Dougal – Dog Portrait

When my long-term friend from Carlisle, Helene Phillips, requested me to do a pencil portrait of her son-in-law, Lee’s dog, I was all too happy to oblige. I was sent over some puppy pictures of the adorable pooch, who is called Dougal, for the fairly obvious reason (I would imagine) that he resembles the cuddly canine featured on ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Lee’s wife Siobhan had secretly sent them, as the pencil portrait was a surprise for his birthday this month.
Dougal by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
I am not the best judge of dog breeds, but I was very inquisitive to know what breed of dog this is, but I am still not fully sure, but a Shih Tzu was the closest I could guess at. I think I have drawn dozens of dog breeds now, but this is the first time I have done a dog such as this one. I am still waiting to do my first Dalmatian – so I am ‘putting that out there’.

Although I do a lot less mono illustrations than colour ones, I do really enjoy using only one or two pencils to complete an illustration, rather than chopping-and-changing all the time. I did enjoy drawing the picture of Dougal and trying to capture the mischievous look in his eye… I bet he is quite a charming rascal.

It was very pleased to hear that Lee was delighted with his picture of Dougal -, presented to him on his birthday and if it’s not too late, I would like to extend my best wishes for his special day too…

PS. Apologies for the poor photographic quality of this illustration, it was taken on my greatly inadequate and antiquated mobile phone.

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Cabbage whites and Orange-tips…

I like to think of myself as a keen gardener, but onlookers of my garden might be deceived in thinking that it’s been several years since a hoe or a pruning fork was taken to it.  Always being busy at work is one of the main reasons that I don’t get a lot of time to spend in horticultural pursuits.  One of the lesser reasons is that all of the flowers I grow seem to attract ALL of the most virulent pests.  A favourite flower/plant of mine is apricot and lemon nasturtiums, which I have grown year-on-year from seeds.  As soon as they start to grow (before even a flower has had time to form even!) a cascade of butterflies (all of them wanting to lay eggs on my plants) appear from the heavens in force.  I have to admit to really having a fondness for the Cabbage white butterfly, although it certainly is no ally of mine in the need to keep my garden and yard tidy and colourful.

Orange tip by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogOne of the more welcome butterfly visitors in the garden is the Orange-tip Butterfly, which is small and attractive.  But even this lesser seen butterfly is after some of my favourite plants, namely the ‘Sweet rocket’ or ‘Dame’s violet’ (Hesperis matronalis).  I spent some time sketching some of these beautiful butterflies; they have rounded wings that look like they have been dipped in orange cadmium paint.  With only a couple of hours spare that week, I decided to do a quick watercolour of this butterfly, using some really nice snapshots of Orange-tip butterflies, that a friend had taken for me, whilst on a walk.  The two combined reference materials enabled me to do this super quick illustration in just under two hours.
On reflection, I might have been better spending my time with the hoe and the pruning fork…

Gingerbread Bears – Bear-a-thought Illustration

Of all of the Bear-a-thought illustrations that I have created over the years, ‘Gingerbread Bears’ reminds me of the most bizarre predicament that I found myself in.  Although I do enjoy the occasional cookery programme, I am not blessed with culinary skills.  So when I needed to create a very small portion of dough, I thought that it would be a ‘breeze’ – even for me!  This small piece of dough was going to be used to create some small gingerbread bear biscuits that Scruff (the bear in the illustration) was going to bake. 
Gingerbread bears by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Off I went to my local Post Office; the postmistresses Enid and Angela soon provided me with my essential ingredients, butter, eggs, flour…  Back at home, I set to work with a hale-and-hearty approach to my task, but after mixing the ingredients for a while I suspected that something was not quite right.  My dough consistency was wrong!  I put that particular mixing bowl to one side and using what was left of the ingredients started again.  Culinary disasters don’t often strike twice in the same kitchen, but let me tell you they can.  The dough was too runny this time…  I put that bowl aside and went to the Post Office again to buy more essential ingredients.  This was beginning to be a costly exercise for one piece of pastry.  I started again (not quite as hale-and-hearty as before), mixing ingredients – checking the recipe – weighing things carefully.  But it still went wrong!  My fourth attempt was no more successful!

Then, a friend arrived – surveyed the culinary process at hand and exclaimed, “What are you doing?”  I explained and within minutes hands were washed and then plunged into the various bowls – the first ‘experiment’ had lacked enough butter, the second hadn’t enough flour.  Soon all the mixtures were perfect.

