Artist writes children’s book based on his Ocean City education

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Ocean City High School graduate Jim McHugh has achieved success as a freelance illustrator and recently penned his first book, Ocean City High School graduate Jim McHugh has achieved success as a freelance illustrator and recently penned his first book,

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City native Jim McHugh’s recently-released children’s book, “I’m a Professional Artist,” edited by Bruce Larkin and published by Wilbooks, is a big hit. The book chronicles the progression of McHugh’s work from the Ocean City Intermediate School to the high school, to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and beyond.

“It’s my first book. It’s pretty exciting,” McHugh said. “I’m already working on a couple more.”

The 1992 Ocean City High School graduate has created for a variety of weeklies in the Philadelphia and Seattle areas, numerous magazines and websites, as well as Universal Studios, Star Wars Kids magazine, Scholastic, the official PlayStation magazine and Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine.

Some of McHugh’s illustrations are of real people, others are characters that he makes up. Whether he’s creating images for a children’s book, a magazine, a display newspaper or teaching an art class, the freelance artist is happiest with a pen or paint brush in his hand.

Aimed at a second-grade audience, McHugh’s book details the evolution of his work, encouraging would-be artists that they too could be a professional artist.

In the book, he asks his young readers to take note of how much his art changed as he grew older. McHugh makes a point that education and hard work helped him hone his skills. He shows them how he went from a simple sketch on a blank piece of paper to now using a computer to create much of his art.  

McHugh, who lives in Woodbury, runs The McArt School, an after-school art program for young students, with his wife, Erin.

“If you pursue your passion, do what you enjoy, what you really love, eventually it will pay off,” he said.

McHugh said his passion and creativity were fueled by the winters of his Ocean City childhood. He said that before cell phones and computers, youngsters were forced to use their imagination.

“There were no cafes. There was no place to go. If you were a creative person, it was OK,” he said. “I would get lost in my drawing. I loved it.”

McHugh hit his stride at Ocean City High School where art teachers Rubina Dombrosky and Ginnie Mulford made an impression.

“I liked to draw cartoons, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbs, comic strips,” he said. “Mrs. Mulford got me to draw realistic stuff to build my portfolio up.”

At the University of the Arts, he took an anatomy class.

“You have to learn the rules before you can break them,” he said. “You have to learn the body, the skeleton, the bones, muscles. Once you learn how to do it the right way, you can make a caricature. I’m heavy into drawing people, one way or another. After a while, I got into my groove, creating my own take, my own style.”

His first caricature of a person that he knew was a grade school teacher.

“He was a strict teacher and I was a bit intimidated by him,” he said. “So I drew him as Rambo, with the muscles and the machine gun.”

The drawing was on the back of his notebook, along with some other doodles. One day a classmate showed the teacher. McHugh said he feared the teacher would be angry, but the teacher appreciated his talent.

McHugh produces realistic representations of his subjects, while also incorporating various props attributed to the person.

“I call them polite caricatures,” he said. “They are not the typical, distorted, exaggerated type. I try not to be mean. I am nice about it. I enjoy people’s faces and I try to capture what makes one person different from another, capture their unique qualities.

“I try to retain a sense of flattery, like old court portraits were meant to do. In a sense, they're stylized portraits almost more than caricatures.”

Mulford smiled when she recalled McHugh in her art classroom. She said the quiet, mannerly artist that sent her a signed copy of his first book is a sharp contrast to the budding artist she taught years ago.

“There was always laughter,” Mulford said. “He and Dan Funk nearly drove me nuts. They were so funny, so outrageous. Every class was an uproar, but we got the job done. Every day I would come in and think, ‘Now what?’ They were challenging, but rewarding. They conspired against me, always a step ahead. They were ornery, but wonderful.

“Jim so loved his work,” she said, adding that she felt honored that he showcased his high school work in his book. “He is the embodiment of hard work, he exemplified it. I’m so excited for him, extremely proud.”

Mulford said McHugh returned from time to time to teach an art class at his alma mater.

“He was born to be a teacher,” she said.

McHugh currently teaches a page design and production class at Drexel University. He has taught art workshops at schools and libraries, including The Rock School for Dance Education.

He has also been involved with The Keep A Breast Foundation, painting colorful and unique breast casts to help educate young people on the prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Having lost family members to the disease, McHugh said this has been his most meaningful work. 

The self-proclaimed pop art junkie once wrote the Top 5 of the Moment column for Philadelphia Weekly. McHugh said one of his favorite covers was the Sept. 6, 2000 issue. A Black Panther throwing his giant fist up in the air made him realize he had “made it” as an illustrator, he said.

McHugh said the illustration business has changed.

“When I started out, magazines and alt papers were a great place to find work as a freelance illustrator,” he said.

The Internet has meant less demand for print.

“So I have to be more creative to find work now,” he said.

McHugh’s website is www.mcillustrator.com and children's book website is www.themchughzoo.com.

Freelance illustrator Jim McHugh’s first book, Freelance illustrator Jim McHugh’s first book,


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