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Odds and Ends

As the title suggests, here’s a collection of smaller updates in one post.

Pacific Music and Art

The funny-looking face masks continue to be popular, now sold in many retail stores in Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and everywhere else via their online store. The masks have gone through a recent design evolution. The image now covers the entire mask, the straps are more elastic, with a flexible nose bridge inside the upper seam. They still come with rubber grommets to make the straps more adjustable.
In addition to the masks, there are now face scarves available, fun because they’re so versatile. They can be used as a neck scarf, beanie, head band, head scarf and they can be doubled up over your face to serve as a mask.
Once again, the masks and face scarves are not for medical use and are not intended as a replacement for N95 masks or medical grade PPE.

If you’d like to see the available designs for both masks and scarves, follow this link. There are also some new face mask designs that previously weren’t available, so be sure to look through all three pages. Use the promo code Patrick5OFF, and you get 5% off everything on the site. The code expires at the end of December.

Limited Print Run

While a few of you told me that the Pennywise clown painting was not your cup of tea, and one of you even thanked me for not including it in the newsletter, one long-time supporter, and fellow Stephen King fan, wanted a print. Since I’m having it done anyway, I figured I’d see if anybody else wants one. Please let me know this week as I’ll be ordering them quickly.
And since I’m doing that one, I’m going to offer the recent Ripley painting as a print as well. These are 11″X14″ poster prints, so it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame wherever those are sold.
The price is $24.95 each, plus tax & shipping. Since these aren’t in the store, drop me a line to patrick@nulllamontagneart.com if you’re interested. I’m accepting e-transfer for Canadian orders and Paypal for the US (I’ll send you an invoice).

I won’t be keeping these images in stock, so this will be a pre-order. Please allow extra time for delivery.

Wacom

I’m recording another video for Wacom over the next couple of weeks. These are always challenging, but I usually end up having a lot of fun with them. For anyone new to my work, Wacom is the company that makes the digital displays on which I create my art. I’ve been using their tools for more than twenty years and welcome any opportunity to work with them.

A couple of videos I did this past year for Wacom resulted in two of my favourite paintings, the Ring-tailed Lemur and the Amur Tiger, shown below. I’m excited about the image I’m painting in this new video as well.

Sharing

I have been ripped off quite a bit throughout my career. People have used my images illegally for promotion, have altered my cartoons and paintings for their own agendas, and have claimed my images as their own work. One woman on Vancouver Island even used my Otter painting as her business logo and had large images on her store’s windows for two or three years. Then she had the nerve to get mad at me when I sent her a cease-and-desist. She argued that she found it on Google, so she thought it was free. Try that with Mickey Mouse and let me know how it turns out for you.

Sadly, it’s part of the online world. Once your work gets good enough to sell, then it’s good enough to steal. Every artist I know who makes their living from their creations deals with this problem.

But from time to time, people ask if they can share the paintings, cartoons, newsletters, and blog posts I send. While I appreciate that consideration, you don’t need permission. If I share it with you, then you can share it with anyone you like. In fact, I’m always grateful when people introduce my work to others.

As long as it’s not altered, my site name or signature remains on the image, and you aren’t making money from it, then share away, with my thanks.

Take care of yourselves. I’ll have something new to share in a couple of weeks.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Pennywise

While on a recent visit to the tattoo shop, one of the artists asked me if I was painting anything for Halloween.

For the past twenty years, I’ve drawn plenty of editorial cartoons with a Halloween twist, but Eric’s question caught me off guard. I’ve never considered painting something for Halloween.

One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with the artists at Electric Grizzly Tattoo is that they offer a different perspective. I’ve had several projects, promotions, and ideas borne of conversation at the shop.

While I’ve seen these guys come up with many different tattoo designs in various themes, much of their work involves pop culture. Whether characters from TV, animation, movies, comic books, graphic novels or music, there are clients who get full sleeves done in a pop culture theme.

One of Derek Turcotte’s clients has an entire leg done with characters from horror movies. It’s pretty impressive, both in the artwork’s exceptional quality and the tapestry woven from all of those images.

