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A Cheetah Painting and Photoshop Friends

For many years, I was a member of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I don’t remember when I joined, but I think it was sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I remained a member until 2014 when it rebranded.

Owned and operated by Scott Kelby, the organization contained a wealth of online tutorials, a magazine called Photoshop User, and the Photoshop World conference. There was extensive training from internationally well-known instructors, each with their own areas of expertise.

Before social media ruined it all (yeah, I said it!), when like-minded individuals wanted to learn from each other, share their work for critique, answer each other’s questions and simply offer support, there were online forums where artists could gather.

I learned a lot from the NAPP forum and made some terrific friends there. Quite a few of them, I never got to meet in person, but when I finally got to Photoshop World Las Vegas for the first time in 2009, that was the best part of the whole experience, meeting this community in real life.

Over the next five years, I enjoyed seeing them each year, attending classes together all day, parties at night, hanging out at different venues. It was a fun event.

My involvement with NAPP was in a large way responsible for my now expert level skills in Photoshop. The networking opportunities introduced me to people and companies that advanced my career in many ways. I recorded a couple of training DVDs for Photoshop CAFE, wrote some articles for Photoshop User magazine, and won a few prestigious awards. It was due to a weird comedy of errors at my first conference that led me to a long and productive relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the digital tablets and displays on which I create my artwork.

I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been a member of that organization, with the opportunities and insights it afforded, I wouldn’t be painting my whimsical animals today. There’s a direct line between those people and experiences and the work I enjoy most.

Sadly, nothing lasts forever. The organization changed focus, became the Kelby Media Group, they retired the forum,  and most of my friends stopped attending Photoshop World. It doesn’t hold the same value that it used to.

I still talk to some of them now and then, but not nearly as often as I’d like. To this day, there are still a few people who call me Monty, my username from that forum.

For the first part of my career, while I’d been drawing editorial cartoons, I would also paint detailed caricatures of celebrities, and people would hire me to paint them for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and the like. But I didn’t see a future in it. The first funny looking animal in 2009 was an experiment, inspired by some personal reflection following my first Photoshop World that year.

Without good reference photos, I can’t paint the detail I enjoy, so in the beginning, I had to buy stock photos and relied on the generosity of photographer friends I knew through NAPP.

In 2014, I had already been taking my own photos with a decent camera I’d bought, but it was essentially a point-and-shoot with a good zoom lens. That spring, I painted a family of owls from the reference I’d taken myself here at Grassi Lakes above Canmore.
At Photoshop World that year, I won the Best of Show Guru award for that painting. At the last minute, they announced that part of the grand prize would be a Canon 5D Mark III camera. The oohs and aahs from an audience of mostly photographers indicated that it was something special. I had no clue.

When I won, I remember somebody laughing and saying, “Of course, the illustrator won the camera!”

When I returned to my seat, the friends I’d been sitting with told me just how good it was and that it was worth thousands of dollars. I remember calling Shonna to tell her I’d won, and we mused that I should probably sell it on eBay as such a professional camera would be wasted on me.

When I mentioned that idea to my buddy Jeff from Boston, he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my career. He told me to keep it and learn to use it.

Since then, I’ve discovered a love of taking reference photos, and it has become as much a part of the creative process for me as the painting itself. While I don’t make a habit of calling myself a photographer and have no designs on going pro, I enjoy it a great deal.

I’ve taken good care of that camera, been using it for six years, and it still does the job I need it to do. If something happens to it, or when it comes to the end of its life, I’ll buy another professional camera, because it’s now such a big part of my work.
Still, now and then, I find myself unable to take my own reference pics. This is especially true of commissions, where I rely on clients to provide me with the photos I’ll use to paint their furry family members.

Or it’s merely a case of access and travel being prohibitive. I’ve been searching for the right reference for an elephant painting for years. My friend Serena from Discovery Wildlife Park went to Africa earlier this year and brought back the perfect photos for me.

One of the people I knew well from my years in the NAPP organization and Photoshop World was Susan Koppel. It’s not enough that she was a flight instructor at 18 and then became an aeronautical engineer, but she’s also an incredible photographer and supporter of animals.

