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…
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.
I went to visit my friend, Mary Redshaw, this month and catch up with her over a few pots of tea and a fish and chip lunch. I always enjoy this social time with this lady, who proudly displays all of the commission work that I have done for her (all beautifully framed and presented in her living-room). I always enjoy seeing her two ‘new’ dogs: one a Greyhound named Rio and the other a whippet named Tina.
One of my favourite dog portraits I illustrated for Mary was the picture of her brown Doberman Pinscher – Tia, who was such a character. She certainly was a dog that knew her own mind and no amount of persuasion or commands could change her mind if she thought contrary to the request.
I remember doing a mono illustration of Tia, as well as the colour…because I wasn’t sure which one I liked best… Which one would you choose?
It’s my last posting of the year next month; I am so grateful that there are so many people reading this blog now. I am told by WordPress that my stats are booming, so thank you to all of the people who are reading my posts regularly…
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…
Earlier this year, I was asked if I would do a watercolour or pencil illustration of a church in Spain that was to be the theme for some wedding stationery. Joanne Rogan, the client and bride-to-be was brilliant in providing me with a range of church illustrations that she had seen and liked, so that I could get ‘the feel’ of what she was looking for. A better start and brief could not be had, as most clients know what they want, but are not very good at explaining it, leaving the artist or designer ‘in the dark’.
Joanne also provided me with some photographs of El Salvador’s Church in Nerja, Spain where she was marrying her fiancé, Gary Cooper. The photographs were beautiful, showing a white stately church against an azure sky. There was a tree in the photographs that I had to ‘remove’ but that didn’t prove to be a problem.
It took me a couple of days (in the bleakness of early February) to produce the coloured pencil illustration of the church bedecked in sunshine, which was then sent for Joanne and Gary’s approval. Thankfully, they loved it and it was then sent to the printers to be incorporated into their wedding stationery. As you can see below, Joanne and Gary did a great job of it and the stationery looks unique and amazing! Having said that, so do the happy couple in the photographs, as you can see. I would like to offer my congratulations to Joanne and Gary for their marriage day and also for doing such sterling work on their wedding stationery!
Every best wish to you both for many happy years to come…
Joanne and Gary were married on the 21st September 2018.
The photographs feature on this blog post with their approval and permission. Thank you.
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.
One 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…
I have been working on some scamps and rough sketches which feature quills this month. It reminded me of the work that I did years ago for the Cumbria Life magazine (based in Cumbria and the Lake District). My good friend, Cherry, was working for the magazine at the time and commissioned me to do a series of illustrations for some key regular features in the magazine, such as: antiques, cookery, books and literature etc. I didn’t have a great deal of time to do the illustrations, as I was working full time in a college then, but I still managed to meet the deadlines and produce a series of illustrations.
The magazine was (and still is) a lovely and glossy publication – filled with gorgeous and sumptuous photographs and features, so I chose to do something that would look noticeably different on each page, but tied in with the heritage and roots of many of the readers. I chose a woodcut or linocut design, which I actually drew by hand (not having the time to create linocuts) to give the effect of the illustration being printed by such a technique.
Quills are beautiful to draw with and the illustrations were all drawn with quills, most of them modern ones, rather than the traditional goose feather variety. My love of red squirrels was abounding at the time, so I featured a bookend in the form of a red squirrel. This is an actual bookend that my father, Robert W. Nixon created for me and I incorporated into the illustration. I then added in the quill, books and ink pot with a quirky ragged border to group the components together.
I’ve mentioned the quills, but not the spills! That is the unfortunate part of the story; no sooner had I finished this illustration than I spilled the bottle of Quink ink all over the drawing board and the illustration. After clearing up the mess and it being nearly midnight, I started to do the illustration again to meet the deadline…
The illustrations were used in a number of Cumbria Life magazines, but I have long since lost the actual copies. However, the memories remain ever-present and strong and the red squirrel bookends still sit on my bookcase – nibbling their nuts and keeping a watchful eye on my most-treasured volumes…
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.
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?