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Ring-Tailed Ringleader

Here’s a new painting, a Ring-tailed Lemur just finished this morning.

Wacom sent me their new Wacom One display to take for a test drive and to record a video for them. The video has an inspirational theme, rather than a technical one. I’ve written the script, recorded the video, but now I need a few days to edit all of the footage and record the audio, especially since I have my cartoon deadlines as well. It’s a lot of work to take a painting that took about 15 hours and compress it into a 3 or 4 minute video so people won’t get bored.

Seriously, I love painting hair and fur, but it would be effective torture to make me watch many hours of somebody else doing it.

Initially supposed to be more of a cartoony creation, I wanted to see what kind of advances Wacom had made in their display technology, so I painted with it instead. The Wacom One is being marketed as an entry-level display, but I enjoyed working with it and didn’t feel hobbled at all.

I’ll have a more technical evaluation post a little later, but for those of you who just like looking at my funny looking animal paintings, I’ll save those details.

The Ring-tailed Lemurs at the Calgary Zoo are fun to watch, and the Land of Lemurs is an immersive experience. Their enclosure allows them to freely roam where they like and it’s the people who are restricted in the center, but with no barrier. With zoo staff on hand to make sure people follow the rules, the open-air concept allows for some great photo opportunities.

I’ve taken many shots of these critters and plan to paint a group of them together as they like to huddle in a ball. All of the expressive faces peeking out is quite comical.
While going through my photo reference, however, I came across the image above. She’s a female, as are all of the ring-tailed lemurs at the zoo (or were at the time of this photo), and I liked what I saw. I even loved the blue sky background, and saw no need to change it. I don’t know if she really has a bad attitude, but part of the reason I paint the personalities I do is that I actually see that in the photo reference I take. The painting definitely looks male, however.

This was a lot of fun. I know I say that about many of my paintings, but I’d put this painting experience in the Top 3. Many of my paintings could be labelled cute, but this one borders on psychotic, which is probably why I liked it so much. Those crazy eyes suggest a critter that isn’t quite all there.

As my friend Pam at Wacom said this morning on Instagram, “He looks like an evil ringleader.”

So while I don’t know if it’s the kind of image that will be popular on a print or licensed product, some of my best images were ones I did for myself. I never expected my cantankerous Ostrich image to be popular and that one has developed a strange cult following I don’t fully understand.

I worked a very long day on Sunday drawing three editorial cartoons so that I could spend all day yesterday putting the final hours in on this piece. I could have finished it last night, but I erred on the side of patience and decided to sleep on it. When I opened the image this morning, I laughed out loud. It’s such a ridiculous expression.
Another hour on the fine hairs, tweaks here and there, tunes cranked in the earbuds, and I’m glad I waited. It was a great way to start my day.

I’m looking forward to sharing the video soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Rocky


My latest commission, this is Rocky.

This is the second piece for the same client as my most recent commission post, my painting of Sammy, the Golden Retriever.

Rocky’s portrait is a memorial piece, as he passed away some time ago. The very image of a firefighting dog, Rocky was the fire mascot in the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver in 2009.  He even participated in the parade and opening ceremony.

I’ve never painted a Dalmatian before and this was a fun piece. It was a challenge to make sure I got all of the markings in the right place, even as I exaggerated his features in my whimsical style.

When it comes to getting it right, it’s not only about the features themselves, but also the relationships between the features, affecting how believable the likeness will be. This is especially important when painting people.

Black and white fur is tricky because I couldn’t paint pure black or pure white. The blackest black or whitest white in a colour piece will create flat dead spots that will rob the image of its life. It’s all about degrees of shading and how the light reflects in the dark and light areas. Black will often be a very dark blue, white the brightest yellow or pink.

There isn’t much fur detail in a short-haired black and white dog, so it requires restraint. Too much detail and it wouldn’t look right, especially if I painted the fur too sharp. It became about manipulating the depth of field, blurring out some areas and sharpening others. The personality and overall image were the focus and it was important not to have any one detail distract from that. He really does have that heart shaped feature above his nose, however, and I wanted to make sure it was evident.

This client was a joy to work with, for purely selfish reasons. Aside from some minor direction I was happy to accept, I had the freedom to paint these beautiful dogs my own way. For this painting, I asked if they wanted me to include the collar or not. I didn’t include one for their other dog because he had long, luxurious hair, but I was hoping they would want it for this one. They did and said they preferred it to be red.

Considering that Rocky was a firefighter dog, it added a lot, balancing out the black and white with a splash of colour. Had they given me no direction at all, I would have made the same choices.

Because I don’t know how the clients are planning to hang the canvases, I wanted them to look good on their own or together, so I made both of the backdrops blue, with Rocky’s a little darker because I liked the way it looked against the subject.
After painting whimsical wildlife and pet portrait commissions for more than ten years, I’m confident in my abilities and the skills I’ve developed. But each painting still presents unique challenges, and I would be disappointed if it were otherwise. Overcoming those obstacles makes for improved skills and better prepares me for the next piece, no matter what that may be.

