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A Portrait of John Dutton

When I’m not drawing and distributing daily syndicated editorial cartoons, I’m painting whimsical wildlife portraits for prints and licensing. Add in the usual office administration, marketing, writing and everything else that goes along with self-employment, and that’s pretty much how I spend my days.

However, I enjoy painting portraits of people, most often characters from movies. I usually make the time for a couple of these a year, but I’ve only managed this one in 2021.

I’ve often mentioned that I paint these when I’m feeling the need to reconnect to art for art’s sake or when I’m in a low place creatively, but thankfully I’m not feeling that this year. The whole year has been low for obvious reasons, and I just felt like painting a portrait.

I have no interest in painting the publicity or paparazzi headshots of movie stars or celebrities. The less I know about the gossip or their personal lives, the better. Instead, I’m more interested in the characters they play. Those characters are created by skilled writers, directors, and gifted actors, including the supporting cast and professional crews that bring it all together.

When I painted Quint from Jaws, it wasn’t just the actor Robert Shaw I was painting, but the character he inhabited, written by Peter Benchley, directed by Stephen Spielberg and brought to life in a scene with Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.

I love movies, but we’re living in an age with great television, too, with plenty of writing and acting that can easily go up against any Academy award-winning film.

One of the shows I’ve enjoyed most in recent years is Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. Written and often directed by Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone chronicles the lives of a generational ranching family in Montana, led by the patriarch, John Dutton.

It’s simply a great show, but not for the faint of heart. If you’ve got issues with language, violence, nudity, sex, lawlessness, smoking, gambling, alcohol, and more, you should seek your entertainment elsewhere.

There are no flawless heroes here. Instead, it’s a family of broken people, each with their dark pasts and demons. One moment they’re prey, the next predators, and you’re never quite sure when they’re right or wrong. But with incredible writing, scenery, and rich characters played by a stellar cast, it’s never dull. I am fulfilled and disappointed after each episode because I must wait a week for the next one.

But I’m glad they dole it out. If they released the season all at once, we’d easily gorge ourselves on it in a few days.

I realized that I wanted to paint John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, about the middle of last season. Tough as nails, Dutton tries to keep his ranch and family together, while outside interests plot to take it away from him, piece by piece. Even though he knows he’s fighting a losing battle against progress and the future, he won’t resign himself to his inevitable fate.

As often happens when I want to paint other characters, I won’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. Near the end of last season, there’s a scene where Dutton is sitting on his porch, and he looks off to the horizon in the fading light. The moment clicked with me, and I had found my reference, thanks to Cinematographer Ben Richardson’s lighting and cameras.

I painted the scene more sepia tone than the reference, with more contrast, making my own choices for the painting. I like to be inspired by moviemakers and their vision, but I don’t want to create a carbon copy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I started this painting in July, and I worked on it for a couple of hours here and there whenever I could find the time. I had planned to have it done before the fourth season began this month, but the paying gigs always take priority. So this past week, I put in the last ten or so hours over a few days. With no deadline, there was no reason to rush it, but I also didn’t want this painting to last for too much longer. As much as I loved the work, the best part is calling it done.

If you’re already a Yellowstone fan, I hope you like my rendering of this great character.

If you haven’t yet seen the show, I envy you. You get to start at the beginning with almost four seasons of great storytelling ahead of you.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Flight or Fancy

When you create art for a hobby, it doesn’t matter how you spend your time. It’s an escape, a leisurely pursuit. You can read about art, sketch, watch videos, take courses, visit galleries, or attend workshops or clubs devoted to the same goals. You can doodle for an hour, then throw it in the recycling.

But when art is your work, how you spend your time and energy is directly related to your income. If you’re not making art that sells, you’re risking your financial security. Bill collectors don’t take good intentions as payment, nor do they accept the absence of a creative spark as an excuse.

Anyone who has ever held any job knows what it’s like to have a horrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling unmotivated to do anything. But you haul your ass out of bed and go to work anyway. Because your boss is unlikely to accept “I’m just not feeling inspired today” as a valid reason for not showing up.

Talk to anyone in a creative field who does it for a living, and they’ll tell you that waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals get to work, even when they don’t feel like it. Art for a living is no different. You stick to a schedule, show up every day, and you do the work, even when you don’t want to.

But just as people in many fields go away for conferences, take additional training in the latest techniques, or keep up to date on industry literature to remain competitive, artists also need to make time for the unquantifiable.

The only way to improve on skills is to invest in them, even when it feels like you’re not getting any work done.

Whenever I start a new painting, my intent is most often to create a production piece. If it’s a painting of an animal, I want the result to be a print or an image for licensing, something that goes into the inventory to generate future income.

On occasion, I’ll make room for a character portrait for my own enjoyment (I’m working on one right now), but when it comes to the whimsical wildlife, I don’t often make time for sketching, or experiments, or ‘let’s try something and see what happens.’

But I should.

