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The Professional, Personal, and Paintings of 2022

Keeping a blog is handy when I write a year-end wrap-up because I don’t have to remember what happened. So here are some of the standouts from this year.

Sticker Surprise
While on a cabin trip last year, my buddy Darrel suggested my work might lend itself well to vinyl stickers people put on vehicle windows. So, I designed a few, sourced a production company, and realized he was onto something.

The ten designs have done well with regular re-orders at the Calgary Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, and Stonewaters in Canmore. They were also popular at Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets. This week, I reordered a bunch and added two new designs. In the upcoming year, I’ll be working to get these into more stores.

The NFT boom goes bust
Earlier this year, I thought there might be a market selling NFTs of some of my paintings. I read a lot of information, entertained offers from online galleries, and eventually signed with one. They were professional and good to work with, but then the entire crypto art market fell apart.

Thankfully, I lost no money on the experiment. I never bought any cryptocurrency or paid for my own NFT minting. The time I lost was an educational experience, and I have no regrets. You will never have any success without risk. Kevin Kelly once said, “If you’re not falling down occasionally, you’re just coasting.”

Will NFTs come back into favour? I doubt it.

Cartoon Commendation
I don’t usually enter editorial cartoon contests, but I made an exception this year for the World Press Freedom Competition. I’d already drawn the cartoon above that fit the theme, and the top three prizes included a financial award. Though I hadn’t expected much, I won 2nd place and the prize money paid for most of my new guitar.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook is our local weekly paper. I’ve been their cartoonist since it began in 2001, and I’ve never missed an issue. National awards matter to weekly papers as they lend credibility to the publication, especially when soliciting advertisers who pay for it. The Outlook enters my work into the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards each year.The CCNAs didn’t happen last year because of the pandemic, so they awarded two years at once this time. For Best Local Cartoon, I won First, Second and Third for 2020 and Second and Third for 2021 in their circulation category.

Given there are fewer local papers each year and even fewer local cartoonists, I wonder if the multiple awards say more about the lack of competition than the quality of my work.  Regardless, the recognition is still welcome.The problem with local cartoons  is that you kind of have to live here to understand most of them. So the ones I’ve shared here are a random selection of local and national topics.
Between the five or six syndicated editorial cartoons I create each week, plus the local cartoon for The Outlook, I drew 313 editorial cartoons this year.Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets

I know artists who do the gift and market circuit all year long. For some, it’s their entire living, and they do well. Others try it for a few years, don’t make any money, and move on to something else. It can be a real grind.

More than once, I’ve considered getting a bigger vehicle, a tent and the display and booth hardware I would need to do the fair and market circuit in the warmer months and the holiday shows in November and December.

But with daily editorial cartoon deadlines, long days away and travelling each week are next to impossible. I enjoy working in my office every day and have no desire to spend a lot of my time driving and staying in hotels.

The one big show I look forward to each year is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April, five long days, including a full day for setup. So when the full event reemerged from its two-year pandemic hiatus, I was excited to return.

Not only was 2022 my best year of sales to date, but it was also great fun. I’m already looking forward to the 2023 event, though I’m tempering my expectations with a possible looming recession. Then again, I didn’t think this year would be good, and I was happily proven wrong.

There were several Mountain Made Markets this year, with weekend events every month from May to December. Held indoors at the Canmore Civic Centre, it’s an easy setup close to home, so it’s worth my time.

Each market was profitable, and I enjoyed introducing new people to my work, meeting subscribers in person and visiting with customers, vendors and friends. Significant changes are coming for that event this year. Whether good or bad remains to be seen, but I hope to do more of them in 2023.

Licensing

If you’ve ever bought a face mask, magnet, coaster, or calendar from me, those come from Pacific Music & Art, just a handful of the many items they sell. I often hear from people who’ve bought a trivet in Banff, a coffee mug in Alaska, or an art card in Washington.

Licensing allows me to spend my time painting and still reach new markets and audiences. I signed a few new deals this year with Art Licensing International agency, a company that has represented my work for several years. Agencies might have many more contacts, but they take a big chunk of the royalties, so it’s a double-edged sword. I prefer to find most licenses on my own.

Sometimes companies cold call me. When Diamond Art Club contacted me about licensing my work, I had barely heard of diamond art kits.

Though there was a lead time of many months, the Otter kit finally launched this summer and sold out in days. Producing these kits involves more than simply printing the image on an item, so it took a few months for them to restock that first piece, but it’s again available on their site.

More diamond art kit designs are coming in 2023, but I’m not allowed to share which ones yet.

I signed a new contract last week for ten of my images with an overseas company for another product, but that, too, will be something I can’t share until the middle of next year. Licensing usually involves quite a bit of time between signing contracts and actual production, so it’s work now that pays later.

