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Pit Stop

I started a new painting yesterday morning. About an hour or two in, I found myself wondering at what point I should share a work-in-progress screen shot on Instagram or maybe record another video or two of a close-up of the brushstrokes. Suddenly I wasn’t focused on the painting, I was thinking about promoting it.

In our online content-obsessed world, there’s a ton of pressure on self-employed artists to always be sharing images, works-in-progress, blogs, memes, photos, thoughts and snapshots of life in general. A lot of that pressure is self-inflicted. For most of us, there’s nobody standing at our back, cracking a whip.

Working artists are not only driven by the need to earn financial compensation for our creations, but to also get the likes and shares, new subscribers, and to expand our reach and audience. It’s an endless quest for that validation high, convincing ourselves that just a few more followers will get us closer to the carrot on the stick.

Like any addiction, it’s never enough. The dopamine hit that did the job yesterday doesn’t quite do it today.

Promotion and advertising is part of any business, there’s no escaping it. While it would be nice if there were any truth to that famous whispered line in Field of Dreams, it’s a fantasy to believe that “if you build it, they will come.”

Yes, I know the line was actually “he” will come, but I’m paraphrasing.

If you’re in it for a living, it’s not enough to create something; you have to sell it. It becomes a hamster wheel and it’s easy to lose perspective. It feels irresponsible to ease off on the gas pedal, that any momentum earned will immediately be lost. But it’s an unsustainable pace, and every machine needs maintenance.

I’m taking a summer break from the promotion.

I’ll still be drawing daily editorial cartoons, filling print and calendar orders, answering emails, shipping and delivering the masks when they arrive, basically running my business as usual, but I’m trying something new.

For the next little while, likely a month or six weeks, I’m taking a break from the blog, newsletter, and Instagram to focus on painting and writing. I need to get better at time management, and something has to give, at least in the short term.

I want to work on a piece, without having to think about how to share it, either while it’s in progress or when it’s completed. I want to finish a painting and not have to immediately write about it, size it for the site and Instagram, copy and paste the gaggle of hashtags, then check to see how many people like and comment on it over the course of that day.

It often feels like shouting in a crowded stadium, desperate to be heard above the noise.

After sharing this post (ah, the irony), I’m temporarily deleting the Instagram app from my phone and iPad. It would be too easy to tap that icon and fall back into the habit.

It’s a scary proposition, filled with what-ifs. I might lose subscribers, followers, sales, interest, but I don’t think that’s realistic. I’m simply taking a vacation from sharing everything, carving out time to regroup, to consider where I want to go with my work.

When I come back, I expect I’ll have a few new paintings, wildlife photos and stories to share. But who knows? As we’ve all learned the hard way this year, nothing is certain.

Enjoy your summer.

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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Still Not Painting

I’m writing this on a Saturday morning when I had intended to start a new painting.

I’ve chosen the reference. But instead of opening a new file and putting brush strokes on a blank page, I’ve been surfing around the internet, pretending that I’m working.

At first, I checked the daily Postmedia papers to see if I was published today in any of those half dozen dailies. The Edmonton Journal printed my cartoon about a recall of the whole year of 2020.

I read a couple of articles before a little voice in my head asked, “Shouldn’t you be painting?”

“Give me a minute, OK?”

Somewhere along the line, at the bottom of something I was reading, there were suggestions for other articles. A couple of well-written headlines caught my attention, clearly based on an algorithm’s evaluation of what I’d be most likely to click.

Somewhat effective, because I right-clicked on half a dozen, opened them in new tabs and began reading.

Still not painting.

I read part of four articles. One was about celebrities pandering to issues like Black Lives Matter and social injustice. After a few paragraphs, I was no longer interested. I already know celebrities do that to boost their own profiles.

Another article asked why civilizations collapse and addressed the misconceptions surrounding that. I’ve long been interested in South American cultures, specifically the Mayan and Incan civilizations, so I went down that road for a while. It wasn’t very interesting, so I closed it halfway through.

I forget what the others were about, but the last one was called A Splash of Red, by author Gabriel Cohen. It’s about how he found a cheap apartment in New York, only to discover it had been the scene of a grisly murder. I quite enjoyed the article, and you can read it here.

At the bottom of the piece, however, it reads,

“Gabriel Cohen is the author of six books; has written for the New York Times and many other publications; teaches writing at Pratt Institute; and is about to teach a course in writing crime fiction at the Center for Fiction’s Crime Fiction Academy in NYC”

SIX books?

Son of a bitch.

My green-eyed monster leaned over my shoulder to see what woke him up and murmured, “That guy’s a real writer.”

I’ve long wanted to write more. It’s an ache, a daily itch in my psyche, complete with a ticking-clock sound effect that grows louder all the time.

