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The Delight Is In the Details

I began a new painting last weekend, which will have a high-speed painting video to go with it. I didn’t intend to paint this animal right now, but the video narrative will explain the choice and why I tried to talk myself out of it for all the wrong reasons.

A week into it, I’m enjoying the work a lot more than I thought I would because I stopped overthinking it and surrendered to having some fun.

With daily editorial cartoon deadlines, the usual admin work, and other myriad tasks that go with self-employment, I usually reserve Saturday mornings for painting. I paint throughout the week, of course, but if I’m home, Saturday morning is usually my sacred painting time. Sundays are one of my busiest days of the week because I draw two editorial cartoons to send out first thing Monday morning.

This week was a little different.

Shonna and I were fortunate to book our first vaccines for mid-morning on Saturday. Grateful to get our shots; it was obviously our top priority.

While it doesn’t happen every year, there have been times where I haven’t felt that great the day after my annual flu shot, a common possible side effect with any vaccine. A couple of friends both felt a little under the weather the day after their COVID shots, so I planned to take Sunday off if needed. This meant getting my editorial cartoons done on Saturday.

I had still planned to get up at five on Sunday as usual, but with the cartoons done, I realized that I could paint all day if I felt good. If I didn’t, no big deal.

I woke feeling fine, more than a little relieved to have received the first shot, so I spent the day painting hair, fur and features. I don’t recall the last time I switched up that routine, but I might do it again. I enjoyed the freedom of having the deadlines done a day early.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the detail so far. And no, it’s nowhere near done yet.

As Shonna worked at her part-time job Sunday evening, I decided to watch Kong: Skull Island again, a light, fun, monster movie. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

The original King Kong was released in 1933. That’s 88 years ago! The original monster was stop-motion, clunky, and laughable by today’s standards, but it was an incredible achievement at the time. Since then, each of the eleven King Kong remakes has pushed the realism envelope a little more.

I watch a lot of movies more than once and get something new out of them each time. This was no exception. The camera got close to Kong’s skin, hair, eyes, and I frequently paused the movie to take a good look at the incredible realism they achieved.

One of the things I love most about movies today is the extra content. From Director’s commentary to behind-the-scenes features, I enjoy seeing how movies are made, the artistry and collaboration of hundreds of creative professionals coming together to realize a shared vision.

In one featurette, Jeff White, the Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Director for ILM Vancouver, explained how they brought Kong to life. While he talked about the structure, rigging, muscles and skin, it should come as no surprise that I was most fascinated by how they achieved such realistic hair.

“He’s covered in about 19 million hairs. A lot of the detailed styling and sculpting of the hair is all done by hand. We had two artists working on it for almost a year, just on getting all the different styles and looks to his hair.”

He then went on to talk about how messing up the hair was a big challenge because, in the story, the fur would get wet and damaged, which would change the texture and consistency.

Two artists worked on hair for a year?!

I have a lot of patience painting hair and fur because I enjoy it so much. I’m always trying to achieve a new level of realism. While I never quite get there and will eventually abandon a painting to move on to the next one, I’m now inspired to try even harder.

Granted, for two artists to devote that much time to get the hair right in the movie, they had to be compensated, so their bills got paid. I would imagine there were more than a few days where that meticulous detail got tedious, especially when the software started acting up, as it always will from time to time. This would have been an incredible amount of challenging hard work.
But when they saw their efforts come to life on the big screen, for it to look so delightfully real and terrifying, I can only imagine their pride in the accomplishment. I also suspect they both still noticed flaws that nobody else would see.

Because that’s what artists do. We are always our own worst critics.

This morning, while continuing to work on the current painting, I decided I’m not going to rush it. I’m taking a little more time on this one to push it further because I’m enjoying it so much.

I’ll be pleased to share the finished piece and the video that goes with it, though I don’t currently have an idea when that will be. But even if I’m happy with it, it won’t be long before I see the flaws, wish I’d done something different, and try to do better the next time.

Because that’s what artists do.
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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The Musing Meerkat

Many artists I know have multiple shelves full of art books. I only have about a dozen of this type of book. Any more than that and some would probably never get opened more than once. As it is now, the ones I have only leave the shelves about once a year. But I’m still tempted to buy every time I see a new one.

Some notables include The Art of Tangled, a favourite animated movie, Drew Struzan’s Oeuvre, and Sebastian Kruger’s Stones. And I’m not even a Rolling Stones fan, I just enjoy Kruger’s study of them.

One of the things I love is the sketches and smaller illustrations peppered throughout these books. They’re usually unfinished doodles, sometimes chicken scratches, often looking like last-minute additions to fill up too much white space. But this accent art is deliberately and carefully chosen to compliment an illustration or story.

I enjoy seeing the bones of an illustration, the gestures, the rough idea, where the artist might have begun and what changed between the concept and finished piece. You can learn quite a bit from what the artist discarded.

I’ve long wanted to do an art book, but it’s always over the next hill.  You readers that have been with me for years (thank you!) will recall my mentioning this once or twice (probably more). I could make any number of excuses, but it’s a pretty easy truth to admit — I haven’t made it a priority. There are plenty of stories in my more than a decade of blogging about my art, and I’ve got much more finished work than I need to fill a book. Hell, I even have a publisher who wants to make it happen.

So the failure to launch is all mine, a victim of fear, perfectionism and procrastination. I have visions of boxes of books in my garage, gathering dust for years.

However, even if I conquer the imposter syndrome, one ingredient that is still missing is all of those little sketches and rough illustrations that I enjoy so much in other art books. I barely have any.

Even though sketching for fun, drawing from life and for practice has long been proven to make an artist’s skills better, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so for many years.

Almost all my work ends up being a finished painting. I spend a lot of time beforehand planning it out and choosing the correct reference. I experiment while I’m painting, but all of it leads to having a fully rendered piece done at the end of each beginning.

One of the reasons I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil was that I wanted to do more digital sketching. The procreate app is an incredible bit of software. It’s better for digital drawing and painting than Photoshop was for most of my early career. Plenty of artists are doing finished work on it, some impressive stuff.

But I haven’t been using it as often as I thought I would, at least not for drawing.

I recently went through my photo archives and grabbed a bunch of reference I liked, but not enough to contribute to a finished production print. I uploaded many of these to the iPad and promised myself that I would make more time for sketching, drawing and painting that I may or may not show to people, but eventually, they might be good accent pieces for an art book.

I started on this meerkat earlier this week. I got it to a point where it was a decent sketch, and I could have put it away and started something else. But I was having so much fun with it (dammit!), I didn’t want to stop.

Before I knew it, I was painting in little hairs around the ears and muzzle, adding finer detail work,  and experimenting with a different brush style. While not quite as refined as some of my other work, this could be a production piece.

And because procreate has a great feature where you can record every brushstroke, I could export that, edit it, add some music and voila — a high-speed short video with some fun music to go along with the brush strokes.

Once again, I have failed at creating some rough sketches but succeeded in having some more fun rendering a funny-looking animal painting. I’ll call that a win.

As for sketching, I’m probably going to have to set a time limit — 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and I have to stop when the buzzer goes off.

Otherwise, I’m just going to keep painting.

