This is going to be a bit of a heartfelt blog post, so you have been warned (in the nicest possible way)… I was very sad to hear the news of Doris Day’s passing just a couple of weeks ago on Monday, 13th May 2019. She has been my childhood and adult movie icon and the news of her death was a day that I really was not looking forward to. She lived to a good age and gave many people a lot of joy and laughter. She said she wanted her legacy to be her movies and for millions of people that is what they will remember.
Personally, I would like to thank Doris Day for all the letters I have received from her over the years (please see my earlier blog post for more details on that, as I don’t want to repeat myself to those who have already read it). I will treasure the letters and photographs that are in my possession and the wonderful memories that go with them. I was very touched by the amount of my friends who contacted me to ask how I was when the news of her death was announced. Thank you to all you who did that (you know who you are are).
My friend and colleague, Ashleigh Thompson, who is also a big fan of Miss Day’s movies and songs, asked me how I started writing to the Hollywood icon and I told her that I sent her some drawings back in the early 1980’s when I was little more than a child. When I got a reply from Doris Day, many weeks later, it was like winning the Lottery. She told me that she had auctioned off some of the portraits I had done for her (I can only imagine what they looked like way back then!) and that one of the buyers had been Frank Sinatra! I later thought he might have hung it in the garden shed, as my work was very ‘in its first flourish’ at the tender age of those very early portraits. The money raised from my drawings went, in her own words, to her ‘critters’ – the dogs and many other animals she took care of.
The illustration of Doris Day, above, was one of several movie star illustrations that I did for an exhibition (some of the other illustrations, such as Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly etc. have appeared on this blog on earlier postings). They were painstakingly done all in dots, which took many, many days to do, as ‘stippling by hand’ is not the quickest way to produce art. I gave the original illustration to one of my customers, Mr. Paul H. Spencer, who had been a lifelong fan of Doris Day. I knew it would be appreciated and cherished by him and it certainly is… There’s no better accolade for all the time and hours that have gone into a piece of art.
Doris Day, actress, singer, comedienne and animal welfare activist, b: 3 April 1922 – d: 13 May 2019
For those of you who have followed my work for a while now, you will know that my ‘signature tune’ in most of my drawings is a ladybird. I am not totally sure as to how and when I decided to put these little scarlet beetles into my drawings, but I do know why I am so particularly fond of them. When I was a little boy my Grandfather Lake was keen on growing roses and he and I would go to the site of the old swamp in Tanfield Lea and gather as many ladybirds as we could find to put on his roses. They were very hardworking gardening allies and kept all the pests at bay; my Grandfather’s roses flourished year-after-year. Through the years, the ladybirds became more and more prominent in my work and it now reminds me of dear friends, such as Mildred from Carlisle and Dorothy from Whitehaven.
So, whilst having lunch at Hexham Fish Bar with my friends from Carlisle, Mary and Peter Lupton, Mary turned to me and said, “Darling, what are you going to do for your next blog post?” I wasn’t sure and later when we were talking to Stella, the young lady that works in the fish bar, Mary suggested I give her one of my business cards. Stella’s family are from Cyprus and she pointed out the ladybird on my logo. I asked her what the insects are called in Cyprus and she said she would check with her father. He said that they are called Babavura or Paparouna, which relates to ladybirds bearing the same colours as the field poppy – scarlet and black. Quite appropriate! Whatever your nationality it would seem that ladybirds are lucky or beneficial insects in most countries or cultures with pet names such as ‘God’s Cow’ and ‘Mary’s/Our Lady’s Beetle’ -relating to the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted in early mediaeval paintings wearing scarlet and black robes, instead of the traditional white and blue that people are now familiar with.
So, on this very sunny and warm Good Friday, I decided to sit down and do a very quick coloured pencil sketch of ladybirds on one of my favourite flowers, forget-me-nots. I allowed myself a very strict time limit to do this illustration and I just managed to meet the deadline. I felt a little bit silly for sitting in drawing on such a glorious April day, but with the window open and the sun pouring through it was like being outside inside. I enjoyed doing the illustration and it was interesting to see just how many colours were used to create the final piece of artwork!
I’ve done many teddy bear illustrations over the years, but some of them I do forget, but this isn’t one of them. Although I am not a great fan of Hallowe’en, I do love the colour and imagery that I had to capture in this drawing.
