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Winter Wolf

When beginning a new painting, it’s tempting to scour my photo archives for an animal I haven’t painted before. Sometimes that intent works, but often I end up sacrificing my enjoyment of the work because I chose the animal for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.

My photo reference files are well cataloged, a folder for each animal. With thousands of photos to choose from, having them all in a big pile makes life a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

I try to steer myself away from painting too many bears. I could happily paint ten of those in a row, but not everybody has the same affinity for my favourite creature, though I have no idea why.

I’ve painted three wolf images, four if you count that one of those paintings has two wolves in it. So, it came as a surprise to me that I chose to paint another one. Often I’ll decide to paint an animal because it feels right at the time.

My friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, gave me a folder of wolf images a few years ago, a large collection of shots she’d taken over the years. These orphaned and rescued wolves had all died of old age long before my first visit to the park.

I came across one image from 2010 that inspired the above painting and asked Serena who it was. She said it was “Smith. He was a sweet wolf.”

The photo has low light, grainy, and taken on a foggy winter day. Serena is a skilled photographer, and many of the images in the folder were much better. But still, I kept returning to this one.

Rather than fight it, I decided to go with it and paint another wolf.

The finished piece looks nothing like Smith. It has a more feminine feel, and I’ve taken liberty with the eyes, expression and everything else. I used five other reference shots for the detail I needed. A couple were Serena’s photos, the others my own.

There are two or three hours of work painting fur detail that I later covered up with snow, which was the most challenging part of this piece. I had to decide between too much or too little snow and where to put it.

Leaving the background white felt uncomfortable, as I often use colour and texture to make the foreground image pop or establish more mood. I added some blue flecks to the background to take the edge off the sharp contrast and accent the eyes, but it’s still a predominantly nondescript backdrop. I did add a subtle light blue to make it softer and mute the contrast a little more at the end. From a commercial perspective, it will make it easier to adapt this painting to various licensed products.

While I enjoyed working on this piece and its challenges, I’m not sure how I feel about the finished painting. I’ll need to let it rest awhile. Still my style, not as whimsical as my other pieces and a departure from the usual composition, but the same could be said for my Roar and Sire paintings, both of which have become popular.

I can control the work, the choices I make, and the art I send out into the world. After that, it’s out of my hands.
I’m starting a new painting right away on Monday, something completely different, Mike’s suggestion at Pacific Music and Art. I’ve said no to him on this critter before, for reasons I’ll explain later. I’m a little nervous about it as it will be tough. The detail alone will double my usual painting time. But if I can manage to bring it to life, it might be a fun piece with a lot of personality.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Cartoons, Clichés and COVID

There’s an exhaustive list of images, references and tropes that cartoonists (over)use. I could attempt to list them all and it would still only be the tip of the iceberg. Oh, that’s one right there.

The Statue of Liberty or an eagle representing the US, a beaver for Canada, a bear for Russia, panda for China, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates greeting whichever notable figure just died, or somebody looking down from heaven. Variations of logos for the Olympics, companies, and events; broken records, road signs, going off a cliff or over a waterfall, weighing scales, talking animals…it’s a long list.

I’ve yet to meet any cartoonist who hasn’t used many of these, although most will be quick to criticize another for doing the same. I’ve been guilty of both of those, more than once. Sometimes it’s laziness, other times it’s trying to find a new angle on an old theme, and more often than not, it’s desperation.

But we’ve all used these tropes.

It’s a point of personal pride that I’ve never drawn a pearly gates cartoon, but that’s splitting hairs, because I’ve used almost all of the others.
As you can see above, I released a cartoon this week that used one of the biggest clichés in cartooning. The Titanic has been drawn often, by many. I don’t think I’ve drawn the whole ship before, but I’ve certainly drawn sunken or sinking ships and alluded to the iceberg, which is the same thing.

The Titanic represents hubris, man’s ego coming back to bite him in the ass. It’s appropriate for politics, corporate greed, and blind ambition, unchecked by reality. Sooner or later, an iceberg comes along to challenge the unsinkable claim. PLENTY of cartoonists have drawn politicians standing on the bow as it sinks.

While I would normally avoid the Titanic imagery, and I’m sure other cartoonists who see it will roll their eyes at my audacity for bringing it out of mothballs, it was a popular cartoon this week. I heard from several editors who loved it, proving once again that we’re supposed to be pleasing our customers, not each other.

In my experience, most of us are bitter and cynical ‘hey you kids, get off my lawn’ types anyway, as insecure about our work as every other artist, something a few attempt to hide with false bravado and imagined authority that everybody else sees through.