Come to think of it, that’s a good way of looking at commercial art in general. Every piece I paint is an investment in future revenue.

Special Projects

As I wrote about my latest commission earlier this week, here’s the link if you’d like to see and read about the pet portraits I painted this year.

Every year, I begin with great plans and expectations, but things go off the rails or new opportunities show up, and the whole year becomes a series of course corrections. All I can do for delayed projects important to me is try again.

I tend to slip into a fall melancholy or winter depression most years. When it happens, I often throw my efforts into a personal project, usually painting a portrait of a screen character. I’ve painted several portraits of people, and many result in great stories to go with them. Here’s the John Dutton character painting I did last year.I realized earlier this month that I wouldn’t get to one this year, even though I had already chosen someone to paint. While disappointed, not having the time was likely due to the work I put into the markets, something I hadn’t done in previous years. However, my latest commission of Luna almost felt like a personal piece because I so enjoyed that painting.

I still had down days this fall, especially with our brutally cold November and December. But September and October were beautiful and right before the weather turned, I had a great cabin trip with my buddy, Darrel.

So the seasonal depression wasn’t as dark as it has been in recent years, and for that, I’m grateful.

The Personal

On a sunny June day in Calgary, a woman ran a red light and wrote off Shonna’s car. While we had no immediately apparent injuries, we’ve been sharing one vehicle ever since and likely will until sometime in the middle of next year. Unfortunately, everything we can find, used or new, is overpriced, and we’ve heard many stories of fraudulent car dealers adding extra fees and playing bait-and-switch games. As if the near criminal behaviour of our own insurance company wasn’t bad enough.

But we bought Pedego Element e-bikes and love them. Canmore is easier to get around by bike than car, and it has become a necessity since they brought in paid parking. So we were both disappointed when winter arrived with a vengeance in November, and we had to put them away. While we had planned to get studded tires and ride the bikes all winter, as many around here do, 20″ studded fat tires are just one more item on the long list of global supply problems.

We had a wonderful vacation in August, glamping and kayaking for a week off northern Vancouver Island, a 25th-anniversary trip we had postponed at the beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the best adventures we’ve ever had.

I bought a silent acoustic guitar this year and began to play music again. It’s always within arm’s reach of my desk, and I’ve been playing it almost every day, sometimes for ten minutes, but most often for an hour or more. With regular practice, I’m a better musician now than I’ve ever been, and it’s a lot of fun, especially bringing it on a couple of cabin trips.Best of all, there is no chance I will ever play guitar for a living. It’s a purely creative escape with no responsibility to pay my bills.

Painting

Including the two commissions, I completed nine full-resolution production pieces this year. I wanted to paint more.

Best I can figure, preparing for and attending the additional Mountain Made Markets this year ate up a lot of time and energy, especially on weekends when I do a lot of my painting. I still had to create the same number of editorial cartoons each week but sacrificed painting time. That’s valuable information to have when considering future markets and shows. While those might give me more opportunities to sell the work, they steal from time creating it.

I’ve put together another video to share this year’s painted work. Most of these are finished paintings, with a few works in progress.

Hundreds of new people subscribed to A Wilder View in 2022. My sincere thanks to you who’ve been with me for years and those who just joined the ride. Whatever challenges you face in the coming year, I hope the occasional funny-looking animal in your inbox gives you a smile and makes life a little bit easier, if only for a moment or two.

Good luck with whatever you work toward in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Patrick.

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Crafting a Christmas Cartoon

One of the questions I get from people is, “what’s your medium?”

When I answer that it’s digital, I can expect a few different reactions because many people don’t understand it or think it’s something else.

Many people hear digital and think I’m just messing around with photos on the computer, especially because my work is highly detailed and often has a photorealistic quality. I explain that it’s all brushwork on a digital drawing display, like a cross between a TV monitor and a drafting table. Even though I take my own reference whenever I can, no photos are ever part of the paintings.

For most people, that’s enough of an explanation.

When I tell a traditional artist, somebody who paints with acrylic, oil or watercolour, that I’m working digitally, I often get disdain and condescension. A lot of traditional artists don’t like digital. It might be that they can’t do it, don’t understand it, or feel threatened that it will replace their work medium. Or they don’t like the idea that anybody creates anything on a computer and calls it art.

It used to bother me, and I’d feel insecure about defending my medium, but these days, I dismiss it and move on. I started creating art on a computer in 1998 with one of the first drawing tablets Wacom ever made. I’ve been making my full-time living as an artist for almost twenty years and arguing art mediums is wasted time and energy.

I can’t imagine any photographers or moviemakers still arguing film vs. digital these days. But when digital cameras first came out, those communities had plenty of heated discussions. It seems rather foolish as the camera doesn’t create the art; the photographer does.

