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…

Stop messin’ about…

Since my childhood I can remember the saucy humour of the ‘Carry On’ movies being shown on the television. Of course the risqué humour of the script was completely lost on me (I am only understanding it now, to be honest), but the slapstick fun appealed to me. Through time the films and the actors and actresses that played in them became more and more well known to me. I always had a soft spot for the matronly Hattie Jacques and the shiny-faced Joan Sims. Peter Butterworth has to be a favourite too, along with the nostril-flaring Kenneth Williams and the bespectacled Charles Hawtrey.

kenneth-williams-by-michael-quinlyn-nixon-for-blog

On Bonfire/Guy Fawkes’ Night I saw that ‘Carry on Screaming’ was being shown on the television, so I decided to sit down and watch it, as it had been one of my favourites from childhood. It features a ghoulish brother and sister who, acquiring young females by force (with the aid of two hirsute, flat-headed monsters), turned them into shop mannequins which they sold. The dastardly deeds of the siblings, played by Kenneth Williams and Fenella Fielding, are eventually thwarted by the sleuthing ‘skills’ of Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung, who was played by Harry H. Corbett (looking rather like the character Sherlock Holmes).

I enjoyed the film as much as ever and surprised myself by getting some of the saucy jokes, which I had never noticed before. Whilst watching I remembered that I had drawn a quick pen and ink sketch of Kenneth Williams many years ago, so I dug it out of an old and battered file. Not really sure why I drew this quick portrait, but it could have been done during a doodling lunch hour when I worked in the newspaper industry in Carlisle.

fenella-fielding-by-michael-quinlyn-nixon-colourforblog

The movie also reminded me of meeting the panther-voiced Fenella Fielding at a party at Pinewood Studios on a gloriously sunny April day (not so many years ago). As a big fan of this actress, I was lucky enough to meet her and sit beside her for a chat. I spoke to her about the deep-red, velvet dress she wore in the film, which she seemingly had to be sewn into. She also had to wear it for the whole 6-weeks of filming as they only made one! Limited budgets on those Carry On films, it would seem. But alas, the rest of that story will have to wait for another blog post…

Poppin’ in to see Mary again…

P.L. Travers started writing about the fictional English nanny, Mary Poppins, back in 1933. Little did she realise, then, that this magical character would later inspire a Walt Disney animation movie and even later still…a hit theatrical musical by Cameron Macintosh. Strange to think that a story about a dysfunctional family, saved by the intervention of a helpful nanny, would prove to be so popular.

marypoppinsby-michael-quinlyn-nixon-for-blog

I was lucky enough to see the original London musical on the 5th March 2005, at the Prince Edward Theatre, but I have also been lucky enough to see it more recently, when I took my Mother to see it this month. It was an amazing show – so magical that it was almost like being part of the magic. It caught the spirit of my childhood, so-much-so, that I have decided to see it again this evening at The Theatre Royal, Newcastle. The show, starring Zizzi Strallen and a wonderful supporting cast, has received rave reviews and I am not the least bit surprised.

I also love the Walt Disney movie, starring the lovely Julie Andrews, that was released in British cinemas on the 23 December 1964. I wasn’t born then, but I do remember seeing it at the cinema with my parents. I loved the animation sequence with the penguins and the farmyard animals, which featured the amazing voice talents of Marnie Nixon.

When it came to choosing characters for my 2005 calendar (can it really be that long since I designed that calendar?), Mary Poppins was an outright choice for me. My good friend and teddy bear costumier, Jennifer Stephenson, created the marvellous outfit for one of my bears. I loved the work that she had put into the scarf and the cherries and flowers on her hat, bearing in mind the bear was rather small and fiddly to dress.

