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Bright Lights and Little Birds

I’ve been back at my desk for the whole week, which is a welcome relief. With the Calgary Expo, delivering prints to Discovery Wildlife Park, visiting my parents, and this past weekend out to Golden for a friend’s 80th birthday, I’ve been on the road more than I’m used to.

Someone whose job involves a lot of driving or travelling might think this is nothing and hardly qualifies as being ‘on the road.’ Still, my work involves long hours at my desk and the digital drawing board, so time away puts a big dent in my productivity.

I must draw editorial cartoons in advance to keep those clients supplied when I go anywhere. So, I have done very little whimsical wildlife drawing and painting in the past few weeks. Since that’s the work I enjoy most and where the future of my business lies, I’m holding up a virtual hand to other obligations for the next little while, saying, “This far, no further. I have animals to paint!”

As for the weekend in Golden, I’ve known my friend Babe for thirty years this August. He and I started working at The Douglas Fir Resort in Banff on the same day in 1994. I was in the waterslide facility, and he worked in maintenance. I pointed out to him on Friday that I was 23 when I met him at work, and I thought, “Who’s the old guy?”

He was three years younger than I am now.

Friends who’ve shared campsites and cabins for decades in various places, there were five of us in Golden this weekend. Babe and Sue stayed in their little house, Al in Babe’s art studio bedroom, and Jim in his little Boler trailer. I usually stay in their small cabin, a two-minute walk up a winding dirt path through dense forest. It was the first thing built there in 1993, and it is still solid, quiet, and comfortable.
We stayed up waiting for the northern lights Friday, but with none arriving by 11, we retreated to our separate spaces. I’m indeed one of the old guys now.

Around midnight, just about to climb the ladder to the cabin loft, I noticed the whole sky had turned pink and was moving. I dressed quickly, walked down through the woods to the main landing and knocked on Jim’s trailer. He woke startled, and I told him he’d want to get up and see the show.

When he saw the sky, he said I should get Al, while he went to wake Babe and Sue.

We all sat outside for an hour watching one of the most unique and spectacular northern lights shows any of us had ever seen.

In 1993, while I was in EMT training in Lac La Biche, a group of us drove out to Sir Winston Churchill Park on a very cold winter night to watch the northern lights. Many colours danced back and forth above, but what made it most memorable was seeing the sky reflected in the clear ice of the massive lake. From the edge of the shoreline, it felt like we were standing inside the aurora.

Those were the best northern lights I’ve ever seen. Last weekend was a close second.
The next morning, I admitted that just before I knocked on a dark, quiet trailer, I wondered if I was painting a target on my chest. Nobody likes to be woken from a dead sleep. Thankfully, all agreed it was worth it. After all, that’s what Saturday afternoon lawn chair naps are for.

My low-res grainy phone pics above are unremarkable compared to the fantastic captures I’ve seen online, shared by skilled photographers worldwide. Hopefully some of you got to see the show for yourselves. Photos rarely rival the experience.
On Saturday, several hummingbirds made rounds at three or four feeders Babe and Sue have around their home. Having never before captured decent shots of these tiny speedsters, I must have learned a few things over the years as I came home with several potential reference photos, more than you see here.
While these photos are edited, of course, that convenient red background is Babe’s little barn garage for his trailer, as a couple of the hummingbirds landed and sat on the safety wire surrounding the deck of the house.
My first instinct is to paint several of these poses, a line of little hummingbirds on the same wire, and devise my own vibrant colour scheme for each bird. I’m sure that seems like sacrilege to any hardcore birders, but my art doesn’t represent reality. I guess I’ll see what happens when I get into it, whenever that might be.
Regardless of how or when I paint from these pics, I enjoyed stalking the quick little critters. The best part about taking wildlife photos strictly for reference is that it doesn’t matter if the backgrounds or lighting aren’t great. Where a wildlife photographer might not see an image worthy of sharing or printing, all I care about is the detail and whether it inspires a possible painting or two.
And that’s my cue to head back to the drawing board. Next time, I’ll have some new artwork to share, or at least some works in progress.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Happy With the Happy Color App


This week saw the launch of ten of my images on an app called Happy Color by X-Flow Games. A couple of days ago, a collector sent me a message about it, concerned about the legality of the usage.

That’s understandable and appreciated, considering my recent post. My friend, Christine, in Montana, found two other breaches on Etsy earlier this week. A cease-and-desist message took care of both of those. Again, just because you can find images online doesn’t mean they’re free to use without permission, especially for commercial use. Share them, sure, but let people know who created them. Spreading the word about art you like helps keep the artist employed, which means they can make more art.

But back to the Happy Color app! Several people emailed me in the last couple of days to ensure I was aware of the Charmers’ Club on the app, where they’re releasing one of my whimsical wildlife paintings daily.

Happy Color is a free paint-by-numbers colouring book app that seems to be very popular. Like many free apps, there are ads within, but that’s how they earn enough to bring their audience top-notch artwork and pay those artists for their creations. Then, they must convert the paintings into a paint-by-numbers format. I’m impressed with how well they did that with my work.

