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Licensing and Diamond Art Club

When a company needs artwork for a product, they’ll often contract an artist to use their work in exchange for a future royalty percentage on sales.

Depending on the product, percentages can be small. But if the company sells a lot of that product, it can add up to a significant portion of an artist’s income.

This is licensing.

Some artists don’t like licensing because they think they’ll lose control of their art and it will be stolen. That has happened to me more than once, and to every professional artist I know. Sometimes you don’t even know about it until long after the fact, and most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it except tell them to stop.

Most of the licensing companies I’ve worked with are professionals. They use the art how they say they will, pay me regularly, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

They don’t always use the images I want them to, or as many of my paintings as I’d like, but that’s not my call. They’re running their own businesses, and my art is often a tiny part. Once they license the work, it’s theirs to market how they see fit if they keep to the spirit of the agreement.

Harlequin Nature Graphics licenses a handful of my images on T-shirts. DecalGirl offers several of my paintings on cases and decals for electronic devices. A dozen other companies around the world have licensed my art through an agency for cross-stitch, fabrics, canvas art, and other products.
My most significant license, of course, is Pacific Music & Art out of Victoria, BC. Thanks to Mike and his staff, my work is on coffee mugs, water bottles, calendars, art cards, magnets, coasters, trivets, notebooks, and more. During the first year of the pandemic, his foresight to put my work on face masks was a welcome flotation device when other parts of my business were under water.

I regularly encounter people who tell me they’ve bought some of my art at stores I didn’t know existed in towns I’ve never visited. One local friend recently returned from a trip to Vancouver Island and told Shonna, “Pat’s art is everywhere!”

At the Calgary Expo this year, a very nice woman came into my booth and loudly proclaimed, “That’s my otter!”

I laughed and replied, “I beg to differ, Ma’am. That’s MY otter!”

She had bought the image as a framed art card in a BC store more than a year ago, and it hangs in her kitchen.
I get my licenses in three ways. The first is through an agency. They will contact me and propose a contract with a client. I have first right of refusal on every deal, and I have politely declined the opportunity a couple of times. They represent many artists, so it’s not a very personal relationship.

I look up every company in every proposed agreement. Sometimes it conflicts with an existing license; other times, their site looks unprofessional, I don’t like the product, or it’s just not a good fit. But most of the deals they send me are worth a try, and I give them the go-ahead.

Sometimes I look for a license because I think my work will fit a product or I like a specific company.

The third way is that a company will reach out to me. They’ve seen my work somewhere, looked around my website, saw images they liked and want to talk about a license.

About a year ago, Diamond Art Club contacted me to discuss access to my catalogue. The contact was professional, sent me a great information package for prospective licenses, and they were upfront about their royalties and payment schedule—no red flags.

I looked through their professional site and was impressed with how many high-end brands and artists they have under license. There’s no credibility question when a company has the official DC Comics and Harry Potter licenses.

I had heard a little about diamond painting kits but didn’t know much about the hobby, nor how massive it is. The simplest explanation is that it seems to be a blend of paint-by-numbers, cross-stitch and a little bit of the classic lite-bright toy. So rather than butcher the explanation, I’ll refer you to their site’s excellent description. Click here or on the image below.
After a couple of weeks back and forth with contracts and questions, I uploaded my art to their servers and tried to put it out of my mind. They were clear that nothing would likely be available until the end of the year. Licensing is often a long game, depending on the product, and each company’s lead time is different.

The production pipeline on these kits is extensive. First, there’s research with customers and retailers to determine which images to produce, then assigning an image to a designer who will turn a piece of art into a kit. Following that, the kit must be manufactured in large quantities and shipped. It’s more involved than most products I’ve encountered.

I don’t know the timeline for when the world is normal, but I was forewarned that it is much longer under the shadow of the pandemic.

It has been a year since I signed the contract with Diamond Art Club. I checked in with them every couple of months, and they were friendly and accommodating as they explained the different stages of delay. And I’m just one new artist. They no doubt have hundreds of other pieces in the pipeline, all affected by the same delays every company in the world has faced these past couple of years.

The first image Diamond Art Club put into production was no surprise. My Otter is one of my top two bestsellers everywhere, a close tie with the Smiling Tiger.

I’m glad they started with that one because if it does well, there will no doubt be more of my images on these kits in the future. Given the popularity and quality of these kits, I certainly hope so.
My sample arrived this week, and I was eager to open it. The first thing I noticed was the fantastic design of the packaging, both outside and in. The tools and pieces are well organized and labelled. The quality of the otter image on the canvas is superb, and there’s nothing about this kit that looks cheap and thrown together. At 23″X17″, it’s a fairly large image.

