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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.

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Fur and Feathers

As regular readers will know, I’ve been working on a series of animal paintings lately. While I had originally planned on having fifteen done by April, that time line is proving to be unrealistic due to my current commission workload.

My intention had always been to sell prints of these images, but my initial research into that market revealed other avenues I hadn’t considered. With the generous help and advice from galleries, books, and a few other artists, I now have a clearer direction in mind.

There’s a lesson, by the way. Ask for help. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to share their time and knowledge with you, if you simply ask nicely. And remember to pay it forward.

A couple of months ago, I started talking to a local gallery about selling giclee stretched canvas prints. This has been a bit of a nervous process, because I know that galleries get approached on a daily basis by artists wanting to showcase their work. Most of the time, the art is declined, either because of the quality or because it isn’t any different than the work they’ve already got for sale.

I was fully prepared for rejection. As any working artist will tell you, that’s just part of the job. Too many artists take it personally and fail to realize that galleries are basically art stores, and if their wares don’t sell, they won’t be in business for long.

Yesterday, I received confirmation that my work has been accepted for display and sale on a consignment basis at Editions Gallery in Banff. I would have been happy if they’d agreed to take only one piece, but they’ve asked for all three of them in both of the size runs I’ve laid out. They will also consider any others that I paint in the future.

Considering how much I love painting these pieces, this has turned out to be a very good week for me. It has also further reinforced the lesson that nothing comes without a certain amount of risk. While some people have told me I should do more ‘traditional’ styles, I’ve no desire to try to be the next Robert Bateman. He’s doing quite a fine job of filling that role himself.

I’m a cartoonist who loves to paint, so whether it’s caricaturized portraits or whimsical looking animals, I’m quite content with the marriage of those two styles. I also have an awful lot of fun with them, and as any artist will tell you, that always shows up in the work. Case in point, I’m working on another animal right now, and having a great time doing it.

As Henry Miller once said, Paint what you like and die happy.”

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“Season’s Greetings, everybody, from KBHR, the heart and soul of Cicely, Alaska. This is Chris In The Morning. From where I’m sitting, I’ve got a great view of all the yuletide decorations going up all over town. That’s right, everywhere I turn my head I see ebony birds roosting for the holidays. You know, twinkling colored lights are nice, and so are plastic Santas and reindeers and manger scenes, but I’ll tell you something, friends… nothing like the sight of a beautiful black-as-pitch raven to get you in the Christmas spirit.”
– Chris Stevens, Northern Exposure.

This is the second animal painting in the series of many that I’m currently involved in. When compared to the grizzly bear painting I recently did, I’m not sure which was more difficult, fur or feathers. But I enjoyed painting both, and learned a lot from each.

Here’s the closeup. And while my wife and I don’t really celebrate Christmas, Happy Holidays for those of you that do.

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Grizzly Bear

I’m fortunate to live in The Canadian Rockies, an area rich in wildlife, and home to some of the most majestic animals in the world. Bears, wolves, elk, and many more species are wandering the woods just down the street from my home.

I recently found myself inspired to do a series of wildlife paintings, but I wanted them to have personality and life to them. Something different, something fun. So this grizzly bear ‘portrait’ is the first in the series.

My close friends are well aware of the irrational fear of bears I’ve had for a number of years. I call it bear-anoia. Frankly, I’ve never understood it. I love bears, and always have, but found myself quite nervous about running into one while on a hike or out camping. There is a difference between being ‘bear aware’ as they say in these parts, and worrying that Yogi or Boo-boo is going to jump out from behind every bush doesn’t exactly enhance an excursion into the great outdoors.

I don’t like having phobias. I used to be claustrophobic, but I cured that by taking a couple of guided trips into the Rat’s Nest Cave in this area. Very tight spaces and no easy exit. Now, I can’t get enough of the place. So to deal with the bear thing last summer, I went the hypnosis route and it is now much less of a concern than it used to be. I think people should face their fears. It’s very liberating.

Following are some step-by-step screenshots. Click on the image to see it larger. It should be noted that I while I did sketch a few studies before painting this image, I didn’t scan the sketches and work directly from them. The painting was starting and finished completely in Photoshop.

I really think I’ll enjoy working on this series.

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The Whitewater Bus

I’ve been wanting to share this job for awhile, but as in all contracts, secrecy is usually required until it’s finished. I’ve been done with the images for a little while now, but I got word this week that the bus was on the road, so I couldn’t wait to drive to Banff to take some photos. Click on any of these images to see them larger.

Chinook Rafting presented me with a big challenge: Paint a cartoon of a whitewater raft full of people to be wrapped on both sides of a bus. Since there is text that couldn’t be simply reversed, that meant two paintings, even though most of the other side is identical, but flipped. The design and painting wasn’t so much the problem. Sketches, changes, more sketches, cleanup…the usual. It was the layout and the size of the final image that presented the challenge. After all, there’s a door, and windows, and wheel wells.

The main file I delivered to the company that did the actual output and printing of the vinyl was 1.59GB. Yep, that’s GIG. A vector design would have been a whole lot easier, but the painted look can’t be done that way, hence the huge file size. And this is why I keep my computer hardware updated.

I worked for a sign company here in Canmore for a couple of years, so I knew what was involved with doing a vinyl application for something like this and what layout challenges might come up. While there were some problems (aren’t there always?), they were manageable and I’m extremely pleased with how this looks on the bus. Can’t wait to be driving down the highway and see this vehicle taking visitors to the area out to go rafting.

The company logo and contact details will be put on the front and back of the bus very soon but I’m not involved with that, as it’s a pretty straightforward layout and application.

I love my job, so most days are good in my world. Today, however, was VERY good.