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Whimsical Wildlife NFTs

I’ve recently signed with two different NFT marketplaces, minting a selection of my whimsical wildlife paintings. They’re both launching in locked BETA in the next week or two, which kind of makes them members-only clubs, for the time being, so with nothing to link to, you’ll have to take my word for it.

I won’t get super-technical, but this does require a little unpacking. The average person has a problem understanding NFTs, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain because some of the people explaining it speak a language the rest of us don’t.

I’ve been drawing and painting digitally in Photoshop since the late 90s. With other digital artists, I can talk about Adjustment Layers, Blend Modes, Histograms, Paths, and Color Spaces, all standard terms in Photoshop, but geek-speak to anyone unfamiliar with the software.

The language of the Cryptosphere is no different. But just as you don’t need to know how the internet works to use it, the average person doesn’t need to know everything about NFTs to understand them.

NFTs are digital originals; they can be images, music, gifs, videos, documents and more. These assets are traded on a blockchain, a digital ledger of events and transactions using tokens and coins. The T in NFT stands for token.

Somebody more blockchain savvy than I might add “well yeah, sort of, but…” before elaborating on my explanation to make it more specific and accurate, but you get the idea.

My understanding is that when I mint one of my digital paintings, the code within the NFT certifies it ‘an original’ in the Cryptosphere. The verification process renders it unchangeable due to a gauntlet of checks and balances with computers from all over the world, all of which must agree that this is the original.

But, I can save 1000 copies of the same digital painting, all identical and indistinguishable from the original piece, so why is one more valued than the rest?

Because it’s the original, or in some cases, one of a finite collection.

It’s the same concept as a numbered limited edition giclée. It could be an exact copy of an open edition print, but some collectors, especially in the last century, are willing to pay more for that number. For example, one first edition copy of Moby Dick recently sold for almost $50,000, even though I can read the same story in the paperback I bought from Amazon for $7.50.

As someone who doesn’t collect anything, I don’t covet first or limited editions, rare pieces of art, or an original Aliens script signed by James Cameron, even though I’m a big fan of that movie. But I shouldn’t need to explain that plenty of people love these things.

So, dismissing or judging NFT collectors simply because they’re interested in something new that many don’t understand is foolish. As much as I respect the genius of da Vinci, I just don’t get the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa or why it’s worth over 100 million dollars.

I do, however, think it’s a crime that Leonardo never saw a dime of that money.

Scarcity and rarity have value. They always have. To some people, but not all people.

However, if these rare things matter to you and your community, whether it’s sports, music, literature, comic books, archeology, art, or anything else, what others think shouldn’t matter.

The guy who paints his whole body in team colours, puts on the jersey and cheers himself hoarse for three hours at a game, surrounded by thousands of people like him, doesn’t waste his time worrying about the millions who couldn’t care less about the sport that gives him so much happiness.

After last year’s frenzied reporting around a few artists who scored big on NFT sales, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of NFTs, as I understood them. I saw the potential for artists but wasn’t rushing to create NFTs of my work at that time. One reason was the environmental impact.

NFTs have a well-earned reputation for consuming a lot of energy because of something called Proof of Work. Proof of Work requires a shit-ton (not a crypto term) of computers worldwide to talk to each other to verify that the code is legitimate.

Those computers run on electricity, so the process has a significant environmental footprint. Even though most of that traffic comes from verifying cryptocurrencies rather than NFTs, artists have been reluctant to sign up to be part of the problem.

In that first post, I wrote, “They’ll solve the blockchain energy problem, and it will become more affordable and less environmentally destructive.”

That’s happening right now.

Everything that must be verified by all those computers, that Proof of Work, is shifting to something called Proof of Stake. Other processes are called Proof of Residence, Proof of Randomness, and likely more I haven’t yet heard of. This should provide even more secure transactions and render the process more sophisticated and familiar. When cryptocurrencies adopt these other Proofing methods, the environmental impact of minting coins and NFTs will go from ecologically disastrous to environmentally friendly almost overnight.

Cryptocurrency investors are in it to make money. It’s the same reason traditionalists invest their pension funds and retirement savings in the stock market, which, as we have too recently seen, can be just as risky when bad actors rig the game.

Just ask somebody who lost their home or life savings in 2008. The current system only masquerades as secure, but we accept it out of familiarity.

We take comfort that our financial system is regulated, but it’s built on faith and belief. Cash is only paper or plastic, and our investments are just numbers in somebody else’s database. The stock market routinely veers wildly all over the road.

While cryptocurrencies are unlikely to replace the current banking system, they likely aren’t going away. Your traditional bank is investing in them, and the signs point to the integration of the two.

