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.

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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…

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

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).