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Big Bear on Blue

I dropped off a large print and sticker order to the Calgary Zoo in February. As usual, I wandered with the camera, looking for reference pics. I often come home with surprises that sometimes end up as paintings.

It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see the new polar bear enclosure with the two residents, Baffin and Siku, who came to Calgary via Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo. They had been orphaned as cubs, found wandering near Churchill, Manitoba, by conservation officers who deemed them too young to survive on their own.

According to the Calgary Herald (Nov 30, 2023), “Their new home is a $11.5-million habitat that features two acres of tree-filled meadows, a five-metre-deep plunge pool, a series of dens and rock fixtures, and a shallow pool for the bears to wade in.”

One of the interpretative staff told me there are sections specifically designed to give the bears private time when they want it.

For most animal reference pics, I’m looking for face shots to show the detail I like to paint. I got several unobstructed shots of Baffin lounging on a rock on a sunny winter day, but even with my 300mm lens, I couldn’t get close photos of his face. It can take me years to get the right reference, and even when I have the images, I might not paint from them for a long time. So, I figured I’d try again next time.

Still, I liked some of the pics I took and figured I could do some full-body sketches or rough paintings for practice to include in the bear book.

I often sketch on my iPad in the Procreate app with the Apple pencil, especially for editorial cartoons. When I want to upsize it and draw or paint more detail, I transfer the file to my desktop PC and continue working on it with my Wacom Cintiq 24HD in Photoshop.

Though I never intended this to be a finished piece, I kept returning to it, thinking I’d just put in a little more time. Before I knew it, I had a  new painting.

The northern lights are a common and popular theme in polar bear art, and savvy commercial artists give people what they want.

But for over a decade, I have heard from retailers and customers that they like my art because it’s different and unique. When the first gallery in Banff gave my work a shot more than ten years ago, the manager said that he wouldn’t have been interested, no matter how good they were, had I brought him true to life animal paintings. That’s what everybody else was doing.

While I still featured a version of the northern lights in this piece, I stuck with a blue colour scheme rather than the usual greens and purples for no reason other than that’s what I felt like painting. I love a blue, white and grey palette.
Titles are challenging. While I prefer to come up with something funny or endearing for each painting, I also need to consider my clients and their customers. Simple identifying titles are often better, especially as my portfolio grows. I already have two polar bear paintings on offer, so I decided Big Bear on Blue was a good description and title for this piece. And I liked it better than Polar Bear on Blue, but don’t ask me why.

With several other paintings in progress, I hadn’t intended to slide this painting into the queue. It was a fun discovery that didn’t take as long as I would have thought, and in case you missed it, I’ve got a thing for bears.

Prints are on the way, and I’ll let you know when this piece is available in the store.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Work-Life Balance, Retirement and Shades of Grey

When people return home from a vacation, they can get the blues, a hangover from the trip unrelated to any spirits they may have consumed. It’s that depressing realization that even though you just had a positive experience you’d been looking forward to and a necessary break from work and the routine, that’s over now, and it’s back to the grind.

In the weeks leading up to the Calgary Expo at the end of April, I had no shortage of motivation. There was plenty to do with a specific goal and a big event on the horizon. My tasks were clear, as was the deadline. The show arrived, the effort paid off, and it was a big success.

Usually, after the Expo, I feel inspired to paint, and that held true this time for about a week. This year, however, I got the hangover.

Now what?

So, I was in a bit of an emotional trough in May, which is unusual since I’m often peppy in spring. I’m out on the bike almost daily, as regular exercise is recommended for a lack of optimism. I was still up early to work, but there was a lot of heavy sighing and staring out the window, trying to figure out where to put my limited creative energy for both financial security and artistic fulfillment.

I’ve always got the daily cartoon deadlines and projects on which to work, but it can often be difficult to focus without specific targets.

