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From time to time, my retail clients will offer up subject matter if their customers have asked for a specific animal or if it’s popular in a region where my work is sold.

That doesn’t mean they’ll end up being popular paintings,but I’m usually willing to take a chance, especially if I think it’ll make a good image. Some that come to mind are the Elk and Ground Squirrel paintings, suggested by the first gallery that sold my work in Banff. Neither of those paintings ended up being bestsellers, but to be honest, I’ve never liked my elk painting and will likely take another crack at one soon.

The Panda and Hippo were suggestions by the Calgary Zoo, the Beaver and Black Bear by the former owners of About Canada in Banff, and a few others were random suggestions by friends and customers.

Regular readers will know that I recently signed a license with Pacific Music and Art on Vancouver Island. So far, I’m pleased with how this relationship is progressing. The owner, Mike, had asked for an Orca during our initial conversations. That painting was already in the works, but I bumped it to the top of the list and finished it just over a week ago.

But when he asked for a Sasquatch, that gave me pause. I told him I’d never painted a mythical creature before.

He joked, “But is it?”

At least I think he was joking.

The Sasquatch, he explained, is a popular theme among his customers in Western Canada and he thought it would do quite well for me. The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the idea. The whole challenge would be finding reference to paint from.

Of course, I couldn’t very well use the most popular photo in Bigfoot lore, the lumbering dark blurry shape with which we’re all familiar.My buddy Darrel has a theory that the reason nobody can get a clear shot of a Sasquatch is that they actually look blurry in real life. Who am I to argue?

I thought of doing a more animated pose in an elaborate forest scene, but this was supposed to look similar to my other whimsical wildlife portraits, so it’s the head and shoulders image where the expression and detail take center stage. While it’s nice to stretch boundaries and try new things, art for a living means you often have to paint commercial pieces as well.

Gathering the reference for this was a fun effort. I used a couple of dozen images with different subject matter. A few actors’ expressions and features were used as inspiration, including Ron Perlman, Kurt Russell, Vincent D’Onofrio and one stock photo of a random older man with a funny expression. I didn’t want any suggestion of the actual likeness of any of these people, however, so I just used their images for reference for eye wrinkles, skull structure, teeth and lips, and then exaggerated them all how I saw fit.

For animal reference, I used gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and grizzly bears, taking inspiration from each to create the facial structure,textures and hair.

And finally, I was well aware that the most famous Bigfoot characters in media are from Harry and the Hendersons , the Jack Link’s Sasquatch and even Chewbacca from Star Wars. I made conscious choices to deviate from their anatomy as much as I could so that I couldn’t be accused of copying those designs.

For example, both Harry and the Jack Link’s Sasquatch have prominent conical foreheads with dramatic receding hairlines. I deliberately structured the anatomy of mine to avoid that. What resulted was a bit of a salon hairstyle in my painting, but I think that just makes it funnier.

I also chose to paint in prominent white eyebrows, a higher cuter nose and frankly, impossible depth around the lower jaw. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the result and it contributed a little more to my growth as an artist. Whether it will be a popular image, remains to be seen.

Here’s hoping the real Bigfoot isn’t an art critic.


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Caricature and Cartoons

When I first started out as an editorial cartoonist, I was horrible at caricature. It took forever for me just to get a passable likeness and sometimes, I even had to put the name of the person on a briefcase or name tag just to be sure that people would know who they were looking at.

As time went on, I spent a lot of energy trying to become better at that, because this artistic shortcoming drove me nuts. I tried to do the extreme exaggeration caricature, with the huge features, but never really took to it. I tried to do faces that were far too realistic so that they weren’t caricatured at all. Eventually, I discovered my own style which is a mix of the two, leaning more toward a realistic than extreme distortion. But still with big noggins.

It has been my experience that caricature is often seen as something easy to do by people who don’t draw or paint. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because many people have seen or had their caricature painted by one of those artists at county fairs or carnivals in ten minutes or less. What most people don’t realize is that the people who can do that are incredibly talented. That kind of speed and accuracy takes years to acquire and I have a lot of respect for the artists I know who can do it. It is a skill I do not possess.

