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Artistic License and Creative Risk

In late 2009, right around this time, I began work on my first whimsical wildlife painting, a Grizzly bear.

By the time I walked into a gallery in Banff in Cascade Mall in January, I had three. The Grizzly, a Raven, and an Elk.

The manager treated me well, the owners did not, and on a tip, I barely got my stuff out of there before they shuttered the store overnight a couple of years later.

But it led me to a store in Canmore called Two Wolves, where the two women who owned it treated me very well. They ultimately closed up shop, but I learned a lot, they urged me to seek a license with The Mountain on T-shirts which turned into a nice four year deal and opened other doors.

In Banff, when the first gallery closed, I sought out another and that’s how I ended up at About Canada retail gallery. We’ve had a very nice relationship for the past 7 years. It’s all been consignment, which means that I supply the prints; they pay me when they sell, and the cheques arrived every month without fail.

Richard and Alison taught me a lot about the business, they offered helpful suggestions, delivered harsh truths, and were always willing to try something new. Initially, they just wanted mountain animals, but I convinced them to try some others. My Otter painting has been their bestseller for a number of years, followed closely by the Bald Eagle, neither of which is associated with these mountains.

Because they had treated me so well for so many years, About Canada had exclusive rights to sell my work in Banff. It’s also the only place that sells my matted prints and canvas with consistent sales. The other is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring.

Earlier this year, they decided to retire from About Canada and put it up for sale. They had a large number of my prints and canvas on hand, and I authorized putting my stuff on sale with everything else. After a busy summer, it’s almost all gone.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make a big change.

Many successful artists will stock up and hit the road, especially this time of year to do multiple gift shows and sell their wares. I know a few who make the bulk of their annual income at Christmas markets. If my funny looking animal paintings were my only income, I would likely be doing the same thing.

Because of my editorial cartoon deadlines, I have to produce at least one cartoon every day, some days more than one. Following the news keeps me here, but since I dislike driving long distances, especially in the winter, working at home suits me well.

Oh yeah, and I loathe Christmas. Bah, Humbug.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen the licensing model. The artist creates the art, then signs contracts with companies who sell it on prints and other products. They do all of the work and promotion it takes to get the items into retail stores, on websites, produce the goods, ship them, invoice, collect and the artist just collects a cheque. If the artist is smart, he/she will never give up copyright and a reputable licensee won’t ask for it. All of my current licenses are non-exclusive on paper, but I’m careful not to sign with direct competitors.

I’ve had a number of licenses for my work over the years with a few different companies. T-shirts, decals, phone cases, online art sales from multiple companies, and Art Licensing International currently represents me, based out of the US. They currently have 54 of my images out for licensing.

Now you might be thinking “cha-ching!” but when I sell an item through a license, I get a very small percentage of that sale, anywhere between 5% and 15% at the high end. That’s also from the wholesale price, not the retail price.

My licensing agent also takes a cut for any licenses they procure for me, so the percentage gets lower still.

Why would I bother? Same reason I sell syndicated cartoons to weekly newspapers for a lower rate than I would a custom cartoon.

Volume.

The money isn’t made on one sale, it’s made on MANY sales of the same image. That first Grizzly is still one of my bestsellers nine years later.

My licensing agent gets me deals I can’t get on my own. They have the connections, the professional sales people, the legal expertise, and the means to deliver. Through my agent, I recently signed a two year license for one image to a company in Spain for a nice flat fee. How would I ever get that on my own?

I’ve seen one of my T-shirts on a Netflix show and Ozzy Osbourne was wearing one recently on TV. I have clients all over the world that I could not get on my own and best of all, it creates momentum. One license begets another and so on. Licensing is how artists get their work into Wal-Mart (and then retire!).

So licensing is proving to be the model that works best for me right now, allowing me to create more work, while somebody else sells it. It is a long game, and one license can take years to bring in decent revenue, but that time will pass anyway and all I did was provide the images.

As regular followers will know, I have two different printers who both deliver great products. My digital prints are produced in Victoria from Art Ink Print and are sold at The Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, the Calgary Expo and online. These aren’t on consignment. When I deliver to these places, it’s an immediate sale of product to the retailer. I’ll still be supplying prints directly to those customers.

My canvas, giclée matted prints and acrylics are produced in Calgary at ABL Imaging and those are sold at About Canada in Banff and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. Those are consignment sales, which I’ll no longer be doing.

I have over thirty paintings currently in stock, and that’s expensive. To get a good price on prints, I have to order more than I need, so I have multiples of those images, with the backer board, mats, bios, and cellophane sleeves to go with them. I don’t mind telling you that at present, I have hundreds of prints in stock.

They’re all neatly organized and inventoried, but they’re here, ready to deliver when there’s an order. They don’t expire and are well protected, so it’s an investment in future sales. Many of these prints won’t be sold until spring at Expo, especially now that I no longer have About Canada to sell the matted prints and canvas.

When Shonna and I were on Vancouver Island, it was a business trip as well as a little vacation. We visited licensees, my printer, I took a lot of reference pics for paintings and I was on the lookout for more ways to sell my work.

I saw my Otter T-shirt in a few stores in Victoria, which never gets old. I also saw lots of art from many talented artists. Art cards, magnets, trivets, coasters, and prints all with excellent printing quality, well packaged and presented.

There were two companies that stood out for me and I took pictures of the information on the back of the cards for reference when I got home.