If I were into this hobby and bought one from Diamond Art Club, I would feel like a valued customer. As a licensed artist, I feel my work is represented well, and I’m pleased to be involved with this company. I hope it’s for a long time.

I’ve learned about licensing, however, that I have no clue what will do well or for how long. Certain paintings may be incredibly popular with the people who like them, but will a new product find a new audience? I have no idea.

So, while I wait and see, I let these companies do what they do best, and I’ll keep painting new portraits of whimsical wildlife for their future consideration.

Because that’s what I do best.
If you’d like to learn more about Diamond Art Club, head to their site and check it out. Right now, you can get 20% off your first order with the code SUMMER20. While they have a large assortment of fantastic art, might I suggest a certain Otter as your first piece?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Mountain Made Market – July 30th


It’s that time again, another long weekend Mountain Made Market this Saturday at the Civic Centre, downtown Canmore. There will be 25 vendors inside and out, specialty foods, arts & crafts and live music. The Canmore Folk Fest also returns this weekend, so downtown will be a hopping place. With Main Street closed for the summer to motor vehicles, there’s plenty of room to move about, see the sights and enjoy the atmosphere.

As I don’t do the regular market circuit, I haven’t got a big tent, so you’ll find me just inside The Civic Centre in the main foyer. I’ll have plenty of prints, including the latest releases, 2023 calendars, coasters, magnets, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and more. So come on down and support local art and artists!

Hope to see you there.

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Goofy Grizzly


Here’s a painting of one of the younger bears at Discovery Wildlife Park. I took the reference in September of last year, but because there were two bears the same age, and I don’t know them as well as I do Berkley, I didn’t know which one I was painting.

I sent the finished piece to my friend Serena, the head keeper at the park, and she immediately said it was Bos (rather than Piper), which I took as a compliment that she could identify the bear from my painting. Another keeper also knew which as well, so it felt pretty good that even with my whimsical style, I got the personality and likeness right.

Serena reluctantly mentioned an anatomy issue with one of the paws/claws and said the claws looked more like a black bear than a brown bear. I asked for more clarification and spent some time repainting the problem area.

When it comes to unsolicited criticism, the kind most people offer is a glib comment that costs them nothing, so they speak before thinking. Unfortunately, it can often be unkind, malicious, or personal, which usually says more about the critic than that being criticized.

One of the pillars supporting social media is that we’re all so sure of our clear view from the cheap seats. It has always been easier to tear somebody down than build them up.

Constructive criticism, however, is a valuable resource, and artists need to cultivate relationships with people who genuinely want to see them create better work. For example, my buddy Derek and I have often sent each other paintings in progress, asking for critique.

Another tattoo artist friend sent me a beautiful sea turtle painting he’d completed the other day and asked my opinion. I loved the piece and enjoyed seeing it but had no suggestion for improving it, which isn’t unusual.

Most of the time, we’ve each scrutinized our work to death already before we request a second look.

But staring at a painting too long, sometimes you miss what’s right in front of you until a trusted friend and colleague points it out. Then you wonder how you ever could have missed it. Or you make the suggested change to see the results and agree it was a better choice.

When you do get an honest critique from someone whose intentions are genuine, be grateful. That person took the time to help you improve your work.

Serena’s not a painter, but when it comes to animal anatomy, I trust her eye, and I’m glad she saw what I missed. Better still, I’m happy she said so, rather than worry that I would take it personally.

From time to time, however, the creator of a piece might consider a critique and still disagree. That’s fine, too. Every artist sees things differently, and ultimately it comes down to making your own choices. I’ve had plenty of well-intentioned suggestions over the years, both on specific pieces and my business in general, that I decided weren’t right for me.

You never know, however, when somebody might offer a solution to a problem you didn’t know you had. For example, my buddy, Darrel, casually suggested vinyl stickers a while back because he saw a few on vehicles and thought my work would lend itself to those. I’m glad he did because my stickers are now doing well in a few retail stores, and I’m actively seeking more resellers.

But then, I also get a lot of people suggesting I create children’s books, and it’s just not something that interests me.

This painting was supposed to be a practice sketch. But my obsessive nature and perfectionist tendencies don’t seem to allow me to stop if I can just paint in a little… more… detail. So, this became a finished piece. I think it will make a nice sticker, too, and possibly a print later.

Regardless of where it ends up, I consider any time painting bears to be time well spent.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Circle of Prints

I’ve painted over 100 animals since 2009, and I can’t keep them all in stock. Even five of each is a lot of inventory. So whenever I bring in new ones, I’ve got to retire some. Some paintings seem to be perpetual best sellers, while others have their day in the sun for a few years and then wane in popularity.