I took an online caricature course years ago from Jason Seiler through Jason is an incredibly talented portrait and caricature artist, his work has appeared in many magazines and publications. He has even painted Pope Francis for Time’s Man of The Year cover last year. You probably saw it, even if you didn’t know who did it.

I learned a lot from Jason’s course, it was well worth my time and money. I probably found my own personal value more in the painting techniques I learned from that course, rather than the caricature. That’s not a failing on his part, far from it. It’s just where my interest was. A lot of the painting techniques I still use today have core elements of the skills I learned from Jason.

When it comes to caricature, I’ve done commissions for individuals, illustrations for magazines and newspapers, business graphics, and celebrity portfolio pieces. After I discovered my animal work, however, I realized that’s where my niche was and have since devoted most of my painting time to that. My caricature skills, such as they are, are clearly a part of that work. While I will still get requests from time to time for caricature commissions of people, I most often turn them down unless there are very special circumstances.

These days, the majority of my caricatures are for editorial cartoons. As deadlines are constantly on my mind, I can’t always put long hours into them, but every once in a while, I’ll make the time.
MulcairNotley_closeupAs I’d had the idea for this cartoon on Friday, in anticipation of the upcoming NDP convention in Edmonton, I decided to devote Sunday to working on it. I started with the sketches very early in the morning and finished painting it sometime around 3 pm, I think. Allowing for time to eat, chitchat with my wife throughout the day, I would guess this one took me somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to complete.

Editorial cartoon caricatures are tough because newsprint is a muddy and unpredictable medium. Subtle brushstrokes often get blurred out so they’re not even seen. For that reason, I have to paint with more contrast, harder lines, and include black lines where I might normally leave them out in another painting. It’s about finding the right balance between how I’d really like to paint the face and what I need to do to make it stand out on newsprint and hopefully look relatively the same in all of the publications that print it. You’d be surprised how one press can make a cartoon look great, while another can make it look completely washed out, all from the same file.

For those who follow my artwork, but not my editorial cartoons or Canadian politics, the guy is Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party of Canada. The woman is Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta, also with the NDP but at the provincial level. Neither is very popular right now and they’re both struggling for relevance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, not only the faces, but also painting the car, just spending time on the whole image overall. Without worrying about whether it gets widely published or if my editors like it, I had fun painting it, nitpicking over the details, trying a few experiments, improving on my skills. It was time well spent.

While there will always be room for improvement, likenesses are a lot easier for me now than they used to be. And best of all, I’m confident that I don’t have to write their names in there anymore.


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Raccoon Totem

RaccoonTotemHere’s the last painting of the year and another addition to my Totem series.  At present, I’ve got about eight to ten animals waiting in the wings to be painted.  I’ve had the reference photos for a number of them for quite some time and even though I don’t have an order in mind, it just seems that each gets their turn whenever it feels right.  I had not expected to be painting the Raccoon Totem this year, but when choosing which would be my last painting of 2013, I went through the different folders and reference images, and it just seemed the right time to paint this one.

Whenever I try to manipulate which Totem I’ll paint, whether it’s for commercial reasons or a request from the gallery, I never feel completely good about it.  I learned a while ago to just paint whichever one feels right for the time I’m ready to start a new one and my best work will come through.  This time, it was the raccoon, and (say it with me)…I had a lot of fun with this one.