It strikes me ironic that artists who are all about free expression, exploring creativity and pushing boundaries are often the first to tell another creative, “you have to stop because that’s not the way it’s done.”

Judge a piece of art by how it makes you feel. If you get nothing from my work, it’s simply not for you. Move on to another artist whose creations push your buttons.

Fortunately, anybody under 30 has grown up with digital art, so they have no stigma. They’ve seen it in movies and video games their whole life. They’ve been doodling on their tablets and phones for years. So when those people ask me about the work, they usually want to learn how to do it.

And I’m always happy to share what I know because so many generous artists gave me their time and knowledge when I was coming up.

While creating a Christmas-themed editorial cartoon this week, I decided to share the different stages of how I draw a cartoon. This isn’t a tutorial, as I don’t want to bore all of you who aren’t aspiring digital artists. Instead, it’s simply a window into the creation.

I put rough perspective guides on a layer in Photoshop for this cartoon.

On another layer, I’ll sketch out whatever I’m drawing and keep refining over and over until I get what you see here. It’s the same principle as sketching and drawing on paper, without all the mess of smudging and erasing.
Then I’ll drop the opacity of the sketch layer, so it’s very faint and create cleaner black lines on the layer above. I call this an Ink layer, even though there’s no ink involved.
I’ll delete the sketch, create a new layer beneath the ink layer and fill in sections of flat colour on different layers. This helps me establish a base colour for separate pieces and select certain painting sections easily.

On top of the flat layer, I create a layer for light and shading. The initial sketching and the painting layer are where I have the most fun.
Finally, I’ll create a painted background, add talk bubbles, my text and signature, and save different formats to send to my newspaper clients across Canada.

Years ago, I recorded a whole DVD on this process through PhotoshopCAFE. It’s no longer available, but this is the basic idea.
The painting process I use for my whimsical wildlife and portraits of people is more complicated because each painting takes many hours to complete and involves a lot of fine detail. But the tools are the same. Many artists have asked me about my painting brushes over the years, and they’re surprised that they’re not complicated. Just like in traditional art, it isn’t the brush; it’s the person wielding it.

As in any profession, creative or otherwise, skills only come from years of working on your craft, and there are no shortcuts.

I created a time lapse video of a Christmas reindeer a few years ago. It shows the Wacom display on which I work and a painting from start to finish in two minutes. Watch ‘til the end for a little digital magic.

As this is likely my last post before the 25th, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. I’ll have something else for you before New Year’s Eve.

Cheers,
Patrick

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‘Tis the Season

Near as I can tell, it was the seven years working in the tourism industry in Banff that exorcised the spirit of Christmas from this here cartoonist and painter of whimsical wildlife.

When you work in a hotel, restaurant, bar, retail store or other service industry in one of the busiest tourist towns in the world, you don’t get time off during the holidays. Tourism is a lifestyle agreement many around here have signed at some point.

But too often, tourists who don’t get their picture-perfect Canadian Rockies Christmas tend to get cranky and take it out on the staff. Year after year that takes a toll.

After playing Christmas all day for the tourists, it always felt like more work to come home to your overpriced apartment and play Christmas there as well. So, we gave it up a long time ago with no regrets.
Shonna and I have not had a tree or decorations in more than twenty years. Aside from a few extra blankets on the couch, our home looks the same on December 25th as on July 25th. We don’t exchange gifts, and we don’t make a big meal.

We still attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, and that’s usually fun, as she works with nice people.

Some years, we are obligated to travel to see family because Christmas and guilt go hand in hand. Every year while living in Banff, we would have to explain to a couple of family members that we had to work on Christmas (just like the year before), so we wouldn’t be coming home.
I welcomed the excuse not to travel. In the darkest month, with the best chance for the worst weather and most treacherous driving, while we’re all under peak stress, everybody hits the road at the same time. And if the highways close for a winter whiteout, and the RCMP tell you to stay home, well, that’s just too bad. Find a way; otherwise, you’ve ruined Christmas for everybody.
Even before the pandemic, ‘tis the season when we’re all contagious. So, we get together with as many people as possible, cram ourselves into crowded spaces, shake hands, hug and kiss and then eat a bunch of finger food.

Why can’t we do this in July when we can camp or hang out on a beach? Those lucky Australians.

Despite my irredeemable inner Scrooge, I have no desire to ruin anybody else’s Christmas. If somebody says Merry Christmas to me, I’ll return the greeting. If they choose another festive Hello-Ho-Ho, I’ll return that too, unlike some who lose their minds and shriek, “IT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT, NOT HAPPY HOLIDAYS!”

I have a return greeting for those people, too. Two words, no hints; you’ll only need one guess.
But here’s where it gets weird.

I like drawing holiday season and Christmas cartoons.