The silly part is that I’m actually a prolific writer. I’ve kept an active blog since 2008. Before I was a cartoonist and long before I painted funny looking animals, I wrote two novels. But I chickened out on sending them, and twenty years later, I’m convinced they’re crap.

I’ve started another novel; I’ve got extensive notes, good ideas, plenty of inspiration and life experience to put it all onto the page. But my energy is spent finding any excuse not to write. I thought 2020 was the year I’d finally put up or shut up.

2020 had other plans.

Hey look, I found another excuse. There’s rarely a supply shortage.

I Googled “fear of writing” and came up with a couple of encouraging articles, telling me things I already know. I’ve done this search before, many times. This is a well-travelled road.

A sponsored writing course pops up, and I click on it. It tells me all of the right things, has all the right testimonials, and I think, “That’s what I need.”

I already know that it is NOT what I need. You become a better writer by writing. I tell this to students about art all the time. You want to draw or paint; you have to put your ass in the chair and do it.

Still not painting.

I’ve got a dozen books on writing on the Kindle app on my iPad, one on how to write good characters, another on language for rural settings, another for writing good dialogue, all of them as of yet, unread.

An hour and a half after I sat down this morning, before diving headfirst down this rabbit hole, I have not painted one brush stroke. Instead, I have beaten myself up about my lack of a disciplined writing routine, am now frustrated that I’ve wasted a good chunk of my morning with unproductive time on the internet, wishing that I’d got up this morning and started a new painting as planned.

Still not painting.

Procrastinating to avoid starting a new painting, I ended up writing about not painting.  Even though I create art for a living, I still begin each piece convinced that it will suck, even though the evidence of past work doesn’t support that insecurity.

Still not painting.

Still not writing.

At least not the writing I want to be doing.

___

© 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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Face Masks: To Wear Or Not To Wear

The second order of whimsical wildlife face masks arrived this week and in less than two days, I was able to get them all out the door. Banff and Canmore local deliveries are done and all of the Canadian and US orders have shipped.

Compared to the first order, this one was a breeze.

As these are being sold to retailers and other venues, they need to look attractive on the shelf, so Pacific Music and Art added snazzy new packaging. While the quality and printing of the masks was already there the first go ‘round, the new packaging makes them look even better. That’s a large and small mask shown here. If you are an interested retailer, please contact Mike at Pacific Music and Art and he’ll be happy to set you up.
Plenty of people have told me that they’ve received positive comments when wearing the masks. So far, I’ve only worn the Lion Face and the Amur Tiger, but I got a few more for myself on this order, too.

The Sasquatch looks ridiculously funny on the pictures I’ve seen, so I wanted to have one of my own.

As a lifelong wearer of eyeglasses, the most annoying part of wearing a mask is that they fog up. I tried doing the dish soap method, it just doesn’t work. But I found a great solution online from an optometrist. He explains it well in this video.

I’ve made one modification myself to his method, by rolling two strips of medical tape on the inside of the top of the mask.
The inexpensive hypo-allergenic paper tape can be found at any drugstore. I prep the mask before I leave the house so I don’t have to mess with it (or wear it) in the car. When I get to the grocery store or post office, I put the mask on, press the taped areas in place and my glasses no longer fog up.

When I got a haircut the other day, for the first time in four months, I was required to wear a mask. But I anticipated that wearing the ear loops would make it a challenge to cut around my ears, so I taped the sides of the mask to my face so that the ear loops didn’t need to be secured. Worked like a charm and the tape doesn’t irritate the skin.
Here’s the before and after haircut pic. Someone used the word nefarious to describe my expression in the after picture. I won’t argue that. I’m fortunate to still have thick healthy hair at my age, and for that I’m grateful. I was, however, very happy to get rid of it all.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Here in Canmore and Banff, I’m surprised that few people are wearing face masks. I don’t mean on the street or in places where you can keep the 6ft. distance, but in grocery stores, post offices and other places where close proximity is not only possible, but probable.

This isn’t a question about whether or not the virus is as serious as they say, whether the precautions taken were too much or too little, or how much the masks help or don’t help. I’ve seen the arguments online and the uncertainty of it all isn’t what disturbs me most, but how people are speaking to one another in the discussions.

Whether an expression of their own fear or frustration with this new normal, I don’t know, but people are being downright nasty to each other, and it’s completely unnecessary. The discussion can be had without the vitriol.

My wife Shonna works full-time at a law firm, but has also worked part-time at Safeway for more than a decade. There are two senior women who work at the law firm, and at the beginning of the isolation, they had expressed concern about her coming in to work every day while still working at Safeway.

