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An African Elephant

After more than two years of procrastinating, I finally finished this painting of an African elephant.

At the beginning of 2020, our friend Serena, her husband, and their son went on a long-awaited safari to Africa. Little did they know that it would be only a couple of months later that recreational travel would be all but cancelled for more than a year.

Serena takes almost no time off. As the head zookeeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, often raising and caring for orphaned baby bears, cougars, lions, and other rescues, her work requires many long days, seven days each week. So, this safari trip was many years in the planning for her family.

Before she left, she asked me if I wanted any reference pictures. Even though Serena is an excellent photographer, I said there was no way I would impose on her family trip with a laundry list of animal photos.

There are very few elephants in captivity anymore in the western world. Because of their intelligence, family dynamic, social structure, and other requirements zoos can’t meet, elephants don’t do well in isolation, so most reputable zoos don’t keep them anymore, a policy I fully support. Instead, many former zoo elephants have been surrendered to sanctuaries to live out their lives in a herd and in peace.

As it’s unlikely I’ll be going on safari anytime soon, there’s very little chance I’ll be able to take my own elephant reference photos soon.

Since Serena pressed me on it, I confessed that I really needed that specific reference. I told her I’d take whatever she gave me, but she asked for my ideal photo, just in case she had the opportunity.

In a perfect world, I wanted a ¾ view; trunk held up to reveal an open mouth, all so that I had the best chance of painting a happy smiling face.
Serena sent me dozens of photos when she returned, including exactly what I asked for. I was grateful, filed the photos, backed them up online and on portable hard drives, and spent two years painting other animals.

This happens a lot. On rare occasions, I’ll paint from reference right away, but most of the time, that animal gets added to the list, and I wait until the time feels right. I’ll admit that sometimes, however, it’s more about imposter syndrome.

I knew that the details in the skin texture would be complicated, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to paint what I saw in my head. This is familiar ground. Regardless of how many years I’ve been doing this, the thousands of editorial cartoons I’ve drawn and more than a hundred whimsical wildlife and commission pieces, I still get nervous before every painting. It just never goes away.

Eventually, I push through it, and about halfway through a piece, I realize I’m enjoying myself.

There are two reasons I finally got off my ass to paint this elephant. First, Mike from Pacific Music & Art is putting together my 2023 calendar, and in the most supportive and encouraging way, he pushed me to get the elephant done. While I’m paraphrasing, he said something like, “stop talking about it, and just paint it, already.”
Secondly, the full-size four-day Calgary Expo will return at the end of next month. I’ve had my booth booked and purchased for three years. While I’ve painted many new pieces since the last Expo, I want that elephant in my booth.

Every year, the same guy asks if I’ve painted the elephant, and I sheepishly tell him, “Not yet, but maybe next year.”

I don’t know if he’ll be at Expo this year. I don’t know if he’ll even like the elephant I’ve painted. But if he asks if I’ve got one, I can finally say, “Yes!”

While it took many hours to get the skin texture and anatomy right, it turns out that it wasn’t especially difficult. I just had to put my ass in the chair, paint a lot of brushstrokes, and enjoy the ride. When I completed it, I was happy with the result.

Right up until I sent it to Serena.

I’ve painted several of the Discovery Wildlife Park critters over the years, so I often give Serena an early look at those, a sneak peek for allowing me so much access to the animals in her care. Since she provided the reference, I extended the same courtesy for this one.

When I sent the finished painting in a text yesterday morning, she said, “I love that you did the injured one.”

Say what now?!

I called her for clarification.

As the reference she took was at an African reserve and sanctuary, Serena pointed out that this particular elephant, the one I used for my primary reference, had the end of his trunk amputated from an injury and that it was shorter than regular length.

She thought she had told me that, and I conceded that she very well might have, but it was two years ago, and it didn’t make it into my long-term memory files. So, I honestly thought it was simply the reference angle that didn’t show the tip of the trunk, and I was okay with it. I didn’t know that the elephant itself had that part of the trunk removed. And for some reason, I just didn’t see it.

So, as much as she liked the injured elephant because she looks after orphans and rescues, I explained that I had to paint a fully intact animal for a production piece, even in my whimsical style. So, I looked through the other elephant pictures she sent, found some ‘end of trunk’ reference, and got to work repairing the mistake.
I sent a couple of changes to Serena, and she helped me get it right. She felt bad for having to tell me about it after I’d finished the painting, but I told her better than after I had bought dozens of prints, and coasters, trivets, magnets, and other licensed merchandise had gone into production.

Correcting the mistake added more than an hour of extra painting to the piece, but I’m much happier with the finished result.

I can’t wait to see it in print.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Painting a Dog’s Best Life


Late last year, one of my subscribers inquired about a commission of her dog, Santé. Sadly, Suzanne lost her much-loved pup to osteosarcoma at the end of November, and she wanted a painting to remember her.

The initial back and forth conversation is an essential part of every commission. It allows me to get to know both the person and the subject, and it helps me decide if I’m the right artist for the job, especially for a memorial piece.

While I can paint both in portrait style and my signature whimsical style, I’ll admit to preferring the latter, but most people who hire me for memorials choose the portrait style.

Suzanne, however, wanted to remember Santé at her best, and as she’s followed my work for some time, she requested the whimsical style.

Initially, Suzanne sent me a photo of Santé running through the water with a stick in her mouth and asked if I could paint her like that. I was reluctant for a couple of reasons.

My style is about the face and expression, best revealed by a large headshot painting, like much of my work.
Also, I haven’t painted many full-body action poses, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Fear of failure is a powerful demotivator.

