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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.

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

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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

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2011: The Year I Turn 40.

When I used to think of a midlife crisis, I thought of shallow guys buying flashy red sports cars, hanging out with twenty year old bleached blond bimbos, and trying desperately to hang on to whatever was left of their youth. The reality is a lot less ‘TV sitcom’ than that.

Some psychologists have started calling it ‘midlife transition’ instead of ‘midlife crisis’ because ‘crisis’ has a negative connotation to it. So far, their political correctness hasn’t figured out how to keep me in my 30’s, though.

In the grand scheme of things, 40 is just a number, and since nobody really knows when their time is up, midlife is an assumption. I could kick off tomorrow, or have 60 more years coming at me. There is no expiration date tattooed anywhere on my body, that I’m aware of, although I wouldn’t be surprised to find a ‘Best Before’ date.

Logically, I shouldn’t have a problem with turning 40, but as Spock (the Vulcan, not the baby guy) always told McCoy, humans are not logical.

Time’s ticking. I’ve had a great ride so far, but there’s a lot I want to do that I haven’t done, both in my work and in my life. In previous years, my New Year’s resolution has simply been to keep moving forward and try to be a better person. I’ve come to realize that’s a cop-out, because there’s no accountability. So for the first time in a number of years, I’m setting some actual goals for the year, some specific and professional, some general and more personal, but all overdue.

Learn Adobe Illustrator (again).

I used to work for a sign shop here in Canmore. Really interesting job and I found that I really liked creating vector art. To this day, I use paths and vectors in Photoshop regularly while drawing cartoons because I like using the tools. While I still do contract work for the sign shop from time to time, I’ve realized my vector skills haven’t kept up with each new version of Illustrator, even though I keep upgrading with each new release (although I’ve yet to buy CS5). Continuing education is important in any field, and I haven’t done much of it in the last couple of years.

Learn more 3D in Photoshop CS5 Extended.

This cartoon was created a couple of years ago using Hexagon, Carrara, and Photoshop. I’d like to use more 3D elements in my work. While I don’t intend to try and become an expert, it’s fun and challenging, and I want to get better at it. The whole reason I chose the Extended track of Photoshop was for the 3D and aside from building the occasional rudimentary model for an editorial cartoon from time to time, I wield those tools like I’m performing surgery wearing oven mitts. Very clumsy with no finesse. I’d like to change that this year.

Learn to sculpt

I’ve been feeling the urge to do this for a couple of years now. I’ve had ALL of the tools necessary sitting in a toolbox in my office closet for about a year. I’ve done my research, bought Sculpey polymer clay, a couple of books on how to use it (including the one pictured above), and acrylics for painting after it’s been baked. I have no excuse not to get started, and no pressure to produce anything good because I bought it just to have a hobby again. A wise man once said, when your hobby becomes your work, you need to find another hobby and I think this might be it. I’d just like to see if I’m any good at it.

Paint. Every chance I get.

Last year, I discovered what I love to paint most, so this year, I want to paint more animal totems. In a perfect world, I’d like to paint every day, and even if it’s only for 10 minutes, I plan to do that, starting today.

In 2010, I only painted one person, Bert Monroy, and I’m missing that, too. I’d like to paint some more images of people this year, and I have a list I’ve kept over the last year, with about a dozen names on it. The great thing is that while they’re all well known character actors, none of them are what you would consider A-list celebrities.

Work Less, Play More!

I work too much, and I put it ahead of everything else. I’ve often taken on work that I should have realized would do nothing to advance my career, made poor use of my best skills, and was of very little interest to me, not to mention that it usually wasn’t worth it financially. That stops completely this year. I learned how to say ‘No’ last year. This year, I’ll be saying it a lot more.

I get bored very easily, so while I still intend to be very busy, it’ll be on projects and commissions that are worth my time. There’s no point in being your own boss if you’re still doing work that you shouldn’t be doing.

When I do take time off, however, I’d like to slow down a little more, relax and enjoy life. Time off shouldn’t mean watching TV all the time or going for coffee every day. While those pastimes do have their place, I’m looking for more experiences that create fond memories. More, hiking, camping, caving…hell, I’m going skydiving this year. That last one is right out of the midlife crisis manual. Page 36, I think.

Be Less Cynical.
This one will be tough, because despite the successes of last year, I focused too much on the dark side of people. I’ll often blame that on following politics for a living, but I’ve recently realized that it’s a choice, and to paraphrase an all too familiar phrase, if I let it ruin my life, “then the politicians have already won.”

My wife says I hold people to unreasonably high standards, including myself. I expect everyone to take the high road, wanting to believe that people will do the right thing most of the time. And then inevitably, when someone’s unethical behavior still gets them ahead, I end up disappointed and angry. This year, I’m going to try and let that go and be less judgmental. Cut everyone a break, including myself. Nobody’s perfect.

You’ll hear of people who’ve faced life threatening illnesses that thankfully survive the ordeal. Often, they’ll tell you that the challenge they faced was the best thing that could happen to them because it made them realize that life isn’t to be taken for granted, that it was a gift to be given a wake-up call.

I’m going to try and look on turning 40 the same way. And just like last year and the year before, I’ll still try to keep moving forward, and to be a better person.

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Farewell to 2010, a very good year.

Well, that year went pretty damn fast!