I featured one of my favourite scenes from the movie in my Bear-a-thought illustration; when Mary Poppins flies down towards her destination: No. 17, Cherry Tree Lane. I also wanted to give the impression of the smoky background of chimneys and part of a London skyline, which features so prominently in the movie.  It’s the part of the musical which features  classic songs such as ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ and ‘Step in Time’. I also had to feature The Little Old Bird Women in a later calendar, as ‘Feed the Birds’ is my favourite song in the whole film (I think it was also Walt Disney’s favourite song too, if I am not mistaken).  

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, I could write more but I really must fffffffllllllllyyyyyyyyyyy…

P. L. Travers (b: 9 August 1899 – d: 23 April 1996) was an Australian-born British novelist and journalist.

Potty about Beatrix…

From being a young boy my Mother’s family, the Lakes, bought me copies of the charming animal stories by Beatrix Potter, so I am very familiar with them.  I am particularly fond of Jemima Puddle-duck, Squirrel Nutkin and Hunca Munca from ‘The Tale of Two Bad Mice’. Since early childhood, I have also gathered a number of friends who also love this lady’s work, including Sara, who has a particular fondness for Mrs. Tiggy-winkle.  150-years-ago today, Beatrix Potter was born in London and in this commemorative year her characters and illustrations are being featured on Royal Mail stamps and Royal Mint fifty-pence coins.  So, it would seem an appropriate moment to mention a ‘Beatrix Potter’ inspired illustration that I was commissioned to do, whilst working in Carlisle, in April 1997.
SquirrelNutkin by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon

When I worked with Sara and many of my other friends, on such publications as Cumbria Life and the Cumbrian Gazette newspapers, I was often asked to produce illustrations for the advertisements or editorial features. On one occasion, I was asked if I could draw an illustration, which was to feature on an advertisement for a very prestigious and beautiful hotel in the Lake District – famous for the red squirrels that live in the grounds. The clients asked if I could do a red squirrel pencil or watercolour illustration on a Beatrix Potter theme. I was keen to try and immediately set to sketching some red squirrels in the delicate fashion of this famous lady that has inspired me for many years. I have in no way captured the beauty of her work (I had a very short deadline to do the illustration by, as it happens!) but at least I have tried to capture the essence of her unique style and flair.

After having seen her original watercolours work at the National Trust gallery in Hawkshead, Cumbria, I can only say that some of her work was so intricate and delicate that it left me speechless. I can only hope that Beatrix Potter would smile benignly on my ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ illustration, with a look that is both kind and favourable. I hope you like it too 🙂

Helen Beatrix Potter, English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist • Born: 28 July 1866 – Died: 22 December 1943

 

NB. Please note that the picture (above) is framed and this image shows some slight distortion caused by reflections on the glass.

It’s all about the Bard…

There’s much ado…this April, about one of England’s most famous writers – William Shakespeare. I have heard that there are new stamps being issued by the Royal Mail, which feature famous lines from his plays and the Royal Mint are also issuing three £2 coins, which feature the three main themes of his plays: comedies, histories and tragedies. Being an avid stamp collector I must look out for those…and perhaps those new shiny coins too…

Until a few days ago, I had been unaware that 2016 is the 400th anniversary of this well-known man, who is the most published author and the most performed dramatist of all time…

The Shakespeare Pub, Durham (watercolour painting - 12 August 2015forblog

It cannot have been my subconscious, but for some reason whilst walking around Durham, quite recently, I felt most inclined to do a quick watercolour sketch of the Shakespeare public house. I don’t normally have a free hour or so to sit down and paint (particularly in a busy city, as I don’t like crowds or an audience), but that’s just what I did. I didn’t have that much time to paint anything more than the fascia, but I did enjoy just doing something because I wanted to do it and not for a specific reason or for a commission. It seems appropriate to put this watercolour painting, of this popular public house, on my blog, in recognition of Mr Shakespeare…

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” The Tempest
William Shakespeare, English poet, playwright and actor
Baptised: 26 April 1564 – Died: 23 April 1616

St. George and the Dragon – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I am very patriotic and I’m proud to be an Englishman, so St. George’s Day for me is a day of annual celebration. So much so, that I think it should be an annual English bank holiday.St. George and the dragon by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon (blog)
So, with that in mind, when I was producing my Bear-a-thought calendar for 2007 I thought I would include St. George (in teddy bear format) as the illustration for the month of April. I chose one of my favourite bears, Augustus, to represent the patron saint of England and my friend, Jennifer A. Stephenson, dressed him appropriately with a helmet (with scarlet plume), a chainmail vest (emblazoned with St. George’s Cross) and a rather fiercesome looking wooden sword and shiny protective shield.