For the record, Happy Color’s usage of my work is 100% legitimate. A very nice rep from X-Flow Games contacted me over a year ago about using a selection of my work for the app. We negotiated the contract and agreed on fees, and they paid me some time ago for this use. It was a textbook professional and friendly process, and I would welcome the chance to work with X-Flow again.
As often happens with licensing, I have no idea when the company will use the images, and most of the time, I can’t talk about it until they do. Since companies don’t always keep me in the release-date loop, your emails brought the launch to my attention.

If you see my critters out there in the wild and you’re unsure if it’s legit, please don’t hesitate to email me. Sometimes, I have to deal with a breach, but most of the time, it’s on the level. But I still love to see where people find my work, as licensed products often end up in places I’ve never been.

Try out the Happy Color app! You can download it from Google Play or the Apple App Store. You can also follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Happy Colouring!

Cheers,
Patrick

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Will the real whimsical wildlife painter please stand up?

If your art becomes popular enough that people like it, share it and buy it, somebody will steal it. Some creatives stamp ugly watermarks across every image they post to try to combat this, but what’s the point if you need to go that far?

It’s not uncommon for people to remove my signature or change the wording in one of my editorial cartoons and then post it on social media with no credit or link to my site. It happens to every cartoonist. It strikes me especially funny when the alteration is so they can call a politician a liar, thief, or criminal.

Today’s word is irony.

On occasion, a company has stolen my work and offered it on an online product, usually in another part of the world. In most cases, a cease and desist is all it takes to remove it, and then they steal somebody else’s work. But in some countries, everything online is seen as free for the taking. I know artists who’ve been on vacation in Thailand and seen their work sold at roadside market stands.

If you’re shocked by this, remember that scammers bilk senior citizens out of their retirement savings every day. Humanity has more than its fair share of bottom-feeding scumbags. Art theft isn’t even close to the worst of it.
Several years ago, my friend Kathryn alerted me to a woman on Vancouver Island using my Otter painting as the logo for her business. It was on her business cards, a sidewalk sandwich board, window decals and advertising. When I called the owner on it, she said she Googled ‘royalty-free images’ and my otter came up. I asked if Mickey Mouse had come up in that search, would she think Disney would allow her to use him as her logo? My signature is still on the image on that sign! She angrily told me I was being unreasonable and said if I had been nicer, we could have come to an arrangement.

Based on such a trustworthy beginning, I clearly missed out on untold riches.

On a trip to Vancouver Island, we stopped in Ladysmith to ensure it wasn’t still going on. She’d sold the store, and my work was nowhere to be seen. That’s why I’ve blacked out the name in the photo.
Another company in the same area had my Moose and Grizzly Bear paintings on their chocolate-covered candy labels sold in a local store. The company’s owner in Eastern Canada said they’d hired a graphic designer to make the labels. He just stole my work online and passed it off as his own.

The owner apologized and said he would remove the offending images from his products.

People will frequently look down on artists for not having ‘real jobs,’ or expect us to work for free or the ever-popular ‘exposure.’ Every time I try to pay my bills with this mythical currency, companies laugh at me. I guess it’s only good for art.

For many people, art is their business; when somebody steals from your business, you must deal with them. If it’s an overseas company in a country with lax copyright laws, you could sell your house and spend it all on lawyers, and you still wouldn’t win.

You pick the hill you want to die on.

Which brings me to last week.

A woman in Nevada has been selling my artwork as her own, alongside what I can only assume is questionable CBD potions. As far as I can figure, she has purchased canvases of some of my work, likely from print-on-demand sites like Art.com, Wayfair, iCanvas, and others.

These companies were licensed to sell my work through agreements I signed when represented by Art Licensing International. I ended that relationship early last year, but these companies had contracts with the rights to sell my work until the end of their terms.

Most of those have expired, so even though you can still see my work on some sites, you can’t order it anymore. I’ll write another post later on why I don’t find those sites appealing.

Since the art thief has been doing this for a few years or longer, I suspect that’s where she got them since I don’t post high-resolution images on my site. She then applied some brushstrokes to those canvases and sold them as her original work.

At Photoshop World Las Vegas in 2014, I took a class from a New York copyright lawyer. He was an entertaining character but knew his stuff and had represented plenty of artists who’d been ripped off. His advice even saved me from a deal I worked on that very week with a couple of scammers in Calgary.

The lawyer talked about the oft-quoted 10% rule, the belief that if you change another artist’s work enough, copyright no longer applies, so that you can resell it as your own. He shared the official legal term for that rule; Bullshit.

It’s the kind of thing amateur creatives tell each other to justify stealing.

According to Canadian and United States law, an artist owns copyright to their work as soon as they create it. However, officially registering allows you to claim more financial damages when suing somebody for a breach.
From what I’ve found, she stole my Coyote, Grizzly, Black Bear, Moose, Squirrel, Peanuts and Smiling Tiger paintings, but likely more than that. While the first five are no longer bestsellers, and a couple are even retired, my Smiling Tiger and Peanuts paintings are two of my most popular, bestselling and frequently licensed images.

Stupid is as stupid does.

She advertised that she’d be showing her art all month at a venue in Nevada, complete with photos on her website, Facebook and Instagram. She removed the image from her webpage, but I saw that coming and captured screenshots. Not my first rodeo. I have blacked out some areas of the image that may unfairly implicate others.
I contacted the venue and informed them that this ‘artist,’ for lack of a better term, had stolen my work. I included several links to my site, blog posts where I wrote about the images when I had painted them, and links to companies that licensed my art. And while I told them I didn’t blame them for the infraction, I suggested they distance themselves from the offender.

