Sophie in Snowdrops – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I always love this time of year, when you know spring is ‘just around the corner’. The days start to lengthen and the mornings are much lighter (so not quite as difficult to get out of bed at 7 o’clock) and one’s heart is gladdened.
sophie-in-snowdrops-by-michael-quinlyn-nixon-for-blog

It’s at this time of year, that I always notice a large clump of snowdrops, which grow on a bank in Burnopfield, not far from my parents’ home. They have cheered my heart on many a winter day.

My longtime friend and former colleague, Mildred, has a great love of snowdrops and they have a very special meaning for her. I think she was the inspiration behind this drawing, which also featured a beautiful white bear. My friend, Jennifer A. Stephenson created a beautiful jade-green cape or cloak, for the bear, which I named ‘Sophie’.

I photographed the bear in situ but was very careful not to crush the delicate white blooms on the drooping flowers. As usual, I waited until the road was quiet of traffic and set up the scene. Then, as usual, a fleet of buses or a group of cyclists go by and all stop and stare at me, as I do some sketching and take some hasty photographs. The same thing happened on this occasion, which is always very embarrassing for me. I wouldn’t put myself through these torturous ordeals if it is not for the fact that I want to get the effects of shadow and light correct on the bear etc.

This illustration, like many of them, was time consuming, as the amount of snowdrops could not be rushed. I felt I was well on my way to breaking the record of how many snowdrops could be drawn in the one picture.

‘Sophie in Snowdrops’ appeared in my 2006 Bear-a-thought calendar and the finishing touches on this illustration were completed whilst I was watching a repeat of the original ‘Dad’s Army’ movie on television. It’s strange the memories of doing these illustrations recall…

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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.

On the Beach – Bear-a-thought Illustration

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 (feathered) for blog
‘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.

Pisces – Bear-a-thought Illustration

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…
Pisces forblog(thisone)
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).

Christmas Eve – Bear-a-thought Illustration

Christmas Eve has got to be one of the most exciting days in the calendar year, as so much work and effort has gone in to the festive preparations. Excited children await to see what Father Christmas has brought them and eager parents await the joy they hope to see in their children’s eyes on Christmas morning.

I have for many years enjoyed the expectation that arrives with Christmas Eve and to enjoy this much more than the actual day of Christmas. There’s something exciting about the promise of Christmas Day that I find rather magical.Christmas Eve (for blog)
The ‘Christmas Eve’ bear-a-thought illustration was one of the first illustrations that I created for my first-ever calendar which was produced in 2002 (the centenary year of the teddy bear). I had just decorated the tree when I did the preliminary sketches and took some photographs to work from. This was the first teddy bear I was ever given, and was presented to me by my Grandmother and Grandfather Lake, so was the ideal choice for my first teddy bear Christmas illustration. Along with the teddy, is the hand-painted angel decoration from Cologne market (mentioned in my previous post) and a homemade fir cone decoration. I tried to create the warmth of Christmas in this illustration with a slight fireside glow to the image. I loved drawing all of the patterned wrapping paper, but got the needle (pardon the pun) whilst drawing all of those prickly branches…

Looking back at this illustration, which I produced over twelve years ago, it takes me back to my childhood – with real Christmas trees (that shed needles everywhere) and real open fires which warmed us on cold and frosty mornings. It brings back memories of waking up tired parents at ‘silly o’clock’ in the morning, because I couldn’t wait to see what presents lay ‘nestled’ under the tree for me and my siblings.

I am sure that the exciting spirit of Christmas Eve continues to glow brightly in those that are young…and those that are not so young…and will do for many generations to come….

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading my posts throughout 2014.
Michael

October Frights – Bear-a-thought Illustration

This post is about things that go ‘bump in the night’. No, it’s not really. It’s about an illustration that I produced from some photographs and sketches that I did in the garden. I spied this wizard bear (which I thought was rather like an ursine version of Harry Potter) in a local shop. I named him ‘Hector’ and could tell that he would make a cute illustration for the calendars and cards I was producing. Selecting an autumnal part of the garden (luckily it was autumn), and with the addition of some specially selected branches and leaves – of gold and vermilion – I set the scene.
October Frightsmini
This drawing was quite difficult, as after drawing nine blades of grass in minute detail I start to go a bit stir-crazy. I have even seen me go to the kitchen sink and wash a pile of  dishes, rather than draw and shade one more blade of grass… The wizard’s gown and hat were quite an ordeal too, as the gold dot, moon and star pattern kept getting tarnished by the ultramarine and indigo blues surrounding them.

I loved the jack-o’-lantern and pumpkin that I used in the picture. I ordered them especially for this illustration from a up-and-coming teddy bear company in America. In fact, I liked them that much that I purchased several of them to get the very one I wanted. I realise a lot of people look at my illustrations, some with disinterest (you can’t please everyone), but others say ‘That’s nice’, without realising the amount of hours – setting the scene – dressing the bear – finding the props – and then the laborious hours spent at the drawing board. However, during the time I was creating the teddy bear illustrations there were a number of customers, who would point out certain details, saying ‘The details here is marvellous, do you incorporate photography into your illustrations?’ Comments like that made all of the hours spent drawing a lawn, or whatever, seem SO worthwhile.

I dedicated this picture to my friend, Tracey A. Dixon, who greatly appreciated it, so much so, that I believe she owns the original illustration and Hector too!

May this night the ghosts be seen,
On the feast of Hallowe’en.
Don’t be worried if they’re there,
Remember you’re a big brave bear!
October Frightswhitebackground

A Well-Earned Rest – Bear-a-thought Illustration

This little teddy bear and myself have got something in common; we both deserve a well-earned rest. I’m having a day or two away from the drawing-board. Perhaps I’ll manage to tackle my jungle of a garden…(or not).A well earned rest (original scan)withladybirdforblog
This was my first-ever teddy bear illustration, which was completed on 9th July 1999. I began working on it when my friend, Cherry, came to stay with me for a couple of days in the summer of that year. I didn’t know it then, but it was to be the first of over a hundred teddy bears that I would draw over the next fourteen-years. It was a special illustration in many ways, as it incorporated the first-ever teddy bear that I was given by my grandparents, Georgina and Henry Lake on my first-ever Christmas Day. The teddy bear, originally and rather unimaginatively, named ‘Ted’ has weathered the years well and still has a very faint growl when he’s turned upside down (which is rather a cruel thing to do to a teddy bear). My grandparents were keen gardeners, so I included some gardening tools and plants in the picture: a wild geranium, a periwinkle and a sweet violet. I can see masses of my Grandmother’s pink Japanese anemones flowering in my garden, as I write this post.

‘Ted’ – who sits by my bedside – is particularly special to me at this point in time, as it brings back so many wonderful memories of special grandparents. Some people who come into our lives are completely irreplaceable and no one can fill that particular gap that they leave when they are gone. The important thing is to treasure these special people while we can…

Henry and Georgina Lake (original wedding photograph)
My grandparents, Henry and Georgina Lake in their wedding finery.
They were married on 5 September 1942.  This photograph was taken fourteen-days later, as gale-force winds had ruined the official wedding day photographs.

Those we love don’t go away,
They walk beside us every day,
Unseen, unheard – but always near,
So loved, so missed, so very dear.