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Work-Life Balance, Retirement and Shades of Grey

When people return home from a vacation, they can get the blues, a hangover from the trip unrelated to any spirits they may have consumed. It’s that depressing realization that even though you just had a positive experience you’d been looking forward to and a necessary break from work and the routine, that’s over now, and it’s back to the grind.

In the weeks leading up to the Calgary Expo at the end of April, I had no shortage of motivation. There was plenty to do with a specific goal and a big event on the horizon. My tasks were clear, as was the deadline. The show arrived, the effort paid off, and it was a big success.

Usually, after the Expo, I feel inspired to paint, and that held true this time for about a week. This year, however, I got the hangover.

Now what?

So, I was in a bit of an emotional trough in May, which is unusual since I’m often peppy in spring. I’m out on the bike almost daily, as regular exercise is recommended for a lack of optimism. I was still up early to work, but there was a lot of heavy sighing and staring out the window, trying to figure out where to put my limited creative energy for both financial security and artistic fulfillment.

I’ve always got the daily cartoon deadlines and projects on which to work, but it can often be difficult to focus without specific targets.

However, at the end of May, I was accepted for four three-day weekends of the Banff Christmas Market in November and December. And last week, I finalized agreements for two pet portrait commissions. One is a large, active dog with a comical personality, and the other a memorial piece for the smallest dog I’ve yet painted. He was adorable and obviously very loved.

A commission painting is a big responsibility, one I don’t take lightly. It’s a privilege and honour that anybody would choose my style and work to capture their furry family member in a painting, especially for a memorial.

I’ve never painted two commissions at once for two different clients, but each is a welcome challenge. Both clients were fully engaged in the initial back and forth, and I’ve begun with a clear idea of what each is looking for. They offered suggestions, preferences and details that will make for better paintings. That’s always a great start.
The paintings I was already working on need to be done by the end of next month so I can order puzzles and products for the markets. Then there are the sketches, paintings and writing for the book, six editorial cartoons each week, and now two commissions. Finally, there’s the ongoing marketing and admin stuff that’s a lot more work than most realize when they choose self-employed artist as a profession.

For anyone considering that leap, I can sum up the past 25+ years of my career as follows: Creating art is easy. Selling it is hard.

Suddenly, I have a very full plate for the next three or four months, with timelines and deadlines to keep me on track. I’m grateful to have so much to do, especially since a big chunk of it is creating artwork that might make people a little happier.

Hearing people in their fifties start talking about retirement is normal, but I have no such plans. What would I do without my work, finally have time to explore some artistic and creative pursuits?

It’s not hard to find articles and online posts that talk about work-life balance. While it might seem like an encouraging message, to slow down and relax, the pressure often makes people feel worse about their lives, not better. The guilt that comes with some stranger telling you that you’re doing your life wrong is just one more brick added to the load you already carry.

Being told we must pursue a better work-life balance isn’t a carrot. It’s a stick.
Sure, I’ll bitch about being too busy sometimes, but I chose this. Though the landscape will change, as will the work, and it’s unlikely ever to get easier, I plan to create art as long as possible. I don’t know if I could do anything else, now.

Shonna puts up with a lot, living with an anxious, moody, high-strung, obsessive-compulsive artist. But without my creative work to keep me busy, I’m sure I’d wake up one morning with a pillow hovering over my face.

Justifiable. Case dismissed.

I’ve often read variations of phrases like ‘your work is not your life,’ a caution to be careful how much time you devote to your job. But I don’t know who I am without my work. It’s the best part of me. I’m terrified of the day that age or something else robs me of my ability.

So, I’m going to continue to maintain my fitness and health, keep my head on a swivel while biking and driving, and hope to avoid the fickle finger of fate and the things I don’t see coming so I can keep drawing, painting and writing as long as I can.

Be who you are, people. We’re only here for a little while.

____

Dave and Martha discovered my art in Victoria several years ago, and getting emails from them is always nice. Usually, they might send a kind comment or something encouraging after A Wilder View shows up in their inboxes. They’re my parents’ age; their son and I were born in the same month and year, a detail they’d shared a while ago.

They’re currently on a road trip from their home in Washington, and these long-time collectors and supporters of my whimsical wildlife art have been here in the Canadian Rockies this week. It was great to meet them in person, and we had an enjoyable visit over coffee on Sunday.

