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…
From being a young boy my Mother’s family, the Lakes, bought me copies of the charming animal stories by Beatrix Potter, so I am very familiar with them. I am particularly fond of Jemima Puddle-duck, Squirrel Nutkin and Hunca Munca from ‘The Tale of Two Bad Mice’. Since early childhood, I have also gathered a number of friends who also love this lady’s work, including Sara, who has a particular fondness for Mrs. Tiggy-winkle. 150-years-ago today, Beatrix Potter was born in London and in this commemorative year her characters and illustrations are being featured on Royal Mail stamps and Royal Mint fifty-pence coins. So, it would seem an appropriate moment to mention a ‘Beatrix Potter’ inspired illustration that I was commissioned to do, whilst working in Carlisle, in April 1997.
When I worked with Sara and many of my other friends, on such publications as Cumbria Life and the Cumbrian Gazette newspapers, I was often asked to produce illustrations for the advertisements or editorial features. On one occasion, I was asked if I could draw an illustration, which was to feature on an advertisement for a very prestigious and beautiful hotel in the Lake District – famous for the red squirrels that live in the grounds. The clients asked if I could do a red squirrel pencil or watercolour illustration on a Beatrix Potter theme. I was keen to try and immediately set to sketching some red squirrels in the delicate fashion of this famous lady that has inspired me for many years. I have in no way captured the beauty of her work (I had a very short deadline to do the illustration by, as it happens!) but at least I have tried to capture the essence of her unique style and flair.
After having seen her original watercolours work at the National Trust gallery in Hawkshead, Cumbria, I can only say that some of her work was so intricate and delicate that it left me speechless. I can only hope that Beatrix Potter would smile benignly on my ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ illustration, with a look that is both kind and favourable. I hope you like it too 🙂
Helen Beatrix Potter, English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist • Born: 28 July 1866 – Died: 22 December 1943
NB. Please note that the picture (above) is framed and this image shows some slight distortion caused by reflections on the glass.
I lived and worked in Carlisle, Cumbria from November 1990 to September 1998. In those nearly eight-years, I made some wonderful friends and gained a great love of this historic city, which is located near England’s Lake District.
When I was working on the 2010 Bear-a-thought Calendar, entitled ‘Song Bears’ I chose to illustrate a very well-known hit song ‘Please Mr. Postman’. This tune was first released fifty-three years ago to this day*.
Carlisle was the first place to gain a pillar-box in mainland Britain (making it the ideal choice for my illustration) and now boasts a handsome, scarlet hexagonal Penfold pillar-box in front of the city’s Town Hall. I gained permission to sketch the pillar-box (which was difficult at the time, as it was surrounded by scaffolding) and incorporated Dylan, the bear, into the picture. The bear, was named after my friend Jennifer A. Stephenson’s grandson, Dylan. The majority of the outfits that my bears wore in the illustrations from 2005 to 2014 were designed and created by Jennifer. She was an invaluable help and an enthusiastic supporter of my work. I’m not always delighted with the final results or outcomes of my artwork, but, thankfully, this one managed to capture everything I had imagined. I’m a person who loves to get personal letters in the mail; so I didn’t have any choice but to include a song featuring a postman… Now did I?
The ‘Please Mr. Postman’ song was first released on 21 August 1961, by The Marvelettes and later released by The Beatles on 22 November 1963 and later again by The Carpenters on 8 November 1974.
*Note: The song ‘Please Mr. Postman’ was released on 21 August 1961, by The Marvelettes (which consisted of: Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman and Wanda Young).