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If It’s Broke, Fix It

Taking the summer off from promoting my business was an uncomfortable decision.

Covid-19 was the catalyst, but this period of reflection was overdue. I’ve been uninspired, bored with my own art and writing, unable to maintain the pace.

In 2005, I had been working as an Office Admin for a small physiotherapy clinic here in Canmore, spending early mornings, evenings and weekends drawing editorial cartoons. Eventually, that part-time side hustle allowed me to quit my job and become a full-time artist.

It seemed like a big risk, but not massive. We decided that if I couldn’t pay my half of the bills, I’d just get a part-time job. There were plenty of them available.

I’ve had a pretty good run as an editorial cartoonist for the past two decades. It afforded me the ability to try other art-related avenues, one of which became the evolution of my career, painting my funny looking animals.

I’ve never lost sight of the fact, however, that the foundation of my profession for the past twenty years has been an industry afflicted by a slow and terminal cancer. To expect that I will be drawing editorial cartoons in ten years is almost fantasy.

Then again, I said the same thing in 2001, so what do I know?

We pretend to be masters of our own fates, but we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future. Who had Global Pandemic on their schedule for 2020?

As one might expect, those first years were a struggle. I often went into overdraft on my business account and couldn’t afford many luxuries. I did get a part-time job working at a local DVD rental place (remember those?) but not because of the money. I needed to get out of the house and one of the perks was free movie rentals. This was in the dark ages, kids, before streaming video.

I enjoyed the experience for a year, but working until 11:30 some nights, then getting up at 5:00 to draw quickly lost its appeal.

There were some in my profession who figured the next evolution in the craft would be animated editorial cartoons.  I invested in Flash software, training courses, royalty free music, learned how to record audio, and spent countless unpaid hours creating those things. During a federal election one year, all of the big Canadian media outlets wanted to run my animations on their websites, but in a sign of things to come, almost none were willing to pay for them.

I even had a weekly series called Big Plans, where a cartoon beaver in a suit and tie, talked about the week’s political events, complete with cutaway scenes. It was an animated version of the Daily Show or Rick Mercer Report, without interviews and not nearly as funny.

It took about twenty hours a week to create each one, and I only got paid a small amount for a handful of them.

I didn’t like the work much and wasn’t a very good animator. I was more relieved than distraught when it came to an end. But I took the risk, and invested the time, on the off chance that it might pay off.

There have been a few ventures like that, but I’ve learned something from each, lessons for the next idea. Eventually, one of those tries became my whimsical wildlife paintings, changing the course of my life and career. As Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots in hindsight.

When COVID-19 landed on us, a lot changed for most people in a short amount of time. All in the same week, several of my newspapers told me they could no longer afford to pay any freelancers. A temporary layoff, but nobody could say for how long. That was at the end of March. Only one of those papers has hired me back.

This year was supposed to be a big one for my painted work, building on the momentum of my newest license with Pacific Music and Art. I was beginning to see (and hear about) my work being sold in stores all over the place. With multiple re-orders, more retailers signing on and word getting out, 2020 should have been a leap forward.

I don’t need to explain why it wasn’t.

Thankfully, Mike at Pacific Music and Art had the foresight to see the coming demand for face masks and that my paintings would work well on them. I put in late nights, even earlier mornings, and long days preparing the images while still drawing the same number of cartoons for about half the clients.

Promoting, packaging and shipping the masks, plus the paperwork and bookkeeping, it was exhausting. Add in the uncertainty of the pandemic, both the health and financial repercussions, and burn-out was inevitable.

Thanks to my newsletter followers, I filled two large mask orders, and a third smaller one, the revenue helping to shore up my other losses. Pacific Music and Art is now selling the masks wholesale to retailers and individual customers can order directly from their site. I’ve received photos from people who’ve bought my masks at The Calgary Zoo. They’re also available at Shopper’s Drug Mart here in Canmore, stores in Banff, plus a bunch of other places in Western Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.

Those sales now will mean revenue later this year.

I did a couple of successful print promotions, launched my 2021 calendar, and have gotten used to this new reality. You thought I was going to say normal, didn’t you? I think we can all agree, that ship has sunk. We need to build a new one.
This frenzy of activity, adapting daily to more potholes than road, I had no gas left in the tank. I was still meeting my cartoon deadlines, but painting was a slog, and it felt like anything I’d write would be crap, even before I put my fingers to the keys. My past work seemed like garbage and I was circling the drain.

When you spend year after year creating art, promoting it, trying to sell it and come up with something better every day, taking time off from promoting it feels irresponsible.

I like to work. I don’t do well with too much time off. I’ve got a friend who has been talking about his retirement for years and finally managed to do it before he was 60. Unless something radical changes in me in the next ten years, the thought of not working does not appeal to me.

At this stage in my life, looking down the road, retirement to me would mean the freedom to only do the work I want to do. But I still want to work.

My biggest fear is that something will happen that will prevent me from being able to create, paint, and write. I dread the thought of an injury, an illness, a cognitive deficiency, something that will rob me of my abilities or mental faculties.

On report cards when I was a kid, common teacher comments were “doesn’t pay attention in class” and “not living up to his potential.”

It’s ironic that I’m now wary of not having enough time to reach that full potential.

Last year, my friend Jim and I were sitting on a deck of a cabin we rent, looking out at the pasture. In front of us, there were two windows in the covered section, but to the immediate left, the deck is wide open. A wasp was repeatedly bouncing off the glass, trying to get through.

I don’t recall if I said it or if Jim did, but we both connected with the message. “Boy, if that’s not a metaphor for life.”