Regardless of where they keep them, everybody wants their investments to grow.

The people running cryptocurrencies realize that an environmentally friendly reputation is more attractive to investors, so it’s in their best interest to develop more energy-efficient methods and operation models. Revised Proofing is just the first step. The environmental impact of minting cryptocurrencies and NFTs will soon be a thing of the past.

Another reason I’m getting involved is the emergence of more sophisticated NFT art marketplaces created and operated by business professionals. Some are treating these marketplaces like professional galleries, curating their collections. Artists are vetted, approved, and recruited for inclusion based on their work quality, reputations, and experience.

There was already a large NFT marketplace called OpenSea. The problem with OpenSea is that anybody can mint anything and call it an NFT, put it on the platform, and it becomes one big tasteless soup. A professional artist with years of experience, an established niche and audience can create an NFT of a piece of her art and upload it to OpenSea. Two seconds later, her work is on Page 45 of today’s offerings because somebody uploaded a collection of 1000 poop emojis wearing different hats.

It would be like walking into a gallery looking for beautiful art but having to dig through millions of finger paintings, crayon scribbles and post-it note doodles to find it.

So, when my buddy Derek Turcotte told me a new type of NFT marketplace contacted him, and he gave me some of the details, I was intrigued. I researched the project and the people involved and saw the potential. Shortly after that, Derek suggested another marketplace I found even more appealing.

One was big on hype and promotion but backed by experienced operators in the crypto world. They didn’t have it all spelled out like I was used to, but I didn’t see it as nefarious, just a different culture that operates a lot more casually. I considered the risks vs. rewards and still felt it was a good bet. And yes, the word bet is appropriate because all of this is new and speculative.

However, the second platform was more like dealing with a real-world licensing opportunity. After an actual phone call from the company in the U.S., where I was free to ask plenty of questions, I agreed to give it a shot. I received a professional legal agreement, names, emails, and phone numbers of people assigned to help me navigate the process. I uploaded my initial images to a professional site, and now I’m waiting for the launch.

What the first platform could learn from the second is that if you want professional artists to mint NFTs and participate in this world, you must learn to talk to them in the language they speak. Artists who do this for a living are used to dealing with companies, galleries, and markets, and you won’t earn their trust if you speak to them like gaming crypto-bros.

Just as amateur artists must learn business language to become professionals, companies must learn how to speak to artists if they want them to climb aboard.

From talking to these NFT marketplaces in recent weeks, there are two stark differences between the crypto world and the traditional business art world.

In the real world, for lack of a better term, galleries, licenses, and retailers will try to get artists to sign exclusivity contracts, especially in smaller regions. So if your work is sold in a gallery, you can’t sell it in another one nearby, sometimes even in the same town or city.

When I asked the NFT markets about this, each waved it off. The only exclusivity required is that you can’t sell the same NFT on more than one marketplace. That’s more about logistics and reputation than anything else. An NFT is essentially a certified original. If two people bought the same original simultaneously from two different marketplaces, it would erode any confidence in the parties involved.

The second thing is that the NFT market seems to value quality artwork more than the real world, as far as pricing goes. These collectors understand the value, scarcity, and provenance of a piece of NFT art and that it has more value than a print.

In the real world, I paint custom commissions for clients, as original a piece as you’re ever going to find. And yet, I get push-back on the price all the time from people who want my best work, but at garage sale prices. Some of my first NFTs are priced higher than my custom commission rate, because they will be originals in that space.

Finally, the crypto community has been the most impressive surprise in this whole experience. True, you can find sinister characters everywhere, but my interaction with these people so far has been positive.

After receiving an out-of-the-blue invite to learn more about this world, I spent an hour in an online phone call with five other people from different parts of the U.S. I admitted my ignorance about much of this. While one guy laughed and said, “wow, you’re just a baby,” he followed it up with, “hey, we’ve all been there.”

Although they were all experienced crypto investors, he cautioned that cryptocurrency and NFTs could very well be a recurrence of the dot-com bubble of internet start-ups in the late nineties. Many of these cryptocurrencies and speculative ventures have already failed, and more of them will, just like plenty of businesses in the real world.

Great reward doesn’t exist without risk. But, if you’re aware of that risk and do your best to mitigate it, you can approach it with open eyes, hoping for the best but ready for a possible rug-pull.

An important caveat here; the only reason the first guy reached out was my friend, Derek. It is very much who you know and who vouches for you that gets you invited into these discussions. If you’re associated with good people online or in the real world, that goes a long way to establishing trust. And if somebody asks, “who’s this guy?” then the answer will most likely be, “this is Patrick; he’s a friend of so-and-so.”