A couple of years ago, Derek painted Pennywise from the 2017 movie IT, based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. For the most recent movie adaptations, the character is played by Bill Skarsgård.

But I remember another version of It, a 1990 two-part TV miniseries with Tim Curry in the title role.

The basic story is that there’s a creature living beneath Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, in the guise of Pennywise the clown, It murders children after luring them into the sewers and has been doing so for centuries. In the two-part story, a group of children takes on the clown and thinks they have killed It. But they make a vow that they will return to finish the job if it ever comes back.

Sure enough, 27 years later, Pennywise returns, as does The Losers Club, to fulfill their promise.

I’m a big Stephen King fan. I started reading his books when I was a young teenager, probably earlier than I should have. Pet Sematary gave me nightmares. I could give you a long list of favourite King novels, but top of mind are The Dark Tower books, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Dr. Sleep and, of course, It.

Unfortunately, a lot of King’s books became movies that weren’t very good. It’s usually a pleasant surprise when I enjoy one as much as the book. The writer/director Frank Darabont is also a Stephen King fan, which is why his three adaptations are among my favourite movies.

Many people are surprised that the movie The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. Darabont made that movie, as well as The Green Mile and The Mist. This scene from The Mist is especially telling in our current climate.

Other screen productions based on King stories that I’ve enjoyed have included Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining, Dr. Sleep and the second season of Castle Rock.

Stephen King made me want to be a writer, and I’ve read and listened to his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ a few times.

While I have started writing fiction again this year, when I force myself to put ass in chair, it has been a struggle. The editorial cartoon deadlines, the paintings, plus the admin and promotional work that goes along with that work don’t give me a lot of time to write anything other than blog posts and newsletters.

But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Excuses are easy to come by.

So when it was suggested I paint something for Halloween, my thoughts returned to Pennywise. Not a difficult leap of inspiration, since Derek’s painting of the Skarsgård clown loomed large on the wall about ten feet to my left.

As I own the original IT miniseries on DVD, I began looking for reference that afternoon when I got home. Filmed for television, thirty years old and with special effects almost too painful to watch at times, the reference didn’t meet my usual criteria

There’s a scene at the end of the miniseries where the clown’s true form is revealed, a large spider-like creature. The effects are bad, with jerky puppet-like movements. The colour and light don’t match the background. It was scary in 1990, but now it’s just comical.

All that aside, Tim Curry was still great in the role of Pennywise. I’ve enjoyed his over-the-top villain roles in many movies. From his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cardinal Richelieu in 1993’s Three Musketeers, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Curry shows up where I least expect him.

Sadly, he now uses a wheelchair following a stroke in 2012.

Finding the reference was tough. I ended up taking photos of the TV screen and then trying to salvage what I could in Photoshop. None of the reference was what I would call good, and while it’s still got the bones beneath it, the finished painting doesn’t resemble Curry’s character as much as I had initially intended.

Partway through, I realized I wanted to make it as horrific as I could; the fangs, skin texture, demonic expression in the eyes. Eventually, it became my own version of Pennywise, which made it a lot more fun.
I wanted to paint the clown that would have scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I believe I achieved that. But rather than scare me now, I found myself smiling a lot. I kept wanting to push it a little further, adding more texture and detail, trying for just a little more realism in the brushwork.

I didn’t want it to end.

This is not the kind of work my regular followers expect from me. But before 2009, all people got from me were editorial cartoons and my painted caricatures of celebrities, no animals at all. You never know where new ventures might lead.

No matter how much I enjoy my animal art, it can get a little boring from time to time if it’s just about pumping them out, one after another. Every so often, I need to take a break, try something different and take a vacation from the fur and feathers. The collection of those occasional side projects have now become a gallery of portraits, mostly movie characters. Some of those paintings have resulted in the most unexpected and wonderful moments of my art career.

While I don’t expect to be turning my attention to painting more killer clowns or creatures from the depths of horror movies, this was worth my time. It was a welcome visit to the dark places I usually avoid, shining a flashlight on just one of the things that live there in the shadows.