Cheers,
Patrick
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Zen and the Art of Course Correction

It would be an understatement to describe this past year as challenging. However you choose to define it, we’ve all lost something, and much of it won’t be coming back.

Those newspapers that laid me off a year ago said that it would be temporary, but to still believe that now would be wishful thinking. We can choose to desperately hang on to false hope or have a moment of grief and move on.

Like many people, I’ve been struggling with next steps and feeling a little bit helpless and defeated, despite knowing I’ve got plenty for which to be grateful.

There’s an old Zen proverb that states, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a couple of mentors, people without whose assistance I might not be a self-employed artist today.

In 2001, at thirty years old, I was drawing a weekly editorial cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon, something I’d done for a few years. At the time, I had no designs on becoming a professional artist; it was just an amusing side gig.  Even still, I began drawing other cartoons for casual clients along with some illustration work. When my newspaper publisher discovered this, she told me I could only draw cartoons for The Crag in Banff and couldn’t do any other cartoons. For $30 a week, I was not about to accept that and planned to quit.

At the same time, an upstart newspaper was about to launch in Canmore. The owners wanted to create a better vision of a paper for the whole Bow Valley, consisting of Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. One of the Crag and Canyon reporters left to join the new paper and let them know I was unhappy. The new editor had already planned to offer me the job as their editorial cartoonist.

It was only a bit more money, but Shonna and I had just left Banff to buy our first home in Canmore, and the timing was right.

Carol Picard was the editor and part-owner, and before too long, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. I told her it was difficult for an unknown artist to sign with a syndicate.

She told me that was silly, that I should do it myself, something I didn’t know was possible. At the time, submissions went by fax (look it up, kids). So I went to the library in Calgary to find all of the addresses and contact info for Canadian newspapers. None of that information was as yet available online.

And I bought a fax machine.

For the next couple of years, in addition to the Rocky Mountain Outlook cartoon, I drew two or three cartoons a week, sent them out to newspapers and got almost no bites. It was brutal, demoralizing and I came close to quitting many times. I had a full-time job to pay the bills and drew cartoons early in the mornings before work and in the evenings afterward, as well as every weekend.

It took over a year of submissions, but I still remember my first syndicated weekly paper, The Vulcan Advocate. They paid me $10 a week for a syndicated cartoon. That first $40 cheque was like winning the lottery. By the end of the second year, I had two papers.

Carol no longer owns the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but it survives and thrives today. Their competitors, the same two papers that ridiculed them for their brash audacity; one is gone and the other is a shell of what it once was.

I still draw a local cartoon for The Outlook. It will be twenty years this fall since their first issue, and I have never missed a week. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be an artist for a living had Carol not intervened at the right time.

During those early first few years of syndicated cartooning, I watched a Sunday morning news show where they interviewed one of Canada’s most notable and accomplished editorial cartoonists, Terry Mosher. Drawing under his nom-de-cartoon, Aislin, he’s been a cartoonist since the late 60s, part of the foundation of the Montreal Gazette.

In the interview, he remarked about how difficult it was for young cartoonists to get started. In my early thirties, I was not so young, but knowing little about the rest of the industry, with no contacts to speak of, I threw a Hail Mary pass and sent him an email, asking for advice.

He replied with one line, “Send me some of your stuff.”

Over the next few years, we got to know each other, and he introduced me to the world of Canadian editorial cartooning. He told me I needed to draw more, that I had to send out at least five cartoons a week, rather than two or three.

As I wasn’t a very good artist, with no grasp of the fundamentals, it took many hours to draw a cartoon, three or four times what it takes today, so I struggled to increase my workload.

Terry was the editorial cartoon editor of Maclean’s Magazine and put me in the rotation in the company of some of the most well-known cartoonists in Canada. It paid $400, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. He introduced me to Doug Firby, the former editor of the Calgary Herald. Doug was generous with his time and advice and started using my cartoons when their in-house cartoonist Vance Rodewalt had days off.

Terry came out west in 2003 with his wife to talk at the Banff Centre and visit family in Jasper. They took Shonna and I out to dinner, and we were their guests at his presentation. It was an exciting visit. I had the assignment for Maclean’s that week. Though I don’t recall the cartoon’s context, I had to draw former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, and I remember sending Terry the cartoon for his OK while he was still in Jasper.

He called me and said, “it doesn’t look like him.”

Having spent hours on it, I was crushed, but he told me over the phone how to fix it. Put his eyes closer together; his hair is bigger; you’ve got the mouth wrong. I scrambled to write it all down and worked ’til 2 in the morning fixing it, even though I had to be at my day job by 8:30. His critique was accurate, and he said my revision was much better.

Terry taught me how to take constructive criticism. There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

I was so appalled that I had failed to capture Klein’s face that I became obsessed with becoming an expert at capturing likenesses, which has served me well in my painted work. When Klein retired from office in 2006, I painted a caricature that appeared in the Calgary Herald and other Alberta papers. I sold a few prints of it and somebody gave him one for his retirement. This photo appeared in the Calgary Herald.

My credibility as a Maclean’s magazine cartoonist opened doors with many other newspapers across Canada. In 2005, I quit my day job and became a full-time professional artist.

Because Canmore is one of Canada’s most expensive communities in which to live, there was no chance of living on one income. Shonna and I agreed that if I couldn’t pay half of the mortgage and bills, I’d get a part-time job. It didn’t seem like as big risk then as it would now.

Both Carol Picard and Terry Mosher were the mentors I needed at the time, and I remain forever grateful for their help.

Some time ago, my friend Crystal, a graphic designer in Calgary, recommended a podcast by David Duchemin. I’ve written about it before.

David has had a strange but wonderful creative career. He’s been a comedian, photographer, author and educator. I guarantee there are other professions in there with which I’m not yet familiar. His podcast is geared toward creatives, and it’s quite inspirational. We’re about the same age, but I think of David as older than I am, based on his wealth of experience.

I’ve never shied away from sending emails to people whenever they’ve influenced me or provided content worth my time. I know what it’s like to work in a lonely profession. No matter how successful or influential you might imagine someone might be, they’re still just people. We all like to know that we’re doing a good job or are providing value to somebody else.

People are too often quick to criticize but slow to applaud.

When I’ve found one of his podcasts particularly resonant or uplifting, I’ve sent David an email.

Not too long ago, following one of those messages, for which he was always gracious and kind, we got into a more detailed discussion about this business of art. He lives on Vancouver Island, one of Shonna’s and my favourite haunts, and he’d already said to let him know when I was next in the area.

But not too long into this discussion, he said that we should have a phone call.

After some initial small talk, David suggested I could be doing better at marketing my work. Realizing he was treating me with kid gloves, I assured him he could speak frankly. He wasn’t criticizing my art but my business, and I already knew I had plenty of room for improvement. As I said, I welcome constructive criticism, especially from somebody who has walked their talk.

He hit me with both barrels, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

For two hours, David lobbed marketing advice and ideas at me, and we had a fascinating discussion. Many of these suggestions seemed so obvious in hindsight, but I had never considered them. Grateful for the help, I asked him why he was so generous with his time and advice, especially since we didn’t yet know each other well.

I can’t remember his exact words, but it came down to this – for the quality of my artwork, I should be a lot further ahead, and he wanted to help me get there.