I asked one of these guys why somebody hasn’t created a course for artists to help them navigate this new frontier. He said there are some introductory courses, but everything changes so fast. The only way to keep up is to do the reading, join discussions, and get involved.

Community is essential in this world, which means I will have to be more social in some of these forums, something I have avoided in recent years. Thankfully, there are rules established in these communication spaces. They all have moderators, and a common theme seems to be, “don’t be a dick.”

If only other more popular platforms could adopt the same policy.

I’m excited to wade into these waters. True, I have risked some of my artwork, but none of my best sellers yet. These platforms need to earn that trust. Professional artists take risks with their work the first time they sell a high-quality print or canvas in a gallery. All it takes is somebody with the right equipment to scan the work and sell it to somebody else as their own. It happens every minute of every day all over the world.

Last month, I sent a cease-and-desist to a company in Australia. They were selling my Smiling Tiger image on a product. They took it down, but who knows if they just put it up on another site or how many other places are illegally selling my work? It’s a sad joke that artists know their work is good once people start stealing it. Unfortunately, theft is part of the trade, and good luck suing a company on the other side of the world.

Lately, there have been cases of automated bots scraping images from Twitter and art sharing communities like DeviantArt, stealing an artist’s work and minting NFTs from it. While most of these marketplaces will take down the counterfeits, finding the offence and reporting it takes a lot of time that most people don’t have. And if you do manage to get it taken down, ten more pop up in the meantime.

These curated marketplaces are working on that problem, too, with patents pending for better security software. Banks and credit card companies had to do it, and every corporation on the planet must constantly invest in security. The marketplaces that make it a priority will soon get that reputation. Word will spread, and consumers will learn that the NFTs you buy from Market A are often counterfeit, but those from Market B are vetted, verified, and support the rights of individual artists.

Which market would you trust, especially if you want to invest in value and growth?

It’s still the wild west, but the sheriffs and posses are multiplying, making it harder for the outlaws to roam the territory unimpeded.

There will undoubtedly be challenges, growing pains, and issues with this new venture. After record-breaking gains in 2021, cryptocurrencies across the board have experienced massive losses in these first weeks of 2022. While it will likely correct and recover, when (if?) that will happen is just best guess. Nobody really knows. As a financial investment, the crypto world is not for the faint of heart.

As a creative investing my art in the crypto world, it’s about the same as every other potential opportunity in art-for-a-living. You throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. This is no different.

I still have a lot to learn, but I’m more optimistic about the potential than early last year. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject as these marketplaces launch and speculation becomes experience.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Paintings, Projects and Possibilities

Here’s a secret that likely won’t shock you.

Whenever I write a post, there’s a good chance that there was a first draft that descended into a rant about social media. Then I re-read it, realize (again) that nobody wants to read that crap, delete it and start over.

I had about 1000 words written this time before I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and began again.

You know that person who constantly rages about how much they hate Justin Trudeau (or Trump, or Jason Kenney, or Erin O’Toole, or insert name here), and you think, “Ugh, we get it, you don’t like the guy. Move on!”

I don’t want to be that guy when it comes to social media. Sure, I’ll still do cartoons about it from time to time because the exodus is growing, it’s in the news, and that’s my job, but I’ve already left those platforms.

So, I’m moving on.

But I don’t regret the time spent writing that rant because it’s like journaling. Sometimes you just need to purge that bad energy, and I’m glad I kept it to myself.

Now for some good news. This year is starting quite well, despite the last one ending on a down note.

First, I’ve started a new commission of a beautiful dog. Sadly, she passed away late last year, which usually means the client wants a traditional portrait as a memorial. But this client has been following my work for quite some time, and she wants to remember her dog as happy and full of life, so I get to paint her in my signature whimsical style. This dog was an energetic outdoor pup, always up for mountain bike trips, hiking, chasing sticks, and high-energy activities, so the client kept steering me toward a full-body action pose, with great photos to back it up.

I’ll admit that the request made me nervous. My work is all about the face and expression, and a full-body can often mean some of that gets lost because the head and face will be smaller. But after some back and forth and reviewing the photos, I soon came around to her way of thinking.

I’ve started the piece, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I talked about this with my buddy, Derek, on a recent visit to Electric Grizzly Tattoo. Derek’s an incredible painter, and it’s great to have another artist I can talk to about this stuff. When I told him about this commission, that it scared me a little, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, I qualified it with, “but, you know what happens when you challenge yourself.”

Derek put his hand out flat in front of him for a second, then raised it about a foot.

He gets it.

Facing the scary stuff is the only way you take your skills to the next level.