To ensure a reasonable price from my supplier, I have to order prints in volume. So when a print plays out its best days, it’s no longer worth ordering a large amount. That’s a good indication it’s time to let it go and give a new one a chance.

Today, I’m retiring three prints. The Bald Eagle, Black Bear and Grizzly have been removed from the store. They’re still popular on other items through my various licenses, but not as much as prints in my online store. I get attached to these paintings as each has a story and takes many hours to paint. This round of retirees is especially bittersweet as this Grizzly was the first animal I painted in my whimsical wildlife style, the bear that started it all. But I’m always painting new grizzly bears and black bears, so there’s no shortage of that subject.

As much as I like my Bald Eagle painting, I’ve taken many excellent references at The Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta in recent years, and I’m looking to paint a new one.

With a new print order just arrived, the Beaver and Two Wolves are back in stock, so if you’ve been waiting for those, thanks for your patience.
Of course, no new order would be complete without some first-issue prints. My latest paintings, Snow Queen and Duckling, are now available in the store! I love seeing the first prints of a new painting; these were no exception. There’s just something about a print that makes the work complete.
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All prints are 11″ x14″ with a white border, and it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame as it’s a standard size. In addition, each is hand-signed and comes with a backer board and artist bio in a cellophane sleeve.

If you have any questions about the available prints or vinyl stickers, feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to answer. Otherwise, take a browse through the available paintings and see if there’s one that catches your eye. And a reminder that all images (even the retired ones) are available via custom order, as canvas or metal prints.

Cheers,
Patrick

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All Work and No Play

If you had asked me as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered that I wanted to be a writer. Most artists have several creative interests. But like with my artwork, I accepted too many offerings from unkind critics and shelved any ambition to do anything with those talents for many years.

I remember a teacher handing back an essay, telling me I would be a writer one day. But I also recall a different teacher who said a paper I turned in was too advanced for my age; therefore, I must have plagiarized it, and she called my parents—nothing like being branded a thief to douse a creative spark.

I didn’t gain enough confidence in my artwork to consider taking it professionally until my early thirties. I had never entertained the idea of art school because I didn’t think I was good enough. And despite having written two amateur novels in my twenties, my writing today is mostly confined to blog posts and promoting my art.

I’ve procrastinated on writing an art book for several years under the crippling weight of imposter syndrome. I have visions of spending several months working on it, shelling out the money to publish it, and having most of the books sit in the corner of the basement collecting dust. Many would-be authors have shared that fate after foolishly flying too close to the sun.

But I still want to write the book. There are stories behind the paintings I want to tell because that’s as much a part of the work as the brushstrokes. And there are plenty of prints I have retired that could shine again in a book.

What scares me more than writing it is still talking about writing it 20 years from now. Apologies to those who are tired of me promising that which it seems I’ll never deliver.

I don’t have writer’s block. If anything, my problem is writing too much and having to edit it down to a reasonable length. Most of my first draft blog posts are twice as long before I take a machete to them. My problem is the simple fear of creating a book that ends up being little more than a steaming pile of crap, unworthy of the common housefly.

It’s a convenient excuse. If I don’t write it, it can’t suck. But what if it ends up being as good or better than I want it to be? I’ll never know if I don’t write it. So this failure to launch is an unending source of shame and self-loathing, with nobody to blame but myself.

In his book, The Practice, Seth Godin wrote, “If you need a guarantee of critical and market success every time you seek to create, you’ve found a great place to hide. If the need for critical and market success has trapped you into not being bold again, you’ve found another place to hide.”

At this point in my career, I cannot separate my art and writing from my profession. They are both synonymous with work and my identity. That’s what happens when you turn what you love into your job. There is no part of my art now that isn’t, in some way, a component of my business.

But I have a third creative outlet.

My parents once bought me one of those little Casio keyboards for Christmas, and on the first day, I learned a song from the radio. Just the melody, one key at a time with my index finger, but I had discovered that I had an amateur ear for music. Nothing that foretold a scholarship at Julliard or anything extraordinary, just some average latent musical talent.

I graduated to a larger full-size keyboard, then another, and even hauled the damn thing around with me far too often. In hindsight, it was no doubt a surrogate security blanket, but music was a big part of my teenage and young adult years.

Music formed the foundation of my oldest and closest friendship with my buddy Darrel. We occasionally performed a couple of songs at The Crown and Anchor pub in Red Deer around 1990 for a couple of years. Darrel played guitar, and I sang.