There appear to be new challenges with each Totem, whether it’s features or fur and for this one, the fur and hair was different.  It wasn’t particularly difficult, but the wiry raccoon hair is unlike any of the animals I’ve painted before.  Just as the Bison and Otter Totems required me to paint hair a little differently, the Raccoon required me to paint on more layers than I normally would, in order to get that deeper layered look I achieved with the hair in this painting.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

RaccoonCloseThis was painted on both the Wacom Cintiq 24HD and Wacom Cintiq 13HD displays, using Photoshop CC.  No photos or overlaid textures were used in this image, it was all done with brush work.  I don’t keep track of how long it takes to paint these anymore, because I usually spend an hour or two here and there over a two or three weeks when my other deadlines allow it.  As always, I relied on a few reference photos for this painting and would like to thank my friend Susan Koppel who provided me my main reference for this Totem.  Susan takes wonderful pet portraits, and also donates her time to her local Humane Society in Nevada and you can’t help but want to adopt all of the pets she photographs as she makes them look their absolute best.  Rather than me ramble on about her skill and talent as a photographer, check out her website and you’ll see for yourself.  You can find her at

Happy to end the year with a Totem painting and looking forward to painting a lot more of them in 2014.


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Remembering Ralph

This week will see a lot of tributes to former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who passed away on Friday, March 29th.  He’d been a television reporter and radio personality for a good chunk of his career, the Mayor of Calgary from 1980-89, and in provincial politics from 1989-2006, the large majority of that time as the Premier.  Many Albertans just called him Ralph, a testament to his ‘man of the people’ persona.  He was loved and despised, depending on who you were talking to.

As an editorial cartoonist, I liked Ralph a lot.  He was fun to draw, was never boring, and I knew I’d miss him when he retired in 2006.  One thing about Ralph, you always knew where he stood.  Unlike so many politicians who will waffle on their ideals depending on the latest public opinion polls, you knew what you were getting with Ralph, even if you didn’t always like it.  He was human and he made unpopular decisions sometimes.  He also screwed up.  But the difference with Ralph was that when you called him on it, he’d either argue his point, tell you to get over it, or in some cases, even apologize.  There wasn’t a lot of bullshit with Ralph.

Like many Albertans, I have fond memories of Ralph Klein.  He did a lot for this province.  If you want specifics, just do a Google search.  You’ll find no shortage of anecdotes and stories about King Ralph this week.  One of my favorite personal stories took place right around his retirement.  Knowing his resignation was coming and having already thought about the cartoon I’d do, this is what I came up with.


Under the guise of the ‘official portrait’ I tried to include as many of the controversies and noteworthy events from Ralph’s career as I could.  There were his days socializing at the St. Louis Hotel in Calgary (written on the glass in his hand), the famous “shoot, shovel and shut-up” comment as well as the one about eastern “bums and creeps” straining Calgary resources.  In his pocket, the $400 Prosperity Bonus cheques he gave to every Albertan after the provincial debt had been paid off.

The cartoon appeared in the Calgary Herald and a number of other newspapers.  Shortly after, I received an email from someone who wanted a framed print of it, minus the ‘official portrait’ post-it note.  I had removed that feature from the image when I’d added it to my portfolio.  Two more print orders followed.  Sometime the next month, Klein was honored at Mount Royal College in Calgary and a day later, I opened the Calgary Herald to see the photo below.  Much to my surprise, one of the framed prints had been a retirement gift for Ralph.  I ordered a copy of the photo for my office.  Forgive me that I no longer remember the name of the Herald photographer who captured the scanned image below.


I look at the caricature now and I see all of the flaws.  As I am a better artist today than I was then, there are a lot of things I would have changed and done better with this image, but every artist looking back on anything they’ve done could say the same thing of prior work.  So, I try to look past that.  It’s a good memory of moments in my career, both the time spent painting the caricature and knowing that Ralph was given a copy while he was still in good health.  This is how I’d like to remember him and I’m glad I ordered the photo.

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Tom Richmond and The Mad Art of Caricature!

There are many people who consider the humourous paintings of people that I do to be caricature, but just as many who don’t.  I consider traditional caricature to be an exaggeration of features while maintaining the likeness.   At the risk of trying to slap a label on it, my work fits somewhere in between caricaturing a person and cartooning them.  Often it will be a large head, small body, with only mild distortion or exaggeration.  For a lot of business or gift purposes, that’s what my clients want.  But wild exaggeration or not, I still feel that I have a lot to learn.