As always, the most crucial part of any commission is the client’s approval and I’m happy to report that they were pleased with both finished pieces. Next up, I’ll be sending these off for printing, then shipping them to their new home in B.C.

For you tech and art people, I painted this image in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. Photos are only for reference, not used in my paintings. It’s all digital brushwork.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Habit-Forming

The timing of this post might seem like a New Year’s resolution update, but that’s a coincidence. Shonna recently recommended this book she’d found interesting, but had she done so in August, I would have tried these changes then.

Atomic Habits is a New York Times bestseller by James Clear. While I’ve read my share of self-help and pseudoscience over the years, often with more than a grain of salt, I was willing to give this a shot. It didn’t seem like the usual positive-thinking-will-solve-all-of-your-problems tripe.

I wasn’t a fan of the title, but it wasn’t long before Clear explained the reason for it by calling out the definition. Atomic, meaning powerful but also tiny. The premise of the book is that small changes yield big results, building good habits and breaking bad ones.

Full of practical perspectives within, two strategies caught my attention.

The first is something Clear calls habit-stacking. We all have habits we do every day, from our morning rituals to how we accomplish routine procedures at work. These are behaviours we do to be more efficient with everyday tasks. Habits, when appropriately used, add some automation to our day, freeing up our brainpower for more interesting things.

Habit stacking involves adding onto an existing habit or series of habits, making the new behaviour easier to adopt. In my case, I’ve been trying to make time for meditation every morning. I’ve been unsuccessful at keeping a regular practice over the years because I could never find the time.

In the fall, I took an eight-week course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combined with Mindfulness Meditation, which I found well worth my time. I’ve been meditating ever since but found it easy to skip a day here, two days there and hadn’t yet found my groove, despite my best intentions.

After reading Atomic Habits, I realized I just had to add it to my existing routine. In the mornings, I get up at 5, turn on my computer, go downstairs, start the coffee, have a shower, get dressed, go back downstairs, do a series of push-ups and sit-ups, grab my coffee and back up to my office to start work.

Over the past month, I now meditate for 15 minutes, after the sit-ups, before grabbing my coffee. I’ve inserted it into my usual routine, and it’s ridiculous how easy it was to do because it’s not something for which I need to find the time. It’s now just part of how I start my day.

As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness meditation, suspend your preconceived notions about lotus positions, chanting like a monk and becoming one with the universe. The practice is about being present in the moment. Most of us are victims of endless mind chatter where we ruminate on our past mistakes or shortcomings and worry about the future, while rarely being right here, right now.

I’m not very good at it, but that’s not the point. My mind still goes off on its own on dark tangents, and I have to gently bring my attention back to my breath or a chosen focus. Some days are harder than others, but I still sit there in silence for 15 minutes, and the benefits are evident. There’s plenty of information online if you’re curious.

The second habit-changing practice I’ve adopted from the book involves my office calendar. The jury is still out on whether or not this has become a good habit or bad.

At present, my revenue streams are my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons, which I work on most days but send out Monday to Friday. Then there’s my painted work, which involves commissions, prints, and licensing on many different products through several different companies.

On top of those pursuits, I enjoy writing, but for many years, that’s been confined to my regular blog posts and newsletters. But in recent months, I’ve wanted to get back into writing fiction. I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t elaborate here.

In Atomic Habits, the author suggests that one method of adding a desirable habit is to employ a calendar.

I’ll use eating healthier as an example. Each day you have a serving of fruit, you put an X on the calendar. Successive calendar marks will make you want to add more, an absence of them will motivate you to prevent further blank spaces. It’s a visual representation of what you’re actually doing, rather than what you think you’re doing. Eventually, you just become somebody who has a habit of eating fruit.

You can use this for reading, playing an instrument, going for a walk, stretching or adding any good habit to your life. Consequently, you can use the same strategy for eliminating bad habits, marking an X each day you don’t perform a habit you dislike.

I’ve got three creative outlets I want to accomplish each day; Editorial cartooning, Painting and Writing.  All three every day is possible, but not realistic. However, that’s still my goal.

Adding writing into an already busy schedule, I knew that was going to be tough, but I also knew that if I didn’t, I’d suddenly be 20 years older, lamenting the road not taken.

Blog posts and newsletters count as writing, so if I wrote something like this post, I got to add a W to that day. But if I only wrote a sentence or two, I wouldn’t, since I’d only be fooling myself.

Having done this all month, I looked at all of the red letters on the calendar for this month and had mixed feelings.

Clearly the editorial cartoons are where the bulk of my creative time is spent, followed by painting, which makes sense since that’s how I earn my living.

