Birds of a Feather – Bear-a-thought Illustration

Those of you who regularly read my blog posts will know that I have a little quirk about same double-digit numbers, such as 11, 33 and especially 88. This is very much an ‘88 blog post’, as this is in fact my 88th blog post on this WordPress site and the topic is one of my teddy bear illustrations, which happened to be my 88th teddy bear illustration. As if that wasn’t sufficient amount of 88’s, this (for you who are into dates) is the 88th day of the year. So, it’s 88.88.88!Birds of a feather by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog)This illustration, which is one of my very favourite illustrations that I created, was partly inspired by one of my friends and former work colleague, John W. Hall, who sadly passed away a number of years ago. John was a ‘pigeon man’ and loved his racing pigeons, one of which ‘Jeff’ is proudly displayed in the picture. I always remember he would ask me weeks in advance if the calendars were ready to purchase and he was ALWAYS the first person to buy several when they were available, closely followed by our friend Dawn Logan. John was very proud of my work and I remember that fact with a glowing pride. The very talented South African bear artist, Ingrid Els, kindly allowed me use of one of her furry creations to depict in the picture and he is ideally suited to the theme wearing his cloth cap and dungarees… The backdrop of the illustration was sketched in the gardens of the miners’ cottages at Beamish Museum, which is a living museum, based in Stanley, County Durham.

So, as you can see, the young bear in this picture is a local lad to the North East in more ways that one. With his pigeon cree and his flight of pigeons and his copy of The Evening Chronicle this teddy bear is set for a good day… The pigeon clock belonged to John and much to my surprise had been made almost to the day of my birth! That was such a surprising find, when I pondered over it whilst doing the sketches for the illustration. If you look closely you can see that his pigeon has even featured on the front page of the newspaper. And, if you look even more closely (as one of my readers noticed just recently), you can see that the number 88 is featured on the front page too!

People often ask me if I enjoyed colouring all the bricks, the honest answer is yes, as I like doing repetitive tasks, but this does not include drawing thousands of blades of grass! Oh, dear me, no…

BirdsofaFeatherprint(signed)byMQuinlynNixonforblog  The ‘Birds of a Feather’ illustration took a few weeks to complete and was finished on the 29th September 2007.  It is dedicated to John W. Hall. He was a good friend, a loving husband to his wife Jasmin, a loving father to his two daughters Debbie and Nicola and a loving grandfather to his grandchildren, of whom he was so proud. The original illustration now belongs to them…

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The pelican brief – sketches

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.
Pelicansketches by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
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)

Stan & Ollie – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I am excited about going to see the ‘Stan and Ollie’ film released in the United Kingdom today, which is based on the lives of the actors and comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  It stars actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in the respective roles.  It reminded me of a teddy bear illustration that I did of the famous black-and-white comedy duo many years ago…
stan & ollie by michael quinlyn-nixon for blogb
Whilst working on one of my teddy bear calendar themes, in 2003, I came up with the idea of famous bears and made a list of the many characters that I like, that are very recognisable by their costume or attire.  The list was very long, but some suggestions had to be scrapped and a smaller list compiled.  One of the suggestions on the list that appealed to me was Laurel and Hardy.  I had a discussion with Jennifer A. Stephenson, my friend who kindly made the outfits and other paraphernalia for the teddy bears, and she was also drawn to the idea of Laurel and Hardy too.  

In deference to the comedy duo’s fine slapstick humour, we decided to dress them in dungarees (rather than their formal black suit and ties), but, of course, we had to include the bowler hats and their distinctive neckties.  To go along with the dungarees, we created a decorating scenario with ladders, wallpaper and paint (my father, Robert, kindly made the ladders and toolbox).  Luckily one of Jennifer’s friends, the late Pat Holmes (nee Boustead – a well-known singer in the County Durham area) was decorating her home at this time, so this proved to be the ideal place in which to create our ‘Hollywood film set’. 

As it happened, shortly after the photographs were taken and the sketches were drawn, we disassembled the scene and I slipped and spilled the whole pot of banana custard coloured paint all over the floorboards.  Pat wasn’t too annoyed, as she was planning on a carpet anyway, but she could have easily used Oliver Hardy’s famous quote and stated, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into”.

I remember watching Laurel and Hardy when I was young and they always made me laugh with their funny and inoffensive humour.  Stan Laurel (b: 1890 – d:1965) was my favourite, as I loved the way he scratched his head when perplexed, but Oliver Hardy (b: 1892 – d:1957) had the most amazing face, which was full of disbelief one minute and wreathed in wonderful smiles the next.

When I was a little boy, I remember my Grandfather Lake telling me that Stan Laurel had lived in County Durham for a while, but that he had been born in Cumbria.  Both of these English counties have tributes to these two wonderful men who brought so much joy to so many people’s lives.

The illustration ‘Stan & Ollie’ was started on 18 April and completed on the 5 May 2003.

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…

Hugo – Cocker Spaniel Portrait

I have had an influx of dog portrait enquiries over the last month and because of my other commitments I have had to turn most of them down or put them on the ‘back-burner’ until next year.  There may be just enough time to illustrate a Labrador and a Border Collie before Christmas however…

My latest dog illustration was a commission from a friend and former colleague, Andrea, who I worked with many years ago.  Andrea has the most beautiful golden Cocker Spaniel, called Hugo, and she had been wanting an illustration of him for quite some time.  So, in August, we took him to a local beauty spot called The Derwent Walk where we took some photographs of him enjoying a run in the summer grass.  From the selection of photographs one was selected to create the illustration from…which you can see below…

hugobymichaelquinlyn-nixonforblog

I met Andrea and handed over the illustration and I am pleased to say that she and her husband, Tony, are both delighted with it and that ‘Hugo’ has now gone to the picture framers.  It’s very special to think that I have created an illustration of a beloved pet that will be enjoyed for many years to come.  I also hope that Hugo thinks I have done him justice – especially those gorgeous golden curly ears of his 🙂