The response from the venue was better than I’d hoped. They apologized (not their fault), told me they removed the canvases from their walls and even copied me on an email they sent to the fraudulent artist. In it, they told her she was no longer welcome there, and if she wanted to collect her canvases, they’d be at the local Sheriff’s office for retrieval.

She declined to pick them up.

You don’t say.

I had also contacted a friend who lives in that area and asked if she knew the place. She said she did and spoke highly of it. I don’t believe they’re complicit, and as the business is also a victim of this fraud, I see no need to name them.

I have sent emails to other events she’s advertised on her site and to markets where she has sold my work in the past, informing them of the theft and asking them to cancel her registrations.

I am not an advocate of cancel culture and trial by media. Some people don’t know what a reasonable response is, and internet vigilantism seems to have one setting: scorched earth.

That said, given what I’ve seen, she has been stealing my artwork for years. The problem is that when I searched for her online, I came across a few other legitimate artists with the same name, and I don’t want them confused with this thief. It takes very little time to cancel somebody, and it’s nearly impossible to reverse it when you’ve got the wrong person.

So, instead, I’ve shared the photos from her site. I’ve blacked out the venue name and details but left her name intact. Since references to and images of my work are still up on her Instagram and Facebook, I’m also linking to those. The artwork may be removed when you read this, as I’ll share links to this post in her comments section. She has removed my images from the front page of her website.

From a cease-and-desist email I sent her, she responded, “Patrick. I’m very sorry. I will never paint again. The paintings I have will be destroyed. Kat.”
After a whole career dealing with this kind of thing, I am firm-footed in ‘fool me twice’ territory. Her reply almost stopped me from writing this post, but she’s standing proudly in that photo with six large canvases of an art style I’ve spent years developing. And 24 hours after her apology, my work is still visible on her social media with mentions of her amazing paintings. Very sincere.

Genuinely sorry, or sorry you got caught?
If your only available settings for creating art are stealing it or not painting at all, I’m at a loss to understand why you’d bother pretending to be an artist. Choose a profession more suited to questionable morality, like federal politics.

I’m sharing this story as a cautionary tale and a teaching moment. If you’re an artist learning new skills, copying somebody else’s technique, studying their methods, and imitating other styles to find your own is part of the process. That’s what every artist does. It’s how we learn. Eventually, you get tired of being a poor copy and strive to become an original.

But don’t steal somebody else’s artwork and pass it off as your own. It’s happened to every artist I know, and it can quickly become an open wound that never heals. People will find out. Artists routinely reverse-search their own images to catch this sort of thing, though I found out about this infraction another way.

When one artist sees another ripped off, they will tell them about it because we all know how it feels. In some cases, if the artist is popular enough, their community of followers will destroy you online. I’ve seen it happen more than once. It’s brutal.

Dealing with this issue has taken way too much of my time this past week, time I’d much rather have spent painting. It should be obvious why this got bumped up on the priority list.

While I’m not happy about this situation, I’ve mellowed in my older middle age, and I’m not raging or losing sleep over this. It would be naïve for her to imagine several years of theft can be erased by three short sentences in an email, with little action to back up her supposed remorse. I don’t know how much of my artwork she sold, but I’m confident I won’t get a cheque in the mail. And anyone who bought my work from her likely won’t get refunds.

I’ll keep an eye on her to make sure she stops stealing my work, and if further evidence presents itself of ongoing fraud, I’ll make it as uncomfortable as possible for her to continue.

And if she suddenly finds a new art style (she’s done this before), you can bet I’ll do my best to let the next victim know about it and help them in any way I can.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Expo Over and Out

I returned home from The Calgary Expo around 8:30 pm on Sunday, in good spirits but very tired. Shonna spent most of the day with me at the show, and it was fun to have her there. Even though she volunteered to help me tear down, I sent her home an hour before closing so she could beat the traffic.

With an established routine, I prefer to tear down alone and had the booth disassembled and loaded into the car in two hours. Shonna had homemade pizza waiting for me when I got home. She’s so sweet.

The week after Expo is almost as busy as the week before, unloading the car and stowing the booth hardware, taking post-show inventory, updating spreadsheets and paperwork, adding new subscribers to A Wilder View, and bookkeeping.

Add in the usual daily editorial cartoons, month-end invoicing and catching up on client emails, and it doesn’t slow down a little until midweek. And I still need to email those who inquired about pet portrait commissions.

People often joke that art-for-a-living isn’t work. I usually reply to those crass comments, “You’re absolutely right. I just draw and colour all day, and people throw money at me.”
From early prep to tear down, Expo went so smoothly that I kept waiting for something bad to happen. My booth location was ideal, my neighbours were friendly, and all the vendors I spoke with seemed to have a good show.

Even the weather was good. It was a little windy and cold a couple of mornings, but walking back and forth to the hotel each day was comfortable. Considering it’s been snowing a few days this week, last week is nothing to complain about.

Though last year saw the best sales I’ve had at this show, this year was a very close second. Considering the current economy, I’m very pleased.