Even though I never went to art school, I know enough from talking to artists who have, that sketching and playing around is essential. It’s where you find your happy accidents, those unexpected gems that pop up simply from drawing for fun or practice.

My Grizzly, the very first whimsical wildlife painting in 2009, was an experiment. I was trying something new to see what might happen, and it eventually changed my entire career, leading me to the work I enjoy most.

It’s an easy bad habit to get into, judging the art I create to be only as valuable as its revenue. But, unfortunately, that’s a short-sighted view of what has been a long career and will hopefully continue to be.This eagle-in-flight could have become a production piece, but I got to a point where I realized that even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like taking it any further. It was good practice; I recorded it, so I get to show another time-lapse, but this is as far as I’m taking it. It’s more than a sketch but less than my usual hyper-detailed renderings. Click here or on the image to see the full sized piece and the 2-minute video.

I’m going to accept that it was a practice piece and creative time well spent.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Made in the Mountains

I signed up late for The Mountain Made Christmas Market at the Canmore Civic Centre, but since I had the stock, the time, and it was close to home, I couldn’t think of a reason not to give it a try.

As it was a six-foot table space rather than a 10 x 10 booth, and I haven’t used any of my hardware and displays since April of 2019, I set it up in my garage last week to figure out how I wanted it to look. With setup time limited on-site, you don’t want to experiment and solve problems in the final moments before the doors open.

Usually, these events have vendors packed tightly together, but with distancing rules, there were 2m between booths and a building capacity limit, including those behind the tables. So while it meant fewer vendors could attend, it didn’t feel crowded, and we had breathing room. Behind masks, of course.

If you’ve followed my work for a while, you know I’m most comfortable working on editorial cartoons or paintings in my office. I know a lot of artist introverts, seems to go with the profession. We’re good with one or two other people, but crowds sap our energy.

And yet, I didn’t realize how much I missed the interaction at these things.

The show hours were 10-4, and I had a prime corner in the main lobby. With a couple of hours setup on Saturday before opening, restocking on Sunday morning, and an hour of tear-down at the end, it was just a couple of eight-hour days. I even got some painting time in at home in the morning before heading to the venue. Some of these shows have long hours without a break, all day, every day. So I come home exhausted after five days at The Calgary Expo.

Getting to know the other vendors is usually enjoyable. Sometimes you can have a conflict, especially if a neighbour starts pushing into your space, but it’s most often a cooperative, friendly environment. When possible, we help each other out with forgotten supplies, keeping an eye on tables for bathroom breaks, taking orders for coffee runs, chatting during the slow periods, and learning about what each of us does.

Before the pandemic, I only did one or two shows a year. The daily editorial cartoon deadlines prohibit a lot of travelling. Some of these vendors make their entire living doing the gift, craft, and trade show circuit, and they’re pros at it. They’ve got setup and travel down to a science. When it comes to farmer’s markets, some of them go four or five days a week in different locations, a lot of time spent on the road.

While I only had a five-minute drive back to my house on Sunday after tear-down, one of my neighbours was still packing up before her four-hour drive back to Fernie, BC.

Halfway through Saturday, I realized I was having a good time. I’ve written about this before, but I love it when people are surprised by my wall of funny-looking animals. Even behind masks, the positive reaction is obvious.

It’s a good feeling to make people smile, especially since the past year and a half has seen so little of that.

I’ll often have to invite people to come closer, telling them it’s OK, my critters don’t bite. Their hands come up as they point out different ones to their companions. Because I had over 45 different images at the show, with no way to put them all on canvas on the wall behind me, I invite people to flip through the bin of poster prints, assuring them they’re all different.

I get the same questions all the time, and I’m happy to answer them.

“Are you the artist?”

“Did you paint all of these?

“How do you do this?”

And I hear the same comments, without complaint.

“They’ve got such personality!”

“They look cartoony…but real.”

“I love these.”

Yeah, that last one never gets old. Even if people don’t buy anything, it’s comforting that my work helped distract them from their troubles for at least a moment or two. Not a bad way to measure success.

Sales far exceeded expectations, and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. What people buy in different places and times of year never fails to surprise me. While prints like the Otter and Smiling Tiger always sell well, people have their favourite animals or a friend who loves owls, cows, or moose. So one person buys a rat, the next person a hippo, and the one after that a Ring-tailed Lemur who’s not quite all there.

But two popular standouts at this show were the Winter Wolf and the Sea Turtle, both newer paintings.

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8X10 aluminum prints and ceramic coasters were big sellers at this show, and I sold out of calendars. Those are all made by Pacific Music & Art, and I’ve already placed a resupply order. I’m adding the Sea Turtle, Winter Wolf and a few others to aluminum art for the next time around.

There will be another two-day Mountain Made Christmas Market at the Civic Centre on December 11th and 12th and a one-day Last Minute Market on December 18th. As this was such a positive experience, I’ve registered for both. This was an enjoyable event because the organizer, Julian, set the right tone and did a fine job of putting everything together. In addition, the Town of Canmore’s building monitor, Maurice, was ridiculously helpful and courteous, and we let him know how appreciated that was.

