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Back to the Drawing Board

Although I have a few paintings in progress, I have none to share right now as I’m dealing with more time-sensitive work.

Shonna and I returned Sunday from a week in the islands off northern Vancouver Island, a vacation initially booked for 2020 that we had to cancel. I shouldn’t need to explain why. But we finally got to take the trip, which was well worth the wait. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, glamping and kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago.
I’m anxious to sort through my photos and write about the experience. But I’ll have to fit it in between catching up with work and taking care of the rest of this week’s duties.

But these are some quick edits.
One of the highlights of this trip was the abundance of humpback whales. They were everywhere! There’s nothing like dozing off in a comfortable bed in a large tent at night and waking up each morning to the sound of whales exhaling just offshore.

I had to draw double the editorial cartoons the week before we left to cover my newspaper clients for my week away. So this week, I’ve got the usual cartoons, month-end bookkeeping and invoicing, plus preparing for another Mountain Made Market at the Civic Centre this Saturday. I’ll be in my usual spot inside the foyer, so stop in and visit if you’re in the area.
I’ll have another post soon with more photos and thoughts on the trip. I often forget that time away from the desk, especially in a natural environment, does wonders for my state of mind. Refreshed and rejuvenated, I am looking forward to putting a lot of energy into the paintings I’ve got on the go, and excited about the ones I’ve planned for the fall.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Licensing and Diamond Art Club

When a company needs artwork for a product, they’ll often contract an artist to use their work in exchange for a future royalty percentage on sales.

Depending on the product, percentages can be small. But if the company sells a lot of that product, it can add up to a significant portion of an artist’s income.

This is licensing.

Some artists don’t like licensing because they think they’ll lose control of their art and it will be stolen. That has happened to me more than once, and to every professional artist I know. Sometimes you don’t even know about it until long after the fact, and most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it except tell them to stop.

Most of the licensing companies I’ve worked with are professionals. They use the art how they say they will, pay me regularly, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

They don’t always use the images I want them to, or as many of my paintings as I’d like, but that’s not my call. They’re running their own businesses, and my art is often a tiny part. Once they license the work, it’s theirs to market how they see fit if they keep to the spirit of the agreement.

Harlequin Nature Graphics licenses a handful of my images on T-shirts. DecalGirl offers several of my paintings on cases and decals for electronic devices. A dozen other companies around the world have licensed my art through an agency for cross-stitch, fabrics, canvas art, and other products.
My most significant license, of course, is Pacific Music & Art out of Victoria, BC. Thanks to Mike and his staff, my work is on coffee mugs, water bottles, calendars, art cards, magnets, coasters, trivets, notebooks, and more. During the first year of the pandemic, his foresight to put my work on face masks was a welcome flotation device when other parts of my business were under water.

I regularly encounter people who tell me they’ve bought some of my art at stores I didn’t know existed in towns I’ve never visited. One local friend recently returned from a trip to Vancouver Island and told Shonna, “Pat’s art is everywhere!”

At the Calgary Expo this year, a very nice woman came into my booth and loudly proclaimed, “That’s my otter!”

I laughed and replied, “I beg to differ, Ma’am. That’s MY otter!”

She had bought the image as a framed art card in a BC store more than a year ago, and it hangs in her kitchen.
I get my licenses in three ways. The first is through an agency. They will contact me and propose a contract with a client. I have first right of refusal on every deal, and I have politely declined the opportunity a couple of times. They represent many artists, so it’s not a very personal relationship.

I look up every company in every proposed agreement. Sometimes it conflicts with an existing license; other times, their site looks unprofessional, I don’t like the product, or it’s just not a good fit. But most of the deals they send me are worth a try, and I give them the go-ahead.

Sometimes I look for a license because I think my work will fit a product or I like a specific company.

The third way is that a company will reach out to me. They’ve seen my work somewhere, looked around my website, saw images they liked and want to talk about a license.

About a year ago, Diamond Art Club contacted me to discuss access to my catalogue. The contact was professional, sent me a great information package for prospective licenses, and they were upfront about their royalties and payment schedule—no red flags.

I looked through their professional site and was impressed with how many high-end brands and artists they have under license. There’s no credibility question when a company has the official DC Comics and Harry Potter licenses.

I had heard a little about diamond painting kits but didn’t know much about the hobby, nor how massive it is. The simplest explanation is that it seems to be a blend of paint-by-numbers, cross-stitch and a little bit of the classic lite-bright toy. So rather than butcher the explanation, I’ll refer you to their site’s excellent description. Click here or on the image below.
After a couple of weeks back and forth with contracts and questions, I uploaded my art to their servers and tried to put it out of my mind. They were clear that nothing would likely be available until the end of the year. Licensing is often a long game, depending on the product, and each company’s lead time is different.

The production pipeline on these kits is extensive. First, there’s research with customers and retailers to determine which images to produce, then assigning an image to a designer who will turn a piece of art into a kit. Following that, the kit must be manufactured in large quantities and shipped. It’s more involved than most products I’ve encountered.

I don’t know the timeline for when the world is normal, but I was forewarned that it is much longer under the shadow of the pandemic.

It has been a year since I signed the contract with Diamond Art Club. I checked in with them every couple of months, and they were friendly and accommodating as they explained the different stages of delay. And I’m just one new artist. They no doubt have hundreds of other pieces in the pipeline, all affected by the same delays every company in the world has faced these past couple of years.

The first image Diamond Art Club put into production was no surprise. My Otter is one of my top two bestsellers everywhere, a close tie with the Smiling Tiger.

I’m glad they started with that one because if it does well, there will no doubt be more of my images on these kits in the future. Given the popularity and quality of these kits, I certainly hope so.
My sample arrived this week, and I was eager to open it. The first thing I noticed was the fantastic design of the packaging, both outside and in. The tools and pieces are well organized and labelled. The quality of the otter image on the canvas is superb, and there’s nothing about this kit that looks cheap and thrown together. At 23″X17″, it’s a fairly large image.

If I were into this hobby and bought one from Diamond Art Club, I would feel like a valued customer. As a licensed artist, I feel my work is represented well, and I’m pleased to be involved with this company. I hope it’s for a long time.

I’ve learned about licensing, however, that I have no clue what will do well or for how long. Certain paintings may be incredibly popular with the people who like them, but will a new product find a new audience? I have no idea.

So, while I wait and see, I let these companies do what they do best, and I’ll keep painting new portraits of whimsical wildlife for their future consideration.

