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Pit Stop

I started a new painting yesterday morning. About an hour or two in, I found myself wondering at what point I should share a work-in-progress screen shot on Instagram or maybe record another video or two of a close-up of the brushstrokes. Suddenly I wasn’t focused on the painting, I was thinking about promoting it.

In our online content-obsessed world, there’s a ton of pressure on self-employed artists to always be sharing images, works-in-progress, blogs, memes, photos, thoughts and snapshots of life in general. A lot of that pressure is self-inflicted. For most of us, there’s nobody standing at our back, cracking a whip.

Working artists are not only driven by the need to earn financial compensation for our creations, but to also get the likes and shares, new subscribers, and to expand our reach and audience. It’s an endless quest for that validation high, convincing ourselves that just a few more followers will get us closer to the carrot on the stick.

Like any addiction, it’s never enough. The dopamine hit that did the job yesterday doesn’t quite do it today.

Promotion and advertising is part of any business, there’s no escaping it. While it would be nice if there were any truth to that famous whispered line in Field of Dreams, it’s a fantasy to believe that “if you build it, they will come.”

Yes, I know the line was actually “he” will come, but I’m paraphrasing.

If you’re in it for a living, it’s not enough to create something; you have to sell it. It becomes a hamster wheel and it’s easy to lose perspective. It feels irresponsible to ease off on the gas pedal, that any momentum earned will immediately be lost. But it’s an unsustainable pace, and every machine needs maintenance.

I’m taking a summer break from the promotion.

I’ll still be drawing daily editorial cartoons, filling print and calendar orders, answering emails, shipping and delivering the masks when they arrive, basically running my business as usual, but I’m trying something new.

For the next little while, likely a month or six weeks, I’m taking a break from the blog, newsletter, and Instagram to focus on painting and writing. I need to get better at time management, and something has to give, at least in the short term.

I want to work on a piece, without having to think about how to share it, either while it’s in progress or when it’s completed. I want to finish a painting and not have to immediately write about it, size it for the site and Instagram, copy and paste the gaggle of hashtags, then check to see how many people like and comment on it over the course of that day.

It often feels like shouting in a crowded stadium, desperate to be heard above the noise.

After sharing this post (ah, the irony), I’m temporarily deleting the Instagram app from my phone and iPad. It would be too easy to tap that icon and fall back into the habit.

It’s a scary proposition, filled with what-ifs. I might lose subscribers, followers, sales, interest, but I don’t think that’s realistic. I’m simply taking a vacation from sharing everything, carving out time to regroup, to consider where I want to go with my work.

When I come back, I expect I’ll have a few new paintings, wildlife photos and stories to share. But who knows? As we’ve all learned the hard way this year, nothing is certain.

Enjoy your summer.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Still Not Painting

I’m writing this on a Saturday morning when I had intended to start a new painting.

I’ve chosen the reference. But instead of opening a new file and putting brush strokes on a blank page, I’ve been surfing around the internet, pretending that I’m working.

At first, I checked the daily Postmedia papers to see if I was published today in any of those half dozen dailies. The Edmonton Journal printed my cartoon about a recall of the whole year of 2020.

I read a couple of articles before a little voice in my head asked, “Shouldn’t you be painting?”

“Give me a minute, OK?”

Somewhere along the line, at the bottom of something I was reading, there were suggestions for other articles. A couple of well-written headlines caught my attention, clearly based on an algorithm’s evaluation of what I’d be most likely to click.

Somewhat effective, because I right-clicked on half a dozen, opened them in new tabs and began reading.

Still not painting.

I read part of four articles. One was about celebrities pandering to issues like Black Lives Matter and social injustice. After a few paragraphs, I was no longer interested. I already know celebrities do that to boost their own profiles.

Another article asked why civilizations collapse and addressed the misconceptions surrounding that. I’ve long been interested in South American cultures, specifically the Mayan and Incan civilizations, so I went down that road for a while. It wasn’t very interesting, so I closed it halfway through.

I forget what the others were about, but the last one was called A Splash of Red, by author Gabriel Cohen. It’s about how he found a cheap apartment in New York, only to discover it had been the scene of a grisly murder. I quite enjoyed the article, and you can read it here.

At the bottom of the piece, however, it reads,

“Gabriel Cohen is the author of six books; has written for the New York Times and many other publications; teaches writing at Pratt Institute; and is about to teach a course in writing crime fiction at the Center for Fiction’s Crime Fiction Academy in NYC”

SIX books?

Son of a bitch.

My green-eyed monster leaned over my shoulder to see what woke him up and murmured, “That guy’s a real writer.”