The next time I stopped in to About Canada, I had a chat with Richard about the companies as he dealt with both of them. As he knew I was thinking of taking my prints in a new direction, he offered to send me their contact info, which I gratefully accepted.

In fact, he sent glowing introduction emails to the two people and cc’d me on them. See why I liked working with these folks?

Both companies contacted me and offered me contracts. Either would have been a good bet, I think, but after careful consideration and a long chat on the phone with the owner, I decided that Pacific Music and Art was going to be the best fit for my work.

From here on out, things will change on the printing front.

Pacific Music and Art will now be able to get my work into many more retailers in Canada and the US, with their sales reps doing the legwork to best represent my funny looking animals. For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, I just can’t create the work and meet my deadlines if I’m on the road going from store to store, building relationships with retailers, ordering and packaging the prints, shipping and delivering them, and doing all of the work that goes along with that.
Through Pacific Music & Art, my work will now be available to retailers on aluminum prints and magnets, art cards and other paper products, coasters, trivets, coffee mugs and more. It’ll be introduced to hundreds of retailers that I would never be able to reach and I’ll have more time to paint and have less stock to buy.

I am no longer bound by exclusivity in Banff, but my work will still be available at About Canada, in addition to other local retailers in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of prep work getting the first sixteen images ready. While the artist normally wouldn’t have to do a lot of the formatting and sizing work for all of the different products, I volunteered and was provided the templates.
Sizing the paintings for the different products required cropping them, a little squeezing and squashing, and making sacrifices, especially when a square painting had to be put into a horizontal template. I would rather make those decisions than a designer unfamiliar with my work. I’m proficient with Photoshop, so it was time consuming, but not difficult. After a couple of very long days of prep, I uploaded over 165 images to their server.

The fall catalog went live this week and my Otter is on the cover. I’m thrilled to be included among these well-known artists including Andy Everson and Sue Coleman.
The owner, Mike, was driving through here on Friday, a combination business and personal trip. He was visiting local retailers and introducing my work to them, many of whom were already familiar with it as I’ve been in this valley for 24 years.

We met for coffee in Canmore late Friday and had an enjoyable chat for more than an hour. He’d brought samples to give to the retailers and his Alberta reps, and he told me to take what I wanted from quite a large selection. I had to restrain myself as I have more than enough of my own work in my house. I settled on a couple of magnets, a few coasters, a trivet and a small aluminum print, along with the catalog. The quality of these items exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to see them in stores around here, as he’s already got quite a few orders. One store on Vancouver Island took all 16 images.

I’ve been at this art business for quite some time now and I try to temper my enthusiasm with healthy doses of reality and even cynicism, but I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and will free up time and money to pursue new things and allow me to create more artwork.

While it’s sad to see my relationship end with the owners of About Canada, I am grateful for the opportunity to see my business grow in a new direction. Without risk, there can be no reward and I’d rather fail reaching for something better than worry about keeping what I’ve got.

Art Ink Print does my digital prints, Harlequin Nature Graphics is my T-shirt license and now Pacific Music and Art will be a major license for me, all of these companies are in and around Victoria, BC. Considering how much we love Vancouver Island, it’s amazing how many reasons we now have to go there.

As always, thanks for reading.

Patrick

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Selling Out Selling Art


A student from the Alberta College of Art and Design recently asked to interview me for an assignment. I was happy to oblige. While in Calgary to drop off prints at the zoo and take some photos, I made time to meet her for coffee last week.

It got me thinking about the road traveled.

My first paying gig as an artist was as the editorial cartoonist for the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper. I drew my first cartoon in May of ’98, so it’s been just over twenty years. I’ve been a full-time artist since 2006.

Over my career, it has always been easy to find resources in order to become a better artist. While I started with books and magazines, no matter what style of art you want to learn today, there are talented teachers on the internet willing to share their skills, often for a very reasonable price.

Google: “How do I learn to draw?”

While you can peruse countless lessons, videos, books, articles, buy all of the best materials, tools and hardware, unless you practice, you will never become good at anything.

People want the skills, but a relative few are willing to invest the countless lonely hours drawing and the years of bad artwork, most of which will be incredibly unsatisfying and unpaid. I have a hard time looking at my earlier work, but all of that led to all of this.

Creating art for fun can be a great hobby and escape. I’ve encountered many skilled artists with no designs on becoming pros. They are content to draw, paint, sculpt, or play simply for the joy of it, with no illusions.

As for me, I am a commercial artist. It’s how I make my living.

I’ve encountered plenty of artists over the years who’ve told me that I was selling out by selling art, that they wouldn’t dare sully their creative process by putting a dollar amount on it, that real art is made for creativity’s sake alone and not for financial compensation.

That’s bullshit.

I enjoy being an artist, but it’s my job, and just like any other. There are many necessary parts of my job that I do not enjoy.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to reformat paintings to conform to multiple templates for a new licensing contract. Sixteen images had to be resized, cropped, and uploaded in eleven different formats each, many of which were uncomfortable compromises. Over two days, it took about fifteen hours, during which I still had to meet my daily editorial cartoon deadlines for my clients across Canada.

Prior to that, I was in contract negotiation with that company, back and forth, making changes to the wording, all amicable and professional, but time consuming.

On Sunday, I drew three cartoons to send out Monday because I spent that day reconciling my books for the past three months so that I could file my GST remittance with the government. The day after that was month end invoicing for all of my editorial cartoon clients across Canada.