Because that’s what I do best.
If you’d like to learn more about Diamond Art Club, head to their site and check it out. Right now, you can get 20% off your first order with the code SUMMER20. While they have a large assortment of fantastic art, might I suggest a certain Otter as your first piece?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Mountain Made Market – July 30th


It’s that time again, another long weekend Mountain Made Market this Saturday at the Civic Centre, downtown Canmore. There will be 25 vendors inside and out, specialty foods, arts & crafts and live music. The Canmore Folk Fest also returns this weekend, so downtown will be a hopping place. With Main Street closed for the summer to motor vehicles, there’s plenty of room to move about, see the sights and enjoy the atmosphere.

As I don’t do the regular market circuit, I haven’t got a big tent, so you’ll find me just inside The Civic Centre in the main foyer. I’ll have plenty of prints, including the latest releases, 2023 calendars, coasters, magnets, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and more. So come on down and support local art and artists!

Hope to see you there.

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All Work and No Play

If you had asked me as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered that I wanted to be a writer. Most artists have several creative interests. But like with my artwork, I accepted too many offerings from unkind critics and shelved any ambition to do anything with those talents for many years.

I remember a teacher handing back an essay, telling me I would be a writer one day. But I also recall a different teacher who said a paper I turned in was too advanced for my age; therefore, I must have plagiarized it, and she called my parents—nothing like being branded a thief to douse a creative spark.

I didn’t gain enough confidence in my artwork to consider taking it professionally until my early thirties. I had never entertained the idea of art school because I didn’t think I was good enough. And despite having written two amateur novels in my twenties, my writing today is mostly confined to blog posts and promoting my art.

I’ve procrastinated on writing an art book for several years under the crippling weight of imposter syndrome. I have visions of spending several months working on it, shelling out the money to publish it, and having most of the books sit in the corner of the basement collecting dust. Many would-be authors have shared that fate after foolishly flying too close to the sun.

But I still want to write the book. There are stories behind the paintings I want to tell because that’s as much a part of the work as the brushstrokes. And there are plenty of prints I have retired that could shine again in a book.

What scares me more than writing it is still talking about writing it 20 years from now. Apologies to those who are tired of me promising that which it seems I’ll never deliver.

I don’t have writer’s block. If anything, my problem is writing too much and having to edit it down to a reasonable length. Most of my first draft blog posts are twice as long before I take a machete to them. My problem is the simple fear of creating a book that ends up being little more than a steaming pile of crap, unworthy of the common housefly.

It’s a convenient excuse. If I don’t write it, it can’t suck. But what if it ends up being as good or better than I want it to be? I’ll never know if I don’t write it. So this failure to launch is an unending source of shame and self-loathing, with nobody to blame but myself.

In his book, The Practice, Seth Godin wrote, “If you need a guarantee of critical and market success every time you seek to create, you’ve found a great place to hide. If the need for critical and market success has trapped you into not being bold again, you’ve found another place to hide.”

At this point in my career, I cannot separate my art and writing from my profession. They are both synonymous with work and my identity. That’s what happens when you turn what you love into your job. There is no part of my art now that isn’t, in some way, a component of my business.

But I have a third creative outlet.

My parents once bought me one of those little Casio keyboards for Christmas, and on the first day, I learned a song from the radio. Just the melody, one key at a time with my index finger, but I had discovered that I had an amateur ear for music. Nothing that foretold a scholarship at Julliard or anything extraordinary, just some average latent musical talent.

I graduated to a larger full-size keyboard, then another, and even hauled the damn thing around with me far too often. In hindsight, it was no doubt a surrogate security blanket, but music was a big part of my teenage and young adult years.

Music formed the foundation of my oldest and closest friendship with my buddy Darrel. We occasionally performed a couple of songs at The Crown and Anchor pub in Red Deer around 1990 for a couple of years. Darrel played guitar, and I sang.

While he went to college for music and still works in the industry today, I let my musical interests stagnate when I moved on to cartooning.

But I’ve always missed it. Several years ago, I bought a secondhand guitar and took months of lessons. I practiced, improved, and learned a lot. I can fingerpick and play chords, but I kept putting it aside for work, so I never got good at it.

Sometimes I would take it camping, but people want to listen to songs around a campfire, not somebody practicing. I’d bring it to the cabin with grand designs of jamming with Darrel, but our guitars spent most of those weekends sitting in their cases. I just hadn’t practiced enough on my own, so I couldn’t play much of anything useful, and eventually, I just started leaving it at home.

Most days, it sits in the corner of my office in its case for months on end while I responsibly spend my time working on the creative stuff that pays the bills.

I get emails from aspiring artists asking me how to turn their creative hobbies into a profession. I try to be kind, but I answer honestly. I encourage them but also caution them to be careful what they wish for. When your hobby becomes your work, you need to find another hobby.

It is advice that I give but don’t follow.

We own a townhouse condo. While we have an end unit and only share one wall, I am always mindful of how much noise I make, out of consideration for our neighbours.

Three apartments in Banff and 21 years in this place, we’ve had good and bad neighbours. Sharing a wall with somebody else is about compromise; if you cannot do that, you will invite conflict. It is remarkable how so many don’t understand that a sub-woofer on your TV or stereo in a shared wall environment ruins other people’s lives.

Our current neighbours are the best we’ve ever had; yes, we’ve told them more than once. They warn us when they’re working on stuff in the garage and having guests over, and they are simply two of the nicest, most considerate people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. So naturally, we try our best to respond in kind.

Granted, you can’t be quiet all the time. They have a wonderful large dog that Shonna and I adore and have affectionately nicknamed Thunderpaws(!) for those rare times she runs around the house. We’ll occasionally hear each other’s TVs, or we all talk louder on phone calls. Shonna and I both have loud laughs, and like most married couples, we’ve had the odd heated discussion that no doubt the neighbours have been too polite to mention.

They even graciously put up with our kitchen renos a few years ago without a single complaint, even though three out of four of us work at home.

So despite that I have played my guitar, I never enjoyed it as much as I’d like, because I’m conscious of the noise. I’m pretty good at finger-picking now but was poor at strumming because it’s louder, so l avoided it. I’ve been assured it’s not a problem, but I can’t relax and play how I want without wondering if they’re bothered by it. It’s just my nature.

We had a neighbour in Banff who liked to play his guitar late at night, ruining our sleep more than once.

On a recent visit with family, my wife’s stepmother wondered if I still played. When I told her I didn’t, she asked if it was easy to let go or if it had been a passion. I thought about it on the drive home and in the days that followed and realized I still miss it.

I looked up quiet acoustic guitars on a whim and came across the Yamaha SLG200S. They’ve been around a while, but I had never heard of them. So I researched, asked Darrel’s professional opinion, and realized that this was precisely what I needed.