While he went to college for music and still works in the industry today, I let my musical interests stagnate when I moved on to cartooning.

But I’ve always missed it. Several years ago, I bought a secondhand guitar and took months of lessons. I practiced, improved, and learned a lot. I can fingerpick and play chords, but I kept putting it aside for work, so I never got good at it.

Sometimes I would take it camping, but people want to listen to songs around a campfire, not somebody practicing. I’d bring it to the cabin with grand designs of jamming with Darrel, but our guitars spent most of those weekends sitting in their cases. I just hadn’t practiced enough on my own, so I couldn’t play much of anything useful, and eventually, I just started leaving it at home.

Most days, it sits in the corner of my office in its case for months on end while I responsibly spend my time working on the creative stuff that pays the bills.

I get emails from aspiring artists asking me how to turn their creative hobbies into a profession. I try to be kind, but I answer honestly. I encourage them but also caution them to be careful what they wish for. When your hobby becomes your work, you need to find another hobby.

It is advice that I give but don’t follow.

We own a townhouse condo. While we have an end unit and only share one wall, I am always mindful of how much noise I make, out of consideration for our neighbours.

Three apartments in Banff and 21 years in this place, we’ve had good and bad neighbours. Sharing a wall with somebody else is about compromise; if you cannot do that, you will invite conflict. It is remarkable how so many don’t understand that a sub-woofer on your TV or stereo in a shared wall environment ruins other people’s lives.

Our current neighbours are the best we’ve ever had; yes, we’ve told them more than once. They warn us when they’re working on stuff in the garage and having guests over, and they are simply two of the nicest, most considerate people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. So naturally, we try our best to respond in kind.

Granted, you can’t be quiet all the time. They have a wonderful large dog that Shonna and I adore and have affectionately nicknamed Thunderpaws(!) for those rare times she runs around the house. We’ll occasionally hear each other’s TVs, or we all talk louder on phone calls. Shonna and I both have loud laughs, and like most married couples, we’ve had the odd heated discussion that no doubt the neighbours have been too polite to mention.

They even graciously put up with our kitchen renos a few years ago without a single complaint, even though three out of four of us work at home.

So despite that I have played my guitar, I never enjoyed it as much as I’d like, because I’m conscious of the noise. I’m pretty good at finger-picking now but was poor at strumming because it’s louder, so l avoided it. I’ve been assured it’s not a problem, but I can’t relax and play how I want without wondering if they’re bothered by it. It’s just my nature.

We had a neighbour in Banff who liked to play his guitar late at night, ruining our sleep more than once.

On a recent visit with family, my wife’s stepmother wondered if I still played. When I told her I didn’t, she asked if it was easy to let go or if it had been a passion. I thought about it on the drive home and in the days that followed and realized I still miss it.

I looked up quiet acoustic guitars on a whim and came across the Yamaha SLG200S. They’ve been around a while, but I had never heard of them. So I researched, asked Darrel’s professional opinion, and realized that this was precisely what I needed.

It’s called a silent guitar, but that’s only a marketing term. Basically, it sounds like an unplugged electric guitar, which isn’t loud at all. When you play it with headphones or through an amp, however, it sounds like a high-end acoustic. But it’s incredibly quiet to anyone else and certainly inaudible to someone on the other side of a wall.

The next hurdle was allowing this extravagance, a gift to myself that is in no way an investment in my business. But, Shonna encouraged me to do it. My recent prize money from the second-place win in that cartoon contest covered most of it.

And still, my inner critic spent the next few days trying to talk me out of buying it. You don’t have the time. Better to use the money for the business. What if you play it for a few days, and then it sits in the corner like the other one? Maybe you just like the idea of playing guitar. What’s the point, it’ll take you years to get any good, and you’ll never be really good.

He’s a dick.

Despite my demons, I picked one up a month  ago. I had planned on going to Calgary for it, but while running errands here in Canmore, I took a chance and checked out Roosters Acoustics, the only guitar shop in town. They had three, including the crimson red burst colour I wanted. While it cost a little more here, I was happier to support a local business instead of one in the city. Plus, I would have spent the difference on gas anyway, not to mention my time to go get it.

When I got home, I felt unworthy of it. Like Red in Shawshank Redemption, when given a harmonica by his friend and he says softly, “It’s very pretty, Andy.”

Darrel and I have had a four-night cabin rental booked for the Canada Day long weekend for several months. So with that on the horizon, I told myself I would practice every day so that we could play some real guitar that weekend.