With the BMO Centre renovations and expansion nearing completion, the 2025 Expo will see everything together in a brand-new state-of-the-art convention centre next door rather than spread out over several halls and two buildings. It should be an exciting year.
I always come away from this show inspired to draw and paint, with an overwhelming gratitude for those who allow me to keep doing it. Like most artists, I’m an introvert who spends most of my time alone with my work, so when I meet people who enjoy it, it refills the creative tank.
During the first two hours on Thursday, I saw many regulars flood my booth. It was chaos, it was bedlam, it was awesome. The only downside was that these were all people I wanted to spend extra time with, but they all showed up at once. I had the best Thursday sales I’ve ever had, and most of those were from longtime collectors and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Paintings, Products and Prints

Postcard sets had a slow start on Thursday, but I figured out by Friday how to display them better and talk about them more. Stuff doesn’t sell itself; you must engage with people and let them know what’s available, especially if it’s something new. Magnets, stickers, and coasters continue to be popular items.
As I’ve written before, Expo is a proving ground for determining which paintings make for popular prints. While all the new paintings were well received, Highland Cow, Raven on White and Spa Day were top sellers.

Because of early feedback, I brought a lot of the Highland Cow with me, but I still sold out by Saturday morning. I have never sold that many of one print at any show. Who knew?

Process

The best part of this show is talking with people who collect my work, many of whom I now consider friends. Their feedback gives me plenty to think about, especially when it comes to what I share in A Wilder View.
One collector and friend told me that he likes my Long Neck Buds giraffes piece because I shared the different stages of the painting from start to finish. He said it made him feel part of the process. I only did that because the image was so involved and took longer than most paintings, and I still wanted to send out regular emails.

When I asked some other longtime Expo subscribers for their take on it, everyone agreed.
I had thought half-finished work might be boring, and the perfectionist part of me is reluctant to share the unpolished stages of work in progress. But from now on, you’ll see a lot more of my painting process.

Thanks again for that feedback, Sheldon.

Puzzles

With only two Sea Turtle puzzles in stock, I left them off the Expo price list and didn’t put them out because it might look a little sad. But I brought them along just in case.

When two people asked about puzzles, they liked and bought them. I’m now sold out and pleased with that whole venture. Thanks again to all who pre-ordered and bought the first round of puzzles last year and everyone who bought them online, at the Banff Christmas Markets and Calgary Expos.
I’m working on five different paintings right now, a few that feature multiple animals in the scene, and I aim to include those on future puzzles later this summer, 1000-piece options many of you have been asking for.

What’s Next?

With Expo behind me, I’m focusing on paintings in progress, future pieces on the horizon and ongoing projects. Once this round of spring snow ends, I’ll deliver a large print and sticker order to Discovery Wildlife Park as they open for the season this week.

I hope to deliver another print and sticker order to the Calgary Zoo soon, allowing me to take some spring reference photos for future paintings. I didn’t visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale last year. I plan to make up for that later this month as I take a trip south to see some eagles, owls, and hawks at their newly renovated and improved facility.

And, of course, I will kick myself in the hindquarters to replace talking about the book with working on the book…dammit. Some of my collectors don’t have any wall space left! They’ve waited long enough.

Whether you added to your collection this year at Expo or just visited me for a chat, thanks for being there. You remind me that my happy-looking critters matter to so many of you, which means more to me than you know.

Until next time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Pet Painting Perspective

Many artists aim to find a niche, the work they love to do, a signature look, and the style for which they become known. To make a living from it, it must also be something enough people want.

If there had been a formula to find that work, somebody would have made billions providing that service. It’s discovered only after throwing stuff at the wall and waiting for something to stick.

I tried many different things before I found my wildlife paintings, and while I enjoyed some of them and could likely still earn revenue from each, my best work is my funny-looking animals.

Much of the marketing and promotion advice I read about art-for-a-living talks about the need for adaptability and cultivating multiple revenue streams. In the current gig economy, where artists compete against the lowest bidder in crowdsourcing, stock imagery and AI image generation, today’s reliable income source could be tomorrow’s buggy-whip manufacturing.

Though I specialize in my whimsical wildlife paintings, that work still involves different types of clients. I sell prints and products to my customers and wholesale to retail clients. For products I can’t produce and market myself, I have licensing deals with several companies and am always looking for more. And every so often, I’ll paint a pet portrait.
I’ve been painting commissions for a long time, and though it’s a small part of my business, I enjoy them. I’ve worked with some wonderful clients, and I hope to have more like them in the future. I’m hired most often to paint dogs, but I’ve painted several cats, too. I’ve even painted a horse.
The difficulty with commission work is that, aside from advertising the work to future clients, there is no market for the finished paintings. Most people don’t want a portrait of somebody else’s dog; they want one of their own. And when I’m working on a custom painting, that’s time away from everything else. So, a commissioned painting is an investment for both the client and the artist.

But when the right client wants my art style, they understand the work involved and the value inherent in a custom painting of their own, and it’s often a great experience.

In the past, I have offered two types of paintings to my clients: a traditional portrait and my whimsical wildlife style. That’s the more exaggerated character, often near caricature rendering, of an animal with personality.