It’s called a silent guitar, but that’s only a marketing term. Basically, it sounds like an unplugged electric guitar, which isn’t loud at all. When you play it with headphones or through an amp, however, it sounds like a high-end acoustic. But it’s incredibly quiet to anyone else and certainly inaudible to someone on the other side of a wall.

The next hurdle was allowing this extravagance, a gift to myself that is in no way an investment in my business. But, Shonna encouraged me to do it. My recent prize money from the second-place win in that cartoon contest covered most of it.

And still, my inner critic spent the next few days trying to talk me out of buying it. You don’t have the time. Better to use the money for the business. What if you play it for a few days, and then it sits in the corner like the other one? Maybe you just like the idea of playing guitar. What’s the point, it’ll take you years to get any good, and you’ll never be really good.

He’s a dick.

Despite my demons, I picked one up a month  ago. I had planned on going to Calgary for it, but while running errands here in Canmore, I took a chance and checked out Roosters Acoustics, the only guitar shop in town. They had three, including the crimson red burst colour I wanted. While it cost a little more here, I was happier to support a local business instead of one in the city. Plus, I would have spent the difference on gas anyway, not to mention my time to go get it.

When I got home, I felt unworthy of it. Like Red in Shawshank Redemption, when given a harmonica by his friend and he says softly, “It’s very pretty, Andy.”

Darrel and I have had a four-night cabin rental booked for the Canada Day long weekend for several months. So with that on the horizon, I told myself I would practice every day so that we could play some real guitar that weekend.

One of the great features of this guitar is that it has an Aux input with its own volume dial, which allows me to plug my phone into it. This lets me play along to songs from Spotify (or any other service on my phone) and it all comes through the same headphones I’m wearing.

Suddenly, I was playing for an hour almost every day, playing it how I wanted, with no concern about noise, genuinely enjoying myself. By the time the trip rolled around, I had not only regained all of the skills I had learned in my lessons and previous practice; I had surpassed them. As a result, I can now play better than I ever have.

Darrel brought a little amp for me, and a couple of those days at the cabin, we played for two hours or more, flipping through songs in a book of music I’d printed. Darrel taught me a few new techniques, and with no agenda, it was just fun! I set up my camera one day and recorded video of our playing a few songs just so I could grab some stills without our having to pose.
This was a favourite, laughing and clowning around while screwing up the chords and lyrics of American Pie, an old standard from those Crown and Anchor days. We had a great weekend at the cabin and I’m looking forward to the next time when I’ll have a few more months of practice under my belt.

I have no desire to play music professionally or join a group or band. There’s no finished product to market, promote, or invite criticism. I don’t need to produce any content to share online, and there’s no pressure. It’s a purely creative outlet, something for me.

I’m glad to have a hobby again. It’s a fun escape from work and a wonderful stress reliever, especially at the end of the day.

Without even a twinge of buyer’s remorse, I consider this some of the best money and time I’ve ever spent.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Swimming Upstream

Here’s a little duckling I finished painting this morning. The duckling itself wasn’t difficult, but the water certainly was. Ironic that I began this year with a commission piece where water was also the hardest part of that painting. There will always be room for improvement in any artistic pursuit, so I welcome these unexpected challenges. The work might become boring without them.

When I first began creating digital art more than 20 years ago, there was a common misconception that if you used a computer, then the computer was doing all the work. Press a few buttons, apply a filter or two and anybody can do it. There was also a ‘look’ to a lot of digital art. It was far too smooth, with a blurry airbrushed look, and it all looked the same. Plenty of amateur artists still make this mistake when they get started. After hearing more than enough of this (anything but constructive) criticism, I worked hard to make my work look more like traditional acrylic or oil textures. That effort paid off because I developed a textured brush style evident in all of my work today. People are still surprised to find out my medium of choice and will often say that it doesn’t look digital.

For the water in this painting, however, I had to go backwards, and paint with that smooth, airbrushed look I have deliberately avoided for so many years. Texture in the water would not only have looked wrong, it would have distracted from the subject of the piece. It’s the contrast between the detailed hair-like feathers of our little friend and the water in which he’s swimming that makes the duck stand out.

This is the final cropped composition for this painting, but I painted more water than you see here. As most of my paintings end up on licensed products, I painted more of the background to allow for different Pacific Music and Art templates. On some of my older pieces, I’ve had to repaint entire sections to accommodate items like coffee mugs and different-sized aluminum prints.

These days, I keep that in mind while painting a piece. It means more work that most people won’t see but less of a headache when I format the painting for more than a dozen different items in their catalogue. Art (and artists) must be flexible when the work is destined for commercial products.
I took the reference for this painting four years ago from the boardwalk that winds through the Policeman’s Creek wetlands here in Canmore. Easily accessible for people of all fitness levels, it’s located in the middle of town and might as well be an urban park. It’s a pretty walk, a nice shortcut from where we live to downtown Canmore, and preferable to walking on the sidewalk of a busy street.

You might think I’d be happier taking photos of bears, wolves, eagles or other more exciting animals, but I’m just as content to spend an hour chasing around a family of ducks with my camera. You never know what critter might end up in a painting.

Only a couple of days ago, I realized just how few paintings I’ve completed this year. I painted the commission of Santé in February and finished my elephant painting in March. In addition, I’ve painted a couple of burrowing owls that are part of a larger piece, but this duckling is only the third finished painting, and the year is almost half over.

Considering I usually produce 10 to 15 pieces each year, I’m well behind where I’d like to be. Of course, one could argue quality vs. quantity, but as this work is a big part of how I make my living, I try to balance them.
The reason for fewer paintings is no mystery. Despite the dramatic decline in the newspaper industry, it’s still a big chunk of my income, and I’m unable to put off or set aside my daily editorial cartoon deadlines. As a result, those take priority every day and painting time is often sacrificed for the cartoons.

On the animal art side of things, I’ve been more occupied this year creating new products, filling and delivering print orders, planning and attending Expo and more local markets, all things that have been on hold the past couple of years. I’m not complaining that I have more sales and increased opportunities to put more work into the world, but it illustrates that art for a living is an illusion.

I don’t spend as much time creating the work as I do promoting and selling the work.

We all struggle with finding enough time to get it all done, whatever ‘it’ is, and most often fail in the attempt. Unfortunately, knowing the solution is simple doesn’t make it any easier.

Saying ‘No’ a lot more often than ‘Yes’ to requests and demands goes against most of our instincts to be friendly, help people out, and put others’ needs ahead of ours. But when it means sacrificing what is most important to us, whether time with our family, the pursuit of hobbies, recharging and relaxing, or time to paint more funny-looking animals, nobody else will make that time for us.