As part of her grieving process, Suzanne wrote a long essay about her life with her dog and shared that with me so I could get to know her as well. So I made a cup of tea one afternoon and sat down in the kitchen to read it.

I don’t mind admitting that it got me right in the heartstrings, and I had to wipe away tears. But, sad ending aside, it was a good story, and Suzanne is an excellent writer.

She is an outdoor enthusiast, frequently mountain biking and hiking, with Santé by her side. After reading about Santé’s adventurous nature, her boundless energy and obsessive love of sticks, I couldn’t imagine painting her any other way. That dog lived her best life.

Suzanne provided plenty of photos, but the first was the best, Santé running in the water with a stick in her mouth.

But I don’t just want to copy an image, especially in the whimsical style. I want to make it my own. So, I exaggerated her expression and gave her a big grin. You can’t see Santé’s teeth in the reference photo, so I found additional reference for that, as it helped a lot with the smile around that stick. I also exaggerated the size of the stick and changed its shape for a better overall composition.
The water spray from her feet was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in any painting I’ve done to date. It took many hours to get it right, not to mention all the tiny droplets to add action to the scene.

Instead of filling the entire background, I created a graphic shape of the water and painted Santé so that she was running out of it, adding to the illusion of action.

This painting took a long time, but it was well worth the effort. Not only did it stretch my skills, but necessity forced me to learn a few new techniques to bring this to life. It was overcoming the challenge that made the final piece so satisfying.

I’m a frequent proponent of printing my work on canvas. It brings out the textures and richness in many paintings, especially the detail I paint in my work. But I gave Suzanne another option, and after providing her with more information, she’s chosen an 18″ X 24″ matte aluminum. Given the dynamic nature of this painting, I think it was the best choice, and I’m looking forward to seeing it once it arrives.

When I shared the final image with her Saturday morning, less than an hour after I finished it, Suzanne told me that it was the 11th anniversary of the day she brought Santé home at eight weeks old and shared a pic with me. That puppy didn’t yet know she had won the lottery and was about to have a grand adventure.

Of the painting, Suzanne wrote, “I love it. It’s perfect. You added the whimsy and didn’t lose an ounce of “her” in the process. Thank you so much for making the effort to know her to paint her.”

Cheers,
Patrick

Please visit this page if you’d like to know more about my pet portrait commissions.

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Eagles and Reality TV

Late last month, a subscriber sent me a link to a live cam of a bald eagle nest on Big Bear Lake, California. She has a cabin on this lake.

These cams exist all over the place; there’s one of an osprey nest just down the road from me. I took to this one because of the story of the breeding pair, Jackie and Shadow, and the beautiful scenery in which they live. The image quality and camera placement is fantastic; it switches to infrared at night, providing a clear image without disturbing the eagles. Their nest is 145 feet high in a Jeffrey Pine Tree.
I’ve been checking in on them every day, sometimes more than once, as it lets me scan backward several hours to see if I missed anything good. I only end up watching a few minutes each time, and I’ll admit to preferring the scenes where both eagles are in the nest, which is usually only a minute or two.
Jackie laid her eggs in January, and ‘pip watch’ begins next week. Jackie and Shadow haven’t had a successful clutch the last couple of seasons, so hopefully, they will this year. But, unfortunately, nature can be pretty brutal, and life isn’t as rosy and fairy tale as we’d like to imagine. There’s no guarantee that these eggs will produce healthy offspring that survive to leave the nest, between predators, the elements, and all that can go wrong. That makes those that do even more of a wonder.

The information shared on this camera space by Friends of Big Bear Valley is extensive, as is the commentary in the sidebar chat. While I’ve not participated in that conversation, I’ve learned a lot from reading through it.

I’ve enjoyed watching the two eagles switch off incubating the eggs so the other can go eat, fending off marauding ravens, and interacting with each other. The chatter between them when one flies in is amusing and fascinating. That tree also gets rocking when the Santa Ana winds blow over the lake. A snowstorm blew in fast and heavy last week, and while the eagles certainly didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves, they handled it well.

I didn’t see them complaining about it on their phones, at least.

 


© Patrick LaMontagne

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Releasing NFTS into the Wild

My first three NFTs have been minted on PRISM and will launch tomorrow in a closed BETA, which for the time being, makes it an exclusive marketplace. The Friday launch was just announced yesterday, which is why you’re only hearing about it now. So, while thousands of people from the NFT and crypto communities have been registered and waiting for this announcement for months, anybody can sign up to view and participate in this incredibly unique marketplace.

Here are the first three, with more to follow next week.
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PRISM is a curated space, representing and featuring artists from all over the world, many of whom have never minted NFTs before, and it has created a big buzz in the crypto sphere. With patented security features for artists, environmentally friendly minting, and a professional group from NuPay Technologies running the site and market, I’m pleased to be a part of it. I hope this will introduce my work to a whole new audience, complementing the great folks who already follow and support my work.

You can read an in-depth write-up about this endeavour in my post last week. This is just the beginning of my venture into this new world, and I’ll have another announcement next week.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Prints, Products & Promotion

Most people subscribe to A Wilder View to keep up with new paintings, read the stories behind the work and look behind the curtain of art-for-a-living. Some just like the art, while others are artists looking for insights to help their own careers.

We’re all cautioned to avoid coming across as too ‘salesy’ in our marketing, regardless of the business. So I try to avoid flashing the ‘BUY THIS’ sign too often. But this post is all about prints, products, and available options if you’d like to purchase my work.