As intended, I’m writing fiction again, something I haven’t done in twenty years. I’m quite a few thousand words into a story that I’m enjoying, even though I have no idea where it’s headed. Without this calendar practice, I believe I’d still be wishing I’d started, just as I have for years.

As I recently heard in a book or podcast, “Writing isn’t hard. Putting your ass in the chair to start writing is hard.”

There were days this month when I wanted to write, but life got in the way. Shonna’s car battery died during a brutal cold snap, -30C and below for more than a week, which took two days of problem-solving, trips to Canadian Tire, and serving as her taxi. Now, I work at home, have the most flexible schedule and I was happy to take care of that stuff. OK, happy isn’t the right word, but I certainly didn’t blame her for the inconvenience, especially since my car was warm and comfortable in the garage.

Add to that all of the other daily stuff that comes with life, year-end bookkeeping, tax prep, month-end invoicing, communicating with clients, all of the usual and unavoidable tasks.

The most startling revelation in this whole experiment, however, was that there isn’t a day off on this calendar. Even on Saturdays, my day with the most freedom in the week, I still get up at 5 a.m. and put in 3 or 4 hours before Shonna gets up.

This might seem like humble bragging, as in look how busy the martyr is, but I’m well aware that just being busy isn’t a badge of honour. If it were, we’d all get a participation medal. Everybody is busy.

No, this is indicative of a bigger problem. Anybody who has ever been self-employed knows how much work it takes, especially in the beginning. Then if you make a good go of it, it becomes less about enjoying the successes and more about hanging on to what you’ve got for fear of losing it.

When the inevitable losses do come, in the usual ebb and flow of life, you end up working even harder (not smarter!) to keep as tight a grip as possible. Pretty soon, you’re taking little time off, are perpetually tired, grumpy, depressed, running on empty and operating from a position of fear. You spend less time with friends, and the concept of spending an entire day doing nothing feels, well…irresponsible.

Like any bad habit, it’s easy to come up with excuses that sound reasonable.

Some of the greatest hits we’ve all said or have heard include…I’ll quit smoking next month when work is less stressful. I’ll start saving money next year because it’s Christmas and it’s too hard right now. I’ll make time to exercise later when I’m not so tired. Any bad habit comes with a dump truck full of enthusiastic excuses that sound good at the time, but ultimately don’t hold water.

I’m too busy to take time off. In reality, I’ve just forgotten how.

So while this calendar habit was supposed to be a motivating carrot on a stick, I ended up beating myself with it, and I’m disappointed. Awareness, however, is the most significant part of solving any problem, so I intend to continue using it to motivate me to write. But it will also serve double duty as a cautionary device, reminding me that having a blank day here and there is ultimately healthier than killing myself for another editorial cartoon.

The next time somebody suggests I write a children’s book, get into animation, draw something for their fundraiser, or do a commission for them ‘in my spare time,’ however, I’ve got an excellent visual aid for when I respectfully decline.

I remain a work in progress, just like everybody else.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Sammy

Near the end of last year, I was contacted by a woman in BC who had seen my artwork at the ferry terminal in Victoria, on merchandise licensed through Pacific Music & Art.

Christina was complimentary of my work, which is always nice to hear, and when she saw that I did commissions, she inquired about my painting her Golden Retriever as a gift for her husband. She included a photo of the two of them.

Before taking on a commission, I usually like a little back and forth to ensure I understand the client’s expectations, and I want to see reference photos. If the images aren’t good, I can’t do a good job, and I’ll decline the opportunity. Christina supplied me with plenty of great shots and suggested I Google the pair, just in case there was press reference I might like.

You see, Sammy is a working dog, and Larry Watkinson is the Chief of the Penticton Fire Department.

Photo Credit: Mike Biden

Before long, I was reading with fascination, articles from different BC newspapers. In September of 2019, Larry and Sam were deployed to the Bahamas to help with the rescue efforts following Hurricane Dorian.

As part of a team of Burnaby Fire Fighters and their rescue dogs, they searched for cadavers in the wreckage. The USAR team must be self-sufficient in their operation, and while the goal is to get there as quickly as possible to find survivors, it’s often too late, despite their best efforts. The team had previously deployed to Nepal in 2015.

They spent eight days in 40-degree heat in the Bahamas, having to source their own accommodation, water, food and resources. These dedicated professionals are volunteers, using their own vacation time to help others in need, leaving their supportive families back home.

Following the deployment, Larry was quoted in the Penticton Western News as saying, “We have to recognize that we live in a great place and a beautiful city and to remember to look after each other. That’s something I’ve come home with and have been reflecting on every day.”

I asked Christina if she wanted Sammy painted in his rescue vest, and she declined, saying, “He is first a family pet.”

When people hire me for commissions, they either want a traditional portrait or my whimsical signature style, the same way I paint my wildlife portraits. While I’m happy to paint both, I do prefer the ones where I get to add more personality, and was thrilled when Christina said she wanted my style. They’re just so much more fun to paint.