I enjoy drawing Santa Claus, reindeer, ornaments, ribbons, and bows on presents. I don’t know if it’s the bright colour schemes, warm subjects on cool backgrounds, snow on trees, or mythical critters. It’s just strange.

True, there’s always a cynical tone to these cartoons, making fun of the season and my issues with it, but that’s a pillar of the editorial cartoonist profession all year long. I usually come up with far too many ideas this time of year, more than I can draw in December.

But the themes are evergreen. An idea that didn’t get used last year might still work next year. The politicians and issues change, but I can put a seasonal twist on most things, and many cartoons are variations of ones I’ve drawn before, without apology.

Traditional imagery is just that. People don’t want a new twist on Santa Claus. Nobody is deciding stockings on the mantle are passé this year, so let’s hang Levi’s from the dishwasher.

However, what will change is that, hopefully, I’ll be a better artist than I was the year before, as I’m always trying to improve my skills. If I can manage that, that’s all the gift I need.

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s a tough time of year for many people. Try to be a bit nicer to anyone who must work through the season. It’s not the grocery clerk’s fault that you had to circle three times for parking or that the eggnog is sold out. Nor are they to blame that everything is expensive this year. They’re paying more, too, just like you.

Give some money or groceries to the food bank, drop some cash in the Salvation Army kettle, or donate some clothes or blankets to a shelter. Giving to those less fortunate feels good.

If you’re travelling, please don’t drink and drive. Go a little slower and allow more time to get there. As someone who had a vehicle destroyed this year by somebody else’s carelessness, even if you don’t get hurt, insurance will not make you whole, and the experience seriously inconveniences your life. We’re still looking for a replacement vehicle. It can happen to you, and it will ruin your Christmas, and anyone else’s who gets caught in the chaos.

Advice I can give, but I’m bad at following; try to go a little easier on yourself. You don’t need to be perfect, and neither does anybody else. The golden rule is timeless.

I hope you enjoyed this small selection of cartoons from Christmas past and present, and with tongue firmly in cheek…Bah Humbug!

I mean, Merry Christmas.

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Added Fees, Shipping and Deceiving

In a recent issue of A Wilder View, I let subscribers know I had restocked 2023 calendars. As expected, most people ordered one or two, and I was happy to send them by regular mail.

One person ordered six. From a creator’s point of view, that’s great. Clearly, most of those will be gifts, which means more people will come to know my artwork.

To send one calendar via Canada Post qualifies as an oversized envelope under 500 grams, around $4. For two calendars, it’s still under that threshold weight, and it costs around $6.

But once you get above that weight, it becomes a small parcel and the cost jumps.

Our techy world allows me to do much of this at home. I package items, measure, and weigh them, then enter that information into the Canada Post website. I can pay for the shipping and print the label before I drop the item at the post office.

There are several benefits to this process. First, I can estimate a shipping cost and inform the customer of the charge without delay. Second, I can avoid a lineup since there’s usually a bin in which to drop prepaid items. Finally, I avoid surprises at the post office if something costs more than expected.

For the subscriber who ordered six calendars, one might assume the most efficient delivery would be together in one parcel. But when I measured, weighed and entered the data into the Canada Post site, the total came to over $24 at the most economical rate. That rate even includes a small business program discount.

More than $6 of that $24 was a fuel surcharge, an amount you don’t see until the final total.

After conferring with my understanding and patient customer, I sent six calendars in three different business-sized envelopes so that each one didn’t exceed 500 grams and qualified for regular mail.

It’s a ridiculous solution to a preposterous problem, but it saved my customer some money.

In my online store, one print sells for $28.99. Eliminating the time taken to paint the image, the cost of producing that product stems from a professional print of the image, a backer board, an artist bio, and a cellophane sleeve, plus shipping materials if sold in the online store.

Shipping just one print in a flat mailer to Calgary, about an hour’s drive from my house, now costs over $20. Before the pandemic, it was $12. As a consumer, it’s hard to justify paying almost as much to send something as it does to buy it. It only becomes worth it for customers if they want to buy two or more prints. While plenty of people do just that, sometimes they just want one.

You might have seen a recent news article where Canadian businesses are now allowed to charge a fee for paying by credit card. Small businesses must take credit cards to remain competitive, but more cards, especially cards with rewards points, charge merchants a percentage for each transaction. It can be anywhere from 2% to 5%.

When a telecommunications provider, chain grocery store, or other large corporation that boasts record profits every quarter adds this fee, it is a money grab. These companies have been working hard for years to get people to use credit cards, and it’s included in their pricing.