All that wasp had to do was back off, turn left and fly six inches to freedom. Instead, it just kept bouncing off the glass.

Jim credits that moment with his decision to finally retire.

I took it as a message to rethink where I’m putting my energy.

There are many ways to reach your goals but beating your head against an immovable object isn’t one of them.

I’m already getting up early every day, working hard. I rarely take a day off and when I do, I still somehow manage to squeeze in something related to my business. It might be taking photos, doing some writing, reading trade articles, but that’s only because I enjoy my work and the creative pursuit. I don’t know how to separate the two, so I don’t try.

That also means there is no extra time to do more. It’s such a cliché, to work smarter, not harder, but clichés have longevity because they contain simple wisdom.

Maybe it’s because he was younger, with seemingly more time ahead of him than I’ve got. But, there’s a lot of water under the bridge between me and the guy who said, “well, if I don’t make enough money, I’ll just get a part-time job.”

I feel like I have a lot more to lose than he did.

He didn’t know that editorial cartooning would provide him with a good living for the next fifteen years. I know for a fact that it won’t provide me with another fifteen. Failing to course correct for that reality would be short-sighted.

I remember somebody telling me once to cup my hands together as if I were holding some water within them, then to squeeze my hands into fists and asked, “what happened to the water?”

When you hold onto something too tightly for fear of losing it, you lose it anyway.

During the past two months of promotional hiatus, I completed a few paintings, wrote quite a bit in a fiction novel I started this year, drew the usual editorial cartoons, listened to podcasts, read books and articles and I worked. My computer died suddenly one night, which I’ll talk about in another post, and I had to get a new one built. I got away to the cabin for a few days, took some pictures, and hid from the tourists who have flooded this valley all summer.

And I asked myself some hard questions.

“Where do I want to be in a couple of years? Five years? Ten?”

“On what am I wasting a lot of time and effort that doesn’t get me there?”

“What marketing opportunities am I missing out on?”

“If I stopped banging into the glass, backed up, took a breath, and looked around, what might I see?”

For the first couple of weeks, I felt like I’d forgotten something, that nagging feeling like I’d left the stove on. I’d become so used to posting on Instagram, sharing stories, scrolling through other people’s stuff. It ate up a lot of creative time.

When I finished a painting, it felt strange not to immediately size it for the blog, create a closeup, write a post about it, share it on Instagram with all of the hashtags, tell a story, write a newsletter, share that, then wait to see what kind of reaction I might get.

Promotion and marketing, it’s part of working for yourself. It’s necessary if you want to make a living with your art or whatever you create. You must sell it. But taking this break made me think about how I’m doing that.

Do I need to share it as soon as it’s done? Would it matter if I waited a day? Maybe two? Do I have to immediately write about it? Does it have to be immediately shared on Instagram?

The answer to these last questions is No.

One marketing opportunity I’ve decided to explore is to offer an audio version of some of my blog posts, starting with this one.

I’ve had several people tell me they like my writing, but some get the newsletter and realize they haven’t the time to read it, They put it aside for later and never get back to it.

I hear ya. Happens to me all the time. But if there’s an audio version, it can be downloaded and listened to at your leisure.

An audio version allows followers to consume the content the way they want to. From what I’ve read, it increases followers and site interaction, which directly translates to sales.

Will that kind of marketing work for me? I have no idea, but I’ll give it a try.

As for those other questions, they’ll require a longer view, some percolation in the old melon. Not quite as deep as “Why am I here?” but not so shallow as, “Peanut butter? Or jam, too?”

The break was worth it and I will do it again.

Whether you read this, or listened to it in the new format, thanks for making the time. One thing I’ve never forgotten in this roller coaster life of being creative for a living…it wouldn’t happen without you. 

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Where Does the Time Go?

It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I took a break from the blog, newsletter and Instagram. I realized this week, however, that it’s just a few days shy of two months, which feels like long enough. I’ve got a longer post coming shortly about the break, but I figured I’d ease into it today with a few updates.

New Paintings
I’ve completed two new paintings over the break, with a third that I’ll finish in a day or two. Here’s the first one…Gold.
I took the reference for this painting over two years ago, while up at the cabin that friends and I rent near Caroline. As with many of my paintings, there’s often quite a bit of time between taking the reference photos and using them. I found this painting a little intimidating as I find horses especially challenging, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This was completed about a month ago.

As always, if you’d like to share my work, please do, with my thanks.

Here’s a closer look.

Masks
In recent weeks, many communities have made it mandatory to wear a mask. A month ago, I often felt like a conspicuous minority when wearing mine in the grocery store, but now it seems like anyone not wearing one is the outlier.

I’m at home most of the time, but Shonna has seen quite a few people wearing the masks featuring my artwork. I’ve had friends, family members, and newsletter followers send me pictures, too. From displays at stores to family outings in full mask regalia, I’ve enjoyed seeing those.

Many have said they get compliments on the masks (I have as well), and people are asking them where they can buy some.
The initial pre-orders went well, the first two resulting in substantial orders, the third one quite a bit smaller, but a clear indication that those who follow my work got what they needed. Lately, I’m receiving more inquiries.

While I could do another order, I don’t think it’s necessary. You’d order masks from me; I’d place an order with Pacific Music and Art, they’d ship them to me, then I’d send them to you. At the beginning of this adventure, the printing and delivery pipeline was shaky, there were bugs to work out, and we were all still learning the ropes. In that climate, the pre-ordering worked well.