One of the great features of this guitar is that it has an Aux input with its own volume dial, which allows me to plug my phone into it. This lets me play along to songs from Spotify (or any other service on my phone) and it all comes through the same headphones I’m wearing.

Suddenly, I was playing for an hour almost every day, playing it how I wanted, with no concern about noise, genuinely enjoying myself. By the time the trip rolled around, I had not only regained all of the skills I had learned in my lessons and previous practice; I had surpassed them. As a result, I can now play better than I ever have.

Darrel brought a little amp for me, and a couple of those days at the cabin, we played for two hours or more, flipping through songs in a book of music I’d printed. Darrel taught me a few new techniques, and with no agenda, it was just fun! I set up my camera one day and recorded video of our playing a few songs just so I could grab some stills without our having to pose.
This was a favourite, laughing and clowning around while screwing up the chords and lyrics of American Pie, an old standard from those Crown and Anchor days. We had a great weekend at the cabin and I’m looking forward to the next time when I’ll have a few more months of practice under my belt.

I have no desire to play music professionally or join a group or band. There’s no finished product to market, promote, or invite criticism. I don’t need to produce any content to share online, and there’s no pressure. It’s a purely creative outlet, something for me.

I’m glad to have a hobby again. It’s a fun escape from work and a wonderful stress reliever, especially at the end of the day.

Without even a twinge of buyer’s remorse, I consider this some of the best money and time I’ve ever spent.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Snow Queen

After I finished my recent duckling painting, I did what I always do, went through my archive of photos to look for the next project. All the reference photos I’ve taken over the years are organized in folders by animal name, so before I even look at the images, I’ll admit to deciding against an animal simply because I’ve already painted it.

I get tunnel vision sometimes, thinking that this next animal must be one I’ve never painted before. As a result, I’ve occasionally talked myself out of a painting because “I’ve already done that.”

It’s rather silly when you think about it.

There are several animals I’ve painted more than once, and it’s a rare thing that the first one is the best one. Some photographers make their entire careers from taking photos of critters from the same part of the world. So to dismiss an animal simply because they’ve seen it before would be shortsighted.

Had I stopped at the first tiger I painted, I wouldn’t have painted my Smiling Tiger, one of my best-selling pieces. While my first wolf is special to many people, including me, my latest Winter Wolf has surpassed its popularity and has become a personal favourite. It’s part of the reason I wanted to paint this Snow Queen in the same palette.
And finally, the very first whimsical wildlife image I painted was a grizzly bear. I’ve painted more than a dozen since, and it remains my favourite animal to paint. It would have been a shame to decide that I’d done enough of them and never got to Grizzly on Grass, the painting I love the most out of all my work.

So even though I’ve painted a snow leopard before, I wanted to paint another. I painted most of this piece while under the weather last week, and I still enjoyed it. Thankfully, I felt better for the final hours this weekend and truly enjoyed watching her personality show up. I hadn’t planned on it being so obviously feminine, but that’s the magic of this work. A lot of this stuff just happens, and I’m grateful for it.
For those interested in the technical side of things, this file is 30” X 40” at 300ppi, with seven layers and an adjustment layer. I usually only have three layers at the end of a piece, the background, backdrop and subject. For this one, however, I wanted to keep some parts separate in case I have some formatting or colour challenges later with licensing.

The working file was 1.33GB, the largest file I’ve worked on since this computer was built in 2020. However, it handled it beautifully, and I could still jump around and paint fine detail with no performance lag.

Next up, I’m going to paint another burrowing owl to include with a larger piece I started months ago. Having a piece I can keep coming back to with fresh eyes is fun.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Cocky Cartoonist and COVID

After two-plus years of wearing a mask, staying home, the shots, booster, and trying my best to avoid the plague of the 21st century, that sumbitch finally got me.

I’ve always had a sound immune system and rarely get sick. I can go two or three years at the best of times without a cold or flu. I imagine much of that has to do with no kids and working from home, so I don’t get exposed to every virus making the rounds.

But when I get sick, it’s a knock me on my ass, man-cold. I become Cameron at the beginning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Shonna and I had a frightening, stressful experience on June 11th in Calgary, a story for another time. Still, I’m guessing the flood of adrenaline from that and the subsequent let-down effect scuttled my immune system and opened me up for attack.

I got a tickle in my throat last Saturday, and the test returned negative. When I woke Sunday morning feeling congested, I took another test and sure enough, it was positive. I felt OK and hoped my adventure with COVID would be like Shonna’s earlier this year.

She had the sniffles for two days, worked from home and felt fine, said it was the easiest cold she’s ever had.