Speaking of Derek, he recently introduced me to a whole new project he was exploring and suggested I join him in the endeavour. Each of us will be promoting our own work, so we’re not partnering on it, simply going down the same road. He made some introductions on my behalf, and we navigated it together. It’s an opportunity that might go nowhere but could also change our careers for the better.

From initial tire-kicking less than two weeks ago to serious discussions with the parties involved, Derek and I have signed agreements and are excited about the possibilities. But, having been down this kind of road before, we’re tempering our enthusiasm with a liberal dose of reality.

As in all things speculative, you hope for the best outcome but allow for the worst. What I like about the project is that there was a short deadline to get involved, with no room for procrastination. We had to get our shit together inside of a small window to make the launch dates. So, rather than talk it to death, we did our due diligence, got to work, and climbed aboard.

I realize this is vague, but until it launches, revealing specifics would be premature. I only mention it because it’s nice to focus on something with positive potential, given all we’ve dealt with the past two years.

At a time when so many people are tearing each other down, it’s gratifying that a fellow artist and friend discovered an opportunity and invited me along. He didn’t have to.  

I’m also working on two other painting projects. First, I’ve finally started the elephant as I want it done for Expo, which isn’t that far away. And it won’t be long before Mike at Pacific Music & Art needs another selection of paintings to consider for the 2023 calendar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the elephant in there?
There is also a much larger project I’m doing, involving several paintings of Burrowing Owls. So you can expect to see plenty of these characters pop up in posts over the next few months, each with different poses and expressions.

Between the commission, the elephant, the burrowing owls, the painting course, editorial cartoons and the daily support stuff I do for my business, I have an overflowing plate. But I’m not complaining. I’m at my best when I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m just happy to look to the horizon and see many more positive possibilities than negative realities.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Reflections

Last year, I created a video of the paintings I created in 2020. I enjoyed sourcing the music, creating pan and zoom features for the images, editing and putting it together. So I spent some of the day on Christmas Eve putting together another one for this year and had fun with it.

Watch it on full screen and turn up the volume for full effect. And if you like it, feel free to share it.

My personal favourite paintings from this past year are Grizzly on Grass, John Dutton and the Sea Turtle. I have been reminded often in my career that the ones I like best, however, aren’t always the most popular with subscribers and customers. But that’s art for ya.

As this will be the last post of the year, please accept my sincere thanks for continuing to follow, support and share my work. I’m incapable of expressing how much I appreciate it.

Very few people get to make a living from their art, and I’m well aware that it can go away instantly. Many of you have been hanging around this virtual studio for many years, and I’m grateful for your company. You frequently respond to my Wilder View emails with such encouragement and compliments, and when I’ve gone through dark times, you’ve often sent messages of overwhelming empathy and compassion.

To all of you who display my whimsical wildlife on your home and office walls, fridges, filing cabinets, coffee tables, put it on your phones, laptops, and vehicles, wear it on your bodies and faces, have bought it for yourselves, your friends and family, or commissioned me to paint your pets, Thank You hardly seems adequate.

These past two years have been difficult for everyone, and we’ve all responded to it differently. I’m going to keep this positive, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole. But I’ve heard and read quite often that this pandemic experience has spurred a lot of people to make overdue changes in their lives.

Some are leaving jobs where they’re unappreciated. Others have reached the limit of what they’ll endure from toxic relationships. Many are realizing that life is too valuable to spend on unimportant crap. I’ll be trying to find the courage to walk more of that talk in 2022, and I hope you do, too.

This ain’t over yet, but fingers crossed it will be soon. Until then, when you have the choice between joining the mob in rage and conflict, or extending a hand of support and kindness, please choose the latter.

Here’s to a better year ahead for all of us.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

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A Christmas Bear

Whenever there was a turning point in an 80s movie, you could expect a music montage. Whether it was rebuilding a classic car, a group of rebellious teens learning to dance, or the karate tournament advancing to the final match, an upbeat song helped the story jump through time without making the viewer watch all the actual hard work.

Did you really want to see the protagonist standing in line at the auto parts store to get an air filter for the ’67 Camaro he’s restoring?

It often takes many days or weeks to complete one of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and I enjoy most of it. Drinking hot black coffee, tunes in my earbuds, I’m quite content to spend hours at a time painting tiny little hairs on a wolf’s muzzle or adding texture detail so the sea turtle’s skin looks real.

But if you were watching this work over my shoulder, I guarantee you would be bored out of your mind.

My buddy Derek is one of the most incredible tattoo artists you’ll ever see. When I hang out at the shop, I’ll often lean over his shoulder to watch. His linework is ridiculously precise, and I’m fascinated at the silky-smooth colour gradients he achieves with a tattoo machine. But eventually, it gets boring. He’ll often have clients that sit for hours all day for three days straight.

I just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.

