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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

 

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Zen and the Art of Course Correction

It would be an understatement to describe this past year as challenging. However you choose to define it, we’ve all lost something, and much of it won’t be coming back.

Those newspapers that laid me off a year ago said that it would be temporary, but to still believe that now would be wishful thinking. We can choose to desperately hang on to false hope or have a moment of grief and move on.

Like many people, I’ve been struggling with next steps and feeling a little bit helpless and defeated, despite knowing I’ve got plenty for which to be grateful.

There’s an old Zen proverb that states, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a couple of mentors, people without whose assistance I might not be a self-employed artist today.

In 2001, at thirty years old, I was drawing a weekly editorial cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon, something I’d done for a few years. At the time, I had no designs on becoming a professional artist; it was just an amusing side gig.  Even still, I began drawing other cartoons for casual clients along with some illustration work. When my newspaper publisher discovered this, she told me I could only draw cartoons for The Crag in Banff and couldn’t do any other cartoons. For $30 a week, I was not about to accept that and planned to quit.

At the same time, an upstart newspaper was about to launch in Canmore. The owners wanted to create a better vision of a paper for the whole Bow Valley, consisting of Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. One of the Crag and Canyon reporters left to join the new paper and let them know I was unhappy. The new editor had already planned to offer me the job as their editorial cartoonist.

It was only a bit more money, but Shonna and I had just left Banff to buy our first home in Canmore, and the timing was right.

Carol Picard was the editor and part-owner, and before too long, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. I told her it was difficult for an unknown artist to sign with a syndicate.

She told me that was silly, that I should do it myself, something I didn’t know was possible. At the time, submissions went by fax (look it up, kids). So I went to the library in Calgary to find all of the addresses and contact info for Canadian newspapers. None of that information was as yet available online.

And I bought a fax machine.

For the next couple of years, in addition to the Rocky Mountain Outlook cartoon, I drew two or three cartoons a week, sent them out to newspapers and got almost no bites. It was brutal, demoralizing and I came close to quitting many times. I had a full-time job to pay the bills and drew cartoons early in the mornings before work and in the evenings afterward, as well as every weekend.

It took over a year of submissions, but I still remember my first syndicated weekly paper, The Vulcan Advocate. They paid me $10 a week for a syndicated cartoon. That first $40 cheque was like winning the lottery. By the end of the second year, I had two papers.

Carol no longer owns the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but it survives and thrives today. Their competitors, the same two papers that ridiculed them for their brash audacity; one is gone and the other is a shell of what it once was.

I still draw a local cartoon for The Outlook. It will be twenty years this fall since their first issue, and I have never missed a week. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be an artist for a living had Carol not intervened at the right time.

During those early first few years of syndicated cartooning, I watched a Sunday morning news show where they interviewed one of Canada’s most notable and accomplished editorial cartoonists, Terry Mosher. Drawing under his nom-de-cartoon, Aislin, he’s been a cartoonist since the late 60s, part of the foundation of the Montreal Gazette.

In the interview, he remarked about how difficult it was for young cartoonists to get started. In my early thirties, I was not so young, but knowing little about the rest of the industry, with no contacts to speak of, I threw a Hail Mary pass and sent him an email, asking for advice.

He replied with one line, “Send me some of your stuff.”

Over the next few years, we got to know each other, and he introduced me to the world of Canadian editorial cartooning. He told me I needed to draw more, that I had to send out at least five cartoons a week, rather than two or three.

As I wasn’t a very good artist, with no grasp of the fundamentals, it took many hours to draw a cartoon, three or four times what it takes today, so I struggled to increase my workload.

Terry was the editorial cartoon editor of Maclean’s Magazine and put me in the rotation in the company of some of the most well-known cartoonists in Canada. It paid $400, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. He introduced me to Doug Firby, the former editor of the Calgary Herald. Doug was generous with his time and advice and started using my cartoons when their in-house cartoonist Vance Rodewalt had days off.

Terry came out west in 2003 with his wife to talk at the Banff Centre and visit family in Jasper. They took Shonna and I out to dinner, and we were their guests at his presentation. It was an exciting visit. I had the assignment for Maclean’s that week. Though I don’t recall the cartoon’s context, I had to draw former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, and I remember sending Terry the cartoon for his OK while he was still in Jasper.

He called me and said, “it doesn’t look like him.”

Having spent hours on it, I was crushed, but he told me over the phone how to fix it. Put his eyes closer together; his hair is bigger; you’ve got the mouth wrong. I scrambled to write it all down and worked ’til 2 in the morning fixing it, even though I had to be at my day job by 8:30. His critique was accurate, and he said my revision was much better.