Though I have painted several traditional portrait commissions for happy clients who are delighted with the results, I prefer the whimsical style. It’s my signature work, the art I wish to be known for, and that which attracts inquiries in the first place.

I have seen countless skilled and talented artists who can paint pet portraits; many make a good living doing that. But no matter how beautifully done, I always feel traditional portraits lack something. That’s not a criticism of their expertise or art but a consequence of my perception. I see a different spark in animals, and I put that into my paintings.
Each client and commission is different, and specific details often make a painting more fun. Chase was a retired police dog in California with a titanium tooth. It was important to the client that the tooth was evident in the piece.

Santé was a memorial piece, and the client wanted her in action. That dog lived a full life of adventure. She had a stick library in the yard, so one in her mouth was important, too. Thankfully, the client had plenty of reference photos to help me create what she wanted, and we were both pleased with the finished piece.
Luna (first image above) is a ridiculously happy St. Bernard, and the client found me at the Calgary Expo a couple of years ago. In our initial discussions about the piece, I asked how he felt about my painting the classic St. Bernard in the snow with a brandy cask. It turns out Luna already had a custom-made wooden cask with her name on it, and the owner provided several great photos of it for me to work from.

I now advertise my commissions at live events with the Luna painting, and I’ve had several people ask about buying it.

My style of art is not for everybody. Hell, it’s not even for most people. We all have different tastes in art. But for those who enjoy my interpretations of animals, I want to be the guy known for this style. When somebody sees my art at a gift show, they often recognize it from somewhere else they’ve seen it, such as “We bought one of these at the Calgary Zoo.”

So, before the Calgary Expo this week, I edited the Commissions page on my site and removed the traditional pet portraits I’ve done from my portfolio. From here on, the only commissions I’ll entertain will be those who want a painting in my whimsical wildlife style because that’s the best work I do.

For any questions about my custom work, please start with the Commissions page, where you’ll find all the details, including pricing and some kind words clients have said about the experience.

If you have a furry or feathered friend you’d like to see painted in my fun, whimsical, detailed style, I’d love to work with you.

Cheers
Patrick

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Twas the Week Before Expo

As I write this, everything is going well in the run-up to my biggest show of the year. I’m almost ready to load the car and drive in for setup on the 24th.

I still have to draw twice as many editorial cartoons this week to cover my newspapers while I’m away. I’ll also want two ready to send for the morning after I get home because I’ll be too tired to draw. But that’s always part of the prep.

This always feels a little like a looming new year to me. I look back on the 12 months since the last Expo, thinking about what I got done and what I failed to deliver.

The Book

I promised myself I’d have it finished for this year. If you’ve been patiently waiting, there’s no way you’re more disappointed in me than I am in myself.

The reasons aren’t hard to decipher. There’s an imposter syndrome part of it, where if I keep procrastinating, I never have to put it out there and risk that it won’t measure up to my expectations. I’m not a deep well. This is basic psychology.

I have explained before that editorial cartooning provides a consistent monthly income, even though it’s less each year as newspapers stop using freelance work or they close entirely. But it’s hard not to prioritize reliable revenue.

My whimsical wildlife artwork continues to grow each year. Thankfully, It is now more than half my annual income, but licensing payments come in irregularly and are often late. Gift and trade shows are held at different times each year, so those, too, are inconsistent.

Though I’ve been self-employed for almost twenty years, I’m from a generation used to biweekly paycheques, and though it’s only an illusion of security, it’s difficult to dismiss.

THE BOOK (cue the Imperial March) means investing time, energy and funds into a project that may not generate revenue; if it does, it will come later. Making time to write and draw the content and learn Adobe InDesign means sacrificing drawing an editorial cartoon or a painting for immediate licensing that will generate revenue in the short term.

When I was in my early 30s, it felt like I had all the time in the world to risk and experiment. Twenty years later, it feels irresponsible, even though I know that’s yet another false perception. But I’ll continue to work to find a way to climb Bear Book Mountain, even though I know the only way to do that is one step at a time.

And, of course, I must prepare my apologies for another Expo where people (Hi, Kim!) ask me, “Did you finish your book yet?”

No. No, I haven’t. Maybe next year.

(awkward silence)

Want to buy a sticker?

A Great Show I Never See

I looked through the Expo Exhibitor List last week to see if any vendor friends were near my booth. Though it seems like they all have good spots, none are in my immediate neighbourhood, so I’ll only get to visit them briefly before the show opens each day.

When I attended this event as a ticket holder, I loved seeing the wealth of great artwork all over this show, but as a vendor, I see almost none. When the show is open, I’m there to work and can’t leave my booth.

In my early days of this show, Shonna came with me, but she’d have to take time off work. Eventually, she’d be there only on the weekend, as Saturday is especially busy, and I felt I needed help. That allowed me to leave the booth occasionally and check out the show. But it quickly became apparent that while Shonna was great at promoting and selling the work and even telling the stories behind the art, people always want to talk with the artist.

My leaving the booth for any length of time is bad for business.

I think it was 2019 when Shonna was supposed to drive in on Saturday, but a sudden whiteout snowstorm showed up, as will happen in this part of the world. The power even went out a few times. I called and told her to stay home; it wasn’t worth the risk. While only a one-hour drive from Canmore to Calgary, lousy weather makes that highway treacherous. Add in Alberta’s abundance of aggressive drivers and it was safer to stay home.