Now retired from the aviation industry, Susan’s photography business is her primary focus, pun intended.  She volunteers for the Nevada Humane Society taking pictures of the animals to make them look their best for their adoption photos. She also donates her skills to a wildlife sanctuary and nature center in Reno called Animal Ark.

The facility has adopted several cheetahs, and one of their regular events is to have cheetah runs. This gives the animals much-needed exercise opportunities to run full out, as they would in the wild, but also provides photographers with a chance to take pictures they can’t get outside of Africa. These photography events give the sanctuary added funds to continue the work they do.

Years ago, Susan provided me with the reference for my Raccoon and Fox paintings. I’ve seen her cheetah photos before and recently asked her if she’d be willing to share some. I’ve wanted to paint a full body cheetah in a running pose, mostly inspired by the photos Susan has posted over the years.

Susan generously opened up her online archive to me and told me I could use what I’d like. I ended up grabbing a dozen or so and expect to do three cheetah paintings in the near future. The reference was just so good that I couldn’t decide.
This is the first of those cheetah paintings, and I obsessed over the details. I expect I could have spent another 10 hours on this one, just nitpicking every little hair. But as every creative knows, eventually you just have to abandon one piece so that you can start on the next.

I miss all of those great people in the NAPP organization and at Photoshop World conferences. Each of them, in one way or another, inspired and contributed to my creating the work I love most, and I believe I’m a better artist and a better person for having known them.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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The Purge

On New Year’s Day, I threw out my Photoshop World Guru Awards.

It wasn’t an impulsive move, but something I’d thought about many times the last couple of years.

When it comes to endings and beginnings, it would make more sense for each person to have some serious annual reflections on his or her birthday, truly the turning of a new year for each of us.

But New Year’s Day works for most because it’s the turning of a big number and a new calendar.

I began the year with a new painting. It’s not something I do every year but were I to have a tradition, that seems like a good one to me. Start another trip around the sun by making the work I love most a priority. It sets a precedent.

Following a couple of hours of painting, however, I suddenly had the urge to clean up my office.

For the most part, I keep a tidy space, but like anyone, papers pile up, items land in corners, and unoccupied floor space suddenly gets filled. Then it all begins to gather dust.

My office occupies the entire second bedroom of our townhouse condo and most of the time; it’s well organized. We’re not big consumers, so we don’t have much clutter. And still, even with shelving in the closet, bookcases, two large desks and ample drawer space, stuff accumulates.
My closet is floor to ceiling shelving. In multiple large alphabetized bins is my inventory of hundreds of prints. Boxes of canvas prints, support materials for my booth at Expo, large rigid print mailers, foam core backer board, cellophane sleeves, magnets, coasters, aluminum prints, a variety of packing material, and other sundries that go with this art-for-a-living operation. This is just one end of it, the other looks similar.

If allowed free-range, it could quickly turn wild.

In drawers, you’ll find replacement ink cartridges and paper for my printer, pens, paper clips, staples and the supplies that go with any office. Add to that empty, half-filled and filled sketchbooks of various sizes, and plenty of art supplies for sketching, even though these days, I primarily work digitally.

Among those necessities, there exists the things I hang onto that have outlived their usefulness.

Dozens of art prints I’ve bought from other artists over the years that I always intend to frame and put up. Many people have a collection like this, but especially artists. We love to buy new pretty pictures, even if they’re eventually filed away with the ones we’ve bought before.

There are images of my own work, special edition productions I’ve done where I’ve printed too many, just to be on the safe side. There’s nothing wrong with them, aside from the low demand, but I can’t seem to recycle them, and giving them away feels like a slap in the face to those who actually paid for one.

Odds and ends of packing material with no use, kind of like the stale ends of a loaf of bread, kept in the unlikely chance they might be of use later.

There is a large box of computer cords and other gadgets or parts, either obsolete or won’t connect to any current equipment, but there was that time years ago when I needed something like that and didn’t have one. Just don’t ask me to recall when that was.

Finally, on the top shelf, there are empty product boxes. For the iPad, iPhone and Apple Pencil I bought more than two years ago. Just in case I need to return one? A box for a camera lens, to replace the one that broke when I slipped on a Vancouver Island beach more than two years ago. I still have the broken lens, too, because it was expensive.

