If there are two things I love and cherish from my childhood it’s writing/posting letters and buying the stamps at the Post Office. My mum encouraged me with this (and it’s all her fault that I have no money because I am addicted to buying vast quantities of stamps!) and it has carried on into my adult life. Subsequently, I enjoy all of the new stamp issues released by the Royal Mail, as well as the range of definitive stamps (the different coloured ones, bearing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II).
I still write letters frequently to my friends and even once a fortnight to one friend in Carlisle, who writes back the following week. This has continued for over twenty-years. Quite an accomplishment really, in these modern times of computers and e-mail, for those that think that writing letters is ‘a dying art’.
It just so happened that my Dad, Robert, who is a carpenter and joiner, was making several wooden boxes for gifts and asked me if I could do some ‘art’ on them. One required a silhouette of a digger – with the legend ‘Demo Man’ on it and the others required postage stamps. I bought myself some sepia ink, which is guaranteed to be waterproof) to create the images on the wooden surfaces.
Well, I enjoyed doing the digger one, which was well received by Bob – the recipient, but I totally enjoyed doing the ones with the postage stamps depicted on them. I must admit it was a challenge painting Her Majesty’s portrait, as she is one person that I have admired throughout my life – as she is, in my opinion, a marvellous diplomat and head of state. I hope she likes my version of her portrait too. If so, I might even get a Royal commission one day.
I tried to make one of the portraits look like a silhouette done in marquetry (inlaid work made from small pieces of coloured wood or other materials, used for the decoration of furniture), whilst the other stamp portrait I did in the style of the Machin definitive stamps. The grain of the wood slightly changes the look of the images as it runs through them, but this makes it look so much more genuine. However, doing the copperplate-style scrolls in the corners I have to say wasn’t quite ‘a barrel of laughs‘.
I have dated them as it’s a nice way of remembering the year they were given and it makes these unique storage boxes much more collectable for future generations to enjoy…
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.
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!
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 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.
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).
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, actress, singer, comedienne and animal welfare activist, b: 3 April 1922 – d: 13 May 2019
For those of you who have followed my work for a while now, you will know that my ‘signature tune’ in most of my drawings is a ladybird. I am not totally sure as to how and when I decided to put these little scarlet beetles into my drawings, but I do know why I am so particularly fond of them. When I was a little boy my Grandfather Lake was keen on growing roses and he and I would go to the site of the old swamp in Tanfield Lea and gather as many ladybirds as we could find to put on his roses. They were very hardworking gardening allies and kept all the pests at bay; my Grandfather’s roses flourished year-after-year. Through the years, the ladybirds became more and more prominent in my work and it now reminds me of dear friends, such as Mildred from Carlisle and Dorothy from Whitehaven.
So, whilst having lunch at Hexham Fish Bar with my friends from Carlisle, Mary and Peter Lupton, Mary turned to me and said, “Darling, what are you going to do for your next blog post?” I wasn’t sure and later when we were talking to Stella, the young lady that works in the fish bar, Mary suggested I give her one of my business cards. Stella’s family are from Cyprus and she pointed out the ladybird on my logo. I asked her what the insects are called in Cyprus and she said she would check with her father. He said that they are called Babavura or Paparouna, which relates to ladybirds bearing the same colours as the field poppy – scarlet and black. Quite appropriate! Whatever your nationality it would seem that ladybirds are lucky or beneficial insects in most countries or cultures with pet names such as ‘God’s Cow’ and ‘Mary’s/Our Lady’s Beetle’ -relating to the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted in early mediaeval paintings wearing scarlet and black robes, instead of the traditional white and blue that people are now familiar with.
So, on this very sunny and warm Good Friday, I decided to sit down and do a very quick coloured pencil sketch of ladybirds on one of my favourite flowers, forget-me-nots. I allowed myself a very strict time limit to do this illustration and I just managed to meet the deadline. I felt a little bit silly for sitting in drawing on such a glorious April day, but with the window open and the sun pouring through it was like being outside inside. I enjoyed doing the illustration and it was interesting to see just how many colours were used to create the final piece of artwork!
