Meet the Author: Mary Jane Begin

Mary Jane is a WHS Class of 1981 alumni! We're excited to host her for this Winter Break event.
Explore all of her amzing artwork, read blog posts and more by the author!

The Winnacunnet High School Alumni Association has invited author and illustrator Mary Jane Begin for a special speaking engagement at the Lane Memorial Library on March 3rd at 3:30-5:00 pm. Mary Jane is a WHS class of 1981 graduate and currently resides in Rhode Island.

She began her career as an artist at a young age at Amesbury Elementary School. Her family later moved to Hampton, where she grew up on Homestead Circle. She started her freshman year at WHS and remembers with affection the times she spent biking to the beach with friends and collecting shells that she would use as references in her artwork.

In a recent interview, Mary Jane recalled that “Hampton was a wonderful, safe community to grow up in and I formed several of my most enduring friendships there. Returning to Hampton means seeing places that I have fond memories of from high school. Besides the beach, seeing the Galley Hatch brings back memories of a few first dates.”

Mary Jane also mentioned several of her teachers at WHS who left a deep impression.  “I adored Madame Patenaude who taught French and Mr. Devantry who taught Algebra, but Mr. Deshon, the long time chemistry teacher, was a stand out for me. Admittedly, he was disappointed that I didn't go into science, choosing art instead, but his teaching style definitely influenced my own rigorous expectations for my students at the Rhode Island School of Design where I teach in the undergraduate program in Illustration.”

Reflecting on her early inspirations as an artist she said, “One person who most influenced my decision to become an artist and who encouraged me with endless enthusiasm was Jill Berry, the longtime head of the art department at WHS.  I had her as a teacher the very first year that she taught there. She created such an inviting environment in the art department that we would hang out after school, just to be a part of this unique and engaging circle of creative energy. She inspired me to choose art and teaching, and for that, I'll always be grateful.”

That choice to pursue art has resulted in the publication of 13 books in addition to freelance work and teaching. She is showing a piece in the Cats in Hats Exhibition at the Springfield Museum in Springfield, MA, and the original artwork from her latest book  My Little Pony, the Dragons on Dazzle Island will be on exhibit in August, 2018 at the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, RI.

Tracy Williams, Vice President of the WHS Alumni is coordinating the event with Mary Jane.  The two are former classmates and both believe in the WHS “Warrior” spirit of perseverance and generosity. These themes can be found in Mary Jane’s personal work and the work of the alumni. Former WHS graduates like Mary Jane and Tracy stay in contact through Facebook, LinkedIn, and email. They work together to host annual luncheons were they raise money and prepare Pride Packages for recent alumni who have graduated from military training. They also attend school board meetings and present awards to an outstanding MCJROTC Senior and night school graduates.

Mary Jane’s talk at the Lane Memorial Library is open to all, with a suggested audience age of 8 years and older.  The library is located at 2 Academy Ave. in Hampton.


We recently got the chance to inteview Mary Jane and are thrilled to share her respones here!

 

When did you start drawing and writing?

I started drawing and writing when I was in first grade, at Amesbury Elementary School. The first illustrated story was an autobiography :)

What was a local influence on your work?

When we moved to Hampton, I had just started my freshman year at WHS.  We moved to a lovely neighborhood on Homestead Circle, and I would ride bikes with my friends to Hampton Beach.  I  collected shells to draw because I loved the color and shape of them. I have baskets of shells all over my house. They made a recent appearance in  my picture book My Little Pony, Under the Sparkling Sea.  I think I may have taken the characters on an adventure under water just so that I could draw shells!

What do you like the most about coming back to Hampton?

Hampton was a wonderful, safe community to grow up in and I formed several of my most enduring friendships there. Returning to Hampton means seeing places that I have fond memories of from high school. Besides the beach, seeing the Galley Hatch brings back memories of a few first dates.  No restaurant has ever surpassed the amazing Aquarian pizza they serve!  As a book worm,  I also spent a lot of time at the library, so it''ll be wonderful to be back among the stacks. Most importantly though, I'm really tickled to see some of those buds I mentioned, and hopefully a few familiar WHS fellow alums! 

Who was a WHS teacher that impacted your life?

