The Snowbear illustration was one of the first illustrations that I drew when I started my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Just looking at this illustration that I did 15-years ago on this date in 2001 (can’t believe it was that long!), I can still remember so much about my life then and what I had to do to create this illustration. I remember it had snowed hard in Durham that year and it was an ideal opportunity to get some snowy pictures. I stumbled out into the garden one morning, donned with gloves (fingerless ones, which are the only ones I can wear) and made my self a snowman, or more correctly a snowbear. I tried to make him teddy bear size (or just a bit bigger), so that he didn’t overpower the bear that I had in mind to draw with him.
After making my snowbear, which called on me to improvise with his features, using leaves for inside his ears and buttons, a cherry-chocolate covered in red foil paper for his nose and some well-known chocolate wrappers for his eyes, I draped a favourite scarf around his shoulders to create that casual, snowbear-around-town look. All that was left was to position my teddy bear, Augustus, in front of my cold creation. I think the addition of the spade was an inspiration and made it look like little Augustus had been hard at work at his snow sculpture.
This was the first illustration to be seen in my very-first calendar and was the first of many, as I had no idea at the time just how popular these illustrations would become or how many different parts of the world would get to see them.
I’ve drawn many teddy bears over the last twenty-years (I think the actual number was way over a hundred), but some of them mean so much more to me than others. It’s not just to do with the finished illustration, more often it’s the memories created from setting up the drawing, or something significant that happened when working on the final piece of artwork.
‘On the Beach’, which was completed on 20 August 2002, is one of my very favourite illustrations from the 2004 Bear-a-thought calendar. I love the bear, which was drawn in the illustration; he is called Augustus. I ‘discovered’ him in a frosted window of a local shop, as I rushed home on a cold winter’s evening after a long day at work. He stopped me in my tracks, to be honest and even though I was cold and tired I had to go and buy him. He has since become one of my most popular teddy bear models, to the point where many customers of my cards and calendars know him by name!
This illustration was created from drawings, photographs and sketches done on a beach at South Shields. The weather was lovely and I walked a long way along the beach to find somewhere secluded and private to set up my tableau of bear, deckchair, bucket and spade etc. It never fails to amaze me that no matter how private I try to be when setting up these ‘scenes’, that people seem to come from nowhere and find me. Such was the case on this day; no sooner had I got the little scene arranged, I could see people heading towards me across the dunes, looking a little bit like ants in the distance. Some people skirt around and take an inquisitive glance at what I am doing, whereas other people will come up and say ‘what’s going on with this bear then?’. The latter happened on this occasion, and I met a lovely couple with twin babies, who asked if they could have their photograph taken with the little scene that I had created. They turned out to be customers of mine, which saved a great deal of explanation about what I was doing. Others followed in their wake, and by the time I was ready to do my sketches the tide was nearly upon me! I had to move the whole scene for fear of it being washed away to sea.
This drawing also makes me smile because of the special memories and the fact that Augustus is wearing one of the first pair of shorts worn by my niece, Alishia. I also must confess to cheating with the ice cream too, which was in fact a dollop of mashed potato. The seagulls were very interested in that and I had to defend my little scene from being flapped apart by the sound of rampaging wings. So, as you see – being a teddy bear artist is definitely not for the shy or faint-hearted.
‘On the Beach’ is dedicated to the late and great Yootha Joyce, who I had a great admiration for. I later found out that she loved teddy bears (I hadn’t known that at the time), so I hope she would approve of my dedication.
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.
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)
I illustrated my Bear-a-thought teddy bear calendars for twelve-years and was due to start work on my thirteenth calendar, before I realised that I had neither the time or energy to complete another twelve illustrations. Due to the amount of other projects and my commitments to a full-time job I was left with a dilemma of whether to carry on with the illustrations or concentrate on other types of illustration…
I decided not to go ahead with the calendar; there would have been an enormous amount of pressure to have done so. I informed my customers, scattered all around the world, of my decision and was amazed to receive many letters and e-mails saying how disappointed they were to hear the news. They understood the reasons, of course, but it was nice for me to know that my calendars had been looked forward to with so much delight and that they had made a difference in people’s lives. I have kept the letters and they are a lovely reminder of how people appreciated the work that I had done over a dozen years.
The last Bear-a-thought illustration that I produced was to be for my thirteenth calendar and was planned to feature bears on a theme of the 12-months of the zodiac. I chose Pisces, (the birth sign for those born, on average, between February 19 and March 20) as my first piece of artwork, as I had a pet goldfish, called Monica, that I adored. She had been a companion for many years and was the most affectionate goldfish that I had known (I have known a lot). When the other fish in the tank were ill she would take food from the top of the water and take it down for them and encourage them to eat. She was a very intelligent fish and was like a nurse with fins :0) I would dangle my fingers in the water and she would come and swim around them and receive a delicate stroke. Some of her scales shone with the most beautiful gold – yes gold, not orange – sheen. All good things must come to pass, and my friend with fins died in August 2007. The illustration was created after Monica’s passing, as I wanted to include her in one of my illustrations.
I also included two of my most popular teddy bears, Augustus and Scruff. I love Augustus’s sleepy eyes and the disheveled look that Scruff had about him. I still have these two bears, as I became very attached to them (and they to me, of course) and they reside in a big Victorian perambulator that my grandmother left me (she said it is an antique, but that has yet to be proved). They look quite keen to pose for me again, if the need ever arises.
So, my 132nd Bear-a-thought illustration looks like it is to be the last, but I did promise my customers to never say never to launching the calendars again in the future…
PS. I love double numbers, so it was rather fitting to finish the illustration on 11 November 2011 (11.11.11).