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Romeo and Juliet

UkeeLocals
In 2011, my wife and I took our first trip to Vancouver Island. We flew into Comox, rented a car and got a massive truck instead. After brief visits with friends, we drove down to Victoria for a few days and finally ended up in Ucluelet near Pacific Rim National Park. While many end up on that side of the island to visit Tofino, I fell in love with Ukee. There’s something very special about the place and having now been back twice with a couple of years between each visit, I plan to return as often as I can, although I probably wouldn’t like living there year round.

On our first trip, we took a tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises. A visit to the area without at least one cruise around Barkley Sound and The Broken Group Islands with Al and Toddy would now leave me feeling like the trip was incomplete.

We’ve become friends with them over the years and seeing them again was a highlight of our latest visit. It’s funny climbing aboard their 53 foot yacht ‘The Raincoast Maiden’ only to be greeted with my own artwork. Not a lot of wall space when you’re living aboard a boat, but they’ve got a few of my pieces framed and even some postcards tucked into nooks and crannies here and there.
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Print-2

My trip to the area a couple of years ago was solo and I went out on the cruise three times to gather reference photos of wildlife. While pulling into the dock one day, literally seconds before Al cut the engine, I noticed two gulls perched on one of the many posts around the harbour.  Technically, they were Glaucous-winged Gulls, but seagulls will suffice.

OriginalGulls

I painted the pair and called it Ukee Locals. A framed print now hangs aboard the boat.

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In our run up to the latest visit to Ucluelet, I talked to Toddy fairly often over email. On one of the last ones before we left, she told me about a seagull couple that live near their dock. She told me that seagulls mate for life and that the two are very ‘lovey-dovey.’ Always touching beaks, cooing and sitting close to each other. They named them Romeo and Juliet.

We stopped at the dock on our first day in Ucluelet to say Hello to Al and Toddy as their boat pulled in from that day’s tour. We waited until their guests departed and went aboard for a very quick visit as we know they’re always busy right after a trip. After making quick dinner plans, we left the boat. Before we were back at our rental car, however, Toddy called out to me.

I turned back to see her pointing to Romeo and Juliet nestled together in a fish station on the dock. Toddy told me in her email that she wasn’t sure if it’s the same mated pair that I painted.

I choose to believe that it is.

RomeoandJulietIf 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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You are your own guide

LodgeViewThe view from our deck at He-Tin-Kis Lodge in Ucluelet

My wife and I don’t travel a lot, but when we do, we like to stay in unique accommodations and take a lot of half-day or day tours and excursions. While at dinner the other night in Ucluelet, we were laughing as we talked about the travelers we’d like to imagine we could be and the ones we really are.

You’re unlikely to find us hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. At one time, that was a serious discussion, but we’ve stopped kidding ourselves. It’s just not us. Same goes for reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, a week on the Amazon River or living off the land in deepest darkest Borneo. We’d like to go on African Safari one day, but it’s unlikely we’ll be roughing it much when we do.

We all like to have this image of who we could be but at some point you must realize that you can still stretch your boundaries without becoming Indiana Jones. I know some of those people and I admire their sense of adventure. Preparing for months in advance to climb Everest or hiking the Appalachian Trail? Good on ya. I think that’s cool. But it’s not my cup of tea.

On the other side of the coin, we are not cruise ship people, going from port to port with thousands of others, sticking to a rigid schedule. While we have stayed at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and Costa Rica and that works for us from time to time, we are also not lie on the beach for two weeks people. We’re usually bored of that after Day 1 and have to get out and do something.

A highlight of a past vacation was a private tour to the Mayan ruins in Coba, something we booked with Edventures in Tulum, ‘cause the guy’s name is Ed. And while he didn’t offer the specific tour we wanted, he said, “My Mom will take you.”

That’s how we ended up spending the day with Judy, who drove us out there in her own SUV, and got us a private walking tour with the oldest guide who had been with the original National Geographic survey of the site. Shonna and I love history, so this was quite special, especially since he talked to us more like we were university students than tourists. Talking to Judy for three hours in the car about real life in Mexico was fascinating, too. You want to learn about life somewhere else, talk to the locals, not the information centre.

Add to that jet skiing in Costa Rica, an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam and Shonna’s out of the blue “let’s go skydiving” over lunch one day in Vegas and this is our best selves on vacation. We’re not testing the boundaries of adventure or blazing new trails. We’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. Pretty much everything is rather safe, but it’s usually just different enough that we’re living a little more of life than we’re used to, and having a good time doing it. A couple of workaholics seeing and trying new things while still making paying off the mortgage a priority.

BrokenGroupThe Broken Group Islands with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises

This past week was pretty close to our idea of a perfect vacation. I booked this trip in January, a repeat of my artist retreat two years ago. The goal was to go out to Vancouver Island, take a ton of reference shots for future paintings and get out of the office for a week. Full stop.

But as the year wore on, we planned some home renovations, and a loosely planned trip to Europe in the fall was cancelled because neither of us is feeling it this year. Shonna was able to get the time off work, but to her credit, she gave me the option of continuing to go away alone to get what I needed, without any bad feelings. She’s never been the guilt trip stereotype, so I knew if I chose to go away on this trip by myself, she’d be fine with it. We’d do something else together later. I enjoy her company more than anybody else’s, however, so the idea of her coming along added to my trip and I was happy to have her join me. In fact, she’s probably the only person with whom I could do this trip.