Small businesses are reluctant to add that extra fee to a credit card payment. Even justified, an added fee will turn people off. So, most will absorb the cost and try to factor it into the price of an item without making it noticeably more expensive.
The best we can do is suggest somebody pay by e-transfer as there’s no cost to the consumer or vendor. Debit is also preferred as the transaction fee is significantly less. Or better yet, how about cash, if you even carry that around anymore?

Online payment processing services like PayPal or Stripe have fees and take a percentage of each sale. 2.9% plus a transaction fee. That doesn’t seem like much until you factor that into larger transactions. For example, I was recently commissioned to paint someone’s pet, work I love to do. Of the 50% deposit, I gave $30 to PayPal. I’ll give another $30 for the final payment when the work is complete.

I tried an Etsy store for my vinyl stickers last year to see what would happen. After several sales, however, I shut it down. Their fees were death by a thousand cuts. I can’t even remember all of them, but every listing and sale was nickel and dimed until the result wasn’t worth my time.

On top of that, Etsy gives preferred placement and listing to people who offer free shipping on their items. They hammer that message into vendors. Their justification is that people are so used to buying on Amazon that they want free shipping on everything.
To expect a self-employed small business owner and independent artist to compete with Amazon’s pricing is ludicrous. The only reason they can do that is their sales volume gives them preferred credit card and shipping rates. Any company listing an item on Amazon accepts a much smaller profit margin per item to have a spot on the site.

It’s also no secret that Amazon employees are overworked and underpaid. The self-employed can relate.

I can’t tell you how many people scoff when a self-employed artist refers to what they do as work. Some figure it’s simply a matter of drawing something, slapping it on a website, and counting the bags of money.

Sadly, many young artists who love what they create believe selling it will be easy. Share some images on Instagram; before you know it, you’re moving out of Mom and Dad’s house into that mansion on the coast.

It’s the ‘If you build it, (they) will come’ business plan. There’s a reason that movie had ‘Dreams’ in the title.

I’ll have a booth at another Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre this weekend. It’s a two-day event, and I always enjoy introducing my artwork to new people and reconnecting with familiar faces.

Several people will no doubt tell me they want to consider a purchase and ask if I have an online store. At this point, I’ll explain the inflated shipping costs, let them know that my best prices are always at these markets, and do what I can to try to make the sale on the spot.

Otherwise, they’ll take a business card, put it into a bag, purse, or wallet, and I never hear from these folks again. We’re busy people; it’s just what we do. And sometimes we take a card to be polite, rather than say, “no thanks, not for me.”

But hopefully, some will like one or more of my whimsical critters in a small or large print, magnet, coaster, sticker, calendar or another item and decide to pick up something for themselves or for a gift.

Then they’ll probably pay by credit card, which is fine and welcome because I’ll take that fee out of my profit to make the sale. That’s just part of the cost of creating art for a living.

Which, despite what some might think, is definitely work.

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Queen Elizabeth II – In Memoriam

I often must explain to people that editorial cartoons aren’t always meant to be funny. Ideally, a satirical cartoon should make you laugh, think, or hopefully do both. But there are several occasions where it’s an illustrated comment with no humorous intent.

In the case of tragedies like 9/11 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, or whenever a person of historical significance dies, there’s no call for funny on the editorial page.

You likely don’t need me to tell you that Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. After more than 70 years on the throne, her impact on the world is impossible to deny. For most of us, she has always been ‘The Queen’ and the end of her reign is a historical moment of great significance.

When she got COVID earlier in February, I drew this cartoon, just in case it was time. While it might seem morbid to some, I can assure you that every media outlet in the world has had content and plans laid out far in advance for her inevitable passing. Long before this year, the Queen herself had a hand in the planning of the events of the past two weeks. I felt I’d rather take the time to do the work I wanted, rather than scramble at the last minute just to get it done by deadline.

When I awoke on Thursday the 8th, Shonna and I were heading to Red Deer for the day to take my parents out to lunch. From the news I read about the Queen’s family being called to her side, it seemed clear how the day would unfold. As such, I sent the cartoon to my newspapers, with a note advising that, should she die, this was my contribution.

A few hours later, we were walking to our car with my parents to go to the restaurant when I got the alert on my phone.

The above image appeared in several Canadian daily newspapers the following day.
Canadians will no doubt have a necessary conversation in the coming weeks about this country’s relationship with the monarchy and how it will look in the future. But I drew this second cartoon last week reminding readers that it would be crass to dig into that before her interment. I’m not a monarchist, but one need not be to understand simple respect for the recently deceased and empathy for her family and those who grieve her passing.

And finally, I drew one more cartoon this week for her funeral on the 19th.
While I don’t enjoy or look forward to drawing them, these types of editorial cartoons are still part of the job.

____

©Patrick LaMontagne 2022

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Cocky Cartoonist and COVID

After two-plus years of wearing a mask, staying home, the shots, booster, and trying my best to avoid the plague of the 21st century, that sumbitch finally got me.