I wanted to lead with that, just so there’s no feeling of a bait and switch.

Before Christmas, some subscribers placed special orders, and I wondered how many others wanted to do the same thing but might not be aware of the options.

So here are some of those.
Prints

I have 11″ X14″ poster and matted prints available in the online store. This is my standard size print so that it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame in a store. It sucks to buy a print and then pay double or triple the purchase price to frame it. My prints are hand-signed, come with a backer board, an artist’s bio, and are sealed in a sleeve. The term poster is more about the print style than the size, a crisp, clean print on lightweight card stock, with bright colours and a very slight gloss.

As I write this, poster prints are $24.99 plus shipping. I haven’t raised my print prices or shipping costs in several years, but I can no longer afford to keep the rates as they are. Printing and shipping fees have gone up year after year, so I’ll be raising my prices on both next week. Until then, you can still order from the available stock in the store at current prices.

When my current stock of matted giclée prints is depleted, I won’t be carrying those anymore, so I’m reducing those prices to $19.99 for the next week, after which I’ll remove them from the store. That’s $10 off the regular price. You’ll see a SALE tag on the images in the store that have available matted prints, and they’re on the last three pages of the store. All mats are black, as shown here.
Custom Orders

Sometime in the fall, a repeat customer from the UK told me that he would be coming back to Canmore on a ski vacation at Christmas. He wanted giclée (a higher-end print on textured rag paper) versions of some of my newer pieces and wanted to pack them in a roll, a safer method for international travel. Giclées have a deeper, richer look to the colours and textures, in between poster prints and canvas. The matted prints are giclée.

He ordered One More, Winter Wolf and Snow Day, and they turned out great. I had them ready to deliver to his rental accommodation while he was visiting the area.
After I revealed the painting I did of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from Yellowstone, I received two custom print orders from people wanting to give them as Christmas gifts. I don’t advertise the portraits of people for sale, but they are available upon special request. I printed those as giclées.

I’ve recently had two orders for 12″ X16″ canvases of my Smiling Tiger, one of my most popular paintings. I’ve often said that my work looks best on canvas, as the texture in the fabric enhances the detail in the hair and fur. In addition, these come ready to hang, with black printed sides, and there’s no need to frame them.

One of my favourite custom orders was for a large canvas print of my Sire painting. When I saw what it looked like at 32″ X32″, I wanted one for myself, but I haven’t yet got around to it.

Shipping a large canvas, however, is costly. That big canvas of Sire was easy because I picked it up in Calgary, and the client drove to Canmore to get it. But to ship that across Canada, to the US or internationally, it would be best to order the canvas unstretched, have it shipped in a roll, and professionally stretched where you live. Most framing shops can do that, and it will still cost less than having a large flat canvas shipped, with less risk of damage.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a stretched canvas is how you usually see a painting hanging on a wall; the canvas wrapped tight around a wooden support frame underneath. My 12″ X16″ canvases come already stretched, but that’s because they’re not large, and shipping is about the same as a roll.

Before one of the Mountain Made Christmas Markets, I ordered a large matte aluminum print of my Grizzly on Grass painting for myself to hang in my office. It’s one of my favourite paintings. But since I had it, I figured I’d bring it to the show to see the reaction. It sold the first morning, so I must order another for myself. I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture of it, so I’ll just share the image.
It was the first matte aluminum print I had done, and I was thrilled with the quality. Shonna wanted to hang it in our kitchen if it had been the right dimensions.

So, you can pretty much order whatever you like. I can print on poster photo paper, digital poster prints, giclée paper, canvas, glossy and matte aluminum, all with different framing and hanging options. Of course, each custom order must be individually priced, along with shipping, but almost anything can be done.

Commissions

For several years, I’ve been painting custom portraits of dogs, cats, and even a horse. I don’t paint many of them, but I do enjoy them, and I’m working on one right now. To find out all that entails, please visit the Commissions page on my site.Stickers – These larger size, weather-resistant, high-quality vinyl decals are brand new in recent months, available on my site, Stonewaters in Canmore, and The Calgary Zoo.

Calendars – The 2022 calendars are available in the store for at least a couple more weeks, but I’m almost sold out, so I’ll be removing that listing soon. But Mike from Pacific Music & Art and I will be selecting the paintings later this month for the 2023 calendar, available sometime in the spring.

Other Products

I also license my work to several companies, including the ones below.
Decal Girl – phone cases and decals for laptops, iPads and other devices.
Harlequin Nature Graphics – A limited selection of T-shirts.

Pacific Music & Art
– Many products are available in retail stores, zoos, and gift shops in Western Canada, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. My whimsical wildlife paintings are available on coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, art cards, aluminum art, magnets, notebooks, and many other products, with new ones in development all the time.
Even though I don’t personally sell them anymore, I still get asked about face masks. You can order them directly from Pacific Music & Art’s online store, along with some of the other products. While Pacific is primarily a wholesaler for retail customers, more products will be available for individual purchase as their website evolves.

Conclusion

I’m always exploring new opportunities. There are some other licenses in production right now that I can’t yet talk about, but you can be sure that I’ll announce them here.

In the meantime, if you have a favourite painting and want to inquire about or order a custom print, on whatever surface or size, you can always drop me a line and ask. I’ll be happy to price it out for you and give you some options.

Even though the online store only shows delivery available in Canada and the Continental US, that’s a software/shipping issue. It’s just too difficult to account for every worldwide shipping calculation with my current site software. But I will ship anywhere in the world, so you can always email me and ask.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

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Business and Pleasure

While driving to Calgary the other day, I realized that I hadn’t left the mountains since October. Between avoiding the holidays, COVID restrictions, and a cold snap, there wasn’t any reason to leave the Bow Valley.

