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One More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

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

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

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

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

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

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Eggs, Butter, Milk, Coffee Mug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birds of Prey on Display

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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Stuck on Brown Bears

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Sticker Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Wild Calendar Offer

Thanks to everyone who entered the calendar giveaway by commenting on the post. As I said in yesterday’s reminder email, all the kind and supportive things you had to say were greatly appreciated.

Hey, you weren’t just sucking up to get a calendar, were you?

No, I’m gonna choose to believe each was genuine and sincere, because you’re all such nice people.

I wish I could give away a calendar to everyone, but the grocery store and utility companies are still insisting I pay them in actual currency. I know, right?!

Without further delay, the two winners (already notified) of two calendars each are…

Jason from Fort St. John, BC

Lisa from Houston, Texas

For those who didn’t win this time, I’m working on some more downloadable goodies for subscribers to A Wilder View, so stay tuned. And If you haven’t yet signed up, here’s the link.

In the meantime, my 2022 calendars are now available for purchase at a special price! Regularly $12.99, I’m offering them for $12.00 each or 2 for $20. Shipping is a flat rate of $5.00 for Canada, $11.00 for US. If you live in Canmore, I’ll happily deliver free of charge.

OR, if you’re looking to get some of my 11”X14” prints in the store, I’ll throw in a FREE calendar with every order of TWO or more prints. You don’t even need to tell me, I’ll just add it automatically.

HOW TO ORDER:

As this is a special promotion, send me an email (patrick@nulllamontagneart.com) with your order and address. I’ll let you know the total with tax. Folks in Canada can pay by e-transfer (no password required), and I’ll be happy to send a PayPal invoice to anybody in the U.S. and elsewhere on the planet.

THE CATCH:

This offer expires at 4:00 MTN time tomorrow (Wednesday, July 21).

Any questions, feel free to ask. AND please share this with anybody you like.

Thanks again to all the contest entrants and congratulations to the winners.

Cheers,
Patrick

NOTE: This offer has expired. Thanks to all who ordered. Cheers!

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Wild Animals All Year Long

It’s hard to describe the good feeling when a new product shows up in the mail or lands on my doorstep.

Sometimes it’s proofs from Art Ink Print in Victoria, the first time I see a new painting in print. Or it might be a sample from a new licensing contract, like the big box that arrived from Spilsbury Puzzles last year. More fun than receiving them was giving them away to friends, family and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Spilsbury gave me 12 puzzles, and I didn’t keep one. Giving them away was much more fun than any enjoyment I would have had putting one together. Of course, I could have held a couple, had them collect dust in the closet, but where’s the fun in that?

Pacific Music & Art has a calendar rack in the Canmore Save-On-Foods store, right near the front door. I shop there often, so I’m used to seeing my calendars on display. I’ll confess that each time I go in, I glance at the rack.
However, the other day, I knew they had received their first shipment of my Wild Animals 2022 calendar, and I wanted to see it. Even though I selected the images, approved the digital proofs, and knew what it would look like, there’s just something about holding the finished product.

This morning, my own first order of calendars showed up. I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, yet a box of calendars on my front step is still incredibly validating. So pulling the first one from the box made me smile.

Each year, more of my work ends up on licensed products, many of which were a surprise. T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics, phone cases and decals from DecalGirl, puzzles, fabric samples, and other products I’ve approved on paper but have never seen in real life.

Pacific Music & Art, however, has the most variety of any company that licenses my work. Magnets, coasters, trivets, art cards, notepads, coffee mugs, face masks and more. It’s an extensive list, one that is ever-changing and evolving. Sold in stores all over Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, new locations and venues are added all the time.

Though the Calgary Zoo has sold my prints for many years, it’s often the first place I’ll see and hold a new design from Pacific.
Mike sent me a picture of this display last week from the Save-On store in Duncan, BC, featuring artists from the Pacific catalogue. I’m told I’ll be able to share an even better display photo very soon from the Save-On here in Canmore.

Wild Animals 2022 is my third calendar from Pacific Music & Art. A friend recently expressed surprise that printed calendars were still popular. Even though we all have access to a digital calendar on our phones and devices, I explained that people still like to have a printed calendar in their offices or kitchen at home to mark down appointments or family events.

Some of these people choose one featuring my funny-looking animals, and it’s flattering that they want to look at my grinning critters all year long.

Next week, I’ll offer up the Wild Animals 2022 calendar for sale to my subscribers. So if you haven’t yet signed up for A Wilder View, perhaps now is the time.