The best part about this painting was that it wasn’t work. I had no illusions that this would end up being a published print or an image for licensing.

In a year when self-employed job security is shakier than ever, when the future is a towering question mark (with an exclamation beside it), and it seems like every creative moment should be spent trying to increase revenue, I’m glad I made time for Pennywise.

Happy Halloween!

For you digital artists with tech questions, I painted this in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. I used screen captures for reference, but no photos are part of this work. I created the textures with brushwork alone, no images or overlays. The finished file is 30″ X40″ at 300ppi, painted in the AdobeRGB(1998) colour space. I have no idea how long it took to paint.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

 
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The Panda in the Room

One of the most challenging parts of marketing is playing the game.

We’re emotional creatures, not as evolved as we like to think, prone to gimmicks, triggers, fear of missing out, limited time offers, inflated prices on sale for regular price. We are prey to an overabundance of cognitive biases, fall for the same stuff repeatedly, voluntarily share our personal information to save a few bucks, and forever fail to learn from our past mistakes.

Even though everyone knows that salespeople have a spiel or massage the details to put the best possible spin on things, we still buy into it. Marketing works because it understands all of this. And even when you know these things, we still fall for them.

Everybody who has ever invested in anything knows that the cardinal rule is to buy low and sell high. So why does the stock market have a seizure every time somebody in power sneezes or runs and hides when the wrong person says, “Boo?”

We’re emotional creatures, even though we like to pretend that we’re not.

Every so often, it’s nice to point out that elephant in the room. Not just mention it, but shine a light on it, display those wonderful big ears, beautiful tusks, enormous feet, pretty eyes and most importantly, the fact that it just sat on the buffet lunch.

Yes, I’m painting an elephant soon. Stay tuned.

(Get to the point, Cartoon Boy!)

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all a little testy, impatient, worried, uncertain, choose your own less than ideal emotional state.

So I thought I’d try something different for today’s marketing—brutal honesty.

The Calgary Zoo is usually one of my largest print clients. They’ve been supportive of my work for many years and a great customer. Like every other business this year, especially ones where the public gathers in groups, they’re facing extraordinary challenges right now.

I was taking photos at the zoo recently, and they’re taking the safety measures seriously. The animals are still well cared for, and the staff are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I would encourage Albertans to visit the zoo, support wildlife conservation, and a local business that keeps those hardworking people employed.

They also sell my face masks in their gift shop, made in Canada by Pacific Music and Art, so that’s one more place you can get them.

One of the many unforeseen casualties of this pandemic has been the Panda Passage at the Calgary Zoo. The pandas themselves are fine, but they must go back to China and are leaving soon. They were supposed to be in Calgary for a couple more years, but the daily flights that brought their bamboo diet have ceased. The zoo has been doing its best to source the bamboo from other places, like British Columbia, but winter is coming, and the supply has run out.

As nothing goes unconnected these days, here’s a strange way this affected your friendly neighbourhood cartoonist and whimsical wildlife painter.

The Calgary Zoo used to sell a lot of my Panda prints. They sold almost all of them. Popular in their gift shops, I made it a habit to keep plenty on hand so that when they ordered, there was no waiting. At the end of last year, I ordered more than 50 of them. The Zoo did not place their usual large spring order. I need not explain why.

With the closing of the Panda Passage, it’s beginning to look like it will take me a very long time to sell these particular prints, even at a discount. With that in mind, I’m offering that print at a substantial discount.

Regularly $24.95, I’ve reduced the price of the above panda print to $6.95.

Another print I’m offering at the same price is the Sasquatch. This is a weird one. Mike from Pacific Music and Art suggested I paint this image a year ago because many of his retail customers are in British Columbia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. That’s Sasquatch country!

The image does very well on magnets, coffee mugs, art cards, T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics and plenty of other products. It’s one of the best sellers on face masks.
But whether it was at the Calgary Expo or on my online store, it does not do well on prints.  So, I’m going to blow out that stock, too—regular $24.95…now $6.95.

