I have to say that this has been a very busy month for me, with commissions and college work and so much more… However, on a rare moment of relaxation, I sat down with my movie retro magazine and delved into the pages. I have always been a classical movie buff and one of the pictures featured a young and very debonair Cary Grant with his friend, Randolph Scott in their shared home in Santa Monica. I do like some movies with Cary Grant starring in them, one being ‘That Touch of Mink’ with Doris Day and also ‘Charade’ with Audrey Hepburn, but one of the best by far is ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ with Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre.
The film features the quirky (to say the least) Brewster family, which has a lineage of insanity. The young freshly-married Mortimer, played by Grant, returns home to announce his betrothal to his two maiden aunts. Far from being the ‘sweet faded roses’ that the two aunts appear to be, they are in fact taking it upon themselves of ‘ridding’ the town of sad, old men with little to live for – in fact killing them with kindness. Mortimer finds one of their most recent ‘mercy killings’ hidden in the house and tries to keep it all from the notice of his new and pretty wife, who probably wouldn’t understand.
Into the midst of this family chaos, Mortimer’s shady brother, Jonathan, comes to the house with the equally dubious Doctor Herman Einstein, as they flee capture for their foul deeds…and mayhem ensues throughout the rest of the movie…
The film is a black comedy, but has enough mirth and slapstick humour to keep the ghoulish acts of the aunts and brother Jonathan to a minimum, so even the most squeamish of souls can enjoy the humour… And when it comes to squeamish, believe me, I am the worst!
Cary Grant, actor, b: 18 January 1904 – d: 29 November 1986
Many, many years ago, whilst living in Carlisle, I did a series of movie star illustrations, all done in the form of stippling. Cary Grant was one of the movie stars I illustrated. I chose a very familiar ‘Cary pose’ – a most debonair, suited gentleman.
When my long-term friend from Carlisle, Helene Phillips, requested me to do a pencil portrait of her son-in-law, Lee’s dog, I was all too happy to oblige. I was sent over some puppy pictures of the adorable pooch, who is called Dougal, for the fairly obvious reason (I would imagine) that he resembles the cuddly canine featured on ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Lee’s wife Siobhan had secretly sent them, as the pencil portrait was a surprise for his birthday this month.
I am not the best judge of dog breeds, but I was very inquisitive to know what breed of dog this is, but I am still not fully sure, but a Shih Tzu was the closest I could guess at. I think I have drawn dozens of dog breeds now, but this is the first time I have done a dog such as this one. I am still waiting to do my first Dalmatian – so I am ‘putting that out there’.
Although I do a lot less mono illustrations than colour ones, I do really enjoy using only one or two pencils to complete an illustration, rather than chopping-and-changing all the time. I did enjoy drawing the picture of Dougal and trying to capture the mischievous look in his eye… I bet he is quite a charming rascal.
It was very pleased to hear that Lee was delighted with his picture of Dougal -, presented to him on his birthday and if it’s not too late, I would like to extend my best wishes for his special day too…
PS. Apologies for the poor photographic quality of this illustration, it was taken on my greatly inadequate and antiquated mobile phone.
If there are two things I love and cherish from my childhood it’s writing/posting letters and buying the stamps at the Post Office. My mum encouraged me with this (and it’s all her fault that I have no money because I am addicted to buying vast quantities of stamps!) and it has carried on into my adult life. Subsequently, I enjoy all of the new stamp issues released by the Royal Mail, as well as the range of definitive stamps (the different coloured ones, bearing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II).
I still write letters frequently to my friends and even once a fortnight to one friend in Carlisle, who writes back the following week. This has continued for over twenty-years. Quite an accomplishment really, in these modern times of computers and e-mail, for those that think that writing letters is ‘a dying art’.
It just so happened that my Dad, Robert, who is a carpenter and joiner, was making several wooden boxes for gifts and asked me if I could do some ‘art’ on them. One required a silhouette of a digger – with the legend ‘Demo Man’ on it and the others required postage stamps. I bought myself some sepia ink, which is guaranteed to be waterproof) to create the images on the wooden surfaces.
Well, I enjoyed doing the digger one, which was well received by Bob – the recipient, but I totally enjoyed doing the ones with the postage stamps depicted on them. I must admit it was a challenge painting Her Majesty’s portrait, as she is one person that I have admired throughout my life – as she is, in my opinion, a marvellous diplomat and head of state. I hope she likes my version of her portrait too. If so, I might even get a Royal commission one day.
I tried to make one of the portraits look like a silhouette done in marquetry (inlaid work made from small pieces of coloured wood or other materials, used for the decoration of furniture), whilst the other stamp portrait I did in the style of the Machin definitive stamps. The grain of the wood slightly changes the look of the images as it runs through them, but this makes it look so much more genuine. However, doing the copperplate-style scrolls in the corners I have to say wasn’t quite ‘a barrel of laughs‘.
I have dated them as it’s a nice way of remembering the year they were given and it makes these unique storage boxes much more collectable for future generations to enjoy…
One of my friends, Mary Redshaw, has commissioned a great many illustrations from me, but this time it was her niece, Laura Stewart, who approached me to do an illustration for her husband as a Father’s Day gift. Gary and Laura became proud parents of Oliver last year and this picture shows the pride that Gary has in his wonderful son.
I have done numerous portraits in my time, but very few, if any, has given me as much joy to do as this one. I think the fascination for me is that the image has captured a special moment, as Oliver goes to greet his father who has lifted him up. The joy on Oliver’s face and his cute smile were wonderful to create.