Later in our correspondence, she wanted to make sure Larry liked the idea, and thankfully he did. No longer a surprise, I didn’t have a firm deadline on this, and they hired me to paint another family dog since passed away, which I’m working on now. Rocky was a traditional firefighter’s dog, a beautiful Dalmatian and I’m also painting him in the whimsical style.
Sammy was a joy to paint, and I had so many great reference pics to work from, which allowed me to create the likeness from more than one source. While Sammy’s nose has lightened with age, Larry had requested I paint it dark, as it was when he was younger, which I was happy to do, while still reflecting the light. My work is all about artistic license, especially the whimsical style.

Christina and Larry were both pleased with the result, which is always the nail-biting part of any commission, waiting to hear if the client is happy with the work I deliver.

Once I finish the second painting, I’ll have them both printed and stretched on 12”X16” canvas, ready to hang, and shipped to Penticton.

I get to meet and talk with a lot of great people in my work, but this is one of the stories and commissions I’ve enjoyed most.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Bear Wonder

I’m not big on tradition, but I came up with an idea for one on New Year’s Day.

To start the year off on the right foot, I decided to get up early as usual and begin a new painting. Looking through my reference pic library, I came up with quite a few that would be good subjects, but none felt right for the first one of the year.

I kept coming back to the Berkley folder, containing hundreds of photos. Part of me thought that I should paint something else since I’ve painted her six times already.

But who am I kidding? I could paint her many more times without getting tired of it. And for those who aren’t as enamoured with bears as I am, especially THIS bear, I’ll get to other animals soon enough.

Since the world often seems like it’s going to hell in a handcart these days (it’s really not, you know), starting the year off with a painting of Berkley seems like a tradition I can wrap my head and heart around. She always makes me happy.

She’s in deep sleep hibernation right now, but I’m looking forward to seeing her again in the spring, to take new photos to add to the library.

For the artists and technical folks, the full-size file is 40”x30” at 300ppi, painted in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. No photos are ever part of my art; it’s all brushwork. As for how long it took to paint, as people always ask, I have no idea. I’m working on other stuff in the same period I’m working on a painting. More than 10 hours, less than 20, that seems like a reasonable guess.

Prints will be available soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Bird Watching

One of the wonderfully strange things I’ve never quite gotten used to over the years of licensed work is how my animals show up in the oddest places.

With the Pacific Music and Art license, that seems to be accelerating, because they’re in many more places than I could ever reach on my own, which is the whole point.

Earlier this week, my buddy Al sent me a text that made me laugh out loud, because it included the following photo. It had been shared on The Chive under a headline “Sports Moments Caught Out of Context…”
That ostrich T-shirt certainly does get around.

Years ago, my first T-shirt license was with a company called The Mountain. The relationship was a good one, they treated me well, cheques showed up monthly, but after five years, the owner chose not to renew the license. While I thought sales were right for me, they weren’t enough for The Mountain. The large volume of sales they were after from each design, my funny looking animals weren’t making the mark.

I was disappointed but didn’t take it personally, and we parted on good terms. The owner was a good guy, and when the company shut down its licensing division for anything but shirts, he recommended me to Art Licensing International, an agency that represents me today.

Some Canadian customers wanted to sell my shirts in their stores or gift shops but found the prices from The Mountain to be prohibitive, mainly because of the exchange rate. So, I was pleased to sign on with a Canadian company after that, Harlequin Nature Graphics on Vancouver Island.

Sometime later, however, The Mountain wanted to continue selling the Ostrich shirt, mainly because of one client. Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch and Petting Zoo is a family-owned facility in Arizona, frequented year-round, and it’s my understanding that this one client is responsible for the majority of sales for my Ostrich Tshirt.

With licensing, the main thing is not to step on other clients’ toes, so I checked with Harlequin, as they’ve got exclusivity and first rights of refusal on my designs. They were fine with me continuing that one design license with The Mountain, as they haven’t optioned that painting.

I painted it quite a few years ago on my iPad. It was a sketch painting, a fun experiment, never designed for print. But when Shonna saw it, she said she really liked it and told me I had to finish it.

I know a lot of creative art type people, and there’s something most of us have in common; our spouses aren’t impressed with our work. I’ve heard the same stories in interviews and on podcasts from many people. Actors, musicians, painters, writers, it seems that many of our partners aren’t fans, which in moments of clarity, I know that’s a good thing.

So, when Shonna likes a painting, I get a little excited, because she’s so hard to impress. As much as it pisses me off, she’s usually the last critical eye on a painting. When I ask her opinion, I bite my tongue and brace myself, because she almost always sees something that’s off. I grumble about it, make the change, and reluctantly admit she was right.
 
Man, I hate that.

In recent years, I’ve had people send me images of this ostrich shirt from some unusual places. The first was a screenshot from TSN showing a New York Islanders hockey game. A guy behind the bench was wearing it, making it look like he was giving the coach the evil eye.

