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Sammy

Near the end of last year, I was contacted by a woman in BC who had seen my artwork at the ferry terminal in Victoria, on merchandise licensed through Pacific Music & Art.

Christina was complimentary of my work, which is always nice to hear, and when she saw that I did commissions, she inquired about my painting her Golden Retriever as a gift for her husband. She included a photo of the two of them.

Before taking on a commission, I usually like a little back and forth to ensure I understand the client’s expectations, and I want to see reference photos. If the images aren’t good, I can’t do a good job, and I’ll decline the opportunity. Christina supplied me with plenty of great shots and suggested I Google the pair, just in case there was press reference I might like.

You see, Sammy is a working dog, and Larry Watkinson is the Chief of the Penticton Fire Department.

Photo Credit: Mike Biden

Before long, I was reading with fascination, articles from different BC newspapers. In September of 2019, Larry and Sam were deployed to the Bahamas to help with the rescue efforts following Hurricane Dorian.

As part of a team of Burnaby Fire Fighters and their rescue dogs, they searched for cadavers in the wreckage. The USAR team must be self-sufficient in their operation, and while the goal is to get there as quickly as possible to find survivors, it’s often too late, despite their best efforts. The team had previously deployed to Nepal in 2015.

They spent eight days in 40-degree heat in the Bahamas, having to source their own accommodation, water, food and resources. These dedicated professionals are volunteers, using their own vacation time to help others in need, leaving their supportive families back home.

Following the deployment, Larry was quoted in the Penticton Western News as saying, “We have to recognize that we live in a great place and a beautiful city and to remember to look after each other. That’s something I’ve come home with and have been reflecting on every day.”

I asked Christina if she wanted Sammy painted in his rescue vest, and she declined, saying, “He is first a family pet.”

When people hire me for commissions, they either want a traditional portrait or my whimsical signature style, the same way I paint my wildlife portraits. While I’m happy to paint both, I do prefer the ones where I get to add more personality, and was thrilled when Christina said she wanted my style. They’re just so much more fun to paint.

Later in our correspondence, she wanted to make sure Larry liked the idea, and thankfully he did. No longer a surprise, I didn’t have a firm deadline on this, and they hired me to paint another family dog since passed away, which I’m working on now. Rocky was a traditional firefighter’s dog, a beautiful Dalmatian and I’m also painting him in the whimsical style.
Sammy was a joy to paint, and I had so many great reference pics to work from, which allowed me to create the likeness from more than one source. While Sammy’s nose has lightened with age, Larry had requested I paint it dark, as it was when he was younger, which I was happy to do, while still reflecting the light. My work is all about artistic license, especially the whimsical style.

Christina and Larry were both pleased with the result, which is always the nail-biting part of any commission, waiting to hear if the client is happy with the work I deliver.

Once I finish the second painting, I’ll have them both printed and stretched on 12”X16” canvas, ready to hang, and shipped to Penticton.

I get to meet and talk with a lot of great people in my work, but this is one of the stories and commissions I’ve enjoyed most.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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Bear Wonder

I’m not big on tradition, but I came up with an idea for one on New Year’s Day.

To start the year off on the right foot, I decided to get up early as usual and begin a new painting. Looking through my reference pic library, I came up with quite a few that would be good subjects, but none felt right for the first one of the year.

I kept coming back to the Berkley folder, containing hundreds of photos. Part of me thought that I should paint something else since I’ve painted her six times already.

But who am I kidding? I could paint her many more times without getting tired of it. And for those who aren’t as enamoured with bears as I am, especially THIS bear, I’ll get to other animals soon enough.

Since the world often seems like it’s going to hell in a handcart these days (it’s really not, you know), starting the year off with a painting of Berkley seems like a tradition I can wrap my head and heart around. She always makes me happy.

She’s in deep sleep hibernation right now, but I’m looking forward to seeing her again in the spring, to take new photos to add to the library.

