Stan & Ollie – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I am excited about going to see the ‘Stan and Ollie’ film released in the United Kingdom today, which is based on the lives of the actors and comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  It stars actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in the respective roles.  It reminded me of a teddy bear illustration that I did of the famous black-and-white comedy duo many years ago…
stan & ollie by michael quinlyn-nixon for blogb
Whilst working on one of my teddy bear calendar themes, in 2003, I came up with the idea of famous bears and made a list of the many characters that I like, that are very recognisable by their costume or attire.  The list was very long, but some suggestions had to be scrapped and a smaller list compiled.  One of the suggestions on the list that appealed to me was Laurel and Hardy.  I had a discussion with Jennifer A. Stephenson, my friend who kindly made the outfits and other paraphernalia for the teddy bears, and she was also drawn to the idea of Laurel and Hardy too.  

In deference to the comedy duo’s fine slapstick humour, we decided to dress them in dungarees (rather than their formal black suit and ties), but, of course, we had to include the bowler hats and their distinctive neckties.  To go along with the dungarees, we created a decorating scenario with ladders, wallpaper and paint (my father, Robert, kindly made the ladders and toolbox).  Luckily one of Jennifer’s friends, the late Pat Holmes (nee Boustead – a well-known singer in the County Durham area) was decorating her home at this time, so this proved to be the ideal place in which to create our ‘Hollywood film set’. 

As it happened, shortly after the photographs were taken and the sketches were drawn, we disassembled the scene and I slipped and spilled the whole pot of banana custard coloured paint all over the floorboards.  Pat wasn’t too annoyed, as she was planning on a carpet anyway, but she could have easily used Oliver Hardy’s famous quote and stated, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into”.

I remember watching Laurel and Hardy when I was young and they always made me laugh with their funny and inoffensive humour.  Stan Laurel (b: 1890 – d:1965) was my favourite, as I loved the way he scratched his head when perplexed, but Oliver Hardy (b: 1892 – d:1957) had the most amazing face, which was full of disbelief one minute and wreathed in wonderful smiles the next.

When I was a little boy, I remember my Grandfather Lake telling me that Stan Laurel had lived in County Durham for a while, but that he had been born in Cumbria.  Both of these English counties have tributes to these two wonderful men who brought so much joy to so many people’s lives.

The illustration ‘Stan & Ollie’ was started on 18 April and completed on the 5 May 2003.

Witch Hazel – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I’ve done many teddy bear illustrations over the years, but some of them I do forget, but this isn’t one of them.  Although I am not a great fan of Hallowe’en, I do love the colour and imagery that I had to capture in this drawing.
Witch Hazel by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog
I was asked by a big company in America, to illustrate one of their many beautiful teddies and after looking through their glossy catalogue several times, I was ‘taken’ to this little witch bear, with her sequinned cape and starry hat.  I liked drawing this teddy bear ‘as she was’, which included her rather sad looking face.  A number of my customers used to say, “Can you draw that teddy bear smiling?” and I replied, “I draw the bears as they present themselves”.  Teddy bears have individual characters: some happy some sad – just like human beings.

I remember my youngest niece, Cora, was just a baby when I started this illustration and the small wizard or witch that was coming out of the jack-o-lantern resembled her a little bit (she will be cross with me for putting this on here!), so I had to include him/her in the illustration.  Many of my teddy bear illustrations have a soft pastel theme, but with this one I could use the strong colours of green, orange and purple without hesitation.  I loved doing the confectionery: lollipops, cupcakes and biscuits with the ghosts and black cat cake toppings.  It was a great deal of fun (I think I ate them ALL afterwards!).

Whatever you have done or are doing for Hallowe’en, I do hope that you get a lot more treats than tricks!  Enjoy yourself and be safe…

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.

When autumn leaves start to fall – Bear-a-thought illustration

It seems many, many years ago that I was working on this ‘When autumn leaves start to fall’ illustration.  All of the Bear-a-thought illustrations take me right back to the time I was drawing them.  This was an illustration that appeared in my 2006 calendar and was inspired by a famous song performed by the immortal Nat King Cole

I was chatting to a good friend recently who mentioned the  song and I thought that this illustration would make a very good blog post this month.  I have to be honest and say that I have a bit of a ‘downer’ about November and it’s my least favourite month, as I dislike being plunged into the dark days of autumn at the end of October.

AutumnleavesbyMichaelQuinlyn-Nixon
In this illustration, I have tried to show November at it’s best with golden leaves and azure blue skies.  I chose one of my new teddy bears, named Raymond, for the illustration as I just thought he was so appealing in his blue duffle coat and I loved illustrating the cord buttons on his coat that are keeping him warm from the autumn chills.  I also really enjoyed drawing the golden-leafed oak tree in the background and I do remember putting some shapes in amongst the foliage.  I think there was a heart, a gingerbread man and a goldfish to name a few, though looking at the illustration now I can’t see them.

The leaves that our lovely little bear is bouncing on were quite difficult and rather monotonous to draw, but I wanted to give them the appearance of looking dry, brittle and ‘crackly’; the kind of bone-dry leaves you cannot resist running through and then watch them being whisked-off by the cool autumn breezes…

Autumn leaves of red, orange and brown, to the ground come fluttering down.
Raymond jumps to catch them as they fall, from the trees above – so big and tall.