Now, Pacific Music and Art has a streamlined system for efficient ordering and delivery, both for individuals and retailers, and I’m advising people to buy directly from them. You’re still supporting my artwork because I get a royalty from each sale.

Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canmore has a nice selection of my masks, and I’d encourage Bow Valley residents to support that local business.

Shonna’s Mom and her husband came down for the day on the weekend. When they came over for dinner, they said they saw my masks in some stores in Banff.

A friend of mine (thanks, Fred!) sent me this photo of one of the large mask displays at the Calgary Zoo. They’ve got a few new designs, too.
With all that in mind, I’d encourage you to support these and other retailers currently selling my work, rather than do another order myself right now.

If you’d like to order from Pacific Music and Art directly, here’s the link.


Cartoons

Even though many of my newspapers still haven’t hired me back, I’ve been drawing the same number of cartoons each week. My clients are used to having a wide selection to choose from, so it didn’t seem fair to deprive them of that, especially since they’ve kept me in groceries this summer. While I draw them every day, cartoons are posted weekly on my site, either on Wednesdays, Fridays or both.

You can see them all on the Cartoons page.

Instagram

As you read this, I’ll have re-installed the Instagram app on my phone and iPad to start posting images again and see what’s been going on with my friends and fellow creatives. I’m not looking forward to being back on social media, but promotion is part of the business, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post, possibly in the next few days.

You can follow me there at @lamontagneart

I hope you’ve all been well, as we adapt to…whatever this is becoming. With the US election powered up, the Canadian Parliament prorogued, the ongoing debate about masks, COVID cases up and down, and whatever other steaming piles of excrement 2020 has yet to serve up for our consumption, I’d ask that you ponder the following.

This is tough for everybody. Each of us is dealing with our unique challenges. Before sharing passive-aggressive memes, angry political rants, and self-righteous nastiness, please reconsider. Given how social media works, chances are you’re only sharing that stuff with people who agree with you anyway, preaching to the choir as it were.

Speaking from experience, you won’t make yourself less angry by feeding that insatiable beast. Consuming and sharing bad news every day will make you miserable.

Play nice, would ya?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Enough


There is no doubt that this coronavirus experience has been difficult on everyone. Statistically speaking, those who’ve become sick or have died have been few, compared to the 7.6 billion people on the planet.

And yet, as reasonable voices have tried to explain, the victims of this virus have still been important loved ones to other people. It’s easy to say that a few should be sacrificed for the many, for the good of the economy, but I’ve yet to hear of somebody volunteering their own parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones for the COVID-19 gas chamber.

It’s indeed a struggle, to continue to do the right thing, sitting at home, while losing your job, business, savings and other assets, simply waiting for it all to end.

What makes it even harder is that everyone has their own expert opinion on how much isolation is too much, too little, whether or not to wear a mask, if these distance measures are necessary, if the virus has been around for longer than we thought, or is even here at all.

Suddenly, everybody is an armchair epidemiologist, following every news and fake news story, able to give you death by the numbers from every corner of the globe, and freely offering unsolicited advice on what everybody else should do, even though nobody asked.

If I had a nickel for how many people have told me that they’re certain they’ve had COVID-19 already, simply because they had a bad cold or flu this winter, I wouldn’t be worried about my finances right now.

Yes, you might have had it. Many people have. Whose life are you willing to risk to prove it?
Then there are the conspiracy theorists, intent on making this situation even worse for everybody else by spreading sensationalist videos and articles, accusing the government, deep state, corporations or individuals of having orchestrated this whole thing. Meanwhile, even a cursory examination of the propaganda reveals that the originators of these messages have their own axes to grind, including books, programs and supplements they’re selling.

We’ve heard certain friends and family members tell us over and over again not to believe the party line and to think for ourselves. Of course, that’s only as long as the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’ don’t disagree with theirs.

And even if there were some truth to any of the ‘it’s all a hoax’ theories, sharing post after post after post (after post after post after post) isn’t going to change any of it. All it will do is piss everybody off, so that when we are allowed to see other people, you’re not going to be at the top of anybody’s list.

Before hitting share on any of this stuff, ask yourself who you’re helping, what you’re accomplishing and why it’s necessary.

As someone who ordinarily spends way too much time in my head, my struggle in all of this has been mental and emotional. My level of optimism is minimal at the best of times, a consequence of whatever amalgam of nature, nurture and personal experiences have coalesced in my middle age to create this current perspective. Don’t forget the secret toxic ingredient of following the news for a living.

When I haven’t been as Pollyanna about this as some would prefer, especially if I’m having a bad day and they just happen to be having a good one (their bad day was yesterday), I’ve been told to ‘Cheer up,’ ‘take a happy pill,’ or ‘it could be worse.’

None of that helps the situation, largely because making somebody feel guilty for having a difficult time will have the opposite effect.

Regardless of COVID-19, somebody will always have it worse. The person who couldn’t make ends meet before all of this doesn’t care that your retirement savings are down. They never had any. The unemployed worker with no access to relief funding doesn’t care that you’ve been down to part-time hours for the past couple of months. The person trying to home school three children and hold down a job, doesn’t care that you had to cancel your vacation or that you’re bored because there’s nothing new on Netflix.

And the person who has been homeless for the past thirty years thinks we should all stop whining.

There’s a meme I’ll see now and then that goes something like, “Yes, they’re First World problems. But I live in the First World!”

Everybody has problems and we all react differently to them. Comparing your grief to somebody else’s and judging them inadequate for not measuring up to your standards is unfair. Just as you feel hurt when somebody doesn’t understand you, so does everyone else.