And still, editorial cartoon deadlines had to be met.

Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting with the owner of the aforementioned company as he will be driving through town. If I’m sending mixed signals, let me clarify. The setup work and contract stuff was tedious, but the license itself is exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing the details very soon.

My point is that I have spent as much time this week on the administration and promotion of my art as I have creating art, and that art was all cartoons.

I’ve only squeezed in a couple of hours of painting in this week. That’s it. But I’m hoping to find time for it this weekend, which is why I still get up at 5am on Saturdays even though I don’t have a cartoon deadline that day.

I painted my first funny looking animal in 2009 as an experiment, to try something different that might end up being a more marketable print than the caricature portrait commissions I was doing. Ironic that it was looking to sell more art that led me to the work I enjoy most and a whole new product that changed my whole direction. Commercial art led me to photography as I knew I could paint better images if I took my own reference. It is unlikely I would have found either of those if I wasn’t trying to grow my business.

None of this is complaining, I assure you. Everybody has parts of their job they dislike. That’s why it’s called work.

Quite often over the years, I’ll get emails or questions from young artists asking me for advice on how to create art for a living, which I’m happy to answer.

They become less enthusiastic when I tell them the single most important thing they can do is learn the business of art. Bookkeeping, contracts, licensing, customer service, meet deadlines, keep regular hours, pay your taxes, stop wasting time on social media, be polite to your customers, under-promise and over-deliver. Be accountable and professional.

It’s tedious and you’ll spend all of that time wishing you were drawing or painting instead. You’ll make so many mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and be better for the lessons. Whenever I work with somebody new, especially when it comes to licensing, a voice in the back of my head is always asking, “How is this person trying to screw me?”

Cynical? Yes.

Appropriate? Absolutely.

People take advantage of artists because we not only allow it, we encourage it. Artists are the biggest pushovers around. We not only want you to like our work, we want you to like us, too. Here, just take it for free.

These days, I have enough experience that the warning signs are easier to spot, but I don’t imagine myself immune to more lessons down the road.

I have been screwed more than once in this business. I will get screwed again, but hopefully not in the same ways, because then I won’t have learned anything.

Most of the time, however, the person on the other end of a negotiation is fair, professional, accommodating and a pleasure to work with. But most of the people in your neighbourhood are probably nice, too, and yet you still lock your doors at night.

This business of art is always challenging and the learning is never over. It’s hard work, all the time, and it’s not for everybody.

Creating art is easy. Selling art? That’s the hard part.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Prints and Prep for The Calgary Expo Holiday Market

With the Calgary Holiday Expo next weekend, I’m busy preparing my prints and booth hardware, wondering once again if I’ll be able to get it all in the car. It’s a valid concern, especially when I change things up, as I always do.

A few years ago, this sort of thing was a significant source of stress, as it adds quite a few hours of work to an already busy week of the usual deadlines. This time, however, it just feels like business as usual, which is a pleasant surprise.

I have a spreadsheet checklist of things I need to bring and everything I had to order has arrived with plenty of time to spare. As expected, the more you do something, the easier it gets.

The only thing that could throw a wrench into the gears is bad weather, poor sales, and myriad other unexpected possibilities, none of which I can do anything about. Usually I’d worry about it anyway, but this week, I’m not.

As my grid wall setup is changing yet again, I will spend an afternoon tomorrow or Tuesday setting everything up in the garage, just to address any issues ahead of time. It’s not a task I look forward to, but one I think is necessary, given that I don’t want to find out I’m missing something on setup day. I’d hate to have to give up a good parking space to make a run to Staples or Canadian Tire.

Now that I’m using a new printer for my giclée works, I have to order larger numbers to keep my costs down. Instead of ordering 5 prints of a particular painting, I have to order a minimum of 20. This means more of an investment each time, likely holding on to prints for a longer period of time.

For example, I don’t expect to sell 30 Smiling Tigers next weekend, but likely more than 10. Since I only had 9 left in stock, I had to place an order and now have 29. I had to stock up in similar fashion for a number of my better selling prints, which means when looking at overall numbers; I have a couple hundred more than I need.

That does make me a little nervous, because it means I’ve invested money now that I normally wouldn’t have until later. On the positive side, however, prints don’t expire when cared for properly.

After completing a full print inventory and swallowing hard at the total, I have twice as many individual images in stock than I’d like. Between 8X10s, canvas, acrylic, poster and matted, I have prints of 45 different animals. On one hand, that’s an impressive number of paintings. On the other hand, it’s far too many different images to stock on a regular basis, especially since a third of those are not big sellers.

Even though I have fond feelings for every one of my paintings, it doesn’t mean they resonate with everyone else. I’ve already been weeding out certain ones as I run out, but will be much more aggressive in that practice over the coming year. I sold the last matted Raccoon Totem print online this week. As much as I like it, I won’t be ordering any more. There are about a dozen others that will meet the same fate when the last of each sells.

Many times, after I finish a new painting, I’ll get an email or a private message from somebody telling me they want a print. On more than one occasion, those folks have disappeared or told me they’ve changed their mind after I’ve invested the money to make prints available, when I might not have done so had they not expressed interest. Take that as a cautionary tale for both artists and buyers. Talk is cheap.

Then, of course, there are my reliable regular customers who ask for a print of a new animal, and even though I want to be able to make one available, I have to ask them to be patient until I get around to doing a print run. These are the folks I hate to disappoint since many have been supporting my work for years. Thank you, you know who you are.

