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A Trio of Ostriches

PaintingSomething about painting these animals of mine with the intention of printing and selling them is that I can become a little too focused on the end result and forget why I started creating them in the first place, which was for the simple joy of it. I’ll often go through my now very extensive, but neatly organized folders full of animal photos, looking for inspiration for the next piece. While there are plenty of animals I’ve got pics for and have yet to paint, it’s a matter of timing. Certain animal paintings just happen when the mood strikes me, when it’s just their time. I’ve had some pics for years before I’ve gotten around to using them for a painting.

Even though I’ve painted an ostrich before, part of my Totem series, and despite the fact that it’s one my best selling prints, I found myself looking at some recent ostrich pics I took at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail and others I’d taken at the Calgary Zoo. I just love the attitude of these animals. It’s completely unjustified, but they always seem two seconds away from bristling at whatever imagined indignity is confronting them. Kind of like a cross between, “how dare you?!” and “don’t you know who I am?”

At the Calgary Zoo, the ostriches and zebras share an enclosure. While I was taking photos one day, a zebra made his way toward me, clearly with the intent of eating some of the hay by the fence. To get there, he (or she, can’t remember) had to walk between two ostriches and their reaction made me laugh out loud. They quickly backed away, hissed at the zebra and their body language indicated that they were offended at this worst of possible slights and invasion of their personal space. The zebra seemed to be used to all of this and just ambled through without giving them a second glance. It was pretty amusing.
CloseupWhile looking at the reference pics, I realized that there were plenty of other animals I could have painted right now to add to my menagerie of marketable prints, but in the end, I just wanted to paint some more ostriches. I might have painted them all looking angry and indignant, but I just went with what I felt while working on them. There’s a trace of that attitude in there, especially in the one on the right, but to me, they just seem to be a trio of ridiculous looking goofs. Whatever you see in them is right for you, of course.

For some reason, it also reminds me of three awkward teenage kids being forced to pose together for a family portrait.

This was a lot of fun and while I doubt I’ll be painting more ostriches in the near future, you never can tell. I didn’t expect to be painting these three. This was painted in Photoshop CC 2015 on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD displays, with photos used only for reference.

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Zendaya

Zendaya
My latest painting, a lion cub named Zendaya.

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a couple of lion cubs at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail. It’s a wonderful place I’d driven by on many an occasion but had never made the time to stop in.

I’m wary of supporting zoos if they don’t have a mandate or reputation for existing for the right reasons and for treating the animals well, so I did a little research before attending. I was pleased with what I found out and if you’re curious, I’d encourage you to visit their site to read a little about the work they do.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the generosity of many of my photographer friends who’ve been willing to let me use their images for reference on a number of my paintings. Some of my most popular pieces wouldn’t have been possible without their assistance. In other cases, I’ve purchased stock photos online. The common thread in both of those options is trying to find the right photos to work with that will get me close to the vision I see in my head. Often, I find that even though the photos might be excellent, I’m working with what I’ve got and have to settle a little. This should in no way be seen as a criticism of the photographs, just a missing element, namely my own experience with the animal I’m painting.

In recent years, I’ve been taking my own reference pics and that has quickly become the preferred option. Having won a high end camera along with my Best in Show Award at Photoshop World last year, I’ve been working to become a better photographer. Between that camera and the one I already had, each with their own uses, more and more often I’m using my own reference pics for paintings.

Discovery Wildlife Park offers behind-the-scenes experiences with some of their animals, under the vigilant supervision of their keepers. This year, with the arrival of two lion cub siblings, they offered an opportunity for very small groups of people to get up close and personal with the cubs, for an additional fee, as would be expected. This will only last as long as the cubs are enjoying it and while they’re small enough that it doesn’t expose guests to any risk.
LoungingTwo trainers, two other guests and I were brought into an area outside of the cubs’ main enclosure, but still in a controlled area. The two cubs were each brought out on a leash by a trainer. Initially, the female, Zendaya, the subject of this painting, didn’t seem to want to come out and be sociable and they had told us earlier that it was up to the cubs. If they didn’t feel like participating, they wouldn’t be forced. I quite liked that.
CubCuddleGriffin, the boy, seemed to love the attention and exploring outside of his enclosure. He was also clearly enjoying the physical interaction with the keeper and there was an obvious bond there. When Zendaya finally decided she was missing out on her brother’s fun, she wanted to come out as well and was just as affectionate with her keeper.
WalkWe had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and for much of the time; I was within arm’s reach of either cub. When the keeper felt that one of the cubs was relaxed enough, we were allowed to touch them, specifically told to keep our hands away from their heads as they didn’t know us. I was allowed to take plenty of pictures and the whole experience was a real thrill.