So she sacrificed that part-time income for the past few months so she didn’t potentially introduce the virus to the law office staff.

With no local cases, things opening up again, and safety measures in place at Safeway for the workers, she went back to work at the grocery store on Monday and has already worked a couple of shifts. Suddenly, she’s aware of how many people are wearing masks, or rather aren’t wearing them.

There are Plexiglas barriers at grocery stores now, but people forget themselves. They look around them, put their hands on the sides, and aren’t keeping the distance they should. Shonna has said she feels a little more relaxed and safer when a customer is wearing a mask, because she can’t wear one herself for her entire shift.

The messaging has been clear. A reusable non-medical mask is unlikely to protect the wearer from a virus, but it might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing it on to somebody else.

People need to be reminded that you aren’t wearing the mask for yourself.

Wearing a mask tells people that whether they believe in the threat or not, whether there are local cases or not, whether it’s all a deep-state, Illuminati, government conspiracy or not, you’re wearing one to make the people around you feel a little safer.

It’s an act of community.

People talk a really good game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments section about how other people should behave and how people don’t care as much as they used to and how things used to be better in the world. They use words like ‘hero’ for front line workers and grocery store clerks (Shonna does not), failing to understand that those people shop for groceries, too. They go to the post office, the bank, and the coffee shop. You can’t clutch your hands to your chest, get all weepy-eyed, and share memes on Facebook supporting them, then dismiss them as a kook in a mask behind you in the checkout line.

You don’t reveal yourself by the things you say, you reveal yourself by the things you do.

I get it, I’ve been the only one in an aisle at the grocery store wearing one. I’m very healthy, have no immunity issues, and I’m not worried about getting sick. It feels a little silly or unnecessary to wear one sometimes, but ultimately it costs me nothing but a few minutes to put it on and take it off, and wash it when I get home. And if people think I’m a sheep, or a dork, or paranoid for wearing one, that’s fine. The issue is theirs, not mine.

One of my best friends has asthma, two others have high blood pressure, and more than I like to think about are entering their senior years. That puts them in the vulnerable category. I’m not wearing the mask for me, I’m wearing it for them and people like them. That doesn’t make me noble, or better than anybody else, it just makes me part of a community.

Just as we’re all supposed to wear our seat belts, stop at traffic lights, drive the speed limit (or close to it), and stop behind a school bus to keep children safe, wearing a mask in close quarters is a simple act of telling your neighbours, “I’ll look after you, you look after me, and we’ll all look silly together.”

They had to make those other things a law because people didn’t get it. They shouldn’t have to make this mandatory, too.

You might think I’m just trying to sell you more masks, but I don’t care which one you wear. There are plenty of designs out there or you can make your own. I’m also not going to tell you what to do, because there are too many people doing that already. But give it some thought, especially the next time you’re at the grocery store and see a senior citizen, somebody with mobility issues, or just the looks of worry on the faces of your fellow shoppers. Do you really want to risk getting them sick, even if that risk is small, simply because you couldn’t be bothered?

This is all so new, we’re all frustrated, and hopefully it’s temporary. It’s not that big a sacrifice.

I thought this was going to be the last pre-order I did for a while. With warmer weather, people able to socialize outside and keep their distance, the demand seemed to be waning. But now with talk of a second wave, whether that’s a real threat or not, and that more people are seeing my masks out in the world, I’m getting more inquiries. Nobody wants to be trying to find them in the fall if there’s a sudden spike in demand.

As such, SUNDAY (the 21st) I’ll send out another newsletter, with an opportunity to order more. The new 2021 calendars will be available in that one as well. So stay tuned.

If you have any friends or family interested in the masks, have them sign up for my newsletter. It has proven to be the most efficient method of getting the word out.

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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Ripley – A Portrait

In 2014, the cast of the 1986 film, Aliens reunited at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. There were autograph signings, photo ops, and a stand-alone event one night where the cast was interviewed, and shared stories in front of an audience of thousands.

Because I was working at my booth, selling my funny looking animal prints, I missed it.

For one reason or another, sci-fi and fantasy movie fans have one favorite franchise.

For some it’s Star Wars, others it’s Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel Universe and many others. While I can take or leave the Lord of the Rings, I enjoy those others and have seen them multiple times. Then again, I’ve seen all of the Scorsese’s stuff multiple times, too.

I just love movies.

Even though television writing has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and I’ve got many shows I like, I’d choose movies over TV every day of the week.

I’ve been a fan of the Alien movie franchise for most of my life, although I can’t remember when I first saw the original movies but I know it wasn’t in a theatre. I do know that the gateway movie for me, however, was James Cameron’s Aliens.