I’ve long wanted to write more. It’s an ache, a daily itch in my psyche, complete with a ticking-clock sound effect that grows louder all the time.

The silly part is that I’m actually a prolific writer. I’ve kept an active blog since 2008. Before I was a cartoonist and long before I painted funny looking animals, I wrote two novels. But I chickened out on sending them, and twenty years later, I’m convinced they’re crap.

I’ve started another novel; I’ve got extensive notes, good ideas, plenty of inspiration and life experience to put it all onto the page. But my energy is spent finding any excuse not to write. I thought 2020 was the year I’d finally put up or shut up.

2020 had other plans.

Hey look, I found another excuse. There’s rarely a supply shortage.

I Googled “fear of writing” and came up with a couple of encouraging articles, telling me things I already know. I’ve done this search before, many times. This is a well-travelled road.

A sponsored writing course pops up, and I click on it. It tells me all of the right things, has all the right testimonials, and I think, “That’s what I need.”

I already know that it is NOT what I need. You become a better writer by writing. I tell this to students about art all the time. You want to draw or paint; you have to put your ass in the chair and do it.

Still not painting.

I’ve got a dozen books on writing on the Kindle app on my iPad, one on how to write good characters, another on language for rural settings, another for writing good dialogue, all of them as of yet, unread.

An hour and a half after I sat down this morning, before diving headfirst down this rabbit hole, I have not painted one brush stroke. Instead, I have beaten myself up about my lack of a disciplined writing routine, am now frustrated that I’ve wasted a good chunk of my morning with unproductive time on the internet, wishing that I’d got up this morning and started a new painting as planned.

Still not painting.

Procrastinating to avoid starting a new painting, I ended up writing about not painting.  Even though I create art for a living, I still begin each piece convinced that it will suck, even though the evidence of past work doesn’t support that insecurity.

Still not painting.

Still not writing.

At least not the writing I want to be doing.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Ripley – A Portrait

In 2014, the cast of the 1986 film, Aliens reunited at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. There were autograph signings, photo ops, and a stand-alone event one night where the cast was interviewed, and shared stories in front of an audience of thousands.

Because I was working at my booth, selling my funny looking animal prints, I missed it.

For one reason or another, sci-fi and fantasy movie fans have one favorite franchise.

For some it’s Star Wars, others it’s Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel Universe and many others. While I can take or leave the Lord of the Rings, I enjoy those others and have seen them multiple times. Then again, I’ve seen all of the Scorsese’s stuff multiple times, too.

I just love movies.

Even though television writing has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and I’ve got many shows I like, I’d choose movies over TV every day of the week.

I’ve been a fan of the Alien movie franchise for most of my life, although I can’t remember when I first saw the original movies but I know it wasn’t in a theatre. I do know that the gateway movie for me, however, was James Cameron’s Aliens.

Over the years, I’ve owned the box sets in multiple formats and have watched them often. I own all six on Blu-Ray and digital and enjoy each movie on its own and as part of the whole. I could rate them in order of preference, but I’m not a militant fan-boy about it. They’re still just movies.

You won’t find me on a forum anywhere arguing continuity errors, or debating the Ridley Scott vision of the canon vs. James Cameron’s. I didn’t get angry when Prometheus and Covenant went off in a truly unexpected direction, because I’m just a fan along for the ride. They don’t owe me anything and truth be told, I like those latest movies, too.

I don’t have shelves full of toys and action figures…OK, I have one xenomorph figure, and I also have the poster for Alien: Covenant beside my desk, but simply because I love the art.

H.R. Giger’s Alien design and art wasn’t part of why I started liking these movies, but it certainly is today.

It’s fun escapism and for whatever reason, this franchise resonates with me. I can quote more lines from Aliens than from any other movie, much to the eye-rolling annoyance of my wife.

For reasons I need not explain, I’ve been pretty low the past couple of months. Lost a big chunk of my newspaper clients, the licensing momentum I was looking forward to building upon this year has been crippled,  the Calgary Expo was cancelled, along with two trips to Vancouver Island this spring and summer, and until recently, I haven’t been able to see my friends.

I haven’t slept well in quite some time and my back is killing me, both directly related to my inability to deal with stress. It’s been a shitty year so far, as it has been for everyone.

I have little motivation to paint happy animals right now, because I’m just not feeling it.

Even before the virus-that-shall-not-be-named ruined everything, I’ve fallen down in the dumps creatively from time to time. It happens to all artists.

