Are you being rendered?

I don’t get a great deal of time to relax (not sure if many freelance artists do), but last week I sat down with a big mug of Ringtons’ tea and turned on the television set. Quite by chance, one of my favourite comedies was just coming on, ‘Are you being served?’, which was a popular programme airing between 1972 to 1985. I have always loved this comedy created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, which featured a range of bizarre and quirky characters working in a department store by the name of Grace Bros.
Mollie Sugden by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
My favourite character was the multi-coloured hairdo owner, Mrs Slocombe – played by the wonderful comedy actress, Mollie Sugden (b:1922-d: 2009). Her facial expressions, ranging from scorn, disbelief to polite arrogance still amazes me and makes me laugh.

This programme is quite poignant to me, as I had drawn some quick pen and ink illustrations of three of the main characters for an advertising campaign, when I was working at the Cumbrian Gazette in Carlisle. I thoroughly enjoyed drawing Mrs Slocombe, “I’m FREE!” Mr Humphries (played by John Inman) and Captain Peacock (played by Frank Thornton). The publicity campaign went well…thankfully.

AreyoubeingservedbyMichael Quinlyn-Nixon forblog

But, years later I was to become personally acquainted with Mollie Sudgen, when I began my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Can you imagine my delight when she confessed that she was a ‘fan’ of my teddy bears? I still have a cheque from Mollie Sugden, which I couldn’t cash in of course, because it was such a souvenir! Becoming a regular customer of my teddy bear-themed calendars over the years, Mollie ordered many for her family, but on one occasion she sent far too much money on the cheque.

Seeing her error and wanting to rectify it as quickly as possible, I rang her on her home telephone number in Surrey. Despite it being an atrociously bad connection, I had the most marvellous conversation with this very charming lady, who happened to be ‘smack bang’ in the middle of cooking preparations for her 80th birthday! I did not want the meals she was making to be ruined, so just had a quick call, but it was something that I will always remember with fondness. She later wrote me a letter, informing me that the meals were not ruined and she had not expected so many guests (her birthday being in July and people having arranged holidays), but to her great surprise a great many of the cast of ‘Are you being served?’ along with some of the cast of ‘The Liver Birds’ had attended.

Looking back, I do think Andy Warhol whilst doing those marvellous screen prints of movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor missed a golden opportunity with the character of Mollie’s Mrs Slocombe. Just look at this quick screen-print I have done – with all of those coloured coiffures. Mollie Sugden screenprints by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Keep the lilac, Mrs Slocombe, I think it looks great…

Buster – Dog Portrait

The last couple of months of 2019 were extremely busy for me, as so many clients required commission work done at the latter part of the year. Luckily for me, most of my customers were quite happy to wait until the turn of the new year to get commission work done. I never rush an illustration and could not sell anything that hasn’t had the right amount of work that is required to complete it.

One of the commissions I managed to get done just in time for Christmas was a pet portrait of a beautiful spaniel, which had been called ‘Buster’. His owner, Wendy, from Consett, County Durham, had commissioned me to do a picture of their late beloved pet as a present for her husband, Rob.Buster for blog by MichaelQuinlyn-Nixon
It may sound quite strange, but I got the impression, when I was drawing Buster, that he was ‘speaking’ to me, as he had the most beautiful expressive eyes to draw! Quite honestly it was very easy to imagine he was communicating with me. He was a wonderful canine to illustrate, despite the complexity of working from photographs where the colour was not correct and having to employ computer techniques to alter the coloured photographs before the illustration could be started. Not the easiest task, but I was pleased that Wendy was pleased with the finished result.

Buster 2 for blog by MichaelQuinlyn-NixonI heard that Rob was also thoroughly delighted with his wife’s very thoughtful Christmas gift, and hearing that news was also a nice Christmas surprise for me.

I would like to wish all my clients and Blog readers a very happy 2020…

Gary and Oliver – Father and Son portrait

One of my friends, Mary Redshaw, has commissioned a great many illustrations from me, but this time it was her niece, Laura Stewart, who approached me to do an illustration for her husband as a Father’s Day gift. Gary and Laura became proud parents of Oliver last year and this picture shows the pride that Gary has in his wonderful son.

GaryandOliver by Michael Quinlyn-Nixonforblog(mono)

I have done numerous portraits in my time, but very few, if any, has given me as much joy to do as this one. I think the fascination for me is that the image has captured a special moment, as Oliver goes to greet his father who has lifted him up. The joy on Oliver’s face and his cute smile were wonderful to create.

As the photograph I was given to work from was black-and-white or mono, the best medium to use, for me, was graphite pencils. I chose a harder pencil, primarily 2H, as I didn’t want any part of the picture to be too dark or black. The picture is tender and emotional and I felt the pencils used to create this should reflect that. So, all the B pencils were banned from this commission!

GaryandOliver(sepia)by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog  Thank you, Laura, for allowing me to the share this special moment and to produce it in illustration form. I am very pleased to hear that Gary appreciated his Father’s Day gift and I hope Oliver was suitably impressed with it too 🙂 

Taffy – Dog Portrait

Taffy is a mischievous Welsh terrier who lives in Rhyl, Wales with Joyce and William. They are relations of my close friends Mary and Peter Lupton who commissioned me to do the drawing in honour of Joyce’s birthday.

Taffy who likes to be out for walks along the promenade – in all weathers – was, I have to admit a total delight to draw. Being the first Welsh terrier that I have ever drawn I was soon ‘under his spell’ as I worked away at him on my drawing board. So much so, that I was rather loathe to part with him when the time came.

I was very pleased to hear that Joyce was delighted with the present. saying, “It’s the best present I have ever had”.

  Mary scribbled on an envelope “I love the illustration, darling”, so that was a very satisfactory outcome as I had enjoyed every minute of creating Taffy on paper.

Doris Day – a portrait in stippling

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).
Doris Day by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogv2
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 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blogv2  Doris Day, actress, singer, comedienne and animal welfare activist, b: 3 April 1922 – d: 13 May 2019

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.