Mute Swan Illustration

I have always had a love of swans, but Mute Swans in particular.  They are known as birds that are legally protected in Britain by HM Queen Elizabeth II.  I rather think they match being a royal bird as the regal way they bow and raise their heads is grace personified.  I also admire the way that they glide serenely on a lake, whilst their legs are frantically going like the paddle wheels of a riverboat steamer beneath the almost unrippled surface!

I do know swans have gained, with some people, rather an aggressive reputation, but I think their protective ways are much needed in a world where irresponsible dog owners let their dogs run after and threaten (and on occasions kill) cygnets.  I have also seen children throwing stones and bricks at these beautiful birds, so is it any wonder that many of them are very protective especially to their young?  I can see the swan’s point of view and have to say that with all of my many up-close-encounters with swans have all been tranquil and placid.

Mute swan by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogfinal
I found a nice photograph of a mute swan preening its feathers in the shallow waters of a lake and decided that I would draw it in soft pastels.  I was rather pushed for time, but I was also needing to use up some creativity that was bubbling to the surface that day.  With this in mind, I did the drawing on a very small scale and on a very textured paper.  This wasn’t the best of ideas, as the texture was perhaps a trifle strong for a drawing that small, so much so, I put the illustration aside for a while after only doing a small part of the background.  Later, with a little bit of persuasion from a friend, I was encouraged to persevere with it, which I did rather begrudgingly (time always being a much prized and scarce commodity with me). 

After half-an-hour of sustained colouring with my pastels, I started to enjoy the drawing for the act of drawing and being creative, rather than trying to complete something that was ‘pleasing’ to me…  As it happens, it pleases a friend of mine very much, who has kindly requested it for his brother – an ardent nature lover.

I finished the mute swan today and have learned a few lessons from it, firstly that textured paper and small drawings have a conflict of interest and secondly that enjoying doing something is sometimes more important than the finished result…


A ‘Joyful’ Illustration

Whilst I was continuing my perpetual cleaning spree of my study, I unearthed this picture from my college days’ archive.  It is a coloured pencil illustration that was given to me circa 1997 by a friend and fellow student, Hazel Joy Shields, known to her friends as Joy.  I got to know Joy in my second year at College and what made the biggest connection between us was the fact that she was from the North East, (Blyth, Northumberland to be exact) and I was from Durham.
Joy's picturecompleteforblog
My nickname from my friends at Cumbria University of Arts was ‘Quiffer’ due to the wave-like quiff I had in those days and in this illustration Joy has drawn me with my distinctive hairstyle.  I am rather pleased that she has drawn my caricature as the wizard, (with the obvious power over the smoke-breathing dragon) and not one of the helpless knights quaking at the sight of it.  The knight in pink armour is my friend, Paul Drury, who hails from Huddersfield and the green-clad knave with the blonde hair is my friend, Andrew ‘Andy’ Smith from Wakefield.  I don’t know if either of the two Yorkshire lads will have seen this illustration or not before or whether it will be a surprise for them…

It was wonderful finding this illustration, still in perfect condition, amongst my papers, as it has brought back so many happy memories of my days of yore in Carlisle.  This cartoon illustration was done before the adventures of Harry Potter came into being, but maybe Joy had a bit of the foresight to see the potential in wizards, castles and knights in shining armour…

Annabelle – Girl’s Birth Picture

Whilst my role as a teacher allows me to meet some great learners, it also gives me the opportunity to meet some really nice people who support the learners to achieve the best results they can.  I have worked with many support workers, but the ones that I have worked with over the last two terms have been some of the best.  These have included (in alphabetical order): Amanda, Danielle, Jess, Nathan, Neil, Ronnie and Tom.  Annabelle by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogWorking closely with learners and their support workers in the classroom give you a real insight into the kindness and patience people have for those that they care for and in time you get to know these people and find out about their families and their interests.

One of the above named support workers, Nathan, was telling me about his family on one occasion: about his wife Tracey, their four-year-old daughter named Annabelle and their young son, named Max.  Annabelle is a fan of My Little Pony and also likes unicorns (but then who doesn’t?).  He requested me to do an illustration for Annabelle, which he and Tracey would present to her on her fifth birthday this month. 

Inline with his daughter’s interests, Nathan requested ponies, flying horses, unicorns – things of a fairytale theme, with the main colours of pink and blue, which are Annabelle’s favourite colours.  I made a suggestion of trying to include Annabelle in the illustration and bearing in mind the size of the illustration this was easier said than done, as I was illustrating a face that was so small on paper!  I had to use my finest pencils and a magnifying glass to see what I was doing.  I took a deep breath and whilst biting my tongue did the drawing, trying not to overdo it.  It was white-knuckle time!

I got a message from Nathan to say that the illustration is fantastic and his colleagues have also given me such great feedback about the drawing.  I hope the illustration was a highlight of Annabelle’s birthday and that when she is older it will bring back the most special memories of a wonderful birthday and a personalised gift from her loving father and mother.

The art of saying ‘thank you’…

I have a small number of very close and special friends, who send me Christmas presents.  I am a very lucky man in that respect.  I am told ‘friendship works both ways’ – basically you reap what you sow.  I have always put a good deal of effort into my friendships and I am very blessed to know some truly terrific people.  This 25th December I received another beautifully wrapped bundle of gifts, which included a purple jumper, a carved giraffe figurine, giraffe stationery (I am fond of giraffes) and some beautifully scented candles, amongst other things.