As the photograph I was given to work from was black-and-white or mono, the best medium to use, for me, was graphite pencils. I chose a harder pencil, primarily 2H, as I didn’t want any part of the picture to be too dark or black. The picture is tender and emotional and I felt the pencils used to create this should reflect that. So, all the B pencils were banned from this commission!
Thank you, Laura, for allowing me to the share this special moment and to produce it in illustration form. I am very pleased to hear that Gary appreciated his Father’s Day gift and I hope Oliver was suitably impressed with it too 🙂
Taffy is a mischievous Welsh terrier who lives in Rhyl, Wales with Joyce and William. They are relations of my close friends Mary and Peter Lupton who commissioned me to do the drawing in honour of Joyce’s birthday.
Taffy who likes to be out for walks along the promenade – in all weathers – was, I have to admit a total delight to draw. Being the first Welsh terrier that I have ever drawn I was soon ‘under his spell’ as I worked away at him on my drawing board. So much so, that I was rather loathe to part with him when the time came.
I was very pleased to hear that Joyce was delighted with the present. saying, “It’s the best present I have ever had”.
Mary scribbled on an envelope “I love the illustration, darling”, so that was a very satisfactory outcome as I had enjoyed every minute of creating Taffy on paper.
This is going to be a bit of a heartfelt blog post, so you have been warned (in the nicest possible way)… I was very sad to hear the news of Doris Day’s passing just a couple of weeks ago on Monday, 13th May 2019. She has been my childhood and adult movie icon and the news of her death was a day that I really was not looking forward to. She lived to a good age and gave many people a lot of joy and laughter. She said she wanted her legacy to be her movies and for millions of people that is what they will remember.
Personally, I would like to thank Doris Day for all the letters I have received from her over the years (please see my earlier blog post for more details on that, as I don’t want to repeat myself to those who have already read it). I will treasure the letters and photographs that are in my possession and the wonderful memories that go with them. I was very touched by the amount of my friends who contacted me to ask how I was when the news of her death was announced. Thank you to all you who did that (you know who you are are).
My friend and colleague, Ashleigh Thompson, who is also a big fan of Miss Day’s movies and songs, asked me how I started writing to the Hollywood icon and I told her that I sent her some drawings back in the early 1980’s when I was little more than a child. When I got a reply from Doris Day, many weeks later, it was like winning the Lottery. She told me that she had auctioned off some of the portraits I had done for her (I can only imagine what they looked like way back then!) and that one of the buyers had been Frank Sinatra! I later thought he might have hung it in the garden shed, as my work was very ‘in its first flourish’ at the tender age of those very early portraits. The money raised from my drawings went, in her own words, to her ‘critters’ – the dogs and many other animals she took care of.
The illustration of Doris Day, above, was one of several movie star illustrations that I did for an exhibition (some of the other illustrations, such as Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly etc. have appeared on this blog on earlier postings). They were painstakingly done all in dots, which took many, many days to do, as ‘stippling by hand’ is not the quickest way to produce art. I gave the original illustration to one of my customers, Mr. Paul H. Spencer, who had been a lifelong fan of Doris Day. I knew it would be appreciated and cherished by him and it certainly is… There’s no better accolade for all the time and hours that have gone into a piece of art.
Doris Day, actress, singer, comedienne and animal welfare activist, b: 3 April 1922 – d: 13 May 2019
For those of you who have followed my work for a while now, you will know that my ‘signature tune’ in most of my drawings is a ladybird. I am not totally sure as to how and when I decided to put these little scarlet beetles into my drawings, but I do know why I am so particularly fond of them. When I was a little boy my Grandfather Lake was keen on growing roses and he and I would go to the site of the old swamp in Tanfield Lea and gather as many ladybirds as we could find to put on his roses. They were very hardworking gardening allies and kept all the pests at bay; my Grandfather’s roses flourished year-after-year. Through the years, the ladybirds became more and more prominent in my work and it now reminds me of dear friends, such as Mildred from Carlisle and Dorothy from Whitehaven.
So, whilst having lunch at Hexham Fish Bar with my friends from Carlisle, Mary and Peter Lupton, Mary turned to me and said, “Darling, what are you going to do for your next blog post?” I wasn’t sure and later when we were talking to Stella, the young lady that works in the fish bar, Mary suggested I give her one of my business cards. Stella’s family are from Cyprus and she pointed out the ladybird on my logo. I asked her what the insects are called in Cyprus and she said she would check with her father. He said that they are called Babavura or Paparouna, which relates to ladybirds bearing the same colours as the field poppy – scarlet and black. Quite appropriate! Whatever your nationality it would seem that ladybirds are lucky or beneficial insects in most countries or cultures with pet names such as ‘God’s Cow’ and ‘Mary’s/Our Lady’s Beetle’ -relating to the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted in early mediaeval paintings wearing scarlet and black robes, instead of the traditional white and blue that people are now familiar with.
So, on this very sunny and warm Good Friday, I decided to sit down and do a very quick coloured pencil sketch of ladybirds on one of my favourite flowers, forget-me-nots. I allowed myself a very strict time limit to do this illustration and I just managed to meet the deadline. I felt a little bit silly for sitting in drawing on such a glorious April day, but with the window open and the sun pouring through it was like being outside inside. I enjoyed doing the illustration and it was interesting to see just how many colours were used to create the final piece of artwork!