Terry taught me how to take constructive criticism. There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

I was so appalled that I had failed to capture Klein’s face that I became obsessed with becoming an expert at capturing likenesses, which has served me well in my painted work. When Klein retired from office in 2006, I painted a caricature that appeared in the Calgary Herald and other Alberta papers. I sold a few prints of it and somebody gave him one for his retirement. This photo appeared in the Calgary Herald.

My credibility as a Maclean’s magazine cartoonist opened doors with many other newspapers across Canada. In 2005, I quit my day job and became a full-time professional artist.

Because Canmore is one of Canada’s most expensive communities in which to live, there was no chance of living on one income. Shonna and I agreed that if I couldn’t pay half of the mortgage and bills, I’d get a part-time job. It didn’t seem like as big risk then as it would now.

Both Carol Picard and Terry Mosher were the mentors I needed at the time, and I remain forever grateful for their help.

Some time ago, my friend Crystal, a graphic designer in Calgary, recommended a podcast by David Duchemin. I’ve written about it before.

David has had a strange but wonderful creative career. He’s been a comedian, photographer, author and educator. I guarantee there are other professions in there with which I’m not yet familiar. His podcast is geared toward creatives, and it’s quite inspirational. We’re about the same age, but I think of David as older than I am, based on his wealth of experience.

I’ve never shied away from sending emails to people whenever they’ve influenced me or provided content worth my time. I know what it’s like to work in a lonely profession. No matter how successful or influential you might imagine someone might be, they’re still just people. We all like to know that we’re doing a good job or are providing value to somebody else.

People are too often quick to criticize but slow to applaud.

When I’ve found one of his podcasts particularly resonant or uplifting, I’ve sent David an email.

Not too long ago, following one of those messages, for which he was always gracious and kind, we got into a more detailed discussion about this business of art. He lives on Vancouver Island, one of Shonna’s and my favourite haunts, and he’d already said to let him know when I was next in the area.

But not too long into this discussion, he said that we should have a phone call.

After some initial small talk, David suggested I could be doing better at marketing my work. Realizing he was treating me with kid gloves, I assured him he could speak frankly. He wasn’t criticizing my art but my business, and I already knew I had plenty of room for improvement. As I said, I welcome constructive criticism, especially from somebody who has walked their talk.

He hit me with both barrels, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

For two hours, David lobbed marketing advice and ideas at me, and we had a fascinating discussion. Many of these suggestions seemed so obvious in hindsight, but I had never considered them. Grateful for the help, I asked him why he was so generous with his time and advice, especially since we didn’t yet know each other well.

I can’t remember his exact words, but it came down to this – for the quality of my artwork, I should be a lot further ahead, and he wanted to help me get there.

David gave me a crash course lesson in getting more newsletter followers and better serving them. He stressed the importance of focusing less on individual sales and more on my relationships with those who’ve supported my work for years. His philosophy on serving my audience revealed how I’m already doing that well and pointed out where I could be doing better.

He helped me make improvements to my website, with more changes coming. He suggested I offer desktop and mobile device wallpapers to my audience, something I should have thought of years ago, but it had never occurred to me. The immediate positive feedback from my subscribers was overwhelming. They loved them!

He reminded me that many of my customers buy my work for the children in their lives. Wouldn’t they love to be able to give their grandkids, nieces and nephews colouring pages of my paintings? What about publishing a colouring book from them later? Let me tell you, that was a palm to the forehead moment. I’m releasing a few of those to my subscribers today, and I learned a lot while creating them.

David was surprised with how quickly I’ve implemented some of the ideas generated from our discussions. My view on that is simple. When somebody gives you a push in the right direction, the one you’ve REALLY needed, you don’t sit down and think about it. You take advantage of the momentum and speed up.

That’s how you show your gratitude for their generosity.

I wrote to David the other day, “While telling my wife about our last chat and the options you suggested, she said it was nice to see me excited about my work again, focusing on forward movement, rather than worrying so much.”

He replied, “That makes me very happy.”

I don’t know how long I’ll benefit from David’s willingness to share his hard-earned knowledge with me. I’m simply going to do the work to be worthy of it.

If you’re a photographer, designer, illustrator, cartoonist, any other type of creative, I’d encourage you to check out his site and listen to his podcast, ‘A Beautiful Anarchy.‘ Recommend it to any creatives in your life, too, especially if they could use a boost.

