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Got Bears?

Here’s a painting I did late this week. Not a fully rendered piece, just something I did for fun. I’m still working on another bear, a more finished piece and video. I hope to have that one done in a week or so.

It’s not unusual to see bears in this valley, but it has been a strange season for encounters. The berry crop was poor this year, and bears have been spotted all over town for weeks.

When people fail to pick the ripe fruit from the trees in their yards, it attracts bears. Dog food, bird feeders, dirty BBQs, and garbage will too. Bears have an incredible sense of smell, and they’re attracted to anything that gives off an interesting odour. Dirty diapers will attract bears.

All it takes for a bear to become spoiled and dangerous is too many opportunities to associate people with food.

Shonna and I bought our townhouse condo in 2001. It’s in a well-defined complex with single road access and a couple of other walking entries on the opposite end. We’ve occasionally had elk inside the complex, but in the 21 years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a bear on the property.

A couple of weeks ago, while checking the mail, I noticed a sizeable pile of scat six feet from our front door. If you’ve never seen bear poop, it’s unmistakable.

At the end of our street, nowhere near a wilderness area, a well-used gravel path passes beside a daycare. A week before, as I rode my bike around the building heading for downtown, I was surprised to see a mother black bear and two cubs in my way. I hit the brakes, breathed something like “oh shit,” and slowly backed up, wondering what she would do.

She and her cubs looked right at me, but I got away without a confrontation. It was only a half block from home, so I called the Bear Report Line, as did several others.

Still on the phone when I got home, I stepped onto our kitchen balcony to see the Mom and cubs walking by on the street below. It was just after noon.

Many in town have seen this bear and her two cubs, another black bear and her three cubs or several other single black bears looking for food in suburban neighbourhoods.

I recently had a cable internet issue requiring a service call. The tech who came to sort it out lives in an apartment-style condo building near the other end of our street. While walking his dog one evening, he saw a grizzly in his parking lot. Others in his building have seen it too, and warnings are now posted around the property.

Last Sunday, our next-door neighbour Chris sent me a text warning at about 9:15 pm that the black bear and three cubs were spotted walking down a long road that leads to the top of our condo complex. Shonna would be biking home an hour later from her part-time job at Safeway.

Here’s a late-night photo Chris took from his balcony at the end of August.
I called Shonna to warn her and said I’d keep an eye out. She takes well-lit main roads to get home, away from the current bear sighting. But this year, they can be anywhere, including downtown.

A half-hour later, Mom and cubs were walking down the road inside our complex, straight toward our front door. Four people stood in front of our place, taking pictures and videos with their phones. I warned them from my open living room window that they were in a dangerous spot and should leave.

They were dismissive and waved me off, a typical tourist response. But I think these were locals who should have known better. Shortly afterward, my neighbour was more blunt when he warned them about their poor choices.

Chris and I were more concerned about harm coming to the bears. When stupid people trigger an encounter that forces a bear to defend itself, the authorities shoot the bear and orphan her cubs. All for an Instagram post.

Fortunately, this bear was more intelligent than those people. She turned around and went back the way she came. The four humans finally left as well, their departure significantly increasing the average IQ of our neighbourhood.

Though the bears were no longer in sight, I knew they’d still be close.

Shonna called before she left Safeway, and I told her I’d be waiting. Bear spray in hand, I stood at the open front door until I heard her repeatedly hitting her bike bell as she drove into the complex. I opened the garage door as she turned the corner so she could go right in, ending our evening’s excitement.

I have a complicated love-fear relationship with bears.

The first whimsical wildlife critter I painted in 2009 was a grizzly bear, and I’ve painted more bears than any other animal. I’ve spent countless hours at Discovery Wildlife Park, having close encounters with their rescued orphan bears, especially a favourite named Berkley. I’ve painted her quite a few times.
On the flip side of that coin, I am unreasonably terrified of bears. For years, I’ve tried to get used to camping in a tent in bear country.

Bears are more likely to avoid people than seek them out. I know that if you keep a clean campsite, don’t bring any strong smells into the tent with you, and sleep away from where you cook, you’re unlikely to attract bears.

I know what to do if I encounter a black bear or grizzly. I make noise while out in the woods, carry bear spray and know how to use it. I know that bears have far more to fear from us than we ever do from them, that bear attacks are almost unheard of and usually defensive, prompted by a human doing something foolish.

Bears don’t kill people. People kill bears.

And even with that knowledge, I’ve never been able to shake the phobia while camping or hiking in bear country. Every noise is a bear, especially from dusk ‘til dawn. My camping companions have taken great delight in mocking my bearanoia, despite having phobias of their own.

Am I having fun yet?

After countless camping trips, not sleeping well, annoying others with my nervousness, and living with the shame of not being able to talk myself out of it, I’ve given up camping in tents in the Rockies. I return home more pissed off than relaxed.

Besides, a cabin is much more comfortable, especially when it rains.

Strange that I had no concerns on our recent kayaking adventure on Vancouver Island, living in a tent in an area with a dense population of black bears. I slept great every night. Is my fear geographical?

The most remarkable recent bear encounter was at the September 3rd Mountain Made Market when a black bear tried to walk into the Civic Centre in the middle of the day, about forty feet from my table. Fortunately, the Town building monitor, Maurice, a genial and helpful gentleman, stood at the door waving his arms and making noise, convincing the bear to seek a different path. There’s a man who’s good under pressure.

I’ve enjoyed my market experiences over the past year. Decent sales, close to home, and I get the same great location in the Civic Centre each time. Connecting with other vendors and my customers, I always learn something new.

This market was especially fun because Alexander Finbow occupied the next table. He owns Renegade Arts Entertainment here in Canmore. Alex has been ready to publish an art book of my work since 2016. He has been very patient, is still interested and we talked more about it.

Alex figured out that I’ve been making too big a deal out of it, trying to put together one big book instead of a smaller one. He suggested that rather than try to cram my whole career into one volume, I make it more specific, and pick stories and artwork that fit a theme. Then if the first book does well, there will be more books on other parts of my work in the future. That not only relieves a lot of pressure, but it’s a sound business plan as well.