No Promo Codes, no new sign-ups, no hoops through which to pirouette. It’s just the price in the store.

Here’s a bonus to entice you. If you buy THREE or more prints, no matter which ones, I’ll throw in something extra. Could be a calendar, a magnet, face mask, who knows? It’ll be a surprise, but there will definitely be an added gift product in there.

Also, all of my prints are 11″X14″. That’s a common frame size you can buy in many stores that sell them, no need to spend a bundle having them professionally framed.

I’m fortunate that prints and other products aren’t perishable. Someday this will end, and I’ll be ready to supply my customers with the stock I have on hand. But I keep painting new pieces, and if I want to stock new stuff, I must make room for it. When sold, the Panda and Sasquatch prints will be retired, as will several other pieces. It’s the only way to keep releasing new images.

Speaking of which, here’s a Grizzly bear I finished last week, not yet available.
Hopefully, that candor is a refreshing change from the sleight of hand sales gimmicks we often get. I try not to make my blog posts and newsletters all about selling you stuff because I don’t like to receive too much of that either. But I’m a self-employed artist, and it’s the nature of the gig.

Stay well, be safe, and try to be patient with each other. Things are tough all over.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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The Great Grey Hunter

With the brilliant fall colours and abnormally warm October temperatures, the timing couldn’t have been better for some R&R in Central Alberta ranch land with a good friend of mine. For five days, we caught up, reminisced, ate good food, tipped back a few drinks, played Scrabble and cards like old men, and enjoyed the slower pace.

As usual, I took plenty of photos, mostly of horses, cows and Jingles, the most good-natured dog you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet.

I even caught sight of a moose one evening, though too far away for reference. But anytime I see wildlife is a win.

In my regular day to day, I get up at 5am, even on weekends. For anyone who is self-employed, weekends often don’t mean much anyway. So when I do take time off and sleep in, I’m still an early riser.

On our last morning, I woke just after 7 to an eerie warm light coming through my window. I got out of bed, pulled the curtain back and thought it looked like that strange hazy glow of forest fire smoke. Since we haven’t had any of that in a few weeks around here, it took me a minute to realize it was just the light bouncing off the yellow leaves on the trees and ground.

I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera, and snuck out the back door of the cabin. I didn’t want to go past my buddy’s bedroom and possibly wake him. My photography skills just weren’t adequate to figure out how to capture the weird light I was seeing, so I resigned myself to simply appreciating the moment. The three previous mornings had been pretty, but this was much more intense.

Since I was up already, I wandered out to the road to see if there might be some deer or a coyote around. I knew that anything I might encounter would take off as soon as I saw it, so the best I might hope for would be a few quick snapshots.

When I emerged from the lane onto the road, I spotted a large shape on a fence post. At first, I thought it might be a hawk. I’ve long been trying to get photos of a red-tailed hawk in the wild, but each time I see one, it’s usually while I’m driving with nowhere to pull over.

At the same time, a little way down the road, there were two white-tailed deer. They spotted me just as I raised my camera. I got one shot before they bolted into the trees, but it isn’t worth sharing.

My attention quickly returned to what I now realized was a Great Grey Owl. A common species in Alberta, but I’ve never seen one in the wild. I thought I might get a few quick shots before it took off, especially since it looked right at me, but my presence didn’t seem to be a problem.

Female Great Grey Owls are larger than males but there’s no other way to easily tell their gender. As this was a single and quite large, I’m going with she.

With each step I took, I expected her to fly away, but she seemed more interested in finding her breakfast than worrying about me. I crept closer and moved a little farther down the road around her to get the best light, continuously taking shots.

Eventually, I got to within 8 or 10 feet and figured that was close enough. I didn’t want to crowd her. With a 70-300 mm lens, I knew I’d still capture plenty of detail.

Finally, after watching her snag a mouse and eat part of it on the next post, she gracefully dropped from the post and silently flew down the fence-line. Having taken a few dozen photos, I thought that was it, and I was grateful for the gift.