However, with her absence, I learned that I could manage the busiest day of the Expo by myself, and that was the last time I needed her to attend. Shonna has two jobs, and I never liked asking her to sacrifice her only day off each week to work at my job, too.

But last week, she surprised me and said she took Sunday off from her part-time job and wants to revisit the show and help me pack up at the end. Isn’t she sweet? I’m looking forward to her being there.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t snow.

What’s New This Year?

Every year, I have a loyal group of supporters who add to their collections. A few of them even volunteer to watch the booth for me if I need a bathroom break. Such nice people!

This year, I’ll have the usual magnets, coasters and stickers, a lot of large metal prints and some canvas, and new postcard sets, too!

The most popular offering, however, is always the 11”x14” poster prints, and I bring hundreds of them. This year, there are over 50 different animal paintings available. It’s always flattering and amusing when people flip through the bins and ask each other, “Do we already have this one?”

A couple of years ago, one of my favourite collectors flipped through the bin like he was looking through hockey cards or comic books and joked, “Got it, got it, got it, need it, got it, got it, need it.”

So, before this year’s show, whether they’re already up or waiting their turn on your wall, take a moment and remind yourself which prints you already have. But hey, if you buy a duplicate, you can always gift it to somebody else. Just sayin’.

To help plan this year’s print acquisitions, here are the nine new pieces I have painted since the last Expo. I’m bringing prints of all of them, but if you can’t make it to Expo, they’re already available in the store. A reminder that all prints are hand-signed and it’s Free Shipping on orders over $48. Check them out!

I don’t include a title or my website on the actual prints, just my signature. And I have lost count of how many times people tell me the prints look so much better in person than they do on the screen. I wholeheartedly agree that my Victoria printer, Art Ink Print, does a fantastic job.

This event has become a proving ground for my latest work, and it’s often where I find out which prints will become popular and discover if perhaps my next bestseller is among this year’s creations.

I’m excited to find out.

Cheers,
Patrick

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You’ll Find Me at The Calgary Expo

As I write this, Calgary Expo 2024 is a little over two weeks away, April 25-28, 2024.

100,000 people attend over four days, one of the biggest events of its kind in North America. It occupies Exhibit Halls B, C, D, E, and F of the BMO Centre, plus an entire floor of The Big Four Building for Artist Alley.

While still a lot of work, I have a decade of experience with this show, so it’s not as stressful as it used to be. Prep starts on the last day of each Expo, putting down a deposit for the next one. More deposits follow throughout the year, hotel booking in December, following the same steps that lead right up to booking my electrical, parking and insurance, which I did just last week.

This weekend, Shonna and I opened up the first metal prints of my latest paintings, and that’s always fun. A painting never feels finished until I see it in print, as that’s when my work looks its best.

I bring hundreds of prints to this event, and they’re all here. I need to sign the latest order of 60 prints and assemble many more this week with backer board, art bios, and sleeves.

Vinyl stickers and postcard sets are ready, but I’m still awaiting a magnet and coaster order. I hope that shows up soon.

Over the next week, I’ll review my booth hardware, check grid walls, lights, tables, backdrops, banners, and the rest of the detailed checklist. Living out of a Calgary hotel for five days, working long late hours, there’s no chance of driving home if I forgot something.

Here’s the map of the BMO Centre and where you will find me this year.
In 2022, my booth location was up in the air until the day of the show, and it was stressful. At first, I didn’t get the type of booth I booked and I needed to address that. Following that, when I got there, one list said I was in one spot and another in a different spot. I couldn’t even unload my car. While I empathized with the organizers’ difficulty trying to please everybody, I still paid a premium for my corner booth, and I had to become the squeaky wheel with emails during the week leading up to the show. I am sure I annoyed the organizers when I became frustrated and could no longer be patient and keep quiet.

Even though that show began rough, it worked out well and was an excellent year for me.

I don’t recall ever having a bad booth placement, but some years have been better than others. As the show evolves each year, the layout often changes. Last year, they assigned my booth outside the main hall, where I’d been since my first year, to an adjacent hall near the Main Stage. I was at first disappointed but decided to make the best of it without complaint.

In yet another example of ‘got what I needed instead of what I wanted,’ last year’s placement turned out to be one of my best. As the Main Stage was a big draw throughout the show every day, there was plenty of traffic. I also heard that the main hall was crowded on Saturday and people needed extra time to get anywhere.

As vendors book for the following year on the show’s last day, I asked the Show Manager if I could request that hall again, and he seemed a little surprised. I explained that it was my best sales ever, and he told me to write down the request on my application and they would do their best. This was the same manager I had a minor conflict with the year before regarding the booth issue, so last year, I made every effort to be as friendly and pleasant as possible in every interaction with him. Had I done any damage to my relationship with the organizers, I wanted to do my part to repair it.

If somebody promises a service or product and fails to deliver on agreements, you should hold them to account and argue for what you paid for. It can quickly become a pattern if you don’t, especially if somebody gets used to your rolling over. But if someone tries to do right by you and correct their errors, that’s all you can ask. We too often fail to realize that everybody’s job is difficult. People make mistakes.