When I got home, I had so many great shots to choose from, I knew I was going to paint one of the cubs and will very likely paint the other in the near future. I’m also planning to return to the Park very soon to get some more photos of the other animals for similar painting reference. They have a very cooperative beaver there that I’m dying to get some good shots of as I’ve wanted to paint one for a while.
ZendayaCloseI had initially intended this first lion cub piece to be more of a sketch painting, but the more I worked on it, the less I wanted to stop, so I carried it through to a completion. I’m very happy with the result and I’m looking forward to seeing it on canvas.

This was my first painting done with the recent upgrade of Photoshop CC 2015 and it worked flawlessly. As usual, no photos or textures are used in the actual painting, just for reference. Everything is brush work, using both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the Cintiq 24HD displays.

Thanks for reading.
Patrick

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Letter to my Editor

I’ve been following Renegade Arts Entertainment for some time now as the company is a local success story. A Canadian publisher of comic books and graphic novels featuring internationally known writers and artists, Renegade’s reach appears to be ever expanding. Based right here in Canmore, their commitment to quality artwork, storytelling, and printing has earned my respect.

Earlier this year, I asked Editor and Publisher (and writer!) Alexander Finbow if he wouldn’t mind meeting me for lunch. I was looking to pick his brain about publishing and asked for any advice he could give me. Alex and I didn’t really know each other, though we’d met, but I needed help and figured I had nothing to lose by asking.

He was gracious and generous with his time and information, we talked about Renegade possibly publishing my book (something I didn’t expect), but with the many submissions he gets each week and the fact that my book will be very different from anything they’ve published before, it was just tire kicking on both of our parts. I thanked him for his time and willingness to share what he knew and I went away with a lot more to think about.

Alex and I ran into each other a few times at the Calgary Expo, talked while walking to the BMO Centre one day during the event, and he invited my wife and I to a networking event that weekend as well, which was a lot of fun.
Alex01FBThis past Sunday, I went downtown to Café Books here in Canmore to buy Renegade’s latest book, The Loxleys and Confederation, and Alex and I chatted more about my project. Before I knew it, we had agreed to work together on it, and Renegade will be publishing my book in early 2017. If that seems like a lot of lead time, it’s because there are a thousand things to do if you want to publish and market a book well. Creating the content is step 1. I’m looking forward to a lot of work and a lot of education over the next year. The artwork and writing of the book needs to be done by Canada Day, 2016.

So now I have a deadline. I’m good with deadlines.

With some suggestions for the narrative from Alex and my own thoughts rattling around my head, he tasked me with laying down a foundation for the book. What do I want to say? What story do I want to tell?

Yesterday, I sent Alex the following email and I thought it might be something you’d like to read, with his permission and approval, of course. He even came up with the title for this post.

So here it is. The beginning of my first book of artwork…

Hi Alex:

Having had some time to think about the direction of the narrative in the book, I wanted to write down what I think would give you my best work to go along with the images. Most people I know who’ve run their own business or charted their own course for any length of time, have experienced the rewards of following their gut instinct. Sometimes it’s soft spoken, other times it’s a deafening roar. We’ve all been the victims of ignoring that instinct as well, and the ones still working have learned from it. I’m sure you can say the same of your own experience.

With that in mind, I don’t want to include any fictional stories in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I like writing fiction. I’ve written two novels that have been sitting on a shelf for the past fifteen years because I was focusing on my artwork instead. Truth be told, I chickened out on trying to get either published, although I did recently start editing the first one again to give it another go.

But for the animal work, fiction just feels wrong to me. What I had intended from the beginning, and what still feels true to me, is to use the writing in the book to talk about the road from there to here. How I stumbled upon drawing animals and the success of that work at this point in time is a weird meandering story and that’s the one I want to tell.