We’re often quick to point out when others fall short but fail to tell them when they’ve done a great job. People need to hear it, to let them know that it matters.

Now, please don’t get excited and think I’ve found my long-lost Christmas spirit or anything.

Having just endured two back-to-back elections in Alberta, plus the last year and a half of uncertainty and stress, it was nice to talk with people without the whole conversation revolving around politics, the pandemic, and polarized opinions.

Thanks to all of you who signed up for A Wilder View at the show. Chris S. won the calendar and sticker draw, and I’ve already delivered it to him. I enjoyed chatting with all of you, and I welcome your feedback, so don’t be shy about leaving a comment on a blog post or sending me an email from time to time.

Coming up next week, I’ll have a new desktop/device wallpaper download for all subscribers. I think you’ll really like this one. It’s one of my favourite paintings, and I hope it will put a smile on your face, even if I don’t get to see it in person.

Until next time, thanks for being here.

Cheers,
Patrick.

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A Light on the Darkness

Sometime in the late 90s, my grandmother and her husband were clearing out some things, and my Dad acquired a Nazi flag that John had brought back from World War II. My father thought it was an interesting artifact, but it spent the next several years in a plastic Hudson’s Bay shopping bag in their basement.

Years later, it came up in conversation while visiting my folks. As Shonna and I are both interested in the period, and I had been reading Richard J. Evans’ Third Reich Trilogy, we asked if we could see it.

I volunteered to do some research and eventually try to find a place for it in a museum. My mother was glad to have it out of the house. For the past few years, it sat in our basement, tucked away on a shelf, folded up in the same Hudson’s Bay bag.

It’s a square flag made of canvas, well stitched, 2 feet on each side. It’s red with a white circle in the middle, containing a black swastika, the traditional Nazi flag with which we’re all familiar. Three sides have gold collared braided fringe. The top edge has three sets of evenly spaced canvas ties.

There are dark stains on one side. It would be easy to imagine that it’s blood, making for a better story, but I suspect it’s likely grease or rust.

I’ll only share a photo of the corner of the flag. I don’t want somebody to Google my name and have a Nazi swastika come up in the images, alongside my editorial cartoons and whimsical wildlife paintings.

In our current online culture of ‘shoot first, ask questions never,’ my art career would likely be damaged or concluded faster than I could say, “wait a minute, I can explain.”

So you’ll have to use your imagination.

My research revealed that this flag was most likely a banner tied to a fanfare trumpet or bugle. There were similar banners online, but I failed to find an exact match.

When I came to the end of my desire for specifics, I turned my attention to finding an appropriate place for it. There is a brisk online trade in these items, but for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain, I didn’t want to make any money on this artifact, given its dark past. Nor did I wish to keep it.

It’s a cliché to say that those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.

If we discard these artifacts, it makes it easier to forget. The sacrifices made to stop Hitler and the Third Reich, the millions murdered in concentration camps, and the lives destroyed in World War II become statistics, without other means of refreshing our collective memory.

Despite the historical weight of this banner, it’s not a rare piece. Soldiers bring home war souvenirs, and their children and grandchildren find themselves the inheritors of these items, with no idea what to do with them.

I offered this piece to the Holocaust Museum in Ontario, the Military Museums in Calgary and the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta. Unfortunately, each declined the offer because they either didn’t have space or had enough similar artifacts.

If I couldn’t find a place for it, I was ready to burn it, but that presented another problem. We live in a townhouse condo complex with no firepits. I could take it with me to the cabin we occasionally rent or on a camping trip, but my overactive imagination doesn’t have to work hard to picture it found in my belongings after a collision. Or perhaps somebody walks by while I’m unfolding the banner at a campsite, quick to record a video on their phone.

A couple of weeks ago, while browsing the morning news stories looking for cartoon ideas, I came across an article. Someone discovered that an Ontario man had displayed several Nazi artifact images on Facebook some years ago. He was in a position of authority on a hospital board and was called upon to explain the photos. His motives unclear, the conclusion was that he showed poor judgment for a person in his position, resulting in his dismissal.

The journalist sought the opinion of Valerie Hébert, Ph.D., an associate professor of history with Lakehead University in Orillia. Dr. Hébert is an expert in Holocaust education.

Figuring she would have some solid advice for me, I sent her an email explaining my dilemma.

Dr. Hébert provided links and options for me but also cautioned that there are “expenses that go along with authenticating, restoring, accessioning, and storing items. If what you offer duplicates something they already have or doesn’t fit with the goals of their collection, they may turn it down. It seems strange to us that historical artefacts would be refused, but so it goes.”

However, at the end of her reply, she presented me with an option I hadn’t considered.