I’m always painting new animals and if I want to stock prints of some of those, I have to start letting many of the others go. It also means that when I do paint a new animal, I have to think long and hard about whether or not I’m going to have prints done right away.

Or at all.

The Calgary Expo Holiday Market runs next Saturday and Sunday, November 25th and 26th in Halls B & C at the BMO Centre. Tickets available online and I believe at the door as well. Here’s the link. You can find me at Booth 414. Come by and say Hello.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Connecting the Dot

About a week ago, I woke up with an idea to get a tattoo of a grizzly paw. I’ve long thought about getting a little ink and came close a while ago, but it never seemed quite right.

As a result, this was a little strange, to just wake up with this idea and rather than dismiss it as a fleeting crazy thought, it seemed completely logical. When Shonna woke up, I mentioned it to her and much to my surprise, she had no objections. In fact, when I mentioned getting it on my shoulder, she suggested I put it somewhere I could see it, like on my forearm.
Bears have been a part of my life since I moved to this valley in the mid-nineties. I’ve had an irrational fear of them for more than twenty years. But they’re also one of my favorite animals to paint, read about, and in recent years, spend time with. I’ve had many dreams about bears over the years. It’s been said that the thing we’re most afraid of can reveal the most profound parts of ourselves.

In the late-nineties, I used to hang out at a pub when we lived in Banff, called the Pump and Tap. I actually drank more diet coke there than alcohol, could smoke a cigarette and draw in my sketchbook. One of the other regulars one day showed me a black bear tooth he had. If I remember correctly, he said his grandfather had found it in Quebec with the skeleton of a bear many years ago and gave him a few of the teeth.

Out of the blue, he handed it to me and said, “I think you’re supposed to have it.”

I was taken completely off guard. Keep in mind, I didn’t paint my first Totem animal (a Grizzly bear) until November of 2009, more than ten years later.

I was grateful for the gift, this tooth yellowed by age, but polished and practically petrified.

For years I carried it with me in my pocket in a little leather pouch I picked up at one of the stores in Banff. But after a while, I worried about losing it, so I had a jeweler friend, Doug Bell, put a silver mount on it and I wear it around a chain to this day.

Like most people, my dreams are simply the reorganization of weekly experiences and events. The mind forms a narrative to connect random thoughts while it files them away in long-term memory. But around the same time I got the tooth, I was having a lot of animal dreams, many of them about bears. In fact, I was having so many of them that I began to keep a journal. While cleaning out my office recently, I came across it, along with some other books of writing.

In one dream, I was flying over a large field, very close to the ground and I came across a small pond where I stopped and hovered above it. While looking at the water, a symbol became visible under the surface. I knew that it had some significance, but I didn’t know what.

I’ve thought about it often over the years. I even drew it in ink on that little pouch in which I carried the bear tooth. While writing this, I wondered if I still have it. Sure enough, it’s in a little box on my bookshelf. While the symbol is faded, it’s still there.
When I had Doug make the bear tooth piece for me years ago, I also had him craft that symbol in silver. I alternate between wearing the two on a chain, depending on my plans for the day.
So what does it mean? I’ve searched for that symbol online and a reverse image search comes up with nothing. But in researching symbols, I’ve found that often you can decipher meaning from the different parts of a symbol.

The closest I could come up with is the circumpunct, which is a dot inside of a closed circle. It’s one of the most ancient symbols in the world, prevalent in many cultures. Depending on where you find it, it can mean the sun, God, Ra, the solar system, the universe and it’s the alchemical symbol for gold. It is the beginning of creation.

In scouting, it means ‘End of trail. Gone home.’ My buddy Darrel pointed out that it’s on Baden Powell’s tombstone, which is appropriate.

To the Australian Aborigines, it’s the symbol for waterhole. To the Ojibwa, it means spirit.

And just to throw some water on this wildfire of flighty speculation, it’s also the symbol of the Target Corporation.

But what does it mean with the line?

I found one site that quoted Manly P. Hall, from his book Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. While it didn’t show the image, it would appear he might be describing the symbol I saw.

“The dot, moving away from self, projects the line; the line becomes the radius of an imaginary circle, and this circle is the circumference of the powers of the central dot.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it over the years and ultimately, it comes down to what it means to me. If I had to sum it up in one word, what has always felt right, it would be ‘Connection.’

The individual connected to the greater whole. We are all connected to each other and the world around us, in some way or another. We each find ways to interpret that connection, to understand it, and hopefully to give strength to it. For some, it’s through religion, their faith, their relationship with their god, whatever that means to each person.

For others, it might be through science, their understanding of the universe, how the microscopic form of the atom is mirrored in the gigantic form of a solar system. Repeating patterns, order in the chaos.

I still live in the real world and am a deeply flawed human being, but in my artwork and in spending time with animals, that’s where I find my own connection.

Over the past year, I’ve experienced some of the lowest points of my life, but also some of the highest. The latter thanks to the wonderful folks at Discovery Wildlife Park who have allowed me a closer connection with their animals, especially a certain wonderful little bear. Best of all, I got to share the experience with my wife, too.
I’ll choose time with animals over an anti-depressant any day of the week.
While designing my own version of a grizzly paw tattoo, it suddenly occurred to me that the paw pad should be the symbol with which I’ve had a relationship for many years. I didn’t want any great detail; I didn’t want to over-complicate it. I just wanted what you see, the simplicity of my connection to bears and animals. Whether this belief is real or imaginary is irrelevant. It speaks to me and makes me want to be a better human.