David gave me a crash course lesson in getting more newsletter followers and better serving them. He stressed the importance of focusing less on individual sales and more on my relationships with those who’ve supported my work for years. His philosophy on serving my audience revealed how I’m already doing that well and pointed out where I could be doing better.

He helped me make improvements to my website, with more changes coming. He suggested I offer desktop and mobile device wallpapers to my audience, something I should have thought of years ago, but it had never occurred to me. The immediate positive feedback from my subscribers was overwhelming. They loved them!

He reminded me that many of my customers buy my work for the children in their lives. Wouldn’t they love to be able to give their grandkids, nieces and nephews colouring pages of my paintings? What about publishing a colouring book from them later? Let me tell you, that was a palm to the forehead moment. I’m releasing a few of those to my subscribers today, and I learned a lot while creating them.

David was surprised with how quickly I’ve implemented some of the ideas generated from our discussions. My view on that is simple. When somebody gives you a push in the right direction, the one you’ve REALLY needed, you don’t sit down and think about it. You take advantage of the momentum and speed up.

That’s how you show your gratitude for their generosity.

I wrote to David the other day, “While telling my wife about our last chat and the options you suggested, she said it was nice to see me excited about my work again, focusing on forward movement, rather than worrying so much.”

He replied, “That makes me very happy.”

I don’t know how long I’ll benefit from David’s willingness to share his hard-earned knowledge with me. I’m simply going to do the work to be worthy of it.

If you’re a photographer, designer, illustrator, cartoonist, any other type of creative, I’d encourage you to check out his site and listen to his podcast, ‘A Beautiful Anarchy.‘ Recommend it to any creatives in your life, too, especially if they could use a boost.

My first two mentors showed up when I was at a significant crossroads in my career and life, though I only recognized it in hindsight.

This time, there is no doubt.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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NFTs: The Art in the Machine

you can listen to this post above or read it below.

If you were to bet on what artists around the world have been discussing this week, you’d be wise to put your money on NFTs.

No, this won’t be a long boring technical explanation of the intricacies of the technology. Plenty of tech-savvy people are doing that right now, many of whom are much smarter than I am. Google it, and buckle up. It’s a bumpy ride.

Why are NFTs big news right now?

An artist named Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the name of Beeple, sold a digital piece of art through the Christie’s Auction House for $69 million. Not a canvas, mural, or sculpture, but a digital file, much like any other image you see online.

It was not a rare image. Anybody can see it.

But it was unique and exclusive, which is where the value lies.

In the simplest terms, the buyer purchased a piece of original art in a format that cannot be duplicated or replicated. Anyone can download a picture of the Mona Lisa, or a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card, or see the entire issue of Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman). For collectors, however, the original is the treasure.

When it comes to collectibles, the value is determined by a group of like-minded people deciding that something is special and by how much somebody is willing to pay for an item. Whether it has historical significance or cultural gravitas certainly contributes to potential, as does rarity, but ultimately it’s the perception of value that matters rather than material value.

After all, a baseball card is just a piece of printed paper.

Many children of Baby Boomers find out the hard way that their parents’ collectibles aren’t worth nearly as much as they thought. Our whole childhoods, we were told to be careful around this or that item, because it was worth a lot of money. But when houses downsize or estates settle, the inheritors find out that much of it isn’t worth anything at all.

Those once valuable collectibles are now flooding the market, and successive generations aren’t interested in buying them because it was their parents’ culture, not their own.

So what does this have to do with NFTs?

These Non-Fungible Tokens, a horrible term that will hopefully change, are unique in the digital realm. They’re ushering in a new era in collectibles, the opportunity to own rare or one-of-a-kind files that nobody else can have. They can be resold and traded, just like any other collectible.

They can be images, videos, animations, music, books, gifs, memes, basically anything that you can see online. Until recently, one guy owned an original Banksy that he bought for $95,000. He recorded himself setting it on fire, minted it as an NFT and sold it for $382,000. It’s the spectacle, the story and the moment in our cultural history that gave it value.

There are a lot more fantastic stories in recent weeks of people buying and selling crypto art for ridiculous amounts of money, many of them unremarkable pieces that might as well be titled “OMG, WTF?”

You might think, “but it’s a bunch of ones and zeros; why would I ever want that?”

I don’t get it, either. And I’ve been a digital artist for more than twenty years.

But I’ve also never seen the value in paying millions of dollars for a Jackson Pollack painting, a Picasso, or big money for memorabilia of almost any kind. I’m a big fan of the Aliens movie franchise, but if somebody offered me Ripley’s jacket from the movie or a script with James Cameron’s notes on it, I’d admire it for a little while, then sell it to fund a vacation or buy a camera lens.

I like the story of Moby Dick. You can buy Melville’s tale of the white whale anywhere, and it will cost you very little. However, a first edition recently sold for the same price as a new SUV.

I am not a collector. Of anything. But a lot of people are.

At first glance, NFTs seem like ways for wealthy people who have way too much money to spend trying to impress each other by buying and selling unique items that only have value because they say they do. When it comes to the 1%, the uber-wealthy throughout history have always played that game.

The whopper of an NFT sale made the news for the same reason it makes the news when somebody wins the lottery. For most people, a significant sum of money symbolizes freedom from difficulty and allows us to judge other people for spending their money on something we think is stupid. It checks a lot of emotional boxes, which helps news media sell advertising.

We’re not as complicated to figure out as we think we are.

I’ve received half a dozen emails this week mentioning this big NFT sale. I spent about four or five hours reading articles and listening to podcasts unpacking this phenomenon. As with any topic, my opinion and evaluation will shift to accommodate new information, but here’s how I currently see it.

The Tech

NFTs exist on the blockchain, the same technology that allows cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum to circulate. In simplest terms, blockchain is a database. Once something is recorded to the blockchain, it can’t be changed, which is why it is lauded for its security. It consists of thousands of computers worldwide, and when transactions happen, all of them must verify and agree with the details of that transaction for it to be deemed authentic.

If there’s an error on one computer or somebody attempts to hack it, the other computers correct the error to match their records. The only way to change the data or complete a transaction is for the majority of computers to agree.

A hacker would have to control 51% of all these computers to make a fraudulent change.

Like most tech stuff, you don’t need to understand all of it to appreciate or use it.

Fear and distrust greeted the arrival of the internet in the mid-90s. Nobody wanted to put their private information on it, certainly not their banking or credit cards. As it evolved, we became more comfortable with it.

You need no other proof of our acceptance than social media. We know that massive corporations are using our personal information against us daily, and we don’t care. The irony is that we spend so much time on these platforms complaining about other companies and governments doing the exact same thing.

But that’s a foaming-at-the-mouth rant for another day.

We used to rent movies at Blockbuster, buy all of our products in stores, had landlines in every home, racks of records and CDs, and got our pictures developed at photo labs.

I was an early adopter of the digital art medium in the late 90s. Other artists often gave me sour judgmental looks and comments when I said that I worked digitally.

“Oh, the computer is doing the work.”

When people don’t understand something, it’s easier to dismiss it than admit their ignorance. We often greet any change with anger because if the world changes, we might have to change, which is frightening.

These days, most commercial art you see is created digitally. Photographers formerly devoted to film wouldn’t dream of going back to their darkroom days. Authors who criticized e-books in their infancy now appreciate their earning potential, bypassing publishers altogether and finally earning a living from their writing.