I’ve always had a sound immune system and rarely get sick. I can go two or three years at the best of times without a cold or flu. I imagine much of that has to do with no kids and working from home, so I don’t get exposed to every virus making the rounds.

But when I get sick, it’s a knock me on my ass, man-cold. I become Cameron at the beginning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Shonna and I had a frightening, stressful experience on June 11th in Calgary, a story for another time. Still, I’m guessing the flood of adrenaline from that and the subsequent let-down effect scuttled my immune system and opened me up for attack.

I got a tickle in my throat last Saturday, and the test returned negative. When I woke Sunday morning feeling congested, I took another test and sure enough, it was positive. I felt OK and hoped my adventure with COVID would be like Shonna’s earlier this year.

She had the sniffles for two days, worked from home and felt fine, said it was the easiest cold she’s ever had.

Shonna and I can’t keep our distance in our modest home, but I slept on the couch since I still get up earlier than she does most days, and she slept in that week. Thankfully, it’s a very comfortable couch.

Still, I expected I would get it from her then, and we both isolated, just in case. But I never caught it, or I have been operating under the false assumption that I probably got it and was one of those lucky ones who didn’t have any symptoms.

When I tested positive last Sunday, I thought, “OK, I’ll have what she had!”

Cocky cartoonist. It even inspired this cartoon.
I warned a few people I’d seen days before that I’d tested positive and settled in for what I assumed would be a mild cold. Instead, by Sunday evening, I felt like absolute dogshit.

Runny nose, congestion, headache, muscle and joint aches, chills, etc. I’ve managed to work every day and get my cartoons out, even worked several hours on a painting, but there weren’t any long workdays. I didn’t have the energy.

The literature on this version of COVID, which I suspect was a variation of Omicron, is that it’s mild compared to the ones that came before. Upon further investigation, what medical professionals mean by ‘mild’ is that you’re unlikely to require a hospital visit. But the mild experience can be anywhere from one sneeze to “didn’t I see you on The Walking Dead?!”

I slept on the couch again last week, and it looks like Shonna avoided it, or her previous infection of hopefully the same variant is protecting her. We both know you can get it again.

Wait…when she’s sick, I sleep on the couch. When I’m sick, I sleep on the couch. This is bullshit!

Over-the-counter cold meds helped, plenty leftover from Shonna’s experience because she barely touched them. I drink plenty of water at the best of times, but I must have been downing 3 litres a day last week, especially if you factor in all the tea and soup.

As I publish this on the 9th day after my positive test, I feel pretty good. From what I’ve read, you can test positive for up to 90 days afterward, even though you’re no longer contagious. It’s an antibody thing. But I’ll take a test tomorrow anyway.

An unfortunate side effect is that my sense of smell has been altered. This happened to me after a bad cold years ago, and the problem lasted for months. Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat performance. It has something to do with the inflammation traumatizing nerves in smell receptors and is relatively common. As smell is a big part of taste, certain foods are unappetizing right now, and there’s an underlying constant weird smell to everything.

I have plans to go away for a guy’s weekend later this week. The friend I’m going with isn’t concerned, mainly because he’s pretty sure he recently had it himself, and I’ll be past the ten days when I see him. While I could have done without this infection, I am grateful that this bout with the plague didn’t cancel this trip we’ve booked for months.

Bottom line, this felt like a nasty cold or flu. Survivable, sure, but not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. Regardless of where you sit on the vaccine argument (and no, I don’t care to discuss it), I’m glad I got mine. Because given how bad this felt, especially for the first three days, I don’t want to know how much worse it could have been.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A New Marshal in Town

In November of last year, I finished this painting of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from the top-rated Paramount show Yellowstone. Like many of the portraits I paint, it was a personal project, something I did for my own enjoyment. You can read about that piece here.

I don’t attach any expectations to these portraits, but sometimes they either reach the people I’ve painted or attract some attention after the fact that I couldn’t have anticipated. But I learned long ago that if you try to make stuff like that happen, it rarely works. All I can do is complete the painting, put it out there and move on to the next one.

I have a couple of favourite unexpected results, like when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original canvas of a painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. That was almost ten years ago, so I won’t rehash it again. However, if you’re not familiar with that story, you can read about it here. The print signed by both of them hangs in my office.
Another was when I painted Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was in command of the International Space Station. He saw the painting online and sent me an appreciative tweet from space, which was a special moment.

This week, the Calgary Stampede announced that Kevin Costner would be this year’s parade marshal. I’m a fan, or I wouldn’t have painted the portrait in the first place. But I’m not big on crowds, and it’s unlikely I’ll attend the parade or Stampede. Still, the event is a big deal for Calgary. After the last two years, here’s hoping an unrestricted Stampede is a welcome economic boost for the city and surrounding communities, mine included.

