Are you being rendered?

I don’t get a great deal of time to relax (not sure if many freelance artists do), but last week I sat down with a big mug of Ringtons’ tea and turned on the television set. Quite by chance, one of my favourite comedies was just coming on, ‘Are you being served?’, which was a popular programme airing between 1972 to 1985. I have always loved this comedy created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, which featured a range of bizarre and quirky characters working in a department store by the name of Grace Bros.
Mollie Sugden by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
My favourite character was the multi-coloured hairdo owner, Mrs Slocombe – played by the wonderful comedy actress, Mollie Sugden (b:1922-d: 2009). Her facial expressions, ranging from scorn, disbelief to polite arrogance still amazes me and makes me laugh.

This programme is quite poignant to me, as I had drawn some quick pen and ink illustrations of three of the main characters for an advertising campaign, when I was working at the Cumbrian Gazette in Carlisle. I thoroughly enjoyed drawing Mrs Slocombe, “I’m FREE!” Mr Humphries (played by John Inman) and Captain Peacock (played by Frank Thornton). The publicity campaign went well…thankfully.

AreyoubeingservedbyMichael Quinlyn-Nixon forblog

But, years later I was to become personally acquainted with Mollie Sudgen, when I began my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Can you imagine my delight when she confessed that she was a ‘fan’ of my teddy bears? I still have a cheque from Mollie Sugden, which I couldn’t cash in of course, because it was such a souvenir! Becoming a regular customer of my teddy bear-themed calendars over the years, Mollie ordered many for her family, but on one occasion she sent far too much money on the cheque.

Seeing her error and wanting to rectify it as quickly as possible, I rang her on her home telephone number in Surrey. Despite it being an atrociously bad connection, I had the most marvellous conversation with this very charming lady, who happened to be ‘smack bang’ in the middle of cooking preparations for her 80th birthday! I did not want the meals she was making to be ruined, so just had a quick call, but it was something that I will always remember with fondness. She later wrote me a letter, informing me that the meals were not ruined and she had not expected so many guests (her birthday being in July and people having arranged holidays), but to her great surprise a great many of the cast of ‘Are you being served?’ along with some of the cast of ‘The Liver Birds’ had attended.

Looking back, I do think Andy Warhol whilst doing those marvellous screen prints of movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor missed a golden opportunity with the character of Mollie’s Mrs Slocombe. Just look at this quick screen-print I have done – with all of those coloured coiffures. Mollie Sugden screenprints by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Keep the lilac, Mrs Slocombe, I think it looks great…

Dormice – Nature Illustration

November is not my favourite month of the year; being plunged into an hour’s extra darkness at the end of October makes me miss the sunlit days of spring and summer (well the ones that actually are sunlit).

On dark, dismal and dank November days, I very much envy the dormice who snuggle themselves away in the comparative warmth of nests, freshly lined with straw, soft grass, moss and downy bird feathers. I feel to sleep away the darker months would be a jolly good reason to become a dormouse, IF I had the chance that is.Dormice by Michael Quinlyn-NixonforblogThe line illustration, above, was drawn by me as a very young student at Cumbria Institute of the Arts, in Carlisle, for a book that someone was producing. They required a small picture of a dormouse or dormice for a nature book and they required it very quickly. I was very pleased to be the one that was chosen to illustrate it. Although the book and the client are now long forgotten in my memory, I do remember drawing the dormice amidst the bramble leaves and dead oak leaves that create the roof of their straw nest. I’m not quite sure why one of the dormice is cosy and warm in the nest – snuggled in the leaves – whilst the other seems to be fiddling around with a nut, but maybe he is bringing the other one a gift after a quarrel.

I suppose if I were to hibernate for the winter, I would not be awake for Christmas and for the usual hustle and bustle of one of the busiest times of the year; I WOULD miss the queues and the crowds and my bank balance would stay healthy. Oh, the more I think of it, the more I WANT to be a dormouse – the lucky wee things 🙂 .