Sometimes you just need somebody to point out the obvious.

The first art book is about bears. Perhaps it always has been.

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Queen Elizabeth II – In Memoriam

I often must explain to people that editorial cartoons aren’t always meant to be funny. Ideally, a satirical cartoon should make you laugh, think, or hopefully do both. But there are several occasions where it’s an illustrated comment with no humorous intent.

In the case of tragedies like 9/11 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, or whenever a person of historical significance dies, there’s no call for funny on the editorial page.

You likely don’t need me to tell you that Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. After more than 70 years on the throne, her impact on the world is impossible to deny. For most of us, she has always been ‘The Queen’ and the end of her reign is a historical moment of great significance.

When she got COVID earlier in February, I drew this cartoon, just in case it was time. While it might seem morbid to some, I can assure you that every media outlet in the world has had content and plans laid out far in advance for her inevitable passing. Long before this year, the Queen herself had a hand in the planning of the events of the past two weeks. I felt I’d rather take the time to do the work I wanted, rather than scramble at the last minute just to get it done by deadline.

When I awoke on Thursday the 8th, Shonna and I were heading to Red Deer for the day to take my parents out to lunch. From the news I read about the Queen’s family being called to her side, it seemed clear how the day would unfold. As such, I sent the cartoon to my newspapers, with a note advising that, should she die, this was my contribution.

A few hours later, we were walking to our car with my parents to go to the restaurant when I got the alert on my phone.

The above image appeared in several Canadian daily newspapers the following day.
Canadians will no doubt have a necessary conversation in the coming weeks about this country’s relationship with the monarchy and how it will look in the future. But I drew this second cartoon last week reminding readers that it would be crass to dig into that before her interment. I’m not a monarchist, but one need not be to understand simple respect for the recently deceased and empathy for her family and those who grieve her passing.

And finally, I drew one more cartoon this week for her funeral on the 19th.
While I don’t enjoy or look forward to drawing them, these types of editorial cartoons are still part of the job.

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©Patrick LaMontagne 2022

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Broughton Beach Memoirs

For our 25th anniversary two years ago, Shonna and I had planned a week of glamping and kayaking on Vancouver Island.

But not long ago, a friend aptly referred to 2020 as the ‘year of cancelled plans.’

Spirit of the West Adventures has an incredible reputation, and we had no doubt they’d sell out once people began travelling again. So, In July of 2021, we booked for 2022. With the worldwide shortage of vehicles, we even booked our rental car and flights nine months in advance.

We’re not road trip people. Spending four days driving to and from Vancouver Island in the middle of summer is not our idea of a vacation. That’s why we’ve taken several trips to the Island together without ever having to endure the ferry.

Right up until the day we left, I worried about the well-publicized flight delays, cancellations, airport issues, and rental car problems. I didn’t truly relax until I sat in the Comox airport parking lot.

After quick stops for lunch, groceries, and the liquor store, we hit the highway for an easy three-hour drive to the north Island.

While eating dinner on the deck of a bar and grill in Port McNeill, near our comfortable room at the Dalewood Inn, I texted my buddy, Darrel. His aunt used to teach here, and I knew he’d visited as a kid. He joked, “Don’t forget to check out the Burl!”

Say, what now?

Darrel is fascinated with oversized roadside attractions and shared that the world’s largest burl was somewhere in Port McNeill.

Shonna said we had to find it to send him a photo. It was only a block from where we sat. Gotta love Google Maps.
I captioned this with “BEST VACATION EVER!”

The following morning, we drove the ten minutes to Alder Bay Marina, met the group, and loaded our luggage on the water taxi for our ride to the Spirit of the West base camp.

We arrived on Swanson Island to a well-oiled machine. Returning guests waited on the beach to unload our gear and supplies, after which we loaded theirs. As our boat became their boat, their camp became ours. Following a guest and guide introduction, we checked into our luxurious tents and met in the dining area for a freshly prepared lunch. That afternoon, we were on the water.

For the next five days and four nights, we were now a community of ten guests, two kayaking guides, a camp staff member, and our chef.

On a trip like this, everyone must haul kayaks, load and unload supplies and gear, and follow instructions. The other guests were younger and older than we were, with more and less kayak experience. All were genuinely nice people and a pleasure to hang out with for a week. We couldn’t have asked for a better group.

We were required to wear masks on the water taxi and the crew wore them while preparing and serving food, but the rest of the time, in this outdoor environment, we were able to forget about COVID for awhile.
THE CREW

P.J. is an easy-going pro with eight seasons under his belt. A natural leader, this guy loves his job and sharing his knowledge. Even when our easily distracted (WHALE!) wide-eyed group was only half-listening to what he was trying to tell us; he patiently got us back on track with his great sense of humour.

In addition to her skills as a kayaking guide and guest wrangler, Rebecca is an unapologetic whale nerd. She gave a talk about whales one evening, and her enthusiasm was infectious

Kenna was a jill-of-all-trades on this trip. Usually she’s in the Spirit of the West office, but she was helpful in the kitchen, general duties around camp, upbeat and friendly.

Josh is a wonder in a camp kitchen. He’s a genial, funny guy and incredibly modest about his exceptional culinary skills. Though after our tsunami of compliments every time he put food in front of us, his ego might need some deflating.

THE FOOD

We started each day with delicious coffee and a big breakfast. Lunch went with us in the kayaks, served on whatever scenic rocky beach we landed on. Appetizers waited for us on our return to camp before delicious meals each evening, served with red and white wine.

We’d been encouraged to bring additional refreshments, and most did. Before our trip, I had rigged a collapsible cooler bag with an aluminum bubble wrap insulation lining. It worked so well that I still had ice for rum and coke on the third night and our beer stayed cold the whole trip.

The meals were better than a lot of restaurant fare I’ve had; fresh, tasty and abundant. For dessert one night, Josh warned us that he had never made lemon meringue pie before. It was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
THE CAMP

Surrounded by water on three sides, this place is stunning. A wooden staircase leads from the kayak beach up to a network of boardwalks and paths to accommodation tents and support structures.