When Dave described what they’d be wearing so I’d recognize them, he mentioned that he was bald. Though I saw them right away while locking my bike, I joked that I was looking for a bald guy, and he was wearing a hat. He shot back that I was greyer than he expected.

OK, I had that coming.

I’ve known for a while that I must spend an hour painting an ‘update’ to my self-portrait to account for more salt in that pepper, especially in my beard.
I’m grateful for so many of you who follow my work, comment on my posts or write emails, sending me wildlife pictures and thoughts about something I’ve shared or the artwork in general. With so much content available to us, that anyone volunteers to receive my emails is humbling. It’s cliché to say that I wouldn’t be able to create art for a living without the support of people who enjoy it, but it’s true. So, feel free to reach out anytime, comment on a post, or just say Hello.

But please, no politics or news links, fake or otherwise. I see way more of that than I want to in the other part of my work.

Thanks for the visit, Dave and Martha. Though you worried you might have been intruding on my time, it was truly my pleasure. Have a safe trip home.
.

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Pet Painting Perspective

Many artists aim to find a niche, the work they love to do, a signature look, and the style for which they become known. To make a living from it, it must also be something enough people want.

If there had been a formula to find that work, somebody would have made billions providing that service. It’s discovered only after throwing stuff at the wall and waiting for something to stick.

I tried many different things before I found my wildlife paintings, and while I enjoyed some of them and could likely still earn revenue from each, my best work is my funny-looking animals.

Much of the marketing and promotion advice I read about art-for-a-living talks about the need for adaptability and cultivating multiple revenue streams. In the current gig economy, where artists compete against the lowest bidder in crowdsourcing, stock imagery and AI image generation, today’s reliable income source could be tomorrow’s buggy-whip manufacturing.

Though I specialize in my whimsical wildlife paintings, that work still involves different types of clients. I sell prints and products to my customers and wholesale to retail clients. For products I can’t produce and market myself, I have licensing deals with several companies and am always looking for more. And every so often, I’ll paint a pet portrait.
I’ve been painting commissions for a long time, and though it’s a small part of my business, I enjoy them. I’ve worked with some wonderful clients, and I hope to have more like them in the future. I’m hired most often to paint dogs, but I’ve painted several cats, too. I’ve even painted a horse.
The difficulty with commission work is that, aside from advertising the work to future clients, there is no market for the finished paintings. Most people don’t want a portrait of somebody else’s dog; they want one of their own. And when I’m working on a custom painting, that’s time away from everything else. So, a commissioned painting is an investment for both the client and the artist.

But when the right client wants my art style, they understand the work involved and the value inherent in a custom painting of their own, and it’s often a great experience.

In the past, I have offered two types of paintings to my clients: a traditional portrait and my whimsical wildlife style. That’s the more exaggerated character, often near caricature rendering, of an animal with personality.

Though I have painted several traditional portrait commissions for happy clients who are delighted with the results, I prefer the whimsical style. It’s my signature work, the art I wish to be known for, and that which attracts inquiries in the first place.

I have seen countless skilled and talented artists who can paint pet portraits; many make a good living doing that. But no matter how beautifully done, I always feel traditional portraits lack something. That’s not a criticism of their expertise or art but a consequence of my perception. I see a different spark in animals, and I put that into my paintings.
Each client and commission is different, and specific details often make a painting more fun. Chase was a retired police dog in California with a titanium tooth. It was important to the client that the tooth was evident in the piece.

Santé was a memorial piece, and the client wanted her in action. That dog lived a full life of adventure. She had a stick library in the yard, so one in her mouth was important, too. Thankfully, the client had plenty of reference photos to help me create what she wanted, and we were both pleased with the finished piece.
Luna (first image above) is a ridiculously happy St. Bernard, and the client found me at the Calgary Expo a couple of years ago. In our initial discussions about the piece, I asked how he felt about my painting the classic St. Bernard in the snow with a brandy cask. It turns out Luna already had a custom-made wooden cask with her name on it, and the owner provided several great photos of it for me to work from.

I now advertise my commissions at live events with the Luna painting, and I’ve had several people ask about buying it.