Shonna and I can’t keep our distance in our modest home, but I slept on the couch since I still get up earlier than she does most days, and she slept in that week. Thankfully, it’s a very comfortable couch.

Still, I expected I would get it from her then, and we both isolated, just in case. But I never caught it, or I have been operating under the false assumption that I probably got it and was one of those lucky ones who didn’t have any symptoms.

When I tested positive last Sunday, I thought, “OK, I’ll have what she had!”

Cocky cartoonist. It even inspired this cartoon.
I warned a few people I’d seen days before that I’d tested positive and settled in for what I assumed would be a mild cold. Instead, by Sunday evening, I felt like absolute dogshit.

Runny nose, congestion, headache, muscle and joint aches, chills, etc. I’ve managed to work every day and get my cartoons out, even worked several hours on a painting, but there weren’t any long workdays. I didn’t have the energy.

The literature on this version of COVID, which I suspect was a variation of Omicron, is that it’s mild compared to the ones that came before. Upon further investigation, what medical professionals mean by ‘mild’ is that you’re unlikely to require a hospital visit. But the mild experience can be anywhere from one sneeze to “didn’t I see you on The Walking Dead?!”

I slept on the couch again last week, and it looks like Shonna avoided it, or her previous infection of hopefully the same variant is protecting her. We both know you can get it again.

Wait…when she’s sick, I sleep on the couch. When I’m sick, I sleep on the couch. This is bullshit!

Over-the-counter cold meds helped, plenty leftover from Shonna’s experience because she barely touched them. I drink plenty of water at the best of times, but I must have been downing 3 litres a day last week, especially if you factor in all the tea and soup.

As I publish this on the 9th day after my positive test, I feel pretty good. From what I’ve read, you can test positive for up to 90 days afterward, even though you’re no longer contagious. It’s an antibody thing. But I’ll take a test tomorrow anyway.

An unfortunate side effect is that my sense of smell has been altered. This happened to me after a bad cold years ago, and the problem lasted for months. Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat performance. It has something to do with the inflammation traumatizing nerves in smell receptors and is relatively common. As smell is a big part of taste, certain foods are unappetizing right now, and there’s an underlying constant weird smell to everything.

I have plans to go away for a guy’s weekend later this week. The friend I’m going with isn’t concerned, mainly because he’s pretty sure he recently had it himself, and I’ll be past the ten days when I see him. While I could have done without this infection, I am grateful that this bout with the plague didn’t cancel this trip we’ve booked for months.

Bottom line, this felt like a nasty cold or flu. Survivable, sure, but not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. Regardless of where you sit on the vaccine argument (and no, I don’t care to discuss it), I’m glad I got mine. Because given how bad this felt, especially for the first three days, I don’t want to know how much worse it could have been.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Swimming Upstream

Here’s a little duckling I finished painting this morning. The duckling itself wasn’t difficult, but the water certainly was. Ironic that I began this year with a commission piece where water was also the hardest part of that painting. There will always be room for improvement in any artistic pursuit, so I welcome these unexpected challenges. The work might become boring without them.

When I first began creating digital art more than 20 years ago, there was a common misconception that if you used a computer, then the computer was doing all the work. Press a few buttons, apply a filter or two and anybody can do it. There was also a ‘look’ to a lot of digital art. It was far too smooth, with a blurry airbrushed look, and it all looked the same. Plenty of amateur artists still make this mistake when they get started. After hearing more than enough of this (anything but constructive) criticism, I worked hard to make my work look more like traditional acrylic or oil textures. That effort paid off because I developed a textured brush style evident in all of my work today. People are still surprised to find out my medium of choice and will often say that it doesn’t look digital.

For the water in this painting, however, I had to go backwards, and paint with that smooth, airbrushed look I have deliberately avoided for so many years. Texture in the water would not only have looked wrong, it would have distracted from the subject of the piece. It’s the contrast between the detailed hair-like feathers of our little friend and the water in which he’s swimming that makes the duck stand out.

This is the final cropped composition for this painting, but I painted more water than you see here. As most of my paintings end up on licensed products, I painted more of the background to allow for different Pacific Music and Art templates. On some of my older pieces, I’ve had to repaint entire sections to accommodate items like coffee mugs and different-sized aluminum prints.

These days, I keep that in mind while painting a piece. It means more work that most people won’t see but less of a headache when I format the painting for more than a dozen different items in their catalogue. Art (and artists) must be flexible when the work is destined for commercial products.
I took the reference for this painting four years ago from the boardwalk that winds through the Policeman’s Creek wetlands here in Canmore. Easily accessible for people of all fitness levels, it’s located in the middle of town and might as well be an urban park. It’s a pretty walk, a nice shortcut from where we live to downtown Canmore, and preferable to walking on the sidewalk of a busy street.