These paintings are a lot of work, but it’s work that I love a great deal, so it makes sense that I’d want to spend more time doing it. I’ll try to remember that for the second half of this year.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Special Deliveries

Art for a living is a lot more than the general assumption that I’m just drawing and colouring all day. Like any business, there is a balance between creating or producing something and selling or marketing that something.

After Expo cleaned me out of stock, an excellent problem to have, I had to re-order prints and the packaging that goes with it. In addition, I needed to fill orders for my retail clients and have stock to sell at an upcoming market and on my online store.

Even though I work with excellent vendors who deliver outstanding service, we’re all familiar with the supply chain challenges that still create delays. But over the past couple of weeks, all orders have finally arrived. I’ve spent many hours signing and packaging each print and the past week delivering them. Now I’m preparing for this Saturday’s Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.
Last week, I drove to Innisfail to Discovery Wildlife Park for the first time this year to deliver the largest print order they’ve ever placed and their first order of my high-quality vinyl stickers.

I had recently updated their park map and flyer for them, and It’s already printed and available for guests. In addition to financial contributions, there are always other ways to help your favourite causes and organizations, especially if you have the marketable skills they need.

Of course, there’s no point driving those couple of hours without taking reference photos and spending time with the staff and animals. Timing and luck delivered a beautiful warm day.

At Expo this year, my friend Kayla, a zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo, said that she wanted to come up and see Discovery Wildlife Park and meet their head keeper, Serena. So I told her I’d be going up soon, and we timed it for her days off. I arranged it with Serena to make sure it was convenient, gave Kayla directions, and met there on Thursday morning.

Here’s Serena on Thursday, feeding last year’s fast growing rescue cubs, Bos and Piper.
The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park have a great relationship. Staff from one will often visit the other, participate in educational and training days, and learn from each other’s procedures and policies.

So, I was happy to introduce Serena and Kayla and connect them for what ended up being a partial professional development day. Of course, I was delighted to tag along and eavesdrop while snapping photos.
We got to meet their new wolf pups, though only the keepers who feed them are allowed to touch them. The vet has prohibited any other contact until the pups have their vaccinations next month. But I got plenty of photos, and there will most definitely be a painting coming this year.

On Monday, I was again on the road to deliver another print order to the Calgary Zoo. In the almost ten years they’ve been selling my prints, this was their largest order, a good sign for what we’re all hoping is an economic recovery year.

I had a good visit catching up with their retail manager, Kathryn, and spent some time meeting the new staff, talking about my work, and answering their questions. Since they’re the ones presenting my art to the public and I frequently talk to people who have seen and bought my work there, I’m happy to give the staff any help they need.

Of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without wandering and taking photos and I was granted yet another beautiful day for it.

No matter how well I plan, some animals prove to be elusive when it comes to reference photos. From poor lighting, posing, vantage point, or timing, it can be frustrating when I can’t get the photos I want. I keep trying, however, as eventually fortune does smile, and it’s always unexpected.
After years of failure, I might have finally got the reference I needed to paint an African porcupine. They had just been given food for which they had to work a little, which is a form of enrichment. The lighting was good, I could get down to eye level, and the little critter kept looking right at me. I was shooting through glass, but if there isn’t much glare and I can cup my hand around the lens hood, that often works just fine. I must have taken 300 shots. I discarded most of them on the first pass, but there are painting reference potentials in those I kept.

From the two visits, I got good reference for wolf pups, a lion, a grizzly, and that African porcupine.

Once this Saturday’s market is behind me, I’ll have a lot more time to devote to painting, and I expect to share a new one with you, already half done, by the end of next week. I have plenty of recent reference stored up and am anxious to work from them.

Just in time for this Saturday’s market, my order from Pacific Music & Art arrived on my doorstep on Monday. I’m grateful to Mike for such a quick turnaround to restock me with magnets, coasters and aluminum art for this weekend’s market. But the best surprise in the box was my first order of the 2023 “Wild Animals” calendar! That’s one of my favourite paintings on the cover, Grizzly on Grass.
The shipment arrived while I was at the zoo, so I sent a text to our next-door neighbours asking them to grab it for me off the step for the third time in recent weeks. For a guy who is home most of the time, all my recent orders have arrived while I’ve been away. My neighbours got the first calendar as a Thank-You, but you can get yours at The Mountain Made Market this weekend at the Canmore Civic Centre.

Next week, I will have the calendars available in the online store; I need to work on the calculations to keep the shipping costs as low as possible. I will let you know when you can order them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Another Expo in the Rearview Mirror

I’ve had some great Calgary Expo experiences over the years, but this one is certainly at the top. I didn’t realize how much I missed people, especially these people. When I mentioned that to my buddy Darrel in a recent text, he replied, “you’re alone too much.”

No argument there. It’s not good for the psyche, as many of us have discovered these past two years.

From the first afternoon on Thursday to the last on Sunday, reconnecting with familiar faces, repeat customers and introducing my work to new people was terrific. I had forgotten how much fun it was, and I get a kick out of the reactions when some people see my work for the first time.
As I’ve written before, it is human nature to smile in response to a smile, so when people run into a couple of walls and tables full of smiling animals, those people smile, laugh, and say things like “ohmygawd, they’re so cuuuuuuuuute!”

I heard that a lot this weekend. It was like a drug.

The compliments are nice, and I say Thank You. Of course, the sales are important, that’s why I’m there. But making people smile, seeing them light up at the unusual nature of my work, I wish I could bottle that. It would come in handy on far too many days when I am working alone in my office, convinced the world has gone to hell in a handcart.

There have been a lot of those days recently for all of us.

I went into this event with realistic expectations. I wasn’t sure if people would buy much or what the mood would be, but it surprised me that it felt like a regular Expo. People were happy to be out and having a good time, and it was very busy, which I’ll admit was a little uncomfortable at times, considering what we’ve all been through.
I had a fantastic location, and because I was next to a pillar, with no booth beside me, I could stretch out a little, which made the layout even better. I had good neighbours, which always makes the show better, but I don’t remember ever having bad ones at this event. Best of all, not a political or contentious discussion or experience all weekend long, which was incredibly refreshing.

I’m bad with names, but I’m excellent with faces, likely a consequence of this visual profession. I recognized a lot of former customers two and three years later, which surprised many of them.

2019 had been my best year, but I exceeded that year’s sales on every day except for Sunday, and that one was close. But for the whole show, this is now my best year, and I’m thrilled.

Talking with people in person, seeing their reactions, and what they buy gives me a better idea of which paintings are popular. I brought a lot of the Smiling Tiger and Otter, but they sold out. That’s always welcome, of course, but not a surprise.