For the artists and technical folks, the full-size file is 40”x30” at 300ppi, painted in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. No photos are ever part of my art; it’s all brushwork. As for how long it took to paint, as people always ask, I have no idea. I’m working on other stuff in the same period I’m working on a painting. More than 10 hours, less than 20, that seems like a reasonable guess.

Prints will be available soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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Bird Watching

One of the wonderfully strange things I’ve never quite gotten used to over the years of licensed work is how my animals show up in the oddest places.

With the Pacific Music and Art license, that seems to be accelerating, because they’re in many more places than I could ever reach on my own, which is the whole point.

Earlier this week, my buddy Al sent me a text that made me laugh out loud, because it included the following photo. It had been shared on The Chive under a headline “Sports Moments Caught Out of Context…”
That ostrich T-shirt certainly does get around.

Years ago, my first T-shirt license was with a company called The Mountain. The relationship was a good one, they treated me well, cheques showed up monthly, but after five years, the owner chose not to renew the license. While I thought sales were right for me, they weren’t enough for The Mountain. The large volume of sales they were after from each design, my funny looking animals weren’t making the mark.

I was disappointed but didn’t take it personally, and we parted on good terms. The owner was a good guy, and when the company shut down its licensing division for anything but shirts, he recommended me to Art Licensing International, an agency that represents me today.

Some Canadian customers wanted to sell my shirts in their stores or gift shops but found the prices from The Mountain to be prohibitive, mainly because of the exchange rate. So, I was pleased to sign on with a Canadian company after that, Harlequin Nature Graphics on Vancouver Island.

Sometime later, however, The Mountain wanted to continue selling the Ostrich shirt, mainly because of one client. Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch and Petting Zoo is a family-owned facility in Arizona, frequented year-round, and it’s my understanding that this one client is responsible for the majority of sales for my Ostrich Tshirt.

With licensing, the main thing is not to step on other clients’ toes, so I checked with Harlequin, as they’ve got exclusivity and first rights of refusal on my designs. They were fine with me continuing that one design license with The Mountain, as they haven’t optioned that painting.

I painted it quite a few years ago on my iPad. It was a sketch painting, a fun experiment, never designed for print. But when Shonna saw it, she said she really liked it and told me I had to finish it.

I know a lot of creative art type people, and there’s something most of us have in common; our spouses aren’t impressed with our work. I’ve heard the same stories in interviews and on podcasts from many people. Actors, musicians, painters, writers, it seems that many of our partners aren’t fans, which in moments of clarity, I know that’s a good thing.

So, when Shonna likes a painting, I get a little excited, because she’s so hard to impress. As much as it pisses me off, she’s usually the last critical eye on a painting. When I ask her opinion, I bite my tongue and brace myself, because she almost always sees something that’s off. I grumble about it, make the change, and reluctantly admit she was right.
 
Man, I hate that.

In recent years, I’ve had people send me images of this ostrich shirt from some unusual places. The first was a screenshot from TSN showing a New York Islanders hockey game. A guy behind the bench was wearing it, making it look like he was giving the coach the evil eye.

A character was wearing it on a Netflix show called Disjointed, a sitcom about a pot shop. Then on the A&E series, “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour,” Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne visited the ranch mentioned above and were both wearing the shirts in the scene following their departure.
This latest image of the announcer holding up the shirt, I’m sure was from the ranch as well, because I can see a name drop on the sleeve. Though I can’t read it, it looks the same as the one Ozzy is wearing. Interesting post-script to the announcer picture…when I sent this post to my newsletter followers, a friend in San Diego wrote me to say that he knows the guy holding the shirt, even told me his name. He’s going to ask him about it next time they meet. This bizarre small world in which we live.

These are the incidents in my work I can’t ever predict, but I’m delighted when they happen. It’s not like any of these people know who I am, but they’re wearing my art, and that’s enough for me.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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2019 in the Rearview

My fuel gauge approaches empty when December rolls around, so I spend it in hermit mode, a little more than usual. We attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, but that’s about it because I don’t have the energy to play the festive role. Celebrating Christmas seems like one more obligation, so I opt out.