As the Calgary Herald has been running my syndicated cartoons regularly for almost 20 years, I emailed the editor and suggested the painting as a cartoon for the announcement, with the caption you see below. He liked the idea, and it appeared in Wednesday’s edition.
As it also made national news, and Yellowstone is a wildly popular show, I sent it out to my other papers this morning, in case there’s more interest in it. For context outside of Calgary, I added “Calgary Stampede:” before the caption for those other papers.

I’ve done portraits for cartoons before, but most often, it’s for memorials, and they’re never as detailed as I would like. It took more than 20 hours to paint this portrait, so it’s not something I would have done specifically for this purpose. There wouldn’t be a decent return on the investment, and I couldn’t get it done on a tight deadline anyway. To have had the painting done and ready to use for this announcement was a nice moment of serendipity.

Newsprint is unfortunately a muddy medium. Publications use different colour profiles and printers, so a cartoon that might look bright and crisp in one paper might look too bright or dark and desaturated in another. I can do nothing about that, so I adjust the image to find the middle ground for all papers. I put a lot of time into getting the colour right in my work, so I’m most often disappointed when I see it in newsprint, but I’ve had to make peace with that.
The Costner portrait file is 30” X 40” with a lot of detailed brushwork. To shrink it down and prepare it for newsprint, I had to boost the contrast, oversharpen it, and make other Photoshop adjustments to mitigate a poor result. So while I was happy to see it printed in the Calgary Herald (digital edition above), I couldn’t help but see all the flaws in the reproduction, even though I know that most people won’t notice or care.

As always, I just hope people like it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

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

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

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

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

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

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Fit to Print


This week, I put myself in a cartoon for the 20th anniversary of The Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper. Since the beginning, I’ve been the cartoonist for my local paper with a cartoon in every issue, so it’s also my 20th anniversary.

In August of 2001, Shonna and I bought our townhouse in Canmore and moved here from Banff. At the same time, I left the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper, where I’d been the cartoonist for three years, drawing one cartoon a week for what amounted to beer money.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was launching, the brainchild of Bob Schott, Larry Marshall and Carol Picard. As editor, Carol offered me the cartoonist position. Then, a short time later, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated.

Syndication sends the same cartoon to several publications. They pay a fee to run it, substantially less than an original. It’s the reason you used to see the same comic strip page in many daily newspapers or the same Dave Barry humour column across the United States.

At the time, my limited understanding was that an artist had to sign with a syndicate, a company that would act as an agent, send out the work, collect the fees and pay the artist a royalty.

Carol set me straight. When she told me I could do it myself, it was a light through the clouds moment.

She gets tired of me thanking her, but tough noogies. Without her advice, support and mentorship, it’s unlikely that I would be a full-time artist today.

I’ll skip the details of the steep learning curve and logistics, but the short version is that I began creating syndicated cartoons and cold-calling newspapers across Canada. One or two cartoons a week soon became six, plus the local cartoon for the Outlook. In black and white for the first few years, then colour as newspapers made that transition on their editorial pages.

For four and a half years, I worked mornings, evenings and weekends drawing cartoons while working a full-time day job to pay the bills.

In January of 2006, I became a full-time artist, and I’ve been unemployable ever since.

At launch, the other valley papers mocked their audacity. Still, Bob, Larry and Carol soon made The Outlook the paper of record for the Bow Valley, including Stoney Nakoda, Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. After her partners and close friends both passed on before their time, Carol eventually sold the newspaper. 

Ownership, publishers, editors, and staff have come and gone over twenty years. The only people there for the first issue who are still here today are reporter Cathy Ellis, accountant Donna Brown, and this here cartoonist.

I’ve never actually been staff with my name on the masthead, simply a regular weekly contributor. But I still consider myself part of the paper, as do many readers.

While some believe the newspaper industry is dying or dead, I would argue that it’s experiencing a difficult transition and struggling for footing like many in the internet age. Formerly large daily newspapers compete with Facebook and Twitter, stories shared by people who don’t care if they’re true, just that they support what they already believe.

We’ve become familiar with the term fake news because we must frequently ask ourselves if what we’re reading comes from that deep and polluted well.

Many of these newspaper chains slash and burn their newsrooms to stay profitable or solvent, cutting costs wherever they can. But people pick up the paper for what they can’t get on Google News, National Newswatch or the T.V. News channels and sites.

They pick up their hometown paper for local news and views, the stories that make their community theirs.

People in Ottawa don’t care about a rural town in B.C. unless it’s burning and feeds their addiction to tragedy. Just as somebody in Mayerthorpe, Alberta doesn’t care about the new rec centre in Guelph, Ontario.