Each trapper-style tent sits on a wooden platform beneath a corrugated roof. Furnished with comfortable beds, duvets, towels, luggage racks, solar-charged electric lamps, and personal headlamps, all had a view of the ocean.

Every tent has a washing area, compost toilet, and a metal bear-bin style cabinet to ensure that toiletries don’t attract wildlife. While we didn’t see any this trip, there are plenty of black bears in this part of the world, but with plenty of food from the sea and careful camp cleanliness, they’re not a problem.

A natural stream feeds two propane showers. We never had to wait to use them, and there was always hot water.

Communal areas include a large kitchen with a covered dining area, a lounge with comfortable couches, a gas fireplace, and a woodfired hot tub.

We were not roughing it.
KAYAKING

Shonna and I have a bit of kayaking experience. We had one day in Tofino years ago, plus four days with Spirit of the West in 2019. We enjoyed our time on the water, but neither of us has ‘the bug.’ So, we won’t be buying sea kayaks or taking a trip like this every year. But what drew us to this experience was the location and a leisurely means of touring the islands, allowing us to be out in the fresh air and physically active.
Our exceptional guides taught us about the landscape, currents, tides, wildlife, and the indigenous people who first inhabited the area. Each day, a different route would introduce us to new experiences.
Vancouver Island is a coastal temperate rainforest. While we prepared for rain and even expected it, we didn’t have any on our whole trip. Every morning we were socked in with fog until after noon, and I loved it. Kayaking in calm foggy waters is a spiritual experience, the forest and rocks drifting in and out beside us as we crept into little coves and inlets.
It was quiet, often punctuated only by the sound of humpback whales surfacing nearby.

On our final afternoon, a weather system arrived earlier than forecast (surprise, surprise), and we had to cross Parson bay with 8-knot winds. It was a workout, each of us paddling hard to stay with the group to get from one sheltered beach to another. We endured wind and choppy waters all the way back but arrived on our home beach with enthusiasm. It felt like a team effort.
WILDLIFE

From the dining area one late afternoon, we saw a large orca in Blackfish Sound headed our way. Initially thought to be alone, it soon became apparent there was a pod of them close behind. They never got near the camp, but it was a thrill, especially since they stayed awhile.
Other critters included bald eagles, dolphins, seals, sea lions and plenty of seagulls.
On our last morning, the tide was out as far as we’d yet seen. Pretty soon, the whole group wandered around the shore, checking out crabs, urchins, and other tidal life, calling out the best finds so everyone could share in the wonder.

But the highlight of the whole trip was the humpback whales. I could never have predicted so many in one spot. Easily identified by their signature blow of vapour when they exhale, you couldn’t look anywhere for long without seeing one.

When closer, you could hear them, like a rapidly deflating tire, but with more depth. While lying in bed at night, it was a frequent sound in the darkness. Then, in the morning, we’d wake to that sound in the fog, right outside our tent.

Everywhere we went in camp, walking on the shore, eating a meal, sitting in the lounge or while out in the kayaks, humpbacks were the soundtrack of our experience.

But hearing them is not nearly as thrilling as seeing so many of them, sometimes incredibly close.

From our camp and in the kayaks, we saw them surge feeding, breaching, surfacing fast and slow, way out in the channel, and right inside our bay. I took this shot standing beside the hot tub one evening.
Late Wednesday evening, half the group paddled around the bay with P.J. so he could show them bio-luminescence in the water. Dry and comfortable, I’d opted out, but Shonna enjoyed the experience. Those of us who stayed on land watched them from the shore. Then, suddenly, a humpback surfaced right off camp and looked like it was going into the narrow channel between our camp and Flower Island, where our kayakers were paddling in the failing light.

When it exhaled, P.J. told everyone to back-paddle fast. The timing and distance of the blows indicated the whale was heading into their path. Fortunately, it changed course, but it was a tense moment.

Here’s Flower Island and the narrow channel from the dining area.
On our final morning on the water, we paddled across a channel in the fog, grouped for safety. Whales were blowing all around us, and while they sounded close, fog plays tricks with noises. It was creepy but exciting, paddling in a cloud with limited visibility.

I was in a kayak close behind Shonna’s when suddenly a humpback surfaced immediately to her left, parallel but heading the opposite way. P.J. told us to group closer together and paddle for the shore ahead. The whale circled and surfaced again to our right, a little further away this time.

Humpbacks don’t have the echolocation of orcas, so their spatial awareness isn’t the greatest. P.J. later told Shonna the whale had been about forty feet away, far too close. The problem with whales is they don’t always let you know where they are until the last moment.

It startled all of us but was a wonderful experience, one that several said was the trip’s highlight. I know it certainly was for Shonna and me.
LOOKING UP FROM THE CAMERA

Our next-door neighbour Chris was a kayak guide years ago in this area. He once told me that guests were often so focused on getting photos they missed out on the experience.

I left my pro camera in camp each day rather than stuff it into a dry bag in the kayak, where I’d be too afraid to take it out while on the water, anyway. I brought an older point-and-shoot in the kayak and got some good shots. While still careful, I had accepted that it was an older camera, and if something happened to it, I’d be OK.
But for most of the shots, I had a waterproof case for my iPhone and a GoPro-style suction mount to secure it to the kayak in front of me, backed up with a tether for when I handheld it. I took plenty of videos and selected screenshots from those when I got home.

Around camp, I used my Canon DSLR to take photos of any wildlife. But too often, I focused on getting a shot of a humpback or orca swimming by rather than simply watching and enjoying the moment.

Even forewarned, I fell into the same trap.

Thankfully, I downloaded a bunch of photos to my iPad the first couple of days, and when I saw that very few of those long-distance whale shots were remarkable, I spent the rest of the trip watching more with my eyes and less time looking through a lens.

While I am pleased with many photos I took, none of them come close to the experience of being there—the smell of the air, ethereal light, moisture in the fog and the quiet peace. No camera or video will capture that, certainly not with my limited skills.

It’s a lesson I’ll likely keep learning, but I intend to be more selective on when to take photos and when to simply enjoy a time and place.