I’ve never gone to art school, so I don’t like talking or teaching art in that way because I don’t feel qualified to do so. I’m also not an animal expert by any means so talking about habitats and biology would be boring for me to write, not to mention for someone to read. As for telling a story that goes with each painting or image, there really isn’t one for every animal. Some of them, like my Bactrian Camel image, was just because I saw one at the Calgary Zoo and thought, “I want to paint him!”

BactrianCamel
That’s often the case with most of my images and there will be plenty of sketches and works-in-progress I’d like to include in the book that won’t require captions or accompanying text.

But there are many paintings that do have fun and ridiculous stories associated with them. There are the owls up at Grassi Lakes, a rooster on a hobby farm outside of Bowden, a couple of goofy looking seagulls on a dock in Ucluelet, the lion cubs I photographed up close outside of Innisfail recently, and a Coyote that waited twenty years to be painted. Incidentally, that Coyote is my favorite painting and I’m willing to tell that story in the book. I’ve never written about it before.

CoyoteTotem
I’ve got plenty of stories to tell, but the common thread that will tie them all together is that they’re part of my story. So that’s what I want it to be, a collection of stories that contribute to the whole. The lessons I’ve learned from painting animals.

I want to talk about my philosophy on the business, anecdotes, learning to paint, following instinct, serendipity and happy accidents. I started in my mid-late twenties and somehow turned this into a career. What I’d like to share with people is the inspiration that it’s never too late to try something new and to point out the value of taking risks. Ask twenty artists how to become a success and you’ll get twenty answers. The ones who went to art school will say you have to go to art school. The ones who paint with oils and acrylics will say you have to paint with traditional materials. More and more in my career, I find that the rules others tell you that must be followed are often shackles, chains that prevent you from moving forward.

This is the type of narrative I want to write, the one I’m the most passionate about, and what will deliver my best work to the project. It’s these types of themes that have given me the greatest response in newsletters and blog posts over the years, the ones that strip away the glossy PR and marketing and talk to people like they’re real…well…people.

I’ve been keeping a pretty regular blog since February of 2008, although some months are leaner than others. Lately, more of my writing has gone into my newsletter, but there’s a lot of material there and more I can add that I think will make an interesting read to go with the paintings.

Everybody’s got a story to tell, and I’d like to start telling mine. I think there’s value in it. Plus, I really do enjoy writing and if I’m going to keep painting the images I want to paint, then I’d like the writing to follow the same guidelines.

That being said, I fully submit to your editing expertise when the writing is done. I mentioned to my wife the other day that it seems laughable when we were kids that our teachers would assign 1000 word essays in English class. I can write that much in an email even when I’m trying to keep it short. Clearly, I need an editor.

I’ve had a title in mind for a couple of years now. It best sums up the work and describes the whimsical nature of most of my paintings. I’d like to call it, “Funny Looking Animals.”

With that in mind, I’d welcome your thoughts and advice on this. I’m happy to send you links to any blog posts I’ve written that I think best illustrate the tone I’d like to set in the book. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Polar Bear Totem

PolarBearTotemHere’s my latest painting, the Polar Bear Totem. I’ve mentioned before how I never really know when I’m going to paint a specific animal. I’ll keep reference photos for some animals for years before using them, waiting for the time to seem right. In other cases, I’ll get the urge to paint an animal and go searching for reference right before I start the painting, as I did for this one. I bought several stock photo images and used all of them in the painting of this bear, although as always, no photo is part of the painting, only used for reference. It was painted in Photoshop CC on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.

In my experience, if I paint an animal for commercial purposes alone, it often doesn’t end up working for me or it turns out to be less than I’d hoped for. The Magpie and Ground Squirrel have always felt like that for me, because I painted them for my first gallery in Banff, rather than for myself.

On many occasions, I’ll enjoy working on a painting, but I’ll feel the finished result just isn’t as good as it could be, so it’ll take me some time away from it until I feel good about it. Even then, some of my most popular paintings aren’t my personal favorites.

Thankfully, this one felt special and the final few hours were some of the most enjoyable I’ve spent painting this year.

