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…
I was delighted to hear the news that my friends, Keith and Anne, were to become proud grandparents, as their daughter, Sarah and son-in-law, Mark, were expecting twins in the early months of 2017.
Having done a number of illustrations for Keith and Anne in the past (of a canine nature) it was nice to be asked to do some birth illustrations for their two grandchildren. The grandchildren are beautiful and the parents have named them Erin and James. Congratulations to all the family.
Erin was very traditional in being ‘ladies first’, with her ‘little’ brother arriving only a minute behind her. The proud grandparents wanted some animal illustrations to feature on the birth pictures, but each of them were to have a different theme, so I suggested African/Safari animals for James and British wildlife for Erin. I was inspired by all of the Beatrix Potter merchandise last year, so it’s not surprising that Erin has a red squirrel, rabbit and a hedgehog in her illustration. This illustration is also the first to feature a mole, an animal that I can’t remember ever drawing before. James, on the other hand, features animals that boy’s tend to like – particularly crocodiles, lions, monkeys and elephants. It also has my favourite animal, a giraffe in it too.
I heard from Keith that the new parents, Sarah and Mark, are delighted with their children’s birth illustrations, which makes it all the more enjoyable for me, as I truly enjoyed drawing them. I hope that when they are older Erin and James will enjoy them and that they will be a wonderful memory for them in later years.
I must make an apology for the quality of the images on this blog post. I took a picture of these commissions with my mobile phone and not my camera (which wasn’t working at the time 😦 )
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.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been respectful to the planet – rescuing stranded worms on sunny pavements and feeding hard-working bees when they are exhausted. I even rescued a reluctant ladybird from a crowded, over-heated bus once. I also recycle everything I can, including bus tickets, envelopes and tea-bags.
So, when I discovered five empty envelopes (Basildon Bond, no less) and a piece of card that had seen better days, I decided to use up some dried-up poster paint left on a paint palette and make some greeting cards. I had a limited amount of colours and time, so I wasn’t planning on creating a work of art, just a few cheery cards to send to some friends. Sara loves bumblebees and Carole has a fondness for pandas, so I started with those pictures first. I quite enjoyed myself and it was nice having a bit of fun, rather than spending time working on a drawing for days.
They won’t win any art competitions, but they kept me out of mischief…and will bring a smile, I am sure, to the faces of the friends that receive them…