Artists 20 and 30 years younger than me have no hang-ups about digital art or any of this technology because they grew up with it. It was always there. They aren’t afraid of it.

The problem with new things like this is that tech-savvy people overexplain the inner workings and scare the hell out of everybody when it first comes out. It happened with the advent of the internet, but now we use it without thinking about how it actually works.

When it comes to blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs and the other ingredients in this new tech stew, most people only need to know that it will likely change the world and how we do things in ways we can’t yet comprehend. Just like the internet did.

Some of the Cons

There’s some concern about fraud, but it’s not about hackers.

Say somebody decides to take a copy of a digital art piece, mint an NFT from it, claim it as the original, and sell it. Once the transaction is complete, it will be complicated to get the money back and confiscate the NFT.

NFTs are ripe for money-laundering, but that’s always been a problem with the art world. The wealthy have long used extravagant art purchases to hide large sums of money and avoid paying taxes.

But there’s one really big problem with blockchain, cryptocurrency and NFTs. Because all those computers need to verify each other to maintain such a high-security level, the environmental impact is massive. I mean, HUGE!

There was even a website for a short while that took random NFT images and estimated how much energy it took to create them on the blockchain. I looked at about a dozen, and most of them consumed the same energy as an average household uses in three or four weeks. Others measured the usage in flight time of a Jumbo jet, hundreds and thousands of hours. The site is no longer active because it became about people judging the art’s quality rather than the environmental cost.

This last one is the primary reason I am not minting any NFTs right now.

Don’t get me wrong; if somebody gave me $70 million for an original file of one of my funny-looking animals, I would take it. Then I could donate a bunch to wildlife causes and soothe my conscience for the energy waste. And buy that cabin by the lake, have a movie theatre room, and horses, and…

Where was I?

Many artists who don’t already enjoy massive popularity or make large sums of money suddenly think that NFTs will change that. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that isn’t how life works.

Lightning does strike, people do win the lottery, but most of the time, there are no shortcuts.

Every overnight success that we hear about spent many years toiling alone at their craft, often in relative obscurity.

I had never heard of Mike Winkelmann before this week, but I’ve since enjoyed exploring his work. The piece that got him the big payday was a collage of 5000 images created over the past 13 years. His 3D painterly style illustrations could easily be called editorial for their cultural commentary, and many of his pieces are insightful and thought-provoking. He’s an excellent artist and had almost 2 million followers on Instagram before this sale.

My next-door neighbour Chris, also an artist, pointed out that Beeple has been revered in the art community for a long time, respected for his incredible work ethic. The guy’s a machine for how much quality art he produces.

So how is this under the Con heading?

Because many people are focusing only on the fact that this artist, unknown to most people, just made millions on one piece of art. The press makes it sound like it’s only because of the NFT, rather than the art, which it isn’t.

The NFT was the vehicle, but the art piece was a story about a lifetime of one artist’s work. Yes, luck plays a part, as it always will. Many more skilled artists in the world have created many times the amount of work Winkelman has, and their names will never be in a headline. For Beeple, NFTs came along at the right time, with the right interest, after he had completed the right piece of work.

That’s just life. And sincerely, good for him. I like it when artists get paid for their hard work.

But to suddenly think NFTs will make every artist rich is just silly. Stories make the news because they’re unusual, not the opposite. It’s the reason we hear about one plane crash on the other side of the world, rather than the thousands that are in the air right now that will take off and land without a problem.

We’ll hear about more of these big sales for the next little while, but it will die down as it is replaced by something else. Probably a scandal involving one of the Queen’s Corgi’s having an accident on the wrong carpet.

But NFTs aren’t going away, and that’s a good thing.

The Pros

They’ll solve the blockchain energy problem, and it will become more affordable and less environmentally destructive. Right now, we’re in the early stages, which always costs more money and resources. One need only look at the ridiculous brick-sized mobile phones of the 80s or computers that used to cost a fortune and fill an entire room. Technology evolves with demand. There’s a lot of money to be made in blockchain, which means it’s in everybody’s best interests to make it more efficient.

Like most technological advances, we can see the possibilities are there, even if we can’t yet identify them. Nobody saw the myriad ways cell phones would change to become what we have now. It’s a wonder we still call them phones with how little they resemble the clunky black plastic thing that used to hang on my kitchen wall growing up. Do kids today even understand why we ‘dial’ a number?

Once the bugs get worked out, NFTs will make the lives of creators infinitely better.

At present, in most western countries, copyright is established as soon as the piece is created. You can register your creations with the US copyright office, but for the most part, it’s yours when you make it, with plenty of ways to prove it.

But artists get ripped off all the time. A woman in Ladysmith BC used my Otter image as her business logo and window art for three years before I found out about it and issued a cease-and-desist, and that’s just one instance.

With their unbreakable digital date/time stamps, NFTs will revolutionize copyright, offering one more means of proving ownership. Just as I back up every image to the cloud after I complete it, I expect that one day soon, it will be part of my routine to upload a finished piece to the blockchain.

It will also give digital artists authentic originals of our work to sell. The copyright will still belong to the artist; he can still sell prints, license the image and do whatever he likes with it, but that NFT will sell as the digital original.

In 2013, Emilio Estevez bought a canvas print of a painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. You can read the whole story HERE, but the short version is that he wanted the original. With digital art, all I could do was include a signed document that certified as much.

If the technology existed then, I could have provided the signed 18″ X24″ canvas and included the NFT original file.

Then there is the Smart Contract to go with it, allowing artists to stipulate different transferable rights for their creations. An author might create a limited run of her book, including editing notes, additional artwork, an extra Epilogue chapter, or a video diary. The sky’s the limit.

Already inherent in NFT smart contracts is resale revenue. When the buyer of an NFT sells that piece to somebody else, the artist will always get a cut. Right now, it’s somewhere around 5-20% of the sale price, but it could be anything, depending on the criteria applied when minting the NFT. Best of all, the artist will get paid. The money is never in the seller’s hands at the time of sale; the blockchain automatically deposits the percentage into the artist’s account or wallet.

Artists could create exclusive editions, limited runs, different versions, provide additional content.

Songwriters could offer an intimate acoustic session video to go with their limited edition album.

Photographers might release a photo diary, an editing tutorial, or a signed e-book.

The possibilities for additional art revenues are limitless, and the benefits to the creative artist go far beyond the lottery odds chance of making millions from one piece of art.

In the near future, artists could gain more control over their work than they have ever enjoyed in the history of art itself.

As in all things, when people get involved, there will be corruption. We can’t help it; we’re a shifty bunch of primates and our own worst enemies. But just like anti-virus software in our computers, chip technology on our credit cards and fingerprint logins for our phones, there will be solutions to problems.

As a self-employed artist, used to constantly protecting my work and watching my back, I think the next ten years might be a big leap forward for the creative community.

I’m looking forward to it.

Anything’s possible.
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting Pet Portraits

Meet Wellington Bomber, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and my latest commission. Having shown it to the happy client this morning, I can now share it with you. I’ll let it sit for a day, give it one last critical eye, then send it for printing tomorrow morning. I hope to ship it later next week.