“Should these places decline the donation, but you still wish for it to be preserved, I could use it in my teaching. I teach a 2-semester course on the Holocaust, and a 2-semester course on the Hitler state in alternating years. I would not display the banner in my office but would bring it out in the classroom. Few of my students have personal connections to this period in history and I know from my use of other artefacts that the item itself can make this history come alive in compelling and constructive ways.  I think the banner would also work well to prompt discussion around what we should do with sensitive historical artefacts, particularly those which symbolize such terrible human suffering.”

It didn’t take long to decide that this would be the best use for the banner, and I told Dr. Hébert that I would be happy to send it to her at my expense. It arrived this week.

History is replete with examples of monuments, artifacts and valuable manuscripts destroyed by conquering armies and short-sighted governments. While one might look at the atrocities committed by the Nazis and think it best to wipe it clean from our memory, there is no better teacher than our past mistakes.

One need only look to the rise of the Trump administration in the United States, the misinformation tactics, the artful sowing of division and hatred to see how a culture can become quickly divided and pit against each other. The events of World War II did not happen because of one man’s ambition for conquest and genocide; it happened because the populace not only allowed it, but supported it.

We see it on Facebook, Twitter and in the Comments sections of myriad news and fake news sites, polarized opinions turning people against each other. We surround ourselves with those who agree with us and paint everybody who doesn’t as the enemy, defining ourselves by our politics at the expense of our humanity and empathy.

My father served 31 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. His three brothers served, as did their father. My mother’s parents both served, as did her three brothers.

I grew up as a base brat, spending ten years of my youth in West Germany. I spent five years in the Reserves, and Shonna was in for three, which is where we met.

You could say that the military was the family business, though I decided on a different path. It says a lot about Canada that I grew up in a family where we followed orders, and my Dad worked for the government, but my profession involves calling out that government for its current failures.

I can draw an unflattering caricature of the Prime Minister, criticize his decisions and leadership, without worrying that thugs in jackboots might break down my door in the middle of the night and take me away for re-education. Or worse.

That’s freedom. And we take it for granted.

I visited Dachau concentration camp on a school trip. I have looked upon the ironwork sign that reads, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” I have seen the hundreds of boots and shoes preserved behind glass, the photos of real people so emaciated it was a wonder they were still alive. I have seen the ovens.

It had a profound effect on me and still gives me chills. It’s supposed to.

Words on a page do not carry the same weight as seeing the evidence in person, holding it in your hands, considering its history, allowing it to make you uncomfortable so that it is never allowed to happen again.

That’s why I didn’t want the banner destroyed.

That’s why we remember.

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© Patrick LaMontagne

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Mountain Made Christmas Market

I haven’t done this event in a few years, but when I saw it advertised last week, it got me thinking. It’s a small local market, which makes it easy to do last minute. I have plenty of prints, coasters, calendars, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and magnets in stock. It’s a six foot table, rather than a 10 x 10 booth, so setup will be rather simple; much like my first setup years ago at the Calgary Expo, with the benefit of a lot more experience. With the new location at The Civic Centre, it will be right downtown, inviting for walk-in traffic. As they still had space for me, I think it will be well worth my time.

And it gets me out of the house.

Late last year, with no shows on the horizon, I surrendered my credit/debit machine back to Moneris to save on the monthly rental fee. With the worldwide tech shortage and shipping delays, I wondered if I’d be able to get a terminal in time. But I ordered it on Friday and it arrived on Monday. It’s incredible that not long ago, cash was king at this kind of market. But today, with plenty of companies in the mix, it’s easy for anyone to take credit cards, debit, chip-insert, tap, Apple and Google Pay, all through a separate terminal connected via Bluetooth to an app on your phone, with funds deposited directly into your bank account.

As that was the only minor hurdle, I’m back in business and looking forward to spending the weekend meeting new people and introducing them to my work.

If you’re out and about in Canmore this weekend, stop by to take a look, or to just say Hello.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Whimsical Wildlife Furniture

While I find it hard to put into words the joy I get from painting my whimsical wildlife, it’s even more gratifying that many others like it as well.

Art is a personal thing. What pushes one person’s buttons might solicit a dismissive ‘meh’ from somebody else. Whether movies, music, painting, drawing, writing, dance, cooking, or myriad other creative pursuits a person can explore, there are more than 7.7 billion people on the planet, each with different gears that make them tick.

My funny-looking animals aren’t for everybody, but they do have a following. And for that, I’m grateful.

( I’m going to apologize in advance if I get any of the following details wrong, Brian. It’s been a weird year, and my memory files might be a little corrupted. )

Brian signed up for A Wilder View at the beginning of this year, but I don’t know when he discovered my work. However, I know that he really likes it, and his kids do, too. Brian has called me a couple of times after finding my work in stores, looking for more.

I know that he has masks, coffee mugs, and other items, but he recently told me he was working on a special project featuring my artwork. You see, Brian is building a coffee table for his son, with a tiled top. What makes this a unique art project is that the tiled surface consists of trivets featuring my paintings.