It happens in every industry, especially creative ones. Artists will spend days debating details that nobody else cares about.

When I used to attend the Photoshop World conference each year in Las Vegas, several classes I attended were for photographers. Long before I took the volume of photos I do today, I learned a lot from those classes, because what makes one image better will ultimately make another image better.

Alan Hess is a skilled concert and event photographer, author, instructor and he takes photos of other genres as well.  He’s also a friend, who helped me out with reference photos in the early days of animal work, and I wrote a guest piece years ago about digital painting on the iPad, for one of his books.

During one of his classes, Alan shared a photograph, then zoomed in to show that, seen up close, it was grainier than it looked at full size. I can’t remember the context of that lesson, but something he said has always stuck with me.

“You know who cares the most about noise in photographs? Photographers!

It still makes me smile, because that kind of quibbling over inconsequential details exists in every field, especially creative ones. Artists will obsess (!!!) over the most ridiculous things in their work. We’re miserable about it. We’ll talk each other to death about details that nobody sees or cares about, and judge each other harshly for it, almost as much as we judge ourselves.

Plenty of freelance writers who imagine themselves Hemingway or the next Woodward or Bernstein will author listicle after listicle to pay the bills. You know the articles I’m talking about. 21 Uses for Old Underwear or 10 Reasons Your Editorial Cartoons Suck!

Then they’ll judge other writers for releasing yet another listicle.

We’re all hypocrites.

While it’s still worthwhile to try to be original and not fall back on tired or overused imagery, sometimes it is indeed that imagery that works best, because it resonates with people. There’s nothing to be gained by over-complicating a simple message.

And sometimes, it’s just an off day with a deadline.

I enjoyed drawing the Titanic in this cartoon. I could have spent a couple more hours nitpicking it. But that would be obsessing over details that nobody would see, and in a deadline-driven profession, time is money.

The downside of these tropes, however, is that when other cartoonists draw on them, eventually you’re going to use the same ones, sometimes on the same day. A well-known moment in editorial cartoon culture is that many cartoonists used the same image to depict the events on 9/11, the Statue of Liberty with tears in her eyes.

I was about two weeks away from trying to become a syndicated cartoonist when that happened, so I didn’t draw a 9/11 cartoon, though I certainly wouldn’t fault any of those artists. How original can you be with such a monumental event, with no time to let it all sink in before drawing a cartoon? The deadline was as immediate as the disaster.

They call this a Yahtzee when multiple cartoonists come up with the same idea. The fact that they even have a name for it, reveals that it’s not uncommon. While idea theft does happen, it’s more often just a bad luck coincidence. None of us wants to draw the same thing and the ones who do steal ideas are usually well known for it.

In my experience, this kind of thing happens a lot in holiday seasons, whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, the New Year, and especially Christmas.
I drew this cartoon yesterday afternoon and sent it out first thing this morning.

Then I went to peruse the daily papers that publish my work to see if they’d printed any of mine. In the Edmonton Journal, I saw this cartoon by Malcolm Mayes, their staff cartoonist. I will admit to uttering a four-letter word or two.
I don’t need to tell you that Rudolph is as common a Christmas image as Santa, the elves, the North Pole, a lump of coal, a stocking, a tree, lights, we don’t have all day. Malcolm and I won’t be the only ones to imagine the COVID-19 virus replacing Rudolph’s nose. It’s low-hanging fruit and if we hadn’t used it this week, somebody else would use it next week, or already has and I just haven’t seen it.

I’ve been sending out 7 cartoons a week, every week, for many years, as have all of my colleagues, especially the ones that are still managing to make a living in this profession, or part of one. With that volume of content, it’s the truly original ideas that are the exception, not the rule.

In the old days, before the internet, an editorial cartoonist with a daily staff job had all day to stew over an idea, come up with multiple angles, try to squeeze out another ounce of cleverness, and take hours to bring a cartoon to life. A very few still have that luxury, knowing that spot is reserved for them every day.

Back then, once the cartoons were published, they wouldn’t immediately see what their colleagues at other papers had drawn because it didn’t matter as much. These undesirable coincidences wouldn’t even get noticed.

But today, with instant connection, websites and social media, freelance cartoonists are often competing for the same open spaces, so it’s as much about the speed of delivery as it is about the idea. First past the post often wins the day.

What’s worse is that we’re not just competing with each other, we’re competing with viral memes and videos, too. I keep a long list of ideas for editorial cartoons and can’t tell you how often I’ll see a meme that necessitates me opening that Word file, finding the same idea and deleting it.

