Witch Hazel – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I’ve done many teddy bear illustrations over the years, but some of them I do forget, but this isn’t one of them.  Although I am not a great fan of Hallowe’en, I do love the colour and imagery that I had to capture in this drawing.
Witch Hazel by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
I was asked by a big company in America, to illustrate one of their many beautiful teddies and after looking through their glossy catalogue several times, I was ‘taken’ to this little witch bear, with her sequinned cape and starry hat.  I liked drawing this teddy bear ‘as she was’, which included her rather sad looking face.  A number of my customers used to say, “Can you draw that teddy bear smiling?” and I replied, “I draw the bears as they present themselves”.  Teddy bears have individual characters: some happy some sad – just like human beings.

I remember my youngest niece, Cora, was just a baby when I started this illustration and the small wizard or witch that was coming out of the jack-o-lantern resembled her a little bit (she will be cross with me for putting this on here!), so I had to include him/her in the illustration.  Many of my teddy bear illustrations have a soft pastel theme, but with this one I could use the strong colours of green, orange and purple without hesitation.  I loved doing the confectionery: lollipops, cupcakes and biscuits with the ghosts and black cat cake toppings.  It was a great deal of fun (I think I ate them ALL afterwards!).

Whatever you have done or are doing for Hallowe’en, I do hope that you get a lot more treats than tricks!  Enjoy yourself and be safe…

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Gary and Joanne’s ‘big day’…

Earlier this year, I was asked if I would do a watercolour or pencil illustration of a church in Spain that was to be the theme for some wedding stationery.  Joanne Rogan, the client and bride-to-be was brilliant in providing me with a range of church illustrations that she had seen and liked, so that I could get ‘the feel’ of what she was looking for.  A better start and brief could not be had, as most clients know what they want, but are not very good at explaining it, leaving the artist or designer ‘in the dark’.
Wedding stationery 1Wedding stationery 3Wedding stationery 2Wedding stationery 4The happy couple at sunset
Joanne also provided me with some photographs of El Salvador’s Church in Nerja, Spain where she was marrying her fiancé, Gary Cooper.  The photographs were beautiful, showing a white stately church against an azure sky.  There was a tree in the photographs that I had to ‘remove’ but that didn’t prove to be a problem.

It took me a couple of days (in the bleakness of early February) to produce the coloured pencil illustration of the church bedecked in sunshine, which was then sent for Joanne and Gary’s approval.  Thankfully, they loved it and it was then sent to the printers to be incorporated into their wedding stationery.  As you can see below, Joanne and Gary did a great job of it and the stationery looks unique and amazing!  Having said that, so do the happy couple in the photographs, as you can see.  I would like to offer my congratulations to Joanne and Gary for their marriage day and also for doing such sterling work on their wedding stationery! 

Every best wish to you both for many happy years to come…

Joanne and Gary were married on the 21st September 2018.
The photographs feature on this blog post with their approval and permission.  Thank you.

Milly and Harper – Pet Portraits

I am always delighted when a customer returns to me for another commission.  It is an endorsement and validation that they appreciate the style and quality of my work and are happy to commission you to do another piece of artwork for themselves or a loved one.

MillyandHarper by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon(forblog)
Last year, Mrs Angela Rose had commissioned me to create a birth illustration for a young relative, with a collection of dinosaurs.  On this more recent occasion, she requested me to create a portrait illustration of her daughter’s two West Highland Terriers: Milly and Harper.  I prefer to take photographs of pets myself, whenever possible, so I went around to do a photoshoot of the two canine characters.  Both of these two dogs were in a rather soporific mood on a hot July day that they needed to look their best for the camera.  They were both very well groomed, but their sleepy moments were interspersed with bouts of running, racing and jumping, as Mrs Rose’s daughter, Amy, and myself strived to keep them awake whilst I took numerous photographs. 

I have to say that both Milly and Harper were adorable in different ways, but I have a ‘soft-spot’ for Harper who gently raised her nose to touch mine whilst introductions were being made. 

The illustration took a number of days to complete and required a background of fawn and soft browns to make Milly and Harper stand out.  Whenever I am drawing ‘white’ dogs I am amazed to discover all of the different colours that go to make up the fur.  These colours can include a range of browns, creams and fawns to name a few.

