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One More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whoever Fights With Monsters

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

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

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

Artists. We’re all so fucking mercurial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, this too shall pass.

But probably not today.

__

© Patrick LaMontagne

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

 

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

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

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

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

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

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

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Fit to Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that ain’t news.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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A Different View on The Calgary Expo

Although it was a miniature version of the usual event, I spent Sunday at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. I have no regrets about passing on a booth this year as I still think it would have been more expense than revenue, but a day at the Expo made me realize how much I miss it.

When I’m a vendor, there’s little opportunity to walk around to meet and talk with other artists, aside from my immediate neighbours.

The best I could hope for in previous years is showing up a little early to take a quick tour, but it’s tough to chat with other vendors while they’re trying to set up for the day. Shonna has occasionally worked my booth with me on the busier days, and she’s a big help, but people want to talk to the person who created the artwork, so I stay close to my own customers.

This time, free to wander, I met some talented artists, asked questions about their setup and advice on products they sold, and enjoyed talking shop without having to rush back to my booth. But, of course, when potential customers stepped up, I quickly moved aside and let the vendor go to work.

In my experience, fellow vendors are always willing to share information. At my first show in 2014, I didn’t know anything, so I was grateful for the constructive criticism and advice that came my way. Now that I’ve gained my own experience, I try to help newbies when they show up at my own booth with questions.

I spoke with quite a few vendors who sell vinyl stickers along with their prints and other products. When I showed them my first sticker pack and asked their advice/opinions, all agreed that I was selling them for too little. For the size of my stickers, the vinyl and design quality, a four-pack for $15.95 is a lot less than the current market price.

So, after careful research and consideration, I’ll soon be increasing the price of those stickers in the store to $20.95. As I learn more about the sticker market, I’m optimistic and excited about the possibilities. They’ll undoubtedly be prominent products in my Expo booth in April.

It was also great to reconnect with Alexander Finbow, the owner of Renegade Arts Entertainment, a growing publishing house right here in Canmore. Alex has published several award-winning graphic novels, comic and children’s books by international authors and artists. It seems they’re well known in the industry but still a well-kept secret here in the Bow Valley.

Having arrived on Sunday at 9:30 that morning, I had plenty of time to accomplish my own goals before my buddy Derek arrived with his daughter and her friend around 1:00. The owner of Electric Grizzly Tattoo here in Canmore, he’s an accomplished tattoo artist and skilled painter, so it was nice to walk around with somebody who’s as much into the art as I am. Also, even though I’m not a ‘kid person,’ I will admit that seeing a couple of nine-year-olds excited about comic and cartoon characters I didn’t know or recognize was fun.

And if it weren’t for the kids’ excitement about a booth full of snakes and lizards, I might have missed the opportunity to face up to one of my phobias.

Hairy spiders have always given me the creeps, but I don’t like being afraid of them since they’re such fascinating creatures. So when I realized that I could hold one, courtesy of Calgary Reptile Parties, I had a quick argument in my head. I knew that if I chickened out, I’d beat myself up all the way home and likely wake up the next morning regretting it.
So, I stepped up and let a hairy tarantula crawl around my hands and arms. She was delicate, fragile, light and gentle, and after a few seconds, I was more afraid of flinching and maybe hurting her. While not quite the same as close contact with a bear cub, a wolf, or an owl, it was an exciting critter experience, and I’m glad I did it.

The fear in our heads is usually so much worse than reality.

I also bought some art, something I rarely do at this event, since I never have the time to look.
Edmonton artist Sabrina O’Donnell does more than 25 shows a year (pre-Covid) and gave me some of the best advice on selling stickers. She based this little Canuck Crow piece on a news story she read about a Vancouver crow who stole a knife from a crime scene. I liked her rendering and that the work tells a story.
I bought a couple of books from Toronto cartoonist Scott Chantler. Both are graphic novels/stories about real people and histories. I’m not big on comics or graphic novels, but I like his art and the subject matter and found his work inspiring. Always worth it to explore another’s approach.
Finally, I bought a piece of art to hang in my office, something I’ve not done for a long time. Regular readers know that I’m a movie fan and will paint character portraits from time to time. I enjoyed the 2019 Joker movie, especially Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, so when I saw this piece by Alberta artist Sheldon Bueckert, I wanted it.

Even still, I waited a couple of hours before pulling the trigger to ward off any buyer’s remorse from an impulsive purchase. But right before I left the Expo, I went back for it. Whether it’s Sheldon’s choice of pose, colour, or his style of brushwork that drew me in, there’s just something about the piece I like.

That’s art for you. When it speaks to you, go with it.