I’ve been creating time-lapse videos off and on for many years, and even though they can add hours of extra work to a painting, they’re fun to put together.

Sometimes I’ll record a voiceover, something inspirational for other artists, or relevant thoughts on the piece. Over the years, I’ve done a few of those for Wacom, the company that makes the tablets and displays I’ve been using since the late 90s. While I still love their products and will continue to recommend them, the best days of that working relationship are likely behind me now.

Most corporations are still chasing the likes and shares on social media, whereas I am not. I have no designs on becoming an Instagram influencer. I’d rather spend that time creating more art.

The time-lapse videos I enjoy most are the short ones with a musical accompaniment. These days I have a monthly subscription to Epidemic Sound, and it allows me to find the right track to go with a painting, regardless of the mood I’m trying to set.

I record the first part of the video over my left shoulder with my DSLR camera. I must keep in mind that the camera is beside me on the tripod, careful not to bump it. Because I’m recording a digital screen with a digital capture device, it also creates lighting problems.

Movies and TV shows will often add device and monitor screens after the fact in editing because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to record them with a camera.

But people like to see my hand holding the stylus, moving around the display.

For the rest of the video, I use Camtasia‘s screen capture software. I’ve been using it to record and edit since I created my DVDs ten years ago, and it works well.

But when I get down to the smallest of hairs in the painting, making subtle shading changes, and applying catchlights to the wet skin of the nose or around the eyes, it eventually becomes difficult for the viewer to follow the cursor.

And finally, our attention spans keep getting shorter. With slot machine scrolling on our phones, multiple tabs open on our desktops and pinging alerts going off all around us, holding somebody’s interest is a challenge.

I used to record four- or five-minute time-lapse videos, but most people won’t sit through those anymore, so I try to keep them under two minutes. Of course, it means there are significant jumps in the painting’s progress and detail, but it works.

People just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.

Cheers,
Patrick

P.S. As always, feel free to share the video, with my thanks. That goes for anything else I post on this site as well.

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Another Mountain Made Christmas Market

With the well-publicized shipping and supply chain delays made worse by the roads damaged by floods in B.C., I’ve had my fingers crossed for a resupply order from Pacific Music & Art. Having sold out of calendars at the last Mountain Made Christmas Market, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get more in time for this weekend.

Thankfully, the order has arrived. I’ve got a bunch of new coasters, aluminum art and magnets for this event, in addition to 2022 calendars. To see the new designs or just to say Hi, drop by the Civic Centre in Canmore on Saturday or Sunday from 10-4. I’ll be set up in the front lobby.
Here’s a pic from the  one last month, taken by the organizer Julian, who does a fantastic job putting all of this together. The whole venue looks a lot brighter than this pic. Phones always try to overcompensate for ambient light, and I suspect my lighting on the art is to blame. No excuse for the funny looking guy in the mask, though. That’s how I look in real life.

BTW, I’ve run into three people in the past couple of months who’ve asked me why I blocked them on Instagram. Short answer, I’m currently not on any social media platforms. I could go off on a rant about why, but you probably don’t want to read it anymore than I want to write it. The short answer is that I’m putting my time and energy into my site, blog and A Wilder View.

So if you want to follow my work, with my sincere appreciation, this is the best place to find me.

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A Portrait of John Dutton

When I’m not drawing and distributing daily syndicated editorial cartoons, I’m painting whimsical wildlife portraits for prints and licensing. Add in the usual office administration, marketing, writing and everything else that goes along with self-employment, and that’s pretty much how I spend my days.

However, I enjoy painting portraits of people, most often characters from movies. I usually make the time for a couple of these a year, but I’ve only managed this one in 2021.

I’ve often mentioned that I paint these when I’m feeling the need to reconnect to art for art’s sake or when I’m in a low place creatively, but thankfully I’m not feeling that this year. The whole year has been low for obvious reasons, and I just felt like painting a portrait.

I have no interest in painting the publicity or paparazzi headshots of movie stars or celebrities. The less I know about the gossip or their personal lives, the better. Instead, I’m more interested in the characters they play. Those characters are created by skilled writers, directors, and gifted actors, including the supporting cast and professional crews that bring it all together.

When I painted Quint from Jaws, it wasn’t just the actor Robert Shaw I was painting, but the character he inhabited, written by Peter Benchley, directed by Stephen Spielberg and brought to life in a scene with Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.

I love movies, but we’re living in an age with great television, too, with plenty of writing and acting that can easily go up against any Academy award-winning film.

One of the shows I’ve enjoyed most in recent years is Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. Written and often directed by Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone chronicles the lives of a generational ranching family in Montana, led by the patriarch, John Dutton.