Over the years, I’ve owned the box sets in multiple formats and have watched them often. I own all six on Blu-Ray and digital and enjoy each movie on its own and as part of the whole. I could rate them in order of preference, but I’m not a militant fan-boy about it. They’re still just movies.

You won’t find me on a forum anywhere arguing continuity errors, or debating the Ridley Scott vision of the canon vs. James Cameron’s. I didn’t get angry when Prometheus and Covenant went off in a truly unexpected direction, because I’m just a fan along for the ride. They don’t owe me anything and truth be told, I like those latest movies, too.

I don’t have shelves full of toys and action figures…OK, I have one xenomorph figure, and I also have the poster for Alien: Covenant beside my desk, but simply because I love the art.

H.R. Giger’s Alien design and art wasn’t part of why I started liking these movies, but it certainly is today.

It’s fun escapism and for whatever reason, this franchise resonates with me. I can quote more lines from Aliens than from any other movie, much to the eye-rolling annoyance of my wife.

For reasons I need not explain, I’ve been pretty low the past couple of months. Lost a big chunk of my newspaper clients, the licensing momentum I was looking forward to building upon this year has been crippled,  the Calgary Expo was cancelled, along with two trips to Vancouver Island this spring and summer, and until recently, I haven’t been able to see my friends.

I haven’t slept well in quite some time and my back is killing me, both directly related to my inability to deal with stress. It’s been a shitty year so far, as it has been for everyone.

I have little motivation to paint happy animals right now, because I’m just not feeling it.

Even before the virus-that-shall-not-be-named ruined everything, I’ve fallen down in the dumps creatively from time to time. It happens to all artists.

While it usually occurs at the end of the calendar year, when the darkness and cold of winter sets in, this year it’s spring, usually my most upbeat and productive time of year. It’s a feeling that everything I’ve ever painted sucks and there’s no hope for it to get better. I’m a hack, kidding myself about my skills, might as well throw in the towel and give up this foolishness. Anyone who creates anything knows this feeling at some point.

What has worked in the past to help me shake the blues is to paint a portrait of a movie character I like. It gives me a break from the commercial stuff, reminds me why I like painting, and has no financial pressure or deadline attached to it. With a few exceptions, most of the portraits in my Character gallery were painted for my own enjoyment.

Canadian Geographic Magazine commissioned me to paint Rick Hansen in 2018, and a couple paintings have attracted attention after I posted them on Twitter years ago, most notably Martin Sheen and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The latter sent me two tweets from the International Space Station about my work, a surreal experience.  But, I don’t really expect the subject will see the portrait I paint of them.

So even though I’ve been focused on keeping my finances secure during all of this, trying to maximize revenue, my mood has been steadily declining and I needed a break.

I figured my skills might finally be good enough to attempt a painting of my favorite movie action hero, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in multiple films.

My buddy Derek once asked me if she was a movie crush and no, it was never about that. What I admired about the character was that she was a regular person, put to the test. Step up or buckle, and most likely die.

At a time when women in action movies were usually just damsels in distress, T&A accessories for the men who would ultimately save them, Ripley became a leader who held it all together and kicked some ass, even though she didn’t want the hero role.

Say what you want about James Cameron and the stories about him being difficult to work for, but he’s always written great roles for strong independent women. Sarah Connor in Terminator, Rose in Titanic, Lindsey in The Abyss, Neytiri and Grace in Avatar, and Ripley in Aliens.

True, Ridley Scott birthed the Ripley character in the original Alien movie, but it was Cameron who allowed Sigourney Weaver to turn her into a badass.

Interesting side note about James Cameron’s creative skills, it was his hands drawing the portrait of Rose in the movie Titanic. He was drawing right handed for those scenes but is actually left handed. He also drew all of the sketches in Jack’s portfolio for that film.

Throughout this painting, I found myself rushing it at times and having to stop myself. This wasn’t a deadline, I had all the time in the world, and the whole point was to enjoy it, get lost in it, and to improve my skills with the work.

While watching the movie again to find reference, I had a lot of options. I could have painted her with the pulse rifle in the action hero pose, the alien eggs around her, ready to start firing. Maybe in the power loader suit doing battle with the Alien Queen, or standing outside on the planet after they realized they were stranded on LV-426, right after Newt says, “They mostly come at night. Mostly.”

I know, I’m descending into nerdy stuff here. Bear with me.

Ultimately when I choose to paint a character, there’s usually a look I see on screen, combined with the right lighting and I just know that’s it.

This painting is from a scene close to the end. The colony has been blown up, the drop ship has returned to the Sulaco in orbit and Ripley is telling Bishop that he did okay. Seconds later, the Alien Queen emerges from the landing gear, tears Bishop in two and starts looking for revenge.