I had an enjoyable day, better than expected. It was nice to be a bit of a fan again, rather than working the whole event. I’ve confirmed with the organizers that my booth is good for April, and I can expect to have the same spot I had in 2019. It’s a placement I worked hard to get over several years, earned through seniority.

To all of you I used to see at the event, I’ve missed you, and I’m already looking forward to seeing you again in 2022.

In the meantime, a day with all that inspiring art has filled the creative tank, and I’m anxious to paint. Anybody up for a cute and cuddly painting of a tarantula? ?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Eggs, Butter, Milk, Coffee Mug

While I knew it was coming eventually, it was still a surprise to walk into my local Save-On-Foods grocery store here in Canmore on Friday to see an entire endcap display of my artwork.

I had kept an eye open for it each time I went shopping, but it was still a bit of a thrill to finally see it in place, especially right by the front doors.

Pacific Music & Art has licensed my work for many different products since late 2018. Those items include art cards, magnets, aluminum art prints, coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, water bottles, notepads, notebooks, and calendars. And of course, face masks, the product we all suddenly needed, but nobody wanted.

This display in the Canmore Save-On-Foods features coasters, trivets, and mugs. Featured art pieces include the Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sasquatch, Blue-Beak Raven, Two Wolves, Bald Eagle and Bear Wonder. My 2022 calendar and various notebook designs are in a rack beside it.
When I first moved to Banff in 1994, Shonna and I had a nice little apartment above a grocery store in a brand-new building, a real luxury in an unaffordable tourist town. I worked as a stock clerk and delivery driver in that grocery store that summer before moving on to work at a hotel. But Shonna and I both had part-time jobs at adjacent convenience and liquor stores for several years after, until we moved to Canmore in 2001.

While looking at the different products in the display, I found myself ‘facing’ the shelves to tidy them up. Then, without even realizing I was doing it, I turned some of the mugs, so the art faced outwards and straightened up some of the calendars and coasters.

I guess old habits die hard. Unfortunately, everybody is short-staffed around here, so if I can help make my own display a little more presentable, I’m happy to do it.

These displays are in many other Save-On-Foods stores in Western Canada, but I share those shelves with other artists from the Pacific Music & Art catalogue. Considering the skills and talents of those other creators, it’s an honour to be counted among them. One of my followers on Instagram was kind enough to tag me when she posted a photo of a mug she bought in the Sherwood Park Save-On.

When I first considered signing with Pacific, a testament to the company’s credibility was not only that a former consignment gallery owner recommended us to each other, but that one of their artists is Sue Coleman. I’ve admired her work for many years, long before I had painted my first animal.

I had planned to stop in to visit her last fall on a scheduled business trip to Vancouver Island, but I need not explain why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with the wonderfully weird feeling of my art sharing shelf and rack space with hers.

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Birds of Prey on Display

This past Thursday, I drove the four hours down to Coaldale, Alberta, to visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre before they close for the season. While the foundation operates all year long, rescuing and rehabilitating different species of owls, eagles, and hawks, the centre is open to the public between May and the end of August.

I first met Colin Weir and his daughter Aimee here in Canmore in 2017. They had brought a handful of their ambassador owls and a golden eagle named Sarah to the Town of Canmore’s WILD event at the Civic Centre.
The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation began in 1982 when there weren’t any wildlife rescue endeavours operating in Western Canada. Colin has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing birds of prey back into the wild for almost forty years. Birds with permanent injuries or those that can’t be released have been given homes at the centre, a beautiful spot in southern Alberta, right in the middle of a reclaimed wetlands area.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know Colin and can’t accurately convey my respect and admiration for his dedication and commitment to wildlife conservation. The facility receives no government subsidies, and they rely solely on financial donations from regular people and some generous corporate sponsors like Fortis Alberta.

Anytime a facility relies on government funding, they risk having that lifeline cut or eliminated with each election or political party whim, which would continually put the wildlife at risk. Unfortunately, politicians are usually more concerned with the optics of a ribbon-cutting than a long-term vision for wildlife conservation.
As with any non-profit operation, caring for the birds is only half the battle, and it’s a never-ending quest to raise enough funds and resources. To attract people to the centre, it must be safe, appealing, and well-maintained, a feat they have managed well. The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre is an attractive, professional, and welcoming facility. All the enclosures, aviaries and structures are top-notch, serving as housing and rehab areas for the birds and an educational facility for the public.