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, I do get reflective in my seasonal melancholy.  I spent some time last week going through the 2019 blog posts to remind myself of the year that was.

In February, I checked out of social media entirely but then went back to Instagram a couple of months ago. I missed seeing art from those whose work I admire, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.

On the promotion and sales front, there were two significant developments this year.

The first was watching my work spread to many new places, thanks to the license with Pacific Music and Art. Seems a regular thing now for somebody to say they saw my stuff in a store in Oregon, or Alaska, all over B.C. and Alberta, not to mention the calendars and notepads in so many Save-On stores. I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, visiting from Vancouver Island and she said it’s strange walking by the gift store on Mt. Washington where she works, seeing a whole floor to ceiling corner of my art. It’s looking like 2020 will see more of that migration, but it’s my nature to be cautious. Those chickens ain’t hatched yet.

Secondly, the revival of my relationship with Wacom was a welcome surprise. With so many talented digital artists in the world to choose from, I enjoy the ego boost that comes with being a Wacom influencer. I’ve already agreed to another project with them shortly, but there’s a reason they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement.  Must keep secrets.

I painted 11 finished funny looking animal pieces this past year, the latest one above. I called it ‘Sitting Pretty,’ and she’s based on a black bear named Angel, who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park. I’d like to have painted more critters, but I’ll always say that. If I had painted 15, well, it should have been 20.

While there’s something about each painting that I enjoy, if I had to pick a favourite from this year, it would be Snow Day with the three cougar cubs. That was the best of both worlds, a real challenge and a lot of fun. I should have prints of this one available soon.
I painted a couple of dogs for fun, but no commission work this year until just recently. I’m not disappointed by that because I had plenty to do and wanted to focus on more images for licensing. The two dogs I’m currently painting in my whimsical style are for the same client, hoping to finish in a few weeks. They contacted me about the commissions after seeing my work in a BC Ferries terminal gift shop, a side bonus from my license with Pacific.

Two portraits of people this year, John Malkovich and Quint from Jaws, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. I’d always like to have more time for those, but wouldn’t we all like more time for the fun stuff?
Taking into account all of the syndicated cartoons I did this year, plus the custom local ones I draw each week for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, I drew 419 editorial cartoons in 2019. That might be an annual record for me. I have mixed feelings about that. I wonder how many paintings I could have done with all of those hours.

As for the coming year, I’m not big on resolutions. Well, maybe just one. I intend to write a lot more. There’s undiscovered country there and I need to explore it.

There are other things I want to accomplish, both personal and professional, growth I’d like to achieve, and skills I’d like to learn. Try to keep moving forward, best I can, just like everybody else.

Of course, none of this would be possible were it not for those of you who follow and support my work, read my ramblings, and tolerate my eccentricities. We all have limited time and attention in this life, and I appreciate that you spend some of yours with me.

Happy New Year,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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A Christmas Reindeer

Yes, it’s a Christmas miracle. Even though I’m a confirmed Grinch, Scrooge and fan of Krampus, I decided to create a painting of a Christmas reindeer, complete with time lapse video and festive music to go along with it. Call it a temporary lapse in Bah Humbug, emphasis on the temporary.

This was painted in Photoshop on my trusty Wacom Cintiq 24HD. Feel free to share it, either from this post or from Youtube.

Cheers,
Patrick

@LaMontagneArt
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Snow Day

When I started this painting, I had a vision in mind. Three cougar cubs, mouths open, looking like they were having a good time. I even had a title for it, Caterwauling. That could mean they were singing, shouting, or just kids making noise.

I had plenty of reference to work from as the models for this painting were Quora and Tavo, the two cougar kittens adopted by Discovery Wildlife Park last year. They’ve grown quite a bit, but are still juveniles. As is my artist’s prerogative, I decided I wanted a trio in this painting, rather than a duo.

In the beginning, it had kind of a rocky looking background, and it was going to be bushes and leaves in the front, intentionally blurred a little to suggest a depth of field effect.