As the show grows closer each year, waiting for my booth placement is a bit of a nail-biter. Some years, it has come only a week before the show. An unexpected placement can mean redesigning the whole booth at the 11th hour.

This weekend, my booth assignment email arrived, and I quickly scanned the attached PDF floor plan. I started at last year’s location and saw that I didn’t get the same spot, which was OK because I knew it was a long shot. But I hoped it would be nearby.

I quickly found my booth number and breathed a sigh of relief. From what I know of this show, this year’s placement looks ideal, even better than last year’s.
Two more aisles of booths are in that hall this year, so it looks like a bigger show. Between the Main Hall and the Main Stage Hall is a corridor through which all traffic comes and goes. My corner booth is at the end of an aisle, within easy view of everyone coming through that corridor. Below was my booth design last year and it worked so well that I will use the same one this year, only reversed, and with a bunch of new artwork, of course.
The organizers are likely pulling their hair out two weeks out, trying to get everything done. No doubt, when they announce booth placements, they receive emails from people who didn’t get what they wanted or those politicking for a last-minute change.

Though we all get too many emails these days, I sent them a quick Thank You. At least they’ll get one that lets them know their efforts are appreciated.

Before I was an exhibitor at the Calgary Expo, I was an enthusiastic attendee. It’s a fun, family-friendly event for all ages and a real circus-like spectacle. I have rarely encountered anyone at this show who wasn’t having a good time or happy to be there. It’s just that kind of vibe and a professional and personal highlight of my year.

Advance tickets are on sale until midnight on April 10th. Hope to see you there.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

 

 

 

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A Solitude on This Side of Fifty

Most years, I’d rather let my birthday go unnoticed, and thankfully, I married someone who feels the same way about hers. If someone mentioned having a birthday ‘party’ for me, my first thought would be, “What the hell did I ever do to you?”

Given my nature, it’s no mystery why birthdays make me melancholy. Another year older with not enough accomplished. Dwelling on past mistakes or missed opportunities is an unhealthy perspective and does nothing good for the mind or soul, but we’re all human. We feel what we feel.

This side of 50, I no longer tolerate cheap-seat criticism for who I am, especially from those who wouldn’t take it from me. I’ve heard this sentiment called the Fuck-It Fifties, and I have embraced that. A wise philosopher once said, “I yam what I yam and dats all that I yam.”

As my 53rd birthday approached, I still felt low after a long, dark winter. Rather than stay home, brood and make Shonna’s weekend miserable, I decided to get away by myself. She had no objection.

While friends and I have rented a cabin a few times a year in the Central Alberta foothills, I associate that place with social gatherings, games, music, late nights, and sharing spirits of the bottled variety.
But on the northern border of that same property, nestled beside secluded wetlands, there is another cabin. It’s one room, one bed, solar power for lights, an outhouse, no water and no noise. It’s at the end of a road, behind a gate on private property.

Cooking is outside on a propane stove and tabletop BBQ. The only heat is from a wood stove and you bring your own bedding. Were it not for the comfort and unique personality of the place, it’s a stone’s throw from camping.

I brought my camera, guitar, books, writing and drawing tools and told myself I’d be open to what happens, intending to let go and relax. It took very little time, however, to realize that I had also brought myself on this getaway, and that’s not how I roll.

The usual 2.5-hour drive from Canmore took longer because of a spring snow event. Had I seen a video of the white-knuckle experience I was in for, I would have stayed home. But once I arrived and pried my fingers from the steering wheel, I was glad to be there.
While shovelling snow, I scared a snowshoe hare out from under the deck, and I took that as a good sign. I wanted to see wildlife, even though this critter did not want to see me.

After I unloaded my stuff, I sat on the couch, took a deep breath and thought, “Now what?”

At home, I prefer long days working alone, but I never have a shortage of things to do to occupy my time and mind. We all have nasty demons that remind us of our failures, regrets, and shortcomings. When you find yourself alone with nothing to distract you, their voices become louder. As the man said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
The property owners have become friends over the years, and I like to visit them. While on my daily wanders, I walked up to their place a couple of times, a 5-6 km round trip from where I was staying, as I had no interest in taking the shortest route.

I confessed Friday afternoon that I felt a little low, a confusing realization since I know and enjoy this place. Sitting in the cabin alone, looking at the beautiful view, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Karen said it often takes people at least 24 hours to get used to the solitude. She shared that one woman, another artist, booked a cabin for three nights and left after one day because she couldn’t handle being alone in the quiet.

I felt sorry for that stranger but didn’t judge her because I understood. On the walk back to the cabin, I wished she’d given herself a little more time.

By Friday evening, after dinner, I was past my own discomfort and genuinely began to relax. I sat at the small table, looking out at the falling snow, well into a book I’d wanted to read for a while. I made a big mug of tea, put more wood on the fire and that’s how I spent the rest of my evening.

For the remainder of the weekend, I played guitar, read my book, and sat quietly on the deck in the sunshine. I went to bed when I felt like it, got up early before the sun, and wandered the property with my camera.
Free to roam more than 300 acres of pasture, wetlands, and forest, I walked close to 20km over 72 hours in snow and sunshine. It was peaceful and very pretty.