Once Augustus was ‘suited and booted’ I had to find a ferocious dragon for him to vanquish. I wanted to make the fierce dragon look as fierce as a baby with a marshmallow (not quite sure where that expression came from, but it was the first thing that came to mind), so found a rather cute and endearing green-and-yellow dragon on the Internet.

I set the picture up in my garden, using rocks from when I had the house renovated and created a dragon’s cave, set against the backdrop of a beech hedge. It was mid-April when I set this scene up, so I incorporated some of the flowers in the garden to create some ambience: daisies (the traditional flower of the month of April) and forget-me-nots which always flower in my garden at this time of year. The Forget-me-not is rather appropriate in this illustration in more ways than one, as there is a mediaeveal legend as to how the flower got its name. It goes that a strong and handsome knight, after returning from some war or crusade, was reunited with his fair maiden. On meeting her again, beside a riverbank, he stooped to pick some of the delicate blue flowers that grew on the riverbank. Unfortunately, the weight of his armour and his semi-recumbent position made him topple into the river and to his death. But before he succumbed to the swirling water, he threw the blue flowers to his distressed maiden, with his last words “forget me not!”.

The St. George and the Dragon illustration was popular in the calendar and also as a greeting card, with the original illustration being purchased by an English customer, living in Spain, who has a small and select collection of my teddy bear illustrations.

I hope this illustration stirs the heart of any Englishman and woman reading this post and I also hope that it sends a message out there to any unwanted and ferocious dragons that England is a country that is both proud and fearless. ;0)

Scarlett – Girl’s Birth Picture

A friend and former colleague, Jacqui, contacted me a few weeks ago, to ask if she could commission me to create a birth illustration for a new member of her family, who is called Scarlett. Jacqui’s cousin gave birth to the little girl last year and she is to be christened today (Easter Sunday) in a church in Durham city.
Scarlett (complete)byMichael Quinlyn-Nixonforblog
When Jacqui stated that her cousin, Steph, had requested an Easter theme for Scarlett, I wasn’t sure how pastel-coloured eggs, ducklings and rabbits were ‘going to go’ alongside a name like Scarlett, which evokes a bright vivid red to one’s mind. The name Scarlett originates from the colour scarlet and the name became well known during the 1940’s when Vivien Leigh played the part of the vain, self-centred and bewitching Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939). The name has also had a recent boost of interest, which is probably due to the popular and glamorous actress Scarlett Johansson.

After careful consideration of the colour scheme and layout and despite my initial forebodings about the pastel colours and the name ‘Scarlett’ I was pleased with the finished result. I had used a mid-pink for the lettering, adding in small scarlet-coloured dots to the edge of the letters, so that there was some scarlet included in the picture.

I hadn’t done an Easter birth illustration (though I was really looking forward to doing my first), so I was as happy as a sandboy when drawing the ducklings and the bunnies that are enjoying the spring sunshine amongst the Easter eggs. And of course, I had to include one of my favourite spring flowers too – the forget-me-not, which always flowers in my garden from mid-April.
Scarlett sketchby MichaelQuinlyn-NixonforblogThe sketch for the illustration

I hope the illustration is a success with Scarlett’s family and with Scarlett herself in years to come. My client, Jacqui, was so pleased with the illustration that she confessed to wanting to keep it herself, which I consider very high praise indeed…    Michael