I’d done a good rough painting of the cats, but I hadn’t yet added in any detail. When I started roughing in the leaves, I found little enthusiasm for it, so I deleted the layers and wondered what else I could do.

I live in cougar country. There’s a running inside joke in this valley about how stealthy these animals are,  that you may have never seen a cougar, but a cougar has seen you. So even though I can see a cougar’s home environment by looking out my window, I googled cougar photos for ideas.

A lot of the photos I found showed cougars in the snow, and I realized none of my paintings suggest that environment. Even my Polar Bear and Snow Leopard paintings only have simple blue icy looking backgrounds.

Once I started experimenting with the snow, the painting took on a whole new life. Not only did that environment make the image look brighter and more vibrant, but it became a lot more enjoyable to paint. I smiled a lot while working on this because the cougar cubs just seemed to be having so much fun. I realized that Snow Day was a much better title.

It was a challenge to add the snow on their faces and make it look like it belonged. I found images of golden retrievers playing in the snow to help me with that. It required experimenting with different brushes and shadow techniques to get it to look right, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.

This might not be the most fun I’ve had working on one of my whimsical wildlife paintings, but it’s a contender.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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A Visit with Birds of Prey

After my first visit to the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta last year, I was looking forward to another visit this season. Unfortunately, with other obligations close to home, I didn’t manage to get there before they closed last month for the season.

After reading their latest newsletter, which is always informative, I realized that I had not only failed to visit this year, but I hadn’t contributed financially either. I called up last month to make a donation and the patriarch of the family, Colin Weir, told me they’d be in Canmore again on October 5th at the Civic Centre.

I marked it in my calendar and made sure I wouldn’t be away or have other obligations.

A really nice day for it, I got there first thing on Saturday to avoid what would later become a good crowd of people. The birds were outside, in conjunction with a larger event focusing on Geology, fossils and the Canmore Museum, located in the Civic Centre.

The regular cast of characters were there, the ambassadors that travel with Colin when he goes to these events. These are birds that can’t be released back into the wild and have lived at the Centre for a long time. A Great Horned Owl, Short Eared Owl, Barn Owl, Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle, each with names like Basil, Dexter and Edgar.
Their Golden Eagle is in her early thirties, and I painted her a couple of years ago. Sarah is a beautiful bird and Colin admits he’s very close to her, having raised her since the 1980s. His daughter, Aimee has joked that Sarah is the favorite child.

While I enjoyed painting Sarah, it’s not one of my more popular prints, largely because when the general public thinks of eagles, they’re most often after the Bald variety and that painting of mine is far more popular than this one.

Even still, I couldn’t resist taking more photos of Sarah, knowing I still may do another painting of her, for my own enjoyment.
I spent a good couple of hours there, taking hundreds of photos of all of the birds. The opportunity to get up close and personal, acquiring such detailed reference is one I rarely pass up. I was happy to leave another donation for the privilege of having the birds come to me.
When it comes to supporting charities and causes, I would encourage you to find the thing for which you feel a personal connection.

Whether it’s research into a medical illness that has touched you or a member of your family, efforts for building a new library in your community, or a regular donation to the food bank, find something you can regularly support that makes you feel like you’re making a difference.

As this is a wonderful facility that rescues and rehabilitates birds of prey, I know how much they rely on public support to continue the work they do. With so many worthwhile charities and causes out there, it can be overwhelming to want to give to everybody, but only having the funds to support a few. I decided quite some time ago that all of my charitable donations would go toward wildlife causes, especially facilities that help animals in need of emergency care and rehabilitation. I make a monthly donation to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation in Airdrie, contribute to Discovery Wildlife Park in whatever way I can, and I support the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, but I say No to most everything else, even though I still feel guilty while doing so.

Giving is one of the most selfish things we do, because it feels so good. It’s addictive. I’ll freely admit that it’s also self-serving for me to support wildlife causes and facilities because it’s allowed me to be able to get up close and personal with many of the subjects I’ve painted. How could I not support them in return?