A character was wearing it on a Netflix show called Disjointed, a sitcom about a pot shop. Then on the A&E series, “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour,” Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne visited the ranch mentioned above and were both wearing the shirts in the scene following their departure.
This latest image of the announcer holding up the shirt, I’m sure was from the ranch as well, because I can see a name drop on the sleeve. Though I can’t read it, it looks the same as the one Ozzy is wearing. Interesting post-script to the announcer picture…when I sent this post to my newsletter followers, a friend in San Diego wrote me to say that he knows the guy holding the shirt, even told me his name. He’s going to ask him about it next time they meet. This bizarre small world in which we live.

These are the incidents in my work I can’t ever predict, but I’m delighted when they happen. It’s not like any of these people know who I am, but they’re wearing my art, and that’s enough for me.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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The Purge

On New Year’s Day, I threw out my Photoshop World Guru Awards.

It wasn’t an impulsive move, but something I’d thought about many times the last couple of years.

When it comes to endings and beginnings, it would make more sense for each person to have some serious annual reflections on his or her birthday, truly the turning of a new year for each of us.

But New Year’s Day works for most because it’s the turning of a big number and a new calendar.

I began the year with a new painting. It’s not something I do every year but were I to have a tradition, that seems like a good one to me. Start another trip around the sun by making the work I love most a priority. It sets a precedent.

Following a couple of hours of painting, however, I suddenly had the urge to clean up my office.

For the most part, I keep a tidy space, but like anyone, papers pile up, items land in corners, and unoccupied floor space suddenly gets filled. Then it all begins to gather dust.

My office occupies the entire second bedroom of our townhouse condo and most of the time; it’s well organized. We’re not big consumers, so we don’t have much clutter. And still, even with shelving in the closet, bookcases, two large desks and ample drawer space, stuff accumulates.
My closet is floor to ceiling shelving. In multiple large alphabetized bins is my inventory of hundreds of prints. Boxes of canvas prints, support materials for my booth at Expo, large rigid print mailers, foam core backer board, cellophane sleeves, magnets, coasters, aluminum prints, a variety of packing material, and other sundries that go with this art-for-a-living operation. This is just one end of it, the other looks similar.

If allowed free-range, it could quickly turn wild.

In drawers, you’ll find replacement ink cartridges and paper for my printer, pens, paper clips, staples and the supplies that go with any office. Add to that empty, half-filled and filled sketchbooks of various sizes, and plenty of art supplies for sketching, even though these days, I primarily work digitally.

Among those necessities, there exists the things I hang onto that have outlived their usefulness.

Dozens of art prints I’ve bought from other artists over the years that I always intend to frame and put up. Many people have a collection like this, but especially artists. We love to buy new pretty pictures, even if they’re eventually filed away with the ones we’ve bought before.

There are images of my own work, special edition productions I’ve done where I’ve printed too many, just to be on the safe side. There’s nothing wrong with them, aside from the low demand, but I can’t seem to recycle them, and giving them away feels like a slap in the face to those who actually paid for one.

Odds and ends of packing material with no use, kind of like the stale ends of a loaf of bread, kept in the unlikely chance they might be of use later.

There is a large box of computer cords and other gadgets or parts, either obsolete or won’t connect to any current equipment, but there was that time years ago when I needed something like that and didn’t have one. Just don’t ask me to recall when that was.

Finally, on the top shelf, there are empty product boxes. For the iPad, iPhone and Apple Pencil I bought more than two years ago. Just in case I need to return one? A box for a camera lens, to replace the one that broke when I slipped on a Vancouver Island beach more than two years ago. I still have the broken lens, too, because it was expensive.

What it all comes down to is something called sunk costs.

You can find long explanations of the term online, a lot of them having to do with accounting and business expenses, but the short version, as I understand it, is that we often make bad decisions and hang onto things, because they once had value, even if they don’t anymore.

Say you bought a computer monitor ten years ago. Even though it has dead pixels, the colour shifts, it makes a weird humming sound, is too small for your current needs, and the one you’ve got now is so much better, that old monitor still sits in the corner of your basement or garage, taking up space. Because you spent good money on it and somehow keeping it around means you didn’t lose that money.

We keep things long after they no longer have value to anyone because throwing it out not only feels wasteful, but we think that if we keep it, the money isn’t really gone if we still have the thing we bought.

It’s the reason I have TWO four-shelf bookcases full of books even though I haven’t opened most of them in years. Some I have yet to read, but most of them are art books I don’t open anymore and likely never will again. But I spent money on them, so it seems like donating or recycling them now meant I wasted money when I bought them in the first place, even though that isn’t true.

What about Kijiji?  I could still get five or ten bucks for some of this stuff. But since it isn’t wise to invite strangers to my home, that means I’m going to sit in a parking lot somewhere, waiting for somebody to show up on time, if he shows up at all, to make $10, when I would make more than that spending my time working on a cartoon or painting.