While it usually occurs at the end of the calendar year, when the darkness and cold of winter sets in, this year it’s spring, usually my most upbeat and productive time of year. It’s a feeling that everything I’ve ever painted sucks and there’s no hope for it to get better. I’m a hack, kidding myself about my skills, might as well throw in the towel and give up this foolishness. Anyone who creates anything knows this feeling at some point.

What has worked in the past to help me shake the blues is to paint a portrait of a movie character I like. It gives me a break from the commercial stuff, reminds me why I like painting, and has no financial pressure or deadline attached to it. With a few exceptions, most of the portraits in my Character gallery were painted for my own enjoyment.

Canadian Geographic Magazine commissioned me to paint Rick Hansen in 2018, and a couple paintings have attracted attention after I posted them on Twitter years ago, most notably Martin Sheen and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The latter sent me two tweets from the International Space Station about my work, a surreal experience.  But, I don’t really expect the subject will see the portrait I paint of them.

So even though I’ve been focused on keeping my finances secure during all of this, trying to maximize revenue, my mood has been steadily declining and I needed a break.

I figured my skills might finally be good enough to attempt a painting of my favorite movie action hero, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in multiple films.

My buddy Derek once asked me if she was a movie crush and no, it was never about that. What I admired about the character was that she was a regular person, put to the test. Step up or buckle, and most likely die.

At a time when women in action movies were usually just damsels in distress, T&A accessories for the men who would ultimately save them, Ripley became a leader who held it all together and kicked some ass, even though she didn’t want the hero role.

Say what you want about James Cameron and the stories about him being difficult to work for, but he’s always written great roles for strong independent women. Sarah Connor in Terminator, Rose in Titanic, Lindsey in The Abyss, Neytiri and Grace in Avatar, and Ripley in Aliens.

True, Ridley Scott birthed the Ripley character in the original Alien movie, but it was Cameron who allowed Sigourney Weaver to turn her into a badass.

Interesting side note about James Cameron’s creative skills, it was his hands drawing the portrait of Rose in the movie Titanic. He was drawing right handed for those scenes but is actually left handed. He also drew all of the sketches in Jack’s portfolio for that film.

Throughout this painting, I found myself rushing it at times and having to stop myself. This wasn’t a deadline, I had all the time in the world, and the whole point was to enjoy it, get lost in it, and to improve my skills with the work.

While watching the movie again to find reference, I had a lot of options. I could have painted her with the pulse rifle in the action hero pose, the alien eggs around her, ready to start firing. Maybe in the power loader suit doing battle with the Alien Queen, or standing outside on the planet after they realized they were stranded on LV-426, right after Newt says, “They mostly come at night. Mostly.”

I know, I’m descending into nerdy stuff here. Bear with me.

Ultimately when I choose to paint a character, there’s usually a look I see on screen, combined with the right lighting and I just know that’s it.

This painting is from a scene close to the end. The colony has been blown up, the drop ship has returned to the Sulaco in orbit and Ripley is telling Bishop that he did okay. Seconds later, the Alien Queen emerges from the landing gear, tears Bishop in two and starts looking for revenge.

It’s at that moment, Ripley looks up at the Queen in disbelief, but realizes once again that it’s either step up or run and hide. That’s the moment I painted.

Not long after, Ripley steps out into the light in the power loader and says one of the most memorable lines in movie history.

“Get away from her, you bitch!”

The two hardest parts of any painting is starting and finishing. Getting those first lines of the sketch down, convincing myself, “I can do this,” while a louder voice in my head says, “No, you can’t.”

Eventually I come to a moment when I have to say, “This is the best I’ve got right now” and call it finished, while that other voice is saying, “well your best ain’t much.”

It happens on every single painting.

In between those moments, however, it’s like working clay, smoothing out the curve of a cheekbone, lightening a shadow that’s too dark, choosing colours, angles, highlights, a hair here, another there, and putting in the hours, all in search of an accurate likeness and bringing a vision to life.

A likeness in a portrait isn’t about getting the features right, it’s about the relationship between those features as well. I could paint the eyes perfectly, but if the nose is too far away from them, or the angle of the mouth is wrong, the whole thing falls apart.

It’s a balancing act, zooming in and out, squinting, painting tweaks here and there, flipping the canvas and reference back and forth to see what I’m not seeing, shutting it down and walking away, only to open it again the next day and instantly see something I need to fix.

Finally I had to call it done; knowing that a year from now, I’ll look at this and think I could do a better job of it. But that’s art for you; it’s the epitome of the cliché about the journey vs. the destination.
As for the whole cast coming to Calgary that year, my priority was my booth, not signatures and photo-ops. The video of the interview session in the corral was put online later on, so I still got to watch all of that after the fact. I enjoy behind-the-scenes stories of movie making, especially ones I’ve enjoyed for years.