It’s at that moment, Ripley looks up at the Queen in disbelief, but realizes once again that it’s either step up or run and hide. That’s the moment I painted.

Not long after, Ripley steps out into the light in the power loader and says one of the most memorable lines in movie history.

“Get away from her, you bitch!”

The two hardest parts of any painting is starting and finishing. Getting those first lines of the sketch down, convincing myself, “I can do this,” while a louder voice in my head says, “No, you can’t.”

Eventually I come to a moment when I have to say, “This is the best I’ve got right now” and call it finished, while that other voice is saying, “well your best ain’t much.”

It happens on every single painting.

In between those moments, however, it’s like working clay, smoothing out the curve of a cheekbone, lightening a shadow that’s too dark, choosing colours, angles, highlights, a hair here, another there, and putting in the hours, all in search of an accurate likeness and bringing a vision to life.

A likeness in a portrait isn’t about getting the features right, it’s about the relationship between those features as well. I could paint the eyes perfectly, but if the nose is too far away from them, or the angle of the mouth is wrong, the whole thing falls apart.

It’s a balancing act, zooming in and out, squinting, painting tweaks here and there, flipping the canvas and reference back and forth to see what I’m not seeing, shutting it down and walking away, only to open it again the next day and instantly see something I need to fix.

Finally I had to call it done; knowing that a year from now, I’ll look at this and think I could do a better job of it. But that’s art for you; it’s the epitome of the cliché about the journey vs. the destination.
As for the whole cast coming to Calgary that year, my priority was my booth, not signatures and photo-ops. The video of the interview session in the corral was put online later on, so I still got to watch all of that after the fact. I enjoy behind-the-scenes stories of movie making, especially ones I’ve enjoyed for years.

I did share an elevator with Lance Henriksen, who played the android Bishop, at the Palliser Hotel that week, twice in fact. I didn’t embarrass myself, and simply said it was nice to see him and I hoped he enjoyed Calgary.

Shonna and I and our friend Michelle were having a late dinner one night in the lounge, when almost the entire cast of Colonial Marines from Aliens came in to have a drink together. Peppered around the room were other celebrity guests. It was quite the surreal environment, but in true Canadian fashion, nobody approached or bothered them, mindful that they deserved their downtime too.

I never did see Sigourney Weaver or Bill Paxton that week, but I was fine with that. Had I the skills to have painted this portrait then, I might have lined up to have Ms. Weaver sign it, but that would have been an exceptional circumstance.

At the end of the Expo that year, while everybody began tearing down, a voice came over the loudspeaker. I don’t know if it was live or recorded earlier, but Bill Paxton recited some of his most famous lines from Aliens, including Hudson’s “Game Over, Man”, with intentional overacting.

After five long days, the vendors and staff exhausted, weary and wanting to go home, the place went nuts with cheers and applause. That’s one of my favorite memories from Expo, and a little bitter sweet. Paxton died four years later at 61, complications from surgery to repair a damaged heart valve.

I don’t know what I’m going to paint next, will need to give it a bit to see if this portrait shook loose the creative cobwebs, but I’m glad I made the time.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Are We There Yet?

End of another week.

Shonna and I had a trip to Vancouver Island booked for the end of August for our 25th anniversary, a glamping kayak trip, hoping to see orcas and other wildlife. The company let us know this week that their season has been scuttled. They can’t implement safety restrictions and still run the tour that we booked. It’s another gut punch, and we are disappointed.

As a friend recently said, “2020…the year of cancelled plans.”

Weddings, vacations, graduations, sabbaticals, reunions, the disruption to all of our plans and the ever-present uncertainty is weighing heavy.

I could vent, rant and rave, but there’s far too much of that online already and it just makes things worse for everybody, since none of us are having a good time.

Just because we have the right to an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to beat each other over the head with it post after post after post after post. People won’t remember whether you were right or wrong, they will remember how you made them feel when they were having a hard time.

I’ve got a friend with six inches of water in his basement because of a high snow pack and water table, three sump pumps going, thinking he might have to evacuate his home for the second time in less than ten years. Most of his neighbours are in the same boat, and there’s rain in the forecast.

I’ve got another friend who’s usually upbeat and positive, but his business has been deep in the red for months. It could take him years to recover. The last time I saw him, he admitted he wasn’t doing well, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do and he’s had enough.

Another colleague has been going through radiation treatment for cancer while trying to keep his business going through all of this.

These are just three stories of woe, and everybody you meet right now will have one, to varying degrees, including you. None is more important than the other, because to the person living it, it’s a darkness unique to them. And telling somebody, “hey, suck it up, because it could be worse,” will only make them feel guilty for having emotions, and surprise, that will only make them feel worse.

