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?

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Rafe – Boy’s Birth Picture

I had done a birth illustration for a baby boy called Joshua back in April 2015 and his proud Grandmother, Angela, contacted me, a few months ago, to say that Joshua had recently received a baby brother, Rafe (the original spelling for the name Ralph) and that she would like to commission me to do a birth illustration for the newest member of her family.

After doing a spot of ‘homework’ about the name Rafe, I discovered that it is an old Norse/English word, which means ‘wolf counsellor’. Angela then asked me to come up with a theme for the birth illustration. I thought ‘Peter and the Wolf’ would be a nice theme for the commission and did some research about this ‘symphonic fairy tale for children’: which is a musical composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936.
On his travels, young Peter (after leaving the safety of his grandfather’s house), encounters a small bird, a cat and a duck, which journey with him on his search for his adventure. Peter and the animals are all depicted by a particular instrument i.e. the cat is set to the clarinet, the duck to the oboe and Peter’s character is set to the string section of an orchestra. As the music unfolds, the different characters can be heard throughout the piece.

I wanted to create a different look for each of the characters and did a small scamp (Scamp – a first rough or mockup) before working on a more detailed sketch with characters in place. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process for me, as it’s drawing it all out and is fairly time-consuming. However, I love the process of creating the finished illustration, as all of the hours spent scamping and sketching finally start to take on a new dimension in colour, shape and texture before one’s eyes.

I was requested to keep the main character of Peter similar to the Disney cartoon, but I did suggest that we alter his hair and the colour of his clothes, as I never like to reproduce anything exactly. The small elephant on Peter’s clothes, relates to the motif on the birth announcement card that Angela received to inform her of his birth.

I am not sure when Angela is going to present her daughter with the new picture for the new arrival, but I do hope that they will like it and the thought and effort that has gone in to it from both the client and the artist…