Of the newer paintings, I can now consider Winter Wolf, Sea Turtle and Grizzly on Grass to be bestsellers. Though I brought plenty with me, I also sold out of those at the show, and I’ll know to bring more next time. I still have some of each here at home, but I can only carry so many.

Here are a few stand-out highlights.

Need a Break?

A big THANK YOU to two couples who were incredibly generous. They’re some of my biggest collectors and supporters for several years now, both at this show and throughout the year, and I enjoy visiting with them. They each had four-day passes, so I saw them all weekend long.

While I thought that having my booth next to the bathrooms would be convenient, the map didn’t specify that both of those bathrooms were for women. The men’s bathrooms were both five aisles away in opposite directions. Who designed this place?!

So Will and Jaime volunteered to watch my booth a few times during the weekend, they brought me soft drinks from their hotel one day, and Will even tried to act like a carnival barker to boost sales, which was damn funny.
Sheldon and Tracy are the folks I spent the afternoon with at the zoo and wrote about in a recent post. They watched my booth a few times, chatted with me when it was slow, and stopped by often to check if I needed anything. At one point, Sheldon flipped through my bin of prints and said he felt like he was going through hockey cards. “got it, got it, got it, need it, got it, got it,…”

These customers have become friends, and I was grateful for their kind consideration and help.

I could recite a list of names of all of the people I’ve come to know at this event over the years, but I would likely forget and offend somebody. So, if some of you are reading this, hopefully I let you know in person how much I enjoyed seeing you again.

Have You Got an Elephant Yet?

Remember the guy who comes back every year and asks if I have an elephant painting? You can read about that in a previous post. I was worried he might not be there this year, but Aric was my first customer on Thursday! He asked the question, and I was able to answer, “Why yes! Yes, I do!” and showed him the elephant hanging behind me.
That was the perfect start to the event because not only did he love the painting, he bought the 12”X16” metal print for his wife’s birthday. He assured me I could talk about it here, and I wouldn’t likely ruin the surprise. I had brought two of those metal prints with me this weekend, just in case he bought one, so I’d still have another for the wall.

What a Wookiee!

Before I became a full-time artist in 2006, my last job was as an Admin Assistant for a physiotherapist here in Canmore. These days, Ascent Physical Therapy is bigger and in a new location, with multiple therapists and clinicians. At the time, however, it was a small clinic, just two of us working there with an occasional massage therapist using one of the rooms.

I often describe Shane as the ‘best last boss to have.’ He knew that I wanted to work for myself and was very supportive. When I realized I couldn’t take my business to the next level without leaving, I gave him plenty of notice, but he suggested I job share with somebody else so that I could go part-time to make it easier and train the new person at the same time. That worked great for several months, but eventually, I gave notice again, as did the other part-timer who found a full-time job elsewhere. Shane hired somebody to replace us, and she stayed with him for several years. It was about as smooth and painless a transition as we could have wanted.
Several years ago, Shane created this Chewbacca costume from scratch. It is truly a masterpiece and looks movie-quality. It has an electronic voice box for the growls, stilts for the height and is a highlight of the show for many people, especially kids. Every year, he comes to Expo with this outfit and has even added a C3PO backpiece from the Empire Strikes Back.

Now he’s part of the charitable fan organization, the 501st Legion, and Shane makes a circuit several times during the show with security escorts so that people can take pictures with him. He walked by my booth multiple times but obviously couldn’t stay long as he was mobbed for photos. However, Shane returned one morning without the costume to visit, and it’s always great to see him there.

There Once Was a Bear and a Rat.

Finally, I’d like to share a couple of gifts I received that I’m happy to display in my office.

At the 2019 show, Matthew Overbeck came by the booth and asked if we could collaborate on an art project. He wanted to create some 3D printed lamps and use a couple of my paintings for the lampshade panels. Matthew and his wife Maria have bought my prints before, so it wasn’t a cold call.

I thought it would be a fun project and agreed to let him use my work. He kept me up to date with progress shots and said he would give me a lamp when finished. I was looking forward to it, but the pandemic suddenly arrived, and everybody’s plans slid into the ditch.

I’ve thought about Matthew and this project a few times over the past two years, but I didn’t want to reach out to him about it. When we’re all struggling, the last thing I wanted to do was pressure him to complete his art project or imply that I was waiting for a lamp.
I was thrilled when he showed up at my booth on Thursday and revealed the finished piece. It looks even better than I expected and features two of my favourite paintings. This will be a fond keepsake and Expo memory, as will the second smaller bonus rat lamp he gave me.
While he said he’s not in a super creative mode right now, I know that the right inspiration can turn that around on a dime.

So, feel free to reach out to Matthew if this work is of interest to you. He’s a talented artist working in a unique medium, and I wish him nothing but success with these pieces. I’m pleased that my work could be a small part of it.

To wrap up this wrap-up, I’ve come away from Expo inspired to create more work, which is no small thing. As a result, I have rebooked a corner booth for next year. While I would love the same location, I know that’s not always feasible with changing floor plans, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

To all of you who came to see me and add my artwork to your homes, please accept my sincere thanks for supporting not only this painter of whimsical wildlife but local art in general. It means a lot to all who make our living creating stuff.

And finally, to all of you who signed up for A Wilder View at the Calgary Expo, I know I already sent you a welcome message a couple of days ago, but thanks again for being here. I will do my best to make it worth your while.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Building and Stocking a Booth

The reason I’m sharing info about my Calgary Expo preparation is two-fold. First, I find the behind-the-scenes of other people’s professions interesting, so maybe some of you will, too. But more importantly, when I first began doing this show, I had generous help from practiced vendors, so if my experience can help somebody else, I’m happy to share it.

In my last post about the Expo, I talked about the costs of a booth at this show. You can read it here.

While later than I’m used to, and after an initial mistake on their part, I have my booth assignment for this year’s event. I’m pleased with the location. Booth #603 is on a main thoroughfare at the front of the show, between two sets of main doors and next to the bathrooms, which means I can expect a lot of traffic.
In addition to this floor plan, there is a second building for Artist Alley which looks to have a couple hundred more vendor tables.

Last time, I had an open concept booth. I would greet people, welcome them into the booth, then step aside so they could flip through the print bins, look at the table displays and browse the pieces on the grid walls.

I’ve changed things up this year, primarily because of the pandemic. While many of us are excited to be out and about again, it’s been a rough two years. There might be no more mask mandates or vaccine requirements in Alberta, but I’m still seeing plenty of masks in the grocery stores and people keeping their distance. Each of us has our own comfort level.