You might think I’d be happier taking photos of bears, wolves, eagles or other more exciting animals, but I’m just as content to spend an hour chasing around a family of ducks with my camera. You never know what critter might end up in a painting.

Only a couple of days ago, I realized just how few paintings I’ve completed this year. I painted the commission of Santé in February and finished my elephant painting in March. In addition, I’ve painted a couple of burrowing owls that are part of a larger piece, but this duckling is only the third finished painting, and the year is almost half over.

Considering I usually produce 10 to 15 pieces each year, I’m well behind where I’d like to be. Of course, one could argue quality vs. quantity, but as this work is a big part of how I make my living, I try to balance them.
The reason for fewer paintings is no mystery. Despite the dramatic decline in the newspaper industry, it’s still a big chunk of my income, and I’m unable to put off or set aside my daily editorial cartoon deadlines. As a result, those take priority every day and painting time is often sacrificed for the cartoons.

On the animal art side of things, I’ve been more occupied this year creating new products, filling and delivering print orders, planning and attending Expo and more local markets, all things that have been on hold the past couple of years. I’m not complaining that I have more sales and increased opportunities to put more work into the world, but it illustrates that art for a living is an illusion.

I don’t spend as much time creating the work as I do promoting and selling the work.

We all struggle with finding enough time to get it all done, whatever ‘it’ is, and most often fail in the attempt. Unfortunately, knowing the solution is simple doesn’t make it any easier.

Saying ‘No’ a lot more often than ‘Yes’ to requests and demands goes against most of our instincts to be friendly, help people out, and put others’ needs ahead of ours. But when it means sacrificing what is most important to us, whether time with our family, the pursuit of hobbies, recharging and relaxing, or time to paint more funny-looking animals, nobody else will make that time for us.

These paintings are a lot of work, but it’s work that I love a great deal, so it makes sense that I’d want to spend more time doing it. I’ll try to remember that for the second half of this year.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A New Marshal in Town

In November of last year, I finished this painting of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from the top-rated Paramount show Yellowstone. Like many of the portraits I paint, it was a personal project, something I did for my own enjoyment. You can read about that piece here.

I don’t attach any expectations to these portraits, but sometimes they either reach the people I’ve painted or attract some attention after the fact that I couldn’t have anticipated. But I learned long ago that if you try to make stuff like that happen, it rarely works. All I can do is complete the painting, put it out there and move on to the next one.

I have a couple of favourite unexpected results, like when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original canvas of a painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. That was almost ten years ago, so I won’t rehash it again. However, if you’re not familiar with that story, you can read about it here. The print signed by both of them hangs in my office.
Another was when I painted Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was in command of the International Space Station. He saw the painting online and sent me an appreciative tweet from space, which was a special moment.

This week, the Calgary Stampede announced that Kevin Costner would be this year’s parade marshal. I’m a fan, or I wouldn’t have painted the portrait in the first place. But I’m not big on crowds, and it’s unlikely I’ll attend the parade or Stampede. Still, the event is a big deal for Calgary. After the last two years, here’s hoping an unrestricted Stampede is a welcome economic boost for the city and surrounding communities, mine included.

As the Calgary Herald has been running my syndicated cartoons regularly for almost 20 years, I emailed the editor and suggested the painting as a cartoon for the announcement, with the caption you see below. He liked the idea, and it appeared in Wednesday’s edition.
As it also made national news, and Yellowstone is a wildly popular show, I sent it out to my other papers this morning, in case there’s more interest in it. For context outside of Calgary, I added “Calgary Stampede:” before the caption for those other papers.

I’ve done portraits for cartoons before, but most often, it’s for memorials, and they’re never as detailed as I would like. It took more than 20 hours to paint this portrait, so it’s not something I would have done specifically for this purpose. There wouldn’t be a decent return on the investment, and I couldn’t get it done on a tight deadline anyway. To have had the painting done and ready to use for this announcement was a nice moment of serendipity.

Newsprint is unfortunately a muddy medium. Publications use different colour profiles and printers, so a cartoon that might look bright and crisp in one paper might look too bright or dark and desaturated in another. I can do nothing about that, so I adjust the image to find the middle ground for all papers. I put a lot of time into getting the colour right in my work, so I’m most often disappointed when I see it in newsprint, but I’ve had to make peace with that.
The Costner portrait file is 30” X 40” with a lot of detailed brushwork. To shrink it down and prepare it for newsprint, I had to boost the contrast, oversharpen it, and make other Photoshop adjustments to mitigate a poor result. So while I was happy to see it printed in the Calgary Herald (digital edition above), I couldn’t help but see all the flaws in the reproduction, even though I know that most people won’t notice or care.