Given the choice of a nasty word or a kind one, choose the latter or nothing at all. I’ll admit to struggling with that, because I’m a reluctant misanthrope, which is just a big word for not liking humanity much. And yet, I know a lot of good people, so it’s both a paradox and hypocrisy.

You don’t have to be a super-positive, look-on-the-bright-side, we’re-all-in-this-together, it-could-be-worse, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow cheerleader. I’m certainly not. Just try not to make things worse for other people. Pause before you share every tragic news story, or your version of ‘truth’ story, passive-aggressive meme, or post designed to tell somebody else that they’re stupid because they don’t think like you do.

When’s the last time you changed your mind about something because somebody told you that you were an idiot for believing it?

There’s a well known internet axiom attributed to actor Wil Wheaton. It originated as a plea for sportsmanship and civility in the gaming community, but over the years it has been applied to any online interaction. It’s known as Wheaton’s Law and simply states, “Don’t be a dick.”

Consider that you likely don’t know what someone else is going through, assume they’re struggling and go from there. If you alienate people online, you’re alienating them in real life. Most people will not make the distinction, and you’ll wonder why friends have started to avoid you.

Some of you might be reading this thinking, “hold on, I know you in real life and you can be a bitter, cynical, depressed, neurotic, fist-clenched, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn sourpuss grump.”

Agreed. I’m well aware of my own shortcomings.

But I’m working on it.

Have a good weekend,
Patrick

___

© 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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Two Prints, FREE Calendar

As of this morning, I’ve added five new prints to the online store, the first time these paintings have been offered. They are, in order of appearance below, the Clearwater Calf, Sire, Ring-tailed Lemur, Roar and Snow Day.


My 2021 calendar from Pacific Music and Art has launched and I received my first shipment last week. This year’s theme is BEARS, an animal I greatly enjoy painting, and have done so often.


For the launch of this calendar, I’m offering a limited time special promotion.

It’s very simple…Buy any TWO prints in the store and receive the 2021 calendar FREE. That’s a $12.99 value. You don’t even need to let me know that you want the calendar. I will automatically include ONE calendar in any order of two or more prints. There are 43 different prints available, you can check them out here.

For those who just want to purchase the calendar, I’ll have that option available once this promotion has ended.

IMPORTANT: Due to the COVID-19 restrictions and safety measures, shipping takes more time these days, even with tracked packages, so please be patient with delivery.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© 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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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Good News Comes in Threes

Now that some businesses and services are opening up again, I’ve realized how many little things I take for granted.

My eye appointment last Monday for new glasses was a strange experience with all of the precautions, but I was grateful to have had it after I broke my frames weeks ago. Looking forward to the new ones, as a piece of duct tape is holding the current ones together.

The week everything shut down, I was supposed to have my teeth cleaned, something I do three times a year. Our hygienist has been looking after Shonna’s and my teeth for more than twenty years and has never seen me as happy about an appointment as I was yesterday.

Because of how busy they are at the best of times, I book my haircuts months in advance. Obviously, I have missed the last two, but I’ve got another booked for next Thursday. They’re not open yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Shonna and I went to Costco in Calgary for the first time in three months on Tuesday. We spent a lot more than we usually do, but we’re set for a while on the stuff we use most. They were well organized, and we went on a Tuesday morning, so it didn’t take long at all.

I noticed quite a few people wearing masks while we there. We were both wearing my Lion Face design and got quite a few appreciative looks. One woman asked where she could get one, so I suggested she follow my newsletter for when the next order would be available. She opened her purse on her cart, stepped back to maintain physical distancing and asked me to drop my card into it—what a strange new dance we’re all doing.

Here’s a selfie I took in Costco to send to a friend.
Which brings me to…

The Next Face Mask Order

The masks from the first order have all been delivered or shipped. I know many still haven’t received them with the mail moving a lot slower these days. But some of you have been sending me photos the last few days of you or your families wearing your newly received masks, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. Some of them have made me laugh out loud.

So if you want to send me a picture of yourself in your mask, please do! And if you’re OK with me sharing it on my Instagram profile, let me know if that’s OK, too.

I heard from several newsletter followers who were disappointed they missed out on the first pre-order. For one reason or another, as happens to all of us, they missed that email.

With that in mind, this is the TWO DAY warning that the next mask pre-order will be happening on Saturday, May 23. Just as I did with the last one, I will be announcing it Saturday morning, sending out the options, pricing, and when you can expect them.

Pacific Music and Art went through a gauntlet of challenges with the first order, but they’ve worked out the bugs, supplies are on hand, and we aren’t expecting any delays.