It was a privilege to paint Bomber, and I quite enjoyed this one.

This particular painting was an unusual circumstance as the commission was a gift purchase, so I only talked with the recipient after the fact. I usually don’t accept these commissions because they have created problems if the recipient isn’t familiar with my work. Assured that Bomber’s owner knew and liked my work, I took the gamble.

I need not have worried. Both the giver and recipient of the gift were ideal clients. From start to finish, this was a perfect commission experience.

Painting pet portraits is a challenging undertaking. I know plenty of artists who don’t take commissions because they can be a minefield of unwanted surprises.

When the experience is good, however, it’s usually great. I’ve had some fantastic clients, and it’s those paintings that keep me doing this work. More than one client over the years has said that I made them cry, including this one. Let me tell ya; there’s no better compliment.

For other artists, clients and the merely curious, here are some of the hurdles involved with pet portrait commissions.

Photo Reference
Given a choice, I would always take my reference photos, but since most clients aren’t local, that’s rarely possible.

It can take some time to find the right images, which means back-and-forth emails with clients. Most of the pet portraits I’ve painted have been memorials. When the animal has passed on, my only choices are what they have. I’ve turned down commissions for lack of good reference.

Are we On the Same Page?
Clients hire me for one of two styles, and I require a clear understanding of which before I begin. Do they want a portrait style or my whimsical wildlife style?

When it’s a memorial commission, the client most often wants a traditional portrait.

Sometimes the client will say they want my whimsical style, but then they attach conditions and limitations. One client had a big slobbery dog I was excited to paint because I was going to put some long stringy drool and goofy personality into that face.

The client asked that I paint my style, but make him look more dignified with no slobber at all, which are conflicting instructions. To this day, I wish I could have done my version.

When I have the freedom to paint the way I see it, the painting could end up goofy or with slightly less caricatured expression, depending on how it comes together. Clients who agree to allow me that freedom usually get something pretty special.

Price
Some bristle at the price tag, and I think it’s because we’ve become accustomed to online mass-market gimmick art, especially when it comes to pets.

No doubt you’ve seen those ads where they stick your dog’s head on the body of royalty or a military general in a renaissance-style portrait for under $100.

You choose from a handful of template options and backgrounds, upload the photo of your pet, they cut, paste, apply filters, and voila, Fido looking cute in a faux classic oil painting. Anybody with Photoshop experience can easily create that sort of image.

For a fun, inexpensive novelty item, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get what you paid for, and I’m sure many people find it amusing and enjoyable. It’s also the same thing that thousands of other people got.

Hiring an artist to paint a custom painting of your pet is a whole other animal; pardon the pun. You’re buying an original piece of art that’s personal to you.

There’s a significant amount of time involved in a pet portrait, from the initial consultation to delivery of the finished painting. My price includes a ready-to-hang medium-sized canvas print and shipping, but the cost for that is more than it seems.

I have my canvases printed professionally in Calgary by ABL Imaging. Their quality standards are high, which means I never have to apologize for cracked seams, inferior quality wood on the stretcher bars, or the wrong colour. If I wouldn’t hang it in my home, I won’t expect a client to hang it in theirs.

But quality costs.

For a one-off 12″ X16″ print, it costs me around $150. Then there’s the 2.5-hour drive round trip to Calgary to get it. If I’m running other errands or going to the zoo to take photos, it’s a detour and worth it. If not, I’ll have a courier pick it up. That’s another $35.

If I’m shipping the canvas, that’s more time and materials, plus $30-$50 depending on where it’s going.

That’s just the cost of production and time, and we haven’t even got to the creative part, which is where the real value exists.

Time
Whether it’s art for a living or any other service provided by a self-employed professional, pricing needs to factor in time. You can’t create two things at once, at least not well.

There is time spent talking with the client, checking reference photos, explaining why one works and another doesn’t, having email conversations to ensure expectations are reasonable and that there’s a shared vision. That consultation time adds up.

Most importantly, when I’m working on a commission, that’s time I’m not working on editorial cartoons or paintings for prints and licensing.

Then there’s the actual painting time. A commission will usually require a minimum of fifteen hours, but most likely more, spread out over a few weeks, depending on my other deadlines. I treat the likeness and personality as I would that of a portrait of a person. It has taken me decades of training, practice and experience to create my signature style of artwork.

Just as a skilled trades-person commands a professional rate, so do creative professionals. People often think that because an artist enjoys his or her work, that they will (and should) gladly do it for free.

The work we choose to create is the work we enjoy most. The work somebody else wants us to do, that comes at a price. You are buying not just my art skills that took a lifetime to master, but also my work time, which I never get back.

This latest commission was a real challenge. I had a hard time with the personality, mainly because the dog is a senior. Goofy didn’t seem to be the right direction, so most of the character had to be more subtle, and I spent hours trying to get it right.

It was only when I stopped trying to force it that the personality showed up. I’m happy with the result, and my standards are so much higher than that of my clients.

Friends and Family
In my experience, artists are notorious people pleasers and pushovers, most often to our own detriment.

Friends, family and even total strangers often strongly suggest that they expect a discount or free painting, or they outright request one.

Most people mean well and don’t consider it a big deal, nor do they realize that they’re the 100th person who has asked you to paint their pet “in your spare time.”

Like most people, I don’t have spare time. Ever.

Live long enough, and you accumulate many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are genuinely lovely people, all of whom you want to give a discount.

But sooner or later, you’re going to lose your business because you wanted to be a nice guy.

The hardest thing people pleasers need to learn is how to say No. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. The worst part of it is when people get used to you saying Yes all the time, they’ll resent you when you say No.

Suddenly you’re not the nice person who has always been agreeable to their requests; you’re the rude person who has gotten too big for his britches.

Sometimes, it’s personal.
From time to time, I may want to paint somebody’s dog, for the same reasons I want to paint a wild animal. I see something I like, or I have a connection with the dog or cat, or I want to give a gift that only I can give.

I’ve painted my parents’ dog, who passed away last year, and I will undoubtedly paint their new dog.

Our next-door neighbours have a wonderful dog that Shonna and I adore. Running into her in the driveway never fails to brighten our day, and she gets offended if we don’t visit for even just a minute. I’ve already taken reference of her when she was still a big puppy, and I’m going to paint her eventually.

I’ve talked about the cabin north of here that friends and I have gone to in recent years. I drive by the owners’ place on the way to the cabin, and even if I know they’re not home, I stop to visit their dog, Jingles. I painted her in a portrait style simply because that’s what felt right at the time. I was happy to give them a framed print as a thank-you for always being such great hosts.
Whenever I finish these personal pieces, however, I always get messages and comments from people ‘offering’ to let me paint their dog, assuring me that their dog is adorable, cute, and has a great personality.

Almost every dog I’ve ever met matches that description, especially to their family.

But despite what most people think, art is a business, one that requires thick skin. Art for a living is finding a balance between producing work that pays the bills and making time for the work I want to do.

When I choose to paint a pet for my enjoyment, much like the portraits of people I paint, there is little to no market for that painting after the fact. People rarely want paintings of someone else’s dog to hang on their wall; they want a painting of their own dog.

Conclusion
When a client hires me to paint their pet, I take it seriously. Someone is choosing to spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on a personal piece of my artwork. Depending on where they hang it, they might look at it every day for many years to come.