I make a good living, but I’m not wealthy, despite the outsider’s view that everybody who lives in Canmore and Banff is rich. That’s right, the people serving coffee in the local shop, working at the gas stations, cleaning hotel rooms, and working in the grocery store are all rich people, slumming it because they’re bored.

To support a charity, any charity, doesn’t required a huge outlay of funds. A monthly donation of even $20 helps these places because they’re not just relying on your contribution but all of the others who can only give a little, which amounts to a lot. A monthly donation helps them budget for the year, to get the most of their donations and stretch it as far as they can.

I was talking to Colin on Saturday about the challenges faced with fundraising in a facility like his. He told me that their small staff does everything, from rescuing the animals, caring for them, releasing them, training new staff and volunteers, ordering for the gift shop, maintaining the facilities and what I can only imagine is a much longer list of daily duties that go on even when the facility is closed to the public in the off-season.

He told me about somebody who had called him recently from Fort McMurray who hit a Great Horned Owl with his truck at night. Colin showed me the picture of the owl trapped inside the damaged grill, looking out at the man taking the photo. He had to talk the guy through the extrication over the phone and they managed to free the owl that was seemingly undamaged. These types of calls are not unusual, and come at all hours.

On top of all of that, they also have to have a sharp focus on fundraising, or it all stops.

While the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation has a few generous corporate sponsors, like Fortis Alberta and AltaLink, they don’t receive any funding from the Alberta or federal governments. When governments change, priorities change and funding can suddenly be frozen or come with strings attached that would ultimately hinder their good work, rather than help.

If you think about some of the larger, more well-known charities, Colin points out that those organizations often have fundraising and marketing departments with more people in them than the entire staff at the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. Not to mention that the marketing budgets of larger charities often exceed the entire operating budget of a facility like the Birds of Prey Centre, where all of the funds raised go directly to conservation.

The next time you’re thinking about where best to put your limited charitable donations, I would encourage you to find somewhere that does great work that aligns with your values. Consider choosing a small facility, where they might not have the flashiest of ad campaigns, but are on the ground doing great work that matters, necessary work that if they didn’t do it, nobody would. You won’t get the chance at a lottery prize or be invited to a gala fundraiser, but you’ll be able to see firsthand where your money goes and the good that it does.

It might be your local SPCA or animal shelter, a local greenhouse that grows food for struggling folks in your own community, or somewhere like the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation.

Be selfish. Give a little.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Clearwater Calf

On a recent visit to the cabin near Caroline in June, I was delighted to hear from the owners of KB Trails that they’d leased the adjacent pasture to a neighbour for his cows.  While I’m not exactly a city slicker, I’m pretty sure that nothing says, “he ain’t from around here” quite like standing in the middle of a field taking pictures of cows.

Even the cows seemed to be asking, “What’s this guy’s deal?”
But for me, any chance to get up close and personal to a critter for some photo reference is a good day.

I do love that landscape up there in Clearwater County, and the pasture behind the cabin. It seems there’s always something new to photograph. Deer, coyotes, moose, horses, cows, and a wonderful dog names Jingles. This is the second painting I’ve done from my trips up there, Jingles being my first. But it certainly won’t be the last.

From time to time, I’ll paint an animal where it’s a real challenge to get it to look right. Might be something in the features or in the fur, but some of my paintings have felt like real work.
This one, however, was quite easy, which was a welcome surprise. It still required quite a few hours at the digital drawing board, but it never had any frustrating moments. It was just putting in the time until it was finished.

Up next…well, I’ll let you know.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Fall Photos at Discovery Wildlife Park

An opportunity recently came up to do a fall photo shoot at Discovery Wildlife Park. I got the text while hanging out at Electric Grizzly Tattoo here in Canmore, which Shonna calls my artist support group.

The owner, Derek Turcotte, and I have gone on drives into Kananaskis looking for wildlife from time to time, and both of us like taking our own wildlife reference photos. I’m always up for taking photos at the park, especially when it’s an official photo shoot. Derek was into it too, so I booked it. $150 each, which was well worth it, since the money goes to support the park.