What it all comes down to is something called sunk costs.

You can find long explanations of the term online, a lot of them having to do with accounting and business expenses, but the short version, as I understand it, is that we often make bad decisions and hang onto things, because they once had value, even if they don’t anymore.

Say you bought a computer monitor ten years ago. Even though it has dead pixels, the colour shifts, it makes a weird humming sound, is too small for your current needs, and the one you’ve got now is so much better, that old monitor still sits in the corner of your basement or garage, taking up space. Because you spent good money on it and somehow keeping it around means you didn’t lose that money.

We keep things long after they no longer have value to anyone because throwing it out not only feels wasteful, but we think that if we keep it, the money isn’t really gone if we still have the thing we bought.

It’s the reason I have TWO four-shelf bookcases full of books even though I haven’t opened most of them in years. Some I have yet to read, but most of them are art books I don’t open anymore and likely never will again. But I spent money on them, so it seems like donating or recycling them now meant I wasted money when I bought them in the first place, even though that isn’t true.

What about Kijiji?  I could still get five or ten bucks for some of this stuff. But since it isn’t wise to invite strangers to my home, that means I’m going to sit in a parking lot somewhere, waiting for somebody to show up on time, if he shows up at all, to make $10, when I would make more than that spending my time working on a cartoon or painting.

Time is the most valuable resource we have and turning my old stuff into a travelling yard sale is a poor use of mine.

A good friend of mine is a whiz with musical instruments. He’ll pick up a beat-up guitar at a pawn shop, take it home, disassemble it, clean up the parts, install new ones for broken pieces, and give it new life. Then he’ll sell it for more than the original cost and his time, making a tidy profit. He enjoys both the hunt for the instrument and bringing it back to life.

That’s not the same thing as trying to get $5 for an old pair of PC headphones that are long obsolete.

In addition to those headphones, and another set, a portable drawing table, some promotional valise type carrying cases, and various other odds and ends, I donated a large box of stuff to the local thrift store last week.

A small tube TV I’ve had in my office since we lived in Banff in the 90s went to electronic recycling, along with a radio, and the useless computer cords. I hadn’t turned that little TV on in over a year, not since we killed our cable.

And in a couple of garbage bags that went to the dumpster were my three Guru Awards from Photoshop World.

Winning those awards meant a great deal to me. Professionally, it gave me credibility as an expert in digital painting. The first in 2010 was for the Illustration category, the second that same year for Best in Show. It was a sense that I had finally arrived, that I wasn’t kidding myself about the quality of my work.

It introduced me to Wacom, which led to working with them.

The third award in 2014, was again for Best in Show. The prize was my Canon DSLR camera, which changed my whole process. Taking reference photos became as important a part of my painted work as the painting itself. Today, one doesn’t exist without the other. It was the last time I would attend Photoshop World, a period in my life I remember fondly.

The conference itself has withered in recent years, with attendance dropping off. The community of friends I knew, none of them go anymore. And these days, outside of that group, most people don’t even know what the award represents.

Winning the awards mattered to me, the doors they opened mattered to me, the recognition mattered to me.  Those three large chunks of acrylic gathering dust on the shelf don’t matter to me, and they certainly don’t matter to anyone else. For the most part, nobody spends time in my office but me.

I asked myself, “Do I need to keep these?”

The answer landed them in the garbage bag, and three days later, as I write this, I have no regrets. Those laurels are in the past and if I’m still defining my worth by awards I won 6 and 10 years ago, that’s a problem.

Getting rid of useless stuff feels like dropping a heavy pack after a long hike, suddenly realizing how much weight was on your back.

The awards, the TV, those computer cords and all of that stuff I haven’t touched in years, I can’t give you a good reason why I hung onto any of it as long as I did, other than the fact that at one time, they had value.

If your home burned to the ground, what do you currently own that you wouldn’t even consider using the insurance money to replace? Look around. If it was suddenly gone, would you repurchase it? That’s the first clue you no longer need it.

It’s all baggage, the stuff that belonged to who we used to be that holds us back, shit we carry that prevents us from moving forward.

As Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “Things you own, end up owning you.”