I owe every client my best work.

Whether you’re an artist thinking of offering pet portrait commissions as part of your menu of services or a client thinking of hiring me or someone else to create a piece of art personal to you, hopefully this has provided a little insight.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to create art for a living for many years. The artistic skills have been challenging to earn, often frustrating, featuring many course corrections and more than a few dead ends.

But by far, the hardest lessons I continue to learn have been about the business of art. People want art in their lives, but they often forget to view it the same way they do other services and products. What’s worse, artists themselves are often the worst failures at running their own businesses for the same reason.

And to those artists, I will leave you with three critical thoughts.

Creating art is easy. Selling art is hard.

If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will, either.

Trying to please everybody is a recipe for misery, in art and life.

Cheers,
Patrick

A Final Word on Commissions
From recent market consultation and after careful consideration of my work’s value, I have increased my commission rate to starting at $1900.00, which includes the ready-to-hang canvas print and shipping. That rate is effective immediately, but my newsletter subscribers can still lock in the current rate of $1100.00 by booking a commission with a non-refundable deposit by March 31st.
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Calendars, Scarves, Masks, Oh My!

Thanks to everybody who bought calendars over the past few months. I’ve sold out of them myself, but it’s not too late to start each month with a different funny looking bear painting.

If you’re in Canmore, Banff or anywhere else in the Bow Valley, you can still buy them at Save-On-Foods. They’re on the right side when you walk in the front doors, along with some notepads featuring my artwork.

But if you’re anywhere else, you can order them online from Pacific Music & Art, too. Mike gave me a promo code for 10% OFF  for my followers for not only the calendars, but everything else on his site. That includes face masks, scarves, calendars and whatever else you can find.

Here’s the code… PATRICK10OFF

Now I won’t tell anybody if you give that code to somebody else, too. Mike’s really busy, so he probably won’t read this. Shhhhh.

Incidentally, the face masks have gone through a couple of redesigns since the beginning of our shared adventure. The latest versions have a filter pocket in them and each mask comes with two filters at no extra charge.

Here’s the link to my profile on Pacific Music & Art’s site. The masks are on all three pages, the calendars on the second page and the scarves on the third page. But take some time to look around, too. I’m fortunate to be sharing that site with some wonderful artists, each with their own unique style.
Speaking of masks, thanks to Murray from Edmonton for dropping me a line yesterday after he saw my Amur Tiger mask on the Discovery Channel.

Gold Rush is a reality show that follows a bunch of miners in the Yukon. Like many reality shows these days, they’ve got an after-show called The Dirt, where they talk about what went on, show some more footage, and give viewers more of what they came for.

Well on the Season 7, Episode 7 episode of The Dirt, they had a segment where they caught up with Tony Beets and Minnie in Mexico, where they spend their winters.

As Shonna and I don’t have cable anymore, Murray was kind enough to take some screenshots for me, including the one above. This kind of thing is always a treat for me. Even though Tony Beets likely has no idea who I am, and probably picked up the mask at one of Pacific Music & Art’s retail customers up north, he’s still wearing my art.

If you’ve been following my work for awhile, you’ll know that my Ostrich shirt has shown up on sportscasts, in a Netflix show and Ozzy Osbourne was wearing it on one of his shows as well, though I don’t think he really knew that he was wearing it.

I wrote about this strange phenomenon at the beginning of last year. You can read it here.
So, if you ever see my art pop up somewhere cool like this, I’d be grateful if you’d snap a pic and let me know. It always makes my day.

I’ve started a new painting and hope to share it with you before too long.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Thanks for Your Support

The podcasts I listen to change from time to time. I’ll add new ones, delete old ones, depending on what I get out of each and where I’m at in my work life.

The one that prompted me to write this post was recommended to me by my friend Crystal, a Calgary-based graphic designer. While skilled in her chosen profession, one of Crystal’s most outstanding qualities is that she is a cheerleader for other creatives.

Since I’ve known and liked Crystal for years, I take her advice seriously. While it was my licensing agent in Vermont that got me the deal, and I had little to do with it, Crystal has been bugging me for years to get my work on puzzles.  When I got the box of my artist samples from Spilsbury, Crystal was first on the list to receive two of them.

So when she suggested I listen to David duChemin’s podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, and said she thought I would connect with it, I didn’t hesitate.

David is a Canadian photographer and author, but his impressive skills far exceed his current professional pursuits. His podcast is not an interview format, but more of a ‘lessons learned and thoughts he’s thinking’ structure about pursuing a creative life. I could write a lengthy description, but David speaks better for himself than I could. I invite you to listen to see if it resonates with you as it does with me. There’s a link at the end.

When we’re allowed to travel again, one of the first places I’ll go is back to Vancouver Island. I cancelled two planned trips there this year, one for business, another a kayaking trip for Shonna’s and my 25th anniversary. As we’ve had some back-and-forth emails in recent months, I look forward to adding ‘meeting David in person’ to my next Island itinerary.

While beginning a new painting this morning, I listened to David’s latest, Episode 51: No One Needs a Juggler. In it, David talks about the feedback he received from another episode about his leaving social media.

In the current episode, he talks about the marketing challenges faced by self-employed creatives and some of the methods he used for reaching people before social media existed. It’s something on which I currently spend a great deal of mental energy. With so much content out there, it’s more challenging to get noticed in today’s world, but not impossible. It involves a great deal of work, not merely to create the art, but to get people to see it. While I am no expert at this and have made mistakes from which I’ve learned valuable lessons, I’ve also done many things right.

For most of my career, I’ve had a website that gets redesigned and improved every so often. I have it professionally done, try to keep it simple, and have always given serious consideration to feedback. I’ve kept a blog since 2008 and a newsletter since 2014, which has helped me become a much better writer. While blogs may seem antiquated to some, I regularly receive positive feedback on mine.  I’ve shared the details behind the work, milestones and setbacks, incredibly personal stories, both good and bad, frustrations, motivations, and highlights.

It would be easy to focus on the losses this year, and I’m not going to give you yet another positive ‘we’re all in this together’ message because we get those every day, and we’re all a little tired of them.

David’s podcast this morning reminded me of the one precious thing I have that I never want to take for granted, and that’s all of you.

Many of you have followed my work for a long time, some for almost two decades. Seriously, I could list a bunch of your names who have been supporting my work for well over ten years. Many of you remember the days when the extent of my work was editorial cartoons and celebrities’ caricatures. And a lot of that work was terrible!

Over time, the list has grown, and more of you have signed up for the ride. When I left Facebook and Twitter, many of you signed up for my newsletter. I know many of your names but have never met you in person, and I may never will. Some have never bought a print, calendar, mask or product, yet you send me regular emails telling me how much you like something I’ve created. That encouragement is just as valuable to me as a sale, and I mean that.

Some of you have commissioned paintings of your pets, a few more than once. I know which of you like big cat paintings, the ones who love bears more than any other animal, some of you name your prints when you get them, and some have even shared your personal struggles with me. I know that a couple of you buy prints to send to your grandkids overseas, more than a few of you have whole walls of my images in your homes, and I’m well aware which of you are patiently waiting for me to paint your favourite animal one of these days.

