I have lovely childhood winter memories of sitting around a roaring open fire playing Scrabble with my mother, father and siblings when I was a little boy. I am sure my selection of words was very limited, but it was such a good game to learn about new words and how to spell them. It wasn’t until I was older that I played with the Triple Letter/Word Score and learned how to use the letters Q and Z (the letters with the highest score points) to my advantage. From once being very reluctant to get these letters, I do love to get them now as they are a great challenge and can often help win the game ‘hands down’.
Sorting out some of my clutter last year, in my never ending quest to get a tidy study, I noticed that my old Scrabble boxes were looking very careworn, fragile and shabby, but luckily my Dad came to my rescue (being a carpenter and joiner) and created two new wooden boxes to store my cherished games.
Of course, I needed to add my own input to these fine wooden boxes, and rather like the storage boxes last year, I decided to decorate the two boxes with my own designs. So, after thinking long and hard, I did a different design for each box, with a little theme for each. I chose some of my favourite things to decorate the boxes and decided to paint one with maroon figures and letters and the other brown (one of my Scrabble games has maroon letter tiles and the other has wooden). As I play the game with younger relatives I kept the words on the box shorter, knowing things like ‘kaleidoscope’ and ‘telecommunications’ would take a frightful lot of space!
Included images on the box are things that I love, such as a quill, pocket-watch, stamp, giraffe, squirrel, owls, swan, and a deer… (oh, and my trademark ladybird!).
A close up of the fox and plum jam on the maroon box
Working on the brown painted box…
I am sure the eagle-eyed readers amongst you will be able to see some kind of pattern or theme to the maroon box, but if you can’t, I suggest you ‘start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’… Have you worked it out yet?
I have always had a love of swans, but Mute Swans in particular. They are known as birds that are legally protected in Britain by HM Queen Elizabeth II. I rather think they match being a royal bird as the regal way they bow and raise their heads is grace personified. I also admire the way that they glide serenely on a lake, whilst their legs are frantically going like the paddle wheels of a riverboat steamer beneath the almost unrippled surface!
I do know swans have gained, with some people, rather an aggressive reputation, but I think their protective ways are much needed in a world where irresponsible dog owners let their dogs run after and threaten (and on occasions kill) cygnets. I have also seen children throwing stones and bricks at these beautiful birds, so is it any wonder that many of them are very protective especially to their young? I can see the swan’s point of view and have to say that with all of my many up-close-encounters with swans have all been tranquil and placid.
I found a nice photograph of a mute swan preening its feathers in the shallow waters of a lake and decided that I would draw it in soft pastels. I was rather pushed for time, but I was also needing to use up some creativity that was bubbling to the surface that day. With this in mind, I did the drawing on a very small scale and on a very textured paper. This wasn’t the best of ideas, as the texture was perhaps a trifle strong for a drawing that small, so much so, I put the illustration aside for a while after only doing a small part of the background. Later, with a little bit of persuasion from a friend, I was encouraged to persevere with it, which I did rather begrudgingly (time always being a much prized and scarce commodity with me).
After half-an-hour of sustained colouring with my pastels, I started to enjoy the drawing for the act of drawing and being creative, rather than trying to complete something that was ‘pleasing’ to me… As it happens, it pleases a friend of mine very much, who has kindly requested it for his brother – an ardent nature lover.
I finished the mute swan today and have learned a few lessons from it, firstly that textured paper and small drawings have a conflict of interest and secondly that enjoying doing something is sometimes more important than the finished result…
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…
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).