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July 12, 2016

Illustrating T.S. Elliot’s MACAVITY --- Guest Post from Illustrator Arthur Robins


Whether you're a feline fan or a Broadway fanatic, it's probably safe to assume that you've heard of "Cats," the hit musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. What you may not know, however, is that the play is actually based on OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS, a collection of poems by T. S. Eliot. One of the most popular poems focused on Macavity, a mysterious cat who has been given new life in MACAVITY, a new picture book with illustrations by Arthur Robins. In this post, Robins shares some sneak peeks of the book and discusses how he came to illustrate MACAVITY and what his process was like.


I saw “Cats” --- the wonderful musical --- in 1984, I would never have imagined that in 2014 I would be invited to illustrate MACAVITY.

First, I had to try and put aside the notion that these illustrations were for Faber & Faber --- publishers of a long list of Nobel Laureates as well as T.S. Eliot, one of the most important poets of the 20th century. No pressure there!

When I stopped shaking and composed myself, I began with the text --- reading and rereading it while scribbling in my notebook. I didn’t know where my scribbles where going, but they’re where images and ideas begin to form; they just need coaxing out. When I was satisfied I had something to show, I transferred my scribbles into a legible form as preliminary drawings for Faber's editor and designer.

It’s a collaborative endeavor; there will be suggestions and changes. Maybe my favorite illustration will be rejected and I will sulk for days, but it is all for the best.

When I proceed to the final illustrations, this is where I become a hermit and go into my cave for two months, I draw with an ancient dip pen and ink --- a curiosity among Mac Designers, I'm Jurassic to them.

I have very much enjoyed illustrating MACAVITY and have so far illustrated another four poems in T.S. Eliot's Practical Cats series. I see them as my Sistine Chapel and it may take me as long to finish.