Initially, I wanted to have this done for the upcoming Calgary Expo show in less than a couple of weeks, but to make my deadline to get all of my prints done, allowing me time to sign and package them, it would have had to have been done a couple of weeks ago. I was feeling rushed, looked at how many prints of images I was already bringing and it became clear that I didn’t need it, so I decided to take my time. I’m quite pleased that I did as I’m very happy with the result.
PolarBearSketchI’ve always loved bears, even though I’ll admit to an irrational fear of them, which sometimes does put a dark cloud over camping trips. I live in bear territory, specifically blacks and grizzlies. Despite the fact that I hike alone quite a bit, and have seen plenty of bear sign, I’ve never run into one in the wild, which after twenty years in the Bow Valley, is kind of odd. But I’m ‘bear aware’ as they say in these parts, carry bear spray and know what to do if I encounter one. In most cases, as long as you don’t startle them or they aren’t feeding or with cubs, they’ll want to get as far away from you as they can. Even if they charge you, it’s often a bluff, and if you can keep your wits about you, they’ll stop short of contact or veer off and hightail it in the other direction.

I’ve worn a black bear’s tooth around my neck for many years now, given to me by an acquaintance years ago in Banff. He’d found it somewhere in Quebec years ago, still in the skull, and it’s very old. I had a jeweler friend craft a silver bezel setting for it so I could wear it on a chain.

The first Totem I painted was a Grizzly, but it hasn’t felt right yet to paint a black bear. Sooner or later, it’ll show up, I’m sure.

Why I felt the time was right to paint a polar bear, is beyond me. Perhaps it’s the increased frequency of their mention in the news, associated with climate change and the expected loss of their habitat. Scientists fear that polar bears, while very adaptable, show no inclination to survive solely on land. They thrive on sea ice, that’s their habitat, and when it’s gone, likely they will be as well. A recent CBC report stated that ‘Inuvialuit traditional knowledge’ says the bear numbers are actually fine, so as in all things, the truth of their future lies somewhere in the middle, although they are classified as a threatened species.

The polar bear has no natural predators other than man. Classified as a marine mammal, it’s carnivorous and a skilled hunter. While they will avoid encounters with humans when they can, they aren’t fearful of us and have been known to kill and eat people. Considering how many of them have been killed by humans, I say turnabout is fair play.

I’d like to visit Churchill, Manitoba one day and take one of the polar bear tours, to see them in their natural surroundings.

PolarBearCloseIf you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form. Thanks!

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Tiger Totem

TigerFinalThe latest in the series, this is the Tiger Totem. Specifically a Malaysian Tiger, but most people won’t be too concerned over the species.

It’s funny how these always turn out. I start with a vision in my head of what I think it will look like but every Totem always becomes something different than what I’d expected. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because the final image is usually a pleasant surprise. For example, with this painting, I rather expected the tiger to look stern and a little menacing along the lines of my Cougar Totem. Clearly it didn’t end up that way, but I kind of like it.

I’ve often said that the personality just shows up at some point in each of these paintings and this one was no different. Many artists will speak of their muse, that ‘other’ that contributes to their work, provides a spark that isn’t entirely their own. Define it how you will, but it’s that which infuses these animals with something that doesn’t quite feel like it was mine to begin with. So when the personality shows up and is different than what I’d envisioned, I just go with it.

When I posted this online yesterday, one person said that this one looked a little more anthropomorphized than my others. That’s basically a ten dollar word (one I’ve always liked) to describe a human quality or character in something that isn’t human. It definitely fits for my work. As for there being more or less in this one, that’s up to the viewer and I would refer you back to the previous paragraph.

A couple of other people said that it looked like the tiger was taking a selfie. Likely it’s because of the lighting and the way I painted the body below the head, making it look like his front legs are outstretched. In point of fact, the tiger was resting on his front legs in the reference image and I decided to keep that pose. Did I get it wrong? Maybe. Do I wish I could change it? No.

TigerCloseEach of these paintings comes with a decision tree where one choice leads to another and so on. I thought about putting foliage in the foreground, might have added more depth. I thought of putting a darker and lighter background. The reference featured the entire body of the tiger and I thought about putting more of that in as well. But my Totems are all about the detail and I can only show that in a close-up of the face on a larger animal. Somebody else might have chosen differently.

Just as I paint what I see, everybody sees something different as well. If to some it looks like he’s taking a selfie, then that’s what it looks like, and they’re not wrong. I’ve learned that with signature or niche pieces, creations that aren’t done for a client or somebody else, an artist just has to paint what they see and separate themselves from the result and how others will interpret it.

