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.

Advertisements

Mute Swan Illustration

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.

Mute swan by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogfinal
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…

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…

It’s all about the Bard…

There’s much ado…this April, about one of England’s most famous writers – William Shakespeare. I have heard that there are new stamps being issued by the Royal Mail, which feature famous lines from his plays and the Royal Mint are also issuing three £2 coins, which feature the three main themes of his plays: comedies, histories and tragedies. Being an avid stamp collector I must look out for those…and perhaps those new shiny coins too…

Until a few days ago, I had been unaware that 2016 is the 400th anniversary of this well-known man, who is the most published author and the most performed dramatist of all time…

The Shakespeare Pub, Durham (watercolour painting - 12 August 2015forblog

It cannot have been my subconscious, but for some reason whilst walking around Durham, quite recently, I felt most inclined to do a quick watercolour sketch of the Shakespeare public house. I don’t normally have a free hour or so to sit down and paint (particularly in a busy city, as I don’t like crowds or an audience), but that’s just what I did. I didn’t have that much time to paint anything more than the fascia, but I did enjoy just doing something because I wanted to do it and not for a specific reason or for a commission. It seems appropriate to put this watercolour painting, of this popular public house, on my blog, in recognition of Mr Shakespeare…

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” The Tempest
William Shakespeare, English poet, playwright and actor
Baptised: 26 April 1564 – Died: 23 April 1616

Snowbear – Bear-a-thought Illustration

The Snowbear illustration was one of the first illustrations that I drew when I started my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Just looking at this illustration that I did 15-years ago on this date in 2001 (can’t believe it was that long!), I can still remember so much about my life then and what I had to do to create this illustration. I remember it had snowed hard in Durham that year and it was an ideal opportunity to get some snowy pictures. I stumbled out into the garden one morning, donned with gloves (fingerless ones, which are the only ones I can wear) and made my self a snowman, or more correctly a snowbear. I tried to make him teddy bear size (or just a bit bigger), so that he didn’t overpower the bear that I had in mind to draw with him.
Snowbear for blogAfter making my snowbear, which called on me to improvise with his features, using leaves for inside his ears and buttons, a cherry-chocolate covered in red foil paper for his nose and some well-known chocolate wrappers for his eyes, I draped a favourite scarf around his shoulders to create that casual, snowbear-around-town look. All that was left was to position my teddy bear, Augustus, in front of my cold creation. I think the addition of the spade was an inspiration and made it look like little Augustus had been hard at work at his snow sculpture.

This was the first illustration to be seen in my very-first calendar and was the first of many, as I had no idea at the time just how popular these illustrations would become or how many different parts of the world would get to see them.

Scarlett – Girl’s Birth Picture

A friend and former colleague, Jacqui, contacted me a few weeks ago, to ask if she could commission me to create a birth illustration for a new member of her family, who is called Scarlett. Jacqui’s cousin gave birth to the little girl last year and she is to be christened today (Easter Sunday) in a church in Durham city.
Scarlett (complete)byMichael Quinlyn-Nixonforblog
When Jacqui stated that her cousin, Steph, had requested an Easter theme for Scarlett, I wasn’t sure how pastel-coloured eggs, ducklings and rabbits were ‘going to go’ alongside a name like Scarlett, which evokes a bright vivid red to one’s mind. The name Scarlett originates from the colour scarlet and the name became well known during the 1940’s when Vivien Leigh played the part of the vain, self-centred and bewitching Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939). The name has also had a recent boost of interest, which is probably due to the popular and glamorous actress Scarlett Johansson.

After careful consideration of the colour scheme and layout and despite my initial forebodings about the pastel colours and the name ‘Scarlett’ I was pleased with the finished result. I had used a mid-pink for the lettering, adding in small scarlet-coloured dots to the edge of the letters, so that there was some scarlet included in the picture.

I hadn’t done an Easter birth illustration (though I was really looking forward to doing my first), so I was as happy as a sandboy when drawing the ducklings and the bunnies that are enjoying the spring sunshine amongst the Easter eggs. And of course, I had to include one of my favourite spring flowers too – the forget-me-not, which always flowers in my garden from mid-April.
Scarlett sketchby MichaelQuinlyn-NixonforblogThe sketch for the illustration

I hope the illustration is a success with Scarlett’s family and with Scarlett herself in years to come. My client, Jacqui, was so pleased with the illustration that she confessed to wanting to keep it herself, which I consider very high praise indeed…    Michael