After placing our Costco orders online the past couple of years, I actually set foot in one. Although I had a small list, it was quiet, so I enjoyed browsing the aisles for stuff I didn’t need. But I stuck to the list, so that’s impressive.

After leaving Costco on Stoney Trail, I drove down Beddington Trail and was surprised to see a Bald Eagle perched on a lamp post. As that’s a rarity for me around here, I parked in a residential area and walked back to take some pictures.
It was a scraggly-looking thing with uneven plumage—likely a juvenile, younger than five years old as the head feathers hadn’t yet turned white. Unfortunately, the pics aren’t anything I can use for reference, but it was still fun to see.

The real reason for the drive into Calgary was to drop off an order of prints at The Calgary Zoo. I’m pleased to announce that a selection of my vinyl stickers is now available in the Gift Shop, where I couldn’t help but be aware of many of my funny-looking animals staring back at me.
From my own prints on several shelves, plus coffee mugs, art cards, and calendars from Pacific Music and Art to T-shirts and hoodies from Harlequin Nature Graphics. Two of the staff excitedly gushed over the stickers, and a couple of prints neither had seen. That never gets old.

Of course, any visit to the zoo would be incomplete without a couple of hours taking reference photos. It was a cool, quiet day, above zero, not too windy, and overcast, making for great light. I’ve already given the photos the first pass, pleased that I got some excellent reference for another giraffe painting and a chameleon. As the gorillas were outside when I arrived at their enclosure, I took several photos I can paint from.

The best score of the  visit was a very accommodating snow leopard. I couldn’t have posed her (I think) better, as she sat in perfect light, looking right at me several times. Even her expression was already leaning toward cool and whimsical. But, of course, that could just be how I see animal faces, which is a good thing in my line of work.

I’ve already painted a snow leopard, and it’s a popular print, currently on re-order in fact. But I’m happy to paint another. After all, I’ve painted more than a dozen bears and you can’t stop me from painting more, especially a particular favorite.
It was a pleasant excursion away from my desk and office, but I also realized how much more of a hermit I’ve become the past couple of years. Even though the roads were good, traffic was light, and I wasn’t around that many people, I’m happy to be back at my Wacom display alone this morning, continuing a painting of a happy, playful dog.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Whimsical Wildlife NFTs

I’ve recently signed with two different NFT marketplaces, minting a selection of my whimsical wildlife paintings. They’re both launching in locked BETA in the next week or two, which kind of makes them members-only clubs, for the time being, so with nothing to link to, you’ll have to take my word for it.

I won’t get super-technical, but this does require a little unpacking. The average person has a problem understanding NFTs, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain because some of the people explaining it speak a language the rest of us don’t.

I’ve been drawing and painting digitally in Photoshop since the late 90s. With other digital artists, I can talk about Adjustment Layers, Blend Modes, Histograms, Paths, and Color Spaces, all standard terms in Photoshop, but geek-speak to anyone unfamiliar with the software.

The language of the Cryptosphere is no different. But just as you don’t need to know how the internet works to use it, the average person doesn’t need to know everything about NFTs to understand them.

NFTs are digital originals; they can be images, music, gifs, videos, documents and more. These assets are traded on a blockchain, a digital ledger of events and transactions using tokens and coins. The T in NFT stands for token.

Somebody more blockchain savvy than I might add “well yeah, sort of, but…” before elaborating on my explanation to make it more specific and accurate, but you get the idea.

My understanding is that when I mint one of my digital paintings, the code within the NFT certifies it ‘an original’ in the Cryptosphere. The verification process renders it unchangeable due to a gauntlet of checks and balances with computers from all over the world, all of which must agree that this is the original.

But, I can save 1000 copies of the same digital painting, all identical and indistinguishable from the original piece, so why is one more valued than the rest?

Because it’s the original, or in some cases, one of a finite collection.

It’s the same concept as a numbered limited edition giclée. It could be an exact copy of an open edition print, but some collectors, especially in the last century, are willing to pay more for that number. For example, one first edition copy of Moby Dick recently sold for almost $50,000, even though I can read the same story in the paperback I bought from Amazon for $7.50.

As someone who doesn’t collect anything, I don’t covet first or limited editions, rare pieces of art, or an original Aliens script signed by James Cameron, even though I’m a big fan of that movie. But I shouldn’t need to explain that plenty of people love these things.

So, dismissing or judging NFT collectors simply because they’re interested in something new that many don’t understand is foolish. As much as I respect the genius of da Vinci, I just don’t get the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa or why it’s worth over 100 million dollars.

I do, however, think it’s a crime that Leonardo never saw a dime of that money.

Scarcity and rarity have value. They always have. To some people, but not all people.

However, if these rare things matter to you and your community, whether it’s sports, music, literature, comic books, archeology, art, or anything else, what others think shouldn’t matter.

The guy who paints his whole body in team colours, puts on the jersey and cheers himself hoarse for three hours at a game, surrounded by thousands of people like him, doesn’t waste his time worrying about the millions who couldn’t care less about the sport that gives him so much happiness.

After last year’s frenzied reporting around a few artists who scored big on NFT sales, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of NFTs, as I understood them. I saw the potential for artists but wasn’t rushing to create NFTs of my work at that time. One reason was the environmental impact.

NFTs have a well-earned reputation for consuming a lot of energy because of something called Proof of Work. Proof of Work requires a shit-ton (not a crypto term) of computers worldwide to talk to each other to verify that the code is legitimate.