I handed over the finished commission to Mrs Rose and her husband, Ian, and they commented that the illustration was “spot on” and that Amy would be delighted with her personal and unique commissioned illustration. 

I later heard that Amy was delighted and the commission will soon be displayed on her living-room wall.  Thank you to the Roses and my other clients who return to me time-and-time-again for illustrations – it is very much appreciated.

A nostalgic ‘trip’ to Penrith…

When I first started working with Cumbrian Newspapers in November 1990, I was a young graphic designer and illustrator with only 3-years ‘real life’ experience.  Nothing prepared me for the cut-and-thrust world of the news industry, where items and articles were turned around like the speed of light, so as not to miss ‘the press’.  On my first morning I recall some advertising representative thrusting a full sized doll’s house in my direction and stating, “I need this drawn for an advertisement that is going to print early this afternoon”.  No pressure there then!
Devonshire Arcade, Penrith by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
Devonshire Arcade, Penrith

As well as being called upon to draw a range of miscellaneous objects and items, including a bag of sausages and a caricature of Mystic Meg, part of my duties was to go to visit different places in Cumbria and do a ‘quick sketch’ (or at least that what was said on the brief).  I remember visiting nice places, such as Wigton and Maryport, which became a favourite place of mine.  One trip was to Penrith, where I had to draw the quaintly named Angel Square and then a very new shopping centre, Devonshire Arcade.  I only had time to do a quick pen and ink sketch of both venues, before being collected on the news van!  The pen and ink sketch I did of Angel Square has been drawn rather loosely and with no hint of a ruler, to give it that traditional look, whilst the super-smart Devonshire Arcade got a much more architectural look ‘feel’ given to it.Angel Square, Penrith by Michael Quinlyn-NixonAngel Square, Penrith

I really enjoyed scribbling the Angel Square illustration, but the perspective did allude me for a wee while.  Looking at the sketch now, I am drawn to the back of the man on the right-hand side of the picture, as he reminded me of Mr Arkwright, a fictional character from the comedy ‘Open All Hours’, who was performed by the wonderful Ronnie Barker.  I was reminded of him at the time of doing the actual drawing and even went so far as to remark on this similarity to the real life man, as it were.  The elderly gentleman, being very broad in the Cumbrian accent voiced some unintelligible reply, but I DO know enough about facial expressions and body language to know that I really should have kept my lips sealed!  “Go’an fetch some sticky-tape, Granville!”

Cabbage whites and Orange-tips…

I like to think of myself as a keen gardener, but onlookers of my garden might be deceived in thinking that it’s been several years since a hoe or a pruning fork was taken to it.  Always being busy at work is one of the main reasons that I don’t get a lot of time to spend in horticultural pursuits.  One of the lesser reasons is that all of the flowers I grow seem to attract ALL of the most virulent pests.  A favourite flower/plant of mine is apricot and lemon nasturtiums, which I have grown year-on-year from seeds.  As soon as they start to grow (before even a flower has had time to form even!) a cascade of butterflies (all of them wanting to lay eggs on my plants) appear from the heavens in force.  I have to admit to really having a fondness for the Cabbage white butterfly, although it certainly is no ally of mine in the need to keep my garden and yard tidy and colourful.

Orange tip by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogOne of the more welcome butterfly visitors in the garden is the Orange-tip Butterfly, which is small and attractive.  But even this lesser seen butterfly is after some of my favourite plants, namely the ‘Sweet rocket’ or ‘Dame’s violet’ (Hesperis matronalis).  I spent some time sketching some of these beautiful butterflies; they have rounded wings that look like they have been dipped in orange cadmium paint.  With only a couple of hours spare that week, I decided to do a quick watercolour of this butterfly, using some really nice snapshots of Orange-tip butterflies, that a friend had taken for me, whilst on a walk.  The two combined reference materials enabled me to do this super quick illustration in just under two hours.
On reflection, I might have been better spending my time with the hoe and the pruning fork…