My first two mentors showed up when I was at a significant crossroads in my career and life, though I only recognized it in hindsight.

This time, there is no doubt.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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May You Live in Interesting Times

Like many people, the last week of any year inspires reflection. Despite my often-cynical perspective and the abundance of personal and professional setbacks I experienced in 2020, the silver linings aren’t hard to see.

Business advice articles and videos for freelance artists will often say that diversification and multiple revenue streams are what will get you through the hard times. That has never been more evident than this year.

With so many newspapers suspending freelance contributions in the spring, it would have been a much leaner year had I been solely relying on my editorial cartooning income.
I’m grateful that Mike at Pacific Music and Art could effectively pivot much of his focus to face masks. Not without difficulty, and requiring plenty of patience with design logistics and shipping delays, it turned out to be a welcome bright spot in a year of dark clouds. Several people have told me how much they’ve enjoyed having a fun and silly mask to wear, rather than the utilitarian alternative.

As recently as yesterday, an email about my latest painting contained a line about how many positive comments they get about their masks.

The masks brought more people to my work, increased my newsletter followers and generated more print and licensing sales for the rest of the year. How could I have possibly predicted that at this time last year?

2021 is a big question mark for all of us. Hard to plan for anything more than survival, in every meaning of the word. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic, of course, but reality will lie somewhere between hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

In other words, be ready to adapt and don’t get cocky.

For all of you who follow, share, and have supported my work, I hope I effectively expressed my gratitude in my post before Christmas. My Cartooning COVID video, still being viewed and well-received, serves as my cartoon wrap-up for the year.

That brings me to the paintings I completed in 2020. In what came as a surprise to me, I did more paintings this year than last, 17 of them: three dogs, three people portraits, and eleven funny looking animals. There were a handful of others, but those were the production level pieces.

The response to my latest paintings has been very nice; several people already asking for prints. I will be sending the latest five; Big Boy, Bear Hug, Winter Wolf, T-Rex and Winter Raven for proofing next week.

With the zoos and parks unlikely to be placing print orders anytime soon, and the Calgary Expo moving to the August long weekend in the coming year (maybe?), I’m reluctant to invest in a large print order right now, only to hold most of them in inventory for the foreseeable future.

So when I get the proofs, I’ll likely do a pre-order special, though I haven’t yet figured out how that will look. I’ll soon be clearing out some 12” X 16” canvas prints at drastically reduced pricing as well, so keep your eyes on the newsletter for that opportunity. With only one or two of each, they will likely go fast.

On the subject of canvas, every image I paint is available for custom special order. If there’s a painting you like and want to invest in a larger piece, my work has always looked best on canvas. ABL Imaging in Calgary does my printing for me, and they do an incredible job. Is there a painting you really like? Feel free to send me an email and request a quote.
A customer ordered a 32” X 32” canvas print of my Sire painting in March, and I was so pleased with it that I wanted to keep it for myself.

As always, feel free to drop me a line anytime with questions or comments. It may take me a couple of days to get back to you, but I always will.

While my original post ended with the 17 paintings posted as images, I decided to instead create a video montage of each piece, in the order in which they were painted. I have replaced the still images with that video below. Turn up your sound for the full movie trailer feel.

Happy New Year!

Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Thanks for Your Support

The podcasts I listen to change from time to time. I’ll add new ones, delete old ones, depending on what I get out of each and where I’m at in my work life.

The one that prompted me to write this post was recommended to me by my friend Crystal, a Calgary-based graphic designer. While skilled in her chosen profession, one of Crystal’s most outstanding qualities is that she is a cheerleader for other creatives.

Since I’ve known and liked Crystal for years, I take her advice seriously. While it was my licensing agent in Vermont that got me the deal, and I had little to do with it, Crystal has been bugging me for years to get my work on puzzles.  When I got the box of my artist samples from Spilsbury, Crystal was first on the list to receive two of them.

So when she suggested I listen to David duChemin’s podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, and said she thought I would connect with it, I didn’t hesitate.

David is a Canadian photographer and author, but his impressive skills far exceed his current professional pursuits. His podcast is not an interview format, but more of a ‘lessons learned and thoughts he’s thinking’ structure about pursuing a creative life. I could write a lengthy description, but David speaks better for himself than I could. I invite you to listen to see if it resonates with you as it does with me. There’s a link at the end.