It’s simply a great show, but not for the faint of heart. If you’ve got issues with language, violence, nudity, sex, lawlessness, smoking, gambling, alcohol, and more, you should seek your entertainment elsewhere.

There are no flawless heroes here. Instead, it’s a family of broken people, each with their dark pasts and demons. One moment they’re prey, the next predators, and you’re never quite sure when they’re right or wrong. But with incredible writing, scenery, and rich characters played by a stellar cast, it’s never dull. I am fulfilled and disappointed after each episode because I must wait a week for the next one.

But I’m glad they dole it out. If they released the season all at once, we’d easily gorge ourselves on it in a few days.

I realized that I wanted to paint John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, about the middle of last season. Tough as nails, Dutton tries to keep his ranch and family together, while outside interests plot to take it away from him, piece by piece. Even though he knows he’s fighting a losing battle against progress and the future, he won’t resign himself to his inevitable fate.

As often happens when I want to paint other characters, I won’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. Near the end of last season, there’s a scene where Dutton is sitting on his porch, and he looks off to the horizon in the fading light. The moment clicked with me, and I had found my reference, thanks to Cinematographer Ben Richardson’s lighting and cameras.

I painted the scene more sepia tone than the reference, with more contrast, making my own choices for the painting. I like to be inspired by moviemakers and their vision, but I don’t want to create a carbon copy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I started this painting in July, and I worked on it for a couple of hours here and there whenever I could find the time. I had planned to have it done before the fourth season began this month, but the paying gigs always take priority. So this past week, I put in the last ten or so hours over a few days. With no deadline, there was no reason to rush it, but I also didn’t want this painting to last for too much longer. As much as I loved the work, the best part is calling it done.

If you’re already a Yellowstone fan, I hope you like my rendering of this great character.

If you haven’t yet seen the show, I envy you. You get to start at the beginning with almost four seasons of great storytelling ahead of you.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Flight or Fancy

When you create art for a hobby, it doesn’t matter how you spend your time. It’s an escape, a leisurely pursuit. You can read about art, sketch, watch videos, take courses, visit galleries, or attend workshops or clubs devoted to the same goals. You can doodle for an hour, then throw it in the recycling.

But when art is your work, how you spend your time and energy is directly related to your income. If you’re not making art that sells, you’re risking your financial security. Bill collectors don’t take good intentions as payment, nor do they accept the absence of a creative spark as an excuse.

Anyone who has ever held any job knows what it’s like to have a horrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling unmotivated to do anything. But you haul your ass out of bed and go to work anyway. Because your boss is unlikely to accept “I’m just not feeling inspired today” as a valid reason for not showing up.

Talk to anyone in a creative field who does it for a living, and they’ll tell you that waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals get to work, even when they don’t feel like it. Art for a living is no different. You stick to a schedule, show up every day, and you do the work, even when you don’t want to.

But just as people in many fields go away for conferences, take additional training in the latest techniques, or keep up to date on industry literature to remain competitive, artists also need to make time for the unquantifiable.

The only way to improve on skills is to invest in them, even when it feels like you’re not getting any work done.

Whenever I start a new painting, my intent is most often to create a production piece. If it’s a painting of an animal, I want the result to be a print or an image for licensing, something that goes into the inventory to generate future income.

On occasion, I’ll make room for a character portrait for my own enjoyment (I’m working on one right now), but when it comes to the whimsical wildlife, I don’t often make time for sketching, or experiments, or ‘let’s try something and see what happens.’

But I should.

Even though I never went to art school, I know enough from talking to artists who have, that sketching and playing around is essential. It’s where you find your happy accidents, those unexpected gems that pop up simply from drawing for fun or practice.

My Grizzly, the very first whimsical wildlife painting in 2009, was an experiment. I was trying something new to see what might happen, and it eventually changed my entire career, leading me to the work I enjoy most.

It’s an easy bad habit to get into, judging the art I create to be only as valuable as its revenue. But, unfortunately, that’s a short-sighted view of what has been a long career and will hopefully continue to be.This eagle-in-flight could have become a production piece, but I got to a point where I realized that even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like taking it any further. It was good practice; I recorded it, so I get to show another time-lapse, but this is as far as I’m taking it. It’s more than a sketch but less than my usual hyper-detailed renderings. Click here or on the image to see the full sized piece and the 2-minute video.

I’m going to accept that it was a practice piece and creative time well spent.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Whoever Fights With Monsters

(If you’re easily offended by profanity or negativity or just don’t want to deal with somebody else’s crap today, turn back now.)
I’m prone to rumination; deep, dark swan dives into the abyss. It’s a byproduct of my particular brand of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’m not going to go into a long boring history of it because people have seen too many movies, and most think it’s just about germs, lining up stuff in the fridge and avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. I have none of those traits.