Thank you cards 2 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
On Christmas Day (I like to be on the ball) I had my delicious luncheon made by my mother, Carole, and immediately after doing the washing-up, I started making the thank you cards to send to my friends and family.  I had some coloured card and started sketching out a few ideas that would not be too time consuming.  I only had about 2-hours to complete and write out fifteen cards!  I also tried to make sure that the cards could easily be personalised.  I did a few different designs, to keep me interested and also changed colours for a bit of variety.

Thank you cards 0 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon   Thank you cards 1 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
As soon as the Post Office was open, I darted down to buy some stamps and post my thank you cards…hoping that they would not get too caught-up in the late Christmas post.  I have already received some nice text messages saying thank you for the personalised cards.  This could start a contagious ‘wave of gratitude’ and don’t you think that would be simply wonderful? 

I will conclude this blog post by saying “thank you to you” for taking the time to read my posts this year…it is most appreciated…

When autumn leaves start to fall – Bear-a-thought illustration

It seems many, many years ago that I was working on this ‘When autumn leaves start to fall’ illustration.  All of the Bear-a-thought illustrations take me right back to the time I was drawing them.  This was an illustration that appeared in my 2006 calendar and was inspired by a famous song performed by the immortal Nat King Cole

I was chatting to a good friend recently who mentioned the  song and I thought that this illustration would make a very good blog post this month.  I have to be honest and say that I have a bit of a ‘downer’ about November and it’s my least favourite month, as I dislike being plunged into the dark days of autumn at the end of October.

In this illustration, I have tried to show November at it’s best with golden leaves and azure blue skies.  I chose one of my new teddy bears, named Raymond, for the illustration as I just thought he was so appealing in his blue duffle coat and I loved illustrating the cord buttons on his coat that are keeping him warm from the autumn chills.  I also really enjoyed drawing the golden-leafed oak tree in the background and I do remember putting some shapes in amongst the foliage.  I think there was a heart, a gingerbread man and a goldfish to name a few, though looking at the illustration now I can’t see them.

The leaves that our lovely little bear is bouncing on were quite difficult and rather monotonous to draw, but I wanted to give them the appearance of looking dry, brittle and ‘crackly’; the kind of bone-dry leaves you cannot resist running through and then watch them being whisked-off by the cool autumn breezes…

Autumn leaves of red, orange and brown, to the ground come fluttering down.
Raymond jumps to catch them as they fall, from the trees above – so big and tall.

Thoughts on Belinda Carlisle…

I was just a tad excited when I heard – at the beginning of the year – that one of my 1980’s singing idols – Belinda Carlisle was coming to the U.K. to do the ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ tour.

The news took me right back to 1989 when I was living in Langholm, Scotland, with my knitwear-designer colleague, Jennifer J. Kerr.  In our flat, I crooned along with Belinda every time her song ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ was played on the radio.  I think the name Belinda has a magical sound to it and the surname Carlisle, is also a place where I had lived and studied for years, so the name probably caught my attention for that reason alone, with the interest in her music coming later.

 Belinda Carlisle concertticket 10.10.17
I also remember having photographs of Belinda pinned to the inside of my wardrobe door and one of the photographs was a caption about how she had said that if she could save the whale by having all her teeth taken out she would do it.  That made her not only a fantastic singer but also a heroine!

 Belinda Carlisle The Collection CD cover
Imagine then my disappointment when having rang The Sage, Gateshead that there were no tickets available for the Belinda Carlisle concert on the 10 October.  The helpful sales assistant did say that I could try ringing back, as sometimes there were a couple of returns.  Day after day calls were made, but there were no returns.

Then one day, travelling from Maryport to my home in Durham, I was listening to Neil Diamond singing ‘A Solitary Man’ and the first words are…“Belinda was mine until the time…”  I thought it’s a sign to ring for tickets and the very next day two tickets were returned – and they were claimed – by me.  Some things are really meant to be…

The concert was great, of course, and Belinda sang all of the songs from her ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ album, along with a few extra songs, one of which is my personal favourite Belinda song ‘Summer Rain’.  I can honestly say that I have never seen an audience at The Sage, Gateshead dance as much; Belinda had them bopping in the rows from coming on stage…

Heaven is a place on earth CD Belinda Carlisle
I had to be back in the classroom the following day, so didn’t want to stay too late after the show…but I did get two signed Belinda Carlisle CDs, which I will treasure…

The Harvesters…

It’s almost scary that I drew this pen and ink drawing (later to be coloured with watercolours) almost 21 years ago.  I see that the completion date was ‘St. Ursula’s Day’ (which is the 21 October), so it’s almost ‘come of age’ this drawing in many ways than one.  I have done a number of book illustrations like this one over the years, but most of them I’ve sadly forgotten, but not this one.  This one takes me right back to the years when I was doing a lot of art, whilst also working hard in the world of newspapers…
The Harvesters by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
The reference material was largely my own photographs, as I can remember photographing these scarlet poppies which were growing in my family village of Tanfield (for those of you who know that area, it’s one of the fields on the industrial estate – opposite the sign to Tanfield Railway).  It was a gorgeous day and I was spending it with some of my family, Carole, Robert and Kirk.

This illustration took quite a long time to do, with the blurry effect behind the mice and the poppies in the foreground being the most time consuming.  I really enjoyed putting the details on the faces of the mice as they climb upon and nibble the swaying wheat.  When I actually spied some harvest mice I could not believe that they were so small; I also wanted to make sure that my trademark ladybird was not out of proportion with these tiny and elusive rodents.

I was rather taken aback by the popularity of this illustration and was delighted when it was reproduced as a greeting card and as one of the summer month illustrations in a rather classy calendar.  The original piece of artwork was purchased by Mr Alistair Thompson, from Scotby in Carlisle, after he saw it displayed at an exhibition.  I wonder if it’s still hung upon the living-room wall of his beautiful home to this present day…