Quills and Spills…

I have been working on some scamps and rough sketches which feature quills this month.  It reminded me of the work that I did years ago for the Cumbria Life magazine (based in Cumbria and the Lake District).  My good friend, Cherry, was working for the magazine at the time and commissioned me to do a series of illustrations for some key regular features in the magazine, such as: antiques, cookery, books and literature etc.  I didn’t have a great deal of time to do the illustrations, as I was working full time in a college then, but I still managed to meet the deadlines and produce a series of illustrations.
Books and literature illustration by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog

The magazine was (and still is) a lovely and glossy publication – filled with gorgeous and sumptuous photographs and features, so I chose to do something that would look noticeably different on each page, but tied in with the heritage and roots of many of the readers.  I chose a woodcut or linocut design, which I actually drew by hand (not having the time to create linocuts) to give the effect of the illustration being printed by such a technique. 

Quills are beautiful to draw with and the illustrations were all drawn with quills, most of them modern ones, rather than the traditional goose feather variety.  My love of red squirrels was abounding at the time, so I featured a bookend in the form of a red squirrel.  This is an actual bookend that my father, Robert W. Nixon created for me and I incorporated into the illustration.  I then added in the quill, books and ink pot with a quirky ragged border to group the components together.

I’ve mentioned the quills, but not the spills!  That is the unfortunate part of the story; no sooner had I finished this illustration than I spilled the bottle of Quink ink all over the drawing board and the illustration.  After clearing up the mess and it being nearly midnight, I started to do the illustration again to meet the deadline…

The illustrations were used in a number of Cumbria Life magazines, but I have long since lost the actual copies.  However, the memories remain ever-present and strong and the red squirrel bookends still sit on my bookcase – nibbling their nuts and keeping a watchful eye on my most-treasured volumes…

Gingerbread Bears – Bear-a-thought Illustration

Of all of the Bear-a-thought illustrations that I have created over the years, ‘Gingerbread Bears’ reminds me of the most bizarre predicament that I found myself in.  Although I do enjoy the occasional cookery programme, I am not blessed with culinary skills.  So when I needed to create a very small portion of dough, I thought that it would be a ‘breeze’ – even for me!  This small piece of dough was going to be used to create some small gingerbread bear biscuits that Scruff (the bear in the illustration) was going to bake. 
Gingerbread bears by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Off I went to my local Post Office; the postmistresses Enid and Angela soon provided me with my essential ingredients, butter, eggs, flour…  Back at home, I set to work with a hale-and-hearty approach to my task, but after mixing the ingredients for a while I suspected that something was not quite right.  My dough consistency was wrong!  I put that particular mixing bowl to one side and using what was left of the ingredients started again.  Culinary disasters don’t often strike twice in the same kitchen, but let me tell you they can.  The dough was too runny this time…  I put that bowl aside and went to the Post Office again to buy more essential ingredients.  This was beginning to be a costly exercise for one piece of pastry.  I started again (not quite as hale-and-hearty as before), mixing ingredients – checking the recipe – weighing things carefully.  But it still went wrong!  My fourth attempt was no more successful!

Then, a friend arrived – surveyed the culinary process at hand and exclaimed, “What are you doing?”  I explained and within minutes hands were washed and then plunged into the various bowls – the first ‘experiment’ had lacked enough butter, the second hadn’t enough flour.  Soon all the mixtures were perfect.

I now had enough dough to feed a family of forty.  After cutting out a wide assortment of animal shapes, including giraffes and rhinoceroses, out of the dough, we were ready for baking the collected menagerie.  The scene was somewhat reminiscent of a factory production line (at full tilt), as tray after tray of biscuits were placed and taken out of the oven…

Too many biscuits…  I couldn’t eat them all, so I packed them in clean white paper bags and distributed them to my astonished neighbours.  Thankfully no one was rushed to hospital with gastroenteritis, and even more thankfully I had remembered to salvage a small piece of pastry aside for my illustration. 

So, when people look at my teddy bear illustrations and see the bears, smile and say “How lovely!” they really have no idea what pains and lengths I have had to go to create that particular finished piece of artwork. 

After writing all of this copy, I think I need a refreshing cup of tea and a gingerbread bear…  Biscuit anyone?