Driving to Vancouver Island is also something that we have never felt inclined to do. We’re not really road trip people. So we flew to Comox from Calgary.

SphereSpirit Sphere near Qualicum Beach

As this was no longer just my trip, we started looking for some extra things to do. She wanted to see if we could find the elusive white ravens in Qualicum Beach, an idea I was on board with, since we were already staying nearby in the Spirit Spheres for one night. We never found any, but it was fun wandering around forest trails in places they’d been spotted and photographed before.

On the other side of the island, the accommodation I’d booked in Ucluelet was fantastic and we were both quite happy at He-Tin-Kis Lodge. With an incredible view, it was a great place to wake up and come back to each day.

SalamandersSalamander Eggs in their gelatinous casing on Meares Island

Something I hadn’t planned on doing this week was sea kayaking in Clayoquot Sound out of Tofino. We added that when Shonna decided to come along. Quite a pleasant surprise as it was one of the highlights of the week. A four hour tour, we ended up on Meares Island walking along a rough looking boardwalk through an old growth forest among massive cedars and other natural wonders.

The next morning we ended up bear watching in Clayoquot Sound at low tide for a few hours. It gave me a ton of reference photos I hadn’t expected to get and was still a fun excursion for both of us. Seeing black bears in the wild, doing their thing on the beaches, oblivious to the silly tourists snapping shutters just meters away on boats was really quite special. We weren’t bothering them and they showed no sign that we were intruding on their day at the office.

ShonnaShonna looking for marine life in a tide pool.

Back in Ukee, we spent the afternoon hiking along the Wild Pacific Trail, looking at anemones and little crabs in the tide pools, snapping photos and enjoying the area. I’ve hiked the trail a few times before but enjoyed it most this time around. Pretty sure it was the company.

Finally, on our last full day in Ucluelet, we went out for a wildlife tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises through Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands. Five and a half hours on the water, we saw bears, eagles, grey whales, seals, sea lions, deer, raccoons and more birds than I can name.

I can’t say enough about this tour. Shonna and I took it on our first visit to the area in 2011. Then I went out with them three times on my artist retreat two years ago. This time around, I had planned to go twice but they were fully booked for most of the week and Thursday was the only day available. Had that not been the case, we would have missed out on the bear tour in Tofino, so it worked out very well.

GreyWhale

CalifSeaLion

BlackBear

BaldEagle

It sounds cliché, but if you’re ever out in that area and can only do one tour, Archipelago is the one to do. I could go on at great length about why, but trust me on this. There’s a reason they’re ranked the number one wildlife tour in Canada on Trip Advisor, and they don’t take it for granted. Al and Toddy are still working hard to make sure everybody has a great experience.

Having just come home from a great vacation, I would offer a bit of unsolicited advice. Figure out who you are and what you want from your limited time off. If your idea of a perfect vacation is camping in an RV with power and a swimming pool, then do that. If you’re more at home visiting theme parks, do that. If it’s Napa Valley vineyards, mountain biking in Moab or backpacking through Thailand with no reservations but the plane ticket, then do that.

Find the experiences in life that make you feel like you’re living it well. Stretch your limitations when you can, sure, but be who you are, too. This is a limited time experience, so make it your own.

LaMontagne_Lunch

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Painting a Lion on the iPad

LioniPad
At one time, I experimented quite a bit with painting on the original iPad. When it would no longer support new updates, I replaced it with the iPad Mini with Retina Display, which is a horrible name, so it’s now just referred to as the iPad Mini 2.

Having tried a number of apps over the years and more than a few styli, I finally settled on the combo I liked best, which was the procreate app and the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2, another unwieldy moniker. So, let’s just call it the ICS2.

While you’d be hard pressed to hear me say anything negative about Wacom’s Intuos tablets or Cintiq displays, the ICS2 has had some issues. Complaints of poor tracking and cursor alignment aren’t hard to find. It works well with some apps, not with others. I’ll simply say that there are plenty of people unhappy with the stylus, especially if they have the full-sized iPad 2.

I haven’t done much iPad painting lately because I’ve been busy working. In my home office, I have Wacom’s Cintiq 24HD display and when I want to draw elsewhere in the house, I have the more portable 13HD display. With these two professional options and my constant deadlines, drawing on the iPad hasn’t been a priority.

Recently, however, I stopped by the Apple store in Calgary and took the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for a test drive. A little later, I found myself in the Microsoft store comparing it to the Surface Pro 4.

I quite liked the iPad Pro and Pencil, easily the best stylus I’ve ever used on a device. It felt fine in my hand, had a contact feel I liked, was flawless in its accuracy and I wanted to use it more. While I didn’t get to try it with procreate on the store model, the sketch program they had on the tablet was good enough. I didn’t really like the Surface Pro drawing experience, but many people do.

My desktop computer is robust, I’ve got a powerful laptop, the Wacom displays I mentioned and an iPad Mini 2. I currently can’t justify buying an iPad Pro. It’s quite expensive and so is the pencil. It’s a want, not a need.

Playing around with it, though, got me itching to try some more iPad painting with the device and stylus I do have. This lion is the result.

