It’s almost scary that I drew this pen and ink drawing (later to be coloured with watercolours) almost 21 years ago. I see that the completion date was ‘St. Ursula’s Day’ (which is the 21 October), so it’s almost ‘come of age’ this drawing in many ways than one. I have done a number of book illustrations like this one over the years, but most of them I’ve sadly forgotten, but not this one. This one takes me right back to the years when I was doing a lot of art, whilst also working hard in the world of newspapers…
The reference material was largely my own photographs, as I can remember photographing these scarlet poppies which were growing in my family village of Tanfield (for those of you who know that area, it’s one of the fields on the industrial estate – opposite the sign to Tanfield Railway). It was a gorgeous day and I was spending it with some of my family, Carole, Robert and Kirk.
This illustration took quite a long time to do, with the blurry effect behind the mice and the poppies in the foreground being the most time consuming. I really enjoyed putting the details on the faces of the mice as they climb upon and nibble the swaying wheat. When I actually spied some harvest mice I could not believe that they were so small; I also wanted to make sure that my trademark ladybird was not out of proportion with these tiny and elusive rodents.
I was rather taken aback by the popularity of this illustration and was delighted when it was reproduced as a greeting card and as one of the summer month illustrations in a rather classy calendar. The original piece of artwork was purchased by Mr Alistair Thompson, from Scotby in Carlisle, after he saw it displayed at an exhibition. I wonder if it’s still hung upon the living-room wall of his beautiful home to this present day…
I recently visited one of my childhood holiday haunts – the town of Silloth on the West coast of Cumbria, not far from the city of Carlisle. My family went there for many years to put up tents (and later caravans) at the Solway Lido. It brings back many memories of childhood days, with many of the shops looking much the same as they did in the days of my youth.
I have vivid memories of the church and the greens that are in front of Criffel Street and for some reason Silloth always makes me think of Scots Pine.
I was pleased to walk along the coast where I had often chased my siblings with a writhing crab or a wriggling worm or some such thing in my dirty mits.
Later, when I worked for the Cumbrian Newspapers, in Carlisle, I was asked if I would do a series of pen and ink illustrations of local churches, which were going to be used for tourism in the area. I remember doing many churches, for areas such as Buttermere, Maryport and Whitehaven, which have now become special places for me. When I revisited Silloth, it reminded me of the leaflet and I dug this line illustration out, which was looking rather battered and sorry for itself, having been crushed in a wallet file for twenty-years.
As well as the lovely childhood memories I got revisiting Silloth, I also got to visit the new ‘Mrs Wilson’s Café and Eaterie, where I was so impressed with the décor and the food. Named after the married name of the famous contralto Kathleen Ferrier (a great favourite of my good friend, Mary), the café features some amazing wall decorations showing photographs of this beautiful lady, who died in 1953, aged only 41. There are letters written by her and music sheets, which make the whole atmosphere delightful. I can recommend a visit, as well as the basil, cheese and tomato quiche… Yum!
English Contralto, born: 22 April 1912 – died: 8 October 1953