Up next, the bookshelves.
__________________

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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A Local Cartoonist

Although I have syndicated clients across Canada and produce cartoons each day for them, I also draw one local cartoon each week for The Rocky Mountain Outlook, the paper of record for Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and area.

I’ve been their cartoonist since they opened their doors in 2001 and I’ve never missed an issue. In the early days of The Rocky Mountain Outlook, one of the owners, also the Editor, encouraged me to self-syndicate, which meant draw my own cartoons and send them out to other papers in the hopes they publish them. At the time, I’d only drawn one cartoon each week for the Banff Crag & Canyon for a few years and was very new to the Outlook.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was destined to fail. The cheap seats were full of people who said so.

I was thirty years old, and I had never envisioned a career as an artist. Not even a little. Carol Picard changed my life and it’s hard not to say Thank You every time I see her around town.

For the next five years, I drew cartoons on the side while working a full-time job to pay the bills. Early mornings before work, evenings after work and weekends, with very little money to show for it. I almost quit half a dozen times in those five years. Sometimes I drew five cartoons in a week and made $10 from the one weekly paper that ran one. That kind of thing went on for a couple of years, but it was great practice. I was finally able to become a full-time artist in 2006.

With a lot of experiments in between, eventually the editorial cartooning led to the other half of my business painting funny looking animals, which are licensed and sold in zoos, parks, retail stores and other venues across Canada and internationally. Having been a full-time professional artist for the past 13 years, I’m pretty sure I’m now unemployable in a real job.

Without The Rocky Mountain Outlook, none of that would have happened.

My editor, Tanya Foubert, delighted in calling me today to tell me that the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards were announced for 2019 and I won 1st and 2nd for Best Local Cartoon in our class. While we all know it’s not about the awards, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feels pretty good. It’s the first win for me, although I think I got third one year.

I’ve never submitted to the National Newspaper Awards. Maybe once in the early 2000s. The Outlook submits to the CCNAs on my behalf. Since I have many clients for my cartoons, it’s always been more important to me to keep my editors and publishers supplied, happy (and paying me!) than it was to win an award.

But this one is different, because it’s the Outlook. It’s my local paper. I’ve known these people for almost twenty years. I know what the original owners went through to keep it afloat, against all odds. I know how hard the current staff and leadership work to hold to that original vision.

Once again, I am reminded of Roosevelt and The Man in the Arena.

From the official announcement of the awards on News Media Canada’s site, the first highlight was, “The Rocky Mountain Outlook from Canmore/Kananaskis/Banff/Lake Louise in Alberta picked up the most wins (five), including first place for General Excellence.”

How could I not be happy to be a part of that?

Thanks, Carol.

Cheers,
Patrick

Here are the cartoons that won. The first was about the contentious issue of Calgary’s failed bid for the 2026 Olympics. While not an official tally, half the community seemed to want it more than anything, the other half were opposed.

Second was our ongoing issue with parking in this area. My first cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon in 1998 was on paid parking. Everybody’s got an opinion and a solution, but nobody wants to pay for it, or stop driving whenever they want.

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The Black Bear Totem


Right up until the end of 2009, my art focus had primarily been on syndicated editorial cartoons and caricatures of people. Along the way, I’d also done illustration for businesses and board games, had tried my hand at some editorial Flash animation, and experimented here and there with creative off-shoots I thought might eventually yield some fruit.

Keeping a somewhat regular blog for the past nine years has served to become a business diary of sorts. It’s interesting to look back and read about my best laid plans. With the benefit of hindsight, some now make me cringe, knowing that had I gone further down some of those roads, I would have been disappointed. I’m also surprised at the blind optimism and enthusiasm in some of the posts, an elixir I wish I’d been able to bottle for mid-life.

The time I spent working on caricatures was excellent practice. I’m much better at drawing likenesses in my editorial cartoons today than I was then and it takes less time to get there. As I wasn’t interested in going that route, I never developed the skill to draw caricatures live. But people used to hire me to create them for birthday presents, wedding invitations, and other occasions. I can’t imagine I’d enjoy still doing that now, but it was all grist for the mill.

I was also getting pretty good at detailed caricature paintings of celebrities, but navigating the legal minefield of likeness rights, the large number of artists already doing that kind of work, and the awareness that my heart wasn’t going to be in it for long, I was a little lost.