At first, having not used procreate in quite some time; I was still having some issues with accuracy. I had to paint while holding the iPad in portrait mode. Whenever I tried to paint in landscape mode, the registration would be off. The same thing happens with Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile, another impressive app. From what I’ve read, it seems to be a flaw in the ICS2 software or hardware, not playing nice with third party apps. It’s frustrating.

Not one to easily give up, I started going through the settings again and found the Writing Style options. By trying different ones, I found the right setting for me and the accuracy came back! Painting this lion suddenly became a lot more fun when I didn’t have to fight the technology.
SettingsThe procreate app not only comes with an excellent selection of brushes for many different art styles, but their brush engine is quite good. I’ve always been one to design my own brushes, especially for hair, and procreate allows me to do that. It involves just as much trial and error experimentation as Photoshop brush design does, but by continually tweaking, I managed some pretty impressive results.

The downside of painting on the iPad…

Palm rejection does not seem to be flawless on any device with any stylus. I rest my hand on the screen when I draw and paint. Had I gone to art school or been professionally trained, they would have broken me of that, no doubt. The problem is that the device registers the palm/heel touch as an intentional brush stroke on many devices/apps so you end up with digital smudges and poor pen strokes from the stylus because the app is trying to interpret two points of contact.

My workaround is that I bought a pair of glove inserts, cut the index, middle, and thumb from it. This allows me to still use the touch features, but rest my hand on the screen without a problem. Fair warning, a very thin costume glove won’t work. The iPad will still sense the contact of your palm or heel of your hand.

Here’s a photo. Disregard the blown-out screen image as that’s not how it actually looks when I’m painting.
iPadHand

The second thing is that whenever I paint on the iPad, I have the display brightness set in the middle of the slider or lower. My Cintiq displays are set quite low as well, both the display brightness and backlight. It’s just easier on my eyes, especially since I can spend many hours in a day in front of a screen.

As a consequence, I usually have to do some colour and light adjustments to anything I paint on the iPad, or it will look far too dark when it’s done. For this, I use Snapseed and the relatively new Photoshop Fix, which are both quality image editing apps.

Even still, when this was as close to done as I could get it; I opened it in Photoshop on my desktop and did a couple more small lighting adjustments. All of the painting, however, was done on the iPad.

So, what’s the verdict?

It’s unlikely I’m going to be doing a lot more iPad painting with the tools I’ve got. It took longer to paint this than it would have on my professional displays and the result is not as nice or detailed as that which would have been achieved had I painted it all on my desktop or laptop.

Would that change if I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil? I don’t know, but honestly, I kind of doubt it, even with the larger surface area to work with. I would still like to spend more time with it, though. In all things, however, it pays to experiment, especially with art. You never know until you try and this was worth doing, just for the experience.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Snow Leopard Totem

SnowLeopardTotemWith each animal I paint, there’s something unique about the experience. Sometimes it will be an especially challenging feature or the pose might not work the way I had imagined. While I find a way to overcome it and always learn something new, some of these paintings end up being a lot more fun than others. Lemme tell ya, a few have felt like downright work. Tough life, I know.

The challenge on this Snow Leopard was finishing it, primarily because it’s some of the most enjoyment I’ve ever had from a painting. I don’t even know why, but it was just fun, especially when the personality showed up. That experience is often as subtle as a sigh, but this time, it practically announced itself, as if throwing open a door. It was cool. I stopped painting when it happened and enjoyed the moment. That’s happened before, but I don’t remember the last time, so it’s a rare occurrence.

One of the reasons this painting hit home with me is that I hadn’t planned it. With some of the other animals I’ve done, I’ve thought about it and deliberately gone looking for reference, either from shots I’ve taken, requests to photographer friends, or stock photos. I may hang on to some of those pics for a while, but in the back of my mind, I still know I’m eventually going to paint that animal.

To my best recollection, I’ve never once had the forethought that I’d be painting a snow leopard.
KareshThis past September, I had an exceptional day at The Calgary Zoo. In addition to getting more meerkat photos, which are always fun, the hippos were out of the pool and seemed to be having a good time while one of the keepers sprayed water at them. They were opening their mouths, had bright eyes and after three years of trying, I finally got the reference photos I needed for my upcoming Hippo Totem. That would have been enough to qualify as a good day. I would have walked to my car and drove back to Canmore with a feeling of accomplishment.

But with time to kill and space still on the camera cards, I wandered around to the other enclosures, looking for opportunities. It had been raining, so the zoo wasn’t very busy. The red pandas weren’t around, but they just had a kid, so they were probably up all night. The wild boars were out, but they were covered in mud and I just couldn’t get any decent shots, and I was about to call it a day.
KareshStareOn my walk back, I saw that Karesh, the resident snow leopard had just been fed and he was lively. Bounding around his enclosure, playing in the wet grass, suddenly I was snapping shot after shot, ones I wouldn’t normally expect to get. He was practically posing, often within feet of the glass wall separating us. Then he’d look right at me and I could see in his face the Totem I wanted to paint. I might have giggled. I’m not proud.