The holiday season will see a lot of cartoonists combining masks, sanitizer, and distancing, our now universal COVID clichés with all of the traditional Christmas ones we trot out every year, trying to be original, but ultimately failing. This dominating news story isn’t going away soon and having to find a way to draw something new about COVID-19 day after day after day after day…it’s exhausting.

I know this cliché cartoon coincidence will happen again and it will bother me as much as it did this morning, but will probably go unnoticed by most, except for other cartoonists.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Bear Hug

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on a whimsical wildlife painting. For those who follow my work specifically to see those, thank you for your patience.

Wacom hired me to create a video for them connected with a promotion they’re doing right now called “Find Your Gift.”

As many of you know, Wacom creates the tablets and displays on which I’ve created my work for more than twenty years. I’ve been their guest on webinars, created new product demo videos for them, represented them at an event in Calgary, presented at their booth at Photoshop World, and they generously allowed me to donate tablets to a local school.

My work wouldn’t be possible without Wacom.

So when my friend Pam asked me to create another video for them, there was only one answer.

What I like best about our relationship is that Pam lets me do my own thing. Of course, we have some back and forth to make sure my vision matches hers, but she knows what to expect from me, and I do my best to deliver.

In this case, I had the freedom to interpret the word gift and paint and write what I wanted, which allowed me to create my best work.

I spent the last three or four days chained to my desk, creating this painting, recording with the camera and screen capture, writing and recording the narration, and editing it all together a la Dr. Frankenstein. It was a lot of work, but I’m quite pleased with the result.

I realized that the three recent paintings I like best are ones I did for Wacom videos. Those include the Amur Tiger, the Ring-tailed Lemur and this one.

The model for this painting is one of the most handsome residents of Discovery Wildlife Park. Gruff was an orphaned black bear cub who had a rough start in life, but thanks to Serena and her staff’s tireless efforts, he has grown into a beautiful, gentle bear with a wonderful personality. The keepers try not to pick favourites, but they each have a special place in their heart for Gruff, as do I.

I’ve often written about how much I value my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. They allow me incredible access to the animals, for which I’m immeasurably grateful. On my most recent visit in September, I was able to sit inside the enclosure while they did their bear education presentation, where they teach people about bear safety, behaviour and conservation.

I took hundreds of reference shots and didn’t realize I’d be using ones from that session so soon.

One of the keepers, Jacob, was in Canmore last week, and I had a brief visit with him. I told him what I was painting, inspired by the poses I shot. He told me that Gruff almost always has a ball with him. It doesn’t need to be the same ball, but it’s kind of like his security blanket. He even takes a ball with him into his den when he hibernates.

On one visit to the park a couple of years ago, Serena sent me a text asking where I was. I said that I was watching a silly bear play with a ball. She responded, “Gruff.”

Gruff taught himself how to pose with the ball and because it was so endearing, the keepers used positive reinforcement to encourage that behaviour. It was this pose that inspired the painting. As the light wasn’t great in this shot, the sun beside and behind him, I had to use other reference photos for the details. Thankfully, I have hundreds of pictures of Gruff.

Even though I was pressed for time on this, more self-inflicted than not, this painting was a joy to create. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun painting one of my whimsical wildlife portraits. Considering the kind of year it’s been for all of us, that’s no small thing.

If you’ve got five minutes, you can see a high-speed time-lapse below of how I painted Gruff and hear some of my thoughts about the importance of finding and sharing your own gifts.

Take care of yourselves,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Creating a Remembrance Day Cartoon

Each year, I struggle to come up with a Remembrance Day cartoon, assigning it more weight than almost any other theme. It’s a challenge to create images and text that evoke the appropriate reverence without being trite.

Many of my newspaper clients are weekly publications. While Remembrance Day is November 11th, many papers will run the cartoon this week, depending on which day their paper comes out. It always needs to be done early to accommodate everyone.

Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for cenotaphs and memorials in different towns and cities. I take reference photos from which I can paint, and then, I try to write something original to accompany the art. As there is very little about this year that’s normal, I went in a different direction.

This is the first year I’ve included the words Lest We Forget in a cartoon to the best of my knowledge. I’ve avoided it because of its overuse. But for the image I drew this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

With many parades and ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, most will stay home this year. Services and observance will be virtual and live-streamed. Traditionally busy venues on Remembrance Day, especially for veterans and seniors, Royal Canadian Legion branches will be closed in most places. The safety of members and their families will take precedence over fellowship. I’m sure that it will be difficult for many veterans.

