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Empires of the Imagination

Empires of the Imagination

Students in a new Illustration studio taught by Mary Jane Begin develop cohesive styles and expressive characters to bring their stories to life.

Faculty member Mary Jane Begin reviews student work pinned to wall

Faculty member Mary Jane Begin 85 IL reviews work created by students in her new Illustration class.

Juniors and seniors majoring in Illustration are bringing the worlds inside their heads to life in Deep Dive Visual Development, a new studio taught by longtime faculty member and noted children’s book illustrator Mary Jane Begin 85 IL.

“Storytelling is a fundamental human act that crosses cultures, ages, ethnicities and genders,” says Begin. “These students—many of whom are interested in pursuing careers in animation—are exploring storytelling through character development, experimenting with body proportions, facial expressions and costumes, and honing in on an overall style and color palette that brings the story to life.”

three characters by Sofie Levin
Work in progress by senior Sofie Levin 22 IL.

“That clip out of the cat character’s ear is a brilliant detail.”

Mary Jane Begin

Students shared their work in a late-March class in the Illustration Studies Building and eagerly gathered feedback about how their emerging casts of characters are coming together. “That clip out of the cat character’s ear is a brilliant detail,” Begin told senior Sofie Levin 22 IL, “but I think you should consider adding whiskers, which are a great expressive tool.”

a student pins work to the wall for critique

multiple sketches of the same face explore expressions
Junior Will Roth 23 IL is working on a team of scientists conducting research in hell.

One student suggested that Levin play with the size of the yet-to-be-named cat character’s eyes, and another suggested accessories that would help express his scrappy personality and youth, such as a cucumber or other snack he could constantly munch on.

The characters created by junior Will Roth 23 IL are distinctly more human and form a team of scientists conducting research in hell. “I designed their protective suits based on diving gear and the suits astronauts wear in space,” Roth explains.

a group of students discuss work pinned on the wall

Begin describes Roth’s line as “delightful and energized” but wonders if the protagonist, Dr. Deeptha Singh, could use more work. “Her wild hair doesn’t seem to fit her controlling personality,” she notes, “and there are issues with the consistency of her features.”

The class saw four out of the five characters created by Mim Dow 23 IL as consistent, but asked her to consider tweaking sidekick Bowling Bill. “Maybe try playing with the shape of his head,” Begin suggests, “or give him disproportionately tiny feet.”

lineup of characters by Mim Dow

character study of King John the Small
Characters created for what Mim Dow 23 IL envisions as a possible TV series, including the uber-expressive King John the Small.

Feet were something of an issue for both Mia Rozear 22 IL and Teaghan Gokey 22 IL, whose respective characters dwell at the Mauve Motel and in a terrifying, post-apocalyptic city under siege. “I need to draw more shoes,” Rozear quips. “I’ve been drawing the same pair since high school!” But Begin appreciates that she has given each of her characters “little tells, like stains on the apron, that provide clues about their personalities.”

“I’ve been drawing the same pair of shoes since high school!”

Senior Mia Rozear 22 IL

Gokey put a lot of time into his characters’ intricate costumes and explains that Cradle’s oddly bent legs were fashioned after those of mountain goats. “I would study images of goat legs and human legs and try merging them,” Begin suggests, “and perhaps try simplifying Truc’s costume.”

character lineup by Mia Rozear

sketches of a war-era character named Jannik
Above, characters by Mia Rozear 22 IL at the Mauve Motel; below, the “bat-shit crazy” Jannik by senior Teaghan Gokey 22 IL.

Junior Frank Liu 23 IL is also honing in on costume design, focusing on color palettes that would best express his characters’ personalities. “Remember that color is a cue,” Begin notes. “What does the red in Kell’s costume tell us about who she is?”

“Each of the students has their own wonderful, distinct style,” says Begin, “and the content is all theirs. By the end of the term, they will have finished illustrations of their characters that reflect the idiosyncratic and personal interests they’re exploring in this class.”

—Simone Solondz / photos by Isabel Roberts

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