Masks have always been common at this event, but only because many arrive in various levels of costume. It’s also one of the most accepting and tolerant events you’ll ever find, where people of all walks of life can be themselves. Because of this live-and-let-live atmosphere, I don’t anticipate anyone coming to this event intent on a political disagreement over face masks. I plan to wear one, but I won’t be making an issue of it.

At the Mountain Made Markets here in the fall, people seemed more comfortable at my booth with a table between us. I know that I was. So, I’ve redesigned my booth to allow me some personal space while still offering plenty of access for people to peruse the prints and other items.

I store my extra stock under two skirted tables and on a shelving unit in a hidden corner. That’s not a lot of real estate. Last year, I had to wait or politely ask somebody to move so that I could retrieve that stock and replenish the tables. It wasn’t easy when it was busy. This time, I can do it from behind the table without disturbing anyone looking through the prints.

I’ve often done partial setups of the booth in my garage to work out any display and layout issues. This year, I made a scale layout in Photoshop instead. It took a lot less time and allowed me to shuffle the pieces without having to physically move tables and grid wall. I know my equipment well and no longer need to set it up in advance.
Because I’ve painted over 100 of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and so many of the early ones are still popular, it’s tough to know which to keep in stock and which to retire.

Writers often get too attached to characters or scenes and fail to see how eliminating them will strengthen the overall story. More experienced writers know that you need to ‘kill your darlings.’

It’s the same with retiring paintings. I’ve spent many hours on each one, and I get attached to them. Eventually, I must accept that some paintings don’t resonate with my audience or those who do like a piece have already bought it. As I’m painting new ones all the time, I need to make room for them.
I have only a few prints left of my first Grizzly painting. It has been a consistent seller for years and continues to do well in licensing. But I’m always painting more grizzlies. So it’s tough to admit that it’s time to retire the painting that started it all.

Remember that expense and inventory Excel spreadsheet I wrote about in the last post? That also tells me how much of each print, magnet, coaster, aluminum, calendar, canvas, and other items I’ve sold at previous Expos.

A detailed sales report from 2019 helped me order for 2022.

I’ve currently got prints in stock for 43 paintings. Just five of each adds up to over 200 prints if you think about it. It’s a rare year I don’t sell at least one of every print, but to bring 20 of each would not only be overkill, but I don’t have the room in the car or the booth.
Some years, I’ll sell in the double digits of a few proven pieces. But what’s popular one year might be crickets the next. For several years, my Otter has been a consistent bestseller, thriving on every retail item on which it appears. Yet, at Expo 2019, I sold only two prints of that one. But I sold nine Ostrich. Go figure.

A challenge for this year is that I’ve painted more than two dozen new pieces since the last Expo. So I had to decide what to bring based on subscriber feedback, online sales, orders from retailers and best guess.

In addition to print inventory, I had to decide which coasters, magnets and 8X10 aluminum pieces to order from Pacific Music & Art. I based that on the last Expo and the Mountain Made Markets I did here in Canmore before Christmas.

Canvas prints have a heftier price tag, so while they sell at Expo, I don’t move a lot of them. But they look great displayed on the grid wall, and it’s these well-lit pieces that bring people into the booth.

Since I’ve already got a bunch of canvas, I chose to top up those display walls with metal prints, as they’re impressive, and I’ve had positive feedback on them. So, I’ll have an equal number of those, including three large 18″ X24″ pieces.

The nice thing about all this stock is that it doesn’t expire or go bad, and I have other regular customers for this inventory. The prints are sold to the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park and in my online store. The stickers are now sold in retail stores, and I’m actively looking for more of those clients. I’ll also have another booth at the May 21st Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.

Ordering this stuff is still a significant financial commitment and a calculated risk. But, unfortunately, it’s the nature of self-employment, and life in general for that matter. All you can do is base decisions on available evidence, weigh the odds, take a leap, and hope for the best in our current uncertain economic climate.

My next post will be the wrap-up after the event when I let you know if the show measured up to expectations or hopefully exceeded them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Setting the Table for Expo

The Calgary Expo is a monster event, beginning on a Thursday afternoon and ending Sunday evening. Pre-pandemic, close to 100,000 people came and went through the doors for four days. It was once the 6th biggest Comic-Con in North America, still growing before the world swerved drunkenly into traffic.

Attendees include comic, toy, art, and pop culture collectors. Movie and television fans pay additional fees to line up for signatures, photo ops, panel discussions and talks from invited celebrities. Calgary attracts some very big names, which draws in more people.

One year, the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation attended, resulting in absolute chaos. The Fire Marshal eventually shut it down with so many people inside that you couldn’t move. Thankfully I wasn’t a vendor that year. Organizers rewrote their rule book the following year.

In 2014, the cast of Aliens was a big draw, resulting in one of my favourite memories, when the late Bill Paxton ended the show by intentionally overacting his most famous movie lines on the intercom. Exhausted vendors suddenly woke up from packing our booths, cheering and applauding the gesture.

Cosplayers spend countless hours creating incredible outfits, from elaborate body paint to 3D printed helmets and armour of pop culture, movie, TV, animation and comic book characters. For example, my former employer spent weeks creating the most realistic Chewbacca costume you’ll ever see, complete with stilt extensions and an electronic voice box. He was a big hit at the show.
Truly an all-ages, family-friendly event, it has consistently been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had each year. The people-watching alone is worth attending, and the whole event has a circus feel.

In fact, they even have a signature parade in downtown Calgary called POW! Parade of Wonders on the Friday (although Expo is open Thursday evening) to kick it off. I’ve never seen it live because I’m always prepping my booth for the day. But it sure looks like people are having fun. This was from 2019.

Retailers include comic book stores, T-shirt vendors, book publishers, and every kind of nerdy pop culture collectible under the sun. Then there is the art. There’s so much quality art that it would take more time than I’ve got to catalogue it all.

Artist Alley is a section unto itself, with more affordable booths for creatives to sell their prints and other items. Many are hobbyists building an audience, though some have built a large fan base and do quite well.

The large halls of the main building are divided into 10 x 10 booths, with some larger companies occupying several. Naturally, these Retailer booths cost more, but increased space and traffic translates to more sales.

Having worked my way up from my first booth, more of a table really, in the now-retired Small Press section, I’ve been in the Retailer section for several years. In my last year in 2019, I had a corner booth on a main thoroughfare, a prime location that I had earned through seniority. I have no idea where I’ll be this year as the floor plan is likely to change and they haven’t released any information yet.

No matter how many times I prepare for this event, it’s a logistical gauntlet. For best pricing, booths are usually booked a year in advance on the last day of the previous Expo. I booked my 2020 booth in April of 2019, so they’ve had my money for three years. Even though they responsibly offered refunds several times during the pandemic, I wanted to keep my booking and priority.

