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No photos were harmed…

Had a painting demo this weekend at Two Wolves Trading Co. here in Canmore. Many people have never seen digital painting before and it’s fun to show them how it’s done. A few brave souls even gave it a try when offered the chance, although most were nervous that they were going to break the tablet. I assured them that Wacom makes a sturdy product.

Something I’m hearing more and more of, is questions asking what I’m doing to photos to get them to look like paintings. I’ve almost drawn blood from biting my tongue when this comes up. I know that I’m not alone in my frustration when faced with this, as I’ve talked to other digital painters who deal with the same false assumption.

I will admit that it’s unfair for me to judge anyone too harshly, because as I said, many people don’t know how digital painting is done. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that whenever somebody sees a computer, they automatically think that anything produced on it has been done by some sort of trick, as in a filter or a piece of software doing all the work.

While I do use photos for reference, just as any portrait, wildlife, or landscape artist might, no photo has ever been part of the image that results in one of my animal paintings. I don’t even use photos for textures in these paintings. It’s all brush work, and it starts from a blank white ‘canvas.’ Each one of these takes around 20 hours of work to complete, sometimes more.

The animal paintings are caricatures of real animals, so I need to know what the anatomy of a real animal looks like, just as you would when doing a caricature of a person. Even though the finished paintings are different from the photos I use for reference, all of the photos are used either with permission (I have some very generous friends) or are paid for, either in trade of a print or cash.

Photoshop is a wonderful piece of software, but despite the name, it’s not just about editing or manipulating photos. Much of the illustration work you see in magazines, on the net, or in ads has been drawn or painted in Photoshop. It’s an incredible illustration tool and I love working with it, but there are many days that I wish Adobe had called it something else.

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Painting Demo

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be doing another painting demo at Two Wolves Trading Co., as mentioned in a post earlier this week.

The images you see here are what I’ll be starting with. At this point both of them are still at 72 ppi, which is only web quality. I still consider these both quite rough. I usually don’t blow an image up to 300 ppi until I’ve got ‘the bones’ of the image done, which I’m pretty sure I’ve got for the bighorn sheep, but not quite for the great horned owl. There are still some structural issues I’m not quite happy with, but that will come with a little more time.

The reason I start at 72ppi is that I even though I have a fast computer, Photoshop doesn’t always do well with really quick sweeping brush strokes when it comes to a large size image with a high resolution. With painting at a lower resolution, I can move the pen/brush as fast as I want without any lag. Lately I’ve found a lot of good results with painting very fast in the beginning at low resolution. It gets to a point where I’m not thinking too much while I’m doing it, and if you ask anybody that knows me well, they’ll tell you I almost always think too much. At this size, I’m just throwing colour and brush strokes around, figuring out what’s going to work and what’s not.

The other reason I start with images at this stage when I do painting demos is that people don’t want to see the first blobs of paint and then be told that eventually it will look like a bighorn sheep or an owl. They want to be able to see the animal I’m working on.

A little different method this time around. I’ll be using my new Cintiq tablet, which means I’ll be painting right on the screen. Another great use I’ve found for my iPad is using it to store my photo reference. Great screen quality, and I can flip through the different images I’m using quite easily.

If you’re around Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore today (across the parking lot from Safeway beside Starbucks) between 2-4 or tomorrow between 12-2, stop in, ask questions or just watch. I’m able to talk and paint at the same time.

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Photoshop User Magazine

Got a nice smile this month when I opened the December issue of Photoshop User magazine. While NAPP had asked me last month for permission to use my images, I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big spread, so it was a very nice surprise. While this image of the Wolf Totem is the first page of the article, all of the Guru Award winners from Photoshop World in Las Vegas AND Orlando earlier in the year are featured on the subsequent pages, so my Moose Totem is in the article as well. A great spread of images. They even quoted my Photoshop World blog entry.

The above photo doesn’t do the image quality justice. I switched to the Zinio reader and the digital version of Photoshop User when I bought my iPad, so this is a photo of the screen, which never quite works out. The magazine was already great quality, but I prefer being able to zoom in on the images to check out the detail. And it takes up a lot less space on my bookshelf. The actual iPad image of this page looks incredible.

