collages of the dog and cat characters in cut paper, and then re-created them in Photoshop so I could keep the look of the art as close to my analog style as possible. I also incorporated scanned textures to give the art more of a collage-feel.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Cats have the most adorable, delicate features. It was such a switch from drawing so many dogs with huge noses and big, slobbery tongues.

Dog’s First Baby has truly come to life in my house. As I mentioned above, I wrote Dog’s First Baby when I was pregnant with my own first baby. My husband and I constantly joked about what Coach (our beagle) would think of the baby and how he might interact with him. We hoped and prayed and crossed our fingers that they would become pals. I had no idea what would actually happen IRL. But it has been the sweetest adventure watching the two of them become friends! Many of the scenarios in the book have played out almost shot-by-shot in my own living room. I hope to hear lots of cat and baby bonding stories from cat parents soon, too!

John Schu, you should have asked me if there is a real life cat who inspired the look of Cat in Cat’s First Baby. Yes! That cat is my sister’s tuxedo cat, Grandpa.

Thank you, Natalie! 

Natalie Nelson is an illustrator, picture book maker, and collage artist. Trained in graphic design and illustration, she works in a mixed media hybrid of cut paper, collage, and digital art, with an emphasis on intriguing shapes, textures, and layers. Her previous titles include Dog’s First Baby (Quirk 2021) and Holiday!. Her art is in demand from national clients including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Curbed, Eater, The Bitter Southerner, Teach for America, Vox Media, Mailchimp, and more. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, their dog, Coach, and their young son.

Look for Cat's First Baby on March 1, 2022.


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