Some will love my work, some will downright hate it, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a constant struggle to be at peace with that and every artist I know has been through it.

TigerCintiq13HDThis was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and Cintiq 24HD displays. Photos were only used for reference and the painting was done entirely with brush work. On a personal note, a big thank you to Alan Hess, a photographer friend who gave me the main reference photo I used for this piece, a shot he took at the San Diego zoo. I’ve had the photo for many months, but it finally felt right to paint this Totem.

Alan is a talented professional photographer, author and instructor. I would recommend taking a look through the images on his website as you’ll find some great shots on a wide range of subjects.

Thanks for stopping by.
Patrick

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Great White Shark Totem

SharkFinalFBWhile I’ve wanted to paint a Great White Shark for quite some time, I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing it right now.  It was suggested to me recently and after thinking about it, I thought I could indeed do it justice.   I’m pretty pleased with the result.  This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD display and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  Photos were only used for reference, and all of this was done with brush work.

I’d love to say that this was a lot of fun the whole time, but editorial cartoons, year end bookkeeping, and a sudden short deadline video project popped up, so my painting time kept getting put aside.  It got to the point where I just wanted to get this done as it seemed it was never going to happen.  Thankfully, as is the case with finishing many of my Totems, I had a Saturday morning free of obligations which allowed me the time needed to finish it, which did end up being very enjoyable.  If you’re familiar with these posts and my work in general, you’ll be aware that Saturday mornings are my favorite time of the week.  I still get up at 5AM, but with no editorial cartoons sent out on weekends, I have four or five hours of music in my headphones, a few cups of coffee and nothing but painting.

The big challenge with this painting was the detail.  I thoroughly enjoy painting hair, fur, and feathers, but with none of those anywhere on a great white shark, it was  challenge to paint that leathery looking skin with enough detail to achieve the realism I wanted, but not so much that it looked completely out of place in water.  I also was afraid of overdoing it.  The environment is what made this one difficult.  I didn’t want to blur out the tail and fins too much, even though in darker water, they might just be shadows.  Then again, they couldn’t be too sharply defined, textured or brightly lit.  It was all a compromise and while another artist might have made different choices, I’m content with mine.  I’ve painted a Humpback Whale Totem before, but having painted this shark, I now think I could do a better job of the whale, if given another shot at it.  I think every artist can say that about past work, though, so I’ll just let it be, take the lessons learned and move forward.
SharkCloseCropI take a lot of liberties in the anatomy of my work, which should be rather obvious.  While I do need to know what the real anatomy looks like, my animals are caricatures of the real thing.  For example, in real life, a great white shark has rather black looking eyes, not a lot of life in them. My Totems, however, are all about personality, with my distinctive style of eyes a defining feature of the look, so I completely disregarded realism in that regard.  That little white catch-light in the eye would not be visible underwater, it’s physically impossible.  But remove it, and a lot of the life goes with it.  Again, these are the choices I make.

After I painted my Fox Totem, somebody said on my Facebook page, that, “Foxes have cat-like eyes.”   Clearly he doesn’t get my work, so I tolerated what was essentially a drive-by comment and moved on.

My wife has a thing for sharks, she has for as long as I’ve known her.  She’ll watch any documentary or read any article about them and has become quite knowledgeable as a result.  Her life long dream is to go cage-diving with great white sharks and I’ve resigned myself to go with her.  I plan to drag her along when I go swimming with humpback whales in Fiji someday, but you’re less likely to meet sharp pointy teeth with a humpback.  Of course, no matter how gentle an animal, if a bus rolls over on you by mistake, it’s the same result.  Neither of these dreams will go unfulfilled, I assure you.

Great white sharks are largely misunderstood animals.  I have a love/hate relationship with the 1975 movie, ‘Jaws.’  I do love the movie as it stands alone, for the actors, the script, the storyline.  I’ll still watch it again when it comes on TV and I can be counted on to let loose with a quote once in awhile.  But in the real world, Jaws has single-handedly caused the deaths of countless shark species, especially great whites, by justifying killing these monsters, as the general public thinks of them.

Shark hunting tournaments and the slaughter of these erroneously labelled ‘man-killers’ irreparably harmed the reputation and populations of great whites and every other shark species by association.  The author of Jaws, Peter Benchley said twenty years later, “I couldn’t write Jaws today. The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original…. If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage — through ignorance, stupidity and greed — to wipe them out altogether.”