In the meantime, I’m giving away two calendars each to two different winners so that each winner can keep one for themselves and give one away.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post below. Do you have any of my funny-looking animals in your home, either on a print or product and which one(s)? Or tell me what kind of product or item might look good with one of my whimsical wildlife paintings on it.

Anyone may enter; I’m happy to ship these prizes worldwide.

I’ll let the winners know on Tuesday, July 20th, giving you a week to enter. Good luck to all!

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Levelling Up

In our content-obsessed online existence, it can be easy to believe that if you’re not sharing all the time, then you’re failing.

I lived in that trap for a long time, equating the value of my work with how many likes and shares I got, success defined by the quantity of posts rather than the quality. I’ve interrupted enjoyable moments relaxing with friends, taking pictures of wildlife or even paused in the middle of a painting so that I could have something to post.

That’s right; I’ve turned off the music I’m listening to, picked up my phone and taken a picture of my hand holding a stylus on the display with a closeup of whatever I’m painting. Then I’ve edited it, uploaded it to Instagram, typed in a poor attempt at clever, considered the hashtags, and posted it. Then I likely got lost for ten minutes scrolling through other posts.

I interrupted one of the things I enjoy most in the whole world to try to get people to like me.

I mean, to like my work.

Yeah, that’s what I meant.

It’s essentially saying, “this experience is great, but maybe it will be better if a bunch of people who aren’t here approve of it.”

Because maybe that means they approve of me.

I haven’t posted anything on Instagram in about a month, and it has been a bit of relief.

I’ve realized that a lot of the time I spent on there was checking to see the response. With no posts to check, it’s surprising how the urge to spend time aimlessly scrolling has significantly diminished.

No, this isn’t another ‘I’m leaving social media!’ post. I’ve cried wolf on that before. As my buddy, Darrel, once said, “this isn’t the airport. You don’t need to announce your departure.”

I didn’t shut down my profile. I’ve just let it stagnate. If people find me there and want to see more, there are plenty of signposts directing them to my site. If that’s too much work, then they aren’t interested in the first place.

I’ve read recently in more than one article that a side effect of the lockdown for many people has been some much-needed personal reflection. The COVID experience — no, not a new Vegas attraction — has been an unprecedented period of stress for most of us.

Things we tolerated or thought were important when life was normal aren’t working anymore.

Some are realizing that their job that was already pushing far too many of the wrong buttons has become even worse, having to do it from home. The narcissist demanding boss, the whole reason you looked forward to Friday, now requires you to answer your e-mail at 9:00 pm on a Saturday. After all, he knows you’re home. Where else would you be?

People are leaving those jobs, realizing that whatever they thought they were getting in return for their precious time isn’t worth it. Employers who took their staff for granted are suddenly finding out that loyalty requires more than a paycheque.

Why give your heart and soul to a big corporation when you know that you could be a victim of the next round of layoffs? Or that you can’t remember the last time your boss told you that you did a good job or that you’re appreciated, something that often means a lot more to a person than a 25-cent raise.

On the other side of that coin, some employers who’ve bent over backward to accommodate their staff and do right by them have realized it’s a one-way street.

I’ve heard from more than a few business owner friends whose staff found ways to avoid coming back to work, preferring instead to stay home and get the government COVID subsidy cheques. But when those dried up, they wondered why their job was no longer waiting for them.

People are moving on from their one-sided relationships and false friendships. They’re reconsidering the stuff they buy to impress people they don’t know. And they’re asking themselves the hard questions, the meaning-of-life questions. I know I am.

Why am I doing things this way? Where am I going? What do I want?

There is a folder on my computer called Next Level Projects. Each subfolder within that one is a painting project idea that will take significantly more time than usual. Each involves more than one critter or is a painting on a much larger scale that I know will be more work than usual.

This little unfinished burrowing owl is the first part of one of those pieces. It’s incomplete because I’ll be drawing several more in different poses, and I don’t yet know how each will fit into the scene.

I have procrastinated on these projects because while I’m working on them, there won’t be a lot to share, especially on quick hit sites like Instagram. These are projects I’ve long wanted to do, but they scare me a little because I don’t know if I’ll do a good job of them. I might put a lot of work into one of these endeavours, and it could be a spectacular flop.

People might not like them.

Or worse, they won’t care.

I’ve been putting off creating pieces that will stretch my skills and help me grow as an artist, all because I’ve been worried about whether or not I’ll get a thumbs-up on social media, mostly from people who aren’t all that interested in my work.