The booth space shown here was bigger than I was used to as the vendor next to me no-showed. So I was able to spread out a little bit, as did the guy on the other side. It’s usually more compact.
Neighbouring vendors form temporary communities at these shows. We watch each other’s booths for bathroom breaks, might do a coffee run if one of us is going, and we talk during set-up and slow periods. I hear a common question: “How did you do today?”

A frequently heard answer, especially from people who don’t do this for a living, is, “I’ve covered my booth costs.”

If that’s your only goal, and you’re doing this for fun or a side hustle, that’s important. The booth fee is usually the most significant expense, but it’s certainly not the only one.

My corner booth costs $1228.50. Despite overall bright lighting in this venue, having my lights on my artwork and banners makes it pop and attracts more attention. So, I rent power for my booth, another $134. Parking for the five days (including Wednesday set-up day) is $65, and my car stays in that lot from Thursday to Sunday.

If I were doing regular shows, I’d get a blanket policy through my insurance provider to cover all of them. All it takes is one person to bump the wrong thing and fall in your booth, or if something from your display falls into an aisle and somebody trips over it, the vendor could be liable. Of course, nobody thinks it will happen to them, but it’s not worth the risk in our litigious society. So, I get vendor insurance for this show through the venue, which costs $64.

Canmore is only an hour away from downtown Calgary when there’s no traffic, but getting in and out of the grounds with everybody else adds a lot of time. I wouldn’t get home until 10 PM at the earliest Friday night and would have to leave by 7 AM the following day to make it back. Add in the potential for a spring snowstorm, which has happened more than once on this weekend, and commuting would be a gamble.

So from Thursday to Sunday, I stay in a hotel. It’s six or seven blocks away from the venue, and I walk back and forth each day. That’s $470 all in, with the Expo rate.

I don’t have a big appetite these days, and I stay away from the high-fat food trucks. Instead, I eat breakfast at the hotel, pick up a healthy lunch at Sunterra market on the way to the grounds each morning, bring trail mix snacks, fruit and cheese from home, and then grab a late takeout light dinner on the walk home to eat in my room. I used to attend the odd networking event at this show, organized by Calgary artist collectives. They were fun, but I prefer winding down in a quiet hotel room. These are long, loud days with many people, and that always takes it out of me.

My food expense for the weekend is usually around $100.

In the late 90s, I worked at a hotel in Banff. For a couple of those years, I was an accounting clerk. Later, I worked as an office admin for a physiotherapist here in Canmore. Through these jobs, I became proficient with Microsoft Excel.

Shonna is an Excel wizard and loves putting data into a spreadsheet. It might sound boring, but it’s a great skill. We each keep our own finances, but there are no mysteries in our household budget for the joint expenses. She’ll spend hours tweaking those numbers to make sure everything gets paid, money is set aside for savings, and ensure that we still get to live a life.

So for Expo a few years ago, we sat down and built a spreadsheet to find out exactly how much it cost to do the show.

My booth might cost $1228.50, but before I sell anything, the initial costs add up to almost twice that, and I haven’t even mentioned creating a booth and filling it with stock.

The most considerable expense of building a booth is in the first year. I didn’t make any money the first two years I did this show, and the second year I barely broke even. I’ll buy one or two new display items to improve things each year, but if you take care of your equipment, almost all of it is reusable.

Here is a list of some of the display materials and equipment. Grid walls, corner braces, wall coverings, hangers, lights, lightbulbs, power bars, banner stands, banners, two folding tables, tablecloths, table riser, magnet boards, coaster/sticker display risers, print display bins, print storage bins, storage rack, canvas/metal cases, floor mats, office supplies, toolbox/tools, cargo dolly, business card holders, display easels, and a bunch of other minor stuff.

In the beginning, this whole show was cash transactions. The rule was to bring lots of small bills for your float. Very few sales are cash these days, and everybody wants to use TAP. My handheld terminal costs $20/month to rent, but it’s well worth it. But like any other retailer in the world, the banks and credit card companies take a small percentage of every transaction.

That’s to build a temporary store for those four days. Then, after that, I need to have items to sell.

Before I sell a print, I pay a printer to produce it, order a backer board to protect and make it presentable, order art bio labels for the backer board, and a cellophane sleeve. Every print comes with an initial cost. It’s the same for the large metal prints, canvas and stickers. For the coasters, magnets, calendars, small aluminum prints and anything else I get from Pacific Music & Art, I buy those from Mike. I get them at less than wholesale because he doesn’t have to pay me a royalty on products I buy for myself.

Every item breaks down on that Excel spreadsheet. From what it cost to buy it to what I sold it for, and in the final column is the profit from that one item. I track everything I sell during the show, writing each transaction in a notebook. Then, I enter it into a spreadsheet on my iPad in my hotel room at the end of each day. Finally, I enter each day into the more extensive spreadsheet at the show’s end.

From the total profit of each item sold, I deduct the hotel, parking, electrical, insurance, and food costs. Only then do I know if I made any money.
That explains the hard costs, but what about my time?

Coming up with an hourly wage for self-employment is almost like mixing math and philosophy. Building my art skills took decades; painting each piece took many hours, and the whole collection of whimsical wildlife paintings has taken 13 years so far. There wouldn’t be any prints, coasters, magnets, calendars, and other items to sell without all of that. So, how could I come up with a value for that time?

I recently spent an hour redesigning my booth in Photoshop, creating scale pieces of the different items and moving them around for greater efficiency. Does that count against time spent?

What about the intangible benefits from the show that can’t be quantified?

Each year, I meet new people and introduce them to my work. If they don’t buy something the first year, they might buy something next time. I’ll get new subscribers to A Wilder View, so maybe they will buy something later or share my work with their friends. I reconnect with people who already like my work and come back to see me year after year.

How do I enter those benefits on an Excel spreadsheet? The simple answer is I can’t, but they’re still valuable.

But for the costs that can be recorded, it’s essential to know what you’re getting out of it and to be honest with yourself if it’s worth doing.

This show has been financially well worth my time and effort for years. But, I’ll admit that significant changes to the show before 2019 had me rethinking whether I would do it again. When the ‘little Expo that could’ sold to the multi-national Fan Expo, now a subsidiary of Informa, it lost the local community feel and it has become a colder corporate event. As a vendor, I used to feel like a valuable participant, friendly with the organizers and happy to see them each year during setup. Now, I just feel like a number on a sheet, easily replaced.

But that turned out to be my most profitable year, and I was pleased with the return on my investment. While I’ve lost any connection with the organization, I still had a great time with my customers and fellow vendors. So, I booked again, unaware that the next two years would change everything for everybody.