If somebody hits a great horned owl with their truck in the middle of the night, they’ll often call Colin. Sometimes he’s simply a knowledgeable, helpful voice on the phone, but his efforts are the difference between life and death for the unfortunate bird on many other occasions. If somebody can’t deliver the bird to the centre, he often must retrieve it, which can mean hours on the road, all year long.
I’ve wanted to get down to the centre more than once this summer, but as with all things these past many months, best intentions haven’t always aligned with feasibility. Plagued with long stretches of record-breaking heat, a thick choking blanket of wildfire smoke for weeks on end and the uncertainty of changing pandemic restrictions, this summer has been challenging. Add long hours in the office working to diversify my business, and I haven’t been able to get away.

With the weather changing for the better, some welcome rain and reduced smoke, I had to prioritize the trip before their season ends.

I arrived in Coaldale around noon and spent the afternoon taking photos and chatting with the knowledgeable staff. Colin and I had an excellent long talk catching up, which I greatly appreciated, as he doesn’t have much free time. One of the biggest challenges this year is that his phone is constantly ringing with people asking if the centre is open (it is) and if there are any COVID restrictions (there aren’t). It’s an open-air outdoor facility, ideal for a natural escape, with plenty of room to keep a respectful distance. Colin takes those calls with his typical grace and friendly nature, but it must be frustrating sometimes, especially when they interrupt his long list of other duties.

It’s a long drive to get there, so even though I took plenty of photos on Thursday, I stayed the night and returned the following morning to get more pics of their flight training.
Over two days, I watched them fly a mature bald eagle, a juvenile bald eagle, and two red-tailed hawks. Bald eagles don’t get their full head of white feathers until four or five years old. One of the staff suggested on the second morning that I lie down on the ‘runway’ to take some head-on shots of the red-tailed hawk. To take advantage of a cushion of air just above the ground, the birds drop down low when they’re flying back and forth, only climbing again at the end.

From my spot on the grass, I was right in the hawk’s path, which allowed me to get some exciting photos. The trainer told me my presence was inconsequential and wouldn’t be a distraction. The bird’s primary focus was the piece of chicken held in a gloved hand above and behind me.
I could write a few thousand more words on their important work and all I learn whenever I visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre. The staff share some fascinating and amusing stories during the flight training presentation and are always available for questions from visitors. Nothing is off-limits, and they’re more than willing to talk about the challenges they face each day while caring for these birds.


It’s hard to describe the thrill of close-up visits with weeks-old snowy owl chicks and burrowing owls (above respectively), or to hold a great horned owl in a gloved hand, to feel the feathers of a golden eagle and hear their calls and cries. These opportunities are open to all visitors to the centre.
I’ve painted several eagles and owls and will likely paint more in the future. A few years ago, I painted Sarah, one of the longest residents, seen here with Colin Weir. Sarah is a beautiful golden eagle that Colin has raised since the 80s. She is a healthy 37 years old, a commanding presence, but gentle enough that children can pet her, under Colin’s supervision, of course.

While I enjoy seeing all the birds, and I take plenty of photos of each species, I’ll admit that my primary goal this time around was to get reference of a red-tailed hawk. I’ve wanted to paint one for many years. They’re a common sight around Alberta, often seen on fenceposts along rural roads or highways. However, whenever I’ve spotted one, it’s been in heavy traffic or on a road without a shoulder, and it was unsafe to stop my car.

I took over 2400 shots this week and spent a few hours Saturday morning sorting through them. As is often the case, most of those shots end up being useless to me, either from poor lighting or focus or uninspiring captures. I whittled them down to around 300 and will likely discard two-thirds of those of a second pass. This still leaves me with plenty of ‘keepers,’ and I was happy to discover dozens of reference photos for paintings among them.
Best of all, I finally have more than enough shots of a red-tailed hawk, so many good ones that I’ll have a hard time deciding which to use. Or maybe I’ll have to paint more than one. It’s a good problem to have. Feathers are much harder to paint than fur, especially when intricate patterns are involved, so don’t expect a painting anytime soon. It’ll likely be a winter project, but one I’m eager to start.

The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre is open until Labour Day, and if you’re looking for one last summer southern Alberta getaway, or you find yourself on a road trip in that part of the province, it’s well worth a visit.

However, if that’s not in the cards, please visit their website, look at the great work they do for wildlife conservation, and consider donating. Every contribution helps, and your support is greatly appreciated.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Stuck on Brown Bears

My first order of vinyl stickers has arrived, and they are now available in the shop.

For the first (of hopefully many) sticker pack, I chose four of my grizzly/brown bear paintings; Big Boy, Happy Baby, Kodiak Cub, and Peanuts.