I did share an elevator with Lance Henriksen, who played the android Bishop, at the Palliser Hotel that week, twice in fact. I didn’t embarrass myself, and simply said it was nice to see him and I hoped he enjoyed Calgary.

Shonna and I and our friend Michelle were having a late dinner one night in the lounge, when almost the entire cast of Colonial Marines from Aliens came in to have a drink together. Peppered around the room were other celebrity guests. It was quite the surreal environment, but in true Canadian fashion, nobody approached or bothered them, mindful that they deserved their downtime too.

I never did see Sigourney Weaver or Bill Paxton that week, but I was fine with that. Had I the skills to have painted this portrait then, I might have lined up to have Ms. Weaver sign it, but that would have been an exceptional circumstance.

At the end of the Expo that year, while everybody began tearing down, a voice came over the loudspeaker. I don’t know if it was live or recorded earlier, but Bill Paxton recited some of his most famous lines from Aliens, including Hudson’s “Game Over, Man”, with intentional overacting.

After five long days, the vendors and staff exhausted, weary and wanting to go home, the place went nuts with cheers and applause. That’s one of my favorite memories from Expo, and a little bitter sweet. Paxton died four years later at 61, complications from surgery to repair a damaged heart valve.

I don’t know what I’m going to paint next, will need to give it a bit to see if this portrait shook loose the creative cobwebs, but I’m glad I made the time.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Are We There Yet?

End of another week.

Shonna and I had a trip to Vancouver Island booked for the end of August for our 25th anniversary, a glamping kayak trip, hoping to see orcas and other wildlife. The company let us know this week that their season has been scuttled. They can’t implement safety restrictions and still run the tour that we booked. It’s another gut punch, and we are disappointed.

As a friend recently said, “2020…the year of cancelled plans.”

Weddings, vacations, graduations, sabbaticals, reunions, the disruption to all of our plans and the ever-present uncertainty is weighing heavy.

I could vent, rant and rave, but there’s far too much of that online already and it just makes things worse for everybody, since none of us are having a good time.

Just because we have the right to an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to beat each other over the head with it post after post after post after post. People won’t remember whether you were right or wrong, they will remember how you made them feel when they were having a hard time.

I’ve got a friend with six inches of water in his basement because of a high snow pack and water table, three sump pumps going, thinking he might have to evacuate his home for the second time in less than ten years. Most of his neighbours are in the same boat, and there’s rain in the forecast.

I’ve got another friend who’s usually upbeat and positive, but his business has been deep in the red for months. It could take him years to recover. The last time I saw him, he admitted he wasn’t doing well, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do and he’s had enough.

Another colleague has been going through radiation treatment for cancer while trying to keep his business going through all of this.

These are just three stories of woe, and everybody you meet right now will have one, to varying degrees, including you. None is more important than the other, because to the person living it, it’s a darkness unique to them. And telling somebody, “hey, suck it up, because it could be worse,” will only make them feel guilty for having emotions, and surprise, that will only make them feel worse.

Given the choice of a nasty word or a kind one, choose the latter or nothing at all. I’ll admit to struggling with that, because I’m a reluctant misanthrope, which is just a big word for not liking humanity much. And yet, I know a lot of good people, so it’s both a paradox and hypocrisy.

You don’t have to be a super-positive, look-on-the-bright-side, we’re-all-in-this-together, it-could-be-worse, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow cheerleader. I’m certainly not. Just try not to make things worse for other people. Pause before you share every tragic news story, or your version of ‘truth’ story, passive-aggressive meme, or post designed to tell somebody else that they’re stupid because they don’t think like you do.

When’s the last time you changed your mind about something because somebody told you that you were an idiot for believing it?

There’s a well known internet axiom attributed to actor Wil Wheaton. It originated as a plea for sportsmanship and civility in the gaming community, but over the years it has been applied to any online interaction. It’s known as Wheaton’s Law and simply states, “Don’t be a dick.”

Consider that you likely don’t know what someone else is going through, assume they’re struggling and go from there. If you alienate people online, you’re alienating them in real life. Most people will not make the distinction, and you’ll wonder why friends have started to avoid you.

Some of you might be reading this thinking, “hold on, I know you in real life and you can be a bitter, cynical, depressed, neurotic, fist-clenched, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn sourpuss grump.”

Agreed. I’m well aware of my own shortcomings.

But I’m working on it.

