Meet the Skillipigs: Artist's charming hedgehogs raise smiles across the country

Full of charm and cuteness - the Skillipigs are making people smile up and down the country.

Barbara and Dick Skilton, owners of The Skillipigs Collection
Barbara and Dick Skilton, owners of The Skillipigs Collection

These pencil and watercolour hedgehogs, which have become the stars of a greeting card collection, are the creation of artist Dick Skilton.

He first began drawing the creatures after being inspired by those he regularly saw and fed in his garden in Highley, near Bridgnorth.

As he brought his spiny characters to life, Dick thought they would look appealing on the front of greetings cards and they became known as the Skillipigs.

"When I showed them to people for the first time at Cleobury Mortimer Farmers' Market, everybody went 'ahh'," the 74-year-old tells Weekend.

When the pandemic meant he had to self-isolate, Dick and his wife Barbara threw themselves into producing the cards and soon found they were in great demand.

And they are now stocked in more than 200 post offices, village and community shops, tearooms and other independent retailers across the UK, from the Shetland Islands to Penzance.

"To start a business that's become nationwide from a kitchen table at our age is rather unusual," says Dick.

"It was exciting to have something to do," says Barbara, 71. "A lot of people we know were bored being stuck at home all the time but we were laughing every day because of what Dick was drawing."

Over the past three years, he has amassed more than 3,000 designs featuring the Skillipigs in a variety of situations and locations and enjoying a wide range of activities.

As well as hedgehogs, the cards feature an array of other British wildlife such as rabbits, pheasants, robins, otters and Highland cows.

The former headteacher has drawn and painted all his life but was able to devote more time to his hobby when he retired.

Before the Skillipigs, his artwork featured landscapes and buildings in pen, pencil and watercolour and buildings.

He has a large collection of the churches of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, alongside others across the country, which were created for commissions.

Now he is drawing on some of that experience for inspiration for the various scenarios the Skillipigs find themselves in.

"Interestingly, we now have a considerable amount of 'fusion' occurring, with Skillipigs visiting places which Dick has drawn," says Barbara.

Dick has also created his own stick font for the cards which was inspired by a conversation the couple had one day about how hedgehogs might write if they could.

"I said they might write in the mud with a stick and Dick said they would use sticks," says Barbara.

New ideas for cards are constantly forming from Dick's imagination and can also be sparked by a wide range of other sources of inspiration.

"Sometimes we see something on the news that sparks an idea for Dick or we have a few customers who have turned into friends who will offer suggestions, if they've noticed we don't have a Skillipig doing something," says Barbara.

Shops have the option of a having a bespoke collection with the name of their village and local landmarks on the cards, such as 'Happy Birthday from Ludlow' or 'Hello from the Black Country'.

Thank you from the Black Country

The couple will only stock one shop in a village or town and can supply 'browsing boxes' which contain 30 to 40 cards, which are made from recycled card and paper.

"We're also very much led by the shops themselves. They might tell us they're on a popular walking route so in that case there may be some walking route signs, or if they're by the coast there will be cliffs in the background or mountains and hills if it's in the Lake District. I like the make the beer related to the area as well," explains Dick.

"A lot of shops say we are their bestsellers. They like that we are totally different to what anyone else is doing.

"We find that people not only like the design but they also like that it has the place name," he adds.

When it comes to the designs, they do have a few rules that they like to follow to ensure the characters retain their charm and continue to appeal to a wide audience.

"We work very much on pictorial clichés. We avoid anything controversial and we try to keep them funny but not political or smutty," explains Dick.

One of their most popular designs features a robin with a pot of ink, a quill and the words 'A tweet from' and the name of the place where the card is sold.

They also bring out seasonal collections and this year's Christmas designs have proven very popular with their stockists.

One of the Skillipigs Christmas cards

"It's lovely to think that this Christmas there are least 6,000 people out there receiving one of our Christmas cards," says Dick.

Often customers will send them photos of their cards so they can see where they have ended up. "We had one card that was bought in Herefordshire, it travelled down south and then went up to Northumberland."

Dick says it's a wonderful feeling when he is in shop and he sees someone pick up one of his cards and take it to the till. "It's happened three times, once in Ironbridge," he says.

The couple look after every aspect of the business themselves from printing the cards to taking the orders to the post office and they take great pride in building relationships with the shops where their cards are sold.

"I enjoy the idea of us doing something together and I don't get tied to the housework," says Barbara.

"I enjoy using technology, imagination, humour and the instant result. I can have an idea in the morning and have a finished card by coffee time," adds Dick.

To find out more about the Skillipigs' travels, visit www.facebook.com/Skillipigsgrandtour

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