COMING HOME

After the kayak portion of our trip, we spent a couple of days in Courtenay, staying with my friend Darrel’s folks, who might as well be family. Saturday evening, we enjoyed a visit with old Bow Valley friends who moved to the Island years ago, before we flew home Sunday.

While no vacation is perfect, this one was pretty darn close. After more than two years of planning and waiting, it was a relief that it went so well and that we enjoyed ourselves this much. We probably had unreasonably high expectations, and it still exceeded them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Please visit their website for more information about Spirit of the West Adventures and the different tours they offer. These aren’t bargain tours; as in all things, you get what you pay for, and this company over-delivers. Our tour was the 5-day Whales and Wilderness Glamping.

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Back to the Drawing Board

Although I have a few paintings in progress, I have none to share right now as I’m dealing with more time-sensitive work.

Shonna and I returned Sunday from a week in the islands off northern Vancouver Island, a vacation initially booked for 2020 that we had to cancel. I shouldn’t need to explain why. But we finally got to take the trip, which was well worth the wait. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, glamping and kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago.
I’m anxious to sort through my photos and write about the experience. But I’ll have to fit it in between catching up with work and taking care of the rest of this week’s duties.

But these are some quick edits.
One of the highlights of this trip was the abundance of humpback whales. They were everywhere! There’s nothing like dozing off in a comfortable bed in a large tent at night and waking up each morning to the sound of whales exhaling just offshore.

I had to draw double the editorial cartoons the week before we left to cover my newspaper clients for my week away. So this week, I’ve got the usual cartoons, month-end bookkeeping and invoicing, plus preparing for another Mountain Made Market at the Civic Centre this Saturday. I’ll be in my usual spot inside the foyer, so stop in and visit if you’re in the area.
I’ll have another post soon with more photos and thoughts on the trip. I often forget that time away from the desk, especially in a natural environment, does wonders for my state of mind. Refreshed and rejuvenated, I am looking forward to putting a lot of energy into the paintings I’ve got on the go, and excited about the ones I’ve planned for the fall.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Insurance Company Hit-and-Run

This post has nothing to do with cartoons, painting, creativity, art, the business of art or anything in that orbit. But I still wanted to share it, because it could easily happen to you, if it hasn’t already.
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On June 11th, my wife and I drove to Calgary to see a matinee of Top Gun: Maverick on a beautiful sunny day. After shopping at Chinook Mall, we returned to the car in good spirits as the movie exceeded our high expectations. We decided to go for an early dinner before the drive home to Canmore.

Leaving the parking lot, Shonna stopped at a Yield sign to wait for traffic to clear so we could head west on Glenmore Trail. Suddenly we heard a crash to our left as a large red Buick smashed into a large black Volvo. There was nothing Shonna could do as the Volvo jumped the curb and collided with her side of the car.

After making sure Shonna was OK, I got out of the car to check the other drivers. The airbags had deployed in both of those vehicles, and I couldn’t get the doors fully open. The woman in the Volvo was dazed and frightened for her child in the car seat behind her. Thankfully neither was hurt. The woman in the Buick said she was OK.
I could already hear sirens. I don’t know who called 911, but fire, ambulance and police were on scene in a ridiculously short time.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of the usual post-accident exchange of statements and information, but a couple of standouts are worth sharing.

Calgary EMS firefighters and paramedics were fantastic, but that’s hardly surprising. Likewise, the Calgary Police Service members on scene were friendly, helpful, and empathetic. I talked to three or four of them while Shonna was calling insurance, and while a collision like this is no doubt routine for them, their roadside manner was considerate and appreciated.

One member told me we were lucky. He had attended a similar incident the week before, where a car ran a red light, sending another car into a cyclist standing beside his bike, waiting to use the crosswalk. The cyclist broke both his legs and was currently in the hospital.

Then he told me that even though we weren’t at fault, not to trust our insurance company. “They’re working for themselves, not for you.”

The last time we saw Shonna’s car, it was on a flatbed tow truck.

While I don’t know the outcomes for all involved, everybody walked away. However, I won’t say Shonna and I are ‘fine’ because some injuries take time to appear, which is why you have two years from the time of the incident to make a personal injury claim.

I also don’t want to write anything that gives an insurance company more disproportionate power than they already have. I’m not going to tell you the company’s name because from what I’ve read; this is an industry problem.

On the phone, the insurance agent said we should take a cab to the airport, where a rental car was waiting for us.

“So, it’s booked? There’s a car there?” I asked Shonna.

With the well-publicized rental car shortage, I was pleasantly surprised.

We took a $60 cab ride to the airport, arrived at Enterprise, and told them our situation. The gentlemen looked at us like we were speaking in tongues. There was no car booked for us and none available.

Another call to the insurance company.

The agent had made the booking for Monday at a different Calgary location. It was Saturday, and we were an hour and a half away from home.

I suggested we take the Banff Airporter shuttle home, but the next one didn’t run for another two hours. So with the Calgary Airport food court closed, we walked to an airport hotel, had a beer and ordered a pizza we had no appetite to finish.

A couple of friends generously offered to come to Calgary to pick us up, but we didn’t want to ruin their Saturday as well. My parents even offered to drive from Red Deer to get us back to Canmore, which would have been a round trip of 6 hours for them. Not an option.

We did accept a ride from the shuttle drop-off in Canmore from our friend, Michelle. At 10:30 pm, we had no energy left to resist.

The next morning, I took Shonna to Banff to get assessed by a doctor because if you don’t get looked at right away and try to make an insurance claim later, they’ll use any excuse to deny it. It’s easy to find stories on the many ways your insurance company is going to screw you on a technicality.

Another call to the insurance company, and they promised a car would be available here in Canmore the next day. On Monday, however, the rental car company had never heard of us. We finally got one on Tuesday.

Over the next five weeks, dealing with the insurance company proved more traumatic than the incident itself.

The body shop and the impound lot in Calgary both called to ask what they were supposed to do with the car because they hadn’t heard from our insurer. When we finally talked to an adjuster, we soon realized how little we mattered to him or the company.

