Are you being rendered?

I don’t get a great deal of time to relax (not sure if many freelance artists do), but last week I sat down with a big mug of Ringtons’ tea and turned on the television set. Quite by chance, one of my favourite comedies was just coming on, ‘Are you being served?’, which was a popular programme airing between 1972 to 1985. I have always loved this comedy created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, which featured a range of bizarre and quirky characters working in a department store by the name of Grace Bros.
Mollie Sugden by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
My favourite character was the multi-coloured hairdo owner, Mrs Slocombe – played by the wonderful comedy actress, Mollie Sugden (b:1922-d: 2009). Her facial expressions, ranging from scorn, disbelief to polite arrogance still amazes me and makes me laugh.

This programme is quite poignant to me, as I had drawn some quick pen and ink illustrations of three of the main characters for an advertising campaign, when I was working at the Cumbrian Gazette in Carlisle. I thoroughly enjoyed drawing Mrs Slocombe, “I’m FREE!” Mr Humphries (played by John Inman) and Captain Peacock (played by Frank Thornton). The publicity campaign went well…thankfully.

AreyoubeingservedbyMichael Quinlyn-Nixon forblog

But, years later I was to become personally acquainted with Mollie Sudgen, when I began my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Can you imagine my delight when she confessed that she was a ‘fan’ of my teddy bears? I still have a cheque from Mollie Sugden, which I couldn’t cash in of course, because it was such a souvenir! Becoming a regular customer of my teddy bear-themed calendars over the years, Mollie ordered many for her family, but on one occasion she sent far too much money on the cheque.

Seeing her error and wanting to rectify it as quickly as possible, I rang her on her home telephone number in Surrey. Despite it being an atrociously bad connection, I had the most marvellous conversation with this very charming lady, who happened to be ‘smack bang’ in the middle of cooking preparations for her 80th birthday! I did not want the meals she was making to be ruined, so just had a quick call, but it was something that I will always remember with fondness. She later wrote me a letter, informing me that the meals were not ruined and she had not expected so many guests (her birthday being in July and people having arranged holidays), but to her great surprise a great many of the cast of ‘Are you being served?’ along with some of the cast of ‘The Liver Birds’ had attended.

Looking back, I do think Andy Warhol whilst doing those marvellous screen prints of movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor missed a golden opportunity with the character of Mollie’s Mrs Slocombe. Just look at this quick screen-print I have done – with all of those coloured coiffures. Mollie Sugden screenprints by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
Keep the lilac, Mrs Slocombe, I think it looks great…

Cary Grant – a portrait in stippling

I have to say that this has been a very busy month for me, with commissions and college work and so much more… However, on a rare moment of relaxation, I sat down with my movie retro magazine and delved into the pages. I have always been a classical movie buff and one of the pictures featured a young and very debonair Cary Grant with his friend, Randolph Scott in their shared home in Santa Monica. I do like some movies with Cary Grant starring in them, one being ‘That Touch of Mink’ with Doris Day and also ‘Charade’ with Audrey Hepburn, but one of the best by far is ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ with Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre.
Cary Grant for blog by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon
The film features the quirky (to say the least) Brewster family, which has a lineage of insanity. The young freshly-married Mortimer, played by Grant, returns home to announce his betrothal to his two maiden aunts.   Far from being the ‘sweet faded roses’ that the two aunts appear to be, they are in fact taking it upon themselves of ‘ridding’ the town of sad, old men with little to live for – in fact killing them with kindness. Mortimer finds one of their most recent ‘mercy killings’ hidden in the house and tries to keep it all from the notice of his new and pretty wife, who probably wouldn’t understand.

Into the midst of this family chaos, Mortimer’s shady brother, Jonathan, comes to the house with the equally dubious Doctor Herman Einstein, as they flee capture for their foul deeds…and mayhem ensues throughout the rest of the movie…

The film is a black comedy, but has enough mirth and slapstick humour to keep the ghoulish acts of the aunts and brother Jonathan to a minimum, so even the most squeamish of souls can enjoy the humour…  And when it comes to squeamish, believe me, I am the worst!

Cary Grant, actor, b: 18 January 1904 – d: 29 November 1986

Many, many years ago, whilst living in Carlisle, I did a series of movie star illustrations, all done in the form of stippling. Cary Grant was one of the movie stars I illustrated. I chose a very familiar ‘Cary pose’ – a most debonair, suited gentleman.

Quills and Spills…

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.
Books and literature illustration by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog

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…