Time is the most valuable resource we have and turning my old stuff into a travelling yard sale is a poor use of mine.

A good friend of mine is a whiz with musical instruments. He’ll pick up a beat-up guitar at a pawn shop, take it home, disassemble it, clean up the parts, install new ones for broken pieces, and give it new life. Then he’ll sell it for more than the original cost and his time, making a tidy profit. He enjoys both the hunt for the instrument and bringing it back to life.

That’s not the same thing as trying to get $5 for an old pair of PC headphones that are long obsolete.

In addition to those headphones, and another set, a portable drawing table, some promotional valise type carrying cases, and various other odds and ends, I donated a large box of stuff to the local thrift store last week.

A small tube TV I’ve had in my office since we lived in Banff in the 90s went to electronic recycling, along with a radio, and the useless computer cords. I hadn’t turned that little TV on in over a year, not since we killed our cable.

And in a couple of garbage bags that went to the dumpster were my three Guru Awards from Photoshop World.

Winning those awards meant a great deal to me. Professionally, it gave me credibility as an expert in digital painting. The first in 2010 was for the Illustration category, the second that same year for Best in Show. It was a sense that I had finally arrived, that I wasn’t kidding myself about the quality of my work.

It introduced me to Wacom, which led to working with them.

The third award in 2014, was again for Best in Show. The prize was my Canon DSLR camera, which changed my whole process. Taking reference photos became as important a part of my painted work as the painting itself. Today, one doesn’t exist without the other. It was the last time I would attend Photoshop World, a period in my life I remember fondly.

The conference itself has withered in recent years, with attendance dropping off. The community of friends I knew, none of them go anymore. And these days, outside of that group, most people don’t even know what the award represents.

Winning the awards mattered to me, the doors they opened mattered to me, the recognition mattered to me.  Those three large chunks of acrylic gathering dust on the shelf don’t matter to me, and they certainly don’t matter to anyone else. For the most part, nobody spends time in my office but me.

I asked myself, “Do I need to keep these?”

The answer landed them in the garbage bag, and three days later, as I write this, I have no regrets. Those laurels are in the past and if I’m still defining my worth by awards I won 6 and 10 years ago, that’s a problem.

Getting rid of useless stuff feels like dropping a heavy pack after a long hike, suddenly realizing how much weight was on your back.

The awards, the TV, those computer cords and all of that stuff I haven’t touched in years, I can’t give you a good reason why I hung onto any of it as long as I did, other than the fact that at one time, they had value.

If your home burned to the ground, what do you currently own that you wouldn’t even consider using the insurance money to replace? Look around. If it was suddenly gone, would you repurchase it? That’s the first clue you no longer need it.

It’s all baggage, the stuff that belonged to who we used to be that holds us back, shit we carry that prevents us from moving forward.

As Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “Things you own, end up owning you.”

Up next, the bookshelves.
__________________

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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2019 in the Rearview

My fuel gauge approaches empty when December rolls around, so I spend it in hermit mode, a little more than usual. We attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, but that’s about it because I don’t have the energy to play the festive role. Celebrating Christmas seems like one more obligation, so I opt out.

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, I do get reflective in my seasonal melancholy.  I spent some time last week going through the 2019 blog posts to remind myself of the year that was.

In February, I checked out of social media entirely but then went back to Instagram a couple of months ago. I missed seeing art from those whose work I admire, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.

On the promotion and sales front, there were two significant developments this year.

The first was watching my work spread to many new places, thanks to the license with Pacific Music and Art. Seems a regular thing now for somebody to say they saw my stuff in a store in Oregon, or Alaska, all over B.C. and Alberta, not to mention the calendars and notepads in so many Save-On stores. I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, visiting from Vancouver Island and she said it’s strange walking by the gift store on Mt. Washington where she works, seeing a whole floor to ceiling corner of my art. It’s looking like 2020 will see more of that migration, but it’s my nature to be cautious. Those chickens ain’t hatched yet.

Secondly, the revival of my relationship with Wacom was a welcome surprise. With so many talented digital artists in the world to choose from, I enjoy the ego boost that comes with being a Wacom influencer. I’ve already agreed to another project with them shortly, but there’s a reason they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement.  Must keep secrets.

I painted 11 finished funny looking animal pieces this past year, the latest one above. I called it ‘Sitting Pretty,’ and she’s based on a black bear named Angel, who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park. I’d like to have painted more critters, but I’ll always say that. If I had painted 15, well, it should have been 20.

While there’s something about each painting that I enjoy, if I had to pick a favourite from this year, it would be Snow Day with the three cougar cubs. That was the best of both worlds, a real challenge and a lot of fun. I should have prints of this one available soon.
I painted a couple of dogs for fun, but no commission work this year until just recently. I’m not disappointed by that because I had plenty to do and wanted to focus on more images for licensing. The two dogs I’m currently painting in my whimsical style are for the same client, hoping to finish in a few weeks. They contacted me about the commissions after seeing my work in a BC Ferries terminal gift shop, a side bonus from my license with Pacific.

