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Whoever Fights With Monsters

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

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

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

Artists. We’re all so fucking mercurial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, this too shall pass.

But probably not today.

__

© Patrick LaMontagne

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

 

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

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

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

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

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

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

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A Different View on The Calgary Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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Eggs, Butter, Milk, Coffee Mug

While I knew it was coming eventually, it was still a surprise to walk into my local Save-On-Foods grocery store here in Canmore on Friday to see an entire endcap display of my artwork.

I had kept an eye open for it each time I went shopping, but it was still a bit of a thrill to finally see it in place, especially right by the front doors.

Pacific Music & Art has licensed my work for many different products since late 2018. Those items include art cards, magnets, aluminum art prints, coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, water bottles, notepads, notebooks, and calendars. And of course, face masks, the product we all suddenly needed, but nobody wanted.

This display in the Canmore Save-On-Foods features coasters, trivets, and mugs. Featured art pieces include the Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sasquatch, Blue-Beak Raven, Two Wolves, Bald Eagle and Bear Wonder. My 2022 calendar and various notebook designs are in a rack beside it.
When I first moved to Banff in 1994, Shonna and I had a nice little apartment above a grocery store in a brand-new building, a real luxury in an unaffordable tourist town. I worked as a stock clerk and delivery driver in that grocery store that summer before moving on to work at a hotel. But Shonna and I both had part-time jobs at adjacent convenience and liquor stores for several years after, until we moved to Canmore in 2001.

While looking at the different products in the display, I found myself ‘facing’ the shelves to tidy them up. Then, without even realizing I was doing it, I turned some of the mugs, so the art faced outwards and straightened up some of the calendars and coasters.

I guess old habits die hard. Unfortunately, everybody is short-staffed around here, so if I can help make my own display a little more presentable, I’m happy to do it.

These displays are in many other Save-On-Foods stores in Western Canada, but I share those shelves with other artists from the Pacific Music & Art catalogue. Considering the skills and talents of those other creators, it’s an honour to be counted among them. One of my followers on Instagram was kind enough to tag me when she posted a photo of a mug she bought in the Sherwood Park Save-On.

When I first considered signing with Pacific, a testament to the company’s credibility was not only that a former consignment gallery owner recommended us to each other, but that one of their artists is Sue Coleman. I’ve admired her work for many years, long before I had painted my first animal.

I had planned to stop in to visit her last fall on a scheduled business trip to Vancouver Island, but I need not explain why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with the wonderfully weird feeling of my art sharing shelf and rack space with hers.

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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

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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