Have a good weekend,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Do What You Can, With What You’ve Got

In every crisis, there comes the inevitable requests for financial help.

The situation in which we find ourselves right now is challenging in ways we’ve never seen, especially with so many affected. Homeless shelters, food banks, and aid organizations are the obvious ones, but now we have friends whose businesses are failing, neighbours with challenges they’re unable to meet, not to mention that many of us have lost our own jobs or businesses.

The need is overwhelming.

We’re now seeing the sprouting of GoFundMe pages and those are likely to increase as this pandemic wears on. Organizations, businesses, and neighbours who were barely going to make it if this thing wore on for a month, are now realizing that it’s going to drag on for much longer and are desperate to find solutions.

Donation fatigue is something we’re already used to around the holidays, and when schools, children’s groups and charitable organizations do their annual fundraising. It’s going to set in a lot quicker right now, as we all deal with having less to spread around.

Despite the guilt we might feel by having to say No to most of these requests, you’ll be doing nobody any favours to exhaust your own savings and resources trying to be everything to everybody.

If you have organizations you help throughout the year already, and I hope you do, the best thing you can do for them is to continue to focus on their needs, especially if you have much less to go around.

My wife donates to the local SPCA every month and she’s going to continue doing so. I give a monthly donation to the Alberta Institute of Wildlife Conservation and they can count on my continued support.

Discovery Wildlife Park has established a GoFundMe page to help them make it through this tough time as they have many mouths to feed and don’t know if they’ll be able to open this year. If you’ve followed my work for longer than five minutes, you know how important those people and animals are to me, so we were happy to donate to that yesterday.

While I haven’t yet made a donation to the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale this year, I hope to in the very near future.

When my whimsical wildlife face masks are available, I’ll be sending some to all four of those places, whatever I’m able to give.

But like everybody else, my own business has taken a significant hit and I expect those hits will keep coming, especially with no immediate end to this crisis in sight.

What that means is I’ll have to decline any other requests for help. It’s the only way I’ll be able to keep my own livelihood intact and also keep helping the organizations to which I feel a close connection and obligation.

Everyone’s situation is different, some are better and worse off than you think during this crisis, and it all depends on how well they hide it.

So, I’d like to make three requests.

First, if you can help any organization, give anything at all, please do. If a struggling neighbour or local business needs your help and you can give, do that, too. But if you can’t help right now because your own financial situation is stressed, then think about your favorite charities and organizations once you’re back on your feet. They need help now, but they’re going to need even more later on.

Second, if you’re one of those making the request for help, understand if people have to say No and have some empathy for how hard it is for them to do so. We’d all like to give to everyone, and to have to decline comes with no small amount of shame. It’s a double hit to our fragile egos, that we don’t have enough and thus don’t feel we are enough if we can’t help.

Finally, be careful about volunteering somebody else. It’s very easy to see a need, then tell a friend, “you know what you should do…” putting them in an awkward position from which it’s difficult to escape.

We’re all learning as we go as we navigate these uncharted waters. It’s going to get more difficult before it gets easier, in ways we haven’t yet begun to fathom.

Resist the urge to point fingers of blame at anyone you see making choices with which you don’t agree. That includes our elected officials at all levels who have the weight of so many lives resting on each decision they make. The information they get is changing day to day and the strain can’t be easy to bear. Despite any preparation they could have done, nobody saw this coming to this extent. This will be a significant landmark in modern human history, the full effects of which will only be known in hindsight.

Help where you can, and if you can’t right now, then cut yourself some slack. This will be a long game, and your time to play your part will come.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Daisy

Many of my paintings have an interesting back story, but not this one.

A friend posted a picture of her daughter’s dog on Instagram, and because she’s already kind of a caricature…the dog, not the friend, or her daughter…amazing how quickly this went off the rails. Anyway, I realized I wanted to paint her…the dog, not the…never mind. Before I knew it, we were exchanging emails with photos and I was painting a dorky little Corgi named Daisy.

As this wasn’t a commission, this will eventually end up as a print and I’ll be uploading it for licensing. There’s a market for Corgi images, right? I mean, other than Buckingham Palace?

Seems a lot of people are dealing with boredom right now in our self-isolation, but I’ve actually been working longer hours than before. Drawing editorial cartoons, communicating with clients, investigating and preparing images for new revenue streams, writing and painting, it’s all keeping me busy. I’m still getting up at 5 every day, trying to keep to the same routine.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was having a hard time finding my painting groove in all of this, but I seem to be over that hurdle. Finishing this painting was easier and more enjoyable than the middle part. I’m pleased with the result, and I’m already thinking about the next one.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Snake Bite

I’d like to begin by saying that I’m feeling better since my last post, so no need for a warning on this one.