As they’ve got a great reputation, as do their talented artists, I expected a long wait to get a sitting at Electric Grizzly Tattoo (yeah, I see it). But this was not a difficult tattoo that would take a long time, so Myles Mac managed to get me in just days after I inquired. I went with it and it was a great experience. It will take a few weeks to be fully healed and I’ll share another photo then.

When Shonna suggested I put it where I could see it, I decided on the inner forearm of my drawing arm, the claws pointing toward my hand. When shit gets a little too real, when I’m having a bad day/week/month, when I’ve let the news get to me, when my faith in people is non-existent, I’m hoping it reminds me of my connection to something greater than myself, to inspire me to make a difference where I can, to be the change I want to see in the world.

Once again, thanks for reading my ramblings.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Portrait of Alan Doyle

Whenever I’m having a hard time finding my footing, when the dark stuff settles in, painting a portrait can often be a refuge.

I consider the daily editorial cartoons to be my day job, but in recent years, the whimsical wildlife portraits have become that as well, which is a little sad since I never wanted those to feel like work. While it’s great that people like my painted animals, that the prints sell well in zoos and galleries and I’m finding licensing opportunities, that part of my work used to be the escape. Now, not so much.

I’ve been quite candid recently revealing that I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety, a direct consequence of years living with OCD. While people most often associate that with germophobia and checking things, 95% of my particular version is not visible to other people. While I’ve no intention of going down that road in great depth in this post, I’ll just say that these past few weeks have been the most difficult of my life. It is my nature to want this fixed NOW so that I can move on and get back to normal, whatever that is. Apparently it doesn’t work that way and I must be patient. This will be a long road back and I have to stop thinking of it as a destination and simply as something I need to learn to live with.

While I’m not anywhere near there at present, I am moving in the right direction. I’ve found a therapist who understands OCD better than any I’ve spoken to before, and while I haven’t ruled it out, we’ve agreed that medication is a last resort for me and doesn’t look to be necessary at this time as other tools are producing results.

This experience, however, has granted me some much needed perspective. I’ve been working too hard when I haven’t had to. I’ve made it all about becoming more successful and producing more work at the expense of having a life. While I’ve had wake-up calls before, this has been more profound and frightening than any that have come before.

Artists. We’re such drama queens.

In hindsight, it seems I look to portraits of people as island escapes when the seas get too rough. I was in a similar frame of mind when I painted Martin Sheen a few years ago.

I’ve wanted to paint Alan Doyle for a year or two, but just kept putting it off for the work and the deadlines. With workmen currently in the house installing new floors, my office taking up part of the kitchen and not being able to count on any routine right now, this painting was a necessary diversion.

My buddy Darrel and I went to see Doyle play in Calgary a few years ago when he was touring with his first solo album, ‘Boy on Bridge.’ It was a real treat because the tour was playing small venues across Canada and we ended up at a front row table at the Ironwood Stage and Grill in Inglewood. Had we wanted to, we could have put our feet up on the floor level stage.

It was the type of venue where you’d expect to see up and comers before they’re well known. Had Doyle been touring with his band, Great Big Sea, the venue would have been much larger and when he came through Calgary again with his second solo album ‘So Let’s Go,’ he moved up to the Jubilee Auditorium.

I’ve long been a fan of Great Big Sea, but to be honest, I like Doyle’s solo albums better and hope they’re just the first of many. He’s playing with some great musicians and that experience at the Ironwood felt like a special opportunity, reminding me of the days when Darrel and I used to hang out at pubs in Red Deer more than twenty-five years ago, listening to live music.

It occurs to me that perhaps I might paint some more Canadians this year, musicians, actors or average folks like me. Maybe I’ll call it a Canada 150 project, purely to find some joy in painting again, and an escape from the work. I won’t be taking requests or entertaining suggestions, nor will I be putting it on a schedule or trying to get a certain number completed. That’s what got me into trouble in the first place.

I could have spent many more hours nitpicking this one, but I deliberately stopped myself before it became an exercise in frustration. It’ll never be perfect, so why bother trying?

I listened to Doyle’s albums and some Great Big Sea while painting this. Here’s a favorite, ‘My Day’ and the video from where I got the reference for this painting.

And if you get a chance to see him live, don’t pass it up.

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You Don’t Say

eaglecrop
Things People Said to Me at Calgary Expo Holiday Market

with real (and not so real) responses.


You should draw children’s books!”

I hear this a lot from people, along with other ‘suggestions’ from out of the blue.

I could draw children’s books and I’ve had many offers to do so over the past 15 years or so. One of those ended up being very successful for the author and the illustrator to whom I introduced her. They were a good match and the books they’ve done turned out great.

So why didn’t I draw them? I don’t like being around children. I’m not a parent, never wanted kids, and you won’t find me attending the birthday parties that friends have for their kids. Shonna is the same way. We’re monsters. We know. We’re OK with it.

When you create a children’s book, you have to promote it. That means doing readings for children, attending events for children, going to schools where there are children and pretending you want to be there. If I produced a children’s book, there would be a large crowd of people who know me well, shouting, “Hypocrite!”

And they’d be right to do so.

Occasionally I will speak to school classes. I even mentored at the school for a couple of years some time ago, a worthwhile program for kids who showed aptitude in the arts. Once a week, I would go to the school, meet my student in a room near the office and spend an hour on drawing exercises. We’d come up with a project that they’d then present to their class at the end of the program.