These die-cut vinyl stickers are approximately 4” X 5” with some variance for design. They’re weather-resistant, long-lasting, easy-to-peel with a smooth matte finish. Vinyl can be tricky when it comes to full-colour printing, but these look great.
Each pack retails for $15.95 CDN. I’m able to offer free shipping for Canada; no code required. Shipping to the U.S. is a little more complicated as Customs rules now state that any commercial product is automatically a parcel regardless of package size. For U.S orders, the flat rate for these stickers is $9. Don’t shoot the messenger.

The Grizzly/Brown Bear pack was fun to design, and I hope to launch another pack soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Sticker Situation

Before I became a full-time artist almost twenty years ago, I worked at a local sign shop here in Canmore. Some of the valuable skills I learned still contribute to the work I do today. One of those skills was printing and cutting vinyl. I worked on vehicles, signage, and vinyl application on different materials.

A little while ago, my friend Darrel mentioned that he had noticed vinyl stickers on the rear windows of vehicles, some fun and colourful designs. He suggested that might be something I could do with my animal paintings.

As diversifying revenue streams has become essential for freelancers and self-employed artists, I’m always looking for new markets and opportunities. So it seems odd, given my sign shop experience, that I’d never considered vinyl stickers.

While I have an ongoing license with DecalGirl, a company that produces decals for mobile devices and laptops, phone cases and sleeves, their designs are specific to that market.

Some quick online research revealed that stickers are trendy, especially among millennials and younger generations. For the right theme and designs, it’s big business for many artists, especially on craft and sales marketplaces like Etsy.

On a recent visit to the tattoo shop where I hang out from time to time, I asked my buddy Derek about it. He’s fifteen years younger than I am, and his metal supply cabinets at the shop are covered in different stickers of varying size, quality, and theme. It’s a big part of that culture. He agreed that I’d probably do well to offer my work on vinyl stickers.

Since then, I’ve researched several companies, figured out sizing, and ordered the Orca test you see above. The order arrived this week from Jukebox Print. I couldn’t be happier with the vinyl quality and printing, so I’m moving forward on creating more of them.

Derek stuck the first one on a cabinet at Electric Grizzly Tattoo.

To begin with, I’ll be offering a selection of 4 bear stickers, though I’ve not yet chosen which ones will be in the first pack. It’ll be free shipping for Canada, and hopefully, I can offer the same for the U.S., but that’s yet to be determined. Each 4-pack will retail for $15.95 (CDN). The stickers are around 4” X 5”, depending on the design. Each will vary a little in size, but they’re all in that neighbourhood.

I’m still experimenting with the composition and cut-lines, but these are a few I’m working on.
If the first pack is popular, I plan to regularly release new stickers, eventually having several packs in the online store. With my ever-growing menagerie of critters, there’s potential for sticker packs in a variety of themes and species.

Stay tuned!

Cheers,
Patrick

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New Releases and Recently Retired

It’s always a thrill when the first prints of a new painting arrive on my doorstep, even better when it’s more than one. So it’s my great pleasure to announce the first printing of The Brazen Bighorn and The Smiling Lion, now available as 11″X14″ poster prints in the store.

The Toronto and Calgary Zoos placed two large print orders recently, eating up a good chunk of my inventory. I am most definitely not complaining, quite the opposite. The Toronto order has already arrived, and I’ll be delivering the Calgary order first thing this week, which gives me a welcome excuse to take some fresh reference photos.

Between the zoo orders and those who took advantage of the free calendar with every order of two prints, I had to label a handful of prints as TEMPORARILY SOLD OUT for the past week. But with quick production and delivery from Art Ink Print in Victoria, I’m pleased to say that the Snow Leopard, Kodiak Cub, Otter, Sire, and Smiling Tiger prints are back in stock.

I’ve enjoyed creating each of my paintings over the past 12 years, but I’m always painting new ones. My very first whimsical wildlife piece, the Grizzly I painted in 2009, is still a fan favourite. Unfortunately, while some prints remain popular for many years, others don’t perform as well as I’d like in the online store. So from time to time, I need to make room for my new work to have a chance to shine.

Recently retired prints are the Amur Tiger, Happy Baby and Lion Cub.

These retired images only apply to the prints in my store. Some of these, and other retirees are still popular in zoos and Discovery Wildlife Park, and they can order them when they like. And my entire catalogue remains available to my licensees for their products.

As a result of the zoo orders coming at the same time as my recent ‘buy two prints and get a free calendar’ promotion, a couple of people were unable to get the prints they wanted. So I was happy to extend the promotion to them until items were back in stock.

But, let’s extend that for everybody. If you buy two or more prints in the online store by 4:00 (MST) on Tuesday, August 3rd, I will include a free Wild Animals 2022 calendar with your order.

Any questions, ask me in the comments or send me an email.

Cheers,
Patrick