What gives you that warm, cosy feeling, among the butterflies in your stomach, when you think of Christmas?
Every year when I start to design a new range of Christmas cards, I try to go back in time. I walk through the dusty corridors in my brain, opening locked wardrobes and cupboards, peering high up onto the cobwebbed shelves, and try to remember that childhood magic. Where did it first begin? How can I find it again? How can I get it to return in the sweltering summer months, when I’ve got about a thousand other jobs on my mind, and it’s the very last thing that I feel like doing?
It starts with a happy, content feeling. Then the cosy glow of the lights in the living room. The sense that everybody in the house is safe and warm. The smells of baking coming from the kitchen. Outside it’s cold and the rain turns to snow. It’s getting very dark outside, but the house feels cosy and there is nowhere to really be. I’m back in my parents’ home with my brother and sister and cat, and I can hear the music coming from the television. It sounds like it’s from a time I don’t know, an older time. It makes me feel like something magical is about to happen…
When I think of the 1988 BBC children’s drama, “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”, I am back in that nostalgic place. I remember watching it first on the television as a child and I was absolutely hooked. It all looked so real to me. It frightened me, it excited me, it made me feel sad, it made me feel happy. Most of all it confirmed to me that magic really existed in the world. I had the programme on VHS, I bought and read the book, I discovered a graphic novel about it, I watched the animation of it…years later I bought the DVD at a time when I was probably at my lowest. It has become a thing of comfort, but also the best time-machine for entering my childhood whenever I need to.
This year I was starting to think about drawing red squirrels as a collection of Christmas card designs. Immediately a particular scene from “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” sprang to mind. The scene with the woodland animals, enjoying a great feast, right before they are turned to stone by the White Witch. I remember how Christmassy the table looked and thinking how wonderful it would be to join in with the squirrels and foxes. Watching it during the endless heatwave this Summer, I almost wanted to congratulate the Design/Props department of the BBC – the stunning detail of the decoration of the table really was beautiful. Everything looked real and edible. It’s a shame it was only featured on screen for a few minutes! This was the inspiration for one of my new designs: “Christmas Dinner”.
I chose red squirrels as my characters this year because they are gorgeous to draw, full of character and I get to use my favourite red and brown crayons! I think Beatrix Potter is part of everybody’s childhood, so as soon as you see any photo of a red squirrel, it is hard not to think of the classic pose of “Squirrel Nutkin”. I wondered how I could make these wonderful little creatures my own. Researching Beatrix Potter’s Christmas card designs, I discovered so many wonderful bunny illustrations, walking through the snow with parcels and little umbrellas. Of course, they reminded me of Mr Tumnus with his own little umbrella and brown paper parcels in the snow, as he met Lucy in the Narnian woods. It sparked an idea about the idea of buying gifts for people, and I remembered how much I loved drawing “The Chocolate Shop at Easter” card design earlier in the year. I imagined what a gift shop in the woods might look like – ran by red squirrels and shopped by red squirrels.
This then led me to think about the delight of attending Christmas markets. They seem to be everywhere now, and they spring up in all kinds of places. As a child, I never thought I would be selling my very own products at market stalls, but here we are! I researched a lot of stalls that I thought might have the look of being Squirrel-made and eventually the design for “Christmas Market” was born. I imagine there would be little wooden huts and carts selling special sweets for squirrels in the snowy corner of their wood. I do get quite carried away and absorbed in the little world I've created, and I would quite like to map out a whole squirrel market in the wood. Sometimes little A6 card designs just aren't enough to get in ALL the details I want to!
The final design, “Christmas Eve”, was created to fit into the sequence of Christmas events for the other three card designs. Everything that I draw simply must have a storytelling element, that is the rule. I imagined what a family of red squirrels might be doing on Christmas Eve…not so very different from my ideal evening.
There are many other ideas in my sketchbook that I haven't yet used, but I am sure I will return to them next summer when the Christmas panic starts to set in once again. If you would like to buy any of my Christmas cards, simply follow the link to my online KerryDIllustrations Etsy shop.