We drove up on Saturday, leaving just after 3:00 as Derek was tattooing a client all day. Thankfully traffic worked out with no delays en route, because we were cutting it close. We just made it for the 5:30 start. Serena, Belinda and Nadia met us at the main building and took us down to the photo shoot area in their ‘limo,’ which is just a golf cart with extra bench seats.

Discovery Wildlife Park has created a staged area in the woods on their property. It was already a natural area, but they’ve added some rock and water features and the backdrop is the side of the gully in which it sits. Running along one side of the area is a long, tall fence. This is designed specifically for photo shoots and the mesh of the fence is large enough that you can put a lens through it.

Derek and I were joined by two women who had also booked the shoot and with only four of us along the fence, we had plenty of room to move about, didn’t have to worry about getting in each other’s way and the opportunities for great photos were limited only by our own skills.For the first part of the shoot, the wolves Nissa and Lupé were let loose in the large enclosure. Through positive reinforcement with treats and praise, they would pose on marks, run around together, play and explore. The light kept changing as it shone through the trees, creating natural spotlights which was wonderful when the wolves would be caught in one.

After the wolves returned to their own large enclosure in the park, it was time for Berkley to join us.

I last saw her in July and she has grown bigger still. She’s now just shy of 350 lbs and is really showing her adult features. While she still has her wonderfully expressive childlike face and lovable personality, it is easy to see the big bear she will eventually become.

As I’ve mentioned before, it is always a pleasant surprise when she recognizes me and wants to visit. At first, she ran into the enclosure and I could see her coming around the top on the other side of the trees. She moves really fast when she wants to and came barrelling down the path beside the fence. When she got to where I was standing, she slowed right down and did a double take as if to say, “Hey, it’s you!”

That never gets old.
Of course, it did present a little bit of a problem when it was time to take pictures, because Berk just wanted to visit. Telling her to go see her Mom didn’t work, and Serena basically had to scold the four of us to stop talking to her, or we wouldn’t get any pictures.

We had to ignore her so that she would go to Serena, but once she did, she had a great time. From attacking trees, to playing on the large rocks, following Serena around and doing tricks for treats, my camera shutter just kept going rapid fire.
Sure, Berkley would occasionally look my way and then come over, but I just had to stand up and turn away for her to forget the distraction and go back into the middle of the enclosure. I felt bad for doing it, but I still got plenty of visiting time with her a little later on and before we left.

Derek was pretty thrilled to be that close to a grizzly bear, as were the other two photographers. I realized that I’ve gotten a little too used to having so much time with Berkley, that I forget what a unique privilege it is to have a (not-so) little bear friend. There’s nothing like looking into those eyes and that wonderful face.

Derek told me he wasn’t sure if I’d been exaggerating how much Berkley ‘knew’ me or not, so he got to see that first hand. He said it was great to finally see the place and meet some of the people I often talk about, and now he knows why.

With the light in the sheltered photo area fading enough that it was getting difficult to get any more good photos, Berkley left us and Serena offered us the opportunity to take some photos of Gruff, as his enclosure is up on the main flat area of the park, so we still had ten minutes of light to work with.
Derek was primarily looking for tattoo reference and for his own painted work, so Gruff performing his scary bear impression was something he was excited to get. Even though I just painted that very expression, I took some more photos and think I got even better reference of that than the last time. Might be another painting coming one day.

Although it required a four hour round trip drive for two hours at the park, both Derek and I felt it was well worth our time and we’ll do it again next year when the opportunity comes up. The fading light and sometimes fast motion of the wolves and Berkley created some photography challenges that resulted in more lost shots than we would have liked, but that’s part of photography, and life in general. You learn more from the mistakes and failures than the successes. Whether it’s taking the photos or painting from them, there’s more to learn than I will ever have time for in this life.

