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   from the issue of October 26, 2006

  Illustrator paints characters toward children

Harvey (and others) frolic in Mike's mind


Mike Jackson has a special place reserved for Harvey - and, it's far from Canfield Administration Building.

BUILDING UP - Mike Jackson, an illustrator in the Instructional Design Center, applies watercolor to an underdrawing of
 BUILDING UP - Mike Jackson, an illustrator in the Instructional Design Center, applies watercolor to an underdrawing of "Grog," one of the many characters he has developed over the years, in his basement studio. Jackson's hobby led him to the fantasy gaming industry and now to developing children's books. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

Resting between Grog and Melvin, Harvey is one of hundreds of creatures spawned by Jackson's imagination. An illustrator by trade, Jackson has worked in the Instructional Design Center for 10 years. He enjoys helping faculty, staff and students with their projects, but it's after hours that Jackson's true colors shine.

"These monsters just come out of my head somewhere," said Jackson. "My wife wonders about me sometimes. And, I know my family does. But, for me this is fun."

A life-long sketcher, Jackson was pushed into the gaming industry by a friend in 2001. He created a 10-painting portfolio and joined the friend at a gaming conference in Chicago. Jackson's work earned numerous commissions - mainly as artwork on fantasy gaming cards and covers for industry magazines.

"I started off doing stuff for any company that liked what I did," Jackson said. "Then I started to scale back and, in 2003, I decided to transition to children's books.

"I guess I just got tired of painting people fighting and all the violence. I wanted something less violent for myself."

The creatures manifest in Jackson's head - some quickly, others at a slow boil. Sketchbooks are always close at hand, with one in nearly every room of the house.

When an image is ready to move from sketchbook to painting, Jackson lays out an under drawing (which adds detail and depth to each piece) then applies a light-tan wash to the paper. Color is layered in, with most paintings taking a few hours.

"From sketch to finish, most of the paintings take around a day," Jackson said. "Average is probably eight hours or so."

He is inspired by variety of artists - Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip; Jim Henson of Muppet fame; Alex Ross, comic book artist; Ernest H. Shepard, who drew the original Winnie the Pooh; and (of course) Maurice Sendak's drawings in the children's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are."

Since shifting away from the gaming industry, Jackson said people are more interested in his work. He has participated in three exhibitions, including a Halloween-inspired show on display through Nov. 3 in the East Union.

CODEY'S MONSTER - Harvey waves in this image from Mike Jackson's book-in-progress,
CODEY'S MONSTER - Harvey waves in this image from Mike Jackson's book-in-progress, "Codey's Monster." Jackson used his nephew as a source of inspiration for the imaginative Codey. Courtesy image.


The images in the show will be used to jump-start a Halloween book.

"Originally this was going to be my take on monsters," Jackson said. "But, these five kids kept popping up and it slowly became about them."

The exhibition follows the children as they trick-or-treat their way through a mansion filled with monsters.

"The house is not haunted. Instead it's where the monsters actually live," Jackson said. "As they go through the house they look in different rooms and encounter the monsters. They are basically escaping, but they don't realize they received candy until the end."

Jackson said he will continue to refine the images, then write the words for the book.

Two books - one used on campus - already bear Jackson's work.

The first, "Derailing Resistance," was produced with John Maag, professor in special education and communicative disorders. The book was written by Maag, who uses it in his UNL courses.

The other is, "Beats, Boots and Bats," a children's book for the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

He hopes to push the Halloween tale and a work featuring Harvey toward production this year.

"I always have these ideas and I'm going to keep working on them," Jackson said. "If the books get published, great. If not, that's OK, because I'm doing something that I truly enjoy."

And, for the record, Jackson said his Harvey was on paper before Harvey Perlman was installed as UNL's chancellor.

"Harvey has been in my head a long time," Jackson said. "I've developed him over the last eight years. He is not based on our Harvey."



Harvey (and others) frolic in Mike's mind
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Masters return Nov. 1 to share with students
Review team begins 3-day visit Nov. 6
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