Each January, because a certain corporation decided to make it trendy, plenty of people in Canada change their social media profile pics and share passive aggressive ‘Let’s Talk’ memes. It’s supposed to be about mental health, but it’s really a marketing campaign, free advertising for a media company.

Right now, when mental health challenges are at their peak, at a time when people are struggling the most, there’s more judgment, finger-pointing, and picking sides than in a federal election. The damage this does to our collective consciousness is far worse than the virus, and we’re all to blame for it.

People are hurting, each in a way that’s uniquely personal to them. Don’t make them feel worse by giving them shit for it.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

 

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Cartoons, Masks and a Canvas Print

Cartooning Corona

Whenever he’s frustrated or facing a difficult choice for which there is no clear answer, my buddy Jim has a saying.

“Heavy sigh, mixed emotion.”

Such is life under the umbrella of COVID-19.

Every cartoon I’ve done for quite some time has revolved around one topic, so I went back and counted them. I drew my first coronavirus cartoon on January 25th. Other topics on which I was doodling that week included the Australia fires, the weather, Ontario teachers’ strike, and the Conservative Party leadership race.

From then on, the frequency of cartoons on the virus has increased so that now, every other topic orbits around it. The only deviation in the past month has been the two cartoons I did on the Nova Scotia shooting, definitely not a welcome diversion.

How many cartoons have I drawn on this wonderful little virus that changed the world forever?

Seventy-One.

And counting.

At the best of times, I keep a running list of ideas for cartoons. When I come up with a Thanksgiving cartoon idea in May, I simply write it down for later. I’ve kept that list for many years on Dropbox, able to access it from all of my devices.

That Word file is currently nine pages long, with over two hundred ideas on it. About forty of them are for the coronavirus. Scanning the others, they now seem like they belong in a parallel world in which we no longer live.

Cartoons about summer vacations, Halloween, Christmas, politics, they don’t make sense anymore because when I wrote them down, there was no allowance for today’s Coronaclimate. Many of the ideas can be re-written to allow for the ever present shadow of the virus, but some about life as we used to know it will just be discarded.

They no longer apply.

About the masks

This mask situation has been incredibly frustrating.

First, thanks to so many of you who replied to last Saturday’s newsletter update about the delay. Your support and patience is appreciated. It seems I’m holding myself more responsible for this than most of you are.

They’re not shipping this week, but hoping for next week.  I could write another long post about why, but it’s simply different shades of the same problem. Shipping delays and the logistics of doing business in the time of COVID.

I have a customer in Illinois still waiting on coasters I shipped at the beginning of the month. Tracking shows they’re ‘in transit’, two weeks after the expected delivery date. Thankfully he’s willing to wait.

Uncertainty? Check!

Expediency? Not a chance.

I’m seeing plenty of online stores and retail outlets switching their focus to masks in the past week and it compounded my own frustration at not having my own yet, until I looked closer at those other offers. Almost all of the ones I saw were pre-orders or listed as back-ordered. Nobody else seems to have them ready to ship, either.

It seems like the only masks you’re guaranteed to get quickly right now are the ones you make yourself. From what I’ve read, even those ambitious creatives with sewing skills are overwhelmed by orders they can’t fill for their friends and neighbours.

Costco announced yesterday that everybody entering their stores must wear masks. Wal-Mart had already done that for many of their locations and it would appear that we’re going to be wearing these for a long time while we try to re-emerge into a reasonable facsimile of our former economy.

So all I can ask (again) is for your patience. As soon as I have them, I will let you know and I will get them in the mail or deliver them to you as quickly as I can.

A Very Big Print

I am still working on a new painting, hoping to have it completed this weekend. I’ll look forward to sharing it with you when it’s done. Hint, it’s a large African cat, one I haven’t painted before.

Speaking of big cats, a customer ordered a print from me last week, a 32”X32” canvas of my recent ‘Sire’ painting.

That big painting of a lion has become of one of my favorites, so I was pleased with the order. I came very close to grabbing one for myself at the same time, but with an uncertain financial future, I’m deferring my own purchase until later.

ABL Imaging in Calgary prints my canvas and thankfully they’re still open and working. Even though it wasn’t required, they did a quick turnaround of this piece. Usually, I’d drive into Calgary to get these orders and combine the trip with other errands, but it should be obvious why I didn’t. A courier delivered it yesterday and I was thrilled with how it turned out.

Sometime down the road, I will definitely be getting one of these for my office.

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of a new canvas is signing it. Paint pens are great most of the time, but early in my career, I ruined a couple of canvases when the paint either spurted from the pen or simply decided to stop, then start, then stop…mid-signature.

These days, I do a bunch of test signings, cross my fingers, hold my breath and sign as quickly as possible. A 32”X32” canvas, the largest I’ve ever printed, is expensive. Had I ruined it while signing it, I guess that would have been the one for my office.

The client will meet me on the highway near Cochrane in a couple of weeks, a clandestine exchange of art, which will look very much like a drug deal, I’m sure.

I’m hoping it’s not a windy day when I throw it at him from six feet away.

Fingers crossed that my next post will include a photo of a big pile of masks, telling you they’re on the way.

Thanks,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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2019 in the Rearview

My fuel gauge approaches empty when December rolls around, so I spend it in hermit mode, a little more than usual. We attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, but that’s about it because I don’t have the energy to play the festive role. Celebrating Christmas seems like one more obligation, so I opt out.

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, I do get reflective in my seasonal melancholy.  I spent some time last week going through the 2019 blog posts to remind myself of the year that was.