My style of art is not for everybody. Hell, it’s not even for most people. We all have different tastes in art. But for those who enjoy my interpretations of animals, I want to be the guy known for this style. When somebody sees my art at a gift show, they often recognize it from somewhere else they’ve seen it, such as “We bought one of these at the Calgary Zoo.”

So, before the Calgary Expo this week, I edited the Commissions page on my site and removed the traditional pet portraits I’ve done from my portfolio. From here on, the only commissions I’ll entertain will be those who want a painting in my whimsical wildlife style because that’s the best work I do.

For any questions about my custom work, please start with the Commissions page, where you’ll find all the details, including pricing and some kind words clients have said about the experience.

If you have a furry or feathered friend you’d like to see painted in my fun, whimsical, detailed style, I’d love to work with you.

Cheers
Patrick

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Market Lessons


Sales were good for both Banff Christmas Market weekends, so I’ll book again next year. The weather was great, right up until a sudden snowstorm Sunday evening, just in time for load-out, but that’s life in the Rockies.

When you make art for a living, profitability is the critical metric for an event’s worthiness, but after you achieve the financial goals, there are intangible benefits, too.

At the Calgary Expo earlier this year, a new vendor introduced himself, thanked me for a couple of blog posts I’d written about the Expo, and said it helped him prepare for his first booth. I got plenty of help and advice when in his shoes, so I was pleased to pay it forward.

There are plenty more experienced vendors than I am, but I’ve done enough over the years to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Every vendor has something to teach you. From where to find a decent meal in a sea of deep-fried food trucks to when to get there on the last day for a good parking spot for load-out. Those who’ve been there before have the wisdom; most are happy to share it.

Keep good records. I have a detailed sales spreadsheet I update each day of the show, whether home or away. You may only do a particular market once, but if you do well and come back the following year, you won’t be able to remember what you sold, so you won’t know what to bring. It’s not enough that I know the Smiling Tiger or Otter were bestsellers. I need to know how the other 40 images did, too.

Be honest about your costs. You don’t make any money until you know what you’ve spent.

Because I got to come home each night, the expenses for these recent markets were low, mainly booth cost and insurance. At the Calgary Expo, once I added up booth cost, parking, power, insurance, hotel and meals, I spent $2000 before I sold one print. To make it worth my time, I must make much more there than at the Banff Christmas Market.

Then, every sticker, magnet, coaster, calendar, puzzle, and print has a cost that must be deducted from each sale before I know what I made. And every time somebody pays with a credit card, there’s a fee, too.

Shit happens. On Thursday, as I set up, I dropped the first metal print of my Blizzard Bear painting. Most wouldn’t have noticed the corner damage, and it still looked good on display, but a slip of my fingers and the profit from that piece was gone. Thankfully, another vendor, a fan of my work from Expo, was happy to buy it at cost. So, I didn’t lose money, and she got a big metal print that wasn’t in her budget at full price.Booth location and size might be inaccurate, neighbours may be challenging, organizers could be stressed out, and anything can happen. Roll with it until you can’t, and then ask for help.

Help your neighbours. It might be scissors, a hammer, or a band-aid, but somebody always forgets something. I have power at my booth, and occasionally, somebody needs to charge their phone. Keep an eye on a neighbour’s booth for a washroom break. Hold the other end of their banner while they hang it up. I get plenty of offers for help and do my best to return in kind. And it helps you make friends, too.

You won’t always connect with the people around you. I remember one Calgary Expo where none of my neighbours were interested in friendly small talk. That makes for a longer market, especially during slow periods.

In Banff, I had two fun neighbours. We were all on the same page with work ethic and professionalism, but I enjoyed their company when there was room for kidding around and chatting. I hope to share space with them again in the future.

Foam floor pads and comfortable shoes. If you do it right, you’ll stand long hours for multiple days. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Don’t complain or talk politics. This past weekend, a woman started going off about world government plots and chem trails in the sky. One minute, we talked about the great weather and beautiful mountains; next, she headed down the conspiracy rabbit hole. I smiled and politely said, “It’s a strange world.” After I said it the second time, she seemed to realize I wasn’t taking the bait and moved on. Arguing politics and controversial topics with strangers is a waste of life and will do nothing good for your business.