As always, I just hope people like it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Special Deliveries

Art for a living is a lot more than the general assumption that I’m just drawing and colouring all day. Like any business, there is a balance between creating or producing something and selling or marketing that something.

After Expo cleaned me out of stock, an excellent problem to have, I had to re-order prints and the packaging that goes with it. In addition, I needed to fill orders for my retail clients and have stock to sell at an upcoming market and on my online store.

Even though I work with excellent vendors who deliver outstanding service, we’re all familiar with the supply chain challenges that still create delays. But over the past couple of weeks, all orders have finally arrived. I’ve spent many hours signing and packaging each print and the past week delivering them. Now I’m preparing for this Saturday’s Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.
Last week, I drove to Innisfail to Discovery Wildlife Park for the first time this year to deliver the largest print order they’ve ever placed and their first order of my high-quality vinyl stickers.

I had recently updated their park map and flyer for them, and It’s already printed and available for guests. In addition to financial contributions, there are always other ways to help your favourite causes and organizations, especially if you have the marketable skills they need.

Of course, there’s no point driving those couple of hours without taking reference photos and spending time with the staff and animals. Timing and luck delivered a beautiful warm day.

At Expo this year, my friend Kayla, a zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo, said that she wanted to come up and see Discovery Wildlife Park and meet their head keeper, Serena. So I told her I’d be going up soon, and we timed it for her days off. I arranged it with Serena to make sure it was convenient, gave Kayla directions, and met there on Thursday morning.

Here’s Serena on Thursday, feeding last year’s fast growing rescue cubs, Bos and Piper.
The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park have a great relationship. Staff from one will often visit the other, participate in educational and training days, and learn from each other’s procedures and policies.

So, I was happy to introduce Serena and Kayla and connect them for what ended up being a partial professional development day. Of course, I was delighted to tag along and eavesdrop while snapping photos.
We got to meet their new wolf pups, though only the keepers who feed them are allowed to touch them. The vet has prohibited any other contact until the pups have their vaccinations next month. But I got plenty of photos, and there will most definitely be a painting coming this year.

On Monday, I was again on the road to deliver another print order to the Calgary Zoo. In the almost ten years they’ve been selling my prints, this was their largest order, a good sign for what we’re all hoping is an economic recovery year.

I had a good visit catching up with their retail manager, Kathryn, and spent some time meeting the new staff, talking about my work, and answering their questions. Since they’re the ones presenting my art to the public and I frequently talk to people who have seen and bought my work there, I’m happy to give the staff any help they need.

Of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without wandering and taking photos and I was granted yet another beautiful day for it.

No matter how well I plan, some animals prove to be elusive when it comes to reference photos. From poor lighting, posing, vantage point, or timing, it can be frustrating when I can’t get the photos I want. I keep trying, however, as eventually fortune does smile, and it’s always unexpected.
After years of failure, I might have finally got the reference I needed to paint an African porcupine. They had just been given food for which they had to work a little, which is a form of enrichment. The lighting was good, I could get down to eye level, and the little critter kept looking right at me. I was shooting through glass, but if there isn’t much glare and I can cup my hand around the lens hood, that often works just fine. I must have taken 300 shots. I discarded most of them on the first pass, but there are painting reference potentials in those I kept.

From the two visits, I got good reference for wolf pups, a lion, a grizzly, and that African porcupine.

Once this Saturday’s market is behind me, I’ll have a lot more time to devote to painting, and I expect to share a new one with you, already half done, by the end of next week. I have plenty of recent reference stored up and am anxious to work from them.

Just in time for this Saturday’s market, my order from Pacific Music & Art arrived on my doorstep on Monday. I’m grateful to Mike for such a quick turnaround to restock me with magnets, coasters and aluminum art for this weekend’s market. But the best surprise in the box was my first order of the 2023 “Wild Animals” calendar! That’s one of my favourite paintings on the cover, Grizzly on Grass.
The shipment arrived while I was at the zoo, so I sent a text to our next-door neighbours asking them to grab it for me off the step for the third time in recent weeks. For a guy who is home most of the time, all my recent orders have arrived while I’ve been away. My neighbours got the first calendar as a Thank-You, but you can get yours at The Mountain Made Market this weekend at the Canmore Civic Centre.

Next week, I will have the calendars available in the online store; I need to work on the calculations to keep the shipping costs as low as possible. I will let you know when you can order them.

Cheers,
Patrick