From the time Newburyport resident Sean Bixby was a child, he filled notebooks with drawings of invented characters. In his sketchbooks, inspired by comic books, cartoons and his Merrimac backyard, a character he returned to repeatedly was dubbed Pancake Man. The evolution of Pancake Man, who today looks like a cross between the Hulk and something crying out for maple syrup, is illustrative of the principles of character development that Bixby hopes to inspire in children through his teaching.
Today as an art educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator, he hopes to bring his childhood love of drawing alive for children ages 8 to 14 in a series of illustration and comic book workshops at the Merrimac Library in February and March. His aim is to inspire children to draw from their imaginations and invent characters and worlds that they can return to time and again.
“Many kids will come to my workshops with characters that they draw all the time. I show them how easy it is to create characters. I ask them, ‘What is this character about, what is their back story?’” he said.
Bixby says he hopes to inspire other children to develop art as a positive outlet in their lives as it has been for him.
“Regardless of whether kids want to pursue art as a career, it is still something for positive self-development,” he said.
Bixby shows children the importance of developing a story arc, pacing and strong characters.
“I like to see pictures move the story as much as the text. Every page has to be a page turner with a children’s book. Each image is geared to get you to turn the page,” he said.
A graduate of Merrimac elementary and middle schools and Pentucket Regional High School, Bixby credits his local education with helping him see the possibilities of art as a career. When he was a student at the Donaghue School, he recalls an assembly where a professional illustrator showed the pictures he had created for a published story written by a student.
“The assembly affirmed for me that it was possible to be a professional illustrator when I grew up,” Bixby said.
The first workshop is entitled “An Introduction to the world of Illustration with Sean Bixby” and will be offered on Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. for children ages 8 to 12.
In March he will offer a two-part series called “Intro to Comics with Sean Bixby.” Intended for children ages 8 to 14, the two sessions of the workshop will be on consecutive Thursdays, March 13, and March 20 from 6 to 7 p.m.
Although the workshop registration is filling, there remains space, according to Tracy Shaw, associate youth services librarian.
“Sean is great with the kids and he has ties to the community. He shows that somebody from a small town can do wonderful things. He is great because he continues to give back to his community. Even though he has moved on, he never forgets his roots in Merrimac,” she said.
Bixby is a 2007 graduate from the Art School of Hartford in Hartford, Conn. In 2007 his art was selected from among the notebooks of all current student illustrators by school alum James Dongweck. Dongweck was at work on his second children’s book and wanted to use a graduate of the school for the illustrations.
Bixby and Dongweck went on to win a silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for their book “The Uncrossable Canyon.” They have just published a sequel entitled “The Goblin’s Story.” Both books are available through Golden Monkey Publishing, through www.seanbixby.com and locally at the Book Rack.
The workshops are free and open to the public with registration at 978-346-9441. They are paid for with state aid to public library grant money.