I took over 2600 photos, and after a few hours of going through them yesterday, ended up with about 100 worth keeping, including quite a few that will work as wonderful reference pics for future paintings.
I don’t know if it’s the last time I’ll see Berkley before she goes down for hibernation, but if it is, it was a nice visit on which to end the year. Discovery Wildlife Park closes for the season after Thanksgiving, so if you’re in the area, there’s still time to see the animals before that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Roar

This painting began on the iPad in procreate as a sketch exercise. Playtime, if you will. I liked where it was heading, however, so I brought it into Photoshop and continued painting at a larger size. A departure from my style, but it was a fun experiment.

I called it ‘Roar’ but bears don’t really roar. They might make loud noises from time to time, but not the kind you hear in movies. That’s all Hollywood magic, the roaring sound added in editing.

Whenever I go to Discovery Wildlife Park, I usually watch the bear show, even though I’ve seen it quite a few times.

The bear show is kind of a misnomer and a big head fake. While people think they’re coming to see the bears just do a few tricks, they’re actually there for an education. The keepers use the opportunity to talk to people about bears in the wild.

Involving everything from how to tell a black bear from a grizzly, what to do when you happen upon either animal and how best to avoid any negative encounters, especially when camping or hiking. They also explain that the reason bears become orphaned in the first place (like all of the bears they care for) is most often a consequence of their encounters with people. By getting too close, directly feeding them, or leaving food out for them to find, we teach them bad behaviours that are difficult to break.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Park, you might think that having the bears do tricks is kind of cruel, like they’re in a circus or something. The reality is the opposite. It would be cruel NOT to teach them, as this keeps them active. It’s called enrichment.

In the wild, animals have three big priorities…finding food, procreating and avoiding predators, each requiring large expenditures of energy and attention.

The animals at Discovery Wildlife Park aren’t driven by the same priorities. They receive a well balanced diet of healthy food, have no concerns with predators, and they’re not being actively bred.

So the tricks, for lack of a better word, are designed to keep their minds working. It gives them problems to solve, tasks to complete, and they actively participate, all with positive reinforcement. There is no punishment for failing to do a trick. They can just walk away if they don’t feel like it.

One of the challenges for the keepers is coming up with new and interesting things to teach the animals. They’re so smart (the animals, not the keepers…wait, that didn’t come out right) that they learn things very fast and it becomes too easy for them. Some of the tricks serve double purpose, too.

By learning to present their paws, blood can be drawn without having to sedate them. They can also check their claws to see if there is any damage in need of intervention. They will urinate on command for samples, step up onto scales for weighing and a number of other behaviours designed to ensure they stay healthy.

One of the tricks the bears are taught at Discovery Wildlife Park is to “Be scary!”

Not only is it a standard trick of actor bears, it gives the keepers an opportunity for a dental inspection. A number of their animals have needed dental intervention, just like your own pet.

I find the “Be Scary” trick especially amusing, because I was there a couple of years ago when Berkley was just learning it and her scary bear was pathetic. If you’d like to see it, the video is available here, about the 1:15 and 3:25 marks. She now does a very impressive scary bear impression, gets her treat and then instantly reverts back to her regular adorable self.

This painting, however, is Gruff. He was raised at the park and his scary bear is top notch. Gruff is one of my favorite bears. As you can see below, I’ve painted him as a cub and as an adult, and have painted a number of roughs of him as well.

When he was first surrendered to the park, Serena wasn’t sure she could save him. He was pretty far gone, having been mistreated by a number of people who had initially found him as a cub, then traded him around. But thanks to Discovery Wildlife Park’s excellent care, he has become a wonderful gentle six-year old bear with a great personality.

On a recent visit to the park, I was invited to step inside the outer enclosure fence while the keepers and bears did the show. Sitting on a log beside one of the other keepers, I managed to get some very nice photos of the black bears, including the reference for this one.
As you can see, the painting is intentionally rough. A loose, large stroke style, with plenty of artifacts, errant brush strokes and I got creative with an analogous colour scheme. Each time I found myself starting to focus on painting finer detail, I forced myself to stop, erring instead on the side of discovery.

Cheers,
Patrick

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