Those computers run on electricity, so the process has a significant environmental footprint. Even though most of that traffic comes from verifying cryptocurrencies rather than NFTs, artists have been reluctant to sign up to be part of the problem.

In that first post, I wrote, “They’ll solve the blockchain energy problem, and it will become more affordable and less environmentally destructive.”

That’s happening right now.

Everything that must be verified by all those computers, that Proof of Work, is shifting to something called Proof of Stake. Other processes are called Proof of Residence, Proof of Randomness, and likely more I haven’t yet heard of. This should provide even more secure transactions and render the process more sophisticated and familiar. When cryptocurrencies adopt these other Proofing methods, the environmental impact of minting coins and NFTs will go from ecologically disastrous to environmentally friendly almost overnight.

Cryptocurrency investors are in it to make money. It’s the same reason traditionalists invest their pension funds and retirement savings in the stock market, which, as we have too recently seen, can be just as risky when bad actors rig the game.

Just ask somebody who lost their home or life savings in 2008. The current system only masquerades as secure, but we accept it out of familiarity.

We take comfort that our financial system is regulated, but it’s built on faith and belief. Cash is only paper or plastic, and our investments are just numbers in somebody else’s database. The stock market routinely veers wildly all over the road.

While cryptocurrencies are unlikely to replace the current banking system, they likely aren’t going away. Your traditional bank is investing in them, and the signs point to the integration of the two.

Regardless of where they keep them, everybody wants their investments to grow.

The people running cryptocurrencies realize that an environmentally friendly reputation is more attractive to investors, so it’s in their best interest to develop more energy-efficient methods and operation models. Revised Proofing is just the first step. The environmental impact of minting cryptocurrencies and NFTs will soon be a thing of the past.

Another reason I’m getting involved is the emergence of more sophisticated NFT art marketplaces created and operated by business professionals. Some are treating these marketplaces like professional galleries, curating their collections. Artists are vetted, approved, and recruited for inclusion based on their work quality, reputations, and experience.

There was already a large NFT marketplace called OpenSea. The problem with OpenSea is that anybody can mint anything and call it an NFT, put it on the platform, and it becomes one big tasteless soup. A professional artist with years of experience, an established niche and audience can create an NFT of a piece of her art and upload it to OpenSea. Two seconds later, her work is on Page 45 of today’s offerings because somebody uploaded a collection of 1000 poop emojis wearing different hats.

It would be like walking into a gallery looking for beautiful art but having to dig through millions of finger paintings, crayon scribbles and post-it note doodles to find it.

So, when my buddy Derek Turcotte told me a new type of NFT marketplace contacted him, and he gave me some of the details, I was intrigued. I researched the project and the people involved and saw the potential. Shortly after that, Derek suggested another marketplace I found even more appealing.

One was big on hype and promotion but backed by experienced operators in the crypto world. They didn’t have it all spelled out like I was used to, but I didn’t see it as nefarious, just a different culture that operates a lot more casually. I considered the risks vs. rewards and still felt it was a good bet. And yes, the word bet is appropriate because all of this is new and speculative.

However, the second platform was more like dealing with a real-world licensing opportunity. After an actual phone call from the company in the U.S., where I was free to ask plenty of questions, I agreed to give it a shot. I received a professional legal agreement, names, emails, and phone numbers of people assigned to help me navigate the process. I uploaded my initial images to a professional site, and now I’m waiting for the launch.

What the first platform could learn from the second is that if you want professional artists to mint NFTs and participate in this world, you must learn to talk to them in the language they speak. Artists who do this for a living are used to dealing with companies, galleries, and markets, and you won’t earn their trust if you speak to them like gaming crypto-bros.

Just as amateur artists must learn business language to become professionals, companies must learn how to speak to artists if they want them to climb aboard.

From talking to these NFT marketplaces in recent weeks, there are two stark differences between the crypto world and the traditional business art world.

In the real world, for lack of a better term, galleries, licenses, and retailers will try to get artists to sign exclusivity contracts, especially in smaller regions. So if your work is sold in a gallery, you can’t sell it in another one nearby, sometimes even in the same town or city.

When I asked the NFT markets about this, each waved it off. The only exclusivity required is that you can’t sell the same NFT on more than one marketplace. That’s more about logistics and reputation than anything else. An NFT is essentially a certified original. If two people bought the same original simultaneously from two different marketplaces, it would erode any confidence in the parties involved.

The second thing is that the NFT market seems to value quality artwork more than the real world, as far as pricing goes. These collectors understand the value, scarcity, and provenance of a piece of NFT art and that it has more value than a print.

In the real world, I paint custom commissions for clients, as original a piece as you’re ever going to find. And yet, I get push-back on the price all the time from people who want my best work, but at garage sale prices. Some of my first NFTs are priced higher than my custom commission rate, because they will be originals in that space.

Finally, the crypto community has been the most impressive surprise in this whole experience. True, you can find sinister characters everywhere, but my interaction with these people so far has been positive.

After receiving an out-of-the-blue invite to learn more about this world, I spent an hour in an online phone call with five other people from different parts of the U.S. I admitted my ignorance about much of this. While one guy laughed and said, “wow, you’re just a baby,” he followed it up with, “hey, we’ve all been there.”

Although they were all experienced crypto investors, he cautioned that cryptocurrency and NFTs could very well be a recurrence of the dot-com bubble of internet start-ups in the late nineties. Many of these cryptocurrencies and speculative ventures have already failed, and more of them will, just like plenty of businesses in the real world.