In February, I checked out of social media entirely but then went back to Instagram a couple of months ago. I missed seeing art from those whose work I admire, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.

On the promotion and sales front, there were two significant developments this year.

The first was watching my work spread to many new places, thanks to the license with Pacific Music and Art. Seems a regular thing now for somebody to say they saw my stuff in a store in Oregon, or Alaska, all over B.C. and Alberta, not to mention the calendars and notepads in so many Save-On stores. I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, visiting from Vancouver Island and she said it’s strange walking by the gift store on Mt. Washington where she works, seeing a whole floor to ceiling corner of my art. It’s looking like 2020 will see more of that migration, but it’s my nature to be cautious. Those chickens ain’t hatched yet.

Secondly, the revival of my relationship with Wacom was a welcome surprise. With so many talented digital artists in the world to choose from, I enjoy the ego boost that comes with being a Wacom influencer. I’ve already agreed to another project with them shortly, but there’s a reason they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement.  Must keep secrets.

I painted 11 finished funny looking animal pieces this past year, the latest one above. I called it ‘Sitting Pretty,’ and she’s based on a black bear named Angel, who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park. I’d like to have painted more critters, but I’ll always say that. If I had painted 15, well, it should have been 20.

While there’s something about each painting that I enjoy, if I had to pick a favourite from this year, it would be Snow Day with the three cougar cubs. That was the best of both worlds, a real challenge and a lot of fun. I should have prints of this one available soon.
I painted a couple of dogs for fun, but no commission work this year until just recently. I’m not disappointed by that because I had plenty to do and wanted to focus on more images for licensing. The two dogs I’m currently painting in my whimsical style are for the same client, hoping to finish in a few weeks. They contacted me about the commissions after seeing my work in a BC Ferries terminal gift shop, a side bonus from my license with Pacific.

Two portraits of people this year, John Malkovich and Quint from Jaws, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. I’d always like to have more time for those, but wouldn’t we all like more time for the fun stuff?
Taking into account all of the syndicated cartoons I did this year, plus the custom local ones I draw each week for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, I drew 419 editorial cartoons in 2019. That might be an annual record for me. I have mixed feelings about that. I wonder how many paintings I could have done with all of those hours.

As for the coming year, I’m not big on resolutions. Well, maybe just one. I intend to write a lot more. There’s undiscovered country there and I need to explore it.

There are other things I want to accomplish, both personal and professional, growth I’d like to achieve, and skills I’d like to learn. Try to keep moving forward, best I can, just like everybody else.

Of course, none of this would be possible were it not for those of you who follow and support my work, read my ramblings, and tolerate my eccentricities. We all have limited time and attention in this life, and I appreciate that you spend some of yours with me.

Happy New Year,
Patrick

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

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Season’s Greetings – A Video

 

Every so often, I like to record a high speed ‘how it’s made’ video for a cartoon or a painting. I’d love to do more of these, but they’re time consuming.

With the over-the-shoulder view, the kind most people want to see, I used my Canon DSLR on a tripod for the best result. The challenge is that it needs to be close enough to capture the pen on the display, but back far enough so that I don’t bump into it with my shoulder or chair.

I’ve been drawing on Wacom tablets and displays for almost twenty years, so a lot of it is muscle memory. I go through the motions without thinking about the technology. As any artist in any medium can attest, once you’ve been using them for any length of time, the tools become extensions of your hands and arms. You think about the image you’re creating, not about the tools you’re using.

When I record the process, however, the tools are front of mind, which means the cartoon or painting takes longer. There’s really no flow to it and the process feels clunky.

When I’m painting, I can go for an hour without thinking about much else. When recording, I have to stop the camera after about ten minutes. Software is hardly perfect and by recording multiple short segments, it wouldn’t matter too much if I lost one. If I recorded all of it at once, however, that one file becomes a lot more precious.

I don’t record every brush stroke because it would be incredibly boring. I record ten minutes, shut the camera off, draw or paint for ten or twenty more minutes, then record again. There needs to be a big enough change between segments to keep the viewer’s interest.

Once I have enough from the camera, then I’ll often record some screen capture.  It’s no longer the display itself, but software in my computer recording what is happening on the screen. This doesn’t work all that well for painting detailed hair and fur because the cursor, brush and detail is so small, that it’s barely discernible to the viewer.

And again, incredibly boring.

Once I have all of the files recorded, from the camera and computer, I’ll bring them into my video editing software.

How I decided on the length of the video was the music I used as accompaniment. That isn’t always the case, but usual for cartoon videos. I can shorten visual segments, change the playback speed, and more easily mess with the footage than I can with the audio. This Christmas tune is around two minutes, which is a good length for a Youtube video, since our attention spans keep getting shorter.

I didn’t record the whole sketching process because I knew I’d have to mess about with the poses to get all three characters in, plus the talk bubbles.  That’s why you can see my tracing over my own sketch. While that would no doubt be of interest to the beginner or student, not so much for the average viewer.

These videos, it’s all about compromise for content.

For those interested in the tech part, I draw almost exclusively in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. This recording, however, was done on a Wacom Cintiq 16 display, as they sent me one in August. I put it through its paces while painting my White/Amur Tiger video.

It’s a nice display and I enjoy drawing with it, so that’s why I chose it again for this video.

For recording and editing, I use Camtasia Studio 8. It’s a simple interface that gives me what I need without complicating things. I’ve been using this software for many years and it gets the job done.

While this video added an extra few unpaid work hours to my Sunday morning, I created it to give my newspaper clients some added bonus content for their websites and social media feeds. In any business, you’ll rarely go wrong by offering added value from time to time.