Eat well and often. Pack small healthy items you can eat quickly between customers without stuffing your face: carrot sticks, protein bars, a pre-cut sandwich, and pieces of cheese. Drink water. Setting up and tearing down grid walls and hardware, expect to damage yourself. My hands are wrecked at the end of a show from dry skin, cracked fingertips, and chipped or split fingernails. Bring a first aid kit. Nobody wants blood on their prints or stickers. Bring hand sanitizer and moisturizer.

All these people you’re talking to, especially this time of year, several of them are spreading colds or flu they don’t even know they have yet. It’s unavoidable, but healthy habits are your best chance of prevention.

Lozenges and breath mints are a must. You’ll have to talk a lot, and foul coffee breath won’t help your sales.

You’re there to sell. One vendor told me about someone at another show complaining that he wasn’t making any money. He left his booth often to wander the show. I’ve often seen neighbours spend all their time on their phones, heads down, ignoring people who walk into their booth, failing to engage with potential customers. A vendor next to me at this market, her friends and family hung out at her booth all day long socializing. Customers came and went without a word exchanged.

Respect other vendors. If you’re chatting with a neighbour and a customer approaches, leave the conversation. If it’s their customer, they’ll appreciate it. If it’s your customer, a professional neighbour will understand.

Be positive. Slow times happen, but they can also turn around on a dime. Desperation is contagious, and customers will pick up on it.I’m a pessimist. I don’t have a lot of faith in people. It comes from following the news for a living for my editorial cartoons. I work at home and enjoy my solitude. And yet, at markets, I try to be upbeat, smile, happy and joke around. It’s part of the job. It’s not all an act; I’m genuinely pleased to introduce new customers to my art, and many have become friends over the years. I’m always happy to see them again.

You never know who you’re talking to. If you make assumptions about people, you might say something that makes you look foolish and miss a valuable opportunity. Many people ask about commissions, and I advertise them in my booth with a large metal print of my Luna painting from last year.

When they ask about pricing, I tend to soften the blow with “it’s an investment” before I tell them it’s $1900. The sticker shock is evident on most faces, but then I explain the amount of work that goes into each one, the many hours of painting, the back-and-forth photo exchanges and prep before I paint one brushstroke, and that, unlike my other work, there is no market for that piece when finished. Most people understand, but spending that amount on a painting of their dog or cat is not often a priority. I get that. It’s the reason I only get hired to do two or three of these a year.

But I also spoke to a couple this weekend who seemed genuinely interested, sharing photos and asking about timelines, shipping, and specific details. This was after they’d heard the price, which is always a good sign. They wanted it in my whimsical style, and their dog has a great face and character. I want to paint him.  Even if that possible commission never materializes, my next important client or avid collector could be standing in front of me at any time. That Luna painting? Six months after I first spoke with him, he hired me for the piece, and it was one of the best client experiences of my career.

Listen to people. Ask questions. You’ll discover why certain pieces connect with people and how to use that knowledge for future sales. I learn a lot from my customers. I’ll soon start a painting of an animal I wouldn’t have considered on my own. It must be trending because at least a dozen people (not kidding) have independently asked for it this year. I don’t get it, but I’m going to paint it because I’m clearly missing something.Ask people where they’re from, especially in a tourist town. I met people from all over the world this weekend.

One gentleman said he was from a town in Saskatchewan, and “you probably don’t know it.”But I asked, and then told him that I’m the editorial cartoonist for his local paper and have been for years. He and his wife know one of Shonna’s uncles because her large extended family is from the same area.  People like to tell you about themselves, and it’s nice to give them the opportunity, not just for the sales, but to connect with another human being, something we all missed more than we realized the last few years.

Celebrate the little things that make it fun. I reluctantly confess I found myself singing along to Christmas carols. It might have involved toe-tapping. Those who know me well…close your mouths. I know it’s shocking that this Grinch found a little holiday spirit. Damn that Mariah Carey!

Plenty of happy dogs (and puppies!) were walking around, and their people were most accommodating with requests to say Hello. It made my weekend.  Want an overdose of pure joy? A Bernese Mountain puppy. Take what you want from my booth; I’m no longer paying attention.

While this advice sounds easy, we’re human. People make mistakes. I have complained to a neighbour. I’ve allowed a problem to frustrate me instead of working on it. I’ve talked politics with someone and always wished I hadn’t. I’ve failed to ask for or declined help when it was readily available, usually out of stubborn pride. I have seen somebody who could have used my help but didn’t offer it because I was busy with my booth.

