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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Pisces – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I illustrated my Bear-a-thought teddy bear calendars for twelve-years and was due to start work on my thirteenth calendar, before I realised that I had neither the time or energy to complete another twelve illustrations.  Due to the amount of other projects and my commitments to a full-time job I was left with a dilemma of whether to carry on with the illustrations or concentrate on other types of illustration…
Pisces forblog(thisone)
I decided not to go ahead with the calendar; there would have been an enormous amount of pressure to have done so.  I informed my customers, scattered all around the world, of my decision and was amazed to receive many letters and e-mails saying how disappointed they were to hear the news.  They understood the reasons, of course, but it was nice for me to know that my calendars had been looked forward to with so much delight and that they had made a difference in people’s lives.  I have kept the letters and they are a lovely reminder of how people appreciated the work that I had done over a dozen years.

The last Bear-a-thought illustration that I produced was to be for my thirteenth calendar and was planned to feature bears on a theme of the 12-months of the zodiac.  I chose Pisces, (the birth sign for those born, on average, between February 19 and March 20) as my first piece of artwork, as I had a pet goldfish, called Monica, that I adored.  She had been a companion for many years and was the most affectionate goldfish that I had known (I have known a lot).  When the other fish in the tank were ill she would take food from the top of the water and take it down for them and encourage them to eat.  She was a very intelligent fish and was like a nurse with fins :0)  I would dangle my fingers in the water and she would come and swim around them and receive a delicate stroke.  Some of her scales shone with the most beautiful gold – yes gold, not orange – sheen.  All good things must come to pass, and my friend with fins died in August 2007.  The illustration was created after Monica’s passing, as I wanted to include her in one of my illustrations.

I also included two of my most popular teddy bears, Augustus and Scruff.  I love Augustus’s sleepy eyes and the disheveled look that Scruff had about him.  I still have these two bears, as I became very attached to them (and they to me, of course) and they reside in a big Victorian perambulator that my grandmother left me (she said it is an antique, but that has yet to be proved).  They look quite keen to pose for me again, if the need ever arises.

So, my 132nd Bear-a-thought illustration looks like it is to be the last, but I did promise my customers to never say never to launching the calendars again in the future…

PS. I love double numbers, so it was rather fitting to finish the illustration on 11 November 2011 (11.11.11).