Are you being rendered?

I don’t get a great deal of time to relax (not sure if many freelance artists do), but last week I sat down with a big mug of Ringtons’ tea and turned on the television set. Quite by chance, one of my favourite comedies was just coming on, ‘Are you being served?’, which was a popular programme airing between 1972 to 1985. I have always loved this comedy created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, which featured a range of bizarre and quirky characters working in a department store by the name of Grace Bros.
Mollie Sugden by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
My favourite character was the multi-coloured hairdo owner, Mrs Slocombe – played by the wonderful comedy actress, Mollie Sugden (b:1922-d: 2009). Her facial expressions, ranging from scorn, disbelief to polite arrogance still amazes me and makes me laugh.

This programme is quite poignant to me, as I had drawn some quick pen and ink illustrations of three of the main characters for an advertising campaign, when I was working at the Cumbrian Gazette in Carlisle. I thoroughly enjoyed drawing Mrs Slocombe, “I’m FREE!” Mr Humphries (played by John Inman) and Captain Peacock (played by Frank Thornton). The publicity campaign went well…thankfully.

AreyoubeingservedbyMichael Quinlyn-Nixon forblog

But, years later I was to become personally acquainted with Mollie Sudgen, when I began my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Can you imagine my delight when she confessed that she was a ‘fan’ of my teddy bears? I still have a cheque from Mollie Sugden, which I couldn’t cash in of course, because it was such a souvenir! Becoming a regular customer of my teddy bear-themed calendars over the years, Mollie ordered many for her family, but on one occasion she sent far too much money on the cheque.

Seeing her error and wanting to rectify it as quickly as possible, I rang her on her home telephone number in Surrey. Despite it being an atrociously bad connection, I had the most marvellous conversation with this very charming lady, who happened to be ‘smack bang’ in the middle of cooking preparations for her 80th birthday! I did not want the meals she was making to be ruined, so just had a quick call, but it was something that I will always remember with fondness. She later wrote me a letter, informing me that the meals were not ruined and she had not expected so many guests (her birthday being in July and people having arranged holidays), but to her great surprise a great many of the cast of ‘Are you being served?’ along with some of the cast of ‘The Liver Birds’ had attended.

Looking back, I do think Andy Warhol whilst doing those marvellous screen prints of movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor missed a golden opportunity with the character of Mollie’s Mrs Slocombe. Just look at this quick screen-print I have done – with all of those coloured coiffures. Mollie Sugden screenprints by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Keep the lilac, Mrs Slocombe, I think it looks great…

Buster – Dog Portrait

The last couple of months of 2019 were extremely busy for me, as so many clients required commission work done at the latter part of the year. Luckily for me, most of my customers were quite happy to wait until the turn of the new year to get commission work done. I never rush an illustration and could not sell anything that hasn’t had the right amount of work that is required to complete it.

One of the commissions I managed to get done just in time for Christmas was a pet portrait of a beautiful spaniel, which had been called ‘Buster’. His owner, Wendy, from Consett, County Durham, had commissioned me to do a picture of their late beloved pet as a present for her husband, Rob.Buster for blog by MichaelQuinlyn-Nixon
It may sound quite strange, but I got the impression, when I was drawing Buster, that he was ‘speaking’ to me, as he had the most beautiful expressive eyes to draw! Quite honestly it was very easy to imagine he was communicating with me. He was a wonderful canine to illustrate, despite the complexity of working from photographs where the colour was not correct and having to employ computer techniques to alter the coloured photographs before the illustration could be started. Not the easiest task, but I was pleased that Wendy was pleased with the finished result.

Buster 2 for blog by MichaelQuinlyn-NixonI heard that Rob was also thoroughly delighted with his wife’s very thoughtful Christmas gift, and hearing that news was also a nice Christmas surprise for me.

I would like to wish all my clients and Blog readers a very happy 2020…

Poinsettias – Bear-a-thought Illustration

This Bear-a-thought illustration was produced for my 2003 calendar, which featured a hug of delightful bears amongst the nationally recognised flowers of the month. With it being December, I was left to choose either Britain’s native holly or Mexico’s flame-like poinsettia. So, because I didn’t want the bear in question, that was sitting next to the plant, to be prickled I wisely chose the poinsettia.

Poinsettias by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon

The white bear, named Michael (a rather charming name, if I say so myself) is getting ready for Christmas and enjoying the colour and brightness of the Poinsettia, with a candle in the form of a duck. I remember drawing this illustration very vividly and enjoying drawing the patterned material that the bear is sitting on (which also has a bit of holly in the pattern).

I have chosen this drawing especially for this December blog post, as December is the birth month of two friends, Dawn, a former work colleague and Peter, who is a very avid collector of some of the world’s most beautiful bears. So as well wishing a Merry Christmas to all my readers, I would like to wish a very special birthday to these two very special people…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all…

Dormice – Nature Illustration

November is not my favourite month of the year; being plunged into an hour’s extra darkness at the end of October makes me miss the sunlit days of spring and summer (well the ones that actually are sunlit).

On dark, dismal and dank November days, I very much envy the dormice who snuggle themselves away in the comparative warmth of nests, freshly lined with straw, soft grass, moss and downy bird feathers. I feel to sleep away the darker months would be a jolly good reason to become a dormouse, IF I had the chance that is.Dormice by Michael Quinlyn-NixonforblogThe line illustration, above, was drawn by me as a very young student at Cumbria Institute of the Arts, in Carlisle, for a book that someone was producing. They required a small picture of a dormouse or dormice for a nature book and they required it very quickly. I was very pleased to be the one that was chosen to illustrate it. Although the book and the client are now long forgotten in my memory, I do remember drawing the dormice amidst the bramble leaves and dead oak leaves that create the roof of their straw nest. I’m not quite sure why one of the dormice is cosy and warm in the nest – snuggled in the leaves – whilst the other seems to be fiddling around with a nut, but maybe he is bringing the other one a gift after a quarrel.

I suppose if I were to hibernate for the winter, I would not be awake for Christmas and for the usual hustle and bustle of one of the busiest times of the year; I WOULD miss the queues and the crowds and my bank balance would stay healthy. Oh, the more I think of it, the more I WANT to be a dormouse – the lucky wee things 🙂 .

Cary Grant – a portrait in stippling

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.
Cary Grant for blog by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
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.

Dougal – Dog Portrait

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.
Dougal by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
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.

Post boxes (in a manner of thinking)…

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’.

Demo man
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…