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…

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.

Christ Church, Silloth – Line Drawing

I recently visited one of my childhood holiday haunts – the town of Silloth on the West coast of Cumbria, not far from the city of  Carlisle. My family went there for many years to put up tents (and later caravans) at the Solway Lido. It brings back many memories of childhood days, with many of the shops looking much the same as they did in the days of my youth.

I have vivid memories of the church and the greens that are in front of Criffel Street and for some reason Silloth always makes me think of Scots Pine.

Christ Church, Silloth (sepiaforblog)
I was pleased to walk along the coast where I had often chased my siblings with a writhing crab or a wriggling worm or some such thing in my dirty mits.

Later, when I worked for the Cumbrian Newspapers, in Carlisle, I was asked if I would do a series of pen and ink illustrations of local churches, which were going to be used for tourism in the area. I remember doing many churches, for areas such as Buttermere, Maryport and Whitehaven, which have now become special places for me. When I revisited Silloth, it reminded me of the leaflet and I dug this line illustration out, which was looking rather battered and sorry for itself, having been crushed in a wallet file for twenty-years.

As well as the lovely childhood memories I got revisiting Silloth, I also got to visit the new ‘Mrs Wilson’s Café and Eaterie, where I was so impressed with the décor and the food. Named after the married name of the famous contralto Kathleen Ferrier (a great favourite of my good friend, Mary), the café features some amazing wall decorations showing photographs of this beautiful lady, who died in 1953, aged only 41. There are letters written by her and music sheets, which make the whole atmosphere delightful. I can recommend a visit, as well as the basil, cheese and tomato quiche… Yum!

165a2b88a629c2537691ef340f67a77b.jpg.w=262
Kathleen Ferrier
 
English Contralto, born: 22 April 1912 – died: 8 October 1953

St. Catherine of Alexandria

When I was living and working in Carlisle, I went through a Saint’s Phase, which probably felt something similar to what Vincent van Gogh felt when he went through his sunflower phase.  All I wanted to do was paint and draw saints, and when I wasn’t doing that I was reading about them.  In the end, I did various sketches of many saints, such as Cecilia and Alban, many of which went no further than the sketching stage.  However, George, Mildred, Ursula, Cuthbert, Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Alexandria were completed and displayed in an exhibition.  I requested various friends to pose as a particular saint, along with a few people sketched from magazine articles.  However, St. Catherine of Alexandria in this illustration was based upon some photographs I took of my friend, Susan Cartwright, nee Smith.Catherineforblog

I had intended to do twelve illustrations and use these to create a ‘Calendar of Saints’; Saint Catherine’s feast day is the 25th November, so this illustration was going to be used for that particular month.  The bramble bush is symbolic of the thorns of Christ and also symbolic of the wheel on which Catherine was tortured.  Her story is tragic and goes like this…

According to the traditional narrative or legend, Catherine was the daughter of the governor of Alexandria, in Egypt, during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305–313).  From a young age she had devoted herself to study.  A vision of the Madonna and Child persuaded her to become a Christian. When the persecutions began under Maxentius, she went to the emperor and rebuked him for his cruelty. The emperor summoned fifty of the best pagan philosophers and orators to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death.

The story or legend goes on to say that Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned, during which time over 200 people came to see her, including Maxentius’ wife, Valeria Maximilla; all converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred.  Upon the failure of Maxentius to make Catherine yield by way of torture, he tried to win the beautiful and wise princess over by proposing marriage. The saint refused, declaring that her spouse was Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity. The furious emperor condemned Catherine to death on a wheel covered in spikes, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius finally had her beheaded.

An unhappy end, there’s no doubt about it, but her legend lives on still, with the Catherine Wheel being just one example of how her story captured the minds and imagination of the people that heard it.

I am sure that you will agree that Susan’s totally convincing portrayal of enlightened holiness gives the picture the very ‘look’ that St. Catherine would have possessed all those years ago…

 

Please Mr. Postman – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I lived and worked in Carlisle, Cumbria from November 1990 to September 1998. In those nearly eight-years, I made some wonderful friends and gained a great love of this historic city, which is located near England’s Lake District.
Please Mr. Postman for Blog (low-res)
When I was working on the 2010 Bear-a-thought Calendar, entitled ‘Song Bears’ I chose to illustrate a very well-known hit song ‘Please Mr. Postman’. This tune was first released fifty-three years ago to this day*.

Carlisle was the first place to gain a pillar-box in mainland Britain (making it the ideal choice for my illustration) and now boasts a handsome, scarlet hexagonal Penfold pillar-box in front of the city’s Town Hall. I gained permission to sketch the pillar-box (which was difficult at the time, as it was surrounded by scaffolding) and incorporated Dylan, the bear, into the picture.  The bear, was named after my friend Jennifer A. Stephenson’s grandson, Dylan. The majority of the outfits that my bears wore in the illustrations from 2005 to 2014 were designed and created by Jennifer. She was an invaluable help and an enthusiastic supporter of my work. I’m not always delighted with the final results or outcomes of my artwork, but, thankfully, this one managed to capture everything I had imagined.  I’m a person who loves to get personal letters in the mail; so I didn’t have any choice but to include a song featuring a postman…  Now did I?

The ‘Please Mr. Postman’ song was first released on 21 August 1961, by The Marvelettes and later released by The Beatles on 22 November 1963 and later again by The Carpenters on 8 November 1974.

*Note: The song ‘Please Mr. Postman’ was released on 21 August 1961, by The Marvelettes (which consisted of: Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman and Wanda Young).

Thoughts On – Starting College

I remember this time of year back in 1985 when I was thinking of moving from my family home and little village to start my Higher National Diploma (HND) studies at Cumbria Institute of the Arts, in the city of Carlisle.

Cumbria Institute of the Arts logo

I had massive amounts of nervous energy, as I am not the most confident or outgoing person, and was worried about my studies and my digs (mostly worried about anything there was to worry about). Luckily, after my friend, Sandi, and I had struggled to find ‘digs’, we moved into Wigton Road and found ourselves in good company with two great lads from Yorkshire, Paul and Richard. Looking back at our student life gives me a laugh or two now. It was like living an episode of the ‘The Young Ones’ in reality, with exploding ovens, bonfires burning in the back garden and large slugs in the bathroom that would leave you speechless. Add two escaped pet white mice and you’ve got the recipes for a good comedy series!

After a year at Wigton Road, we all moved to Howard Place, which was much nicer digs, although I have mixed feelings about living there too. What with a resident ghost that stalked the staircase, and food that ‘disappeared’ out of cupboards at night, it was enough to send a chill down the spine. These were not nearly as scary as the amount of dirty crockery and cutlery that was amassed in the sink when you arrived home, tired and hungry, after a hard day studying.

I made some other good friends during those years, including: Linda, Cathy, Fiona, Rachel, Joy, Andy, Penny and Adrian, to name a few, most of which are still in my life via Facebook, alongside my original housemates, Paul, Richard and Sandi.

It all seems like a long time ago now, but my worrying nature is still with me (a leopard can’t change its spots) and I empathise with all of those that will be starting their studies next month. Nothing is quite as bad as you would imagine (and I have got a good imagination!). Just remember, some research at the University of Cincinnati found that eighty-five percent of what we worry about NEVER happens. It also discovered that 79% of us handle the remaining 15% that does happen in ways that surprise us with our ability to turn the situation around.

 Perhaps this quote from the author Mark Twain, sums it up most effectively:

 I have been through some terrible things in my life,
some of which actually happened. Mark Twain (1835-1910).