This year, I recorded a short high-speed video of my cartoon, with accompanying music. Feel free to share it.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Puzzling

A box of Spilsbury puzzles arrived at our door today. I knew these were coming sometime this year, but had no idea when.

Over the years, my images have found their way onto many different products, through licensing deals I’ve signed. I’ve written about licensing before, but the short version is that when a company wants to use an artist’s work on a product, they pay the artist a royalty. It’s usually for a set amount of time, two or three years, an agreed upon percentage, for a specific region, and stipulations regarding exclusivity. The contracts have a lot more details in them, but the general idea is pretty simple.

I have licenses for T-shirts and apparel through Harlequin Nature Graphics and decals/cases for phones and devices through DecalGirl. Pacific Music and Art has licenses for a wide variety of products, some of which are coffee mugs, art cards, magnets, aluminum art, coasters, trivets and as a consequence of our current situation, face masks and scarves/neck gaiters.

My interactions with these companies are quite simple. I’m almost always talking directly with the owner and I enjoy that one on one relationship.
Art Licensing, an agency based in New England makes my library of funny looking animals available to their extensive client list around the world. They act as my agent in negotiating those deals, for which they take a percentage. When a company is interested, Art Licensing sends me details of the arrangement and I approve or decline the offer. Because they’re professionals at what they do, they’re aware that I have other licenses and what those are, in order to avoid any conflicts between competing companies selling the same things.

I research the company, decide if I like the deal or not, and reply with yay or nay. Because Art Licensing knows their business, I usually approve, but I have declined a couple in recent years. When I’ve done so, they accept my decision without argument and we move on. Occasionally I’ll request a change to an offer and they’ll go back to the company with the request. If they accept it, the change is made, if they don’t, then I decide if I can live with the original terms.

For licenses obtained through Art Licensing, I don’t have any interaction with the companies making the products. From time to time, somebody following my work will send me a link to my art on a site somewhere and ask me if it’s legitimate. I do appreciate these emails, grateful that many of you are looking out for me and my work, but also because I do occasionally get ripped off and have to deal with that.

Most of the time, the links I’m sent are on the up-and-up. If I don’t know the company name selling my work, a little digging will often reveal that they have a parent company with whom I do have a license through Art Licensing. A customer recently told me he had seen my work for sale on a print in Macy’s in Texas. Sure enough, the company that put that art in Macy’s had a license to do so.

There are some artists who balk at giving up a percentage to wholesalers, galleries and retailers, but without those businesses, mine wouldn’t exist. Licensing is a desirable business model for many artists. I would never have the time, energy, capital or connections to manufacture all of these products and get them into stores all over the world. Licensing allows an artist to receive income from their work while continuing to create more, generating revenue year after year from the same images.
Spilsbury is a company that licensed four of my images at the beginning of this year. They optioned my Smiling Tiger, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle and Wolf paintings. While many of my licenses offer samples to the artist in the contract, this is the first time I’ve actually requested them. I really don’t want a warehouse of licensed items, especially as I get more of them. I’m not sure why, since I can’t recall Shonna and I ever putting a puzzle together, but I wanted to see these in person.

I did not expect to receive 12 of them, but I enjoyed opening that box. The puzzles come in 300 and 500 piece versions, so they sent me three of each of two of the designs, the Smiling Tiger and Happy Horned Owl. Looking on their website, they renamed the other two as the Earnest Eagle and Winsome Wolf. I have no issue with that at all, that’s just marketing. They sell them individually, or in bundles of two on their website, you can check them out here.
While I intend to keep one of each for myself, I’m going to give away the others via my newsletter. I don’t know how that will work yet, but I’ll give it some thought. I’d like to have fun with this, as we can all use some of that this year.

I’ll admit that I’m curious if putting together a 500 piece puzzle of my own painting will be easier, since I know those brushstrokes better than anyone. I’m going to save finding out the answer to that for an afternoon this winter, a hot chocolate and cookies next to me, with a snowstorm raging outside.

Cheers,
Patrick

EDIT:
It has come to my attention that Spilsbury does not ship to Canada. I tried it myself and the only shipping options they have is for the United States. That’s annoying, especially for those of you who have already told me they wanted to order some puzzles.

Apparently that’s the downside of not dealing directly with the company, in that I didn’t know that. It’s still a great license for me personally, but not for all of you. For that, my apologies.

For those of you in the US, that doesn’t change anything. Sadly, for my Canadian followers, these aren’t currently available. Should that change in the future, I will let you know.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you were looking to get a puzzle.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Odds and Ends

As the title suggests, here’s a collection of smaller updates in one post.

