It’s lovely when something inspires you to draw it, rather than being forced by financial hardships or monetary gain to draw something that you like, but might not necessarily want to spend hours and hours painting.
On a recent weekend trip to the beautiful city of London, I had a wander around the Marylebone area and found myself traipsing (leisurely) through Regent’s Park. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and already the trees were showing signs of the coming spring. I was both amazed and delighted that there were so many people using the park – many of them dog owners giving their canines some exercise. There were a great many families too and a lot of young and youngish men walking with their children; single parents spending precious time with their son or daughter.
But the one thing I didn’t expect to see was a rather large pelican. I was standing on a little bridge looking at the spire of St. Mark’s Church across on the other side of the river (it reminded me of a church in Stanley, County Durham), when I turned to see a pelican in very close proximity to me. He (or she) looked friendly enough, but it is rather disconcerting to turn around and see a large bird with an enormous bill hovering behind you! Question: What did it want? Answer: I will never know as it soon wandered off on its travels. I expect it was just having a little lookout from its home at London Zoo. It was nice that that little scene on the bridge made people smile as they passed or jogged on by – I wonder if they thought we came as a pair!
So, that large and friendly feathery white fowl, inspired me to do some sketches of a pelican for a pelican brief I have acquired, (though nothing to do with the 1993 movie starring Julia Roberts). Although the final illustrations will not be ‘true to life’ (more cartoon or graphic forms of art), these studies are a good way of getting ‘familiar’ with a subject, which in-turn will assist with the consequent drawings to be done…
“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican?”
Poem by Dixon Lanier Merritt (b:1879–d:1972)
I had done a birth illustration for a baby boy called Joshua back in April 2015 and his proud Grandmother, Angela, contacted me, a few months ago, to say that Joshua had recently received a baby brother, Rafe (the original spelling for the name Ralph) and that she would like to commission me to do a birth illustration for the newest member of her family.
After doing a spot of ‘homework’ about the name Rafe, I discovered that it is an old Norse/English word, which means ‘wolf counsellor’. Angela then asked me to come up with a theme for the birth illustration. I thought ‘Peter and the Wolf’ would be a nice theme for the commission and did some research about this ‘symphonic fairy tale for children’: which is a musical composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936.
On his travels, young Peter (after leaving the safety of his grandfather’s house), encounters a small bird, a cat and a duck, which journey with him on his search for his adventure. Peter and the animals are all depicted by a particular instrument i.e. the cat is set to the clarinet, the duck to the oboe and Peter’s character is set to the string section of an orchestra. As the music unfolds, the different characters can be heard throughout the piece.
I wanted to create a different look for each of the characters and did a small scamp (Scamp – a first rough or mockup) before working on a more detailed sketch with characters in place. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process for me, as it’s drawing it all out and is fairly time-consuming. However, I love the process of creating the finished illustration, as all of the hours spent scamping and sketching finally start to take on a new dimension in colour, shape and texture before one’s eyes.
I was requested to keep the main character of Peter similar to the Disney cartoon, but I did suggest that we alter his hair and the colour of his clothes, as I never like to reproduce anything exactly. The small elephant on Peter’s clothes, relates to the motif on the birth announcement card that Angela received to inform her of his birth.
I am not sure when Angela is going to present her daughter with the new picture for the new arrival, but I do hope that they will like it and the thought and effort that has gone in to it from both the client and the artist…
A friend and former colleague, Graeme Stobbart, asked me if I could produce a portrait of his two dogs, both of which were no longer with us. Unfortunately, Sam, the Jack Russell, had been passed for a good number of years and the photographs that Graeme and his family had of him were of a quality not best for producing a detailed illustration. However, after sourcing and selecting a number of photographs of Sam, from different angles, I was just able to work out his facial marking and colouration. It wasn’t the easiest of jobs I’ve ever had to do, but sometimes it’s worthwhile making the effort for a friend, especially one that would go the extra mile for you.
I was pleased to get this commission completed when I did, and was delighted to hear that Graeme’s parents, Derek and Diane, were delighted with the finished illustration. It made all of the effort spent at the drawing-board worthwhile. The hardest part for me was putting pencil to paper, not knowing whether the finished result was going to be what myself or my clients expected.
This illustration was also a first for me, as I have (very surprisingly) never drawn a West Highland Terrier before. I loved drawing the picture of Katie, who looks just like the kind of canine friend I would love to have had myself. I have always had a ‘soft-spot’ for Westies, to be honest.
I chose a silver-grey background paper to draw this illustration on, as white would not have been a good contrast to Katie’s light fur and too dark a colour wouldn’t have shown Sam in the best way either, (as both dogs are rather a tonal contrast). I had to resort to using a wide variety of mediums to produce this illustration: coloured pencil, watercolour paint and even chalk. I don’t often mix mediums, but this seemed to give the right feel for different parts of the picture.
I handed over the commission to Graeme on the 14th May (whilst we were having a catch-up and a coffee in Starbucks) with a certain amount of trepidation, as I had never met Sam and Katie and wasn’t sure that I had ‘captured them’ in the illustration. It always gives me a sigh of relief when I know that all of the chalk, sweat and paint have met the hopes and expectations of the person receiving the final piece of artwork. Phew!
Quote from Client ~
“As soon as I saw the portrait it was obvious that Michael had not only drawn (and painted) an amazing picture, but that he had captured the spark that made Sam and Katie so special to us. There is so much life in the portrait and it was no surprise that there were tears when Mam saw the portrait. Michael has worked wonders with the source material and has reflected the characters of two very different little dogs beautifully.”