However, at the end of May, I was accepted for four three-day weekends of the Banff Christmas Market in November and December. And last week, I finalized agreements for two pet portrait commissions. One is a large, active dog with a comical personality, and the other a memorial piece for the smallest dog I’ve yet painted. He was adorable and obviously very loved.

A commission painting is a big responsibility, one I don’t take lightly. It’s a privilege and honour that anybody would choose my style and work to capture their furry family member in a painting, especially for a memorial.

I’ve never painted two commissions at once for two different clients, but each is a welcome challenge. Both clients were fully engaged in the initial back and forth, and I’ve begun with a clear idea of what each is looking for. They offered suggestions, preferences and details that will make for better paintings. That’s always a great start.
The paintings I was already working on need to be done by the end of next month so I can order puzzles and products for the markets. Then there are the sketches, paintings and writing for the book, six editorial cartoons each week, and now two commissions. Finally, there’s the ongoing marketing and admin stuff that’s a lot more work than most realize when they choose self-employed artist as a profession.

For anyone considering that leap, I can sum up the past 25+ years of my career as follows: Creating art is easy. Selling it is hard.

Suddenly, I have a very full plate for the next three or four months, with timelines and deadlines to keep me on track. I’m grateful to have so much to do, especially since a big chunk of it is creating artwork that might make people a little happier.

Hearing people in their fifties start talking about retirement is normal, but I have no such plans. What would I do without my work, finally have time to explore some artistic and creative pursuits?

It’s not hard to find articles and online posts that talk about work-life balance. While it might seem like an encouraging message, to slow down and relax, the pressure often makes people feel worse about their lives, not better. The guilt that comes with some stranger telling you that you’re doing your life wrong is just one more brick added to the load you already carry.

Being told we must pursue a better work-life balance isn’t a carrot. It’s a stick.
Sure, I’ll bitch about being too busy sometimes, but I chose this. Though the landscape will change, as will the work, and it’s unlikely ever to get easier, I plan to create art as long as possible. I don’t know if I could do anything else, now.

Shonna puts up with a lot, living with an anxious, moody, high-strung, obsessive-compulsive artist. But without my creative work to keep me busy, I’m sure I’d wake up one morning with a pillow hovering over my face.

Justifiable. Case dismissed.

I’ve often read variations of phrases like ‘your work is not your life,’ a caution to be careful how much time you devote to your job. But I don’t know who I am without my work. It’s the best part of me. I’m terrified of the day that age or something else robs me of my ability.

So, I’m going to continue to maintain my fitness and health, keep my head on a swivel while biking and driving, and hope to avoid the fickle finger of fate and the things I don’t see coming so I can keep drawing, painting and writing as long as I can.

Be who you are, people. We’re only here for a little while.

____

Dave and Martha discovered my art in Victoria several years ago, and getting emails from them is always nice. Usually, they might send a kind comment or something encouraging after A Wilder View shows up in their inboxes. They’re my parents’ age; their son and I were born in the same month and year, a detail they’d shared a while ago.

They’re currently on a road trip from their home in Washington, and these long-time collectors and supporters of my whimsical wildlife art have been here in the Canadian Rockies this week. It was great to meet them in person, and we had an enjoyable visit over coffee on Sunday.

When Dave described what they’d be wearing so I’d recognize them, he mentioned that he was bald. Though I saw them right away while locking my bike, I joked that I was looking for a bald guy, and he was wearing a hat. He shot back that I was greyer than he expected.

OK, I had that coming.

I’ve known for a while that I must spend an hour painting an ‘update’ to my self-portrait to account for more salt in that pepper, especially in my beard.
I’m grateful for so many of you who follow my work, comment on my posts or write emails, sending me wildlife pictures and thoughts about something I’ve shared or the artwork in general. With so much content available to us, that anyone volunteers to receive my emails is humbling. It’s cliché to say that I wouldn’t be able to create art for a living without the support of people who enjoy it, but it’s true. So, feel free to reach out anytime, comment on a post, or just say Hello.