I’ve concluded that what I needed was to get that shit out of my head and onto the page. It’s a cliché from old westerns that if a cowboy gets bitten by a rattler, the first thing you do is suck the poison out.

Now, putting aside the fact that it would never actually work and, depending on the level of innuendo that infers, the disturbing imagery, it’s what came to mind when I woke the morning after I wrote that post.

While I had reservations about posting it in the first place, I’m glad I did, because the response from many of you was a little overwhelming. Some of you just wrote to tell me they hoped I’d feel better, others shared their own issues with all of this, and apparently, I put into words how many of you are feeling.

A couple of you even attempted to give me a bit of ass-kicking. I tolerated that because I knew it came from a place of good intentions. At least that’s what I’m choosing to believe.

My friend Crystal from Calgary, a self-employed graphic designer, always a source of encouragement to her fellow artists, sent me a link to Brené Brown’s latest podcast. It was a welcome suggestion because I’ve long enjoyed Brown’s insights, but also because that particular episode gives me (and everyone else) permission to feel bad without the accompanying shame that often goes with such self-pity.

I’d encourage you to give it a listen; there’s a link at the end.

Writing all of that was cathartic. That evening, I avoided the news altogether, stayed away from the internet and slept well in my own bed that night, woke at five feeling better and worked on cartoons while listening to music.

Feeling better the next day was evidence of what I said in that dark post. You have to give yourself room to feel your pain, so it doesn’t overwhelm you. I’m not saying I won’t visit that abyss again, probably more than once in this self-isolation experience, but I know what to do when it happens.

I’m going to write it down. Not to worry, I won’t continue to inflict them on you by posting them, but just the exercise itself, to vomit it all out to make room for moving forward, is therapeutic.

I know that many people feel their writing skills are lacking or that they don’t write well, and that’s fine. You can still go through the exercise without showing it to anybody, just put onto the page what you’re feeling, without judgment. Don’t worry about sentence structure, paragraphs, grammar, spelling or any of that crap. Just get it out onto a piece of paper or a screen as fast as you think it. You can write swear words for a full page or a four hundred character, “AAAAAAAAGH!”

Exhaust yourself with it. Write until you can’t write anymore. Leave it all on the page. Be whiny; feel sorry for yourself, make it all about you; feel your pain. That post I wrote was twice as long before I edited it and went even darker than what you read.

Then take that page, or two pages, or three, crumple it up, tear it into little pieces, throw it in the trash, light it on fire (outside!) or close the file, and when it asks if you want to save it, click NO.

If writing doesn’t work for you, find a way to feel it without guilt or shame. Listen to that podcast episode, if for nothing else than to remind you that we all crack from time to time, and it’s OK.

I don’t regret writing that dark, depressing post. I needed to write that post. I don’t regret sharing it, either. We spend so much time in this life pretending we’re strong when we’re not, denying that we’re vulnerable, feeling ashamed of who we are and trying to be everything to everybody. All it does is make us miserable and no good to the people around us, anyway.

The proof is in the practice. After writing all of that, I wanted to paint again.

Cheers,
Patrick

OTHER NEWS:

Speaking of news, I’d like to make a request. Please don’t send me news articles or links to news articles, especially not opinion pieces. I’ve been following the news more closely than anybody should for more than twenty years. The deluge of information we’re receiving now is ridiculous and moving so fast that what was news this morning is no longer news in the afternoon. I appreciate that it probably comes from good intentions, but thanks in advance for refraining.

Other types of emails, however, are always welcome.

CALGARY EXPO:

The Expo was postponed until July, and they gave vendors the option of a refund, a booth at the July show, or skip this year, with paid funds moved to next year’s booth at the same rate. I chose the last one for a few reasons.

If there is an event in July, I don’t think there will be many guests, people will still be in shock from this and won’t want to assemble with that many people, and they won’t have much money to spend anyway. There’s no doubt I would lose money by doing the show in July.

So for those of you I see each year at Expo, I’ll see you in April 2021…unless we’re still in lock-down.

Here’s the Brené Brown podcast link.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Bad for Business

If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen any new paintings in the most recent posts, it’s because I’m having trouble focusing on that. I did get up at my usual 5 am with the intention of painting this morning. I’m in the early stages of a little Corgi right now, but not making any headway. Instead of painting, I ended up surfing apocalypse news stories, brainstorming cartoon ideas for the only topic in town, and fretting over finances.