Great reward doesn’t exist without risk. But, if you’re aware of that risk and do your best to mitigate it, you can approach it with open eyes, hoping for the best but ready for a possible rug-pull.

An important caveat here; the only reason the first guy reached out was my friend, Derek. It is very much who you know and who vouches for you that gets you invited into these discussions. If you’re associated with good people online or in the real world, that goes a long way to establishing trust. And if somebody asks, “who’s this guy?” then the answer will most likely be, “this is Patrick; he’s a friend of so-and-so.”

I asked one of these guys why somebody hasn’t created a course for artists to help them navigate this new frontier. He said there are some introductory courses, but everything changes so fast. The only way to keep up is to do the reading, join discussions, and get involved.

Community is essential in this world, which means I will have to be more social in some of these forums, something I have avoided in recent years. Thankfully, there are rules established in these communication spaces. They all have moderators, and a common theme seems to be, “don’t be a dick.”

If only other more popular platforms could adopt the same policy.

I’m excited to wade into these waters. True, I have risked some of my artwork, but none of my best sellers yet. These platforms need to earn that trust. Professional artists take risks with their work the first time they sell a high-quality print or canvas in a gallery. All it takes is somebody with the right equipment to scan the work and sell it to somebody else as their own. It happens every minute of every day all over the world.

Last month, I sent a cease-and-desist to a company in Australia. They were selling my Smiling Tiger image on a product. They took it down, but who knows if they just put it up on another site or how many other places are illegally selling my work? It’s a sad joke that artists know their work is good once people start stealing it. Unfortunately, theft is part of the trade, and good luck suing a company on the other side of the world.

Lately, there have been cases of automated bots scraping images from Twitter and art sharing communities like DeviantArt, stealing an artist’s work and minting NFTs from it. While most of these marketplaces will take down the counterfeits, finding the offence and reporting it takes a lot of time that most people don’t have. And if you do manage to get it taken down, ten more pop up in the meantime.

These curated marketplaces are working on that problem, too, with patents pending for better security software. Banks and credit card companies had to do it, and every corporation on the planet must constantly invest in security. The marketplaces that make it a priority will soon get that reputation. Word will spread, and consumers will learn that the NFTs you buy from Market A are often counterfeit, but those from Market B are vetted, verified, and support the rights of individual artists.

Which market would you trust, especially if you want to invest in value and growth?

It’s still the wild west, but the sheriffs and posses are multiplying, making it harder for the outlaws to roam the territory unimpeded.

There will undoubtedly be challenges, growing pains, and issues with this new venture. After record-breaking gains in 2021, cryptocurrencies across the board have experienced massive losses in these first weeks of 2022. While it will likely correct and recover, when (if?) that will happen is just best guess. Nobody really knows. As a financial investment, the crypto world is not for the faint of heart.

As a creative investing my art in the crypto world, it’s about the same as every other potential opportunity in art-for-a-living. You throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. This is no different.

I still have a lot to learn, but I’m more optimistic about the potential than early last year. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject as these marketplaces launch and speculation becomes experience.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Paintings, Projects and Possibilities

Here’s a secret that likely won’t shock you.

Whenever I write a post, there’s a good chance that there was a first draft that descended into a rant about social media. Then I re-read it, realize (again) that nobody wants to read that crap, delete it and start over.

I had about 1000 words written this time before I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and began again.

You know that person who constantly rages about how much they hate Justin Trudeau (or Trump, or Jason Kenney, or Erin O’Toole, or insert name here), and you think, “Ugh, we get it, you don’t like the guy. Move on!”

I don’t want to be that guy when it comes to social media. Sure, I’ll still do cartoons about it from time to time because the exodus is growing, it’s in the news, and that’s my job, but I’ve already left those platforms.

So, I’m moving on.

But I don’t regret the time spent writing that rant because it’s like journaling. Sometimes you just need to purge that bad energy, and I’m glad I kept it to myself.

Now for some good news. This year is starting quite well, despite the last one ending on a down note.

First, I’ve started a new commission of a beautiful dog. Sadly, she passed away late last year, which usually means the client wants a traditional portrait as a memorial. But this client has been following my work for quite some time, and she wants to remember her dog as happy and full of life, so I get to paint her in my signature whimsical style. This dog was an energetic outdoor pup, always up for mountain bike trips, hiking, chasing sticks, and high-energy activities, so the client kept steering me toward a full-body action pose, with great photos to back it up.

I’ll admit that the request made me nervous. My work is all about the face and expression, and a full-body can often mean some of that gets lost because the head and face will be smaller. But after some back and forth and reviewing the photos, I soon came around to her way of thinking.

I’ve started the piece, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I talked about this with my buddy, Derek, on a recent visit to Electric Grizzly Tattoo. Derek’s an incredible painter, and it’s great to have another artist I can talk to about this stuff. When I told him about this commission, that it scared me a little, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, I qualified it with, “but, you know what happens when you challenge yourself.”

Derek put his hand out flat in front of him for a second, then raised it about a foot.

He gets it.

Facing the scary stuff is the only way you take your skills to the next level.

Speaking of Derek, he recently introduced me to a whole new project he was exploring and suggested I join him in the endeavour. Each of us will be promoting our own work, so we’re not partnering on it, simply going down the same road. He made some introductions on my behalf, and we navigated it together. It’s an opportunity that might go nowhere but could also change our careers for the better.

From initial tire-kicking less than two weeks ago to serious discussions with the parties involved, Derek and I have signed agreements and are excited about the possibilities. But, having been down this kind of road before, we’re tempering our enthusiasm with a liberal dose of reality.