This brings me to November 2009, right after my first trip to Photoshop World in Vegas. That summer, I had painted a caricature of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with her holding one of the Aliens on a leash. The whole reason I painted it was to try to win a Guru Award and I didn’t get nominated. I didn’t enjoy the work, the finished piece felt wrong and I wished I’d never done it.

While disappointed at the time, it was a turning point in my career. I learned not to create something just to win awards and it lit a fire under me to find something new.

Upon returning home with the realization that caricatures of people was no longer where I wanted to focus, I painted a grizzly bear. Although it didn’t start out to be a caricature, it definitely ended up as one.
By February, I had a gallery in Banff willing to hang canvas prints of the Grizzly and subsequent Raven and Elk Totems on consignment. And then people started to buy them. I’ll never forget something the gallery manager told me about my whimsical style of painting. He said that no matter how well I painted, if I’d brought him realistic wildlife, he wouldn’t have been interested, because that’s what everybody else was doing. I’ve heard that a lot over the years.

On my next trip to Photoshop World later that summer, my Moose Totem won the Guru Award for the Illustration category and my Wolf Totem took Best in Show. While I didn’t paint them to try and win awards, it was that event and those chunks of plastic that introduced me to some great people at Wacom, and helped open some other doors that might have remained closed.

Since then, these whimsical wildlife portraits have become a defining part of my life. There are now over thirty paintings in the Totem series, several other whimsical prints, dozens of pet portrait commissions, and hundreds of sketch paintings.

There are now three kinds of prints sold in the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, About Canada Gallery in Banff, and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. The images are currently internationally licensed on T-shirts through two different companies, and on decals and cases. I’ve written articles for magazines, have recorded a couple of training DVDs, taught webinars and run an event booth for Wacom, and am coming up on my fifth successful year with a booth at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

I’ve also discovered a love of photography as a result of this work. While I’ve often relied on generous photographer friends for reference photos, I now take my own reference photos whenever possible. This has led me to new friends and experiences that have helped me get up close and personal with these critters I enjoy so much, sometimes face to face.
It is my belief that the next chapter in this work is calling me to get more involved with conservation, to give back to the wildlife that has given me so much. It might have taken me most of my life to find it, but I believe there’s work for me there, although I don’t yet know how it will manifest. I’ve already been looking for and taking advantage of those opportunities.

As all of this started with a grinning funny looking bear, it seems appropriate to reflect and bookend this chapter with another bear, eight and a half years later. The Black Bear Totem, modeled from a wonderful gentle bear named Gruff who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park, although that’s Reno in the photo above. I admire Gruff from a little farther away.

In writing this and checking my facts, I found the following in my blog post from November 2009 when I revealed the Grizzly Bear Totem, which incidentally is still one of my best selling prints.

“I recently found myself inspired to do a series of wildlife paintings, but I wanted them to have personality and life to them. Something different, something fun…I really think I’ll enjoy working on this series.”

I had no idea.

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Space and Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake

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The Other Side of Another Photoshop World

Last week found me once again at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2014. While I’d love to be able to say that it’s all work and no play, I’d be lying through my teeth.

While I did decide to take a break from the conference last year, this was the fifth time around for me at PSW. Every year is different depending on which classes I’m taking and which group of friends is showing up.

This creative community of artists is an interesting mix. Photographers, designers, illustrators, compositors… they come from all over the world and from a number of different generations, but everybody is looking to have a good time and learn a few things. Many of the people with whom I spend my time at this conference are ones I talk to all the time via email and social media, but only get to see once a year, sometimes not even that often.   But it’s very easy to pick up where we left off and it’s definitely a working vacation.

AirborneOn that latter point, I budgeted a little time to check one more item off the bucket list, a flight with Sky Combat Ace to experience some airshow acrobatics in an Extra 330LC, which was quite a thrill ride. Here’s a link to the video.

Airborne2While the conference itself is very heavy on the photography side of things, it has still been worth this cartoonist/illustrator/digital painter’s time to attend. One thing I’ve learned from taking classes at this event is that whether you’re talking photos, design, or illustration…images are images. The principles that will make an image better in one medium will often translate to another, so a class on composition in portrait photography will help me become a better portrait painter, too.