Brian had already purchased a handful of trivets he found in stores, but he needed a lot more and wanted to know if I could make that happen for him. Since the trivets come from Pacific Music & Art, and I knew that the owner, Mike, would be as intrigued by this project as I was, I put them in touch.

Mike assured me he would help Brian bring his project to life.
Earlier this week, Mike was in Alberta and Saskatchewan visiting retailers and vendors, and family in Calgary. While there, he met up with Brian to deliver his order of 25 more trivets for the table. It was the first ceramic printing for some of the newer paintings.

On his way back to Victoria, Mike met with some retailers in Canmore, and he and I got together to catch up. He shared these photos of Brian’s project so far, and Brian graciously allowed me to share them. The picture shows a rough mock-up, and Brian said the finished project would look different.
That means I can look forward to sharing more photos later, and hopefully, I’ll get to take those myself if I see the finished piece in person. The whole project is incredibly flattering.

Over the years, people have sent me photos of their collections of prints, wearing face masks in different locations, coffee mugs on desks, displays from retail shops and countless messages from all over the world, talking about my funny-looking animal paintings. It always makes my day and motivates me to keep painting more. Thanks for that.

If you’ve got your own photos or stories to share with me, don’t be shy. I’m happy to receive them and would love to share them with others, too.

Cheers,
Patrick

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One More

One of the reasons I enjoy taking my own reference photos for paintings is that the animals often surprise me.

When I began painting these critters, before I took my own photos, I’d often have a pose in mind, and I’d go looking for it on the internet. I’d eventually find something I liked, but it would often look similar to the pose I used for a previous painting of a different animal.

If it were a stock photo, I’d pay the licensing fee for reference. Failing that, I’d contact the photographer, arrange for a high-res image and pay or barter for the use.

Australian photographer Scott Portelli allowed me to use his underwater photo for my Humpback Whale painting in exchange for a rolled canvas of the finished piece. Moose Peterson allowed the use of several of his animal images in exchange for my drawing a caricature of him and a business partner for a course they taught. We already had a connection through Photoshop World, so he was familiar with my work.

I paid a U.S. park warden $100 for his photo I found online for my first Wolf painting. He confessed surprise at my offering to pay since that image had been stolen and published illegally more times than he could count.

The problem with online reference photos is that I know that no matter what I find, there’s a good chance another artist has used the same image. Certainly, I’ll paint it with my spin and style, and it won’t look the same as another artist’s work, but it will undoubtedly share similarities.

By taking my own photos, it stands a better chance of being unique.

On a recent visit to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, I had another opportunity to take photos of their black bears during their presentation to the public. As I’ve known the keepers and staff for several years, they allow me into the large enclosures with them, though I’m behind a hot-wire. It’s an electric fence about a foot off the ground that the animals avoid, for obvious reasons. The keepers, however, interact up close and personal with the bears.

These animals are all orphans and rescues who came to the facility under conditions prohibiting their release into the wild. Many of them have been raised here since they were very young. They receive exemplary care and clearly have an affectionate relationship with their caregivers.

The keepers use the bear presentations each day to educate the public about wildlife. They teach how to be bear-aware while hiking, what to do if you encounter a black bear or grizzly in the wild, how to use bear spray, and keep a clean campsite so that the local fauna doesn’t learn to associate people with food.

The hope is that by educating the public, fewer orphans will end up in captivity, remaining in the wild where they belong.

One of those rescues is a big black bear named Gruff. With a genial and gentle personality, he has been hand-raised at the park since he was a cub.

Sadly, Gruff had a rough start in life. A hunter poached his mother in the Grande Prairie area, and people passed the frightened little cub from home to home.

Fish and Wildlife eventually confiscated the sick and frightened cub, and my friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, was asked if she could take him.

He was malnourished, in shock from his ordeal, and sick from untreated pneumonia that has since resulted in permanent left lung damage. Because he was in such bad shape, Serena didn’t know if she could save him. But with proper food, medication, round-the-clock care and a lot of patience, Gruff has grown into one of the most beautiful black bears you could ever see.

He is currently eight years old and 709 pounds at his last weigh-in.

I’ve painted Gruff several times, and I expect I’ll paint him again as I enjoy his expressions and antics. The bond between him and the keepers is evident, and he never fails to put a smile on my face.
While visiting in June, I was happily snapping pics of Gruff when he made a clumsy attempt to sit up from lying on his back. He looked right at me, with his tongue out, and immediately reminded me of a large guy trying to do a sit-up. With the camera on rapid-fire, I got quite a few shots of this funny situation and was delighted at the photos when I got home.

As none of them were quite right on their own, I used three different reference pics for this piece. One had the best head position, another one revealed a better overall pose and the third, while a bit out of focus, had some lighting I liked.

Could I have found these shots online, taken by another photographer? Unlikely. Would I have even thought to have looked for images like this? Not a chance.