As always, feel free to share it, along with any of my other work.

Cheers,
Patrick

@LaMontagneArt
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The Infinite Game

The following was part of this week’s newsletter, sent Wednesday 11/13/19. While I write blog posts and newsletters on a fairly regular basis, a lot of what I write in the newsletter is only seen by subscribers, along with some photos, sketches and works in progress. If you’d like to sign up, here’s the link. Enjoy!

In addition to listening to podcasts and music while I work, I’ve always got an audio book on the go.

The one I’m listening to right now is quite fascinating. I told Shonna this morning that it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read (listened to) on why we do the things we do, even when it is against our own best interests.

This book focuses on business, but not the ‘rock me to sleep’ boring facts and figures type stuff. Anybody who has ever wondered why things aren’t working out the way they thought or hoped, would benefit from this book. It’s replete with examples of corporate executives, politicians and world leaders who have consistently failed in their roles due to finite thinking. Conversely, there are some surprising examples of leaders who went against the grain, defied convention, and made positive changes while everybody was telling them that they were crazy.

The book is called ‘The Infinite Game’ by Simon Sinek.

One of the things he has been quoted as saying in the past is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Now at first glance that might seem like one of those pithy little sayings that somebody slaps on a meme and shares on Twitter, but in the week or so since I’ve heard the phrase, it’s been occupying a lot of my thoughts. I even went so far as to write it on a post-it note and stuck it to the bottom corner of my Cintiq display.

It feels like a mystery to be solved, because I can’t really say why I do what I do, but I feel I should know.

There are plenty of professions that are much easier and pay more than being a self-employed artist. If it was just about the money, I’d be foolish not to do something else.

Editorial cartooning, if I’m being honest, I just do that for the money. Sure, I still get to draw and be creative with it, I’m engaged in daily critical thinking, practicing and improving my art skills, but as I’ve talked about (far too often) in the past, following politics and bleeding-leads every day for twenty years begins to do long-term damage to a person’s soul.

I show up for that work every morning, put my ass in the chair, draw a cartoon or two and make sure my clients are supplied with what I’ve promised. Editorial cartooning is my day job.

It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling and have seen their best days so the fact that this profession still manages to pay a large chunk of my bills is surprising, but I’m under no illusion that it will still be doing so in ten years. Then again, I said the same thing ten years ago, so what do I know?

Each year prior to this has financially been better than the year before. That is, until this year.

At the risk of breaking the unwritten rule of self-employment, to always shout that everything is peachy and amazing and frickin fantastic (!!!), I’m experiencing my first down year, enough to make me more than a little nervous.

Why would I share this? My editors might read this, not to mention my competitors. Why would I point out the blood in the water?

Because I get really tired of the bullshit we feed each other, pretending we’ve got it all figured out when almost none of us do. I know you’re lying about your picture perfect curated Facebook life, you know I’m lying about mine and we’re all just pretending to go along with each other’s fabrications.

I’ve talked to a LOT of people who are having a tough time this year, business owner friends who are freaking out about the red in their books, but that’s only shared in whispered one-on-one conversations lest anybody finds out. The economy is down, people are scared and when that happens, they spend less money, which affects everybody.

As one of my editors said in a candid conversation yesterday, expecting to have nothing but good years, in business and in life, is incredibly naïve. Shit’s gonna happen and if you can step back and take a long look at it, it might be the required catalyst for positive change that wouldn’t have happened if everything stayed the same.

I began painting my whimsical wildlife portraits ten years ago, not knowing at the time that it would be the next transition in my career. It’s the work I love doing most and if there’s an answer to the question, “Why do I do what I do?”, it’s hidden in those brushstrokes.

The happy accident of all this, however, is that the revenue from licensing this work and selling prints has been increasing year after year, and this year, thanks to companies like Pacific Music and Art, Harlequin Nature Graphics and Art Licensing International, I’m seeing the largest year of growth in that part of my business. So the seeds I planted ten years ago are bearing more fruit.

But it’s hard to see that as all positive when the cartoon revenue that has sustained me well for so many years is experiencing a decline. That’s human nature, and generates all sorts of negative cognitive distortions. Change is always hard, but inevitable.

While working on my local cartoon for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, having already sent out today’s syndicated cartoon, looking forward to working on my current animal painting this morning, I got that familiar anxious feeling, worrying about income.

“Maybe I should get another cartoon done for today instead of painting, just to try and make a little more money. I can always paint tomorrow.”

But clearly Sinek’s book is sinking in, because I thought, “this is finite thinking, focusing on the quarterly profit numbers, at the expense of the long game.”

If I keep putting off painting, then no painting gets done. The work I enjoy most that is laying the foundation for the future of my career, is being set aside for the short term revenue that is unlikely to be paying the same portion of my bills a decade from now.
Focusing on the big picture, I decided to paint instead and made some nice progress. It took me about a half hour to really get into today’s session, to quiet the fearful voice in my head, but it was eventually drowned out by the music in the earbuds and the good feelings of painting three happy cougar cubs. Still a long way to go on this, but I can see the finished image in my mind.

Just as the sixty plus whimsical wildlife images I’ve painted during the past ten years are generating income for me now, this painting will do the same later. I just need to stay focused on playing the infinite game.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Kartooning Kenney

When I first started editorial cartooning twenty years ago, I would spend hours nitpicking details, trying to get everything just right. I wasn’t a very good artist then, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

Obsessing over the details, often with one eye on the clock before I had to get to my day job, my wife would often caution me about trying to turn every cartoon into The Sistine Chapel.