We sent multiple emails and left several phone messages to get the adjuster to even communicate with us, both at the beginning and throughout the process. Finally, after more than a week of unanswered emails and calls, Shonna complained to somebody else, and they reassigned the case to another adjuster.
Shonna’s car was a 2012 Mazda3 GS Sport. It had a leather interior, 154,000km on it and was in immaculate shape. She had just put brand new tires on it the month before. This car was supposed to last another ten years.

Anyone who has bought or sold a car this year understands it is a seller’s market due to the worldwide shortage of new and used vehicles. If you can find a car, it will cost you a lot more. Insurance companies base their reimbursement on market value, so we figured we at least had that going for us.

How naïve.

They finally notified us that the car was a total loss and offered an embarrassment of a settlement.

Did you know that you don’t have to accept the insurer’s first offer and they’re well known for lowballing their own customers? So the police officer’s words were prophetic.

When Shonna wouldn’t accept their first offer, they abruptly cancelled her rental car on the July long weekend. But, of course, they didn’t bother to tell her. She found out when Enterprise called on Monday asking how long she intended to keep paying for the car on her own. She immediately returned it, and they didn’t charge her for the extra couple of days.

To craft a reasonable counteroffer, Shonna found multiple listings for the same vehicle, similar mileage and condition, and provided links for the adjuster. In addition, a friend who works at a car dealership generously provided more listings from their network. All showed that the insurance company’s valuation of her vehicle was well below reasonable.

As advised by related articles, we wrote a detailed narrative of the hardship incurred by losing the vehicle in the current market during the waning days of a pandemic and the financial difficulties that came with it. After several hours of research and due diligence, we felt we made a good case for an increase in compensation.

More than a week after our submission of the counteroffer, the insurance company responded that they couldn’t use the listings we had provided as evidence because they no longer existed. In the hottest vehicle market in recent history, they expected those vehicles to be still available a week later.

Of course, they had no response when Shonna pointed out that the vehicle listings they used to justify their compensation offer were from three weeks before the collision.

But they made it sound like a generous gesture when they agreed to adjust the settlement to account for the new tires.

So Shonna did more research and found several more listings, all showing that the insurer’s offer was well under the current market value. She resubmitted and advised that they’d also be gone if they waited a week to assess these listings.

They declined any further negotiation and said we were free to hire a lawyer and take it to arbitration.

As a legal battle with an insurance company would be like trying to punch your way into a bank vault, Shonna took the settlement, feeling well and truly violated by her own insurer. That’s what years of premiums buy you.

They’ve recently sent Shonna multiple form emails asking, “How did we do?”

Shonna is going to wait to replace the car until availability increases, and prices come down. She’s not interested in buying the first overpriced lemon on four wheels she can find, and I don’t blame her.

So we bought electric bikes, which I’ll write about in another post. A significant investment, but we’ve each put over 300 km on them in just under a month. Shonna takes hers to the gym and commutes to work, and I run most errands on mine; plus, we’re biking for recreation together and enjoying it a great deal. Our busy tourist town has difficult traffic and paid parking, but plenty of bike trails. Now we get everywhere faster than we used to, and our remaining car should last even longer. Provided somebody doesn’t hit us.

When we told people about the collision, we heard many variations of ‘it could be worse, it’s just a car, at least you’re OK, and be glad you weren’t hurt.’

Yes, of course that’s accurate, and we’re grateful we weren’t injured or worse. Time and distance do offer that perspective. But on the day of a traumatic incident like that and in the days that follow, where somebody else’s negligence has derailed your financial stability, future plans, and any sense of security you had on the road, those dismissive sentiments only made us more bitter and angry. It felt like we should be ashamed for being upset.

When somebody has just been through a horrible experience, put yourself in their shoes and ask if what you’re about to say will make them feel better or worse.

I don’t know what was happening with whoever ran that red light, but one person’s carelessness dramatically altered our lives. I’m not mad at her. We’ve all been guilty of careless driving. She’s human, and people make mistakes, but it was preventable, like almost all vehicle collisions.

We see it every day. People fail to signal, mess with their music, drive too fast, roll through stop signs, pass on solid lines, and narrowly miss pedestrians in crosswalks. Tailgating, texting, speeding, aggressive lane changes, road rage and the myriad other failures of attention and selfish behaviour where a lack of consequences makes us forget that most of us are driving one to three tons of metal, plastic and glass at high speeds.

It takes a second to end or ruin somebody else’s life.

Then you have to live with it.

Allow a few extra minutes to get there. Take a deep breath when that person in front of you is going slower than you’d like. It could be your friend’s Mom who just got bad news from her doctor. Or your neighbour is taking their sick dog to the vet. It could be some kid the same age as yours learning to drive and scared shitless about it. Or it could simply be that someone is lost and hasn’t realized they should pull over somewhere.

Minutes later, that delay likely won’t matter to you. Ads on Youtube probably cost you more time. But if you get impatient and do something stupid behind the wheel, it could matter for the rest of your life.

Drive safe and expect that others will not.

Take care,
Patrick

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Licensing and Diamond Art Club

When a company needs artwork for a product, they’ll often contract an artist to use their work in exchange for a future royalty percentage on sales.

Depending on the product, percentages can be small. But if the company sells a lot of that product, it can add up to a significant portion of an artist’s income.

This is licensing.

Some artists don’t like licensing because they think they’ll lose control of their art and it will be stolen. That has happened to me more than once, and to every professional artist I know. Sometimes you don’t even know about it until long after the fact, and most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it except tell them to stop.

Most of the licensing companies I’ve worked with are professionals. They use the art how they say they will, pay me regularly, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

They don’t always use the images I want them to, or as many of my paintings as I’d like, but that’s not my call. They’re running their own businesses, and my art is often a tiny part. Once they license the work, it’s theirs to market how they see fit if they keep to the spirit of the agreement.

Harlequin Nature Graphics licenses a handful of my images on T-shirts. DecalGirl offers several of my paintings on cases and decals for electronic devices. A dozen other companies around the world have licensed my art through an agency for cross-stitch, fabrics, canvas art, and other products.
My most significant license, of course, is Pacific Music & Art out of Victoria, BC. Thanks to Mike and his staff, my work is on coffee mugs, water bottles, calendars, art cards, magnets, coasters, trivets, notebooks, and more. During the first year of the pandemic, his foresight to put my work on face masks was a welcome flotation device when other parts of my business were under water.