People see moose here, walking right by the cabin. I saw one in the distance years ago. On previous visits, I’ve seen owls, deer, and coyotes several times. Even though I know that wildlife doesn’t punch a clock, I hoped for an encounter or two.
In the new fallen snow, fresh moose, coyote, deer and rabbit tracks were all over the place, many of them just hours old. I heard the coyotes at night and in the morning, and that was nice. It’s one of my favourite sounds. I listened to an owl calling two nights in a row. But all I saw were little birds flying here and there, a few ravens, a couple of geese, and that scared little bunny when I first arrived.

I didn’t even see a squirrel.
I know professional photographers who spend great amounts of time, energy and money to get to remote places, park themselves in a blind, right next to a game trail for hours and days on end, and often come home with little or nothing to show for it.

But I’ll confess to feeling a little insulted. When you paint personality in whimsical wildlife, you end up with a warped sense of expectation regarding actual wildlife. Come on, I thought we were friends, here.

Upon reflection, had I seen and photographed cooperative critters, I would have undoubtedly spent hours going through them on my iPad. I would have made some edits, considered possible paintings, and wrote something about the experience, and I would have edited that, too. Suddenly, I’d be working.

So, perhaps I got what I needed, instead of what I wanted.

On the perfect sunny drive home on dry roads with light traffic, I had time to reflect and was content with the experience. I spent my birthday by myself, without anyone telling me how I should be celebrating it. I got up early, as I prefer, without walking on eggshells for fear of waking anybody up, which is often the case on cabin visits with friends. I played guitar and sang, fumbled with chord changes, learning songs I didn’t know, without intruding on anyone else’s peace and quiet.

I asked no permission, made no apologies, and had no schedule or agenda. And though it took me a day to settle into it, I now wish I could have stayed longer.

Maybe next time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Wishes

If you’re like me, bombarded daily with negative news and polarized opinions, this noisy world can become overwhelming. It bothers me, and I often wonder, “Why are people so mean to each other?”

As a species, we’re primed to pay attention to this stuff, which feels like an immediate threat. Not only do we focus on the worst of our behaviour, we feel compelled to share it with others. And when everybody shares bad news, it seems like that’s all there is.

Though I’m not on social media anymore, I’m as guilty as the next person. I’m fully invested in the negative bias that we’re all strapped into the proverbial handbasket, picking up speed on a steep downhill. Is it getting hot in here?

While editorial cartooning requires me to follow the news, I also spend much of my time painting whimsical wildlife that makes people happy. I know this because collectors and subscribers tell me so. And when I get to share that work in person at Christmas markets and the upcoming Calgary Expo, I see the evidence for myself.

At market events, a steady stream of people walks by my booth for hours on end. They might be talking to each other, looking at their phones, pointing at things, or absent-mindedly scanning their surroundings. But often, when their eyes find my work, they stop and smile. Over several days at a market, I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I see the same phenomenon.
It’s a moment of connection between my funny-looking animals and people I’ve never met. I love watching it happen, and it is a reminder that something I created made somebody else’s day a little better, if only for a moment. In a world that often seems nasty, with people intent on highlighting our worst qualities, I create art that makes people smile. I often forget that, but when I do remember, I’m grateful for this ability.

You can change yourself, but you can’t change other people. You can influence them, though, for better or worse.

It can be as simple as holding a door or letting someone go ahead of you in line, offering to take somebody’s photo for them when they’re struggling with an awkward selfie, being courteous on a shared bike/pedestrian path, or putting away your phone and giving somebody your full attention.
If you know me well, all this might sound hypocritical. I struggle with seeing the good in the world, which often puts me in a dark mood. But just like a smoker knows the habit is unhealthy, it’s worth the effort to try to cut back and eventually quit.

Because even though I’m not always a fan of our species, I know that life is hard for everybody. We’ve all got stuff we’re dealing with and can get so caught up in our own issues that we forget others are struggling, too. Empathy is a skill and a choice.
So, to spread some positive feelings around, I created these Wilder Wishes images you see here, from some of my paintings. If you like them, send one in an email or text it to someone who might need a lift. Share one on social media or wherever you want. Or print them for yourself to stick on your fridge or desk.

You can save each of these images from this post or download all five from this Dropbox link.
If one of these happy faces makes the day a little brighter, for you or somebody else, then that makes mine better, too. Sometimes, you’ve got to give a smile to get one back.

Have a good week,
Patrick

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Spa Day

This painting has been rattling around in my noggin for some time. I think I first had the idea at the Calgary Zoo when I saw Skoki, the grizzly bear, sitting in one of his ponds, playing with something floating on the water.

I had taken photos at the time, hoping for some good reference, but while they didn’t give me what I needed, the idea stuck. I have more reference photos of brown bears than anything else, thanks to the time I’ve spent at Discovery Wildlife Park and I used several bears for reference for this painting.

That made it more challenging with different angles and lighting, as did painting wet fur rather than dry and fuzzy. I’ll admit that I didn’t think I could pull it off for much of this painting. It didn’t look half decent to me until several hours in, but that often happens when I paint these critters.

As the man said (often falsely attributed to Churchill), “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Eventually, it comes together, the personality shows up, and it turns into an enjoyable pursuit rather than a frustrating one. What was at first a slog, seeming like hours of no progress, ended up to be work I didn’t want to stop.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of painting grizzly bears.

Cheers,
Patrick