There is a barbaric practice known as long-lining, which is often used only to take the fins from the animals, leaving them to die a slow death as they are thrown back still alive after the fins are removed.  Long-lining also harms countless other species of marine life in the process.  More and more conservation groups are shining a light on this and as a result, it is becoming poor fashion to serve shark fin soup in many places in the western world today, although it still happens in the Chinese community.  It is also still popular in China as a delicacy.

I realize it’s not my usual practice to use a blog about my latest painting to climb up on a soapbox and talk about animal conservation, but I’ve learned a lot about sharks over the years, largely because of my wife’s interest, and I’d like to see more awareness of the beauty of these animals and their valuable place in the ecosystem of Earth’s oceans.  We have done infinitely more to harm sharks than they could ever do to us and even though Jaws scared a lot of us senseless as children, it’s about time we grew up.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Lemur Totem

LemurFBMy first Totem painting of the year, this is a Mongoose Lemur.  While many people think of the Ring-tailed species when you mention Lemur, mostly due to the animated movie Madagascar, I painted this species because of all of the reference pics I’ve shot at the Calgary Zoo.  The resident lemurs are free-roaming with no cage or glass between them and the people wandering around inside the large rainforest enclosure.  They don’t move all that fast and are very cooperative models.

While this little guy (or gal) is very cute, you might wonder why I made the choice to put so much work into it and add it to my Totem series, since mongoose lemurs aren’t as universally popular as say, a wolf or grizzly bear.  From a marketing perspective, it might seem like this would have been a better sketch painting.  But, one thing I’ve learned from painting these animals is that I usually get the best results when I put the time and work into the ones that just feel right at the time.

In the past, I’ve forced specific animals, painted them solely because I thought they’d be good sellers.  One in particular, the Magpie Totem, I did for that reason.  These birds are in abundance in this area, they’re interesting in appearance, exhibit amusing behaviour, and the tourists seem to be fascinated by them.  An apt description by one of my former local editors is that, “they’re just crows with better fashion sense.”

The first gallery that sold my work in Banff, the manager suggested I paint a magpie because the tourists often asked him what that bird was they kept seeing.  So that’s exactly what I did, even did some of the painting at a live demo in the gallery.  Even though people do buy it, it is probably my least popular Totem painting and I learned a valuable lesson.  From then on, I decided to paint the animals I want to, when it feels right to do so.

LemurCloseCrop In the case of our little Lemur friend, I’ve had reference for this one for well over a year and it just felt like the right time.  I don’t know if it will sell well or not, but I had a great time painting it and the fur was a real challenge.  It’s made up of very short hairs packed tightly together, so I had to experiment with my hair and fur brushes to find the best way to go about it.  In the end, it simply required putting in the time to get it right.  Looking forward to seeing this one in print.

Here are a few images of this painting at different stages.  This was painted in Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  It’s all brush work and photos were only used for reference.
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Another great year, looking forward to the next.

Ukee02_05
Coming up on the end of another year and while it’s just a date on a calendar, having these periodic markers along the way does give a person a chance for reflection and to make plans for the next go round the sun.

I’ve been fortunate that every year in my art career has been better than the one that came before it. 2014 was no exception. Always learning and improving my skills, the challenge this year was to keep my eyes on where I’m going, despite the distractions that tempted me to lose focus. It’s easy to look at what other artists are doing and to wonder if they know something you don’t, but in my experience, we’re all just winging it, no matter what profession you’re in.

AmurTiger
This past year, I found myself doing a lot of sketch paintings, simply the term I use for what I consider unfinished work. Some of those went further to become finished paintings in my Totem collection, others ended up being practice pieces, and still others sold well as prints, even though that hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the year. I plan to do a lot more of that type of work in 2015, as I really enjoyed it.

BoothWEB
In the spring, my wife and I were once again working my booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, our second year at that event. As it was a big success for us, I’ve been signed up for the 2015 Expo almost since the last one ended. I’ll be trying a few new things with print sales this year and I look forward to participating in their tenth anniversary. We also plan to have a booth at a few other trade shows during the year.

ElephantRock
I painted my first landscape in 2014, an enjoyable personal project I did just to see if I could. I doubt that I’ll become a landscape artist anytime soon, but I’ve still got a few ideas I’d like to bring to light, so there will likely be one or two in the coming year, along with some experiments that may or may not involve animals.