Pacific Music and Art

The funny-looking face masks continue to be popular, now sold in many retail stores in Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and everywhere else via their online store. The masks have gone through a recent design evolution. The image now covers the entire mask, the straps are more elastic, with a flexible nose bridge inside the upper seam. They still come with rubber grommets to make the straps more adjustable.
In addition to the masks, there are now face scarves available, fun because they’re so versatile. They can be used as a neck scarf, beanie, head band, head scarf and they can be doubled up over your face to serve as a mask.
Once again, the masks and face scarves are not for medical use and are not intended as a replacement for N95 masks or medical grade PPE.

If you’d like to see the available designs for both masks and scarves, follow this link. There are also some new face mask designs that previously weren’t available, so be sure to look through all three pages. Use the promo code Patrick5OFF, and you get 5% off everything on the site. The code expires at the end of December.

Limited Print Run

While a few of you told me that the Pennywise clown painting was not your cup of tea, and one of you even thanked me for not including it in the newsletter, one long-time supporter, and fellow Stephen King fan, wanted a print. Since I’m having it done anyway, I figured I’d see if anybody else wants one. Please let me know this week as I’ll be ordering them quickly.
And since I’m doing that one, I’m going to offer the recent Ripley painting as a print as well. These are 11″X14″ poster prints, so it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame wherever those are sold.
The price is $24.95 each, plus tax & shipping. Since these aren’t in the store, drop me a line to patrick@nulllamontagneart.com if you’re interested. I’m accepting e-transfer for Canadian orders and Paypal for the US (I’ll send you an invoice).

I won’t be keeping these images in stock, so this will be a pre-order. Please allow extra time for delivery.

Wacom

I’m recording another video for Wacom over the next couple of weeks. These are always challenging, but I usually end up having a lot of fun with them. For anyone new to my work, Wacom is the company that makes the digital displays on which I create my art. I’ve been using their tools for more than twenty years and welcome any opportunity to work with them.

A couple of videos I did this past year for Wacom resulted in two of my favourite paintings, the Ring-tailed Lemur and the Amur Tiger, shown below. I’m excited about the image I’m painting in this new video as well.

Sharing

I have been ripped off quite a bit throughout my career. People have used my images illegally for promotion, have altered my cartoons and paintings for their own agendas, and have claimed my images as their own work. One woman on Vancouver Island even used my Otter painting as her business logo and had large images on her store’s windows for two or three years. Then she had the nerve to get mad at me when I sent her a cease-and-desist. She argued that she found it on Google, so she thought it was free. Try that with Mickey Mouse and let me know how it turns out for you.

Sadly, it’s part of the online world. Once your work gets good enough to sell, then it’s good enough to steal. Every artist I know who makes their living from their creations deals with this problem.

But from time to time, people ask if they can share the paintings, cartoons, newsletters, and blog posts I send. While I appreciate that consideration, you don’t need permission. If I share it with you, then you can share it with anyone you like. In fact, I’m always grateful when people introduce my work to others.

As long as it’s not altered, my site name or signature remains on the image, and you aren’t making money from it, then share away, with my thanks.

Take care of yourselves. I’ll have something new to share in a couple of weeks.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Pennywise

While on a recent visit to the tattoo shop, one of the artists asked me if I was painting anything for Halloween.

For the past twenty years, I’ve drawn plenty of editorial cartoons with a Halloween twist, but Eric’s question caught me off guard. I’ve never considered painting something for Halloween.

One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with the artists at Electric Grizzly Tattoo is that they offer a different perspective. I’ve had several projects, promotions, and ideas borne of conversation at the shop.

While I’ve seen these guys come up with many different tattoo designs in various themes, much of their work involves pop culture. Whether characters from TV, animation, movies, comic books, graphic novels or music, there are clients who get full sleeves done in a pop culture theme.

One of Derek Turcotte’s clients has an entire leg done with characters from horror movies. It’s pretty impressive, both in the artwork’s exceptional quality and the tapestry woven from all of those images.

A couple of years ago, Derek painted Pennywise from the 2017 movie IT, based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. For the most recent movie adaptations, the character is played by Bill Skarsgård.

But I remember another version of It, a 1990 two-part TV miniseries with Tim Curry in the title role.

The basic story is that there’s a creature living beneath Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, in the guise of Pennywise the clown, It murders children after luring them into the sewers and has been doing so for centuries. In the two-part story, a group of children takes on the clown and thinks they have killed It. But they make a vow that they will return to finish the job if it ever comes back.

Sure enough, 27 years later, Pennywise returns, as does The Losers Club, to fulfill their promise.