But she didn’t go far. Her next perch was even closer to the cabin than the first. I wandered back the way I came, again expecting her to take off, but she stayed put. I enjoyed her implied audacity at ignoring the No Trespassing sign, coupled with the fact that the sign colour matched her eyes.

Eventually, she flew into the trees, but still close to the property line. I took even more photos because her perch this time clearly showed the incredible camouflage of her feathers against the nearby tree bark.

Since Darrel is also an early riser and I didn’t want him to miss out on this privilege, I walked back to the cabin to tell him. I knew she might be gone before we returned, but I’d already taken plenty of shots and thought it worth the risk. He was eager to see her as well, and by the time we got back, she was in the same spot.

We watched her move between three different perches. We were so close that Darrel could still get some nice shots with his phone. He took some video as well, but it also captured the sound of my camera shutter on rapid fire.

At one point, a brief gust of wind came up, throwing clouds of yellow leaves around her. It was such a treat to take photos of her in multiple environments, almost like she was a model for hire.

Finally, we decided we’d invaded her space enough and I didn’t want to ruin her chances of getting a meal, even though I’d seen her catch one mouse already.

I thanked her for her patience, and we walked back to the cabin, looking through the shots we’d taken.

After we’d eaten a small breakfast, Darrel saw movement out the window and said, “She’s back!”

Now perched on the fence on our side of the road, she still didn’t seem to care that we were there.

We watched her jump down into the grass to catch a mouse, hop back up on to the same perch, eat it down whole and repeat the process. Here’s a time-lapse of the Great Grey hunter in action. Not a good day to be a mouse.

I’ve taken photos of Great Grey Owls before, at the Calgary Zoo Aviary and at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale. In those cases, they’ve been orphans and rescues that can’t be released back into the wild. I’ve even painted a closeup of a Great Grey before.

But to see one this close, at eye level in the wild, going about her morning, so tolerant of our visit, was a truly special experience for which I’m grateful.

As the cold weather will no doubt be fast upon us, and with nowhere to go, I plan to spend a lot of time painting. Much like the squirrels and other critters storing up food for the winter, I’ve been stockpiling reference photos for new pieces and have a few already planned.

I believe I’ll add a Great Grey Owl to that list.
If you’d like to support these beautiful birds and others like them, please donate to the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. They do great work for wildlife conservation and education.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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The Art That Binds


Shonna has discerning tastes when it comes to the art she likes.

Were we not together and she stumbled across my stuff somewhere, she wouldn’t buy it. The side benefit, however, is that she has a critical eye and if there’s something wrong in one of my paintings, she can spot it. It took me a long time to stop taking that personally and see it for the gift that it is.

That’s ironic, because had I not met her 30 years ago, odds are very good I wouldn’t be an artist for a living. The opportunities that made that possible, all the pieces lining up, were because I moved to the mountains in 1994 to save our failing long-distance relationship.

Aside from the pieces in my office and one outside my office door, we don’t have any artwork hanging in our home.

That seems to bother one friend of mine a great deal, but Shonna and I have always marched to our own beat. From choosing early on in our marriage not to have children, to the fact that we don’t celebrate holidays, we’re happy to be weird. Normal is overrated.

After 30 years together, coming up quickly on 25 years of marriage, clearly it’s working for us.

Shonna and I rarely do anything for our birthdays. We’ve never had a party for each other, nor wanted one. We never made it a thing, nor do we ever put pressure on each other to buy the perfect gift. In fact, we almost never buy each other gifts because a calendar says we should. She’s forbade me to buy her anything for Valentine’s Day, and we both loathe Christmas.

But today is Shonna’s 50th birthday and I wanted to do something special for her. We originally had some nice vacation plans this year. We wanted to have an adventure to mark her 50th, our 25th anniversary in a little over a month, and my 50th early next year, but I need not explain why all of that was cancelled.

As Shonna told another friend turning 50 this year, we’re taking a mulligan.

A few years ago, Shonna found a black and white photo online that really spoke to her. Art being what it is, it’s foolish to dissect why. Just as one song moves one person, but elicits a shrug from another, it’s personal.