I regularly encounter people who tell me they’ve bought some of my art at stores I didn’t know existed in towns I’ve never visited. One local friend recently returned from a trip to Vancouver Island and told Shonna, “Pat’s art is everywhere!”

At the Calgary Expo this year, a very nice woman came into my booth and loudly proclaimed, “That’s my otter!”

I laughed and replied, “I beg to differ, Ma’am. That’s MY otter!”

She had bought the image as a framed art card in a BC store more than a year ago, and it hangs in her kitchen.
I get my licenses in three ways. The first is through an agency. They will contact me and propose a contract with a client. I have first right of refusal on every deal, and I have politely declined the opportunity a couple of times. They represent many artists, so it’s not a very personal relationship.

I look up every company in every proposed agreement. Sometimes it conflicts with an existing license; other times, their site looks unprofessional, I don’t like the product, or it’s just not a good fit. But most of the deals they send me are worth a try, and I give them the go-ahead.

Sometimes I look for a license because I think my work will fit a product or I like a specific company.

The third way is that a company will reach out to me. They’ve seen my work somewhere, looked around my website, saw images they liked and want to talk about a license.

About a year ago, Diamond Art Club contacted me to discuss access to my catalogue. The contact was professional, sent me a great information package for prospective licenses, and they were upfront about their royalties and payment schedule—no red flags.

I looked through their professional site and was impressed with how many high-end brands and artists they have under license. There’s no credibility question when a company has the official DC Comics and Harry Potter licenses.

I had heard a little about diamond painting kits but didn’t know much about the hobby, nor how massive it is. The simplest explanation is that it seems to be a blend of paint-by-numbers, cross-stitch and a little bit of the classic lite-bright toy. So rather than butcher the explanation, I’ll refer you to their site’s excellent description. Click here or on the image below.
After a couple of weeks back and forth with contracts and questions, I uploaded my art to their servers and tried to put it out of my mind. They were clear that nothing would likely be available until the end of the year. Licensing is often a long game, depending on the product, and each company’s lead time is different.

The production pipeline on these kits is extensive. First, there’s research with customers and retailers to determine which images to produce, then assigning an image to a designer who will turn a piece of art into a kit. Following that, the kit must be manufactured in large quantities and shipped. It’s more involved than most products I’ve encountered.

I don’t know the timeline for when the world is normal, but I was forewarned that it is much longer under the shadow of the pandemic.

It has been a year since I signed the contract with Diamond Art Club. I checked in with them every couple of months, and they were friendly and accommodating as they explained the different stages of delay. And I’m just one new artist. They no doubt have hundreds of other pieces in the pipeline, all affected by the same delays every company in the world has faced these past couple of years.

The first image Diamond Art Club put into production was no surprise. My Otter is one of my top two bestsellers everywhere, a close tie with the Smiling Tiger.

I’m glad they started with that one because if it does well, there will no doubt be more of my images on these kits in the future. Given the popularity and quality of these kits, I certainly hope so.
My sample arrived this week, and I was eager to open it. The first thing I noticed was the fantastic design of the packaging, both outside and in. The tools and pieces are well organized and labelled. The quality of the otter image on the canvas is superb, and there’s nothing about this kit that looks cheap and thrown together. At 23″X17″, it’s a fairly large image.

If I were into this hobby and bought one from Diamond Art Club, I would feel like a valued customer. As a licensed artist, I feel my work is represented well, and I’m pleased to be involved with this company. I hope it’s for a long time.

I’ve learned about licensing, however, that I have no clue what will do well or for how long. Certain paintings may be incredibly popular with the people who like them, but will a new product find a new audience? I have no idea.

So, while I wait and see, I let these companies do what they do best, and I’ll keep painting new portraits of whimsical wildlife for their future consideration.

Because that’s what I do best.
If you’d like to learn more about Diamond Art Club, head to their site and check it out. Right now, you can get 20% off your first order with the code SUMMER20. While they have a large assortment of fantastic art, might I suggest a certain Otter as your first piece?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Mountain Made Market – July 30th


It’s that time again, another long weekend Mountain Made Market this Saturday at the Civic Centre, downtown Canmore. There will be 25 vendors inside and out, specialty foods, arts & crafts and live music. The Canmore Folk Fest also returns this weekend, so downtown will be a hopping place. With Main Street closed for the summer to motor vehicles, there’s plenty of room to move about, see the sights and enjoy the atmosphere.

As I don’t do the regular market circuit, I haven’t got a big tent, so you’ll find me just inside The Civic Centre in the main foyer. I’ll have plenty of prints, including the latest releases, 2023 calendars, coasters, magnets, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and more. So come on down and support local art and artists!

Hope to see you there.

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Goofy Grizzly


Here’s a painting of one of the younger bears at Discovery Wildlife Park. I took the reference in September of last year, but because there were two bears the same age, and I don’t know them as well as I do Berkley, I didn’t know which one I was painting.

I sent the finished piece to my friend Serena, the head keeper at the park, and she immediately said it was Bos (rather than Piper), which I took as a compliment that she could identify the bear from my painting. Another keeper also knew which as well, so it felt pretty good that even with my whimsical style, I got the personality and likeness right.

Serena reluctantly mentioned an anatomy issue with one of the paws/claws and said the claws looked more like a black bear than a brown bear. I asked for more clarification and spent some time repainting the problem area.

When it comes to unsolicited criticism, the kind most people offer is a glib comment that costs them nothing, so they speak before thinking. Unfortunately, it can often be unkind, malicious, or personal, which usually says more about the critic than that being criticized.

One of the pillars supporting social media is that we’re all so sure of our clear view from the cheap seats. It has always been easier to tear somebody down than build them up.

Constructive criticism, however, is a valuable resource, and artists need to cultivate relationships with people who genuinely want to see them create better work. For example, my buddy Derek and I have often sent each other paintings in progress, asking for critique.