Two portraits of people this year, John Malkovich and Quint from Jaws, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. I’d always like to have more time for those, but wouldn’t we all like more time for the fun stuff?
Taking into account all of the syndicated cartoons I did this year, plus the custom local ones I draw each week for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, I drew 419 editorial cartoons in 2019. That might be an annual record for me. I have mixed feelings about that. I wonder how many paintings I could have done with all of those hours.

As for the coming year, I’m not big on resolutions. Well, maybe just one. I intend to write a lot more. There’s undiscovered country there and I need to explore it.

There are other things I want to accomplish, both personal and professional, growth I’d like to achieve, and skills I’d like to learn. Try to keep moving forward, best I can, just like everybody else.

Of course, none of this would be possible were it not for those of you who follow and support my work, read my ramblings, and tolerate my eccentricities. We all have limited time and attention in this life, and I appreciate that you spend some of yours with me.

Happy New Year,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Where’s the Camera?

When I was in my early twenties, at the end of my five years in the Reserves, I had the opportunity to work as a paid extra on the movie Legends of the Fall.

It was a fantastic experience, full of great stories. I’ve written about this before, here’s the link if you’re interested.

If the story is moving and you’re captivated, a good movie should allow you to suspend your disbelief. Sure, there might be continuity errors from time to time, and we all know that the science behind a lot of movies is pretty loose. But a good story should keep you interested, a willing participant in the fantasy delivered on screen.

Even movies based in reality will stretch and squash the truth to tell a better story. We welcome the lie because even with amazing real-life stories, the movie version will be better.

People will say they want to know how the magician performs his illusions, but it’s almost always disappointing when you do. The fun lives in the fantasy and when that’s gone, it’s just a trick.

When filming began on Legends of the Fall, there were about 1000 extras. It might have been 600-700, but it was a lot. As it was a First World War epic drama, we were all young men, each in period uniform. We filmed each night, all night long, and while there was plenty of downtime on set, it was exciting when the cameras were rolling.

After the first few days, the main army was sent home, and there were 60 of us left for the next two weeks, all of whom required military experience. The reason was that we fired authentic Lee Enfield rifles in successive scenes and even blank rounds can kill if used irresponsibly.

The main battlefield looked as you would imagine. Mud everywhere, large craters, uneven terrain, burnt trees, and rows of barbed wire fence, with meandering trenches along either side. For the first few nights, all we did was run back and forth across the field, an army whose only enemy was time and money.

We did quite a few rehearsal runs, choosing our routes to minimize collisions, or tripping on obstacles in the way. Before each run, an Assistant Director would walk down the line, pointing to every second, third or fourth man and say, “Dead.”

This meant that at some point during your run, from one side of the field to the other, you were to fall and stay still. No theatrics, no crying out, drop and don’t move. If you weren’t supposed to die, but you tripped and fell, or an explosion went off near you, you were to consider yourself dead, resurrected only when the director yelled, “Cut!”

A few from the larger group were kicked off the set for goofing around. One guy ran across the front of the camera, looked right into the lens and gave a big smile. They dismissed him.

There were huge stadium-style lights on stands, pointed toward the field. We filmed all night long but it was almost like daylight. When you see a night scene in a movie, it’s quite bright so that the camera can see everything. Sometimes they’ll add a deep blue filter to the camera so that a scene filmed during the day looks like night. One of the giveaways for that trick is a landscape scene where you can see shadows or light details in the distance.

In those battlefield scenes, with the cameras on a hill, facing east, all the viewer would see is an army running across a field. There’s smoke, explosions, yelling, screaming, and it looks like chaos.

But that’s not what we saw.

Take another camera, position it on the eastern edge of the field and turn it west, and you’d see another army of production people, lights, tents, vehicles, cameras, and activity just behind the camera. You would also see several figures in bright orange jumpsuits, sitting in front of built-up mud mounds all over the battlefield. In front of them were control boards, their job to set off the pyrotechnics while we ran around them.

If the main actors were involved in any of the scenes, you would see a sawdust trail in the mud, the path they were supposed to run, and the rest of us were to avoid.

When I watch a movie today, if the pace is slow and my mind wanders away from the illusion, I’ll often think about how it was made and ask myself, “Where’s the Camera?”

They film quite a few movies around here in Canmore and Banff. A favourite is The Edge with Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins. I watched it again recently and there are many scenes where they’re supposed to be lost in the wilderness, far from civilization. But if you’re from around here, knowing the true locations is amusing.

One particular scene was filmed just around the corner from where we live, in an open field called Indian Flats. In the movie, they’d just killed a bear, were exhausted and wondering if they were going to make it back to civilization. The mountains loom high above them, and it looks like extreme wilderness.