I have no desire to be a quick-sketch caricature artist, the kind you see at an amusement park or event, but I have a great deal of respect for those who are able to fill that role.  It’s a difficult skill to master and very different from the type of painting and cartooning that I do.  You have to be confident and bold when drawing live, and I’m a tentative obsessive sketcher when I’m drawing people.  I don’t mind admitting that I find quick-sketch caricature very difficult and I’d like to become better at it.

When I think of caricature artists that really wow me with their skill, Tom Richmond tops the list.  Tom is best known for his MAD magazine work, but he’s done a lot more than that in his long career.  Rather than list his accomplishments, take a look at his website and I’ll let his work speak for itself.  I’ve written about Tom before on this blog .  OK, maybe more than once.  What can I say, I’m a fan.

Last week, I received a copy of Tom’s new book “The Mad Art of Caricature: A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces.”  People have been nagging him for years to write a book like this, and whether it’s because he got tired of it, or just realized he was ready and made the time, it was well worth the wait.  I pre-ordered the book sometime this summer, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.  I had very high expectations, and Tom’s book surpassed them.

I’ve bought many cartooning and caricature books over the years, and this one is hands-down the best I’ve ever seen.  From tutorials on how to draw specific body parts, exaggeration, relationships between facial features…I could go on at great length about all of the wonderful specifics he teaches in this book.  It is comprehensive and complete.  There are techniques and tutorials in this book that I’ve never seen explained in any other I’ve bought, not to mention valuable insights into how to become better at live or studio caricature work.  And content aside, it’s quality printing with beautiful colour, too.  Put simply, I would recommend this book to beginners and professionals alike, without reservation.

While reading the book, I just wanted to pick up a pencil and draw.  Yes, I draw every day already, and while it’s enjoyable, it’s not often that I get excited about it.  I’ve said before that Tom’s work makes me want to be a better artist.  I’ve no doubt that his book will teach me how.

To order a copy of your own, here’s the link again.  “The Mad Art of Caricature: A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces.” 

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Ostrich – iPad Painting

Here’s another painting I did on the iPad over a period of three or four days.  This is the kind of thing I like to do while sitting watching TV, as it’s not on deadline and is just fun to work on.

This was painted using the Procreate app, the Wacom Bamboo Stylus and the Nomad mini brush, which arrived last week.  While I’m very happy with the Wacom, I’ve been seeing ads and reviews for the Nomad brush around the net and I thought I’d give it a try.  Because I like having everything portable, I bought the mini brush instead of the longer ones and I really enjoyed working with it.  It doesn’t really do anything I can’t do with the Wacom stylus, but when it came to working on the little hairs and some subtle shading, it was more enjoyable to work with as it glides over the screen a lot easier than a traditional stylus.

I wouldn’t want to be limited to only the Nomad brush, however.  While it’s great for painting, I don’t like it for drawing, but then, it’s not really designed for that anyway.  After finishing this painting using the Wacom and the Nomad, I’m going to continue to use them both.  They each have their strengths and I enjoyed using them both on this painting.  The only downside of the brush is that you want to be careful not to squash or wreck the bristles by leaving it lying around.  I was thinking that a little cap would have been a good thing to include with this brush/stylus.  But then again, I’d probably lose the cap, so it’s probably fine the way it is.

When I’m using the iPad, I have the brightness set to 50 percent.  Because I spend so much time in front of the computer, the brightness of my desktop monitor is set pretty low as well.  I plan to preserve my eyesight as long as possible, so I try to minimize my exposure to bright light.  The downside of working on the iPad is that it means making adjustments for that before posting.  There are a few apps out there that will make color and brightness adjustments but I’m still getting used to how far I have to push things to get them to look right online.  It’s an ongoing process, but I’m learning.

This close-up is actual pixels, 72 ppi, so you can see that this is one of the limitations of working on the iPad.  I have the first generation iPad, and I know the 2nd generation has better resolution, so you’ll be able to get a little more detail, but not a lot more.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I did bring this into Photoshop for some color adjustment.  Every monitor is going to be different, but mine is calibrated and the color I saw on the iPad is not what it looked like when I emailed it to myself in order to post it.  So while all of the brush work was done on the iPad, I did do a Hue/Saturation and Levels adjustment on my desktop.  I also used a bit of Smart Sharpen.  Here, you can see the difference side by side.  While the one on the left is what I got from the iPad in my inbox, the one of the right (after adjustments) more closely resembles what I was seeing on the iPad when I was working on it.