I usually go through my photos the same day I take them, weeding out the bad ones quickly so I don’t procrastinate and end up with thousands of photos I’ll never use. Even after being really picky with the shots, I still ended up with a few dozen good ones and at least twenty I could paint from. The hardest part of this painting was choosing which ones not to use.
KareshProfileGiven the choice, I would have started painting this one right away, but we were in the midst of a federal election with plenty of editorial cartoons to draw, I had three commissions pending, a Gorilla Totem half-finished and a Panda Totem that had to be done before the end of the year as I had promised it to The Toronto Zoo. The Snow Leopard had to wait, but it was worth it. I’m glad this was my first painting of 2016, as it starts my artistic year off on a high.

This truly was a joy to paint and I kept nitpicking it, convinced I could make it just a little better if I only spent another hour on it, which would no doubt stretch out to two, then three, then four hours. I recently heard somebody say something quite fitting regarding creative pursuits, a lesson I’ve been forcing myself to learn. Better done than perfect. So, I had to call it.

I’m pleased with this painting and grateful for the experience. From start to finish, it reminded me that right here, right now, this is the work I want to do more than anything else, and while I’ve hit my stride, my best work is still yet to come.

And very soon, I still get to paint that Hippo.

Cheers,
Patrick
SnowLeopardClose

This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD display. Photos were only used for reference. 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.  Thanks!

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Panda Totem

PandaTotemHere’s one that I’ve wanted to paint for quite some time. There have been times where I’ve had galleries and others asking me to add a Totem to the series for marketing reasons and it hasn’t always worked out the way I’ve wanted it to. On a couple of occasions, the painting ended up feeling forced and I didn’t have much fun with it, because it seemed like I was painting it at the wrong time.

At other times, however, the request coincides nicely with the desire to paint that animal and I’ve been pleased with the result. This is one of those times.

The Toronto Zoo has a couple of pandas on a five year loan from China and they are proving to be very popular. This year, they were successfully bred and two panda cubs are currently being well cared for. Panda cubs are delicate and they won’t be available to the public for some time, although the zoo has been posting some pretty adorable photos.

I approached the Toronto Zoo to add my Totem prints to their retail program this year and they are eager to place a large order in January, which will include animals in my current portfolio and a few I’ve yet to paint. The Panda Totem was one they requested.
PandaCloseupI’m pleased with how this one turned out, especially since it was one of the easier paintings I’ve done. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to take my own reference photos on this one, so I relied on stock footage. My friend Scott had some credits that were about to expire and he graciously offered them to me, for this painting and a few others I’ll paint in the future.

With those new photos and some of the others I’d already bought, I used about four different head-shots for this one and three different bodies, each offering me detail and anatomy that wasn’t available in the others.

Some paintings I’ve done have been arduous, where I had great difficulty getting the anatomy right, or the expression, personality, lighting. My Bighorn Sheep Totem is especially memorable for being a real slog. But this painting flowed nicely, was quite fun and didn’t take nearly as long as many of the others. It was nice to have such a smooth painting experience this time.

I’ll be printing this one in January and it will be available in the online store by the end of next month. The Calgary Zoo has already expressed interest in it as well, as the pandas at The Toronto Zoo will be moving there in 2018. Early speculation is that the cubs will be joining them.

This was painted on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD display in Photoshop CC, photos were only used for reference.

Cheers,Patrick

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Gorilla Totem

GorillaTotemFinalHere’s my latest painting and newest addition to the Totem series.

I started this at the end of October but didn’t get far on it, as I had pet portrait commissions and editorial cartoons taking priority. The bulk of that logjam was cleared last week and I was happy to get back to working on one of my own paintings. As much as I welcome and enjoy commission work, my own work has a lot more freedom to it, as there are no client instructions or details to keep in mind.

If I had nothing else to do, I’m pretty sure I could get one of these done in a couple of days. In fact, I’d love to have a year with nothing to do but paint the animals I enjoy most. But, I guess that’s everybody’s dream, isn’t it? No obligations but the bills still paid would certainly be the ideal. That’s likely why so many hope for retirement one day.

On that front, I often think of one of my favorite artists, Drew Struzan, who has painted some of the most iconic movie art of our time. If memory serves, he has tried to retire a few times, but he keeps doing work when his favorite clients come to call, if he feels like it. I like that. I don’t run well on idle and likely won’t ever retire. I’ll just paint what I like.

GorillaTotemCloseI took a lot of reference photos this year, some in the wild, but most at The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park. Some of the shots were sought out for upcoming paintings, others were happy accidents where an opportunity presented itself and I got the photos I needed. This Gorilla Totem is the result of the latter.

Had I planned ahead for this painting, I might have chosen the classic Silverback to paint. An imposing figure with great presence, I’ve no doubt I would have been pleased with the result. But this lady was looking at me through the glass one day and when I brought the camera up, she appeared even more interested. Whether it was her own reflection in the lens or mere curiosity, I happily snapped away until she moved on. The glass was dirty and at an odd angle, the light was poor with annoying reflections, but I managed, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
GorillaTotem13HDI’ve said before that I might hang on to reference for some time before getting around to painting an animal, waiting for the moment to seem right. That’s why I chose the gorilla over others currently waiting in the wings. It was just the right time. This was painted on the Wacom Cintiq 13HD, 24HD in Adobe Photoshop CC, with photos only used for reference.

Starting another Totem today as there are a few I’d like to get done before the end of the year.

Thanks for stopping by.
Patrick.