Another tattoo artist friend sent me a beautiful sea turtle painting he’d completed the other day and asked my opinion. I loved the piece and enjoyed seeing it but had no suggestion for improving it, which isn’t unusual.

Most of the time, we’ve each scrutinized our work to death already before we request a second look.

But staring at a painting too long, sometimes you miss what’s right in front of you until a trusted friend and colleague points it out. Then you wonder how you ever could have missed it. Or you make the suggested change to see the results and agree it was a better choice.

When you do get an honest critique from someone whose intentions are genuine, be grateful. That person took the time to help you improve your work.

Serena’s not a painter, but when it comes to animal anatomy, I trust her eye, and I’m glad she saw what I missed. Better still, I’m happy she said so, rather than worry that I would take it personally.

From time to time, however, the creator of a piece might consider a critique and still disagree. That’s fine, too. Every artist sees things differently, and ultimately it comes down to making your own choices. I’ve had plenty of well-intentioned suggestions over the years, both on specific pieces and my business in general, that I decided weren’t right for me.

You never know, however, when somebody might offer a solution to a problem you didn’t know you had. For example, my buddy, Darrel, casually suggested vinyl stickers a while back because he saw a few on vehicles and thought my work would lend itself to those. I’m glad he did because my stickers are now doing well in a few retail stores, and I’m actively seeking more resellers.

But then, I also get a lot of people suggesting I create children’s books, and it’s just not something that interests me.

This painting was supposed to be a practice sketch. But my obsessive nature and perfectionist tendencies don’t seem to allow me to stop if I can just paint in a little… more… detail. So, this became a finished piece. I think it will make a nice sticker, too, and possibly a print later.

Regardless of where it ends up, I consider any time painting bears to be time well spent.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Circle of Prints

I’ve painted over 100 animals since 2009, and I can’t keep them all in stock. Even five of each is a lot of inventory. So whenever I bring in new ones, I’ve got to retire some. Some paintings seem to be perpetual best sellers, while others have their day in the sun for a few years and then wane in popularity.

To ensure a reasonable price from my supplier, I have to order prints in volume. So when a print plays out its best days, it’s no longer worth ordering a large amount. That’s a good indication it’s time to let it go and give a new one a chance.

Today, I’m retiring three prints. The Bald Eagle, Black Bear and Grizzly have been removed from the store. They’re still popular on other items through my various licenses, but not as much as prints in my online store. I get attached to these paintings as each has a story and takes many hours to paint. This round of retirees is especially bittersweet as this Grizzly was the first animal I painted in my whimsical wildlife style, the bear that started it all. But I’m always painting new grizzly bears and black bears, so there’s no shortage of that subject.

As much as I like my Bald Eagle painting, I’ve taken many excellent references at The Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta in recent years, and I’m looking to paint a new one.

With a new print order just arrived, the Beaver and Two Wolves are back in stock, so if you’ve been waiting for those, thanks for your patience.
Of course, no new order would be complete without some first-issue prints. My latest paintings, Snow Queen and Duckling, are now available in the store! I love seeing the first prints of a new painting; these were no exception. There’s just something about a print that makes the work complete.
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All prints are 11″ x14″ with a white border, and it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame as it’s a standard size. In addition, each is hand-signed and comes with a backer board and artist bio in a cellophane sleeve.

If you have any questions about the available prints or vinyl stickers, feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to answer. Otherwise, take a browse through the available paintings and see if there’s one that catches your eye. And a reminder that all images (even the retired ones) are available via custom order, as canvas or metal prints.

Cheers,
Patrick

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All Work and No Play

If you had asked me as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered that I wanted to be a writer. Most artists have several creative interests. But like with my artwork, I accepted too many offerings from unkind critics and shelved any ambition to do anything with those talents for many years.

I remember a teacher handing back an essay, telling me I would be a writer one day. But I also recall a different teacher who said a paper I turned in was too advanced for my age; therefore, I must have plagiarized it, and she called my parents—nothing like being branded a thief to douse a creative spark.

I didn’t gain enough confidence in my artwork to consider taking it professionally until my early thirties. I had never entertained the idea of art school because I didn’t think I was good enough. And despite having written two amateur novels in my twenties, my writing today is mostly confined to blog posts and promoting my art.

I’ve procrastinated on writing an art book for several years under the crippling weight of imposter syndrome. I have visions of spending several months working on it, shelling out the money to publish it, and having most of the books sit in the corner of the basement collecting dust. Many would-be authors have shared that fate after foolishly flying too close to the sun.

But I still want to write the book. There are stories behind the paintings I want to tell because that’s as much a part of the work as the brushstrokes. And there are plenty of prints I have retired that could shine again in a book.

What scares me more than writing it is still talking about writing it 20 years from now. Apologies to those who are tired of me promising that which it seems I’ll never deliver.

I don’t have writer’s block. If anything, my problem is writing too much and having to edit it down to a reasonable length. Most of my first draft blog posts are twice as long before I take a machete to them. My problem is the simple fear of creating a book that ends up being little more than a steaming pile of crap, unworthy of the common housefly.

It’s a convenient excuse. If I don’t write it, it can’t suck. But what if it ends up being as good or better than I want it to be? I’ll never know if I don’t write it. So this failure to launch is an unending source of shame and self-loathing, with nobody to blame but myself.

In his book, The Practice, Seth Godin wrote, “If you need a guarantee of critical and market success every time you seek to create, you’ve found a great place to hide. If the need for critical and market success has trapped you into not being bold again, you’ve found another place to hide.”

At this point in my career, I cannot separate my art and writing from my profession. They are both synonymous with work and my identity. That’s what happens when you turn what you love into your job. There is no part of my art now that isn’t, in some way, a component of my business.

But I have a third creative outlet.

My parents once bought me one of those little Casio keyboards for Christmas, and on the first day, I learned a song from the radio. Just the melody, one key at a time with my index finger, but I had discovered that I had an amateur ear for music. Nothing that foretold a scholarship at Julliard or anything extraordinary, just some average latent musical talent.

I graduated to a larger full-size keyboard, then another, and even hauled the damn thing around with me far too often. In hindsight, it was no doubt a surrogate security blanket, but music was a big part of my teenage and young adult years.