I could list dozens of paintings I’ve created that have been inspired by situations and experiences I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s why taking the photos is as much a part of the finished pieces as the paintings themselves. Each of them has a story and conjures up fun memories.

Whether it’s a pose, lighting, or simply a look, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered future paintings while sorting through photos.

When I came across the photos of Gruff, looking like he was trying to get in shape, there was no doubt of a painting. But, before I put the first brush stroke on the digital canvas, I already knew that I would call it ‘One More.’

I imagine it 10 feet high on the wall of a gym somewhere.

Here’s a high speed video of ‘One More’, from start to finish. Prints of this piece are available NOW in the store.
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© Patrick LaMontagne

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Whoever Fights With Monsters

(If you’re easily offended by profanity or negativity or just don’t want to deal with somebody else’s crap today, turn back now.)
I’m prone to rumination; deep, dark swan dives into the abyss. It’s a byproduct of my particular brand of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’m not going to go into a long boring history of it because people have seen too many movies, and most think it’s just about germs, lining up stuff in the fridge and avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. I have none of those traits.

The reason Hollywood has perpetuated that stereotype is that they can SHOW it. But anybody who lives with this nasty roommate will tell you that the worst of it plays out in their head. It’s a constant internal argument between a rational, logical realist and a batshit crazy lunatic.

The short version is that every so often, I’ll backslide into a period of doom, gloom, and depression.

Artists. We’re all so fucking mercurial.

Last night, I spiralled for most of the evening, went down the Google rabbit hole, looking for some relief from the dark thoughts, regret, and pervasive shame. When Shonna went to bed, I grabbed spare sheets, my pillow and made up the couch. No reason for the both of us to be tossing and turning all night.

I’ve slept on the couch more in the past two years than in the rest of my life. Before you read anything into that about my marriage, I do this voluntarily. With the constant barrage of pandemic news porn, my brain doesn’t easily shut down.

While lying awake most of the night, frustrated by insomnia, my mind went to all sorts of things, none of them good. Were I to detail the endless list of irrational fears and worries, you’d quickly get bored if you’re not already.

This morning, I woke at 4 am with no motivation to draw or paint. Thankfully, I have a cartoon ready to send that I finished late yesterday afternoon.

In an exercise in distraction, I decided to clean up my website and went through old blog posts. There are more than 600 posts from as early as 2008, detailing my focus at that time. I barely remember much of that work, and a lot of it is tough to look at since my skills have significantly improved.

There were posts about illustrations I did for board/card games, caricatures of celebrities and commissions, and several on a Flash animation series I created when it looked like editorial cartooning was heading in that direction.

There were even more irrelevant posts about new releases of Photoshop and videos I shared that no longer exist online, so they’re just broken links. I wrote posts about new business cards, websites, projects, and my complicated relationship with social media.

It’s not like anybody is going through my blog posts from more than a decade ago and spending weeks reading them. There is no good reason to keep this digital history.

But on more than a few posts, I lingered and gave them a quick scan. I’m a much better writer today than I was then. I’ve written many thousands of words between the first post and this one, so I’ve had plenty of practice.

While I deleted the first year of posts with barely a thought, I got a little pickier around the time I painted that first grizzly bear in 2009, and the posts revealing many of the animal paintings that followed. I’m not ready to get rid of those yet. There’s some relevant history there and fodder for the book I’m not writing fast enough for my liking. (cue the chorus of self-loathing).

I found some other posts that could use a rewrite, words of advice for other artists, warnings about dealing with disreputable people and how to recognize and avoid being scammed. I’ve learned a lot in the decade since then, and if I can spare some newbie some harsh lessons of experience, I’d like to.

I’ve got many more blog posts to go through and discard, but just like spring cleaning, it needs doing.

On days like this, the really dark days, I would much rather just curl up on the couch and zone out on Netflix, but it’s not in my nature. I’ll just feel worse at the end of the day for being lazy. So, I’ll spend it cleaning up my office closet, bookkeeping or on some other mindless chore that needs doing but doesn’t require any creativity.

I’m fully aware that this post is not inspirational, celebratory or positive. I almost didn’t share it, but that’s part of the bullshit we feed each other online that makes so many miserable. Everybody shares their best days and hides their worst, putting a false front out into the world. And even though we all know the warning about comparing your behind-the-scenes to somebody else’s highlight reel, we still play the game and fall for it. It doesn’t take much mindless scrolling through the social media curated gallery of somebody else’s greatness to end up feeling like garbage.

This is where I’m supposed to end the post with a cheery, upbeat turnaround, say ‘oh well’ and acknowledge that things could be worse and others in the world are having a much rougher time and, and, and…

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that failing to feel the bad shit, dismissing it, and shoving it aside will just make it worse, as will making yourself feel guilty for expressing it.

Over the years, I’ve talked with therapists, read a whole library of self-help books, listened to hours of podcasts, politely listened to unwanted advice about essential oils, mindfulness practices, apps, vitamins, medication and every suggestion under the sun, including the oh-so-helpful, “Hey, cheer up!”