I was asked by a big company in America, to illustrate one of their many beautiful teddies and after looking through their glossy catalogue several times, I was ‘taken’ to this little witch bear, with her sequinned cape and starry hat. I liked drawing this teddy bear ‘as she was’, which included her rather sad looking face. A number of my customers used to say, “Can you draw that teddy bear smiling?” and I replied, “I draw the bears as they present themselves”. Teddy bears have individual characters: some happy some sad – just like human beings.
I remember my youngest niece, Cora, was just a baby when I started this illustration and the small wizard or witch that was coming out of the jack-o-lantern resembled her a little bit (she will be cross with me for putting this on here!), so I had to include him/her in the illustration. Many of my teddy bear illustrations have a soft pastel theme, but with this one I could use the strong colours of green, orange and purple without hesitation. I loved doing the confectionery: lollipops, cupcakes and biscuits with the ghosts and black cat cake toppings. It was a great deal of fun (I think I ate them ALL afterwards!).
Whatever you have done or are doing for Hallowe’en, I do hope that you get a lot more treats than tricks! Enjoy yourself and be safe…
I have always had a love of swans, but Mute Swans in particular. They are known as birds that are legally protected in Britain by HM Queen Elizabeth II. I rather think they match being a royal bird as the regal way they bow and raise their heads is grace personified. I also admire the way that they glide serenely on a lake, whilst their legs are frantically going like the paddle wheels of a riverboat steamer beneath the almost unrippled surface!
I do know swans have gained, with some people, rather an aggressive reputation, but I think their protective ways are much needed in a world where irresponsible dog owners let their dogs run after and threaten (and on occasions kill) cygnets. I have also seen children throwing stones and bricks at these beautiful birds, so is it any wonder that many of them are very protective especially to their young? I can see the swan’s point of view and have to say that with all of my many up-close-encounters with swans have all been tranquil and placid.
I found a nice photograph of a mute swan preening its feathers in the shallow waters of a lake and decided that I would draw it in soft pastels. I was rather pushed for time, but I was also needing to use up some creativity that was bubbling to the surface that day. With this in mind, I did the drawing on a very small scale and on a very textured paper. This wasn’t the best of ideas, as the texture was perhaps a trifle strong for a drawing that small, so much so, I put the illustration aside for a while after only doing a small part of the background. Later, with a little bit of persuasion from a friend, I was encouraged to persevere with it, which I did rather begrudgingly (time always being a much prized and scarce commodity with me).
After half-an-hour of sustained colouring with my pastels, I started to enjoy the drawing for the act of drawing and being creative, rather than trying to complete something that was ‘pleasing’ to me… As it happens, it pleases a friend of mine very much, who has kindly requested it for his brother – an ardent nature lover.
I finished the mute swan today and have learned a few lessons from it, firstly that textured paper and small drawings have a conflict of interest and secondly that enjoying doing something is sometimes more important than the finished result…
Whilst my role as a teacher allows me to meet some great learners, it also gives me the opportunity to meet some really nice people who support the learners to achieve the best results they can. I have worked with many support workers, but the ones that I have worked with over the last two terms have been some of the best. These have included (in alphabetical order): Amanda, Danielle, Jess, Nathan, Neil, Ronnie and Tom. Working closely with learners and their support workers in the classroom give you a real insight into the kindness and patience people have for those that they care for and in time you get to know these people and find out about their families and their interests.
One of the above named support workers, Nathan, was telling me about his family on one occasion: about his wife Tracey, their four-year-old daughter named Annabelle and their young son, named Max. Annabelle is a fan of My Little Pony and also likes unicorns (but then who doesn’t?). He requested me to do an illustration for Annabelle, which he and Tracey would present to her on her fifth birthday this month.
Inline with his daughter’s interests, Nathan requested ponies, flying horses, unicorns – things of a fairytale theme, with the main colours of pink and blue, which are Annabelle’s favourite colours. I made a suggestion of trying to include Annabelle in the illustration and bearing in mind the size of the illustration this was easier said than done, as I was illustrating a face that was so small on paper! I had to use my finest pencils and a magnifying glass to see what I was doing. I took a deep breath and whilst biting my tongue did the drawing, trying not to overdo it. It was white-knuckle time!
I got a message from Nathan to say that the illustration is fantastic and his colleagues have also given me such great feedback about the drawing. I hope the illustration was a highlight of Annabelle’s birthday and that when she is older it will bring back the most special memories of a wonderful birthday and a personalised gift from her loving father and mother.