It’s unlike her to be so struck by an image, so she found the photographer online, a Russian from Saint Petersburg with the pen name Key Gross. His black and white photography is quite stunning, expertly capturing urban scenes. But it was a square cropped raven with an unusual composition that Shonna fell for.

After a couple of fruitless attempts to contact him, she finally managed to have a dialogue. She told him how much she loved the photo and wanted to arrange to buy a print. Because of the difficulty of having it printed the size she wanted, shipped to Canada, and the fact that she just loved the image, he offered it to her for free, despite her willingness to pay.

He quite unexpectedly emailed her the file so she could print it herself. Given that she is married to an artist who has been ripped off more times than I can count, and the frustration of trying to maintain copyright protection in the digital age, she assured him we would only print it once and that the original file would never be shared.

ABL Imaging in Calgary has been doing my canvas and giclée prints for many years and I can’t speak highly enough about their quality and professionalism. We went to the shop together a couple of years ago to see about getting it done.

The problem, however, is that they have many options and Shonna was paralyzed by choice.

She hasn’t spoken about this photo since, obviously having given up on having anything done with it.

Shonna is incredibly tough to buy for. She doesn’t wear any jewelry, abhors dust gathering knick knacks, doesn’t collect anything, and if she wants something, she usually saves for it and buys it. I’ve learned over the years that the best gifts I can give her are simply supporting things she wants to do.

Our recent kitchen renovations (she’s an excellent cook), taking care of her car maintenance, cleaning the house, bringing her lunch to her when she forgets it, making a workout space for her in the basement when her gym closed for COVID, cleaning the house. It’s the little things that mean more than the stuff that money can buy.

Take note, newlyweds.

As it’s so rare for me to know for certain that Shonna will like or want something I might buy her, a couple of months ago, I talked to Ryan at ABL Imaging about finally getting that Raven printed.

I had measured a couple of places in the house where it might hang, to give Shonna some options. The image was 30cm each side, and I wanted to print it 22 inches. That meant some subtle Photoshop magic so it wouldn’t blur on the enlargement. Good thing I know a thing or two about that.

Ryan and I discussed how best to make the image pop and went with a boxed aluminum print. The brushed grain added some texture and a wonderful, raised relief effect on the feathers. ABL Imaging then sent it out for a professional automotive clear-coat that took it to another level. The print has real presence.
From a traditional point of view, the image breaks the rules of composition. The eye is generally the focal point of an animal photo or painting, but this one is off to the side. In fact, the feathers in the center of the piece are the sharpest part of the image, another rule broken. But the image works, it’s got character, life and proves that following the rules isn’t always what makes for a moving piece. That, and trying to please everybody is overrated.

While Shonna did take the day off for her 50th, she still woke at 5am as we both usually do, and went to the gym while I worked. When she got home, I drove down to the bakery to get her a fresh cinnamon bun, a rare indulgence. After we ate those with our coffee, I gave her the gift, which for reasons I already mentioned, she wasn’t expecting.

Before she got it fully open, she asked “Did you get me my raven?”

She was thrilled.

As I wrote this in my office, she was busy with drywall anchors and searching for screws. I took a break midway through to help her line it up.

She hung it in her newly renovated kitchen.

(she told me to add, “and it looks fantastic!”)

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Another Day of Discovery

I’m not breaking any news here when I point out that most businesses have had to adjust to operational difficulties during the past six months. Many had to close, some permanently. For the ones that survived, the opening came with severe restrictions, reduced hours and a strange new reality.

Discovery Wildlife Park began its late-season start as a drive-thru. People could visit the park, but had to stay in their vehicles, while staff did their best to ensure a worthwhile experience. It proved to be quite popular, especially since there were few options elsewhere for a family outing at the time.

Once allowed to fully open, they had reduced hours, but visitors could roam freely while keeping their distance from other guests. The park itself is a well-manicured open-concept venue, and just walking around the place is relaxing. Add in the rescued and orphaned animals, and it’s a unique experience.