Photoshop User is available on newsstands, but it’s included if you’re a NAPP member, just one of the many perks. Usually it’s 8 issues a year, but just recently NAPP announced that they’re increasing it to 10 issues. For regular readers, that’s a big bonus, as it’s one of the few magazines I read religiously.

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Another Painting Demo

Another painting demo is scheduled for this weekend in Canmore!

Two Wolves Trading Co.

Saturday, November 13th, 2:00PM – 4:00PM.
Sunday, November 14th, 12:00PM-2:00PM.

Of course, if there is enough interest on either day, I’m happy to stick around longer than the times listed above. In addition to the giclee canvas prints, Two Wolves now has two sizes of matted paper prints available for the Grizzly, Ground Squirrel, Moose and Wolf paintings.

For this painting demo, I’ll be working on the next two paintings in my Totem series, a Bighorn Sheep and a Great Horned Owl. If you’re in the area, and are curious about digital painting, come on by and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Here’s a sneak peek at the Bighorn Sheep in progress. This is still pretty rough. I begin these paintings at a resolution of 72ppi, so that I can move as fast as I want with any brush, and there won’t be any lag whatsoever. After I get the basic image worked out, I’ll increase the resolution to print quality before painting in the detail.

I anticipate that the horns are going to be the big challenge on this one. There are many ridges, with lots of texture, and to get the detail that I want, I would imagine this one may be the toughest one to date. Then again, wait ’til you see the feathers on the Great Horned Owl.

If you’re in the Bow Valley, hope to see you at Two Wolves on the weekend!

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NAPP-Canada Facebook Page

Having been a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals for the past six years, it should be pretty clear by now that I’m a fan.

There are only a couple of organizations I belong to, and this is the one I’d hate to be without. From weekly video tutorials, the latest news and info about the digital image industry, not to mention that these are the folks that put on Photoshop World twice a year, NAPP has almost everything I need to stay at the top of my game.

I consider many of the people I’ve met through NAPP to be good friends, and I’ve yet to meet a more helpful bunch of talented people. While many of the forums you’ll find online often degrade into squabbling playgrounds, the NAPP forum is well moderated, very civil and supportive, and is one of my most valuable resources. I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve had a problem that was solved instantly by posting it on the forums, whether it was specific to Photoshop or just freelancing in general.

Since social media is obviously not a passing fad, NAPP has recently expanded their already active online presence to include localized Facebook pages. In the U.S., they’re focusing on cities and states. Here are the links to the NAPP-Chicago page and the NAPP-Arizona page to give you an example.

Internationally, there are national Facebook pages for different countries. I was asked to run the NAPP-Canada page and I’m happy to do it. While much of the information I post will be related to NAPP events and releases that aren’t region specific, I intend to put a Canadian spin on things wherever I can, which will hopefully involve more than references to Tim Hortons and hockey.

You don’t need to be Canadian to ‘Like’ the page. You don’t even need to be a NAPP member, although when you see all of the great benefits, you’ll probably want to become one. Become a NAPP member, I mean. Not Canadian.

Here’s the link. Hope to see you on the Facebook version of the Great White North. Cheers!

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iPad Halloween Diversion

Even though my schedule has been full for quite awhile (and for the next few months), I find that it’s necessary to make time away from the deadlines. I’ve mentioned before that I try to go for at least an hour long walk most days, even though I only manage it about 3-4 times a week. I may just be going to the bank downtown, but it takes 40 minutes each way to walk there, and half of that is in forested area or green space, so it’s a nice break from the office and good exercise.

I’ll often feel guilty about taking time off when I have a full to-do list, but I’ve learned that breaks are necessary to preserve my sanity. Time with my wife or friends, playing the guitar for an hour, going for coffee some mornings with the boys at Beamer’s, getting some fresh air, or even just watching a movie will often be all the battery recharge I need to keep me motivated for the next item on the list.

While it may seem funny to classify it as a break, sometimes just drawing something for fun is a welcome diversion as well. Regular readers will know that I’ve been experimenting with iPad sketching and painting lately with the Sketchbook Pro app. I find that I’m really enjoying finger painting on the device. I’ve been working on this one for a couple of evenings while watching TV. No deadline, no plan, just switching brushes, trying different opacity, textures, and colours, and really just having some fun with it.