I’m sure that most people are doing the same thing, minus the cartoon idea part. That’s pretty specific to my profession.

This kind of ruminating and brow-furrowing is unproductive, bad for business and even worse for mental health.

How many of you are sleeping well right now?

Don’t answer that.

One thing that will come out of this, for the businesses that survive it, will be some interesting innovation, born of desperation. Many are trying to come up with new ways of making money to stay afloat, some I’ve seen are rather clever. And I think when this is over, a lot more people will continue to work from home, for companies that find it benefits their bottom line.

While they haven’t announced it yet, much to the growing impatience of vendors and attendees, the Calgary Expo is undoubtedly a wash this year. There’s no way this will be over in a month, at least not to the point where 90,000 people are going to want to get together in extremely close quarters. If you’ve ever been to a convention that size, social distancing is impossible. All the hand sanitizer in the world won’t help you in that Petri dish.

Since I’ve got plenty of stock right now, I’m going to assess my options and hope to have some specials and deals to announce in the next few days. I know extra funds are in short supply right now, but there might be something enticing for you.

As a recent customer said in the memo section of his order, “I’ve got to have something to look at while in quarantine.”

In the meantime, I wrote another post for Wacom this week, 9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists.  Even if you’re not an artist, give it a look, especially if your work and home are suddenly the same things.
Hopefully, I’ll find my painting mojo soon, but it ain’t happening today. I’m probably going to tidy my office and do inventory.

Hope you’re all well and making what you can out of this overabundance of uncertainty.

I’d make a horrible life coach. 🙂

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists

Our current global situation is unprecedented, and we’re each trying to figure out how to adapt to the new normal. We all face similar challenges; how to stay healthy while still getting groceries, staying connected with our family and friends, and planning our day to day with limited resources for however long our self-isolation lasts.

Each profession, industry or walk of life, however, will have specific hurdles to overcome, so this is directed at creative types.

Most of us find ourselves confined to quarters right now. You might be a professional artist who already works from home or one who works for a company and suddenly finds yourself working from your residence. You might be an art student home from school or a hobbyist who now has some extra time to devote to creating art.

Whatever your situation, I hope some of these tips give you ideas and inspiration to make the most of this challenging time.

I’m a professional artist, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for newspapers across Canada and a painter of whimsical wildlife. My painted work is licensed internationally on many products through different companies and sold as prints in several zoos and via my online store. I’ve been working from home full-time for the past fifteen years and part-time for five before that. I’d like to share with you some productive practices I employ to make the most efficient use of my time. I’ve learned most of these from correcting my own mistakes over the years. Here goes…

1) Set Up a Work Space

I work from a dedicated office in my home. When I’m in this space, it’s work time, so it’s easy to make that mental shift when I walk through the door. Occasionally, I’ll work at the kitchen island if I want a change of pace, but the majority of my work is done in front of my Wacom display, sitting at my desk.

I get that not everybody has the space for their own office. Twenty-five years ago, we lived in a tiny apartment, and my workspace was a small desk in the living room, jammed in beside the TV. When I sat at that desk, however, it was creative time. Facing the wall was a big part of that because there were no distractions in front of me.

2) Get Dressed

It is tempting when confined to your house or working from home to let yourself go a little, and that’s fine, but staying in your pajamas all day or throwing on a robe without showering will not put you in the right mindset to work. Get up, shower, and put on clean clothes. You don’t have to wear a power suit or anything silly like that, but being clean and presentable counts. It will make you feel like a professional. Walk your talk.

I wear pretty much the same thing every day unless I’m going out. My lounge pants could very well be used as PJ bottoms by some, but I wear them for comfort and a t-shirt. If it’s chilly in my office, I wear a hoodie. But it’s all clean clothing every day. If somebody comes to my door, I am presentable and don’t need to apologize for my appearance. How you look impacts how you feel.

3) Establish a Routine

If you’re new to working from home, a routine is vital. You’ll be forming new habits in your new work environment and what you prioritize will determine your success. I have no boss other than my clients, but I get up at 5 am every day, even on weekends. I do some moderate exercise, meditate for 15 minutes, shower and grab my coffee and am at my desk by 6.

This is my routine, and by sticking to it, I get a lot done.

Obviously, you don’t have to get up as early as I do. I’m a morning person and established that time when I needed to get cartoons drawn and sent before going to my regular job. When I went full-time at home, I stuck to that because it works for me. Find what works for you and stick to a schedule.

I am at my creative best first thing in the morning, so I make sure I’m ready to work during that time. I save the afternoons for admin work and other parts of my job that don’t require my best creative skills.