I now had enough dough to feed a family of forty.  After cutting out a wide assortment of animal shapes, including giraffes and rhinoceroses, out of the dough, we were ready for baking the collected menagerie.  The scene was somewhat reminiscent of a factory production line (at full tilt), as tray after tray of biscuits were placed and taken out of the oven…

Too many biscuits…  I couldn’t eat them all, so I packed them in clean white paper bags and distributed them to my astonished neighbours.  Thankfully no one was rushed to hospital with gastroenteritis, and even more thankfully I had remembered to salvage a small piece of pastry aside for my illustration. 

So, when people look at my teddy bear illustrations and see the bears, smile and say “How lovely!” they really have no idea what pains and lengths I have had to go to create that particular finished piece of artwork. 

After writing all of this copy, I think I need a refreshing cup of tea and a gingerbread bear…  Biscuit anyone?

This picture now resides in the home of two of my dearest friends, Mary and Peter Lupton in Carlisle.  You will see that the bag of flour in the picture bears the name of ‘Lupton’.  I have had many people say that they can’t get this flour in the shops and where did I get it from?  Well it’s not available in any leading supermarkets, as it was done in special recognition of my friends.

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…

Highland Cow (an exercise in colour)…

oeIt was one of those days when you just feel inspired to draw something, but you don’t know what and then your eye rests upon something that sparks your creativity.  I was just returning from a shopping trip in Newcastle upon Tyne, when I spied some Highland cattle from the lofty heights of the double-decker bus I was travelling on.
The colour of the cattle, a rusty orange, captured my imagination and I sourced some images online on my return home.  I found an excellent picture of a Highland cow and decided to reproduce it using a limited colour palette of coloured pencils: French Grey, Indigo, Raw Sienna, Chocolate, Venetian Red and Terra Cotta.  I didn’t allow myself to use Black pencils.  As well as working with a limited palette, I only allowed myself three-hours to create the drawing and the colouring.  In hindsight it could have done with some extra work, but I was determined not to go over the time allocation I had set myself from the outset.  In many ways this colour and time exercise reminded me of when I was a student at Cumbria Institute of the Arts in Carlisle.

I have a friend who is very fond of Highland cattle and this illustration just might find its way to her some day in the, hopefully, not-too-distant future…

Sam and Katie – Dog Portraits

A friend and former colleague, Graeme Stobbart, asked me if I could produce a portrait of his two dogs, both of which were no longer with us. Unfortunately, Sam, the Jack Russell, had been passed for a good number of years and the photographs that Graeme and his family had of him were of a quality not best for producing a detailed illustration. However, after sourcing and selecting a number of photographs of Sam, from different angles, I was just able to work out his facial marking and colouration. It wasn’t the easiest of jobs I’ve ever had to do, but sometimes it’s worthwhile making the effort for a friend, especially one that would go the extra mile for you.Sam and Katie (smaller)forblog
I was pleased to get this commission completed when I did, and was delighted to hear that Graeme’s parents, Derek and Diane, were delighted with the finished illustration. It made all of the effort spent at the drawing-board worthwhile. The hardest part for me was putting pencil to paper, not knowing whether the finished result was going to be what myself or my clients expected.

This illustration was also a first for me, as I have (very surprisingly) never drawn a West Highland Terrier before. I loved drawing the picture of Katie, who looks just like the kind of canine friend I would love to have had myself. I have always had a ‘soft-spot’ for Westies, to be honest.

I chose a silver-grey background paper to draw this illustration on, as white would not have been a good contrast to Katie’s light fur and too dark a colour wouldn’t have shown Sam in the best way either, (as both dogs are rather a tonal contrast). I had to resort to using a wide variety of mediums to produce this illustration: coloured pencil, watercolour paint and even chalk. I don’t often mix mediums, but this seemed to give the right feel for different parts of the picture.

I handed over the commission to Graeme on the 14th May (whilst we were having a catch-up and a coffee in Starbucks) with a certain amount of trepidation, as I had never met Sam and Katie and wasn’t sure that I had ‘captured them’ in the illustration. It always gives me a sigh of relief when I know that all of the chalk, sweat and paint have met the hopes and expectations of the person receiving the final piece of artwork. Phew!

Quote from Client ~

“As soon as I saw the portrait it was obvious that Michael had not only drawn (and painted) an amazing picture, but that he had captured the spark that made Sam and Katie so special to us. There is so much life in the portrait and it was no surprise that there were tears when Mam saw the portrait. Michael has worked wonders with the source material and has reflected the characters of two very different little dogs beautifully.”

Graeme Stobbart