Gingerbread Bears – Bear-a-thought Illustration

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. 
Gingerbread bears by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
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?

This picture now resides in the home of two of my dearest friends, Mary and Peter Lupton in Carlisle.  You will see that the bag of flour in the picture bears the name of ‘Lupton’.  I have had many people say that they can’t get this flour in the shops and where did I get it from?  Well it’s not available in any leading supermarkets, as it was done in special recognition of my friends.

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The art of saying ‘thank you’…

I have a small number of very close and special friends, who send me Christmas presents.  I am a very lucky man in that respect.  I am told ‘friendship works both ways’ – basically you reap what you sow.  I have always put a good deal of effort into my friendships and I am very blessed to know some truly terrific people.  This 25th December I received another beautifully wrapped bundle of gifts, which included a purple jumper, a carved giraffe figurine, giraffe stationery (I am fond of giraffes) and some beautifully scented candles, amongst other things.

Thank you cards 2 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
On Christmas Day (I like to be on the ball) I had my delicious luncheon made by my mother, Carole, and immediately after doing the washing-up, I started making the thank you cards to send to my friends and family.  I had some coloured card and started sketching out a few ideas that would not be too time consuming.  I only had about 2-hours to complete and write out fifteen cards!  I also tried to make sure that the cards could easily be personalised.  I did a few different designs, to keep me interested and also changed colours for a bit of variety.

Thank you cards 0 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon   Thank you cards 1 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
As soon as the Post Office was open, I darted down to buy some stamps and post my thank you cards…hoping that they would not get too caught-up in the late Christmas post.  I have already received some nice text messages saying thank you for the personalised cards.  This could start a contagious ‘wave of gratitude’ and don’t you think that would be simply wonderful? 

I will conclude this blog post by saying “thank you to you” for taking the time to read my posts this year…it is most appreciated…

My first job in 1988…

After I graduated from Cumbria Institute of the Arts in 1987, I had to find employment to put my graphic design and art history training to work.  Back then, rather like now, jobs were rather ‘thin on the ground’ and I had to do a period of voluntary work with the Citizens Advice Bureau, whilst pursuing my first step on the elusive career ladder.  I had some temporary work for Busways in Newcastle upon Tyne, but was still looking for permanent work when my former teacher at the Institute, George Thompson, rang me and told me about a job for a graphic designer in the Scottish border town of Langholm. 
ABOVE: Me, with my thinking cap on, at my desk at Ashley Bank House (you can see some of the logo designs).

I applied for the job at The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and got an interview.  They must have been fairly impressed with my presentation and my graphic work, as I started receiving some freelance work from them; this was probably to see what my work ethic and creativity were like.  The fast-and-furious deadlines were enough to give me veritable nightmares, especially as there were no such things as e-mails and sending pdfs (not that I knew of anyway).  Everything had to be hand drawn and coloured to the best of my ability and within the set timescales.  When the work was complete it was a mad dash to the Post Office in order to post the work to them in time to meet the deadline.

After a number of months doing this home-design work, I was very grateful to be given a contract in early April 1988 and started working at Ashley Bank House (a former hotel), which was part of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s base in Langholm.  I later went to work at Waverley Mills, where I did a lot of the design work for the marketing department.  My time was spent creating logos for the company and P.O.S (point-of-sale) material, which was a large bulk of my work during the two-years that I worked there.

I will write some more about my first job on another blog post at a later date and include some more of the work that I did for this forward-thinking knitwear company.

Doris Day – A Portrait

Doris Day, Actress and Singer, b: 3 April 1924

I’ve always been a huge fan of old movies (particularly the black-and-white ones) and even at a young age knew a great many of the movie stars’ names. My parents were always clued-up to ‘who was who’ in the classic films, and I probably gained my interest from them.

Doris Day1 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog

The ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ produced some of the best actors and actresses, in my opinion and my most favourite, Doris Day. Actors and actresses at that time seemed to have style, poise and above-all mystique. Many of the modern-day stars parade every aspect of their life in the glare of the media: marriage breakdowns, personal and emotional problems etc. There is no mystery about most of them, sadly.

Quite a few years back, my Mother and younger sisters would constantly watch Doris Day movies and I would go and sulk in my room. As I grew a little older, I became a huge fan of Doris Day and in the early 1980’s I wrote a letter to this Hollywood legend, and sent it to her along with a portrait that I had done of her. To my utter delight and astonishment she wrote back! I don’t think there was anyone in that little terraced street that didn’t know my news by the end of the day.

My correspondence with Doris Day took off over the years, much to the delight of a lovely lady in Stanley Post Office, who was also a big fan. I remember her chatting to me, whilst sticking the stamps on Doris Day’s letters with pride.

The last letter I received from Miss Day was on 23 April 2012, when I had taken a day off work, to celebrate my patron saint’s day with an English ale in my English garden. After receiving this unexpected piece of mail, I could really say it was a ‘red-letter day’, as the sun was shining and all seemed well with the world.

During the last thirty years, I have done numerous drawings of Doris Day, one of which was shown in a large exhibition in Liverpool, but most of them have been for my own pleasure. Some of these have been coloured-pencil or pastel sketches, but the majority have been done with a technique, known as pointillism (if you look at some of my earlier posts on Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, you will see more examples of this technique).

I think my favourite movie of Doris Day’s has got to be ‘Pillow Talk’ (1959) in which she c0-starred, alongside her friend, Rock Hudson. The chemistry between the two characters, Brad and Jan, still amuses me to this day, along with Doris’ indignant expressions as she tries to reason about the best way of sharing a telephone party-line.  But I also have a special memory of playing at my friend, Kae McNeil’s house when I was just a young boy.  We were both heartily singing along to the Black The Hills Of Dakota, whilst her father, George, was trying to enjoy the movie ‘Calamity Jane’ (1953).

Doris Day has given me hours of laughs and I am grateful for the skill and talent that she has shared with the world. If you’re reading this Doris, I would like to applaud you and wish you a very Happy Birthday!    Michael