But please, no politics or news links, fake or otherwise. I see way more of that than I want to in the other part of my work.

Thanks for the visit, Dave and Martha. Though you worried you might have been intruding on my time, it was truly my pleasure. Have a safe trip home.
.

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Ring-tail Renditions

When the Land of Lemurs exhibit opened at the Calgary Zoo several years ago, I was excited to get up close and personal with these critters. Lemurs are a matriarchal species, meaning the women are in charge. Only females were in residence at the time, but I don’t know if that’s still true.

Because of disagreements in sample size and the territories surveyed, the number of Ring-tailed Lemurs left in the wild is under dispute. However, one thing experts agree on is that the wild population is in severe decline. Deforestation and hunting means lemurs may go extinct in our lifetime.

The World Wildlife Fund and several other conservation organizations work to educate and support communities in Madagascar to help them coexist with lemurs. Unfortunately, colonies in captivity may one day be the only place where lemurs exist.

One of the interesting features of the lemur habitat at the Calgary Zoo is that the lemurs are free-roaming within the enclosure. People must enter through a controlled gate, where an attendant explains the rules. Once inside, other employees and volunteers answer questions while ensuring the safety of the lemurs.

The enclosure design means the lemurs can go where they like, including climbing atop an unsuspecting person who crouches down for something. With no fence or glass, this open concept makes taking photos a real treat.

Early in 2020, before the world shut down, Wacom commissioned me to record a video using their Wacom One display, along with a voice-over narrative I wrote. I recorded a ring-tailed lemur painting for that project, and it’s one of my favourite pieces, mostly because she looks ready to snap. It’s also a popular print with many of my collectors.

I’ve long wanted to create another painting featuring several lemurs, inspired by the following photo I took in 2017. All these lemurs look a little stunned; harmless goofs, not too bright, except for one.
This photo always makes me chuckle. That evil-looking stare straight down my lens, the squinting focused eyes, the chunk missing from her ear. She reminds me of a gangster saying, “Come closer. See what happens.”
What can I say, I see cartoon characters in real animals. This is why I paint the way I do.

I have considered this photo and the painting I have wanted to create for years. I even have a title for it: The Ringleader. The finished piece will be 7 or 8 of the goofy, stunned faces filling the canvas, with the sinister ringleader in the middle, staring down the viewer.

The big challenge isn’t painting the faces but making them look like they belong together. That’s why I’m working on seven faces in the same file. The ringleader herself is a separate file that I started earlier this week.

I haven’t yet got to the stage where I compose them into the finished piece, but I’m getting there. Once they’re each in position, I’ll need to paint more hair and fur to blend the faces as they overlap. There won’t be any bodies or paws because this painting is about the faces filling the space, but I will paint a few tails coming in from the sides and bottom.
I’m happy with how it’s turned out so far, and I’m also hoping to offer the finished piece as a puzzle later this year.

I’m used to working on one painting, start to finish, posting it, printing it, getting it licensed, and moving on to the next one. While quality is my main concern, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of quantity.
So, when I’m working on several paintings at once and more involved pieces featuring multiple animals or more detailed backgrounds, paintings that take much longer than a whimsical head and shoulders portrait can be uncomfortable. It feels like I’m not getting enough done.

However, I’ve realized in recent weeks that there is a silver lining in working on multiple pieces simultaneously. Each painting gets time to rest, and when I open a project I haven’t touched in a week or two, the deficiencies or problems jump off the screen. That’s good because it reveals areas of the image I need to improve.

Last Friday morning, I opened this goofy gallery of Ring-tail Lemurs for the first time in a few weeks. I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the seven faces on the screen and said, “They look so stupid.”

And I meant it in the best possible way.

Would I have had that moment if I hadn’t let the painting rest? I doubt it. My comical critters surprised me. What a gift.
The finished piece will be a lot more detailed than the images in progress you see here. But the vision for what I’m trying to achieve is clear in my mind, and I’m having fun discovering each of these faces.