I will admit to being a little frustrated that I can’t get the detail I want sometimes because of the resolution the app is capable of, and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s just a sketch app, not Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Had fun with it, though, and that was the whole intent in the first place.

Happy Halloween!

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Business As Usual

While I normally try to have a blog entry done every week, lately I have been remiss, simply because of my heavy workload. Because of the projects I’ve agreed to, and the fact that I want to put my best effort into them, I have decided not to take any new commission work until the new year.

Here is a brief update of the various items I’m working on, in addition to the daily editorial cartoons.

Cartoon Illustration DVD
This has been a big learning experience so far and I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about PhotoshopCAFE. I’ve had a ton of great support while I learn the ropes. In a perfect world, I’d like to put everything else aside just to pour all of my energy into this, but the bills have to be paid, so it’s a juggling act.

There have been a few hiccups, but nothing insurmountable. The first install of Photoshop CS5 Extended didn’t take, and it was freezing up daily. A reinstall thankfully solved that issue and it’s been working well ever since. Camtasia Studio 7 is the video screen capture software that I’m using, and so far, it’s working smoothly. For any Mac users out there, I’ve been told it doesn’t work well on that platform, so fair warning, but I’m on Windows and the only issue I experienced was a conflict with my Wacom tablet. A download of the latest tablet drivers solved that problem.

I’ve been using a CRT monitor as my main monitor for years as I’ve always preferred them to LCD screens, but due to aspect ratio limitations and the requirements for recording, I finally had to make the switch to the 24″ Samsung that I’ve been using for my painting demo display. I’ve used a dual monitor display for years, but the new size makes it feel like I’m using three. Whether it was the LCD or the larger size, the first couple of days I had a splitting headache and sore eyes. I’ll admit to being worried that this was going to be a major problem, but I’ve since gotten used to the new display and am quite enjoying the increased screen real estate.

Lesson plan and sketches have been approved, test recording has been done and submitted, so all that’s left is the actual recording, which I’ve started this week. I won’t lie, it’s been pretty intimidating, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be pleased with it when it’s done.

Totem Prints
The paintings are no longer available at Editions Gallery in Red Deer as I removed them earlier this month. After a number of months in the gallery, there wasn’t one sale and apparently not much interest in them. Whether it was because of the style or the subject, I don’t know, so I’m just going to accept that Central Alberta may not be the right market for these paintings, at least not now.

The paintings are selling well in Canmore and Banff, and I made a trip into Calgary yesterday to pick up another batch of prints. This is the first batch of framed canvas prints and I’m very pleased with how they look. The framed Wolf and Moose Totem paintings will be available in both Banff and Canmore today in the 18″X24″ size.

A line of matted paper prints will be available at Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore today as well. The Moose, Wolf, Grizzly, and Ground Squirrel in two sizes, 11″X14″ and 16″X20″. Each print is mounted with a black matte, open edition, ready for framing. I’ll eventually have all of the Totem series available in matted paper prints.

New Totem Paintings
Another live painting demo is scheduled for Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore on November 13th and 14th, working on a bighorn sheep as my next image. I’ve wanted to do this one for awhile. I already have the next four paintings planned out, and have secured the rights to the reference photos for three of them. As I haven’t done any new paintings since I finished the Wolf, I am very anxious to get started.

There are a couple of other projects I’m working on that I can’t talk about yet, but needless to say, I’m busy, and while there are days I’m hanging on by my fingernails to balance it all, I’m doing what I love for a living, and grateful for it.

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Pros and Cons.

“There’s a mark born every minute, and one to trim ’em and one to knock ’em.”

According to Wikipedia, “The earliest known appearance of the above phrase in print is in Opie Read‘s 1898 novel A Yankee from the West,” even though the more common, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ is often wrongly attributed to P.T. Barnum.

Freelance artists, in my experience, can be a naive bunch, and there are plenty of people out there willing to take advantage of them. I’ve been guilty of falling for a few empty promises on more than one occasion in my career and even though somebody can warn you of giving in to temptation, you most often learn the best lessons from experience.

Many of us just want our names and our work out there, to repeatedly have those Sally Field moments when you can stand on stage and say, “You like me, you REALLY like me,” when in fact, those moments are few and far between if you allow yourself to be taken advantage of. There are plenty of con artists out there willing to promise the world, and it’s easy to let the dollar signs in your eyes blind you to the fact that you’re selling your work (and often your soul) for bargain basement prices.