To this day, whenever I spend a lot of time on a cartoon, we refer to it as a Sistine Chapel.

I realized quite some time ago that many of my competitors and colleagues became editorial cartoonists because they were political animals who enjoyed drawing, whereas I was the opposite. I liked to doodle in my spare time and stumbled upon the gig that would change the course of my life because of an ad in the weekly Banff paper. I was 27 years old. Before that, I paid very little attention to politics or the news.

While learning to be a better artist, I was also learning to follow politics and the news.

In the days when many newspapers had their own in-house cartoonist, that artist could spend an entire day on a cartoon, coming up with the idea, drawing the sketch, presenting the editor with a rough, and delivering the finished cartoon at the end of the day by deadline.

He (they were almost always men) didn’t have to worry that another cartoonist was going to take his spot in the next day’s paper.

These days, with so many newspapers having laid off their staff cartoonist, many use syndicated freelancers, so it’s a dog eat dog world of not only coming up with the cartoon, but getting it drawn fast in order to meet a much earlier deadline.

Quite a few of my weekly newspapers want their cartoons before 9 o’clock on Monday morning in their own time zone. I work weekends.

On top of that, with clients in many provinces, I also have to consider that even though the Alberta election has an impact on the entire country, a cartoon on that topic might not resonate with a weekly paper in Ontario. While I will still send them those cartoons, I will make sure I send them other cartoons so they have more options from which to choose.

What all of that means is that a part of my brain is perpetually on the lookout for cartoon ideas, I am always planning the next day’s (week’s, month’s…) cartoons, and trying to come up with the best use of my time so that the cartoon will still consist of a number of ingredients. It should be funny, but sometimes intentionally not funny. It should be an insightful comment on an issue, but sometimes just a joke about dog poop thawing in the spring. It should be well drawn, but often a simple drawing will suffice to get the message across.

I’m supplying not only an artistic comment for an editorial page, but also a product for my client, and they won’t wait until I’m ready to send it if they’re up against deadline and other cartoonists have already sent in submissions.

I rarely take days off, but that serves my nature. I’m always working on the next cartoon, the next painting, the next blog post, or preparing files for my licensing clients. When I hear friends talk about looking forward to their retirement, I’m just trying to work as long as I can, hoping my eyesight and dexterity hold out before age robs me of both.

Add to that the tenuous nature of a daily deadline for a struggling industry in a gig economy and there are days when I feel more like a factory worker pushing out widgets than an artist. I don’t often get to put as much into a cartoon as I’d like.

Every so often, however, I make time for a Sistine Chapel.

A little background…

The province of Alberta was ruled for 44 years by the Progressive Conservative Party.

In the last election, they managed to anger Albertans so much that people voted for the New Democratic Party en masse and they won a majority, which for this province was a huge upset, a dramatic swing from right to left. I figure people voted for them out of protest in order to give the Conservative Party a spanking to remind them who they worked for.

I don’t think anybody expected the NDP to win. I sure didn’t.

In 2017, the two right wing Progressive Conservatives and Wild Rose parties merged and now the new United Conservative Party is trying to take Alberta back from the NDP in our current election.

Many who support the UCP blame the NDP for anything and everything that has ever been wrong with Alberta, which is ridiculous because the whole reason they got elected was that the previous government had screwed everything up so badly having been corrupted by their sense of entitlement. Since the Wild Rose was made up of former PCs, nobody trusted them either.

Of course, when I say stuff like this, people think I support the NDP, which I don’t. I’ve drawn plenty of cartoons critical of the current government, but when it comes to the lesser of evils, they most certainly are, for one reason.

Because the UCP is led by Jason Kenney.


Jason Kenney was a career federal politician, whose past positions on some pretty important social issues weren’t very popular. Having followed federal politics for many years, I’ve formed the opinion that Jason Kenney’s primary interest is Jason Kenney and if the UCP doesn’t get elected, it’ll be because he’s in charge.

I don’t trust him. A lot of people don’t trust him.

My impression is that Kenney realized he was never going to be the Prime Minister of Canada, so he came back to Alberta, said all of the right things to get people angry, pointed a finger at the NDP, said they’re to blame for everything and thank heavens he showed up just in time to save us from ourselves.

All he’s missing is Make Alberta Great Again embroidered on his fresh off the rack cowboy hat, to go with his pristine blue pickup truck.

The current Premier, Rachel Notley, has a lot of hard work to do. She’s made some unpopular choices with Albertans and there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’m not a fan of hers, either. The primary goal of every party anywhere is to get re-elected and the NDP are shoveling hard.

But Jason Kenney is irresponsible, reckless and dangerous. He is preying on fear and outrage, and will divide Alberta even more than it already is. He is not the solution to what ails us.

So when I decided to draw this cartoon, I allowed more time than I’m used to. I spent hours on the sketch and drawing, painted in little details that nobody will see, tried some stuff that worked, discarded other stuff that didn’t and probably sacrificed a second cartoon that could have been completed had I rushed this one through.

Regardless of where (and if) it gets published, it was well worth my time.

Because it was fun.

Cheers,
Patrick

To see the rest of my current cartoons, here’s the link to that page, updated each week.

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Caricature and Cartoons

MulcairNotley
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 Schoolism.com. 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.

Cheers,
Patrick
MulcairNotleyCartoon

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Young and Hungry

YoungHungry

“…So my question to you is, do you have any advice, or tips, for a young artist who wants to make it a way of life? Especially without a degree under my belt.”