But making course corrections is easier than people think. Most of the time, it’s just a choice.

If you and I have encountered each other at a market or show, whether you’re a customer or visitor to my booth or a fellow vendor, I hope it was a good experience. And if so, I hope to see you again down the road. If you have any questions I can answer, post them in the comments. I’ll help if I can.

If you attended this year’s Banff Christmas Market and took some of my whimsical wildlife home with you, thanks for supporting a local artist. I love my work, and I hope you do, too.

Cheers
Patrick

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The Professional, Personal, and Paintings of 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Will NFTs come back into favour? I doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Licensing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Projects

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

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

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

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

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

The Personal

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

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

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

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

Painting

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

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

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

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

Good luck with whatever you work toward in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Patrick.

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Painting Luna

While commissions are a small part of my overall work and business, I’ve enjoyed the pet portraits I’ve painted over the years. All have been challenging, either the artwork or managing client expectations. Though I have my personal favourites, I’ve learned something valuable from each.

A couple of years ago, my friend and marketing guru David Duchemin suggested my rates were too low. Artists are notorious for undervaluing their skills, often attracting the wrong clients, those more interested in a bargain than the artwork.

A commission is a custom portrait requiring consultation, preparation, printing, and shipping/delivery, plus many hours of actual painting. Unlike my whimsical wildlife portraits, which can be sold as prints and licensed, a commission is an original work created for one client.

David asked me to consider whether I would rather have more clients at a lower rate or fewer clients at a rate more appropriate to the years I’ve put into my skills and the unique look of my critters.

I took that to heart and raised my rate because when I’m painting a commissioned piece, that’s time that can’t be spent painting anything else.

On my site, I’m upfront about pricing, the photos I need for reference, and the details a client needs to make an informed decision without making it awkward if the price is out of their range. I’m happy to answer inquiries, but with my daily editorial cartoons and new whimsical wildlife pieces, the commission work is welcome when it comes in, but I don’t actively market it.

My first and last paintings of 2022 were pet portraits, both thoroughly enjoyable experiences with great clients, nice bookends for the year.
Santé was a memorial piece. Suzanne wanted my whimsical style and a full-body action pose, something I hadn’t yet painted in a commission. She wanted the painting to portray the active and joyful full life that Santé led and had the photo reference to back it up. While difficult, it stretched my skills, and I was pleased with the result. Click here to read more about that experience in the original post.

Near the end of October, I got an email from a man in Calgary asking me to paint his dog Luna, a gift for his wife. He’d read the Commissions page, knew what he wanted, and even included some initial reference photos. Talk about a good start.

We’d briefly discussed a possible commission at the Calgary Expo in April, but while I get several inquiries at that event, this is the first one that has resulted in a hire.

Given the time of year, I assumed this was a Christmas present. However, when I asked, he replied, “not a huge rush, if we got it for Christmas it would be a great surprise, but I’m not overly concerned if we don’t get it until the new year.”

I thought that if we could reach an agreement quickly, I would make that surprise happen.

I asked if he could take more photos for me, offering a little guidance on what would be ideal. He got right to it and I ended up with great bunch of reference. In one of them, I noticed she had a little brandy keg around her neck, and I asked him if I could paint her in a winter scene with that keg. Sure, it’s a cliché image of a St. Bernard, but it was too perfect a fit, and I could see the painting in my head. Jeremy liked the idea and said that Luna loves the snow.
At the beginning of December, I sent him the finished piece for approval before it went to the printer. Of the options I offer, he had initially chosen an 18X24 canvas, and while that would have looked great, I talked him into going with the same size matte metal piece instead. With the bright, vibrant colours in this painting, I knew it would pop a lot more on metal.

I’ve been having my metal and canvas prints done by Posterjack for over a year now. Everything is always well-packed, and this was no exception. The colours and quality of the Luna print were stunning.

But you can imagine my disappointment when I noticed some slight damage in the bottom right corner. There was no damage to the box and it was wrapped well inside. In their busy season, somebody likely knocked it during production and failed to notice before packing it. It was a tiny dent, only noticeable on close inspection.

I put some foam wrapping around the corner and gently bent it back into place with some pliers. Then I took a white paint pen, blended it with a little blue and smudged over the corner with a Q-Tip, blending it as best I could into the sky and snow background. It was the only corner of the painting where this could have worked. I did a pretty good job of it, too, but I could still see the damage.