As in all things speculative, you hope for the best outcome but allow for the worst. What I like about the project is that there was a short deadline to get involved, with no room for procrastination. We had to get our shit together inside of a small window to make the launch dates. So, rather than talk it to death, we did our due diligence, got to work, and climbed aboard.

I realize this is vague, but until it launches, revealing specifics would be premature. I only mention it because it’s nice to focus on something with positive potential, given all we’ve dealt with the past two years.

At a time when so many people are tearing each other down, it’s gratifying that a fellow artist and friend discovered an opportunity and invited me along. He didn’t have to.  

I’m also working on two other painting projects. First, I’ve finally started the elephant as I want it done for Expo, which isn’t that far away. And it won’t be long before Mike at Pacific Music & Art needs another selection of paintings to consider for the 2023 calendar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the elephant in there?
There is also a much larger project I’m doing, involving several paintings of Burrowing Owls. So you can expect to see plenty of these characters pop up in posts over the next few months, each with different poses and expressions.

Between the commission, the elephant, the burrowing owls, the painting course, editorial cartoons and the daily support stuff I do for my business, I have an overflowing plate. But I’m not complaining. I’m at my best when I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m just happy to look to the horizon and see many more positive possibilities than negative realities.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Stickers


With the growing interest in my large vinyl stickers, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve released seven more designs into the wild.

Based on feedback at the recent gift shows and online, people wanted the option of buying them individually, so the four-pack of brown bear stickers has been discontinued. Instead, all designs are now offered individually in the shop. Adaptation is a cornerstone of self-employment.

When I first moved to Canmore in 2001, I worked for a sign shop for a few years. Every place I’ve worked taught me skills I’ve applied to my own business. From that job, I learned design techniques, colour theory and how to create vector art. I still use vector paths and Bezier curves for clean ink lines in my editorial cartoons, a skill I learned at Canmore Sign Co.

With many different jobs done for multiple repeat clients, their computer filing system was simple, efficient, and well-organized, especially when searching for reprints or creating variations of older designs. As a result, I adopted the same system for my own files and still use it 20 years later.  

While it’s not something I often need in my current work, I also learned about vinyl printing, cutting and application.

So, when designing and producing these stickers, I was unwilling to compromise on quality.
These are larger die-cut stickers than you will generally find, each around 4” X 5”. I didn’t want to shrink them down and lose the personality for which my whimsical critters are known. I also wanted people to have the option of putting them on vehicle windows, so they’re made from long-lasting, weather-resistant, high-quality vinyl. Finally, I chose a matte finish over glossy for better visibility in changing light.

Stonewaters here in downtown Canmore is a great store with a unique quality inventory of furniture, décor and artwork. They placed their first order for the four bear stickers at the end of September, and they did so well that they placed a second order not long after. After dropping off samples this week, they placed a third order that has already been delivered, so all the current designs are available there as well.

But if you’re not visiting Canmore anytime soon, you can get all these designs in my online store. They’re $8 each, with free shipping in Canada, regardless of how many you order. Unfortunately, shipping to the US is $9, and nothing I can do about that, so maybe add them to an order for prints or my 2022 calendar, while supplies last.

Too subtle? 😉

Cheers,
Patrick

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Silly Monkeys


As a perfectionist workaholic with unreasonable personal expectations, my past year reflecting most often reveals that I didn’t get enough done.

I’ve wanted to create an art book of my work for years with little progress. Almost a decade ago, I recorded two training DVDs for painting and cartooning that did well, so I’ve been planning an updated online painting course.

Two years ago, right before all plans went to hell, my friend Serena and her family went on African safari for a few weeks. She brought home plenty of reference for me for an elephant I’ve wanted to paint for years. I still haven’t started it.

I’ve been procrastinating, making excuses that I’m too busy with other work. There’s no profound psychological mystery as to why.

If I never complete these things, they can’t suck.

The holidays are always a low point for me. We don’t celebrate Christmas for various reasons. While I genuinely did enjoy the three recent holiday markets, they wore me out. In addition, earlier deadlines for Christmas and New Year’s cartoons and fewer publication dates meant less revenue from the daily papers.

As I write this, I’m in a creative rut, unmotivated to draw, paint, or write anything uplifting. In recent days I’ve still been up at five and sitting at my desk before six, googling articles and watching videos about art marketing, an exercise in desperation.

There are more online listicles on how to create a successful art career than anyone could read in a lifetime, often written by those with little experience. The same regurgitated tips and tricks, all revealing the same truth, that there is no map to get there.

Not that long ago, society’s idea of a good career was picture perfect.

Go to college, university or learn a valuable trade, and get a job with a good company. Then, over the next thirty or forty years, advance through middle-management, then management, earning enough to pay off a mortgage in the suburbs, provide for your family of 2 kids, get a dog, and have BBQs on the weekends with neighbours you’d live beside for decades.

Sometime in your sixties, the company (really, we’re a family!) will throw you a party, give you a gold watch, and you’ll retire with a comfortable pension, spending your weekends playing with the grandkids on the porch. Then, one day, at a ripe old age with a smile on your face, you’ll pass away comfortably in your sleep.

That story starts with “Once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after.”

Because it’s a fairy tale.

Before I found any direction in my early 30s, I tried a few different things. I spent five years in the Reserves, two of those as a full-time instructor, and thought I might join the military like so many in my family. I went to school for EMT training, got my license, but never actually worked on an ambulance service. Before that, I spent two and a half years in college because that’s what was expected. I moved to Banff, worked in hotels and retail, got married, moved to Canmore and here we are.