When we’re allowed to travel again, one of the first places I’ll go is back to Vancouver Island. I cancelled two planned trips there this year, one for business, another a kayaking trip for Shonna’s and my 25th anniversary. As we’ve had some back-and-forth emails in recent months, I look forward to adding ‘meeting David in person’ to my next Island itinerary.

While beginning a new painting this morning, I listened to David’s latest, Episode 51: No One Needs a Juggler. In it, David talks about the feedback he received from another episode about his leaving social media.

In the current episode, he talks about the marketing challenges faced by self-employed creatives and some of the methods he used for reaching people before social media existed. It’s something on which I currently spend a great deal of mental energy. With so much content out there, it’s more challenging to get noticed in today’s world, but not impossible. It involves a great deal of work, not merely to create the art, but to get people to see it. While I am no expert at this and have made mistakes from which I’ve learned valuable lessons, I’ve also done many things right.

For most of my career, I’ve had a website that gets redesigned and improved every so often. I have it professionally done, try to keep it simple, and have always given serious consideration to feedback. I’ve kept a blog since 2008 and a newsletter since 2014, which has helped me become a much better writer. While blogs may seem antiquated to some, I regularly receive positive feedback on mine.  I’ve shared the details behind the work, milestones and setbacks, incredibly personal stories, both good and bad, frustrations, motivations, and highlights.

It would be easy to focus on the losses this year, and I’m not going to give you yet another positive ‘we’re all in this together’ message because we get those every day, and we’re all a little tired of them.

David’s podcast this morning reminded me of the one precious thing I have that I never want to take for granted, and that’s all of you.

Many of you have followed my work for a long time, some for almost two decades. Seriously, I could list a bunch of your names who have been supporting my work for well over ten years. Many of you remember the days when the extent of my work was editorial cartoons and celebrities’ caricatures. And a lot of that work was terrible!

Over time, the list has grown, and more of you have signed up for the ride. When I left Facebook and Twitter, many of you signed up for my newsletter. I know many of your names but have never met you in person, and I may never will. Some have never bought a print, calendar, mask or product, yet you send me regular emails telling me how much you like something I’ve created. That encouragement is just as valuable to me as a sale, and I mean that.

Some of you have commissioned paintings of your pets, a few more than once. I know which of you like big cat paintings, the ones who love bears more than any other animal, some of you name your prints when you get them, and some have even shared your personal struggles with me. I know that a couple of you buy prints to send to your grandkids overseas, more than a few of you have whole walls of my images in your homes, and I’m well aware which of you are patiently waiting for me to paint your favourite animal one of these days.

Though I do include links to the online store in each newsletter, hopefully you don’t feel like I’m always trying to sell you something. On the other side of that, however, I hope you understand when I have new prints or products to advertise or let you know about a pre-order or sale.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year like no other. While it’s personally been a challenging year, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually in a better frame of mind in December of this year than I have been in many others. I think it’s because I’m beginning to realize what I could be discovering if I wasn’t so desperately trying to hold on to what I’ve got.

2020 has taught many of us that the things we always thought we could count on are illusory.

I’ve got some new things on which to focus in 2021, stuff that I have been reluctant to try for fear that it might not work. I bought a webcam, and I want to try doing some painting demos on my YouTube channel. Not formal, scripted lessons, or start-to-finish paintings, but talking about what I’m doing while I’m painting. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, videos that answer common art questions. Who knows where it might lead?

Thanks for being here, for following along, for your encouragement, for the emails you send after I publish a newsletter or release a new painting. Thanks for so many thoughtful responses to the Cartooning COVID video essay I posted this week. I didn’t expect such a positive response, and I’m glad it connected with so many of you. Many of my newspapers either published it on their sites and social media or are doing so this week. One even called for an interview about it.

And finally, I will take some more advice from David duChemin’s podcast and do something incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to ask for your help.

It always strikes me funny when one of you sends me an email asking if you can share something I’ve sent. I not only love it when you think enough of one of my creations to share it with your friends and family; I want you to. Word of mouth is an absolute requirement for the success of my business and career.

When somebody buys a print from me, I always include a personally hand-written card in a little envelope, along with two business cards. One is for you to keep, and the other so you have one to give away. The best compliment you can ever pay me is to refer my work to somebody else.

So here’s the ask.

In the coming year, if I share a new painting, a video, a written post, a cartoon or anything else that connects or resonates with you, the best thing you can do to help me keep doing what I love to do is to share it. Please send it in an email to one friend, share it on your sites, on social media, private messages, or post a link to my site with my sincere gratitude.

If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or simply want to say hello, please drop me a line. I try to respond to every email I get, and I love hearing from you.