While setting up and working at markets, no matter how careful I’ve been, I’ve dinged a couple of these myself in the same way. I might bump one, and it falls off the gridwall, that sort of thing. In those cases, I’ll offer a discount to anyone interested in that piece, which is usually acceptable. It’s almost always barely noticeable and this was the same type of subtle damage.

But this was a custom commission.

I told the client about it; said I’d still drive it in the next day and see what he thought. He wasn’t too concerned, but I wasn’t comfortable with his settling for a damaged print. But at least he’d have the piece to give to his wife for Christmas, and I could replace it afterward.

I sent Posterjack a photo of the damage, and they immediately offered a replacement. However, since I wasn’t sure it would arrive before Christmas, I delivered the print I had.

Of course, while preparing to deliver the piece, I had to ask, “do I get to meet Luna?”
She’s exactly as you’d expect, a big slobbery friendly St. Bernard with the sweetest face and lovable eyes. I would have liked to have taken a better photo with her, but Jeremy and I met in their enclosed front porch, with Luna and her Newfoundland sister, Sally, between us. As they’re both BIG dogs, it was a little cramped, but Jen was home, so there was a risk of ruining the surprise.

The replacement print arrived five days later. I inspected it and wrapped it back up right away to keep it safe. I sent my Posterjack contact an email thanking them for standing by their product. Nothing secures my loyalty more than great service. Too many companies have forgotten that.

In ideal conditions, I could have gone to Calgary again to replace it before Christmas, but our weather turned incredibly nasty, temperatures between -30 and -40C every day all week, right after the starter in my car began to grind intermittently. Not the safest set of circumstances for a trip into the city.

With the starter replaced last week and this cold snap departed, I’ll soon arrange to make the exchange. I plan to display the original print at Expo in April, a full-size example to point to for any commission inquiries. In the meantime, I’ll hang it in my office because I do love it; such a fun piece to paint.
As for Jenny’s reaction, Jeremy sent me some pictures Christmas morning. Let me tell you, tears are the best compliment I ever get.

Click here for more information about pet portrait commissions. If you have any questions, drop me a line at patrick@nulllamontagneart.com

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Peaks and Valleys

Last month, I finished what could easily be called my favourite commission piece to date. For those who’ve hired me for commissions in the past, don’t take that personally. I’ve enjoyed almost all the pet portraits I’ve painted. But this last one represented some notable artistic growth, which has become a rare thing.

When I first started drawing and painting, it was easy to take large leaps. Looking back on my earlier work, I can see considerable improvement over time as short as six months. Because I wasn’t very good at it, was hungry for new skills, and had no shortage of exceptional artists to learn from, I couldn’t help but get better if I kept putting in the hours.

Over time, however, my skills became more and more refined, as any creative should expect, and my work, especially in my style, reached a plateau. I had found the look that identifies my art, something most artists chase. People who know my work can easily spot it, even if they don’t see my name, just as I can spot the work of artists I follow.

I’m still always seeking to get better, but any improvement is often most noticeable to me. I get better at light and shadow, the way fur and hair flows, subtle shaping of features to reinforce the balance between whimsy and realism without straying too far into that phenomenon known as the uncanny valley.

People often say that my work looks “cartoony, but real.”

I’ve heard it said so often that I’ll occasionally use it myself when somebody tries to describe it but can’t find the right words.

I’m always trying to push the realism, mostly to challenge myself, without going so far that it becomes creepy and unappealing.

So, it isn’t just about painting better hair, fur, skin textures and personality in my funny-looking animals, but knowing when to stop. I suspect I’ll find that out the hard way one day and need to dial it back. I’m confident that Shonna will let me know.

This recent commission taught me I (thankfully) still have plenty of room for improvement. As I wrote about in that post, the client requested a full-body action pose because that’s how she wanted to remember her dog, Santé.

She didn’t insist on it, but it was her preference. And the last thing I want is for a client to be mostly happy with a finished painting but still think, “it’s good, but not what I really wanted.”

It was something I wanted to try but was afraid of because I didn’t think I was good enough to pull it off.

