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.
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.
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…