If they were, they’d be subscribers to A Wilder View.

I’ve been sucked into believing that I need to have painted more images at the end of each year than I did the year before. This isn’t an actual art-for-a-living rule; I just made it up. How often do we stop to consider that the stories we tell ourselves are complete fabrications, big steaming piles of bullshit most often borne of insecurity?

Focusing on these next-level projects means I’ll have fewer finished pieces, but it might also mean that the ones I do create could be something new and special, leading to even better work in the future.

© Patrick LaMontagne© Patrick LaMontagne

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Bias and Bighorns

Driving back to Canmore from visiting a friend in Exshaw, I came around the bend to a massive herd of bighorn sheep. There were 40-50 of them on both sides of the secondary highway and a handful crossing from one side to the other. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to slow down and navigate the obstacle course of rams, ewes, lambs, and the four or five tourist vehicles stopped to take pictures.

Watching for wildlife on highways around here is routine. Rarely have I made that ten-minute drive without seeing one or two sheep.

When I got home, I sent my buddy a text about the largest herd I had ever come across, and he was unimpressed. Like many Exshaw residents who work in Canmore, he’s made that commute for years, so bighorn sheep along the highway are more annoying than enjoyable, especially when winter renders that road more treacherous.

Along with that stretch of highway, you can often find these critters around the junction of Kananaskis and Smith Dorrien Trails on Highway 40 and on the Lake Minnewanka loop outside of Banff. But they can pop up anywhere.

It can present problems with traffic jams and often-shocking displays of poor judgment, but tourists love to see wildlife, and it’s a big part of the allure of the Canadian Rockies.

While I have lived in one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet for almost thirty years, wildlife is a big draw in many parts of the world. Each has its hierarchy of popular species.

Everybody wants to see a lion or elephant on an African safari, but few have shelled out the big bucks just for a wildebeest or zebra.

Shonna and I are frequent visitors to Vancouver Island, and the big-ticket item there is whales, preferably humpbacks and orcas. Our friends own a wildlife tour company in Ucluelet, and while they usually see plenty of animals on their cruises, they’ve had to be specific that they can’t promise whale sightings. Any company that does, it comes with a caveat; the guarantee usually means you can come on the tour again for free.

Guides know where they’re most likely to find the animals, but luck and timing play a big part. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock.

Eagles, otters and black bears are a welcome sight out there — sea lions, seals and seagulls, not so much. Large fat sea lions congregate on docks causing costly damage for fishing boat operators and municipalities, requiring inventive countermeasures to keep them away. Sea lions are lazy, noisy and they smell nasty.

However, as a tourist, I’ll happily snap photos each time I see them, and I’ve painted more than one. Not surprising that they weren’t popular prints.

Back here in the mountains, the big sighting for tourists is bears, preferably a grizzly. And if she’s got cubs, well, that might as well be a lottery win. Conservation Officers and Park Wardens spend a great deal of time shooing tourists away from these situations. Summer ‘bear jams’ are common around here, sometimes leading to confrontation.

When a tourist and a stressed bear have a bad encounter, they don’t shoot the tourist.

Wolves and moose are high on the list, followed by pikas, marmots, pine martens, and other elusive smaller critters. But somewhere in there, you’ll find elk, bighorn sheep and deer, animals that aren’t difficult to find. While still exciting for tourists, locals are used to them, and they’re often the reason for traffic delays, or worse, injuries and fatalities from collisions on highways.

For many locals, these animals are a prime example of familiarity breeding contempt. I would imagine the feeling is mutual.
I’ll still take pictures of elk, bighorn sheep and deer, but it’s not nearly as much a thrill as it used to be. I didn’t stop when I came across that herd the other day, despite a safe pullout parking lot close by, but I have before. The reference for this painting was a photo I took at Lake Minnewanka a few years ago when I had explicitly gone searching for bighorn sheep.

While browsing my reference archive the other day, looking for something to paint, I opened that folder with low expectations. An image caught my eye, though, and I thought, “why not?”

Sure, he’s grinning, but the expression isn’t genial like many of my other whimsical wildlife pieces, and that’s by design. He’s untrustworthy and up to something. I wouldn’t turn my back on him. When I asked Shonna for a critique, she complimented the artwork but was less enthusiastic than usual about the subject. When pressed, she simply said, “I don’t like bighorn sheep.”

Clearly, she’s not alone.

But he was fun to paint.

© Patrick LaMontagne