Finally, as this will be the last post before Christmas, I know it’s going to be a tough one for many. Long-time followers know that I’ve never been a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to diminish anyone else’s holiday. However different things look for you this year, I hope you can find some joy and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Cheers,
Patrick

As promised, here’s the link to David’s podcast and to my friend Crystals’ site.

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© 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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Cartooning COVID

As this year has been like no other, I decided not to do a ‘Best of’ editorial cartoon selection for 2020. Instead, I’ve created a video essay.

The idea came to me just this morning. Rather than wait, I decided to power through. Selecting the cartoons from the more than 360 I’ve drawn this year, choosing the music, writing the narrative, recording and editing it all, this took about 8 hours. But it was cathartic. Whether it resonates with anyone else is beyond my control. I just wanted to do it.

It’s about a five minute watch. Let me know what you think.

Take care,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Cartoons, Clichés and COVID

There’s an exhaustive list of images, references and tropes that cartoonists (over)use. I could attempt to list them all and it would still only be the tip of the iceberg. Oh, that’s one right there.

The Statue of Liberty or an eagle representing the US, a beaver for Canada, a bear for Russia, panda for China, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates greeting whichever notable figure just died, or somebody looking down from heaven. Variations of logos for the Olympics, companies, and events; broken records, road signs, going off a cliff or over a waterfall, weighing scales, talking animals…it’s a long list.

I’ve yet to meet any cartoonist who hasn’t used many of these, although most will be quick to criticize another for doing the same. I’ve been guilty of both of those, more than once. Sometimes it’s laziness, other times it’s trying to find a new angle on an old theme, and more often than not, it’s desperation.

But we’ve all used these tropes.

It’s a point of personal pride that I’ve never drawn a pearly gates cartoon, but that’s splitting hairs, because I’ve used almost all of the others.
As you can see above, I released a cartoon this week that used one of the biggest clichés in cartooning. The Titanic has been drawn often, by many. I don’t think I’ve drawn the whole ship before, but I’ve certainly drawn sunken or sinking ships and alluded to the iceberg, which is the same thing.

The Titanic represents hubris, man’s ego coming back to bite him in the ass. It’s appropriate for politics, corporate greed, and blind ambition, unchecked by reality. Sooner or later, an iceberg comes along to challenge the unsinkable claim. PLENTY of cartoonists have drawn politicians standing on the bow as it sinks.

While I would normally avoid the Titanic imagery, and I’m sure other cartoonists who see it will roll their eyes at my audacity for bringing it out of mothballs, it was a popular cartoon this week. I heard from several editors who loved it, proving once again that we’re supposed to be pleasing our customers, not each other.

In my experience, most of us are bitter and cynical ‘hey you kids, get off my lawn’ types anyway, as insecure about our work as every other artist, something a few attempt to hide with false bravado and imagined authority that everybody else sees through.

It happens in every industry, especially creative ones. Artists will spend days debating details that nobody else cares about.

When I used to attend the Photoshop World conference each year in Las Vegas, several classes I attended were for photographers. Long before I took the volume of photos I do today, I learned a lot from those classes, because what makes one image better will ultimately make another image better.

Alan Hess is a skilled concert and event photographer, author, instructor and he takes photos of other genres as well.  He’s also a friend, who helped me out with reference photos in the early days of animal work, and I wrote a guest piece years ago about digital painting on the iPad, for one of his books.

During one of his classes, Alan shared a photograph, then zoomed in to show that, seen up close, it was grainier than it looked at full size. I can’t remember the context of that lesson, but something he said has always stuck with me.

“You know who cares the most about noise in photographs? Photographers!

It still makes me smile, because that kind of quibbling over inconsequential details exists in every field, especially creative ones. Artists will obsess (!!!) over the most ridiculous things in their work. We’re miserable about it. We’ll talk each other to death about details that nobody sees or cares about, and judge each other harshly for it, almost as much as we judge ourselves.

Plenty of freelance writers who imagine themselves Hemingway or the next Woodward or Bernstein will author listicle after listicle to pay the bills. You know the articles I’m talking about. 21 Uses for Old Underwear or 10 Reasons Your Editorial Cartoons Suck!

Then they’ll judge other writers for releasing yet another listicle.

We’re all hypocrites.

While it’s still worthwhile to try to be original and not fall back on tired or overused imagery, sometimes it is indeed that imagery that works best, because it resonates with people. There’s nothing to be gained by over-complicating a simple message.

And sometimes, it’s just an off day with a deadline.