In every painting, there are peaks and valleys. The spark of the idea, taking and choosing reference photos, and imagining different options are always high points. But once the first brush strokes hit the digital canvas, so begins a slow decline. I find that the first half of a painting is simply putting in the hours, and there isn’t a lot of enjoyment there.

But somewhere in the middle, the fun starts when it starts to reveal what it might become. Sometimes it peaks again and then crashes when something doesn’t work, which can take hours to repair. The more time it takes to get through that valley, the more I think the whole piece sucks, I’ve lost it, and there’s no saving it.

But a brush stroke here, some light and shadow there, I solve the issue and again find the joy in it.

The best part of any painting is the last two hours. I have a playlist on Spotify reserved just for this period in a painting. It’s called ‘Pick Me Up,’ With that playing in the earbuds, drinking hot black coffee, often in the early morning hours, I’ll finish the piece and feel good about it.

That euphoria lasts a few hours, but I’m heading back down to the next valley by that evening, wondering what to paint next. Or I’ve shifted back into editorial cartoon mode and following the news, which can be like dark clouds ruining a sunny day.

Of course, there are other peaks for most paintings. The feedback I get from readers and subscribers is gratifying; those who follow my work and are kind enough to post a comment or send an email telling me how much they like the new piece. And if a new painting isn’t one they especially like, they’re usually kind enough to keep that to themselves.

I’m under no illusion that every painting is a winner.

Another peak is the first time I get a print because it never feels real or complete until I see it in real life. Most of the time, it’s when the first poster print proof arrives from Art Ink Print. Proofing with that company has become just a formality. I know how to prepare an image for their press, and they know what my work is supposed to look like, so I can’t remember the last time I had to reproof an image because the first one didn’t look right, but it’s been several years.

When the 18”x24” matte aluminum print of the latest commission arrived, it was a very good day. I checked it for flaws and couldn’t find any. However, I discovered that while the white background was smooth, the painted area was slightly raised with a noticeable texture. This was an unexpected but welcome happy accident that added even more to the print.

And there is the valley of apprehension of packaging and shipping the piece, waiting for it to arrive, or driving to deliver the work to the client. Finally, after more than two months of back and forth, sourcing the photos, discussing the approach, many hours of painting, sending periodic progress updates, her financial investment in the piece, it all comes down to the delivery and reveal.

No pressure.

Suzanne had already seen the image via email, but as I said, it’s not quite real until you see it in print.

Thankfully, she was pleased with it. We had earlier discussed some of her other artwork, and she generously showed me other pieces in her collection, including the first piece she bought of mine online from Wayfair. While I’ve had this license for some time, I’ve never actually seen one of the canvases in person, and I was pleased with the quality.
It’s always flattering to see my work in somebody’s home, especially a canvas of one of my personal favourites, my Berkley painting called “Peanuts.”

Even before I got home to Canmore, Suzanne had hung the print and sent me photos she generously allowed me to share.

As much as I love meeting clients in person, especially one who was such a pleasure to work with, and while delivering the painting is the pinnacle of all those peaks and valleys, there was an unexpected bonus to the day that can’t be minimized.
I got to meet Suzanne’s new little wonder, River, a black lab puppy, who is in that lovable, awkward, too small for her big paws stage.

From the dark valley of having to say goodbye to her best friend, Suzanne now gets the peak experience of providing a home to a new dog and introducing her to adventures around every corner.

Under Santé’s watchful eye.
_____

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Painting a Dog’s Best Life


Late last year, one of my subscribers inquired about a commission of her dog, Santé. Sadly, Suzanne lost her much-loved pup to osteosarcoma at the end of November, and she wanted a painting to remember her.

The initial back and forth conversation is an essential part of every commission. It allows me to get to know both the person and the subject, and it helps me decide if I’m the right artist for the job, especially for a memorial piece.

While I can paint both in portrait style and my signature whimsical style, I’ll admit to preferring the latter, but most people who hire me for memorials choose the portrait style.

Suzanne, however, wanted to remember Santé at her best, and as she’s followed my work for some time, she requested the whimsical style.

Initially, Suzanne sent me a photo of Santé running through the water with a stick in her mouth and asked if I could paint her like that. I was reluctant for a couple of reasons.

My style is about the face and expression, best revealed by a large headshot painting, like much of my work.
Also, I haven’t painted many full-body action poses, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Fear of failure is a powerful demotivator.