Ukee02_03
One of the reasons I chose that particular image to paint, a landmark called White Face Rock, was that I had fond memories of Ucluelet, British Columbia, somewhere my wife and I had vacationed a few years ago. I decided to go back this year on my own in June for sort of an artist’s retreat and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life so far. I rented a little cabin off the harbour for four days, took three days of wildlife cruises through Barkley Sound, brought home plenty of photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That trip also gave me the opportunity to get my work into two new galleries in Ucluelet and Tofino.  In the New Year, I plan to go back there and will stop in at some other places along the way. I still have reference photos I have yet to use from the last trip and I plan to get to some more of those soon.

SeagullsFINAL
One of the more valuable life lessons I’ve learned is to make time for personal projects. Seems each one ends up yielding unexpected benefits. One such project this year came from finding a nest of Great Horned Owls up at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore. After watching the family of owls for a couple of weeks, taking plenty of photos and doing some sketch paintings, I ended up with a painting that I called, ‘One in Every Family.’  It was a departure from my usual style of animal paintings.

GrassiOwls
At Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, that painting won me the Best in Show Guru Award, the second year I’ve received that honour. A nice surprise bonus of that award was winning a Canon 5D Mark III camera, a professional piece of hardware that I am enjoying learning how to use. I’ve discovered that photography as a hobby has opened new creative avenues for me, especially since it contributes directly to my work. I take the camera with me whenever I go hiking or for a drive and it has helped me get even better reference photos for paintings. Funny how things work out.

Wacom
While I’ve got plenty of fond memories of Photoshop World in Las Vegas, having attended five times, made plenty of friends and learned a lot, this year was a high note and I think a good ending for me for that particular event. I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, certainly not in 2015. I’ve learned never to say never, but there are plenty of other experiences and trips I’d like to take.  The world’s a big place.

Bruno
In August, I met a gentleman named Bruno, a vendor at one of the Canmore Market booths. I just liked his character and felt the urge to paint him, another personal project. He was willing to participate in the experience and I ended up doing a portrait piece that I was quite proud of.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know Bruno and he has been giving my wife and I a crash course in the community and inner workings of the artist trade show circuit in Western Canada. We’ve been learning a lot and planning to venture into that world a little more as a result. Serendipity once again. I will be doing more portraits in the coming year.

DenzilFlat
And finally, one of my favorite pieces this year was the commissioned painting of Denzil, one I consider to be my best work to date, at least when it comes to a realistic rendering. It raised the bar for what I will now consider a finished piece and it’s going to make me try harder. Many times I’ve finished a painting and thought, “that’s it, I can’t do better than that,” and I’m always wrong. With time and practice comes more skill and that applies to everyone and everything, no matter what you do.

I’ve no desire for time to move quicker than it already does, but I find myself excited to think about the paintings I’ll do five years from now.

For the next year, I’m playing the long game. I’ve met with and hired a local designer friend and neighbour who is going to help me bring a book of my artwork into reality, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Up until now, I didn’t feel I had enough pieces with which to populate the book I had in mind. I still don’t, but by the end of 2015, I will, so there will be a lot of painting this year.  Before I commit to anything else as the year goes on, that will be front of mind.

It’s with quiet confidence that I close out 2014, with great expectations for the coming year. I see no reason why the recent trend should not continue and I look forward to 2015 being better than the year that came before it.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a follower of my work. Perhaps you’ve purchased my prints at the galleries, online or at Expo, or you’ve been a client that hired me to paint one of your fuzzy faced loved ones. You might follow my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or subscribe to my newsletter. You might be one of my many editors across Canada who sees fit to publish my cartoons on your editorial page. Maybe you’re one of those friends or industry colleagues I’ve been fortunate to know and work with over the years. No matter where you fit in with your support of my daily work of drawing and colouring all day, please accept my sincere thanks.  I do appreciate it.

My very best to all of you in the coming year. Take chances, start checking items off those bucket lists, don’t wait to live the life you’ve imagined. It is well worth the risk.

Airborne

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Denzil – A Portrait

DenzilFlatMy latest painting, a memorial for a dog named Denzil.  He was a very loved senior pup, almost 14 when he died earlier this year and I was commissioned to paint his portrait as a birthday gift.