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Papillons, Paintings and Prints

PupsMy final commission of the year was completed this past week, a challenging piece.

Featuring three Papillon dogs, each with distinctive colouring, personalities and subtle size differences, keeping them straight was almost an exercise in futility. From the top, moving clockwise, they are Desperado, Ringo and Mick.

For some reason, I kept mixing up the personality traits and subtleties of Desperado and Mick. Apparently Mick is less vocal, but I’d originally drawn him with his mouth open, which didn’t fit. Desperado is the mouthy one. Mick tilts his head left, but I drew Desperado doing that, which I ended up keeping after all. Then, after I made the changes in the sketch and got approval, I went back and started painting on the original sketch, which meant I had to correct it again. Chalk it up to a silly mistake from not paying close enough attention.
Sketch
While the client gave me dozens of photos to work from, almost all of the eyes in the usable pics were washed out by flash reflection or were small pics with low resolution and poor lighting. It happens and I do my best to work with what I’ve got. For the details, however, I did buy half a dozen stock photos of other Papillons. The colours were all wrong, but it helped me see fur direction, layering, poses and to fill in the missing anatomy I needed, but didn’t have in the supplied reference.

All well in the end and the client told me I managed to get each personality right with each dog. The painting has gone to print and I should be able to pick it up and ship it by week’s end. Thankfully, this one is right here in Alberta, so there shouldn’t be any issues with shipping at one of the busiest times of the year for parcels.

It occurred to me this week that I’ve been breaking an important rule of mine recently. I’ve said in the past, and have advised other artists, that proofing is essential every time I have a painting printed. A proof is a test print.

Kelly at Chroma Surge has been printing my canvas and matted prints for the past five years. During that time, there have been growing pains. Prints came out too dark or too light, colours too bright or not bright enough, whites and blacks sometimes washed out and muddy, different papers and materials producing different results.

Kelly’s printers and machines are colour calibrated, as is my own display, but with different profiles and myriad little adjustments here and there, a bunch of little deviations can make for large problems, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault. This is why proofing has been essential, especially in the beginning. For my poster prints, I use Maranda Reprographics and Printing in Calgary, and the same thing happened when I first went with them. The adjustments I make for Kelly’s prints are different than those I make for Maranda’s prints.

In recent years, Kelly and I have come to that Goldilocks zone for printing my work. When I send a painting to print, I know which adjustments I have to make ahead of time and I save them in the Photoshop file, a layer that tells me what I did, and that becomes the Master File. A dog with a lot of black fur (which is really not black), needs to be lighter than a dog with light fur, because I know the detail in those blacks is going to be gone if I don’t compensate.

Whites can’t be fully white and blacks can’t be fully black because it sucks the life right out of a painting. Pinks, reds, blues and greens have to be selectively desaturated in the print file, which means making them less colorful. I’ve seen skin tones print very red on portraits, a dog’s tongue so pink that it overpowers an entire painting, or a green background dominate the animal in front of it, simply because the adjustments weren’t made or were done incorrectly on my end. A canvas print will often appear more saturated, especially after it has been spray coated, so I have to compensate for that as well.

All of these things I’ve learned by proofing, which is usually just doing a preliminary small print on canvas and taking a good hard look at the colours to make sure the shift isn’t significant. When it all works, images on canvas just POP! I’m never as happy with a painting as when I see it on canvas.

Now, I could get really meticulous about the proofing, pull out a loupe and check for every little variation, but what I’ve also learned over the years is that tiny little colour shifts from my screen to canvas, matted print, or poster print are acceptable up to a point.
PupsCloseI attended a class at Photoshop World last year, taught by my friend Alan Hess. He was talking about how to reduce noise in a low-light image and how to compensate for it with camera settings in night photography. But he also cautioned that the only people who really care about noise in an image are other photographers.

That lesson applies to my work as well. The only person who really cares if the fur colour in the print exactly matches the fur colour on the screen is me, or possibly another artist. Most people don’t see it, or don’t care. A screen is also backlit, which means every image will always be brighter on a screen as opposed to a print. So it’s all just finding a balance that’s good enough.

Incidentally, the term ‘good enough’ is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Like most creative types, I’m a perfectionist. Thankfully middle-age has taught me to let that go a lot more than I used to. Perfection is unattainable and as the mantra goes, “Done is better than perfect.”

As a result, I have let go of that rule of proofing everything for the very good reason that I now have plenty of experience with the known variables. I know my printer and he knows my work. If there’s a problem, he’ll let me know. Kelly did a test print of my last two commissions, but I never saw them in person. He just told me that he knows what I want and how I like my paintings and that he thought they looked good.

I weighed my options. I could take a few hours out of my day to drive to Airdrie to see the proofs and then tell him to go ahead with the print, or I could just gamble on our past history and the fact that I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to reproof something with him. So I told him to go ahead and when I picked them up this week, the prints were fantastic.

For this commission of the three dogs, I decided to continue the streak and let it ride. I sent Kelly the image Friday morning and got back, “The proof looks great! I’ll run it off here shortly.”

I’ve no doubt that I’ll be happy with finished result.