I’ll be honest, I tiptoed into 2010, since there were warning signs that the economy was going to hit me pretty hard. Thankfully, I came through relatively unscathed, even though I suffered some bumps, bruises, and frayed nerves. In the end, however, it was a better year than the one before, which is saying a lot, since 2009 was pretty good.

I went back and skimmed some of the blog entries from this past year, and I’m pretty pleased with the way the year unfolded.

Editorial Cartoons

When 2010 began, there had been some pretty big shakeups in the industry. I lost a bunch of newspapers in January when Sun Media told all of its editors to ditch their freelance cartoonists. It seemed every week in January and February, I’d get another phone call or email from an angry editor (not angry at me) telling me my services were no longer required. Some of those editors I’d worked with for years.

Canwest News Service was in severe financial trouble as well, and it was a very scary time for anyone working in the newspaper industry. I seriously thought that this might have been the beginning of the end for the editorial cartoon portion of my freelance career, but as the year went on, I recovered those losses and then some, and it really didn’t hurt me. If anything, it was the wake-up call that I needed to start planning for a future that likely won’t include editorial cartoons.

A few of my colleagues didn’t fare so well, and in the ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ category, I’m very thankful that I never did get that daily newspaper job that I wanted so badly when I was still new at this ten years ago. Turns out there was a lot more stability in freelancing.

While you never know which cards newspaper budgets will deal in 2011, I’m a lot less nervous about it than I was last year at this time. The big lesson is the same one nature herself has been teaching throughout history; those who adapt, survive. In this economy, that’s true for every profession.

Freelance Illustration

I was more selective about work that I accepted this year. Clients that I like working with who pay their bills took precedence over the ones who began a conversation telling me they wanted it cheap and fast. When I was just starting out, I took whatever came through the door, as most of us have to, but I’ve learned from most of my mistakes, and can now recognize which jobs will advance my career, make best use of my skills, foster relationships with long term clients, and in a perfect world, will be enjoyable to work on.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes this year, because I had a couple of big ones. One of them could have cost me a fortune had I not recognized it for what it was before I’d invested too much of my time and money into it. So, I did need to relearn a couple of lessons in 2010.

Get EVERYTHING in writing, and if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Those Animal Paintings

In January, I posted my third painting in the animal series, the Bull Elk, and in that blog entry, I said, “Hoping to get at least 15 of these done before April.”

I laughed out loud when I read that again this morning. 15 by April?! Sure, if I had NOTHING else to do, that might have been feasible. Not sure where the line is between optimistic and delusional, but at least you can’t say I didn’t aim high.

At year’s end, I have seven of them finished, with two more in the final stages. While I still would like to have fifteen done by April (hey, I didn’t say which YEAR in that blog entry), I’m not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen.

When the year began, I was just starting to look into getting prints done, and talking to galleries. As the year closes, I’m regularly doing painting demos in Banff and Canmore, the paintings are selling well in both locations, I’m now getting queries for commission work, and I’m making long term plans for many more Totem paintings in the years to come. It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads, because I can’t remember ever enjoying my work as much as I do when I’m painting these animals.

The challenge is, of course, finding more time to do it.

Surprises

I was asked to illustrate a 1970 Mach 1 Mustang in a somewhat realistic but still cartoon style by a friend for their annual car club auction. This friend handles all of my computer work, builds my custom computers every couple of years when I upgrade, and is only a phone call away when I need help, so I agreed to do him this favour.

This was very difficult and I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. I didn’t have much fun while working on it and wished I’d said No. In the end, however, I was quite pleased with how it turned out, and I’d like to try something like this again in the future. I’ve had some nibbles from other car enthusiasts who’ve seen it and while no real bites yet, it was a nice piece to add to my portfolio. And I’m sure I can do better on the next one.


Another surprise was that I bought an iPad, and I’m really not a ‘gadget guy.’ I spent weeks going back and forth on whether it was just a toy or legitimately worth it for my business. When I finally decided to buy one, I kept waiting for the buyer’s remorse to kick in, but honestly, I love the thing (and not just for Angry Birds). It’s a great portfolio display device, an enjoyable magazine and book reader, and an incredible portable sketch pad. Who knew that I would love finger painting so much?

Photoshop World

Las Vegas was easily the highlight of the year for me. I had known before going to Photoshop World, that I’d been nominated for two Guru Awards from the three images I’d submitted, and while I wanted to win, I went into the event expecting to lose, especially for Best in Show. The number of talented people that attend that event means you can’t take anything for granted, so as cliche as it sounds, it really was an honour just being nominated.

I could play humble and say that awards don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’d be lying if I said that these particular ones didn’t mean anything to me. I was very pleased. The icing on the cake was the Wacom Cintiq tablet that came with the Best in Show Award. While I still use my Intuos4 every day for cartooning, that Cintiq is a joy to paint with.

While I plan on returning to Photoshop World again in 2011, it is very unlikely that I will enter the Guru Awards. The work that I would submit would probably just be another in the Totem series, so while it would be new animals, the style wouldn’t be anything they haven’t seen. It would also be very difficult to top the experience I’ve already had.

I’ve met some wonderful new people this year through my work, formed new relationships, built on old ones, and for the most part, I’ve kept moving forward, even though I ground the gears a few times while shifting. It hasn’t always been the smoothest of rides. Despite a few errors on my part, I wouldn’t have done anything differently in 2010, because I’m happy with where I’m at right now. I will, however, be starting 2011 with some course corrections.

But that’s a blog entry for next week. Happy New Year.