Sign up for the newsletter here. Please don’t send me any orders until after I send the next newsletter on Saturday. Because of the work involved taking the orders and that I still have other editorial cartoon deadlines on the weekend, there will be a 24-hour window to get your order in.

Calendars


My 2021 calendar from Pacific Music and Art has launched, and the first shipment is on its way to me right now. I expect to receive it any day, might even be today. I’ll be offering those for sale sometime next week. The theme for my second calendar is BEARS, which is appropriate, considering that it’s National Bear Awareness Week.

I received my first sample with the last order of masks and was quite pleased with it. It’s funny that six of these bear paintings are of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park, and two of the black bears live there as well.

Prints

I’ll be uploading half a dozen new prints to the online store next week, and spending a good part of today putting those together. There will be a promotional offer combined with a calendar that will go along with that, with more details to follow soon.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Enough


There is no doubt that this coronavirus experience has been difficult on everyone. Statistically speaking, those who’ve become sick or have died have been few, compared to the 7.6 billion people on the planet.

And yet, as reasonable voices have tried to explain, the victims of this virus have still been important loved ones to other people. It’s easy to say that a few should be sacrificed for the many, for the good of the economy, but I’ve yet to hear of somebody volunteering their own parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones for the COVID-19 gas chamber.

It’s indeed a struggle, to continue to do the right thing, sitting at home, while losing your job, business, savings and other assets, simply waiting for it all to end.

What makes it even harder is that everyone has their own expert opinion on how much isolation is too much, too little, whether or not to wear a mask, if these distance measures are necessary, if the virus has been around for longer than we thought, or is even here at all.

Suddenly, everybody is an armchair epidemiologist, following every news and fake news story, able to give you death by the numbers from every corner of the globe, and freely offering unsolicited advice on what everybody else should do, even though nobody asked.

If I had a nickel for how many people have told me that they’re certain they’ve had COVID-19 already, simply because they had a bad cold or flu this winter, I wouldn’t be worried about my finances right now.

Yes, you might have had it. Many people have. Whose life are you willing to risk to prove it?
Then there are the conspiracy theorists, intent on making this situation even worse for everybody else by spreading sensationalist videos and articles, accusing the government, deep state, corporations or individuals of having orchestrated this whole thing. Meanwhile, even a cursory examination of the propaganda reveals that the originators of these messages have their own axes to grind, including books, programs and supplements they’re selling.

We’ve heard certain friends and family members tell us over and over again not to believe the party line and to think for ourselves. Of course, that’s only as long as the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’ don’t disagree with theirs.

And even if there were some truth to any of the ‘it’s all a hoax’ theories, sharing post after post after post (after post after post after post) isn’t going to change any of it. All it will do is piss everybody off, so that when we are allowed to see other people, you’re not going to be at the top of anybody’s list.

Before hitting share on any of this stuff, ask yourself who you’re helping, what you’re accomplishing and why it’s necessary.

As someone who ordinarily spends way too much time in my head, my struggle in all of this has been mental and emotional. My level of optimism is minimal at the best of times, a consequence of whatever amalgam of nature, nurture and personal experiences have coalesced in my middle age to create this current perspective. Don’t forget the secret toxic ingredient of following the news for a living.

When I haven’t been as Pollyanna about this as some would prefer, especially if I’m having a bad day and they just happen to be having a good one (their bad day was yesterday), I’ve been told to ‘Cheer up,’ ‘take a happy pill,’ or ‘it could be worse.’

None of that helps the situation, largely because making somebody feel guilty for having a difficult time will have the opposite effect.

Regardless of COVID-19, somebody will always have it worse. The person who couldn’t make ends meet before all of this doesn’t care that your retirement savings are down. They never had any. The unemployed worker with no access to relief funding doesn’t care that you’ve been down to part-time hours for the past couple of months. The person trying to home school three children and hold down a job, doesn’t care that you had to cancel your vacation or that you’re bored because there’s nothing new on Netflix.

And the person who has been homeless for the past thirty years thinks we should all stop whining.

There’s a meme I’ll see now and then that goes something like, “Yes, they’re First World problems. But I live in the First World!”

Everybody has problems and we all react differently to them. Comparing your grief to somebody else’s and judging them inadequate for not measuring up to your standards is unfair. Just as you feel hurt when somebody doesn’t understand you, so does everyone else.

Each January, because a certain corporation decided to make it trendy, plenty of people in Canada change their social media profile pics and share passive aggressive ‘Let’s Talk’ memes. It’s supposed to be about mental health, but it’s really a marketing campaign, free advertising for a media company.

Right now, when mental health challenges are at their peak, at a time when people are struggling the most, there’s more judgment, finger-pointing, and picking sides than in a federal election. The damage this does to our collective consciousness is far worse than the virus, and we’re all to blame for it.