As an animal lover myself, I always spend a little more time obsessing about these, trying to make each one the best of which I’m capable.  Our pets occupy special places in our lives and unless you’ve had to say goodbye to a furry family member, something each of us must face eventually, you can’t really understand that unique loss.  Eventually the sadness is replaced with only the happy memories, and that takes longer for some than others.  This is often front of mind while I work on these and I’ll admit to getting a little misty eyed from time to time while painting a memorial portrait, especially when the personality shows up and it finally comes together.

CanvasPrintThis was printed at 12″ x 16″ on canvas giclée with a shadow box frame.  I’ve often said that I believe my work looks best on canvas and this was no exception.  These iPhone pics of the canvas (above and below) really don’t do the quality of this print justice, credit to Kelly at Chroma Surge in Calgary who never lets me down.  I believe this is my best work to date and I was very pleased with the result.CanvasCloseup

For those interested in the tech info, this was painting in Photoshop CC using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and a Cintiq 24HD.  I had the luxury of months to work on this painting, so I have no idea how long the actual painting took as I worked on it in between other deadlines.  Photos were only used for reference and all painting was done with digital brush work alone.

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Sketch Painting Offer

Anybody who has ever run their own business knows that it’s all one experiment after another.  In this day and age, our attention spans are shorter than ever so if you’re in the business of sales, you need to be looking for new ideas of promotion and catching people’s attention.

As an artist, the best way to do that is to continually produce new work.  It keeps you in the collective short term memory of those who have found it worthwhile to follow you.  The last thing an artist wants anybody to say about them is, “hey, whatever happened to that LaMontagne guy?”

While it’s true that I produce new editorial cartoons almost every day, many of the people who follow me on social media and my site are interested in my painted work, so it’s important that I keep them coming back.  It’s not enough to tell somebody where to find me; I’ve got to make sure I make it worth their time to do so.

My Totem and commission paintings take a great deal of my time to complete, mostly because I have other work to do at the same time, like those editorial cartoons I mentioned.  There can be weeks and sometimes (much to my horror) months in between finished full detail paintings.  That’s a lifetime in the online world.  While I’ll often post work-in-progress images during the process, I can’t always do that, especially if I’m working on a commission.  Ruining your client’s surprise gift is bad for business.

To improve my painting skills, satisfy my desire to work on new things and to keep that new work flowing, I started doing what I call ‘sketch paintings’ a while ago.  Some have taken exception to that title because they’re really not sketches and I’ll concede that.  I call them that because in my mind, they’re not finished pieces, meaning that they don’t contain the meticulous obsessive detail of my other work.

I’ve recently realized that people don’t care and it does me no good to disagree with them when they say they like a sketch painting as is.  That’s always good for business…tell your customers they’re wrong.  I’m a slow learner sometimes, but at least I eventually get there.

A number of people have asked about prints of the sketch paintings and I’ve declined to offer them because the work isn’t finished.  Again, somebody wants to give me money for my work and I’ve been telling them no.  This Canadian cartoon guy isn’t too bright.

So, in order to correct my error, I decided to order up of a small selection of sketch paintings and offer them up for sale.  They’re giclée professional quality prints, same paper and printing as my matted prints, but without the mat, bio, or clear sleeve.  An 8”X10” print, which includes a ½ inch white border and each is hand-signed.  They’re $15 each + shipping, which will be minimal because the print fits into a standard business envelope between two pieces of cardboard for protection.

This time around, only four of each was available, so it was first come, first served and newsletter subscribers had 24 hours to order before I posted the offer here.  As a result some of the images below are already sold out and there are only one or two of the others available at the time I posted this.  As they sell out, I’ll update this post to reflect that.  I already consider this a success as some sold out quickly and a few early responders still didn’t get the ones they wanted, so I will do this again.  Newsletter subscribers will still get first crack at them, so if you haven’t subscribed and want a shot at any future prints of this nature, I would encourage you to sign up at this link.

To order any of the available images below, send me an email to lamontagne@nullcartoonink.com with your mailing address and indicate whether or not you’d like me to send you a Paypal invoice or want to pay by Interac e-transfer. You can order as many as you’d like, while supplies last.

Hawk

Camel

Horse

Hummingbird

Hare

Rooster

YellowBird