Cary Grant – a portrait in stippling

I have to say that this has been a very busy month for me, with commissions and college work and so much more… However, on a rare moment of relaxation, I sat down with my movie retro magazine and delved into the pages. I have always been a classical movie buff and one of the pictures featured a young and very debonair Cary Grant with his friend, Randolph Scott in their shared home in Santa Monica. I do like some movies with Cary Grant starring in them, one being ‘That Touch of Mink’ with Doris Day and also ‘Charade’ with Audrey Hepburn, but one of the best by far is ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ with Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre.
Cary Grant for blog by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
The film features the quirky (to say the least) Brewster family, which has a lineage of insanity. The young freshly-married Mortimer, played by Grant, returns home to announce his betrothal to his two maiden aunts.   Far from being the ‘sweet faded roses’ that the two aunts appear to be, they are in fact taking it upon themselves of ‘ridding’ the town of sad, old men with little to live for – in fact killing them with kindness. Mortimer finds one of their most recent ‘mercy killings’ hidden in the house and tries to keep it all from the notice of his new and pretty wife, who probably wouldn’t understand.

Into the midst of this family chaos, Mortimer’s shady brother, Jonathan, comes to the house with the equally dubious Doctor Herman Einstein, as they flee capture for their foul deeds…and mayhem ensues throughout the rest of the movie…

The film is a black comedy, but has enough mirth and slapstick humour to keep the ghoulish acts of the aunts and brother Jonathan to a minimum, so even the most squeamish of souls can enjoy the humour…  And when it comes to squeamish, believe me, I am the worst!

Cary Grant, actor, b: 18 January 1904 – d: 29 November 1986

Many, many years ago, whilst living in Carlisle, I did a series of movie star illustrations, all done in the form of stippling. Cary Grant was one of the movie stars I illustrated. I chose a very familiar ‘Cary pose’ – a most debonair, suited gentleman.

Dougal – Dog Portrait

When my long-term friend from Carlisle, Helene Phillips, requested me to do a pencil portrait of her son-in-law, Lee’s dog, I was all too happy to oblige. I was sent over some puppy pictures of the adorable pooch, who is called Dougal, for the fairly obvious reason (I would imagine) that he resembles the cuddly canine featured on ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Lee’s wife Siobhan had secretly sent them, as the pencil portrait was a surprise for his birthday this month.
Dougal by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
I am not the best judge of dog breeds, but I was very inquisitive to know what breed of dog this is, but I am still not fully sure, but a Shih Tzu was the closest I could guess at. I think I have drawn dozens of dog breeds now, but this is the first time I have done a dog such as this one. I am still waiting to do my first Dalmatian – so I am ‘putting that out there’.

Although I do a lot less mono illustrations than colour ones, I do really enjoy using only one or two pencils to complete an illustration, rather than chopping-and-changing all the time. I did enjoy drawing the picture of Dougal and trying to capture the mischievous look in his eye… I bet he is quite a charming rascal.

It was very pleased to hear that Lee was delighted with his picture of Dougal -, presented to him on his birthday and if it’s not too late, I would like to extend my best wishes for his special day too…

PS. Apologies for the poor photographic quality of this illustration, it was taken on my greatly inadequate and antiquated mobile phone.

Quills and Spills…

I have been working on some scamps and rough sketches which feature quills this month.  It reminded me of the work that I did years ago for the Cumbria Life magazine (based in Cumbria and the Lake District).  My good friend, Cherry, was working for the magazine at the time and commissioned me to do a series of illustrations for some key regular features in the magazine, such as: antiques, cookery, books and literature etc.  I didn’t have a great deal of time to do the illustrations, as I was working full time in a college then, but I still managed to meet the deadlines and produce a series of illustrations.
Books and literature illustration by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog

The magazine was (and still is) a lovely and glossy publication – filled with gorgeous and sumptuous photographs and features, so I chose to do something that would look noticeably different on each page, but tied in with the heritage and roots of many of the readers.  I chose a woodcut or linocut design, which I actually drew by hand (not having the time to create linocuts) to give the effect of the illustration being printed by such a technique. 