The reason Hollywood has perpetuated that stereotype is that they can SHOW it. But anybody who lives with this nasty roommate will tell you that the worst of it plays out in their head. It’s a constant internal argument between a rational, logical realist and a batshit crazy lunatic.

The short version is that every so often, I’ll backslide into a period of doom, gloom, and depression.

Artists. We’re all so fucking mercurial.

Last night, I spiralled for most of the evening, went down the Google rabbit hole, looking for some relief from the dark thoughts, regret, and pervasive shame. When Shonna went to bed, I grabbed spare sheets, my pillow and made up the couch. No reason for the both of us to be tossing and turning all night.

I’ve slept on the couch more in the past two years than in the rest of my life. Before you read anything into that about my marriage, I do this voluntarily. With the constant barrage of pandemic news porn, my brain doesn’t easily shut down.

While lying awake most of the night, frustrated by insomnia, my mind went to all sorts of things, none of them good. Were I to detail the endless list of irrational fears and worries, you’d quickly get bored if you’re not already.

This morning, I woke at 4 am with no motivation to draw or paint. Thankfully, I have a cartoon ready to send that I finished late yesterday afternoon.

In an exercise in distraction, I decided to clean up my website and went through old blog posts. There are more than 600 posts from as early as 2008, detailing my focus at that time. I barely remember much of that work, and a lot of it is tough to look at since my skills have significantly improved.

There were posts about illustrations I did for board/card games, caricatures of celebrities and commissions, and several on a Flash animation series I created when it looked like editorial cartooning was heading in that direction.

There were even more irrelevant posts about new releases of Photoshop and videos I shared that no longer exist online, so they’re just broken links. I wrote posts about new business cards, websites, projects, and my complicated relationship with social media.

It’s not like anybody is going through my blog posts from more than a decade ago and spending weeks reading them. There is no good reason to keep this digital history.

But on more than a few posts, I lingered and gave them a quick scan. I’m a much better writer today than I was then. I’ve written many thousands of words between the first post and this one, so I’ve had plenty of practice.

While I deleted the first year of posts with barely a thought, I got a little pickier around the time I painted that first grizzly bear in 2009, and the posts revealing many of the animal paintings that followed. I’m not ready to get rid of those yet. There’s some relevant history there and fodder for the book I’m not writing fast enough for my liking. (cue the chorus of self-loathing).

I found some other posts that could use a rewrite, words of advice for other artists, warnings about dealing with disreputable people and how to recognize and avoid being scammed. I’ve learned a lot in the decade since then, and if I can spare some newbie some harsh lessons of experience, I’d like to.

I’ve got many more blog posts to go through and discard, but just like spring cleaning, it needs doing.

On days like this, the really dark days, I would much rather just curl up on the couch and zone out on Netflix, but it’s not in my nature. I’ll just feel worse at the end of the day for being lazy. So, I’ll spend it cleaning up my office closet, bookkeeping or on some other mindless chore that needs doing but doesn’t require any creativity.

I’m fully aware that this post is not inspirational, celebratory or positive. I almost didn’t share it, but that’s part of the bullshit we feed each other online that makes so many miserable. Everybody shares their best days and hides their worst, putting a false front out into the world. And even though we all know the warning about comparing your behind-the-scenes to somebody else’s highlight reel, we still play the game and fall for it. It doesn’t take much mindless scrolling through the social media curated gallery of somebody else’s greatness to end up feeling like garbage.

This is where I’m supposed to end the post with a cheery, upbeat turnaround, say ‘oh well’ and acknowledge that things could be worse and others in the world are having a much rougher time and, and, and…

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that failing to feel the bad shit, dismissing it, and shoving it aside will just make it worse, as will making yourself feel guilty for expressing it.

Over the years, I’ve talked with therapists, read a whole library of self-help books, listened to hours of podcasts, politely listened to unwanted advice about essential oils, mindfulness practices, apps, vitamins, medication and every suggestion under the sun, including the oh-so-helpful, “Hey, cheer up!”

The truth is, from time to time, you just find yourself travelling through hell. And over the past year and a half, we’re each experiencing our own personal brand of it.

So yeah, this too shall pass.

But probably not today.

__

© Patrick LaMontagne

P.S. While looking for an image in my archives to go with this post, I discovered that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Well, at least that gave me a chuckle.

 

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

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

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

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

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

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

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A Different View on The Calgary Expo

Although it was a miniature version of the usual event, I spent Sunday at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. I have no regrets about passing on a booth this year as I still think it would have been more expense than revenue, but a day at the Expo made me realize how much I miss it.