The iPad will not replace my Wacom tablet and Photoshop anytime soon, so you might wonder why I bother.  It really is just for the fun and the challenge of it.  I’m enjoying seeing just how far I can take a painting before I can’t go any further.  This is equivalent to painting in low-res in Photoshop and that translates directly to my more detailed paintings because they all start in low-res.  Working on the iPad with limited tools and resolution does end up making my more detailed work better because it forces me to do my best on the foundation of the painting before working on the fine details.

While I intended this to end at being an iPad painting, I’m toying with the idea of bringing it into Photoshop, bumping up the resolution and making a full size, full resolution painting out of it, because I know I can take it further.  It’ll mean working a number of more hours on it, but I think the end result might be something I’ll be proud of.

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Tom Richmond

While there are many artists I admire, there are a select few whose artwork continues to inspire me and makes me want to be a better artist.  I’ll consistently tell people who ask me for career advice, to find and learn from artists whose work you like and who are better than you are.

The first part is important.  While it’s easy to find people who are better artists, if you don’t like their work, it just won’t make you want to be better by seeing it.  Consistently, I can go to artists like Drew Struzan, Neville Page, and Jason Seiler and know that I’ll find work I’m not able to do yet, but because I love their work, it inspires me to try.  Better artists will almost always have something to teach you, because hopefully by the time you’ve gotten better, so have they.

Another artist who consistently makes me green with envy (in a good way) is Tom Richmond, a very well known and popular MAD magazine and caricature artist.  I’ve been a fan of his for many years.  If you draw caricatures, and haven’t seen Tom’s work, you might want to take a look.  He’s got a great website and blog.  I especially enjoy his Sunday Mailbag posts where he answers reader questions.  Tom’s got a great reputation in the industry not only for his work, but he’s active in the community and always willing to offer helpful advice.

Recently, he mentioned that he had taken a bunch of limited edition prints of the one you see here to Comic-Con in San Diego and ended up coming back with some.  When I saw the print (shown here, with permission), I knew I was buying one.  It made me laugh out loud.  There’s just something in Tom’s style  of drawing that I’m missing in my own cartoons, some life and action I want to capture but am not quite there yet, and I knew this would inspire me to keep trying.  So it will be matted and framed and hang in my office where I can easily see it.  It’s a great print.  Still some available here, if you’re interested.

Incidentally, Tom’s long awaited book “The Mad Art of Caricature” (which I ordered this morning) is going to be released next month.  If you want to draw caricatures, there are a lot of great books out there, but without even having seen it yet, aside from sneak peeks on his blog, I have a feeling this will be at the top of the list.

Thanks, Tom!

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This is my latest painting.  While I treated it like a commission, this was a labour of love, as it was a gift for my mother’s birthday.  Bailey belongs to my folks, but as anybody who has ever met a shih tzu knows, my folks actually belong to her.  She’s a real sweetheart and my parents just adore her.

I’ve wanted to paint this for a couple of years now, but could never seem to get out from under the work.  I finally made the time this summer and I’m pleased with how it turned out.  I couldn’t have done as good a job two years ago, but then I’ll probably want to do another one two years from now.

This one was incredibly tough because it was personal.  While I try to do my best with every painting I do, this one will be done on canvas, framed, and since I already know where my Mom is hanging it, will be displayed prominently in their home.  I’ll have to see this for a long time.  So I nitpicked it to death, and given unlimited time, I could probably work on it ’til Christmas.  Sometimes you just have to hit ‘Save’ for the last time and move on.

While I’ve still got other illustration commissions to work on in the next few weeks, this will be the last painting I work on until after Photoshop World, so sometime in mid-September.  That’s actually a good thing, because I’ve finished three in the past few weeks (including the DVD), so I’d like a little break from it.