I had so many truly gifted, caring and extraordinary teachers at WHS. I adored Madame Patenaude who taught French and Mr. Devantry who taught Algebra, but Mr. Deshon, the long time chemistry teacher, was a stand out for me. Admittedly, he was disappointed that I didn't go into science, choosing art instead, but his teaching style definitely influenced my own rigorous expectations for my students at RISD where I teach in the under graduate program in Illustration. I was saddened to learn of Mr. Kenney, the Driver's Education teacher's recent passing.  He was funny, irreverent and a delightful human being with a very kind heart.  When I was a senior, circumstances left me without a car to practice with or take my driving test in.  Mr. Kenney got special permission to allow me to use the Driver's Ed car so that I could take my test.  He was a very special person.  But the one person who most influenced my decision to become an artist and who encouraged me with endless enthusiasm, was Jill Berry, the long time head of the art department at WHS.  I had her as a teacher the very first year that she taught there.

She created  such an inviting environment in the art department, that we would hang out after school, just to be a part of this unique and engaging circle of creative energy. She inspired me to choose art and teaching, and for that, I'll always be grateful.

What was it like attending WHS when you were growing up?

I'll admit it, I've always been a bit of nerd, and really loved school.  Though I moved to Hampton and started WHS as a new kid, I quickly found my groove with the people who liked art, dance, literature, and science. I'm guessing that it was similar to most schools, with cliques and friend circles that don't overlap…but I found that my classmates were mostly good hearted and friendly. One friend in particular, Tracy Williams, the President of the WHS Alumni Association, was one of those people who was friends with everyone…and encouraged me to step outside my naturally reticent self and be more social. I'm sure that I ended up as Winter Carnival Queen one year, because of her excellent campaigning :) 

If you could tell your younger writer/artist self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself this:  Have the courage to push past the natural fear that will try really hard to hold you back.  It's scary to step out on a limb and make something no one else has ever made…you risk failing, sometimes miserably!  I've learned more in the rough patches of failure than any other time, and am grateful to those moments. Write it down, build it up, sing it loudly, paint it, draw it…make it your own. You'll never regret it, you'll only regret not trying.

When did you start working on MLP books?

I started working on the MLP books around 2010.  Because Hasbro is such a large company, everything moves a bit more slowly, and it took about a year to finalize the contract, then get started on writing and illustrating the book.

How many works have you published?

I've published 13 books so far, in addition to freelance work and teaching.

Are you showing your artwork at any galleries? Or have you in the past?

I've shown in museums and galleries across the country.  Right now, I have a piece in the Cats in Hats Exhibition at the Springfield Museum in Springfield  MA and my work is  currently on view at the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, RI. http://americanillustration.org/exhibitions/  In addition, I'll be having an exhibition of all the original art from My Little Pony, the Dragons on Dazzle Island in August , 2018 at the NMAI.

Who would be one author or illustrator that you'd love to collaborate with?

I'd love to collaborate with J.K. Rowling…more for her wildly inventive imagination than anything else!

What kind of research do you do when working on illustrations?

I spend a fair amount of time getting books from the library for content, searching for imagery on Pinterest and taking pictures for particular poses and lighting situations.  The research can be half the fun, because it's time spent learning about something new. I can get too caught up in this stage if left to my own devices!

How long on average does it take for you to finish an illustration or book?

A book can take anywhere from 6  or 8 months to 3 years…depending on the length of it and number of illustrations. The Wind in the Willows is a chapter book, and is illustrated in a complex style- that was a three year project- though I was teaching, doing freelance projects and raising two kids at the time I illustrated it.  A single illustration can take a day if it's a small single image of a character, or two weeks, if it's a complex scene.  It really depends on the complexity of the technique too. I worked in pastel and water color for both of the MLP books, and it helped to make detailed paintings take less time than the acrylic heavily layered approach of The Wind in the Willows.

What about your latest book did you find most challenging or invigorating?

The most challenging part of the latest book, My Little Pony, The Dragons on Dazzle Island was definitely drawing all those scales on the dragon.  It was one thing to draw  them in lines for the sketches, but when it came to the painting, I decided to make them iridescent (like shells!) and that was a real challenge to paint. In the end, I'm happy with how it all turned out.  The aspect of the book that I'm most proud of though, is the message of the story.  This book is about finding a place in our heart to care about someone else's babies- whether it is a pony or a dragon.The message to children and parents is  "Hug with all your Heart!"  Having an open heart and mind is a theme that holds true, especially in the world we live in today.

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