The Harvesters…

It’s almost scary that I drew this pen and ink drawing (later to be coloured with watercolours) almost 21 years ago.  I see that the completion date was ‘St. Ursula’s Day’ (which is the 21 October), so it’s almost ‘come of age’ this drawing in many ways than one.  I have done a number of book illustrations like this one over the years, but most of them I’ve sadly forgotten, but not this one.  This one takes me right back to the years when I was doing a lot of art, whilst also working hard in the world of newspapers…
The Harvesters by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
The reference material was largely my own photographs, as I can remember photographing these scarlet poppies which were growing in my family village of Tanfield (for those of you who know that area, it’s one of the fields on the industrial estate – opposite the sign to Tanfield Railway).  It was a gorgeous day and I was spending it with some of my family, Carole, Robert and Kirk.

This illustration took quite a long time to do, with the blurry effect behind the mice and the poppies in the foreground being the most time consuming.  I really enjoyed putting the details on the faces of the mice as they climb upon and nibble the swaying wheat.  When I actually spied some harvest mice I could not believe that they were so small; I also wanted to make sure that my trademark ladybird was not out of proportion with these tiny and elusive rodents.

I was rather taken aback by the popularity of this illustration and was delighted when it was reproduced as a greeting card and as one of the summer month illustrations in a rather classy calendar.  The original piece of artwork was purchased by Mr Alistair Thompson, from Scotby in Carlisle, after he saw it displayed at an exhibition.  I wonder if it’s still hung upon the living-room wall of his beautiful home to this present day…

Advertisements

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…

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.

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)

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).