Though I do include links to the online store in each newsletter, hopefully you don’t feel like I’m always trying to sell you something. On the other side of that, however, I hope you understand when I have new prints or products to advertise or let you know about a pre-order or sale.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year like no other. While it’s personally been a challenging year, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually in a better frame of mind in December of this year than I have been in many others. I think it’s because I’m beginning to realize what I could be discovering if I wasn’t so desperately trying to hold on to what I’ve got.

2020 has taught many of us that the things we always thought we could count on are illusory.

I’ve got some new things on which to focus in 2021, stuff that I have been reluctant to try for fear that it might not work. I bought a webcam, and I want to try doing some painting demos on my YouTube channel. Not formal, scripted lessons, or start-to-finish paintings, but talking about what I’m doing while I’m painting. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, videos that answer common art questions. Who knows where it might lead?

Thanks for being here, for following along, for your encouragement, for the emails you send after I publish a newsletter or release a new painting. Thanks for so many thoughtful responses to the Cartooning COVID video essay I posted this week. I didn’t expect such a positive response, and I’m glad it connected with so many of you. Many of my newspapers either published it on their sites and social media or are doing so this week. One even called for an interview about it.

And finally, I will take some more advice from David duChemin’s podcast and do something incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to ask for your help.

It always strikes me funny when one of you sends me an email asking if you can share something I’ve sent. I not only love it when you think enough of one of my creations to share it with your friends and family; I want you to. Word of mouth is an absolute requirement for the success of my business and career.

When somebody buys a print from me, I always include a personally hand-written card in a little envelope, along with two business cards. One is for you to keep, and the other so you have one to give away. The best compliment you can ever pay me is to refer my work to somebody else.

So here’s the ask.

In the coming year, if I share a new painting, a video, a written post, a cartoon or anything else that connects or resonates with you, the best thing you can do to help me keep doing what I love to do is to share it. Please send it in an email to one friend, share it on your sites, on social media, private messages, or post a link to my site with my sincere gratitude.

If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or simply want to say hello, please drop me a line. I try to respond to every email I get, and I love hearing from you.

Finally, as this will be the last post before Christmas, I know it’s going to be a tough one for many. Long-time followers know that I’ve never been a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to diminish anyone else’s holiday. However different things look for you this year, I hope you can find some joy and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Cheers,
Patrick

As promised, here’s the link to David’s podcast and to my friend Crystals’ site.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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To Post or Not to Post

My wife Shonna is an excellent cook. She finds recipes online, experiments with them, and usually produces something delicious, although she always feels she could do better the next time.

We’ve had a running joke in our home for as long as I can remember. When Shonna gets ready to go shopping for ingredients, or starts gathering things in the kitchen, I’ll sometimes ask, “what are we having?”

Her answer is occasionally, “(Some recipe) or pizza.”

Which means, “I’m trying something new, and if I screw it up, you are going to get pizza.”

I think I’ve had to get last minute pizza maybe three times in the 26 years we’ve lived together.

Shonna has a job she likes at a law firm, and works at Safeway part-time, because while she’s minimalist when it comes to stuff, she still has expensive tastes. Not for clothing, jewelry, or a luxury vehicle, but with most things, she consistently buys the best quality she can afford.

We budgeted more for our recent renovations, so she could get the kitchen she wanted, rather than settle for something less. She hated our old kitchen.

I can keep myself alive, and have simple skills in the kitchen, but I am not a good cook, primarily because I don’t enjoy it. I’ve had to convince Shonna that cooking is creative, that if she and I both followed the same recipe, it would be the difference between fine dining and a TV dinner. She doesn’t realize how much tinkering to taste she does, based on interest and experience.

Shonna has never had interest in cooking professionally, she just enjoys the challenge, the process, and of course, the result.

Recently, she bought a Staub Cocotte, which to me is just a heavy and expensive pot. She told me she’s had this recipe for no-knead bread for about ten years, and finally wanted to try it. I had no idea why she needed this French cooking pot, considering she has so many other cooking pots. But she lit up when telling me about it, kind of like me with a new Wacom display.

The bread was delicious.

All I needed to know was, how do I clean it, without damaging it?

When Shonna’s spent hours in the kitchen making a delicious meal, which will usually involve plenty of leftovers, it’s a foregone conclusion that the cleanup is on me.

Sure, she cleans as she goes, puts some stuff in the dishwasher, isn’t throwing food at the walls but I’m the cleanup guy, without complaint.

Since I work at home, I do most of the housework. As for most of us, it’s a boring chore, but a necessary evil. The only thing I like about it is the result.

We each do our own laundry, but I wash the bedsheets. Shonna will sometimes pick a deep-clean project, but the day-to-day tidying and cleaning is on me.

Even though I have a full plate of work right now, I found myself fuming earlier this week for no apparent reason. I got a cartoon done and sent, but I couldn’t shake the dark cloud over my head. I had already planned on sweeping and tidying, but once I got moving, I kept going.

We live in a townhouse condo. Not a big place, but three levels with two flights of stairs, and luxury vinyl plank flooring throughout. That was the second round of renovations a few years ago. It’s a great floor, but it’s dark, so it gathers and shows dust. Sweeping always takes longer than anticipated and the stairs need to be done twice. But it’s always a good feeling when it’s done.

In my grumpy mood, I needed to burn off some steam. So after sweeping, I decided to wash the floors. Not with a mop or wet Swiffer, but hands and knees washing, multiple water changes, moving furniture, shaking out area rugs. It took about 2.5 hours.

After her own difficult day, Shonna appreciated coming home to a clean house, I was able to spare her my foul mood, and I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment.

I had another opportunity to reinforce this lesson later in the week.

At the end of my work day on Thursday, something somebody said to me prompted me to write a post about how following the news and social media all day is bad for mental health. In our current global situation, increased time spent at home has more people glued to their devices and cable news.

We’ve become more afraid, anxious, and angry which keeps us going back to those poisoned wells looking for certainty, where there is none to be found. The simple answer is to turn it off, and if you can’t, then that’s likely an addiction issue.

That’s the whole post in two short paragraphs. But what I first wrote was 2000 words of ranting. It was cynical, bitter, preachy, and self-righteous.

Isn’t that what the world needs more of right now?

Rather than power through on the editing, I left it for the next day and went downstairs to make my dinner. While heating up the leftovers, I realized that I was in a pretty decent mood, and felt a little lighter.

Because the products I sell are the results of my time spent creating, anytime I draw, paint, or write something, I get stuck in the mindset that it must be quantifiable. When I make time for fun work, like painting portraits of people, it feels like skipping school or taking a sick day to go golfing.

To write 2000 words, likely 1500 after editing, and not post it, felt like wasted time, which is why it was difficult to admit there was nothing to gain from sharing it.

The Artist’s Way is a book by Julia Cameron. I read it in the late 90s, but it’s still popular today, for good reason. It’s about boosting your creativity. One of the practices in that book is called The Morning Pages; writing three long-hand pages first thing each morning, stream of consciousness stuff, no editing.

It’s not quite journaling but it accomplishes the same thing. It’s about getting all of the stuff that’s in your head out onto the page, like weeding a garden, so all that’s left is the pretty flowers or delicious veggies.