But the people who report those stories to the people who care about them are local reporters in local communities. So, when a tiny little paper in rural Saskatchewan only prints stories from the national news wire, it’s no wonder no local businesses want to advertise in it because nobody’s reading it.

Advertisers pay for newspapers. It’s the reason your local community paper is often free. However, when the content within is suddenly uninteresting or irrelevant to the people who live there, it’s hard to convince a business that their customers will see their ad. They might as well be advertising in the Yellow Pages.

COVID has been tough on many businesses, and newspapers are no exception. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I lost syndicated newspaper clients at the beginning of the pandemic. While they all said it would be temporary, only one of those has since hired me back, over a year and a half later.

I’ve seen reporters and editors lose their jobs sacrificed to the balance sheet, and many local papers have become shells of their former publications. One newspaper chain sacrificed all freelance content, then gave the cartoonist spot to one of my competitors for supplying them all with free cartoons for months on end.

Apparently, that cartoonist has never heard that nobody wins a race to the bottom.

A few other papers are now running bargain bin priced syndicated cartoons from the United States. Why would anybody in rural Manitoba want to see cartoons about Biden, Trump and the U.S. Congress each week in their small-town community paper?

Carol, Bob, and Larry started the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create a newspaper that the Valley could be proud of. It has won many awards in several categories, setting the standard for community journalism.

I hope that when this pandemic finally ends –and it will end—that our community and several others once again realize the value and benefit of local journalism and news.

When nobody is left to tell the stories, vet sources, check facts, present both sides of an argument, and provide ongoing investigations into complicated issues, the information we rely on won’t be worth repeating.

We’ll simply be sharing more ranting and raving on Facebook and Twitter by the loudest and angriest among us.

And that ain’t news.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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A Different Kind of Canada Day

Drawing an editorial cartoon or illustration for Canada Day is usually fun, and most of the time, without controversy.

This year, however, with all we’ve been through living with the virus and coming to terms with the darkest parts of our nation’s history, July 1st will no doubt be a day of reflection for many.

With the discovery of more unmarked graves at former sites of Indian residential schools, Canadians are once again coming to terms with our past.

We have long pretended that we walk the high road, especially when comparing ourselves to other countries. We have prided ourselves in being polite, friendly, and first to come to the aid of others in need, even when we weren’t any of those things.

But we were never on firm ground while walking that road because we’ve always known our own history, even when we chose to ignore it. These graves might be new physical evidence, but what went on at residential schools was never a secret.

In 1922, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce wrote a whistle-blowing book entitled “The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice for the Indians of Canada.” He had submitted a report in 1907 to the Department of Indian Affairs that was largely ignored.

It wasn’t until 1958 that Indian Affairs regional inspectors recommended the closure of all residential schools. The last one didn’t close until 1996.

One of the most overused clichés surrounding Remembrance Day in Canada, when we remember our fallen service members on November 11th, is the phrase ‘Lest We Forget.’

It has become more of a tagline, something companies can put on their ads, and individuals can share online because they’re supposed to. It almost feels like saying ‘Bless You’ when somebody sneezes, a courtesy without meaning. It’s just something you say.

But Lest We Forget is important. It’s about remembering your past so that you don’t repeat it.

Despite our bad habits on social media, where we are quick to point out the failings of others, comparing our best traits to their worst, there isn’t one of us who would have all of our past sins laid bare for public scrutiny. We are fallible and damaged; we are human.

We tear down statues and spit on the ground when we say the names of the architects of the residential school system, but we conveniently forget that Canadians elected these people. Many of those native children are alive today, and they’re not as old as you might think.

This is not ancient history. It happened in our lifetime, much more recently than the world wars we remember each year without fail.

We point the finger at our past leaders and say that they should have done something, but that’s the easy way out. It’s also easy to blame the current leadership and say that it’s their fault, but most of the time, that’s simply partisan politics. We switch political parties in this country more than we switch vehicles.

A hundred years from now, our descendants will not look kindly on our inaction. Such is the luxury of hindsight.  Our behaviour during the pandemic, how we treat our most disadvantaged citizens, our obsession with moral grandstanding on social media, and our disregard for the threat of climate change, the ground on which we stand is indeed shaky.

But we can change. We can have more empathy for our fellow travellers. We can try and put ourselves in another’s shoes before passing judgment on the narrow snapshot we might see of them. These are choices.

Some municipalities have cancelled their Canada Day events, others are going ahead with the party, and more are still on the fence. Individuals must decide for themselves.

I don’t agree with scrubbing away our history, nor do I support daily self-flagellation. Neither accomplishes much of anything. We should know our nation’s past, reflect on it, and learn from it.

Remembrance is not just about the wars we won, but our collective history as a nation, the good and the bad.

Lest we forget.

© Patrick LaMontagne