I don’t regret any of those choices, but none of it was part of any plan.

The notion that we’re supposed to decide the rest of our lives while in high school is ridiculous. We’re still children but are somehow supposed to have the foresight to know what we’ll want to be in our forties.

I was an idiot at 18, and I suspect many of you were as well, with no idea how the real world worked. I took foolish risks and did very stupid things, convinced I was immortal. I’ve often mused, “thank god we weren’t taking photos with our phones all the time and posting every moronic thought that crossed our pea-brains.”

Although frankly, plenty of people my age and older still haven’t learned that lesson.

We’re all victims of our own cognitive biases; errors in thinking, logic, and interpretation that influence how we perceive the world. We can easily spot them in others but often fail to acknowledge our own, even though we all exhibit these behaviours.

Cognitive bias is the fuel that runs the social media machine.

There are many on the list, but one is called “Rosy Retrospection.”

We remember the ‘good old days’ with a sigh, when everything was easier, cheaper, people treated each other better, and the world was a nicer place.

It’s why “Make America Great Again” worked so well as a campaign slogan. Nostalgia is powerful even though it takes minimal surface scratching to reveal that our wistful memories are largely edited and wildly inaccurate.

There has never been a golden age of sustained prosperity, freedom and peaceful coexistence in the United States, Canada, or anywhere else.

I look back on the early days of my professional art career and remember my tenacity and motivation, working mornings, evenings and weekends on the side to build up my business so that I could one day take it full-time and SUCCEED! (whatever the hell that means.)

However, my nostalgia wants to leave out that I was drawing three to five syndicated cartoons a week for only two weekly papers for a few years. Paid $10 each; I was essentially making pennies an hour, eating up all my free time.

I came VERY close to pulling the plug several times in those early years, asking myself why I bothered to work so hard for no money. I constantly wanted to quit, convinced I was wasting my life.

That was almost 20 years ago.

Following the news every day is a dangerous game when things are normal. If it bleeds, it leads is the very foundation of news media. We might be at the top of the food chain, but we’re still animals, barely out of the trees on an evolutionary timeline. We say we want to hear good news, yet we focus all our attention on the bad. Our actions speak louder than our words.

We are emotional, scared little monkeys who react to anything remotely threatening with a fight, flight, or freeze response. We imagine ourselves incredibly intelligent, but the evidence doesn’t support our hubris.

For example, everybody knows the basic rule of investing. Buy low, sell high. And yet, all it takes to throw the market into a tailspin of frantic trading and panic is one billionaire tech mogul to tweet something silly while he’s sitting on the john.

And it’s not just those Wall Street types. One need only look to the rest of us glued to our screens and devices, slaves to social media, eating garbage food, drinking too much, failing to exercise, and wasting our lives watching forgettable TV for hours on end every night.

This past year, I’ve found myself skimming the employment section of our local paper more than once. I’ve been here before, walking this familiar territory. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to realize this behaviour comes from fear.

But I also know that the greener grass is simply a trick of the light.

There’s a severe staff shortage in this valley. If I did get a job, it wouldn’t be the one advertised. It would be longer hours covering the other positions they can’t fill, for less money than the job is worth. The cost of living in this community is one of the highest in the country, even though wages are not.

Logically, I know that leaving this long art career experiment and going back to a ‘real job’ won’t solve any problems, financially or otherwise. And further down that well, I also know that taking the difficult steps toward worthwhile change never happens until you’re really uncomfortable.

Because otherwise, why would you change?

My business has suffered the last couple of years. Newspapers were already struggling before the pandemic, still operating under last century’s business model. The other half of my business depends on tourism and people with disposable income, both in short supply.

I don’t write this to gain your sympathy because everybody is suffering right now, in one fashion or another. We’re all dealing with a whole lot of unexpected, uncomfortable shit.

You can blame the media, politicians, bureaucrats, or run down the long list of ridiculous conspiracy theories. However, it still doesn’t change that we must deal with the circumstances before us, and complex problems rarely have simple solutions.

Our nostalgia filter might tell us otherwise, but the normal we yearn for wasn’t the utopia we pretend it was. We took for granted all that we now pine for, complained about everything, and blamed whatever we could find for our lives not living up to our expectations. We did it before, and we will do it again. It’s our nature.

We spend a lot of time wishing other people would change, but the only thing we can ever change is ourselves.

I’m very uncomfortable right now; professionally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually, which means I’ve got to change. My focus for the next year is on diversification, making my income dependent on more revenue streams so that when one suffers, it doesn’t threaten the foundation. Some of those projects are underway. For others, I need to stop procrastinating and light fire to kindling.

I’m no longer willing to accept poor treatment simply because somebody doesn’t agree with my perspective. I don’t need everybody to like me. It’s a fool’s errand because it won’t ever happen.

I will put less energy into trivial pursuits and more time into riskier endeavours that may or may not work. That’s what got me here and what will move me beyond. Unplanted trees don’t bear fruit.

I will try to treat myself better, stop beating myself up over every stumble, perceived shortcoming, and soften that hard-edge perfectionism. Because I will never live up to my own ridiculous unattainable standards, making me miserable.

I will likely fail at some or all these things because I have failed before. But you know what they say about trying again.

Life is tough. It will still be tough when this pandemic is over, just as it was before.

So rather than pretend that turning a calendar will solve our problems, I’m going with a more realistic view of the new year.

2022. Shit will happen. Deal with it.


© Patrick LaMontagne