I did it because it’s something I would have enjoyed at that age and out of a sense of community guilt, felt I should contribute in some way. There were some good kids, I did my best for them, but it wasn’t personally rewarding and felt like another obligation. Because of that flawed perspective, I won’t do that again. But I will still speak to classes from time to time.

I could have been more politically correct here in my explanation, but I erred on the side of honesty. Feel free to judge me harshly. It’s what makes the internet go ‘round.


“Is this digital? Ohhhh.”

That “Ohhhh” is usually incredibly condescending. What it really says is, “You must have a really good program that changed a photo into whatever this is.”

If I tell them I did it with Photoshop, then they’re even more certain that I’m a fraud.

There are still those who figure if you do your work on a computer, then you’re not really a skilled artist, you’re more like a programmer who just knows how to press all the right buttons.

I could explain at great length about the countless hours I’ve spent working to improve my art skills, through practice, study, and a ton of happy accidents, but I usually just smile and let them have their illusions. As I heard Katey Couric say on a podcast recently, “People aren’t looking for information these days, they’re looking for affirmation.”

You think the computer creates my artwork? Give it a shot.

I’ll wait here.


“Are these photos?”

No. They’re not photos. I use photos for reference, but no photo is ever part of my work.


“So what do you do for your real job?”

This is it. Drawing, colouring and answering stupid…

Sorry. I’ll be nice.


“You should draw an Elephant, Hippo, Badger, Horse, Ocelot, Orangutan, Marmoset, Jellyfish, Narwhal, Praying Mantis, Spider, Kangaroo, Duckbilled Platypus, Anemone, Sloth, Barracuda, Goldfish, Parakeet, Boa Constrictor…
(it’s an endless list)

And will you buying one of those when I do? Just checking.


“They’re all smiling!

“I just love your work!”
“We bought a print of yours last year and it hangs in our hallway.”
“Is that new? I’ll take it!”

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Hearing Voices

Books

There was a small video crew here this morning to interview me, some footage for a piece they’re doing on the upcoming 15th anniversary of the little paper that could, The Rocky Mountain Outlook. Lots of people said it would fail when it first began in 2001, an empty curse that is often in the first paragraph of many success stories.

I have been the cartoonist for the Outlook since the first time it hit the stands and one of my cartoons has been in every issue. My connection to what has become the newspaper of record ‘round here is something I’m proud of, because it was a dream built by tough people who then passed it on to another generation and they’re taking good care of it.

I’m a big softie when it comes to nostalgia. I reminisce often and usually put an overly romantic spin on the memories when I do. Despite my misanthropic outlook, I’ve known a lot of good people in my time, many of whom have helped me get to where I am today, often with gentle nudges but sometimes with the use of high voltage cattle prods placed in uncomfortable places.

The interview this morning got me thinking about the road from there to here. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of my first editorial cartoon, a poorly drawn black and white scrawl for The Banff Crag and Canyon. I look up at the Coyote Totem hanging on my wall, with his knowing grin and I can’t help but marvel in hindsight at all of the dots that had to connect to finally become good enough to paint him. Had I missed just one of those dots, it might have all gone away.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, an outlet that has ebbed and flowed throughout my life, ever since I was a kid.

At my last Photoshop World, the subject of storytelling kept popping up. One of the instructors was talking about doing that with photos, but the other two mentions seemed entirely random. And yet, I picked up on it. Since then, the theme has been ever-present.

When my publisher Alex and I began talking about my upcoming book of my animal artwork, he was adamant that the writing in it should focus on telling the stories surrounding the paintings. When I dropped off a print to a valued client in Red Deer the other day, she told me how much she liked the stories behind the work. And one of my followers on Facebook commented this week that “One day you will also be an award winning author if you aren’t already.”

I don’t know if that last one is true, but I appreciated the thought. This common theme of writing has resurfaced in recent years, often to the point of distraction. I have editorial cartoons and painting to do, but I made time to write this instead.

When I was in the sixth grade in Lahr, West Germany, I had a teacher named Tom Muise. He was one of those teachers you hear about, who just happened to say the right thing at the right time and probably didn’t even know he was doing it. Handing me back an essay one day, he paused with it just out of reach, so I had to look up at him. When I did, he said, “Someday, you’re going to be a writer.”

I have never forgotten that. I still think about it often. In the late nineties, I was halfway through writing a novel and once again heard his voice in my head. He talked about it often, so remembering that he was from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, I found a number online for a Tom Muise and called him. He didn’t remember me, which wasn’t surprising, but I told him I wanted to thank him for the inspiration and that his kind words had not been forgotten.

Tom Muise died of cancer in 2008. I’m so glad I called.

I finished that novel and only sent it out once. One rejection is all it took for me to put it back in a drawer. Had I known then what I know now about no reward without risk, I would have kept at it and started collecting the pile of rejection letters that every published author holds dear. I still think about the story often and twenty years later, I’ve got pages of notes for a rewrite, hopefully with a more experienced voice. Shonna thinks I was holding back when I wrote it the first time and I know she’s right.

There was another novel after that, and both are printed and held together with cerlox binding, sitting on a shelf where I can see them as I write this. Last year, I bought three moleskin notebooks and keep them close at hand most of the time. I take them camping, on vacation, and on road trips. One is for the rewrite of the first novel, the second is for notes about the art book, and the third is for a new novel with the working title ‘The Dark,’ which will work well enough until something better comes along.