All that’s left is hours of painting to bring them to life.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Back to Bears

I rarely visit the Calgary Zoo to drop off prints and stickers without making time to take pictures, and many of those photos eventually inspire paintings.

Skoki is a resident grizzly bear born in 1987 near Lake Louise.

Over several years, while he was young, Bear #16, as he was initially known, learned to associate people with an easy meal, an education he received from careless campers and tourists. When he tried to be a regular bear, eating grass and foraging for natural food, photo seekers harassed and pushed him to the point of bluff charges. Eventually, he lost his fear of people and hung around the Lake Louise townsite.

He had become a spoiled bear. Several relocation attempts failed, which is hardly a surprise for anyone who lives here. Relocation is often a last-ditch effort to avoid euthanizing a problem bear.

That closeup bear photo people are so desperate to take on the highway shoulder might go viral and deliver social media likes and shares, but it often ends badly for the bear. Nobody shares that photo on Facebook or Instagram.

It’s ironic that people object to animals in captivity, but we can’t seem to get it through our heads to respect them in the wild, allowing them space to live in their natural habitats.
Parks Canada officials would have euthanized Bear #16 in 1996, but the Calgary Zoo had an opening, and he has lived there ever since. In the wild, a male grizzly doesn’t live far past his 20s. Skoki is now 37 years old. He is an old bear and looks it, but despite obvious age-related deficiencies, he’s healthy.

Whenever I find Skoki active and playful, I take time for photos. Despite his relocation from the wild into captivity, he has been a wonderful ambassador bear, and his story helps to educate people about the wild world on our doorstep.

Skoki inspired my recent Spa Day piece, though I used several bears for the reference. One day, I found him sitting in one of his ponds, playfully eating what looked like a lettuce leaf. I noticed the ripples and reflections and wondered how I’d paint him. I didn’t get the reference I wanted that day, but the idea stayed with me.
One day in June last year, after dropping off prints, I found Skoki active again. I followed him around his large enclosure until he did something I’d never seen before. He walked the length of a log until he came to a larger log that crossed it. He straddled the one on which he’d been walking and put his paws up on the crossed log. He looked like he’d just bellied up to the bar and was waiting for service.

He sat there a long while, and I took so many photos of him looking this way and that, laying his head down on the log, sniffing the air, pawing left and right, that I came home with dozens of suitable reference photos. From this experience, I came up with the idea of painting several bears sitting beside each other at a log, as if they were indeed meeting up for an afternoon happy hour in the forest.
This painting has been rattling around in my noggin for quite a while, and I’ve drawn several sketches, including the ones in this post. All the reference I’m using for this work in progress is Skoki, but I’ll make the five bears different heights, weights and colour variations so they don’t all look like the same bear. Other photo references will help me do that, and I’m planning more sketches like these to explore my options.

I won’t make it an actual bar with drinks or food in front of them. I’ve no desire to paint a bear variation of Dogs Playing Poker. Even though my paintings aren’t true to life, and I paint whimsical expressions, I don’t want to start creating wildlife in human settings. There are exceptions, of course, where I’ve put a Santa hat on a bear, and I will paint some more Christmas-themed images like that strictly for commercial and licensing opportunities.
I started one of these Skoki sketches a little while ago and figured I’d try a full pose of how he sat that day. Before I knew it, I had drawn more detail and realized the image below was becoming its own painting.Because I don’t paint a lot of backgrounds in my work, I’ll often begin some paintings in grayscale so I can get the light, shadows and contrast right. Later, I can add colour using various techniques I’ve discovered in over twenty years of digital painting.

So, instead of one log bear painting in progress, I’ve got two. And all these sketches and bear paintings will contribute to the bear book.

If my skills match my vision for the  five bears piece, it will be one of the images I’ll include for my next round of puzzles later this year.

I’m working on more paintings right now than I ever have at one time, so next week, I’ll have another painting-in-progress to write about and some new  images to share.

Cheers,
Patrick

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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