Their season ends typically on Thanksgiving, but this year the last day is September 30th. With that date looming and the fantastic fall weather this year, I made the time on Monday to drive up and spend the day taking photos.
As always, my first stop was to see Berkley, a brown bear I’ve known since she wasn’t much bigger than a cat. She has a massive enclosure all to herself, complete with a pond, big fallen trees on which to climb and plenty of daily attention from staff and guests alike.
In August, Berkley weighed in at 388 pounds. As she’s been preparing for her long winter’s nap by eating a lot more, I suspect she’s well over 400 now. She’ll turn four years old this coming January and still isn’t full grown. Given the excellent care the animals receive at the park, Berkley is one of the healthiest brown bears you’ll ever see. Her thick, luxurious coat sometimes makes her look like she might be carrying a little extra weight, but she’s fit and lean.

It never fails to make me smile when I call her name, and she ambles down to see me, even if she’s at the other side of her enclosure. It’s such a privilege to sit on the grass and look into those beautiful brown eyes.
Serena (the head keeper and Berkley’s Mom) and the staff have become friends over the years. I’m ever grateful for the behind-the-scenes access they give me when I visit. During the bear presentation, I was able to take up-close unobstructed photos and got some nice reference pics of the black bears. I tried to hide a little during Berkley’s part of the presentation. She tends to get distracted if she sees people she knows.
In the middle of the day, I drove ten minutes down the road to have a visit with my folks and meet their new little animal; a Yorkie named Lily. Once again, the first favoured LaMontagne child has four legs and a fur coat. She’s a skittish little thing, but she seemed to like me. A baggie full of dog treats helped.

Upon my return to the park for the lion presentation, I got another nice batch of photos. I’ve wanted to paint their male lion, Griffin, for some time. While I still don’t have THE shot I’ve been looking for, I did get plenty to paint other images.
While nobody knows what the future holds, I expect a winter with even more time indoors than usual. With a topped-up stock of new photo reference, I’ll be using that time to paint and write.

Lions, tigers, and bears…oh my.

And an elephant.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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New from DecalGirl

One of my favorite licenses is DecalGirl. They make custom cases, skins and wraps for a wide range of phones, tablets and other devices. Several of my paintings have been available for quite awhile and I’ve been impressed with the quality and look of them since the beginning of our relationship. I’ve got a Shark decal on my laptop, Smiling Tiger on my iPad, Berkley’s face on my phone case and various other sleeves and cases.
As of this week, there are now 17 of my paintings available on their site. No matter which electronic device you’ve got, there’s a good chance DecalGirl has a case or decal that will fit. They’re all pre-cut with the holes for the buttons, speakers, microphones. The vinyl is easy to apply, long-lasting and colourfast. My laptop is a pretty specific model, but I simply entered the dimensions online and when it arrived, it fit perfectly.

Here are four new designs they’ve added this week. There’s a good chance I’ll be getting that lion on a phone case for myself. Click on an image below to see it on their site, or follow this link to see the whole collection of my available work. For a limited time, use the promo code FALLSAVINGS for 25% OFF.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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One Thing I Know For Certain

In 2013, when the Bow Valley experienced severe flooding, we had to evacuate our home. Unable to take personal vehicles, my wife and I left with a backpack and suitcase each, our cat in a carrier, and we walked down the street to the yellow school bus that would take us to the other side of the floodwaters.

We didn’t know the extent of the threat, but authorities said the water might reach our home or cause a landslide above us. When the firefighters showed up and told us to go, we went.

We didn’t know if it was necessary but didn’t want to be the people you see on the news, sitting on the roof of their house, pleading for rescue.

Three days later, we came back to our home just as we’d left it, with gratitude and relief.

In the days following, this community rallied to support friends and neighbours whose homes hadn’t fared so well. Plenty of folks helped with the clean-up, businesses supplied food for volunteers, and valley residents proudly proclaimed that we were all in this together. The crisis brought out the best in people.

These days, we’re fighting about face masks, arguing about conspiracy theories, pretending we’re righteous and justified, and treating frontline workers like shit.