Technical details. This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC, using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD displays. Photos were only used as reference. For most of the painting, I kept each dog on it’s own layer, to help with painting the hair.
PupsCintiq

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A Tale of Two Paintings

My usual routine is to write a little blog post after each painting I do, to provide a close-up and maybe share a little bit of relevant info. Given the fact that I’ve been working on two commissions at the same time recently and finished them quite close together, I thought I’d share them both in the same post. It gives me an opportunity to show the difference between the two styles of commission paintings I do.

Loki

The first painting I recently finished was Loki, a beautiful old boy who passed away a little while ago. This is the second memorial painting I’ve done for this client; the first was Odin a couple of years ago. The client is very familiar with my work and chose a portrait style, which is quite often the case with memorial paintings I’m commissioned to do. With plenty of photos to choose from, I had the freedom to go with whichever pose I wanted to use. As usual, one photo spoke to me clearly and I got to work.

LokiCloseI usually only have a rough idea of what a painting will look like before I get started, but it’s usually enough. The background colour might change in the middle of a painting, but this one was orange and yellow from the beginning. The reference pic was taken in the fall and I knew those colours would just bring out his eyes. For me, it’s all about the eyes. If I get the eyes right, the rest of the painting will always come together. And if they’re wrong, nothing looks right.

Having lost a pet of my own this summer, there was a little more gravitas for me with this one. This old boy was loved a lot and I thought of that often while working on it. What a privilege.

SaxonThe next painting was in my Totem style, which is a whimsical caricature look, the same way I paint my wildlife paintings. The clients saw my paintings for sale in About Canada Gallery in Banff while on vacation and looked me up to see if I did commissions.

Saxon was described as a “beautiful drooling mastiff” and when I saw the photos, I was inclined to agree. His personality was evident in many of the pics and again, I found one that I thought would best represent what the client wanted him to look like.

SaxonCloseAs is the case in many of my whimsical paintings, I found myself smiling a lot while painting this big fella, and even laughed out loud a few times. I really wanted to paint in long strings of drool coming from those jowls, but the client didn’t want that. A commission is a significant investment, and while most of my clients give me carte blanche to paint what I want, I’m willing to take direction if it makes for a happier client.

Case in point, when this piece was finished yesterday, I had intentionally made the body a little narrow to draw attention to his big head, but the client thought I made him too skinny and wanted me to bulk up the body a bit. I spent another hour on the painting last night and delivered a final that pleased everybody, including me.

No matter what style my clients choose for their paintings, portrait or whimsical, memorial or just because, it’s such an honour to be trusted with the task. I enjoy these a great deal and each one challenges and teaches me something new. These two were no exception.

These will both be sent for proofing tomorrow and I intend to have them printed, framed and shipped in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for stopping by,

Patrick

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Why They’re Called Totems.

CoyoteTotem
Having just finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’, I realize I’ve been betraying myself. I have a book deadline in July of next year; it’ll be a book of my animal work. In it, I plan to talk about the painting process, what I think about while I’m working, stories about certain paintings and what brought about their existence.

I have been wrestling with one part of the larger story, however, most importantly deciding whether or not I want to include it. The reason is because it is deeply personal, it is the whole reason I paint these animals, especially the way in which I paint them, and it leaves me open to harsh criticism. I’ve only shared this story with a handful of people.

I’ve realized in recent days, however, that not to include it would be removing the very soul of the book. It would be robbing it of any honesty, and would genuinely be the worst kind of selling out, simply because I am worried about what people might think.

That’s not the book I want to write, and I wouldn’t be happy with it. Just as I’d rather give somebody a hug than shake their hand, you got to be who you are. So here goes.

In the mid-nineties, I worked at The Douglas Fir Resort in Banff, running the waterslide facility. A decent job, worked with some wonderful people, many of whom are still good friends. While I can’t be sure of the sequence of events, I do remember that my friends Michelle and Jeremy introduced me to Shamanism, which is a spiritual belief involving the natural world around us and most often associated with Native American culture, as I understood it. The general belief in communion with the natural world, however, is shared by many cultures on the planet. While I won’t go into it in great detail, I enjoyed the exploration.

I should mention that the only mind altering drugs I’ve ever done in my life was that I’ve smoked pot a few times. Let’s just say it didn’t agree with my naturally guarded nature, so none of this is related to illegal substances. Also, none of us was doing moonlight rituals or dancing naked under the stars in meadows, calling ourselves Running Deer or pretending we were in any way connected with a Native tribe. It was merely an investigation, just as I’ve done with many other supposedly fringe beliefs during that time.

One day, Jeremy and I were hanging out at the pool on days off and he gave me a drumming tape, which is just a rhythmic beating drum track that, when coupled with meditation, can often induce an altered perception called a journey. So I went into the sauna with my Walkman (remember those?) by myself, leaving Jeremy out by the pool and figured I’d give it a shot. When in your mid-twenties, you’ll believe anything, including that you’re invincible.

To spare you the detailed play by play, I’ll just say that it was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. In the journey, I met a coyote, as vivid as if he was standing in front of me right now, more real than any dream, and he led me on a walk. In the simplest terms, I had met my personal Totem.

To even write this is daunting, because my instinct says, “right now, people are rolling their eyes and thinking, ‘wow, another flaky artist. What a shock.’”

If that’s you, feel free to stop reading. I won’t be offended.

Over the next few years, I was suddenly flooded with more animal dreams than I can count. I still have three or four volumes of journals I wrote at the time, complete with sketches of scenes and descriptions of the things I saw. These were incredibly vivid dreams and more journeys with the drumming tracks.