Since I take many of my own reference photos for a lot of my recent work, editing those images and figuring out how to get the best from them will also help me produce better digital paintings.

In 2010 at this event, I was fortunate to have won two Guru Awards, one in the Illustration category and also the Best in Show award. This year, I submitted three images, again under the Illustration heading. While I knew ahead of time that two of my images were finalists, I assumed both were in that category. When the awards were announced however, my portrait of Bruno was the only one that came up in the Illustration genre. As I’d gone in with low expectations, I was OK with not winning.

GuruBIS

Much to my surprise, however, my painting, “One in Every Family” was awarded the Best in Show award again this year and I was very pleased. While the prize that was announced ahead of time was a gift card from the sponsor, B&H (one of my favorite shopping destinations), a surprise addition to the prize was a Canon 5D Mark III camera with lens included. It now appears that I have to up my game when it comes to my knowledge of photography. My photographer friends at this event have all assured me that I now have one of the best cameras I could ever want and have physically threatened me if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to become a better photographer.

With that in mind, I took the camera with me on one of my regular hikes the day after I got home, and managed to get a few photos that I thought were pretty decent, a couple of them shown here.

LittleBird

Butterfly

I still have a LOT to learn, but have plenty of resources with which to do so and many professional photographer friends who’ve offered their assistance.

As I was already going to be in attendance at the event, my friends at Wacom invited me to present at their booth on the Expo Floor for the second time. As luck would have it, the topic I chose was the story of discovering the family of Great Horned Owls at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore earlier this summer, which led to the painting that won the award the day before I presented at the booth. Add in a little painting demo and I think it went rather well.

WacomI really enjoyed myself at the conference, largely because of the people with whom I spent the week. While it’s too early to tell if I will return again next year, this year’s trip was time and money well spent and I find myself inspired to produce even better work in the year ahead. You really can’t put a price on that.

TheGang

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And the award goes to…

Over the past week, I’ve received some pats on the back from a few people I’ve run into, in addition to emails from readers and editors congratulating me on my second place for editorial cartooning for the Canadian Community Newspaper Association awards announced recently.  This is not about my syndicated work, just the local cartoons that are published each week in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, here at home.

While I simply said, “Thank You,” and went about my business, I’m going to be politically incorrect and honest about how I feel about it.   Second place is not winning.

I’m sure an Olympic athlete who has won a silver or a bronze medal would disagree with me, and while they’re entitled to their perspective, I don’t share it.  In our current short-sighted cultural climate where every child gets a participation ribbon, competition is discouraged in case our fragile selves be scarred in some horrible last place finish in a potato sack race.  When did the topic of winning and losing become so taboo?  People don’t celebrate the team that almost won the Stanley Cup or the politician who almost won the election.  With the exception of CEOs who get bonuses just for waking up, the corporate world doesn’t reward or function on ‘self-esteem before profit,’ despite what we’re teaching in our schools.

Only one team or individual can win in any competition.  Everybody else loses and is invited to try harder next time.

Even though I enter very few competitions, I do like it when I reach the finals.  Two of my paintings have qualified for Ballistic Publishing’s Exposé 10 book due out in June.  As a digital painter, this is a very prestigious book to be in and I’m thrilled that my work is being considered.  It’s also great for business, because of who sees it.  I want this, but being a finalist doesn’t mean a damn thing if the book comes out and my work isn’t in it.  Aside from the fact that I’ll be encouraged to submit again next year, qualifying or a nomination just means graduating to a higher level of consideration.

In the grand scheme of things, awards are good for two things.  One, they’re validation of a sort that you’ve achieved a level of recognition placing you at the top of your profession, if only for that moment, in the eyes of whomever was judging for that year.  A panel of people come to a collective opinion that your effort was the best of the bunch for that moment in time, and still only compared against the other people who entered.  The other value in an award is that it’s a great marketing tool.  As far as the CCNA awards go, it is in the Rocky Mountain Outlook’s best interest to publicize the 2nd and 3rd place finishes awarded to the staff because it establishes a reputation for being a newspaper of achievers.  That sells advertising and that’s how a newspaper makes money and stays in business.  While I chose the cartoon to be entered in the CCNA awards, I wouldn’t have bothered if the Rocky Mountain Outlook didn’t want me to.