I’m a big Stephen King fan. I started reading his books when I was a young teenager, probably earlier than I should have. Pet Sematary gave me nightmares. I could give you a long list of favourite King novels, but top of mind are The Dark Tower books, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Dr. Sleep and, of course, It.

Unfortunately, a lot of King’s books became movies that weren’t very good. It’s usually a pleasant surprise when I enjoy one as much as the book. The writer/director Frank Darabont is also a Stephen King fan, which is why his three adaptations are among my favourite movies.

Many people are surprised that the movie The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. Darabont made that movie, as well as The Green Mile and The Mist. This scene from The Mist is especially telling in our current climate.

Other screen productions based on King stories that I’ve enjoyed have included Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining, Dr. Sleep and the second season of Castle Rock.

Stephen King made me want to be a writer, and I’ve read and listened to his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ a few times.

While I have started writing fiction again this year, when I force myself to put ass in chair, it has been a struggle. The editorial cartoon deadlines, the paintings, plus the admin and promotional work that goes along with that work don’t give me a lot of time to write anything other than blog posts and newsletters.

But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Excuses are easy to come by.

So when it was suggested I paint something for Halloween, my thoughts returned to Pennywise. Not a difficult leap of inspiration, since Derek’s painting of the Skarsgård clown loomed large on the wall about ten feet to my left.

As I own the original IT miniseries on DVD, I began looking for reference that afternoon when I got home. Filmed for television, thirty years old and with special effects almost too painful to watch at times, the reference didn’t meet my usual criteria

There’s a scene at the end of the miniseries where the clown’s true form is revealed, a large spider-like creature. The effects are bad, with jerky puppet-like movements. The colour and light don’t match the background. It was scary in 1990, but now it’s just comical.

All that aside, Tim Curry was still great in the role of Pennywise. I’ve enjoyed his over-the-top villain roles in many movies. From his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cardinal Richelieu in 1993’s Three Musketeers, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Curry shows up where I least expect him.

Sadly, he now uses a wheelchair following a stroke in 2012.

Finding the reference was tough. I ended up taking photos of the TV screen and then trying to salvage what I could in Photoshop. None of the reference was what I would call good, and while it’s still got the bones beneath it, the finished painting doesn’t resemble Curry’s character as much as I had initially intended.

Partway through, I realized I wanted to make it as horrific as I could; the fangs, skin texture, demonic expression in the eyes. Eventually, it became my own version of Pennywise, which made it a lot more fun.
I wanted to paint the clown that would have scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I believe I achieved that. But rather than scare me now, I found myself smiling a lot. I kept wanting to push it a little further, adding more texture and detail, trying for just a little more realism in the brushwork.

I didn’t want it to end.

This is not the kind of work my regular followers expect from me. But before 2009, all people got from me were editorial cartoons and my painted caricatures of celebrities, no animals at all. You never know where new ventures might lead.

No matter how much I enjoy my animal art, it can get a little boring from time to time if it’s just about pumping them out, one after another. Every so often, I need to take a break, try something different and take a vacation from the fur and feathers. The collection of those occasional side projects have now become a gallery of portraits, mostly movie characters. Some of those paintings have resulted in the most unexpected and wonderful moments of my art career.

While I don’t expect to be turning my attention to painting more killer clowns or creatures from the depths of horror movies, this was worth my time. It was a welcome visit to the dark places I usually avoid, shining a flashlight on just one of the things that live there in the shadows.

The best part about this painting was that it wasn’t work. I had no illusions that this would end up being a published print or an image for licensing.

In a year when self-employed job security is shakier than ever, when the future is a towering question mark (with an exclamation beside it), and it seems like every creative moment should be spent trying to increase revenue, I’m glad I made time for Pennywise.

Happy Halloween!

For you digital artists with tech questions, I painted this in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. I used screen captures for reference, but no photos are part of this work. I created the textures with brushwork alone, no images or overlays. The finished file is 30″ X40″ at 300ppi, painted in the AdobeRGB(1998) colour space. I have no idea how long it took to paint.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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The Panda in the Room

One of the most challenging parts of marketing is playing the game.

We’re emotional creatures, not as evolved as we like to think, prone to gimmicks, triggers, fear of missing out, limited time offers, inflated prices on sale for regular price. We are prey to an overabundance of cognitive biases, fall for the same stuff repeatedly, voluntarily share our personal information to save a few bucks, and forever fail to learn from our past mistakes.

Even though everyone knows that salespeople have a spiel or massage the details to put the best possible spin on things, we still buy into it. Marketing works because it understands all of this. And even when you know these things, we still fall for them.