I often get questions from young and hungry creatives who want insight into becoming a professional artist. In this case, his focus is on writing. As I’d like to keep things anonymous, I’ve met (let’s call him Brian) a couple of times where my work and his job have crossed paths. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write for a living. Art is art.

There are plenty of ‘you can do it, Nicky!’ posts out there that say if you want it and wish hard enough, your dreams will come true. This isn’t one of those. Motivation is important, but so are reality checks.

I sent questions and emails to artists when I was young and hungry, too, and I always appreciated responses, so I try to pay that forward. The edited version of my response…

We’re all just winging it, Brian. I’ve never met an artist (writer, musician, photographer, creative type) who has it all figured out.

We’re all products of the talents we’ve been given, the drive to do something with them, the skills that come from constant practice and the backgrounds that put us in front of the right opportunities at the right time.

The only thing we can control is whether or not we recognize and take advantage of those opportunities.

I didn’t realize I wanted to create art for a living until my late twenties and it seemed to happen by accident. There was an ad in the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper for an editorial cartoonist. Once a week, draw a cartoon on local politics and current events for $30. I was working at a hotel at the time and it seemed like an easy way to get some extra beer money, especially since nobody else applied. I had always been a doodler, but never went to art school, had no training and was simply willing to fail publicly.

I spent five years in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, I took Psychology in college and then was an Emergency Medical Technician who never worked for an actual ambulance service after my training. And I have no degree. At the time, I worked in tourism.

Those first cartoons were pitiful and took so many hours, but for three years I did it and never missed a deadline. Without even realizing it, I was putting in the practice time for what would become my career. When another local newspaper started up in 2001, they asked me to be their cartoonist.

One of the owners, who was the editor and is now a good friend, asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. She told me to start doing cartoons on national topics and just start sending them out to papers across Canada. For the first two years, I had two papers, each paying me $10 a week. It was pitiful. I was working so hard, evenings, early mornings before work, and weekends drawing cartoons and sending them out, getting almost no bites at all, while still working a full-time job to pay the bills.

I often thought of giving up. Hours and hours and hours drawing cartoons that never got published. And in hindsight, it was just more of the necessary practice it took to help me become the artist I am today. I just didn’t know it at the time. I felt taken advantage of and tremendously foolish, as if I was kidding myself to think that I could make a career of it.

When things finally started to click, however, it happened pretty quickly. I started getting more and more papers and a little over ten years ago, my wife and I had a serious discussion about my quitting the full-time job. I was 34 years old, but I felt like I was too old to be taking such a risk. I now know different. You can take risks at any age and nothing great ever comes without one.

But for each person, the sacrifice will be different, greater or less depending on your personal circumstances.

The only way I could quit my job was if my business could still pay half of our mortgage and bills. While those first two or three years were pretty damn lean, we managed, and these days I don’t have to refer to myself as a struggling artist.

I’ve had good advice from unexpected sources, bad advice from others. I’ve made mistakes that have cost me time and money, something that still happens occasionally but a whole hell of a lot less. I’ve planted and cultivated new ideas and pursuits that have withered and died on the vine. Other crops have flourished. My career has shifted from solely focused on editorial cartoons to including my paintings of whimsical wildlife. Each year that part of my business shows positive growth and I plan for that trend to continue.

But there’s no secret that only successful artists know. It’s the same requirement for anybody who wants to be self-employed in any field.

You have to work your ass off.

When your friends are going out partying on a Friday night, you have to consider that Saturday will be wasted if you’re hungover. Every leisure activity you do has to be reconsidered. You must sacrifice.

Those two years when I wasn’t getting any newspapers but was still working what seemed like a full-time job on top of a full-time job, I was giving up time with friends and family, I quit skiing because I could no longer afford it, we got by on one car and vacations were few and far between. We rarely went out for lunch or dinner.

I’ve heard stories of photographers who had to sell expensive lenses to pay the rent, writers who write all day and then go work night jobs while the only thing showing up in the mail is rejection after rejection after rejection, not to mention artists who paint on anything they can find because they can’t afford canvas or other materials.

I think that’s the universe’s way of making you prove how bad you want it. It’s an old cliché, but it applies…if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Paying the bills isn’t as hard as it used to be, but I still expect it to be all taken away tomorrow, by some unexpected calamity. It feels like I’m always living on borrowed time and I’m days away from having to go back and get a real job, even though I’m not. I am always working. Even when I’m camping or on vacation, I’m thinking about projects or cartoon ideas, following the news, etc. Success in self-employment means having to remind yourself to stop and smell the roses, but you’ll still only budget a small amount of time for it. I force myself to take afternoon hikes as often as possible just to stay healthy and get out of the office, but I’m still thinking about cartoon ideas and paintings while doing it.

That young guy in the picture above was not thinking about work that whole weekend. I guarantee it.

You want to be a writer? Write. All the time, even when you don’t feel like it. Waiting for inspiration is for independently wealthy trust fund babies. Success only comes to the creatives who treat their gifts like tools, just like a plumber, electrician, or other skilled trades-person. He or she worked hard for their expertise, artists have to as well.

Write about the dirt on the window, the dust on the desk, the clouds in the sky, that rude barista at Starbucks (wait, you can’t afford Starbucks anymore), the guy who cut you off in traffic, the ridiculousness of Apple iTunes agreements, the first blade of green grass you saw in the Spring. Just write!

Making a living at it isn’t for everybody. For some artists, the thought of soiling their talents with money and sales is as distasteful as dining on raw sewage. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can still create and have a job on the side to pay the bills. That works for a lot of people. Their creative pursuits are what make their job bearable.

So you have to decide what you want, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.