If the camera were raised just ten feet higher or turned 45 degrees left, however, you would see Highway 1A right beside them, the TransCanada less than a kilometre away, the light industrial area of Canmore and no shortage of local infrastructure.

It’s not something we think about while watching the movie, because we’re invested in the lie. We want to be entertained.

A side effect of that long-ago experience is that I find myself asking the same question in other areas of life as well, where the lie is not so obvious or welcome.

Where’s the camera? What am I not seeing?

While we recently killed our cable because we found we were primarily watching streaming services, I hadn’t been a fan of reality TV for this very reason. When you see people arguing, a scary suspense-filled moment, or a near-death experience on one of these shows, it gives you a whole new perspective when you start thinking about the camera and crew filming the scene. Suddenly, it seems more like a bad performance, not scary at all, and nobody is even remotely close to injury or death. The insurance people would hate that.

These shows not only film conflict, but they try to instigate it. It’s entertainment, but not reality.

The same can be said for all of the selfies and carefully curated images and videos posted on social media.

One of the most visited locations around here is Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise. It gets so busy in the summer that they periodically close the road and limit traffic, because there are so many people up there, taking photos of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

It’s easy for one person to stand near the edge of the water, take a photo and have it look like they’ve just completed this arduous hike and are in this serene location all by themselves. But move the camera back thirty feet, and you’d see hundreds of other people taking the same photo, right beside a parking lot full of cars and buses.

You’re likely familiar with the beach feet photo, where someone takes a picture of their own feet stretched out before them on a towel or deck chair, the beach and ocean filling the rest of the scene. The caption usually reads, The Good Life or Lost in Paradise.

Meanwhile, move the camera back twenty feet, and they’re one of many people on a crowded beach, at an all-inclusive resort complete with loud music, gangs of drunken college kids and screaming children who’ve had too much sun.

Did you know that you can take a perfect picture of the Sphinx and pyramids while standing in front of a Pizza Hut in Cairo? It’s right across the street. It’s now become an online gag to take the photo from inside the Pizza Hut to capture the scene with the logo on the window. Google ‘pyramids Pizza Hut’ and you’ll see.

My favourite would have to be the one where somebody shows themselves at the gym, or in a contemplative moment looking out at the ocean, or sitting in a Zen-like lotus pose trying to convince you that they’re one with the universe. It becomes completely ridiculous when you consider that they had to set the camera/phone up, put it on a timer, rush back to pose to show you how Zen and peaceful they are before they check the photo, decide they look fat in that one and try it all over again.

Add in photo filters to change the weather or light, some feature manipulators, and a softening filter to make you look younger, which most of the time makes you look plastic.

These exercises in camera trickery happen for two reasons. One, to convince others that our best-laid plans are even better than they appear, and two, to make us feel a little better about our own lives that aren’t quite measuring up to unrealistic expectations.

And while we’re making ourselves feel better, we’re making others feel worse, and they do the same in return when they post their own staged photos. No wonder we’re all so miserable, angry and dissatisfied with life.

Whether it’s movies, reality TV, social media, the news, politics, or any other information we’re fed daily, realize that it’s all designed to sell you something. It could be a product, an experience, or an illusion, but simply put, it’s a manipulation.

A friend’s vacay pics making you jealous? Ask yourself how much time they spent snapping and uploading filtered photos instead of enjoying where they were. They were probably looking at their phone more on vacation than they do at home.

The perfect family Christmas dinner photo? The credit cards are all maxed, the turkey’s overcooked, Grandpa’s drunk and being racist again, and the dog just threw up under the table.

The politician blaming everything on his opponent and promising you he’ll fix all that ails you? That always changes right after the election, no matter who is in power. The same middle-class family he posed with at that campaign rally now can’t make ends meet, because that same politician eliminated their jobs in his first budget.

Now with deep fake technology and other software, a photo or video is no more evidence of truth or fact than a nosy neighbour gossiping over the back fence.

Fake news works because we choose to believe it.  It’s designed to spread because it plays on our bias. When one person believes one of these lies, they share it with others, and as Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels once said, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”

With a new year upon us, I would make a simple suggestion. No matter what you read, see, hear, or experience, take a moment to consider that you do not see the whole picture, especially if it’s something you want to believe. That should be your first clue.

Ask yourself if the camera is showing you something real.

Ask yourself what it’s not showing you.

Then ask why.

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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A Christmas Reindeer

Yes, it’s a Christmas miracle. Even though I’m a confirmed Grinch, Scrooge and fan of Krampus, I decided to create a painting of a Christmas reindeer, complete with time lapse video and festive music to go along with it. Call it a temporary lapse in Bah Humbug, emphasis on the temporary.

This was painted in Photoshop on my trusty Wacom Cintiq 24HD. Feel free to share it, either from this post or from Youtube.

Cheers,
Patrick

@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.