When I’m a vendor, there’s little opportunity to walk around to meet and talk with other artists, aside from my immediate neighbours.

The best I could hope for in previous years is showing up a little early to take a quick tour, but it’s tough to chat with other vendors while they’re trying to set up for the day. Shonna has occasionally worked my booth with me on the busier days, and she’s a big help, but people want to talk to the person who created the artwork, so I stay close to my own customers.

This time, free to wander, I met some talented artists, asked questions about their setup and advice on products they sold, and enjoyed talking shop without having to rush back to my booth. But, of course, when potential customers stepped up, I quickly moved aside and let the vendor go to work.

In my experience, fellow vendors are always willing to share information. At my first show in 2014, I didn’t know anything, so I was grateful for the constructive criticism and advice that came my way. Now that I’ve gained my own experience, I try to help newbies when they show up at my own booth with questions.

I spoke with quite a few vendors who sell vinyl stickers along with their prints and other products. When I showed them my first sticker pack and asked their advice/opinions, all agreed that I was selling them for too little. For the size of my stickers, the vinyl and design quality, a four-pack for $15.95 is a lot less than the current market price.

So, after careful research and consideration, I’ll soon be increasing the price of those stickers in the store to $20.95. As I learn more about the sticker market, I’m optimistic and excited about the possibilities. They’ll undoubtedly be prominent products in my Expo booth in April.

It was also great to reconnect with Alexander Finbow, the owner of Renegade Arts Entertainment, a growing publishing house right here in Canmore. Alex has published several award-winning graphic novels, comic and children’s books by international authors and artists. It seems they’re well known in the industry but still a well-kept secret here in the Bow Valley.

Having arrived on Sunday at 9:30 that morning, I had plenty of time to accomplish my own goals before my buddy Derek arrived with his daughter and her friend around 1:00. The owner of Electric Grizzly Tattoo here in Canmore, he’s an accomplished tattoo artist and skilled painter, so it was nice to walk around with somebody who’s as much into the art as I am. Also, even though I’m not a ‘kid person,’ I will admit that seeing a couple of nine-year-olds excited about comic and cartoon characters I didn’t know or recognize was fun.

And if it weren’t for the kids’ excitement about a booth full of snakes and lizards, I might have missed the opportunity to face up to one of my phobias.

Hairy spiders have always given me the creeps, but I don’t like being afraid of them since they’re such fascinating creatures. So when I realized that I could hold one, courtesy of Calgary Reptile Parties, I had a quick argument in my head. I knew that if I chickened out, I’d beat myself up all the way home and likely wake up the next morning regretting it.
So, I stepped up and let a hairy tarantula crawl around my hands and arms. She was delicate, fragile, light and gentle, and after a few seconds, I was more afraid of flinching and maybe hurting her. While not quite the same as close contact with a bear cub, a wolf, or an owl, it was an exciting critter experience, and I’m glad I did it.

The fear in our heads is usually so much worse than reality.

I also bought some art, something I rarely do at this event, since I never have the time to look.
Edmonton artist Sabrina O’Donnell does more than 25 shows a year (pre-Covid) and gave me some of the best advice on selling stickers. She based this little Canuck Crow piece on a news story she read about a Vancouver crow who stole a knife from a crime scene. I liked her rendering and that the work tells a story.
I bought a couple of books from Toronto cartoonist Scott Chantler. Both are graphic novels/stories about real people and histories. I’m not big on comics or graphic novels, but I like his art and the subject matter and found his work inspiring. Always worth it to explore another’s approach.
Finally, I bought a piece of art to hang in my office, something I’ve not done for a long time. Regular readers know that I’m a movie fan and will paint character portraits from time to time. I enjoyed the 2019 Joker movie, especially Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, so when I saw this piece by Alberta artist Sheldon Bueckert, I wanted it.

Even still, I waited a couple of hours before pulling the trigger to ward off any buyer’s remorse from an impulsive purchase. But right before I left the Expo, I went back for it. Whether it’s Sheldon’s choice of pose, colour, or his style of brushwork that drew me in, there’s just something about the piece I like.

That’s art for you. When it speaks to you, go with it.

I had an enjoyable day, better than expected. It was nice to be a bit of a fan again, rather than working the whole event. I’ve confirmed with the organizers that my booth is good for April, and I can expect to have the same spot I had in 2019. It’s a placement I worked hard to get over several years, earned through seniority.

To all of you I used to see at the event, I’ve missed you, and I’m already looking forward to seeing you again in 2022.

In the meantime, a day with all that inspiring art has filled the creative tank, and I’m anxious to paint. Anybody up for a cute and cuddly painting of a tarantula? ?

Cheers,
Patrick