And yet, despite that the fact that I am not a writer, Mr. Muise’s words came to me and helped with my artwork over the years, too. Because what he was really saying was that I could do whatever I wanted to.

In every creative life, there are critical voices. They might come from family, friends, or simply in the form of drive-by posts on Facebook or shouts from the cheap seats through cupped hands. But the worst one is internal. It asks, “What makes your story so special? What an ego to think anything you have to say is worth anybody else’s time. What arrogance. Who do you think you are?

That toxic voice keeps a lot of people from realizing their potential. It’s loud, obnoxious, and provides innumerable excuses for failing to try. Every creative I know fights with that voice on a regular basis. It just told me to delete this self-indulgent post before I embarrass myself.

That’s the voice that made me stop sending out the book after one rejection. Today, it’s not as big and scary as it used to be. Having made my living as an artist for more than a decade, I’m very comfortable with rejection. It’s simply a part of the gig. Its life’s way of asking, “How bad do you really want it?”

There is a parable of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside each of us, constantly battling with each other. One is evil, the other is good. When the grandson asks which one wins, the grandfather says, “the one you feed.”

We each have that choice.

Editorial cartooning will be over someday, of that I have no doubt. Painting will likely be a large part of me as long as I draw breath. This recent urge to write more, however, is a mystery. It might be short-lived, simply dropping by for a little while as it has before. Or perhaps it’s just finally the right time.

What is clear to me is that to ignore the impulse would be a disservice to whatever other has granted me the ability.

So I’ll write, and see what happens.

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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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Space and Time

A third of the way into 2016 and I’m starting to see posts about upcoming events and excursions that used to interest me, but no longer do.

Despite the fact that I broke away from the norm and became a self-employed cartoonist and painter, it might surprise you that I’ve always been somewhat of a people pleaser, or at least that’s my instinct. I’ll usually go along with the general consensus of a group rather than create a conflict for no reason.

Last weekend, with the kids and spouses home to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary, my folks and I were talking about how I’m very much like my Mom. That’s a compliment. She’s a class act. But while I’ve inherited many of her skills and talents (that’s where the art comes from), the people pleasing also comes from her. She struggles with it, too.

The irony is that when you do that long enough, it eventually gets old and you start lashing out a little, or get a chip on your shoulder because you’re not getting the respect you think you deserve from friends and colleagues when they take advantage of that character trait. The truth, however, is that people treat you how you teach them to treat you and if you show them long enough that you’re not going to rock the boat, why would they expect anything different?

When those scales begin to tip, however, they can go a little too far the other way before your ship rights itself. I’ve gone along with things I didn’t want to far too often and have also been very militant about not doing anything I don’t want to during this uncomfortable realization.

Early in my career, I was part of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, NAPP for short. It was a great community full of photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and other creatives. There was a vibrant busy online forum of regulars and I became friends with many of them.

After a few years, I was making enough money to afford to go to my first Photoshop World event in Las Vegas, a conference that was part of that community. The second year I went, one of my images won the Illustration Guru Award and the Best in Show. In successive years, I ended up doing painting demos at the Wacom booth, got to know some of those folks with that company and have made some friends there, too. My last year at Photoshop World was 2014 and I again won the Best in Show Award for my painting ‘One in Every Family.’

It was a good year to end on and say, “Goodbye.”

I know some wonderful people today that I would not have ever met had it not been for that organization and those five trips to Vegas. My career moved forward in great leaps from being a part of that community, from the support I got from the members, instructors and affiliates to the immense treasure trove of knowledge I gained that contributed to doing what I love to do. It was incredibly inspiring, being around so many people who enjoy their work and watching them become better artists as well.

But things have changed. NAPP no longer exists and the organization became Kelby Media. It’s now focused so much on photography that while there are things I could learn, it’s just not enough to justify the expense. Many of those people I looked forward to seeing there each year just don’t go anymore. The whole feel of the experience isn’t what it used to be. The event has changed, and so have I. But, I have so many great memories and it was well worth my time, which is one of the best compliments I can pay.

I’ve also been seeing recent posts about the upcoming Canadian Cartoonists Convention in Toronto. The group was previously the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists but has expanded to allow others to join. I have not been a member for quite some time.

The only convention I’ve gone to was the one I actually hosted in Banff in 2008. It was a lot of work and budget restraints meant I couldn’t do the convention I wanted to, but people came and I did it because I felt I should. Parts of it were interesting as I got to meet some cartoonists I’d only known by their work and reputation.

I remember obsessing over details, working out a schedule, losing sleep many nights trying to make sure I remembered to take care of everything. On the first day of scheduled classes/discussions, we got started twenty minutes late because people just wandered in whenever. One of the older cartoonists told me that this was normal, these guys didn’t really do well with schedules and being anywhere on time.

That was a clarifying moment for me. I remember thinking, “Oh, I really don’t belong here.”

It became clear that my first one was probably my last one. The upcoming convention looks to be a three or four day event of talks, tours, meals and parties and I just don’t see the benefit to me. With limited time off during the year and funds with which to do so, that doesn’t even crack the Top 20 of trips I want to take. Many of these folks are competitors whose business choices have made my life more difficult and some have irreparably damaged industry rates and practices.

I’ve never been a good actor. How do you play nice in that environment, especially when you’re getting nothing out of it?