The truth is, from time to time, you just find yourself travelling through hell. And over the past year and a half, we’re each experiencing our own personal brand of it.

So yeah, this too shall pass.

But probably not today.

__

© Patrick LaMontagne

P.S. While looking for an image in my archives to go with this post, I discovered that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Well, at least that gave me a chuckle.

 

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

Early in this editorial cartoon profession, somebody once told me that editorial cartoons are supposed to make you laugh, think, and hopefully do both. I think it was Terry Mosher (Aislin).

I have repeated that line often. In interviews, blog posts, talks to school kids or simply as an explanation when somebody challenges me on the content of a cartoon.

As we’re all now attuned to our individual offensensitivity meters, convinced that if something makes us uncomfortable, it must be inappropriate; I’ll often get emails chastising me for drawing a cartoon, telling me, “that’s not funny.”

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

Several times a year, I’m required to draw cartoons for tragedies, recurring events, serious moments and on topics where any levity would indeed be inappropriate by any metric.

Nobody drew funny cartoons the day after 9/11. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a knee-slapper in any newspaper in Canada on Remembrance Day. And there’s nothing funny about what went on for decades in Canada’s Residential School System.

When the federal government announced that September 30th would mark the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I knew I’d have to draw something.

An editorial cartoon isn’t unbiased. I don’t consider myself a journalist. While I do try to consider all sides of an issue, my cartoons are my illustrated opinions. So when you see them on the editorial page, it means the editor shared my opinion or at least thought that many of their readers might.

I can’t just spout off and draw something about whatever might cross my mind. I must consider whether it’s fair comment, reasonably concluded, and if it might get myself or my client in trouble. The standards for your local newspaper are a lot higher than Facebook or Twitter.

When it comes to residential schools, the last thing an indigenous person needs is yet another colonial descendant analyzing their history, whitesplaining it and offering up his conclusions. So, I won’t.

But I still had to draw a cartoon because it’s my job.

I’ll admit that my more serious cartoons have a distinct look to them. Often a more painted illustration, rather than a crisp ink line cartoon, accompanied by some text. Sometimes I’ll use a quote, especially if the cartoon is about a notable person who has just died, some of their own words or song lyrics.

But I prefer to use my own words, a couple of lines to complement the artwork so that the entire piece is my own creation. And these always take a lot longer to draw.

I’ve drawn cartoons about this topic before and wanted to avoid the same imagery. I avoided using the recently revealed Survivor’s Flag, as it felt like I would be appropriating the artwork painstakingly created by those who directly experienced this dark history.

We all have our own ways of connecting to what I call ‘the other.’ For some, it’s through organized religion, or it might be an individual faith and relationship with their god, whatever that means to each person. For others, it might be the connection they feel when they volunteer, do charitable works, or anything that makes them feel that there’s more to the world around them than what they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

While I don’t believe in a god, heaven or hell, or practice any organized religion, I frequently feel connected to something I can’t define. I most often feel closest to that when I’m painting, and I’m grateful to that something else for granting me the ability and the means to create.

I feel it most when I’m painting my whimsical wildlife paintings. It’s what I imagine Maslow meant when he defined the peak experience.

When I first created my animal art, I called them Totems but stopped the practice a few years ago.

About the change in 2018, I wrote, “What (totem) meant to me was paying homage to the animal spirit meaning of the word. The personality and character I paint in these animals make them feel alive to me. I’ve had some unique and special experiences with animals in recent years and can’t help but feel a connection with them, so it’s for personal reasons that I decided on that name.”

But as I explained in the post, having read and learned more about the difficult conversations surrounding cultural appropriation, I didn’t want the work I enjoy most to be tainted by misunderstanding. I didn’t want to imply or claim any connection to native culture, so I no longer refer to my animal paintings as Totems.

And yet, it’s through this work and these animals where I feel the most tethered to that something I can’t explain.

When I had the opportunity to create this cartoon, I felt that the sincerest offering I could make to this difficult discussion was to combine all my skills into one image.

In much of First Nations culture, the eagle is a sacred image. In my most basic understanding, it represents the closest connection to the creator, and it’s a conveyor of messages and prayers.

To illustrate just how sacred the beliefs surrounding this animal spirit are, it is illegal in Canada and the U.S. for any non-indigenous person to own any eagle parts, including feathers. I’ve learned more about this from my visits to the Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta, where they rescue and rehabilitate eagles, among other species. It’s also where I took the photo reference for this eagle image.

Any eagle feathers dropped by the birds at their facility are collected and sent to Alberta Fish and Wildlife. After examination for conservation research and screening for disease, they’re distributed to different tribal councils.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about honouring the children who died in residential schools, healing for the survivors and promoting understanding and education about our history. So the eagle image seemed the best fit for what I wanted to say.