Everybody who has ever invested in anything knows that the cardinal rule is to buy low and sell high. So why does the stock market have a seizure every time somebody in power sneezes or runs and hides when the wrong person says, “Boo?”

We’re emotional creatures, even though we like to pretend that we’re not.

Every so often, it’s nice to point out that elephant in the room. Not just mention it, but shine a light on it, display those wonderful big ears, beautiful tusks, enormous feet, pretty eyes and most importantly, the fact that it just sat on the buffet lunch.

Yes, I’m painting an elephant soon. Stay tuned.

(Get to the point, Cartoon Boy!)

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all a little testy, impatient, worried, uncertain, choose your own less than ideal emotional state.

So I thought I’d try something different for today’s marketing—brutal honesty.

The Calgary Zoo is usually one of my largest print clients. They’ve been supportive of my work for many years and a great customer. Like every other business this year, especially ones where the public gathers in groups, they’re facing extraordinary challenges right now.

I was taking photos at the zoo recently, and they’re taking the safety measures seriously. The animals are still well cared for, and the staff are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I would encourage Albertans to visit the zoo, support wildlife conservation, and a local business that keeps those hardworking people employed.

They also sell my face masks in their gift shop, made in Canada by Pacific Music and Art, so that’s one more place you can get them.

One of the many unforeseen casualties of this pandemic has been the Panda Passage at the Calgary Zoo. The pandas themselves are fine, but they must go back to China and are leaving soon. They were supposed to be in Calgary for a couple more years, but the daily flights that brought their bamboo diet have ceased. The zoo has been doing its best to source the bamboo from other places, like British Columbia, but winter is coming, and the supply has run out.

As nothing goes unconnected these days, here’s a strange way this affected your friendly neighbourhood cartoonist and whimsical wildlife painter.

The Calgary Zoo used to sell a lot of my Panda prints. They sold almost all of them. Popular in their gift shops, I made it a habit to keep plenty on hand so that when they ordered, there was no waiting. At the end of last year, I ordered more than 50 of them. The Zoo did not place their usual large spring order. I need not explain why.

With the closing of the Panda Passage, it’s beginning to look like it will take me a very long time to sell these particular prints, even at a discount. With that in mind, I’m offering that print at a substantial discount.

Regularly $24.95, I’ve reduced the price of the above panda print to $6.95.

Another print I’m offering at the same price is the Sasquatch. This is a weird one. Mike from Pacific Music and Art suggested I paint this image a year ago because many of his retail customers are in British Columbia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. That’s Sasquatch country!

The image does very well on magnets, coffee mugs, art cards, T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics and plenty of other products. It’s one of the best sellers on face masks.
But whether it was at the Calgary Expo or on my online store, it does not do well on prints.  So, I’m going to blow out that stock, too—regular $24.95…now $6.95.

No Promo Codes, no new sign-ups, no hoops through which to pirouette. It’s just the price in the store.

Here’s a bonus to entice you. If you buy THREE or more prints, no matter which ones, I’ll throw in something extra. Could be a calendar, a magnet, face mask, who knows? It’ll be a surprise, but there will definitely be an added gift product in there.

Also, all of my prints are 11″X14″. That’s a common frame size you can buy in many stores that sell them, no need to spend a bundle having them professionally framed.

I’m fortunate that prints and other products aren’t perishable. Someday this will end, and I’ll be ready to supply my customers with the stock I have on hand. But I keep painting new pieces, and if I want to stock new stuff, I must make room for it. When sold, the Panda and Sasquatch prints will be retired, as will several other pieces. It’s the only way to keep releasing new images.

Speaking of which, here’s a Grizzly bear I finished last week, not yet available.
Hopefully, that candor is a refreshing change from the sleight of hand sales gimmicks we often get. I try not to make my blog posts and newsletters all about selling you stuff because I don’t like to receive too much of that either. But I’m a self-employed artist, and it’s the nature of the gig.

Stay well, be safe, and try to be patient with each other. Things are tough all over.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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The Great Grey Hunter

With the brilliant fall colours and abnormally warm October temperatures, the timing couldn’t have been better for some R&R in Central Alberta ranch land with a good friend of mine. For five days, we caught up, reminisced, ate good food, tipped back a few drinks, played Scrabble and cards like old men, and enjoyed the slower pace.

As usual, I took plenty of photos, mostly of horses, cows and Jingles, the most good-natured dog you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet.

I even caught sight of a moose one evening, though too far away for reference. But anytime I see wildlife is a win.

