Illustrator and author couple share creative tips with local students

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 3, 2019

 Local artist Darrin Brege shows one of his characters while giving the audience advice on drawing during a presentation at Westwood Elementary School in Warren April 25.

Local artist Darrin Brege shows one of his characters while giving the audience advice on drawing during a presentation at Westwood Elementary School in Warren April 25.

Photo by Sean Work

 When visiting Westwood Elementary in Warren April 25, children’s author Karen Bell-Brege reads aloud from The Mick Morris series she and husband Darrin Brege published together.

When visiting Westwood Elementary in Warren April 25, children’s author Karen Bell-Brege reads aloud from The Mick Morris series she and husband Darrin Brege published together.

Photo by Sean Work

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WARREN — Several Warren Woods Public Schools elementary students have already decided what they want to be when they grow up.

The job titles include cartoonist, police officer, artist, taxi driver, rock star and football player. Some aspire to work with animals, while one particular student’s goal is pursuing culinary arts.

They shared their dream careers when local husband-and-wife children’s authors Darrin Brege and Karen Bell-Brege visited Westwood Elementary School April 25. The district’s Briarwood and Pinewood students also attended.

Brege and Bell-Brege have combined their talents to publish 14 children’s books, including the the Mick Morris series, which is loosely based on their son, Mick Brege. In the books, Mick and his friends Nathan and Sissy are always on the lookout for aliens. Brege is the illustrator, while Bell-Brege is the author.

And don’t forget to watch out for Sasquatch sightings when the pair are around. Their newest book, “Bigfoot and the Mitten,” follows Bigfoot and a robin as they explore several spots in the state, such as Mackinac Island, Frankenmuth and Detroit, including the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Brege and Bell-Brege, Michigan natives who met while serving up laughs on the local comedy circuit, love taking their books to schools to share them with students and teachers. Brege first showed a talent for drawing at the age of 3.

“His first picture was a spider, but it looked like a sun,” Bell-Brege said. “He drew it on his mother’s wall with a black permanent marker.” His mom was unfazed and “told him to keep practicing. We know to be good at anything, you have to practice.”

Bell-Brege, however, did not start out as a writer. She even told the students she wasn’t a good reader as a child, but overcame that.

“I liked to talk. I got my degree in broadcasting,” Bell-Brege said. Her first job was working at a radio station in Ocean City, Maryland. Her job required her to wake up at 3 a.m. for work, “but that was OK.”

While she was hired as a broadcaster, working in radio was actually where Bell-Brege’s writing career was born. One day at the radio station, she was asked to write a 30-second commercial. She didn’t miss a beat.

“It was about furniture,” she said. “I didn’t even have any furniture. Pretty soon I was writing as much as I was talking on the radio.”

She continued writing jingles. In time, Bell-Brege became homesick for Michigan and moved back to the Great Lakes State, where she continued her craft.

Bell-Brege, a fan of the Nancy Drew mystery series, told the students that “scary” books are her favorite. She also likes “funny ones.” For character ideas, she suggested, “Look around. Look at your friends. Look at your relatives. Look at your school.”

She offered some advice to the students.

“To be really good at something, you have to practice. You have to be a good reader,” the author said. “You have to be nice to everyone. If you are nice, people will normally be nice back. Follow your dreams for a happy life.”

The artistic Brege grew professionally when he was hired to illustrate several books for Michigan Chillers author Johnathan Rand. At Westwood, he used an oversized sketch pad to demonstrate how he draws different characters.

“Your eraser is your best friend,” he said while drawing up an image inspired by rock singer Bret Michaels.

“If you want to make this guy a zombie, what would you do?” Brege asked. “We can make him gross. … Have fun, artists. You are in charge. Tonight we’re here to inspire the whole process of writing books.”

The authors’ visit was one of several Title 1 funded family engagement events hosted during the school year.

“After the event, I had several parents comment on how engaging the presentation was,” Briarwood and Pinewood reading recovery teacher/first grade teacher Victoria Kreger said. “It’s always our goal to provide students with experiences that inspire them as readers and writers.”

For more information on Darrin Brege and Karen Bell-Brege, visit karenanddarrin.com. Their Instagram page is karenand darrin.

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