Whether it resonates with my editors or their readers is beyond my control. But hopefully, I did my job.

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

___
© Patrick LaMontagne
To find out more about The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, please begin here.

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Fit to Print


This week, I put myself in a cartoon for the 20th anniversary of The Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper. Since the beginning, I’ve been the cartoonist for my local paper with a cartoon in every issue, so it’s also my 20th anniversary.

In August of 2001, Shonna and I bought our townhouse in Canmore and moved here from Banff. At the same time, I left the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper, where I’d been the cartoonist for three years, drawing one cartoon a week for what amounted to beer money.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was launching, the brainchild of Bob Schott, Larry Marshall and Carol Picard. As editor, Carol offered me the cartoonist position. Then, a short time later, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated.

Syndication sends the same cartoon to several publications. They pay a fee to run it, substantially less than an original. It’s the reason you used to see the same comic strip page in many daily newspapers or the same Dave Barry humour column across the United States.

At the time, my limited understanding was that an artist had to sign with a syndicate, a company that would act as an agent, send out the work, collect the fees and pay the artist a royalty.

Carol set me straight. When she told me I could do it myself, it was a light through the clouds moment.

She gets tired of me thanking her, but tough noogies. Without her advice, support and mentorship, it’s unlikely that I would be a full-time artist today.

I’ll skip the details of the steep learning curve and logistics, but the short version is that I began creating syndicated cartoons and cold-calling newspapers across Canada. One or two cartoons a week soon became six, plus the local cartoon for the Outlook. In black and white for the first few years, then colour as newspapers made that transition on their editorial pages.

For four and a half years, I worked mornings, evenings and weekends drawing cartoons while working a full-time day job to pay the bills.

In January of 2006, I became a full-time artist, and I’ve been unemployable ever since.

At launch, the other valley papers mocked their audacity. Still, Bob, Larry and Carol soon made The Outlook the paper of record for the Bow Valley, including Stoney Nakoda, Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. After her partners and close friends both passed on before their time, Carol eventually sold the newspaper. 

Ownership, publishers, editors, and staff have come and gone over twenty years. The only people there for the first issue who are still here today are reporter Cathy Ellis, accountant Donna Brown, and this here cartoonist.

I’ve never actually been staff with my name on the masthead, simply a regular weekly contributor. But I still consider myself part of the paper, as do many readers.

While some believe the newspaper industry is dying or dead, I would argue that it’s experiencing a difficult transition and struggling for footing like many in the internet age. Formerly large daily newspapers compete with Facebook and Twitter, stories shared by people who don’t care if they’re true, just that they support what they already believe.

We’ve become familiar with the term fake news because we must frequently ask ourselves if what we’re reading comes from that deep and polluted well.

Many of these newspaper chains slash and burn their newsrooms to stay profitable or solvent, cutting costs wherever they can. But people pick up the paper for what they can’t get on Google News, National Newswatch or the T.V. News channels and sites.

They pick up their hometown paper for local news and views, the stories that make their community theirs.

People in Ottawa don’t care about a rural town in B.C. unless it’s burning and feeds their addiction to tragedy. Just as somebody in Mayerthorpe, Alberta doesn’t care about the new rec centre in Guelph, Ontario.

But the people who report those stories to the people who care about them are local reporters in local communities. So, when a tiny little paper in rural Saskatchewan only prints stories from the national news wire, it’s no wonder no local businesses want to advertise in it because nobody’s reading it.

Advertisers pay for newspapers. It’s the reason your local community paper is often free. However, when the content within is suddenly uninteresting or irrelevant to the people who live there, it’s hard to convince a business that their customers will see their ad. They might as well be advertising in the Yellow Pages.

COVID has been tough on many businesses, and newspapers are no exception. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I lost syndicated newspaper clients at the beginning of the pandemic. While they all said it would be temporary, only one of those has since hired me back, over a year and a half later.

I’ve seen reporters and editors lose their jobs sacrificed to the balance sheet, and many local papers have become shells of their former publications. One newspaper chain sacrificed all freelance content, then gave the cartoonist spot to one of my competitors for supplying them all with free cartoons for months on end.

Apparently, that cartoonist has never heard that nobody wins a race to the bottom.

A few other papers are now running bargain bin priced syndicated cartoons from the United States. Why would anybody in rural Manitoba want to see cartoons about Biden, Trump and the U.S. Congress each week in their small-town community paper?

Carol, Bob, and Larry started the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create a newspaper that the Valley could be proud of. It has won many awards in several categories, setting the standard for community journalism.

I hope that when this pandemic finally ends –and it will end—that our community and several others once again realize the value and benefit of local journalism and news.

When nobody is left to tell the stories, vet sources, check facts, present both sides of an argument, and provide ongoing investigations into complicated issues, the information we rely on won’t be worth repeating.

We’ll simply be sharing more ranting and raving on Facebook and Twitter by the loudest and angriest among us.

And that ain’t news.

© Patrick LaMontagne