I always love this time of year, when you know spring is ‘just around the corner’. The days start to lengthen and the mornings are much lighter (so not quite as difficult to get out of bed at 7 o’clock) and one’s heart is gladdened.
It’s at this time of year, that I always notice a large clump of snowdrops, which grow on a bank in Burnopfield, not far from my parents’ home. They have cheered my heart on many a winter day.
My longtime friend and former colleague, Mildred, has a great love of snowdrops and they have a very special meaning for her. I think she was the inspiration behind this drawing, which also featured a beautiful white bear. My friend, Jennifer A. Stephenson created a beautiful jade-green cape or cloak, for the bear, which I named ‘Sophie’.
I photographed the bear in situ but was very careful not to crush the delicate white blooms on the drooping flowers. As usual, I waited until the road was quiet of traffic and set up the scene. Then, as usual, a fleet of buses or a group of cyclists go by and all stop and stare at me, as I do some sketching and take some hasty photographs. The same thing happened on this occasion, which is always very embarrassing for me. I wouldn’t put myself through these torturous ordeals if it is not for the fact that I want to get the effects of shadow and light correct on the bear etc.
This illustration, like many of them, was time consuming, as the amount of snowdrops could not be rushed. I felt I was well on my way to breaking the record of how many snowdrops could be drawn in the one picture.
‘Sophie in Snowdrops’ appeared in my 2006 Bear-a-thought calendar and the finishing touches on this illustration were completed whilst I was watching a repeat of the original ‘Dad’s Army’ movie on television. It’s strange the memories of doing these illustrations recall…
I illustrated my Bear-a-thought teddy bear calendars for twelve-years and was due to start work on my thirteenth calendar, before I realised that I had neither the time or energy to complete another twelve illustrations. Due to the amount of other projects and my commitments to a full-time job I was left with a dilemma of whether to carry on with the illustrations or concentrate on other types of illustration…
I decided not to go ahead with the calendar; there would have been an enormous amount of pressure to have done so. I informed my customers, scattered all around the world, of my decision and was amazed to receive many letters and e-mails saying how disappointed they were to hear the news. They understood the reasons, of course, but it was nice for me to know that my calendars had been looked forward to with so much delight and that they had made a difference in people’s lives. I have kept the letters and they are a lovely reminder of how people appreciated the work that I had done over a dozen years.
The last Bear-a-thought illustration that I produced was to be for my thirteenth calendar and was planned to feature bears on a theme of the 12-months of the zodiac. I chose Pisces, (the birth sign for those born, on average, between February 19 and March 20) as my first piece of artwork, as I had a pet goldfish, called Monica, that I adored. She had been a companion for many years and was the most affectionate goldfish that I had known (I have known a lot). When the other fish in the tank were ill she would take food from the top of the water and take it down for them and encourage them to eat. She was a very intelligent fish and was like a nurse with fins :0) I would dangle my fingers in the water and she would come and swim around them and receive a delicate stroke. Some of her scales shone with the most beautiful gold – yes gold, not orange – sheen. All good things must come to pass, and my friend with fins died in August 2007. The illustration was created after Monica’s passing, as I wanted to include her in one of my illustrations.
I also included two of my most popular teddy bears, Augustus and Scruff. I love Augustus’s sleepy eyes and the disheveled look that Scruff had about him. I still have these two bears, as I became very attached to them (and they to me, of course) and they reside in a big Victorian perambulator that my grandmother left me (she said it is an antique, but that has yet to be proved). They look quite keen to pose for me again, if the need ever arises.
So, my 132nd Bear-a-thought illustration looks like it is to be the last, but I did promise my customers to never say never to launching the calendars again in the future…
PS. I love double numbers, so it was rather fitting to finish the illustration on 11 November 2011 (11.11.11).