In my regular day to day, I get up at 5am, even on weekends. For anyone who is self-employed, weekends often don’t mean much anyway. So when I do take time off and sleep in, I’m still an early riser.

On our last morning, I woke just after 7 to an eerie warm light coming through my window. I got out of bed, pulled the curtain back and thought it looked like that strange hazy glow of forest fire smoke. Since we haven’t had any of that in a few weeks around here, it took me a minute to realize it was just the light bouncing off the yellow leaves on the trees and ground.

I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera, and snuck out the back door of the cabin. I didn’t want to go past my buddy’s bedroom and possibly wake him. My photography skills just weren’t adequate to figure out how to capture the weird light I was seeing, so I resigned myself to simply appreciating the moment. The three previous mornings had been pretty, but this was much more intense.

Since I was up already, I wandered out to the road to see if there might be some deer or a coyote around. I knew that anything I might encounter would take off as soon as I saw it, so the best I might hope for would be a few quick snapshots.

When I emerged from the lane onto the road, I spotted a large shape on a fence post. At first, I thought it might be a hawk. I’ve long been trying to get photos of a red-tailed hawk in the wild, but each time I see one, it’s usually while I’m driving with nowhere to pull over.

At the same time, a little way down the road, there were two white-tailed deer. They spotted me just as I raised my camera. I got one shot before they bolted into the trees, but it isn’t worth sharing.

My attention quickly returned to what I now realized was a Great Grey Owl. A common species in Alberta, but I’ve never seen one in the wild. I thought I might get a few quick shots before it took off, especially since it looked right at me, but my presence didn’t seem to be a problem.

Female Great Grey Owls are larger than males but there’s no other way to easily tell their gender. As this was a single and quite large, I’m going with she.

With each step I took, I expected her to fly away, but she seemed more interested in finding her breakfast than worrying about me. I crept closer and moved a little farther down the road around her to get the best light, continuously taking shots.

Eventually, I got to within 8 or 10 feet and figured that was close enough. I didn’t want to crowd her. With a 70-300 mm lens, I knew I’d still capture plenty of detail.

Finally, after watching her snag a mouse and eat part of it on the next post, she gracefully dropped from the post and silently flew down the fence-line. Having taken a few dozen photos, I thought that was it, and I was grateful for the gift.

But she didn’t go far. Her next perch was even closer to the cabin than the first. I wandered back the way I came, again expecting her to take off, but she stayed put. I enjoyed her implied audacity at ignoring the No Trespassing sign, coupled with the fact that the sign colour matched her eyes.

Eventually, she flew into the trees, but still close to the property line. I took even more photos because her perch this time clearly showed the incredible camouflage of her feathers against the nearby tree bark.

Since Darrel is also an early riser and I didn’t want him to miss out on this privilege, I walked back to the cabin to tell him. I knew she might be gone before we returned, but I’d already taken plenty of shots and thought it worth the risk. He was eager to see her as well, and by the time we got back, she was in the same spot.

We watched her move between three different perches. We were so close that Darrel could still get some nice shots with his phone. He took some video as well, but it also captured the sound of my camera shutter on rapid fire.

At one point, a brief gust of wind came up, throwing clouds of yellow leaves around her. It was such a treat to take photos of her in multiple environments, almost like she was a model for hire.

Finally, we decided we’d invaded her space enough and I didn’t want to ruin her chances of getting a meal, even though I’d seen her catch one mouse already.

I thanked her for her patience, and we walked back to the cabin, looking through the shots we’d taken.

After we’d eaten a small breakfast, Darrel saw movement out the window and said, “She’s back!”

Now perched on the fence on our side of the road, she still didn’t seem to care that we were there.

We watched her jump down into the grass to catch a mouse, hop back up on to the same perch, eat it down whole and repeat the process. Here’s a time-lapse of the Great Grey hunter in action. Not a good day to be a mouse.

I’ve taken photos of Great Grey Owls before, at the Calgary Zoo Aviary and at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale. In those cases, they’ve been orphans and rescues that can’t be released back into the wild. I’ve even painted a closeup of a Great Grey before.

But to see one this close, at eye level in the wild, going about her morning, so tolerant of our visit, was a truly special experience for which I’m grateful.

As the cold weather will no doubt be fast upon us, and with nowhere to go, I plan to spend a lot of time painting. Much like the squirrels and other critters storing up food for the winter, I’ve been stockpiling reference photos for new pieces and have a few already planned.

I believe I’ll add a Great Grey Owl to that list.
If you’d like to support these beautiful birds and others like them, please donate to the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. They do great work for wildlife conservation and education.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.