Quills are beautiful to draw with and the illustrations were all drawn with quills, most of them modern ones, rather than the traditional goose feather variety.  My love of red squirrels was abounding at the time, so I featured a bookend in the form of a red squirrel.  This is an actual bookend that my father, Robert W. Nixon created for me and I incorporated into the illustration.  I then added in the quill, books and ink pot with a quirky ragged border to group the components together.

I’ve mentioned the quills, but not the spills!  That is the unfortunate part of the story; no sooner had I finished this illustration than I spilled the bottle of Quink ink all over the drawing board and the illustration.  After clearing up the mess and it being nearly midnight, I started to do the illustration again to meet the deadline…

The illustrations were used in a number of Cumbria Life magazines, but I have long since lost the actual copies.  However, the memories remain ever-present and strong and the red squirrel bookends still sit on my bookcase – nibbling their nuts and keeping a watchful eye on my most-treasured volumes…

A ‘Joyful’ Illustration

Whilst I was continuing my perpetual cleaning spree of my study, I unearthed this picture from my college days’ archive.  It is a coloured pencil illustration that was given to me circa 1997 by a friend and fellow student, Hazel Joy Shields, known to her friends as Joy.  I got to know Joy in my second year at College and what made the biggest connection between us was the fact that she was from the North East, (Blyth, Northumberland to be exact) and I was from Durham.
Joy's picturecompleteforblog
My nickname from my friends at Cumbria University of Arts was ‘Quiffer’ due to the wave-like quiff I had in those days and in this illustration Joy has drawn me with my distinctive hairstyle.  I am rather pleased that she has drawn my caricature as the wizard, (with the obvious power over the smoke-breathing dragon) and not one of the helpless knights quaking at the sight of it.  The knight in pink armour is my friend, Paul Drury, who hails from Huddersfield and the green-clad knave with the blonde hair is my friend, Andrew ‘Andy’ Smith from Wakefield.  I don’t know if either of the two Yorkshire lads will have seen this illustration or not before or whether it will be a surprise for them…

It was wonderful finding this illustration, still in perfect condition, amongst my papers, as it has brought back so many happy memories of my days of yore in Carlisle.  This cartoon illustration was done before the adventures of Harry Potter came into being, but maybe Joy had a bit of the foresight to see the potential in wizards, castles and knights in shining armour…

Thoughts on Belinda Carlisle…

I was just a tad excited when I heard – at the beginning of the year – that one of my 1980’s singing idols – Belinda Carlisle was coming to the U.K. to do the ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ tour.

The news took me right back to 1989 when I was living in Langholm, Scotland, with my knitwear-designer colleague, Jennifer J. Kerr.  In our flat, I crooned along with Belinda every time her song ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ was played on the radio.  I think the name Belinda has a magical sound to it and the surname Carlisle, is also a place where I had lived and studied for years, so the name probably caught my attention for that reason alone, with the interest in her music coming later.

 Belinda Carlisle concertticket 10.10.17
I also remember having photographs of Belinda pinned to the inside of my wardrobe door and one of the photographs was a caption about how she had said that if she could save the whale by having all her teeth taken out she would do it.  That made her not only a fantastic singer but also a heroine!

 Belinda Carlisle The Collection CD cover
Imagine then my disappointment when having rang The Sage, Gateshead that there were no tickets available for the Belinda Carlisle concert on the 10 October.  The helpful sales assistant did say that I could try ringing back, as sometimes there were a couple of returns.  Day after day calls were made, but there were no returns.

Then one day, travelling from Maryport to my home in Durham, I was listening to Neil Diamond singing ‘A Solitary Man’ and the first words are…“Belinda was mine until the time…”  I thought it’s a sign to ring for tickets and the very next day two tickets were returned – and they were claimed – by me.  Some things are really meant to be…

The concert was great, of course, and Belinda sang all of the songs from her ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ album, along with a few extra songs, one of which is my personal favourite Belinda song ‘Summer Rain’.  I can honestly say that I have never seen an audience at The Sage, Gateshead dance as much; Belinda had them bopping in the rows from coming on stage…

Heaven is a place on earth CD Belinda Carlisle
I had to be back in the classroom the following day, so didn’t want to stay too late after the show…but I did get two signed Belinda Carlisle CDs, which I will treasure…

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…

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…