I’ve recently had a couple of life lessons handed my way in that area, and I’m grateful for them, primarily for the fact that I was able to learn from them, without any great financial cost or significant loss of time.

Without going into great detail of one of the situations, I’ll simply say that I ignored a gut feeling. I’d said that I’d required a written contract, but still began work without one. Then when push came to shove, and I insisted on it, I was told that the contract for this sort of arrangement would come at a later point, that this is how things were done ‘in the real business world,’ and that I was a rank amateur if I didn’t know that.

The worst part of it was that, for a very short time, I almost believed it. The situation went south fast, the deal fell apart, and ultimately, I was threatened with a lawsuit (later recanted, sort of). After consulting a lawyer, I was told not to give it a second thought as nothing was ever put into writing.

There were a number of things I could have done better in this bad arrangement, but in the end, I wouldn’t have changed anything, because I won’t fall for the same trap again. Having done more research after the fact, talked to other illustrators with more experience than I have with this sort of arrangement, I’ve confirmed that I really was setting myself up for a very big fall. While a contract can always be revised, I shouldn’t have put one pencil stroke on paper without at least a written understanding of the agreement, signed by both parties.

Too often, artists will ignore their own instincts in order to prevent the boat from rocking. Concessions are made that should never even be considered, in an effort to be ‘a nice guy.’

After you agree on a price, get a deposit of half of the money up front. If somebody gets angry when the subject of money enters into the conversation, then they don’t have any. You wouldn’t have gotten paid, anyway, so you’re no worse off.

If they get angry or try to avoid the question of a written agreement, then you’re better off parting company because you weren’t likely to get what you thought you were, anyway. Once again, you have nothing to lose (and everything to gain) by walking away.

In retrospect, the experience was very unpleasant, but it could have turned out worse. I learned from it, and am moving on, better prepared for the next offer that sounds too good to be true.

Some suggested reading for freelancers, to better protect yourself.
Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

Photographers’s Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age

Licensing Art 101

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Photoshop World Guru Awards

Photo Courtesy of Doug Zeliff

Back from an exhausting week at Photoshop World in Las Vegas. Without going into every little detail of the week, I’ll just say that it was well worth the trip. Took some great classes, hung out with some incredibly talented people, and went with very little sleep. Just like last year.

As posted here before, I was fortunate to be up for the Illustration category and Best of Show for The Guru Awards. I was very pleased (and surprised) to win both categories. This really was the best part of the week, especially when you consider the wealth of talent I was competing with. I am very honoured to have won these awards.

Photo Link from

Big thanks to all of my friends and family who posted a LOT of comments on Facebook, Twitter and the NAPP forum, not to mention all of the emails I got after the win. It was very overwhelming and appreciated.

As much as the awards themselves are great, they came with a couple of very nice prizes. For the Illustration category, I won a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet, and for the Best Of Show, I won a Wacom Cintiq 12wx.

Photo Link from

To quote a friend this week, “Monty finally got his Cintiq.” While I brought the Intuos4 home with me, thankfully they’re shipping the Cintiq. Couldn’t imagine how I’d get all that through customs, otherwise.

Nothing quite compares with hanging out with other creatives for a week. Everybody I met wanted to be there, and there was no shortage of inspiring experiences. Would have liked to have seen a bit more of Vegas this time around, but that’s not why I was there, so it’ll have to wait for another time. Funny thing, I didn’t take any photos, so fortunately I have a few photographer friends who were willing to share.

Back to work tomorrow, but taking it easy today.

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Another in my Totem series, this wolf was difficult. Different types of fur and hair present different challenges and as in most of my paintings, I’m learning as I go, experimenting with different brushes and techniques.

I’ve got a few illustration projects on the go right now, one of which I want to put all my energy into, because it’s quite an exciting project if it works out the way I want it to. It’s a risk, but anything worthwhile usually is. Photoshop World is quickly approaching as well, and I’m beginning to get ready, but more on that in later post.

Why I mention all of this is that this will be my last painting in this series until mid-September. My next couple of months are booked solid and everything has to take priority over these paintings right now, even though I enjoy them so much. But, taking a break is usually a good thing creatively, because I’ll come back to it fresh and hungry, which has always ended up bringing out my best work.