At our wedding the next year, one of Shonna’s friends gave me medicine cards. I still have them twenty years later. While in Anaheim in 2006, Shonna and I went to a mall and I found the book Animal Speak by the late Ted Andrews. I still open that book weekly and use it as a reference for the wildlife I often see. I was drawn to this stuff, it just seemed to show up everywhere, or I was suddenly just noticing it. I’m as much a skeptic as the next guy, so I’ll concede that point, as you often find what you’re looking for.

Over time, however, I lost interest in it. The flighty indulgence of youth has time for these things, but I became busy with my editorial cartooning career. Sure, I thought about those dreams once in a while and revisited it occasionally. When cleaning up my office, I might come across those journals and read a few pages, but as time past, it drifted away.

Around 2009, right after my first Photoshop World, I’d been looking for some painted work I could do that I could actually market. Up until then, I’d been doing a lot of painted caricatures of celebrities, but realized I wasn’t enjoying it much and that selling these likenesses would also present legal issues in the future and I didn’t like doing it enough to bother with that hassle.

So I thought about what I could paint. Given where I live, I figured I’d give wildlife a try. I’d done some renderings of animals for editorial cartoons, but wanted to see if I could paint them as well. A bear seemed like a good start. I made time for this experiment and the finished result looked sort of like a real bear, but it was definitely caricatured, which hadn’t been my original plan. It just ended up that way. The response was good, people liked it and most importantly, so did I. It just felt right. It was fun. I loved that bear and it’s still one of my favorites today, and one of my best sellers.

GrizzlyTotem
It was my first Totem painting, of which I’ve done almost thirty since, among many other animal paintings that aren’t considered part of that group. In February of 2010, with three of them done, I got into my first art gallery in Banff, seemingly by accident, and now my animal work is a large part of my career. With three galleries, two zoos and international licensing on apparel and other products, this part of my life is still growing. Best of all, it is still the most enjoyable work I have ever done and continue to do. It feels like a calling, like this is where I’m supposed to be.

Now here’s the spooky part.

About a year after I started painting these animals, I was getting rid of some books in my office. I came across those journals and got sucked into reading one of them. I discovered an entry that described a detailed dream I’d had right around the time I’d been introduced to the concept of animal spirits, about twenty years ago. In the dream, I was at a party in one of the chalets at the Douglas Fir Resort. I had gone into the bathroom to relieve myself but had been distracted by a noise outside. I looked out the small window and saw a grizzly bear walking toward the chalet on the path outside.

The bear approached the chalet, put its front paws up onto the wall, looked right up at me and grinned. The bear had human eyes. That was twelve years before I’d painted my first Totem, and I’d forgotten all about it.

It might surprise you to read that I’m an atheist. I was raised Catholic and know a lot about religion, but if I ever had faith in it, I certainly don’t now. In the simplest terms, I believe we get one shot at this life and I don’t believe in an afterlife. Or if I’m wrong, I don’t think we have the reference required to comprehend what a continued existence might entail, so I don’t give it much thought. I also don’t try to dissuade anyone who believes otherwise. Faith is faith, no matter where you place it. To each their own.

And yet, my personal paradox is that I do believe that there is a mysterious other level that parallels and interacts with our own. Something we can often feel and sometimes see and touch. I don’t try to define it, nor do I believe it’s the same for everybody; we might each experience it in terms we can understand. Whether through intuition, dreams, premonitions or just that gut feeling you have that tells you to turn left instead of right, there’s something indefinable that has an influence on our material world.

In every painting I do, and I’ve mentioned this often, there is a moment where the personality just seems to ‘show up.’ I’m not kidding. The technical brushwork might be to the best of my ability, but to me, it appears lifeless until that moment. When it happens, it is my glimpse into that other, because it’s so profound. It is a real experience to me. When it comes, there is often a sense of relief, that the work was worthy of it, but more often, it’s like greeting an old friend. I’ve even said aloud on more than one occasion, “there you are.”

It’s as if I did the work to create the painted body, and when it was ready, something else gave it life. That’s the best I can explain it. It moves me every time.

In June of 2013, I finally painted the Coyote Totem, and it was worth the wait. It was if I didn’t have the skills to do it justice until then. It is the only painting I have printed for myself and it’s framed in my office. It is not one of my bestsellers, but it is my favorite. My wife suggested I hang it where I could see it easily from my desk. I look at it often, especially when I realize I’ve learned something important or when a perceived failure yields unexpected dividends later on, the connection only apparent in hindsight.

His grin is all knowing and it always makes me smile, as if telling me to have faith in the process or simply to say, “told you so.” From Animal Speak, The Coyote is the wise fool, the trickster. “There is always hidden wisdom when the coyote is concerned. Its energies are tied to simplicity and trust.”

Recently, I mentioned on social media that I was thinking of getting my first tattoo for my 45th birthday in the spring. I’d finally realized that Wile E. Coyote would be appropriate, a frustrated, grumpy looking version that just suits my mercurial personality, and it’s a cartoon. Shortly after sharing that, my mother sent me this picture of me at 19 months old.
Coyote

Seems he has always been around for me.