Same people, different circumstances.

When all of this is over, there will be many relationships that don’t survive it. I’ve got a few friends and family members whose company I won’t be seeking. It’s not that I don’t support their right to a difference in perspective. I make a good chunk of my living drawing my own opinion in editorial cartoons. In some countries, my job might land me in jail or blindfolded up against a wall.

Freedom to express opposing views is important.

What I’m no longer willing to tolerate, however, is the name-calling, the shouting, the unnecessary conflict, the seizing of every opportunity for many to call their friends and family stupid.

Few were comfortable with the strict isolation measures we had to endure, and the restrictions under which we’re still living. Many have fed that discomfort by going online each day, looking for a fight, spending their precious limited time desperately trying to prove their superiority. They do this by sharing real and fake news stories, passive-aggressive memes, and ‘share if you agree’ posts, all designed to widen the divisions between us.

This situation is frustrating. I get that.

Many of us are afraid, even if we don’t want to admit it. I get that, too.

But taking it out on the people around you will only ensure that when we can see each other freely again, you might end up lonelier than the time spent in isolation.

When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue because somebody called you an idiot? Kicking somebody repeatedly when they’re already down makes you a bully. Expecting them to thank you for it is delusional.

Ironically, some will spend hours online blaming the government for being manipulative, controlling, and stealing our rights. Meanwhile, they’re complaining on Facebook and Twitter, companies that have openly admitted to using our private information against us for profit.

It’s hypocrisy to log on to social media to call someone else a sheep.

People are scrambling to find any information online to back up their preconceived notions and beliefs, giving little pause to consider the sources, despite their assertions that they’ve done their research. We ignore anything that contradicts our bias and post whatever we can find that supports it. The right accuses the left of cherry-picking information, while the left accuses the right of the same.

Your politician is a crook; mine will save us all. Your facts are fake; mine are truth. I’m a critical thinker; you’re a sheeple.

It doesn’t mean you give up fighting for important issues. But maybe it means you stop to consider that you’re complaining to people who either already agree with you or are alienating and browbeating people who don’t deserve it.

There are three little words that most people avoid saying because it makes them feel vulnerable.

I don’t know.

Do masks make a difference? Are we being given accurate information? Will there be a safe vaccine anytime soon? Will the economy recover this year or next? Will my business survive? Will I lose my job?

I don’t know.

Does arguing about it all day online get me any closer to answers? Will posting bad news articles over and over and over again change anything for the better? Will antagonizing memes and confrontational posts make my friends and family feel better about their already difficult situation?

No.

There’s a lot of anger. I feel it, too.

Over the years, when frustrated and feeling helpless, I’ve tried venting, ranting and raging online. I even convinced myself that it made me feel better, but all it did was make me cynical and bitter. Anger begets anger.

I’ve also tried bottling it up. All that did was give me psychosomatic physical problems. Back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia. And eventually, I’d reach a breaking point and explode anyway.

I don’t know what the answers are. I’m still looking for them. A wise man once said, “Being human is a complicated gig.”

(Fine, it was a character on Northern Exposure, but I’m going with it.)

As I get older, I realize that things I was certain of yesterday, I’m less sure of today.

The answer to a lot more questions is, “I don’t know.”

But I do know that throwing shit at your friends, family and neighbours, just so you feel safer and more certain, does more damage to yourself than to anyone else.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Horsing Around with Prints


My latest paintings have arrived. Both Gold and Midnight Blue have been signed, packaged and are ready to ship. You can find them in the online store, along with 45 other available images.

These are hand-signed 11″X14″ digital poster prints, packaged with backer board and artist bio in a cellophane sleeve, printed in Canada.

I’ve sized all of my prints so that it’s unnecessary to spend a bundle on custom framing. Most stores that sell off-the-shelf frames will offer 11″X14″ as it’s a standard and popular size.

I’m always happy to answer any questions, so feel free to drop me a line anytime.

Click on the images to go to each print, or follow this link to the online store.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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