Snowbear – Bear-a-thought Illustration

The Snowbear illustration was one of the first illustrations that I drew when I started my Bear-a-thought calendars in 2002. Just looking at this illustration that I did 15-years ago on this date in 2001 (can’t believe it was that long!), I can still remember so much about my life then and what I had to do to create this illustration. I remember it had snowed hard in Durham that year and it was an ideal opportunity to get some snowy pictures. I stumbled out into the garden one morning, donned with gloves (fingerless ones, which are the only ones I can wear) and made my self a snowman, or more correctly a snowbear. I tried to make him teddy bear size (or just a bit bigger), so that he didn’t overpower the bear that I had in mind to draw with him.
Snowbear for blogAfter making my snowbear, which called on me to improvise with his features, using leaves for inside his ears and buttons, a cherry-chocolate covered in red foil paper for his nose and some well-known chocolate wrappers for his eyes, I draped a favourite scarf around his shoulders to create that casual, snowbear-around-town look. All that was left was to position my teddy bear, Augustus, in front of my cold creation. I think the addition of the spade was an inspiration and made it look like little Augustus had been hard at work at his snow sculpture.

This was the first illustration to be seen in my very-first calendar and was the first of many, as I had no idea at the time just how popular these illustrations would become or how many different parts of the world would get to see them.

On the Beach – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I’ve drawn many teddy bears over the last twenty-years (I think the actual number was way over a hundred), but some of them mean so much more to me than others. It’s not just to do with the finished illustration, more often it’s the memories created from setting up the drawing, or something significant that happened when working on the final piece of artwork.On the Beach (feathered) for blog
‘On the Beach’, which was completed on 20 August 2002, is one of my very favourite illustrations from the 2004 Bear-a-thought calendar. I love the bear, which was drawn in the illustration; he is called Augustus. I ‘discovered’ him in a frosted window of a local shop, as I rushed home on a cold winter’s evening after a long day at work. He stopped me in my tracks, to be honest and even though I was cold and tired I had to go and buy him. He has since become one of my most popular teddy bear models, to the point where many customers of my cards and calendars know him by name!

This illustration was created from drawings, photographs and sketches done on a beach at South Shields. The weather was lovely and I walked a long way along the beach to find somewhere secluded and private to set up my tableau of bear, deckchair, bucket and spade etc. It never fails to amaze me that no matter how private I try to be when setting up these ‘scenes’, that people seem to come from nowhere and find me. Such was the case on this day; no sooner had I got the little scene arranged, I could see people heading towards me across the dunes, looking a little bit like ants in the distance. Some people skirt around and take an inquisitive glance at what I am doing, whereas other people will come up and say ‘what’s going on with this bear then?’. The latter happened on this occasion, and I met a lovely couple with twin babies, who asked if they could have their photograph taken with the little scene that I had created. They turned out to be customers of mine, which saved a great deal of explanation about what I was doing. Others followed in their wake, and by the time I was ready to do my sketches the tide was nearly upon me! I had to move the whole scene for fear of it being washed away to sea.

This drawing also makes me smile because of the special memories and the fact that Augustus is wearing one of the first pair of shorts worn by my niece, Alishia. I also must confess to cheating with the ice cream too, which was in fact a dollop of mashed potato. The seagulls were very interested in that and I had to defend my little scene from being flapped apart by the sound of rampaging wings. So, as you see – being a teddy bear artist is definitely not for the shy or faint-hearted.

‘On the Beach’ is dedicated to the late and great Yootha Joyce, who I had a great admiration for. I later found out that she loved teddy bears (I hadn’t known that at the time), so I hope she would approve of my dedication.

St. George and the Dragon – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I am very patriotic and I’m proud to be an Englishman, so St. George’s Day for me is a day of annual celebration. So much so, that I think it should be an annual English bank holiday.St. George and the dragon by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon (blog)
So, with that in mind, when I was producing my Bear-a-thought calendar for 2007 I thought I would include St. George (in teddy bear format) as the illustration for the month of April. I chose one of my favourite bears, Augustus, to represent the patron saint of England and my friend, Jennifer A. Stephenson, dressed him appropriately with a helmet (with scarlet plume), a chainmail vest (emblazoned with St. George’s Cross) and a rather fiercesome looking wooden sword and shiny protective shield.

Once Augustus was ‘suited and booted’ I had to find a ferocious dragon for him to vanquish. I wanted to make the fierce dragon look as fierce as a baby with a marshmallow (not quite sure where that expression came from, but it was the first thing that came to mind), so found a rather cute and endearing green-and-yellow dragon on the Internet.

I set the picture up in my garden, using rocks from when I had the house renovated and created a dragon’s cave, set against the backdrop of a beech hedge. It was mid-April when I set this scene up, so I incorporated some of the flowers in the garden to create some ambience: daisies (the traditional flower of the month of April) and forget-me-nots which always flower in my garden at this time of year. The Forget-me-not is rather appropriate in this illustration in more ways than one, as there is a mediaeveal legend as to how the flower got its name. It goes that a strong and handsome knight, after returning from some war or crusade, was reunited with his fair maiden. On meeting her again, beside a riverbank, he stooped to pick some of the delicate blue flowers that grew on the riverbank. Unfortunately, the weight of his armour and his semi-recumbent position made him topple into the river and to his death. But before he succumbed to the swirling water, he threw the blue flowers to his distressed maiden, with his last words “forget me not!”.

The St. George and the Dragon illustration was popular in the calendar and also as a greeting card, with the original illustration being purchased by an English customer, living in Spain, who has a small and select collection of my teddy bear illustrations.

I hope this illustration stirs the heart of any Englishman and woman reading this post and I also hope that it sends a message out there to any unwanted and ferocious dragons that England is a country that is both proud and fearless. ;0)