What I’ve learned from studying this Totem is that the best lessons are often learned in a roundabout way. When you’re failing at one thing, you’re probably succeeding at something else and you don’t even know it. While I was frustrated for years at not getting to where I wanted to be with the artwork I was pursuing, what I was really doing was getting better at drawing and painting, putting in those requisite 10,000 hours. Eventually everything came full circle until I found the work I love to do best, or rather it found me. I didn’t develop the skill until later to create these animals that make me so happy, but I’d always been working toward it, even if I didn’t know it.

So now you know. This is why I paint these animals, why they’re called Totems, and why I can never take full credit for them. It is a powerful gift, one I continually have to earn.

It’s my own brush with big magic, and I’m grateful.

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Gusgus the Beaver

Gusgus004For a number of years, I’ve relied on many of my talented photographer friends for reference pics for my paintings. I’ve either paid them, traded prints, and in a few cases, I simply remain in their debt, ready for the day they call in that favour. In all cases, however, I have been appreciative of their willingness to share their art so that I could create my own.

In recent years, however, I have found that taking my own reference pictures has not only helped me get specific shots I require, but I’m also enjoying it a great deal. Many times an accidental encounter will provide inspiration and opportunity to create a painting I hadn’t planned on. In other cases, I intentionally seek out the chance to take photos of a specific critter. There are some reference pics that reside in my files for years before I get around to painting them, waiting for the time to seem right. In other cases, I spend years trying to get the right photo reference for an animal I’ve been itching to paint.

On that point, I’ve been trying to get reference photos of a beaver, so that I could finally paint this noble icon of Canadian culture. I’ve tried to get the shots in the wild, and even hung out around beaver dams a few times, camera at the ready. After the restraining order, however, I’m not allowed to do that anymore. Who knew that beavers had lawyers?

This past spring and summer, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail a few times. I had the foresight to buy an annual pass on my first visit as I had a feeling I would be returning. They’re open May 1st to October 12th and have quite a large area of land with a wide variety of enclosures for the diverse species they care for.

Some of these animals are orphans, others are rescues, but all are well cared for from what I’ve seen and read. From their own site, “Our goal is to provide our visitors the opportunity to bond with our animals and have a positive experience. Visitors leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of the diversity of life on our planet and, hopefully, the determination to do all they can to help conserve and protect all species and their habitats.”

A number of these animals are trained; some even appear in television commercials and movies. The training allows for easier care because the animals are used to their handlers and is also a form of enrichment for them. On the two occasions I’ve taken the behind-the-scenes tour with the lion cubs, Griffin and Zendaya, the close relationship with the keepers has been clearly evident.

I’ve asked plenty of questions during my visits and none have been dismissed or dodged. While some zoos try to maintain as close a habitat to wild as they can, and limit human exposure, this park does not. It is a different approach to conservation and education than that employed by a traditional zoo. When people are exposed in person to animals they might only see on TV or in movies, it fosters empathy for them. Children who grow up with compassion for animals will look at their world with those eyes and want to protect the creatures upon it. At least that is my personal hope.

With the end of the season fast approaching, I made arrangements with Serena Bos, the head zookeeper, to take some private photos of one of their resident beavers. I had asked about it during my last visit in the summer, but that’s their busy time and people pay to have their photos taken with him daily. That money goes back into the operation of the zoo and care of the animals. It was suggested that I try again in the fall and she would try to make it happen for me, for a fee of course, which I was happy to pay.
Gusgus003With the promise of fifteen minutes of his time, Serena and Barret, (another keeper I’ve met on previous visits), brought him out to his usual perch and I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Spending up close and personal time with any of these animals, however brief, just makes me happy.

They were going to try and have Gusgus face opposite to his usual photo-op direction in order to get better light, but he started to fuss about it and I said I’d work with him however he was most comfortable. These photos are for reference, so imperfect lighting isn’t a problem as long as I get the anatomy, detail and the pose I want.

With Gusgus, I got all of that and more. They had a tray of fresh veggies for him to gnaw on and he eagerly reached for them. As a trained animal, he would sit up when called upon to do so, I’d snap some pics and he’d get a treat, chattering away the whole time. I don’t think he stopped making noise during the shoot and I realized I didn’t know what a beaver sounded like until then.
Gusgus001As it was a quiet sunny day, Serena and Barret were in no hurry to put Gusgus back in his enclosure and he seemed to be quite content, so I got more than the fifteen minutes I was expecting. I asked a bunch of questions and learned a few more things about the park and some of Gusgus’ on-camera work. When I got home and downloaded the pics, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

With dozens of shots to choose from, I’m looking forward to this painting more than ever. The hardest part will be choosing the best shots to work from. I’ve even got a few pics of the goofy grinning artist and his subject, for my own memory of the experience.

I will be buying another annual membership to Discovery Wildlife Park next year and plan to visit as often as I can. If you live near or plan to be in the area, I would encourage you to do the same. This season, they’re open until the day after Thanksgiving, so still a few more days to check it out. With the weekend forecast calling for sunny days and warm temps, it would be a perfect time to go.

To Serena and Barret, thanks again for being so accommodating and for the work you do with the animals. I look forward to seeing you and them again.

(by the way, if you want to see Gusgus as a baby, here’s a link to an article from 2010. So frickin’ cute).
Gusgus002If 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!