It occurred to me this morning, that while that convention is going on next month, I will be on my first camping trip of 2016. I’ll be sitting by a lake in British Columbia, relaxing, reading, sketching, taking pictures, enjoying good food and drink with friends I have known for years. That’s where I want to be.

I used to feel I had to apologize for not wanting to be a part of that editorial cartoonist organization, just as I should for no longer wanting to go to Photoshop World. Hell, I wasn’t even going to write some of this stuff down for fear I might offend somebody. See, that people pleaser instinct is tough to keep at bay.

There comes a time when you really do have to look at how many days you might have left (likely less than you think) and ask yourself how you want to spend them. Personally, I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars to attend conferences that deliver no worth to me. I’d rather be working.

The more success you find in anything, the more people will feel free to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, for no other reason than you’re not doing what they want you to do. You can’t change their opinion, and as time passes, you realize you don’t even care to.

Lake

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Death Cartoons and David Bowie

BowieAs an editorial cartoonist, one of the topics I loathe is death cartoons.

I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but it all comes to mind again today with the death of David Bowie. You want the brutal truth, here it is. When somebody dies and I hear about it in the news, I weigh the depth of their publicity and decide whether or not I have to do a death cartoon, which for me, is often a memorial, more painterly than my other cartoon work. I’ll often include a quote, their name, and the birth/death dates.

Many cartoonists will draw the pearly gates, where there is a humorous or heartfelt exchange between St. Peter and the recently deceased. I loathe that concept and have never drawn a ‘pearly gates’ cartoon, at least as far as I can remember. For one, I’m an atheist, but otherwise, it’s just an overused vehicle that grates on my nerves.

That last statement makes me a hypocrite, by the way. I have recycled plenty of overused vehicles in my time as an editorial cartoonist, just not that one.

It seems incredibly callous that I must end up passing judgment on somebody’s life, whether their death is worth my effort. Does this person’s passing warrant the expense of my time and energy and will newspapers want to publish it? I have to ask myself that question. Then I must answer it.

Politicians, it comes down to their impact on society, the level of their station and historical significance. Celebrities, it’s whether or not they were beloved or famous enough. Religious leaders, artists, social activists, anybody who has contributed to our culture in some way or another merits weighing them on the decision scale.

Yes, it feels as dirty as it sounds. Sadly, it’s part of the job. In the case of Robin Williams, I deliberately chose not to draw a cartoon, even though he warranted one. It just hit me at a very low point in my own life and I didn’t feel like digging a deeper hole.

I woke this morning at my usual time of 5AM. I live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I have newspapers in the east so I need to get an early start every day, especially on Mondays. As I’ve done this for years, I even get up that early on weekends, because it turns out I’m a morning person and that’s when I do my best work.

My routine is to go into my office, turn on the computer and go downstairs to start the coffee. I come back up, check my email, scan the news headlines and hop into the shower. If there’s a breaking story, I’m thinking about cartoons.

The first email this morning was a CBC news alert about the death of David Bowie.

“Shit.”

Yeah, that sucks. 69 is not old anymore and cancer, well… shit. David Bowie. What a shame.

No doubt I had to do a cartoon and even though it was unlikely to happen, I had to try to be original, which is a tall order at the best of times, but especially when doing a memorial cartoon. I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t using a quote, because that guy was a poet and everybody else would be quoting his lyrics or something profound that he said. Many would be using the same ones.

I showered quickly, got dressed, grabbed a coffee and starting looking for reference and ideas. The only thing I could think of was to do a portrait but it would have to be quick. I’m an obsessive nitpicker when I paint and I invest a lot of time in that work. But on a Monday morning when all of my papers are expecting cartoons before 10 and everybody and their dog is posting memes and my competitors will be doing the same thing I’m doing…yeah, I had to be fast.

I found a few reference pics, figured out what I was going to do, put down the broad strokes, got the features in the right place and then just painted, with upbeat music playing in the headphones to help me keep the necessary pace. The choices were made on the fly. Originally it was going to be Bowie when he was young, then as Ziggy Stardust, even as The Goblin King from Labrynth, then finally just a portrait of him as an older man, trying to capture his personality.

I used my own digital texture brushes, layer upon layer upon layer, threw down darks and lights, and just kept piling it on. Eventually, getting to a point where it was coming together quickly, after only about an hour and a half of painting. Finally, I wanted to add in some different colour and almost did the full Ziggy lightning bolt on his face, but opted for more of a suggestion of that persona, faded like an old tattoo, a remnant of his past but still a big part of who he is and what he’ll be remembered for.

The final piece ended up taking only a couple of hours, and yet still stretched my skills, that element of haste forcing me to cut corners, paint more loosely, and sacrifice the detail I normally enjoy and am known for in my painted work. I even abandoned my usual practice of using typed text, having to choose an appropriate font and instead just scrawled in the name and dates. It just seemed to work.

This piece ended up being a happy accident, brought about by the sad passing of a true visionary. I didn’t just have to do a death cartoon, I realized that I wanted to, a small tribute among so many today, paying respect to an artist whose impact on music and culture can’t be overstated. Few of us can claim that we have lived our lives so well.

I’ve drawn a lot of death cartoons and when I finish one, I usually feel a sense of relief, that it’s over and I can move on to something else, despite the fact that the responses are usually very positive.

With this one, however, I feel I’ve learned something, and become a better artist as a result.

This piece made an impression on me.

Just like David Bowie.

BowieClose