Music formed the foundation of my oldest and closest friendship with my buddy Darrel. We occasionally performed a couple of songs at The Crown and Anchor pub in Red Deer around 1990 for a couple of years. Darrel played guitar, and I sang.

While he went to college for music and still works in the industry today, I let my musical interests stagnate when I moved on to cartooning.

But I’ve always missed it. Several years ago, I bought a secondhand guitar and took months of lessons. I practiced, improved, and learned a lot. I can fingerpick and play chords, but I kept putting it aside for work, so I never got good at it.

Sometimes I would take it camping, but people want to listen to songs around a campfire, not somebody practicing. I’d bring it to the cabin with grand designs of jamming with Darrel, but our guitars spent most of those weekends sitting in their cases. I just hadn’t practiced enough on my own, so I couldn’t play much of anything useful, and eventually, I just started leaving it at home.

Most days, it sits in the corner of my office in its case for months on end while I responsibly spend my time working on the creative stuff that pays the bills.

I get emails from aspiring artists asking me how to turn their creative hobbies into a profession. I try to be kind, but I answer honestly. I encourage them but also caution them to be careful what they wish for. When your hobby becomes your work, you need to find another hobby.

It is advice that I give but don’t follow.

We own a townhouse condo. While we have an end unit and only share one wall, I am always mindful of how much noise I make, out of consideration for our neighbours.

Three apartments in Banff and 21 years in this place, we’ve had good and bad neighbours. Sharing a wall with somebody else is about compromise; if you cannot do that, you will invite conflict. It is remarkable how so many don’t understand that a sub-woofer on your TV or stereo in a shared wall environment ruins other people’s lives.

Our current neighbours are the best we’ve ever had; yes, we’ve told them more than once. They warn us when they’re working on stuff in the garage and having guests over, and they are simply two of the nicest, most considerate people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. So naturally, we try our best to respond in kind.

Granted, you can’t be quiet all the time. They have a wonderful large dog that Shonna and I adore and have affectionately nicknamed Thunderpaws(!) for those rare times she runs around the house. We’ll occasionally hear each other’s TVs, or we all talk louder on phone calls. Shonna and I both have loud laughs, and like most married couples, we’ve had the odd heated discussion that no doubt the neighbours have been too polite to mention.

They even graciously put up with our kitchen renos a few years ago without a single complaint, even though three out of four of us work at home.

So despite that I have played my guitar, I never enjoyed it as much as I’d like, because I’m conscious of the noise. I’m pretty good at finger-picking now but was poor at strumming because it’s louder, so l avoided it. I’ve been assured it’s not a problem, but I can’t relax and play how I want without wondering if they’re bothered by it. It’s just my nature.

We had a neighbour in Banff who liked to play his guitar late at night, ruining our sleep more than once.

On a recent visit with family, my wife’s stepmother wondered if I still played. When I told her I didn’t, she asked if it was easy to let go or if it had been a passion. I thought about it on the drive home and in the days that followed and realized I still miss it.

I looked up quiet acoustic guitars on a whim and came across the Yamaha SLG200S. They’ve been around a while, but I had never heard of them. So I researched, asked Darrel’s professional opinion, and realized that this was precisely what I needed.

It’s called a silent guitar, but that’s only a marketing term. Basically, it sounds like an unplugged electric guitar, which isn’t loud at all. When you play it with headphones or through an amp, however, it sounds like a high-end acoustic. But it’s incredibly quiet to anyone else and certainly inaudible to someone on the other side of a wall.

The next hurdle was allowing this extravagance, a gift to myself that is in no way an investment in my business. But, Shonna encouraged me to do it. My recent prize money from the second-place win in that cartoon contest covered most of it.

And still, my inner critic spent the next few days trying to talk me out of buying it. You don’t have the time. Better to use the money for the business. What if you play it for a few days, and then it sits in the corner like the other one? Maybe you just like the idea of playing guitar. What’s the point, it’ll take you years to get any good, and you’ll never be really good.

He’s a dick.

Despite my demons, I picked one up a month  ago. I had planned on going to Calgary for it, but while running errands here in Canmore, I took a chance and checked out Roosters Acoustics, the only guitar shop in town. They had three, including the crimson red burst colour I wanted. While it cost a little more here, I was happier to support a local business instead of one in the city. Plus, I would have spent the difference on gas anyway, not to mention my time to go get it.

When I got home, I felt unworthy of it. Like Red in Shawshank Redemption, when given a harmonica by his friend and he says softly, “It’s very pretty, Andy.”

Darrel and I have had a four-night cabin rental booked for the Canada Day long weekend for several months. So with that on the horizon, I told myself I would practice every day so that we could play some real guitar that weekend.

One of the great features of this guitar is that it has an Aux input with its own volume dial, which allows me to plug my phone into it. This lets me play along to songs from Spotify (or any other service on my phone) and it all comes through the same headphones I’m wearing.

Suddenly, I was playing for an hour almost every day, playing it how I wanted, with no concern about noise, genuinely enjoying myself. By the time the trip rolled around, I had not only regained all of the skills I had learned in my lessons and previous practice; I had surpassed them. As a result, I can now play better than I ever have.

Darrel brought a little amp for me, and a couple of those days at the cabin, we played for two hours or more, flipping through songs in a book of music I’d printed. Darrel taught me a few new techniques, and with no agenda, it was just fun! I set up my camera one day and recorded video of our playing a few songs just so I could grab some stills without our having to pose.
This was a favourite, laughing and clowning around while screwing up the chords and lyrics of American Pie, an old standard from those Crown and Anchor days. We had a great weekend at the cabin and I’m looking forward to the next time when I’ll have a few more months of practice under my belt.

I have no desire to play music professionally or join a group or band. There’s no finished product to market, promote, or invite criticism. I don’t need to produce any content to share online, and there’s no pressure. It’s a purely creative outlet, something for me.

I’m glad to have a hobby again. It’s a fun escape from work and a wonderful stress reliever, especially at the end of the day.

Without even a twinge of buyer’s remorse, I consider this some of the best money and time I’ve ever spent.

Cheers,
Patrick