I have no idea what to expect this year. As I post this, there’s still no floor plan published, I don’t know my booth number or move-in details. Eight days out, that’s concerning as far as confidence in the overall organization. It could be a great show, with record attendance and people buying a lot of my art. Or it could be quiet, folks reluctant to gather in groups, still financially shell-shocked from the last two years, and just browsing. It will likely be somewhere in between, but that’s still a big range.

I won’t know until Monday, April 25th when I run the numbers.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The People That You Meet

I woke Tuesday in a foul mood.

Though tired, I’d gone to bed with a lot on my mind and couldn’t sleep, an ongoing problem over the past two years for obvious reasons. My worrying usually revolves around black-and-white, all-or-nothing, perfectionist ruminating, catastrophizing, and other cognitive biases that frequently plague overthinkers like myself.

Logically I know that every setback is just a setback, but my subconscious mind turns it into the end of all things, despite any evidence to the contrary.

I’m not going down this road again, simply explaining that a familiar dark cloud was hanging over my head when I got up at my usual 5AM.

I spent the next few hours drawing and sending an editorial cartoon before prepping my camera gear for a trip to the Calgary Zoo. I didn’t much feel like taking photos, but with a welcome print order to deliver, I’d be there already.

Although zoo attendance continues to pick up since the removal of restrictions, I happened to choose a quiet day.

From a business perspective, I want the zoo to be busy. But I’ll admit that I prefer it quiet when I’m taking pictures. I don’t have the patience for screaming children running around my feet and bumping into me while trying to hold the camera steady.

Sorry, I’m not a fan of kids. Bring on the cancel culture.

When I arrived at the Gift Shop, I asked if Kathryn, the Retail Manager was in, fully expecting them to say she wasn’t. Unfortunately, my visits earlier in the week often conflict with her days off, so most of our communication is via email. I think the last time I saw her in person might have been in 2019.

It’s a shame because Kathryn has been buying and selling my work for the past ten years. I enjoy seeing her, she always has good advice to share, and I learn a lot from her marketing experience.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to catch up in person, and we had a productive meeting. We talked about the year ahead, which paintings I’m going to retire and which ones I might consider painting soon. The first batch of stickers I had delivered a couple of months ago have almost sold out, so upon returning home, I packed up another order and dropped them in the mail yesterday.

Kathryn mentioned that Mike from Pacific Music & Art would be there the following day, so I texted him, kidding him that he was avoiding me. He said he’d be in Canmore later in the week, and he took me to lunch Thursday.

Pacific is my favourite license because I’m regularly involved in setting up my work for the various retail items, and I’m kept in the loop on upcoming plans, which is uncommon with licensing agreements. Mike’s also fun to work with, even though he regularly takes jabs at my being the stereotypical temperamental artist.

In the words of Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man 2…“Agreed.”

I left my meeting with Kathryn in better spirits. I had another large sticker order, some positive feedback and information to consider, and an upcoming meeting with Mike to look forward to.

And the zoo was still quiet.
I spent a couple of hours taking photos, but nothing was grabbing me. I’m writing this after I’ve gone through all the shots, and while I got a few I might paint from, most were unremarkable. Some days you feast, others you go hungry. But there are worse ways to spend a cool spring day than walking around with a camera.

Eventually reaching the end of the zoo, I started back the way I came and soon recognized a familiar face, my zookeeper friend, Kayla. We had a good catchup a couple of months ago at the zoo when I delivered a canvas she ordered. I didn’t want to interrupt her work again, so I hadn’t told her I was coming. I figured if I ran into her, great. If not, I’d see her at The Calgary Expo in a couple of weeks.

Kayla and I met years ago after I painted my Smiling Tiger. She had walked by my Expo booth and asked me if the painting was based on a real animal. I told her it was and that I had taken the reference at the zoo. She said the tiger’s name was Katya, that she looked after her all the time and recognized her in the painting.

Considering my style is whimsical, and I take significant liberties in exaggerating the expressions, it was an incredible compliment that she could recognize the tiger she knew in my painting.

Since then, I’ve seen Kayla at Expo and on multiple visits to the zoo. Along with the Smiling Tiger, she has bought other pieces, and I’ve learned a lot about the different animals she cares for. As Serena at Discovery Wildlife Park and Colin at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre can undoubtedly attest, if you spend your life looking after animals, I’m going to annoy you with questions.

Now, running into Kathryn and Kayla at the zoo is not much of a coincidence. They both work there. And Kathryn telling me that Mike was coming in this week is also not too unexpected since he has family in Calgary and is out in Canmore three or four times a year to see clients. So we usually meet up if our schedules allow.

But the most bizarre turn of events happened after I let Kayla go back to work. I walked twenty feet to the red panda exhibit and started taking pictures.

Then I heard my name.

Although they follow A Wilder View, and we exchange emails occasionally, I only ever see Sheldon and Tracy at the Calgary Expo, so it took a couple of seconds for it to click.
They’re two of my favourite people to show up at my booth, not just because they’ve been great supporters of my work for several years. Here’s their collection.

I was already looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks, but to run into them at the zoo, on a quiet random weekday in a city of 1.3 million people, was truly strange. I don’t know how long we stood there catching up, but it was getting a little chilly, so we walked around the zoo together. I realized that what had started as a bad day had suddenly become a very good one.

It was a real treat to spend the better part of the afternoon wandering the zoo with them. I always want to, but it’s hard to visit with people at Expo while looking after others who want to talk about and buy my work. So to have that time to walk and talk with no other obligation or timeline was a privilege, and I was delighted to send them a Thank-You email when I got home. It really made my day.
One of the best parts of making art for a living, art that makes people happy, is that I’ve been able to build relationships over the years. And while I’m grateful that Tracy and Sheldon, and so many others have liked my work enough to buy it, it’s a lot more than that.

I don’t get that connection with people with the other half of my business. In fact, editorial cartooning is more likely to foster and reinforce division in our culture. But that’s a post for another time.

To all of you who’ve found some joy in my funny-looking animals, whether you’ve bought any or not, it is sincerely my pleasure, and I don’t take your support for granted.

Shonna and my close friends would likely agree that I’ve become a cynical grumpy old man before my time because I take a lot of the stuff going on in the world far too personally. It bothers me a great deal how people talk to each other, leading with outrage at the expense of empathy.

I’m a heart on my sleeve guy, so letting things go is not one of my strengths.

But if there is an antidote to this poison, personally and professionally, I find it in these paintings and how they make some people happier, if only for a short time. Meeting some of these people and hanging out with them once in a while has been an unexpected bonus.

Cheers,
Patrick