Those of you who regularly read my blog posts will know that I have a little quirk about same double-digit numbers, such as 11, 33 and especially 88. This is very much an ‘88 blog post’, as this is in fact my 88th blog post on this WordPress site and the topic is one of my teddy bear illustrations, which happened to be my 88th teddy bear illustration. As if that wasn’t sufficient amount of 88’s, this (for you who are into dates) is the 88th day of the year. So, it’s 88.88.88!This illustration, which is one of my very favourite illustrations that I created, was partly inspired by one of my friends and former work colleague, John W. Hall, who sadly passed away a number of years ago. John was a ‘pigeon man’ and loved his racing pigeons, one of which ‘Jeff’ is proudly displayed in the picture. I always remember he would ask me weeks in advance if the calendars were ready to purchase and he was ALWAYS the first person to buy several when they were available, closely followed by our friend Dawn Logan. John was very proud of my work and I remember that fact with a glowing pride. The very talented South African bear artist, Ingrid Els, kindly allowed me use of one of her furry creations to depict in the picture and he is ideally suited to the theme wearing his cloth cap and dungarees… The backdrop of the illustration was sketched in the gardens of the miners’ cottages at Beamish Museum, which is a living museum, based in Stanley, County Durham.
So, as you can see, the young bear in this picture is a local lad to the North East in more ways that one. With his pigeon cree and his flight of pigeons and his copy of The Evening Chronicle this teddy bear is set for a good day… The pigeon clock belonged to John and much to my surprise had been made almost to the day of my birth! That was such a surprising find, when I pondered over it whilst doing the sketches for the illustration. If you look closely you can see that his pigeon has even featured on the front page of the newspaper. And, if you look even more closely (as one of my readers noticed just recently), you can see that the number 88 is featured on the front page too!
People often ask me if I enjoyed colouring all the bricks, the honest answer is yes, as I like doing repetitive tasks, but this does not include drawing thousands of blades of grass! Oh, dear me, no…
The ‘Birds of a Feather’ illustration took a few weeks to complete and was finished on the 29th September 2007. It is dedicated to John W. Hall. He was a good friend, a loving husband to his wife Jasmin, a loving father to his two daughters Debbie and Nicola and a loving grandfather to his grandchildren, of whom he was so proud. The original illustration now belongs to them…
It’s lovely when something inspires you to draw it, rather than being forced by financial hardships or monetary gain to draw something that you like, but might not necessarily want to spend hours and hours painting.
On a recent weekend trip to the beautiful city of London, I had a wander around the Marylebone area and found myself traipsing (leisurely) through Regent’s Park. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and already the trees were showing signs of the coming spring. I was both amazed and delighted that there were so many people using the park – many of them dog owners giving their canines some exercise. There were a great many families too and a lot of young and youngish men walking with their children; single parents spending precious time with their son or daughter.
But the one thing I didn’t expect to see was a rather large pelican. I was standing on a little bridge looking at the spire of St. Mark’s Church across on the other side of the river (it reminded me of a church in Stanley, County Durham), when I turned to see a pelican in very close proximity to me. He (or she) looked friendly enough, but it is rather disconcerting to turn around and see a large bird with an enormous bill hovering behind you! Question: What did it want? Answer: I will never know as it soon wandered off on its travels. I expect it was just having a little lookout from its home at London Zoo. It was nice that that little scene on the bridge made people smile as they passed or jogged on by – I wonder if they thought we came as a pair!
So, that large and friendly feathery white fowl, inspired me to do some sketches of a pelican for a pelican brief I have acquired, (though nothing to do with the 1993 movie starring Julia Roberts). Although the final illustrations will not be ‘true to life’ (more cartoon or graphic forms of art), these studies are a good way of getting ‘familiar’ with a subject, which in-turn will assist with the consequent drawings to be done…
“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican?”
Poem by Dixon Lanier Merritt (b:1879–d:1972)