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…

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Highland Cow (an exercise in colour)…

oeIt was one of those days when you just feel inspired to draw something, but you don’t know what and then your eye rests upon something that sparks your creativity.  I was just returning from a shopping trip in Newcastle upon Tyne, when I spied some Highland cattle from the lofty heights of the double-decker bus I was travelling on.
The colour of the cattle, a rusty orange, captured my imagination and I sourced some images online on my return home.  I found an excellent picture of a Highland cow and decided to reproduce it using a limited colour palette of coloured pencils: French Grey, Indigo, Raw Sienna, Chocolate, Venetian Red and Terra Cotta.  I didn’t allow myself to use Black pencils.  As well as working with a limited palette, I only allowed myself three-hours to create the drawing and the colouring.  In hindsight it could have done with some extra work, but I was determined not to go over the time allocation I had set myself from the outset.  In many ways this colour and time exercise reminded me of when I was a student at Cumbria Institute of the Arts in Carlisle.

I have a friend who is very fond of Highland cattle and this illustration just might find its way to her some day in the, hopefully, not-too-distant future…

My first job in 1988…

After I graduated from Cumbria Institute of the Arts in 1987, I had to find employment to put my graphic design and art history training to work.  Back then, rather like now, jobs were rather ‘thin on the ground’ and I had to do a period of voluntary work with the Citizens Advice Bureau, whilst pursuing my first step on the elusive career ladder.  I had some temporary work for Busways in Newcastle upon Tyne, but was still looking for permanent work when my former teacher at the Institute, George Thompson, rang me and told me about a job for a graphic designer in the Scottish border town of Langholm. 
ABOVE: Me, with my thinking cap on, at my desk at Ashley Bank House (you can see some of the logo designs).

I applied for the job at The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and got an interview.  They must have been fairly impressed with my presentation and my graphic work, as I started receiving some freelance work from them; this was probably to see what my work ethic and creativity were like.  The fast-and-furious deadlines were enough to give me veritable nightmares, especially as there were no such things as e-mails and sending pdfs (not that I knew of anyway).  Everything had to be hand drawn and coloured to the best of my ability and within the set timescales.  When the work was complete it was a mad dash to the Post Office in order to post the work to them in time to meet the deadline.

After a number of months doing this home-design work, I was very grateful to be given a contract in early April 1988 and started working at Ashley Bank House (a former hotel), which was part of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s base in Langholm.  I later went to work at Waverley Mills, where I did a lot of the design work for the marketing department.  My time was spent creating logos for the company and P.O.S (point-of-sale) material, which was a large bulk of my work during the two-years that I worked there.

I will write some more about my first job on another blog post at a later date and include some more of the work that I did for this forward-thinking knitwear company.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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…