But I’ve got big plans for a number of new paintings in the Fall.  Some of them are commissions, some are for my Rocky Mountain Wildlife series, and at least one will start off my Pacific Coast Wildlife series, which I’m very excited about.

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iPad Painting: Billy Connolly

With my heavy workload lately, almost everything I’ve been doing has been for a deadline. Even the animal paintings have now become one more item on my ‘to-do’ list. It has begun to wear a little thin, so I wanted to work on something this week that was just for fun.

I’m really enjoying working on the iPad, and despite the fact that some people lament that it’s not pressure sensitive like a Wacom tablet, the drawing apps available are incredibly versatile. I haven’t painted any people in awhile, and I’ve been itching to get back at that, if for nothing else, than to improve those skills. Billy Connolly is on a growing list of people I’ve always wanted to paint, so he was as good a subject as any.

A few years ago, I read his biography, entitled ‘Billy,’ written by his wife Pamela Stephenson. I was already a fan of his comedy, but I’ve grown to become a fan of him personally as well. ‘The Big Yin’ is such a talented musician and actor, a brilliant comedian, and a dangerously intelligent man.

At one point, I had intended to do a full painting of him, and someday I still might. But for now, this was just an exercise to take drawing on the iPad a little further than just drawing a cartoon character. With the Targus stylus I recently acquired, I felt I could finally do some painting on the device.

I could have done this in colour, but I thought for this first go ’round, I’d stick with black and white. While I didn’t keep track of the time, as I worked on this off and on over the course of a week in the evenings, I would estimate that it took about four or five hours, working on the ArtStudio app. Somebody recently asked me on Facebook if I preferred this one over the Sketchbook Pro app. Having used both, I do prefer ArtStudio to Sketchbook Pro, even though the latter is still a very fine app to work with. I just find the tools in ArtStudio easier to use, and there are more of them.

It’s doubtful that I’ll ever do finished work on the iPad, because the resolution capability of the app doesn’t allow for extreme detail, but I will definitely keep stretching, to see how far I can take it. This is undoubtedly the first of many paintings I’ll experiment with on the iPad.

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Caricature – Bert Monroy

If you travel in digital painting, Photoshop, or illustration circles, Bert Monroy should need no introduction. For everybody else, he’s one of (if not THE) original pioneers of digital painting and photo realistic illustration. This guy literally wrote the book (more than a few) on digital painting. I would encourage you to visit his website, read his bio, and take a look through his incredible portfolio. The work that went into his Damen painting speaks volumes about his attention to detail and his skill as a digital painter.

I’ve had the pleasure of learning from Bert for many years, either through his books, DVD’s, tutorials, or classes. At Photoshop World, I was fortunate to have a one on one portfolio review with Bert and while I was prepared to have a pretty frank and honest critique, he was quite complimentary and had only a few notes of places I could improve a few images. It was a real privilege and I look forward to taking more of his classes at Photoshop World this year.

I took a candid photo of Bert at Photoshop World last year and that was my main reference for this one. Fortunately I surprised him and got a big smile, but it was with a little point and shoot camera and the quality left a LOT to be desired. Even the Genuine Fractals 6 plug-in didn’t help as much as I needed it to, although I highly recommend it for enlarging images. Fortunately, the folks at NAPP came through for me and sent me a high-res version of Bert’s promo photo. While the expression wasn’t good for a caricature, the detail was great, so it helped a lot. Thanks, Larry and Felix!

As in most of my paintings, I got to a point where I was painting in details that nobody is ever going to see, and while I could have worked on this for another week or two, I’m sure, I don’t think it would have made a difference. I also have other images I’d like to work on, and ending this on a Friday seems appropriate.

It’s intimidating to do a digital painting of someone who has far superior skills, but I wanted to do the piece anyway, and I’m happy with how it turned out. As always, I’m sure I will look at this six months from now and see room for improvement, but I imagine that will be true for every image I ever do, so no sense dwelling on it.