It is too easy to sleep in, laze around, watch some TV, and figure you’ll do some work when you feel like it. Before long, hours have passed; you haven’t done anything, and then you beat yourself up for your failure.

Talent will only get you part of the way. Success comes from self-discipline, in all things.

4) Avoid the Kitchen

You’re at home; all of your favorite foods are available. It is effortless to make multiple trips to the kitchen and have little frequent snacks. A few crackers here, a cookie there, some chips, a handful of nuts. Before you know it, you’re gaining weight and can’t figure out why.

Stick to regular meals, and if you’re not getting your usual level of activity, make meals smaller than what you’d typically eat. You won’t starve and can adjust as needed. This goes back to having a routine.

5) No Excuses

If you have a primary focus in the art you’d like to create, then get to it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. That’s an excuse used by artists who don’t want to work. In my experience, the work comes first, and the inspiration follows.

Nobody is saying you have to work a four-hour stretch, chained to your desk. Start with a half-hour. Work for 30 minutes, without checking your phone, going on social media, watching Netflix, chatting with a friend. This is creation time! Start with less and build upon it.

6) Stop Scrolling

The biggest distraction we have, especially in stressful times like these, is our handheld devices. Silence your phone, turn off notifications, avoid social media and the news. You will survive a half-hour, hour, two hours without knowing every little thing going on in the world. Right now, it’s all pretty bleak, anyway, so what are you missing? There is no way to immerse yourself in your art with one eye on your phone.

7) Take Some Training

Every creative needs to keep learning. Even knowing that, it’s tough to make it a priority. I primarily need to use my creative time to produce art to pay my bills. With some extra time at home lately, I’ve been catching up on some online training and enjoying it.

Despite our present challenges, we live in a great time right now. Anything and everything is taught online. And best of all, with money tight for many, a lot of it is free. Not just click-bait teasers with the meat of the instruction behind a paywall, but real valuable art training, more than you could ever take in a lifetime, is available for free from world-class instructors.

You just have to go looking for it, and then make the time to watch, learn, and practice.

I’m an expert in painting and drawing in Photoshop, which comes from twenty years of doing it. And yet, I watched a recent tips and tricks video and rolled my eyes at some skills I could have been using, but didn’t know existed.

8) Try Something New

I’ve known many creatives in my life, and one thing I’ve noticed about most of them; they’re good at more than one kind of artistic expression. I know many painters who are also musicians. A tattoo artist I know is a skilled 3D modeller. An animator I know is a killer character designer. All are creative pursuits requiring different skills.

There was a time when I devoted a lot of my energy to learning Flash animation when many thought that was the direction editorial cartooning was heading. I got pretty good at it, but nobody wanted to pay what it was worth to create. And I didn’t like it much.

I was a bad graphic designer for a short time. Didn’t have the eye for it, nor the interest. I painted caricatures of people. I was good at that, but there wasn’t much call for it, and I grew tired of it.

But all of that work was worth my investigation. All of it taught me something, and I can trace a direct line through each of those pursuits to the painted whimsical wildlife work that is now half of my business. It pays, I’m good at it, and I enjoy it a great deal. I don’t think I would be doing it had I not tried those others first.

Part of trying new things is also realizing what you don’t want to do. By process of elimination, you might find your true calling. But you won’t know until you try.

9) Reach Out

We’re told to self-isolate, but we have the means to connect with anyone in the world.

Everybody is living this situation; we’re all nervous, a little afraid, and misery loves company. Just talking with people like you, who are going through the same thing, will ease tensions. Best of all, you never know what insights or opportunities might come up in an email exchange, Facetime chat or Skype call.

Just this morning, a graphic designer friend in a nearby city recommended a podcast to me that turned out to be one I liked. She was correct; it was right up my alley.

The other reason to reach out to your network is to get work. There might be skills you have that you don’t actively pursue that deserve a second look now. Survival under challenging times requires adaptation and approaching problems in a new way.

Be respectful, open-minded and receptive. The person you contact might not have any work for you, but they could suggest somebody else and offer an introduction or recommendation.

Nobody will give you these opportunities. You have to ask for them. And be honest in your inquiries, because it’s no secret that we’re all navigating strange waters. There’s no shame in saying that work has suddenly become difficult to find, and you’re exploring your options. Right now, that won’t surprise anybody.

They might say no, because a lot of companies are suddenly finding themselves in the same situation. But they might also say Yes.

How do you think I got this writing assignment?

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(this article was commissioned by Wacom, you can see it on their site here.)

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.