I enjoyed drawing the Titanic in this cartoon. I could have spent a couple more hours nitpicking it. But that would be obsessing over details that nobody would see, and in a deadline-driven profession, time is money.

The downside of these tropes, however, is that when other cartoonists draw on them, eventually you’re going to use the same ones, sometimes on the same day. A well-known moment in editorial cartoon culture is that many cartoonists used the same image to depict the events on 9/11, the Statue of Liberty with tears in her eyes.

I was about two weeks away from trying to become a syndicated cartoonist when that happened, so I didn’t draw a 9/11 cartoon, though I certainly wouldn’t fault any of those artists. How original can you be with such a monumental event, with no time to let it all sink in before drawing a cartoon? The deadline was as immediate as the disaster.

They call this a Yahtzee when multiple cartoonists come up with the same idea. The fact that they even have a name for it, reveals that it’s not uncommon. While idea theft does happen, it’s more often just a bad luck coincidence. None of us wants to draw the same thing and the ones who do steal ideas are usually well known for it.

In my experience, this kind of thing happens a lot in holiday seasons, whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, the New Year, and especially Christmas.
I drew this cartoon yesterday afternoon and sent it out first thing this morning.

Then I went to peruse the daily papers that publish my work to see if they’d printed any of mine. In the Edmonton Journal, I saw this cartoon by Malcolm Mayes, their staff cartoonist. I will admit to uttering a four-letter word or two.
I don’t need to tell you that Rudolph is as common a Christmas image as Santa, the elves, the North Pole, a lump of coal, a stocking, a tree, lights, we don’t have all day. Malcolm and I won’t be the only ones to imagine the COVID-19 virus replacing Rudolph’s nose. It’s low-hanging fruit and if we hadn’t used it this week, somebody else would use it next week, or already has and I just haven’t seen it.

I’ve been sending out 7 cartoons a week, every week, for many years, as have all of my colleagues, especially the ones that are still managing to make a living in this profession, or part of one. With that volume of content, it’s the truly original ideas that are the exception, not the rule.

In the old days, before the internet, an editorial cartoonist with a daily staff job had all day to stew over an idea, come up with multiple angles, try to squeeze out another ounce of cleverness, and take hours to bring a cartoon to life. A very few still have that luxury, knowing that spot is reserved for them every day.

Back then, once the cartoons were published, they wouldn’t immediately see what their colleagues at other papers had drawn because it didn’t matter as much. These undesirable coincidences wouldn’t even get noticed.

But today, with instant connection, websites and social media, freelance cartoonists are often competing for the same open spaces, so it’s as much about the speed of delivery as it is about the idea. First past the post often wins the day.

What’s worse is that we’re not just competing with each other, we’re competing with viral memes and videos, too. I keep a long list of ideas for editorial cartoons and can’t tell you how often I’ll see a meme that necessitates me opening that Word file, finding the same idea and deleting it.

The holiday season will see a lot of cartoonists combining masks, sanitizer, and distancing, our now universal COVID clichés with all of the traditional Christmas ones we trot out every year, trying to be original, but ultimately failing. This dominating news story isn’t going away soon and having to find a way to draw something new about COVID-19 day after day after day after day…it’s exhausting.

I know this cliché cartoon coincidence will happen again and it will bother me as much as it did this morning, but will probably go unnoticed by most, except for other cartoonists.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Creating a Remembrance Day Cartoon

Each year, I struggle to come up with a Remembrance Day cartoon, assigning it more weight than almost any other theme. It’s a challenge to create images and text that evoke the appropriate reverence without being trite.

Many of my newspaper clients are weekly publications. While Remembrance Day is November 11th, many papers will run the cartoon this week, depending on which day their paper comes out. It always needs to be done early to accommodate everyone.

Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for cenotaphs and memorials in different towns and cities. I take reference photos from which I can paint, and then, I try to write something original to accompany the art. As there is very little about this year that’s normal, I went in a different direction.

This is the first year I’ve included the words Lest We Forget in a cartoon to the best of my knowledge. I’ve avoided it because of its overuse. But for the image I drew this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

With many parades and ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, most will stay home this year. Services and observance will be virtual and live-streamed. Traditionally busy venues on Remembrance Day, especially for veterans and seniors, Royal Canadian Legion branches will be closed in most places. The safety of members and their families will take precedence over fellowship. I’m sure that it will be difficult for many veterans.

This year, I recorded a short high-speed video of my cartoon, with accompanying music. Feel free to share it.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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