I wrote those morning pages for about a year and still have those notebooks. In the beginning, it was rambling incoherent drivel, but the later stuff had some interesting thoughts and ideas that I enjoyed reading twenty years later. That’s also the point of the morning pages. When your subconscious mind understands that this is going to be a daily thing, it seems to realize that perhaps it should come up with something worth writing about.

I eventually gave up the practice because first thing in the morning is when I do my best painting and editorial cartoon work. I’ve only got a window of about four hours from 6 – 10 when I’m at peak performance. After that, I slow down a little, run errands, do admin work, and then I’ll sketch more cartoons in the afternoon and do some writing.

Just like the housework, I didn’t enjoy that angry rant while I was writing it, but I felt better when it was done. I got all of that negative garbage out my head, making room for more positive creative ideas, stuff that might actually benefit somebody else when they read it, rather than give them shit for being human.

I no longer consider that hour of writing to be wasted time, because experience isn’t just about learning what to do, it’s also about learning what not to do. By taking out all my frustration on the keyboard, much like a punching bag, I exhausted that angry little demon in my head, giving him time for his tantrum so he could finally go down for a nap and allow me some peace.

And I learned that just because I write it, doesn’t mean I need to share it, adding even more negative energy to an already wounded world.

I’d still like people to consider turning the dial down on their news consumption. There’s an excellent 2013 article from The Guardian by Rolf Dobelli, entitled “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier.”

It’s important to pay attention to our community news and keep informed about the world around us, but Dobelli’s article makes some excellent points for pulling the plug on most of it, and does it much better than I would have with my venting tirade.

When the world is beating us up with challenges and bad news as it has all year long, it falls to each of us to consider our role in it. Before sharing news links, divisive opinions, and angry memes, take some time to pause and reflect. Be honest and ask yourself how it will help somebody cope in this difficult time. Will it make them feel better or worse?

Sometimes not sharing something will be the kindest thing you can do.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Pennywise

While on a recent visit to the tattoo shop, one of the artists asked me if I was painting anything for Halloween.

For the past twenty years, I’ve drawn plenty of editorial cartoons with a Halloween twist, but Eric’s question caught me off guard. I’ve never considered painting something for Halloween.

One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with the artists at Electric Grizzly Tattoo is that they offer a different perspective. I’ve had several projects, promotions, and ideas borne of conversation at the shop.

While I’ve seen these guys come up with many different tattoo designs in various themes, much of their work involves pop culture. Whether characters from TV, animation, movies, comic books, graphic novels or music, there are clients who get full sleeves done in a pop culture theme.

One of Derek Turcotte’s clients has an entire leg done with characters from horror movies. It’s pretty impressive, both in the artwork’s exceptional quality and the tapestry woven from all of those images.

A couple of years ago, Derek painted Pennywise from the 2017 movie IT, based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. For the most recent movie adaptations, the character is played by Bill Skarsgård.

But I remember another version of It, a 1990 two-part TV miniseries with Tim Curry in the title role.

The basic story is that there’s a creature living beneath Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, in the guise of Pennywise the clown, It murders children after luring them into the sewers and has been doing so for centuries. In the two-part story, a group of children takes on the clown and thinks they have killed It. But they make a vow that they will return to finish the job if it ever comes back.

Sure enough, 27 years later, Pennywise returns, as does The Losers Club, to fulfill their promise.

I’m a big Stephen King fan. I started reading his books when I was a young teenager, probably earlier than I should have. Pet Sematary gave me nightmares. I could give you a long list of favourite King novels, but top of mind are The Dark Tower books, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Dr. Sleep and, of course, It.

Unfortunately, a lot of King’s books became movies that weren’t very good. It’s usually a pleasant surprise when I enjoy one as much as the book. The writer/director Frank Darabont is also a Stephen King fan, which is why his three adaptations are among my favourite movies.

Many people are surprised that the movie The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. Darabont made that movie, as well as The Green Mile and The Mist. This scene from The Mist is especially telling in our current climate.

Other screen productions based on King stories that I’ve enjoyed have included Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining, Dr. Sleep and the second season of Castle Rock.

Stephen King made me want to be a writer, and I’ve read and listened to his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ a few times.

While I have started writing fiction again this year, when I force myself to put ass in chair, it has been a struggle. The editorial cartoon deadlines, the paintings, plus the admin and promotional work that goes along with that work don’t give me a lot of time to write anything other than blog posts and newsletters.

But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Excuses are easy to come by.

So when it was suggested I paint something for Halloween, my thoughts returned to Pennywise. Not a difficult leap of inspiration, since Derek’s painting of the Skarsgård clown loomed large on the wall about ten feet to my left.

As I own the original IT miniseries on DVD, I began looking for reference that afternoon when I got home. Filmed for television, thirty years old and with special effects almost too painful to watch at times, the reference didn’t meet my usual criteria

There’s a scene at the end of the miniseries where the clown’s true form is revealed, a large spider-like creature. The effects are bad, with jerky puppet-like movements. The colour and light don’t match the background. It was scary in 1990, but now it’s just comical.

All that aside, Tim Curry was still great in the role of Pennywise. I’ve enjoyed his over-the-top villain roles in many movies. From his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cardinal Richelieu in 1993’s Three Musketeers, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Curry shows up where I least expect him.

Sadly, he now uses a wheelchair following a stroke in 2012.

Finding the reference was tough. I ended up taking photos of the TV screen and then trying to salvage what I could in Photoshop. None of the reference was what I would call good, and while it’s still got the bones beneath it, the finished painting doesn’t resemble Curry’s character as much as I had initially intended.

Partway through, I realized I wanted to make it as horrific as I could; the fangs, skin texture, demonic expression in the eyes. Eventually, it became my own version of Pennywise, which made it a lot more fun.
I wanted to paint the clown that would have scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I believe I achieved that. But rather than scare me now, I found myself smiling a lot. I kept wanting to push it a little further, adding more texture and detail, trying for just a little more realism in the brushwork.

I didn’t want it to end.

This is not the kind of work my regular followers expect from me. But before 2009, all people got from me were editorial cartoons and my painted caricatures of celebrities, no animals at all. You never know where new ventures might lead.

No matter how much I enjoy my animal art, it can get a little boring from time to time if it’s just about pumping them out, one after another. Every so often, I need to take a break, try something different and take a vacation from the fur and feathers. The collection of those occasional side projects have now become a gallery of portraits, mostly movie characters. Some of those paintings have resulted in the most unexpected and wonderful moments of my art career.

While I don’t expect to be turning my attention to painting more killer clowns or creatures from the depths of horror movies, this was worth my time. It was a welcome visit to the dark places I usually avoid, shining a flashlight on just one of the things that live there in the shadows.

The best part about this painting was that it wasn’t work. I had no illusions that this would end up being a published print or an image for licensing.

In a year when self-employed job security is shakier than ever, when the future is a towering question mark (with an exclamation beside it), and it seems like every creative moment should be spent trying to increase revenue, I’m glad I made time for Pennywise.

Happy Halloween!

For you digital artists with tech questions, I painted this in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. I used screen captures for reference, but no photos are part of this work. I created the textures with brushwork alone, no images or overlays. The finished file is 30″ X40″ at 300ppi, painted in the AdobeRGB(1998) colour space. I have no idea how long it took to paint.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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