People are hurting, each in a way that’s uniquely personal to them. Don’t make them feel worse by giving them shit for it.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Walking with Wolf Pups

If you’d asked me how I was doing during the past couple of months, I might have answered that I’ve had OK days and not-so-OK days, for reasons I need not explain.

This past Sunday, however, was the first good day in a long while. And it was a really good day.

Discovery Wildlife Park is open as a drive-thru right now, an Alberta Health Services approved method for people to still come and see the animals, but they must stay in their vehicles. It’s proving very popular and they’ve been busy, with a steady stream of cars winding through the park on their well-manicured gravel pathways. The staff helps the animals be seen, they answer questions and do their best to make it an enjoyable experience for their guests, despite the distancing measures.

While I think it’s great they have this option, it’s not one I’d planned on experiencing. I’ll admit to being spoiled by my connection to the park, and the access they’ve given me. I just don’t want to see Berkley from my car, especially given the drive time to get there.

Shonna and I have been very good at following the isolation rules in all of this. She still goes to work at the law office each day, but it’s closed to the public and they have the appropriate safety measures in place. I’ve stayed home, only going out once a week for groceries, completing all of my errands in as few days a week as possible.

Alberta relaxed a number of restrictions on Friday, allowing people to get together in small groups. Some more businesses have been allowed to open and people are venturing out of their homes, though still being advised to wash their hands, keep their distance, and exercise caution.

Serena and I were texting Saturday night as we sometimes do, as I’m always curious to see how the animals are doing. She often sends behind-the-scenes pictures and videos for us. I made the off comment that it’s too bad I wouldn’t be able to see the wolves while they were pups, to which Serena replied, “Why not?”
As she did with their Brown bear Berkley when she was a cub, Serena takes 8-week-old Sassenach and Highlander for a walk each evening in the large fenced wooded area at the park. She lets them explore, play, and get into trouble, without having to worry that they’ll go anywhere.

We’ve had the privilege of many walks in the woods with Berkley. So it was exciting when Serena invited us to come up Sunday evening and meet the wolf pups in the same way.

Shonna later said she was impressed at how I jumped at the chance without overthinking it. Spontaneous is not my default setting.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. With warm temperatures, sunny and cloudy skies, very little traffic on the highways, we headed up that afternoon, a little over two hours’ drive one way.

I talk with my parents often enough on the phone and via FaceTime, but we hadn’t had an in-person visit since they left for Arizona in the fall. As they live ten minutes from the park, we made time for a short visit on their deck beforehand, keeping our distance, of course.

We met Serena at the park at 6, drove over to the wooded area and before long; the wolves were doing their thing while we took pictures.
Part of the reason we have such a good relationship with the park is that we’ve always given the animals their space. There’s no chasing, lunging, grabbing, yelling, basically any behaviour that’s going to freak them out. We were content to watch, let them get comfortable with our presence and it was up to them to come to us.



Thankfully, once they did, both pups did check us out, but their primary focus was on each other, exploring, playing and attacking.
As Serena said, “It’s Fight Club, every night.”

We spent about two hours with them, visiting and catching up with Serena and taking a lot of pictures. I had my camera, but also my phone. Shonna and Serena took pictures with their phones and I got copies of all of them. So most of these pictures are mine, but some are theirs, too. And we don’t really know which are which.
The funny thing is that like most young animals, they were just bundles of energy, until they weren’t. Once they crashed, they crashed hard. Serena then told us we could pick them up, because at that point, they didn’t care. Holding a snoozing wolf pup is a real treat.
As always, we are forever grateful for our connection with Discovery Wildlife Park. Their orphaned and rescued wildlife critters receive the best care, and you need only look to how the keepers and animals behave around each other to realize how much love there is between them.
We were happy to make another donation to the park while we were there, as they really need it right now. In a regular year, they’re only open from May to October, but they still need to feed and care for the animals the other six months of the year. Maintenance of the facilities, upkeep of the grounds and enclosures, veterinary bills and a long list of accessory expenses, not to mention the salaries of the dedicated staff, makes for an expensive undertaking.

I came home with about two thousand photos. After hours of weeding out the ones I can’t use, I still ended up with dozens of reference shots. I’m so glad to have taken photos while they were little, because they certainly won’t remain that way for long. Their eyes are already changing from blue to yellow. There’s no doubt I’ll eventually create paintings of both of them.

After more than two months of being locked down, that was the perfect break from isolation. And to top it all off, Shonna and I drove back into the mountains that night under a brilliant red sky, one of the prettiest sunsets we’ve seen this year.

Cheers,
Patrick
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© Patrick LaMontagne
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