The first awards that I considered significant enough to celebrate were the Guru Awards at Photoshop World in 2010, where one of my paintings won the Illustration Category and another won Best In Show.  Regular readers already know about this, I won’t bore you with more details, aside from saying it meant a lot to me only because I consider my Totem paintings to be my best work.

Let’s be honest, though, it was two years ago.  The moment has most definitely passed and if I were still posting weekly updates and screen shots of those paintings with the express purpose of  bragging about the awards as if they were yesterday, it would be time to consider some serious therapy.  That being said, I’ll put the words ‘award winning artist’ in every promotional bio I write from here on out.  From a marketing perspective, I’d be stupid not to.

There’s a line I love from the movie ‘Superman Returns,’ where Daily Planet editor Perry White says, “Lois, Pulitzer Prizes are like Academy Awards, nobody remembers what you got one for, just that you got one. ”

That’s how I choose to think of the Guru Awards today.  Winning the awards put me in contact with some influential people, resulted in some lucrative commissions, and opened some big doors, but it’s now my job to keep them open.  I realized last year that I don’t need to win another Guru Award.  While I was nominated in 2011,  I didn’t win, and nobody cared.  Seriously, nobody really cared that I didn’t repeat the win, including me.  Doors didn’t close, and people didn’t suddenly stop returning my calls or emails.

As long as my business keeps moving forward, I keep making decent money at it, and I enjoy the work, then I’m happy.  Of course, an award once in awhile will certainly put a shine on the day.  I haven’t yet met an artist that doesn’t enjoy an ego boost.  But I’m not unrealistic when it comes to their importance.   If I win an award, I’ll very likely tell you about it, because that’s what you do when you’re in the business of self-promotion.

Second or third place, however, you’ll most likely hear about from somebody else.

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Wacom eNews

The February Wacom eNews is out, and I’m very pleased to be featured in it. You won’t find a bigger fan of Wacom than me.

Having owned half a dozen drawing tablets over the past 12 years, I wouldn’t be able to do any of my work without one. I feel it’s important to note, I’ve only replaced tablets when new ones have come out with better features. I have never had one die on me and to my recollection, the only problem I’ve ever had is that a pen started acting up on me a couple of years ago, and Wacom replaced it right away, no questions asked.

I remember doing a painting demo at a gallery last year, and explaining to a parent why a Wacom was such a good investment for his daughter who was showing some real artistic talent. While I let her try out the tablet, I was telling him how inexpensive the entry level Bamboo tablets are, how they had a lot of the same great features as the Intuos4, and even told him where he could buy one.

He asked me if I worked for them.

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Photoshop User Magazine Recognition


Photoshop User magazine launched a new feature in their March 2011 issue called Notable NAPP Members. I’m very honoured that they selected me as the first one.

It’s always nice to have one’s work recognized, and lately I seem to be getting more than my share of publicity. I’ve had a lot of wonderful milestones and opportunities this past year, but I’m trying to keep things in their proper perspective and take it all with a grain (or a pound or two) of salt. Wiser folks than I have cautioned that you should never believe your own hype. While I’m grateful for the publicity, I think that’s excellent advice.

Even though being a freelance cartoonist and illustrator isn’t always a ‘wine and roses’ profession, it’s enough that I get to do what I love for a living.

(click on the article to zoom in)

Reprinted with permission by NAPP and Photoshop User Magazine.

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Digital Painting Interview with Psd Tuts+

Back in November, I was approached by Psd Tuts+ about an interview regarding my digital paintings. It was a good experience, but to be honest, I’d kind of forgotten about it. This morning, someone brought to my attention that the interview was online, so I went and took a look and found that I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I especially liked that they put the interview in the ‘Inspiration’ category. It would be nice if another artist was inspired by something I love to do.

I’ve realized that I’ve been putting painting on the back burner lately because of other deadlines and obligations, but I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve missed it until I read the interview. With two paintings on the go, I really do need to make the time, especially since it’s the work I enjoy most.

If you’d like to read the interview, here’s the link.
Amazing Digital Animal Paintings of Patrick LaMontagne