As part of her grieving process, Suzanne wrote a long essay about her life with her dog and shared that with me so I could get to know her as well. So I made a cup of tea one afternoon and sat down in the kitchen to read it.

I don’t mind admitting that it got me right in the heartstrings, and I had to wipe away tears. But, sad ending aside, it was a good story, and Suzanne is an excellent writer.

She is an outdoor enthusiast, frequently mountain biking and hiking, with Santé by her side. After reading about Santé’s adventurous nature, her boundless energy and obsessive love of sticks, I couldn’t imagine painting her any other way. That dog lived her best life.

Suzanne provided plenty of photos, but the first was the best, Santé running in the water with a stick in her mouth.

But I don’t just want to copy an image, especially in the whimsical style. I want to make it my own. So, I exaggerated her expression and gave her a big grin. You can’t see Santé’s teeth in the reference photo, so I found additional reference for that, as it helped a lot with the smile around that stick. I also exaggerated the size of the stick and changed its shape for a better overall composition.
The water spray from her feet was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in any painting I’ve done to date. It took many hours to get it right, not to mention all the tiny droplets to add action to the scene.

Instead of filling the entire background, I created a graphic shape of the water and painted Santé so that she was running out of it, adding to the illusion of action.

This painting took a long time, but it was well worth the effort. Not only did it stretch my skills, but necessity forced me to learn a few new techniques to bring this to life. It was overcoming the challenge that made the final piece so satisfying.

I’m a frequent proponent of printing my work on canvas. It brings out the textures and richness in many paintings, especially the detail I paint in my work. But I gave Suzanne another option, and after providing her with more information, she’s chosen an 18″ X 24″ matte aluminum. Given the dynamic nature of this painting, I think it was the best choice, and I’m looking forward to seeing it once it arrives.

When I shared the final image with her Saturday morning, less than an hour after I finished it, Suzanne told me that it was the 11th anniversary of the day she brought Santé home at eight weeks old and shared a pic with me. That puppy didn’t yet know she had won the lottery and was about to have a grand adventure.

Of the painting, Suzanne wrote, “I love it. It’s perfect. You added the whimsy and didn’t lose an ounce of “her” in the process. Thank you so much for making the effort to know her to paint her.”

Cheers,
Patrick

Please visit this page if you’d like to know more about my pet portrait commissions.

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Paintings, Projects and Possibilities

Here’s a secret that likely won’t shock you.

Whenever I write a post, there’s a good chance that there was a first draft that descended into a rant about social media. Then I re-read it, realize (again) that nobody wants to read that crap, delete it and start over.

I had about 1000 words written this time before I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and began again.

You know that person who constantly rages about how much they hate Justin Trudeau (or Trump, or Jason Kenney, or Erin O’Toole, or insert name here), and you think, “Ugh, we get it, you don’t like the guy. Move on!”

I don’t want to be that guy when it comes to social media. Sure, I’ll still do cartoons about it from time to time because the exodus is growing, it’s in the news, and that’s my job, but I’ve already left those platforms.

So, I’m moving on.

But I don’t regret the time spent writing that rant because it’s like journaling. Sometimes you just need to purge that bad energy, and I’m glad I kept it to myself.

Now for some good news. This year is starting quite well, despite the last one ending on a down note.

First, I’ve started a new commission of a beautiful dog. Sadly, she passed away late last year, which usually means the client wants a traditional portrait as a memorial. But this client has been following my work for quite some time, and she wants to remember her dog as happy and full of life, so I get to paint her in my signature whimsical style. This dog was an energetic outdoor pup, always up for mountain bike trips, hiking, chasing sticks, and high-energy activities, so the client kept steering me toward a full-body action pose, with great photos to back it up.

I’ll admit that the request made me nervous. My work is all about the face and expression, and a full-body can often mean some of that gets lost because the head and face will be smaller. But after some back and forth and reviewing the photos, I soon came around to her way of thinking.

I’ve started the piece, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I talked about this with my buddy, Derek, on a recent visit to Electric Grizzly Tattoo. Derek’s an incredible painter, and it’s great to have another artist I can talk to about this stuff. When I told him about this commission, that it scared me a little, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, I qualified it with, “but, you know what happens when you challenge yourself.”

Derek put his hand out flat in front of him for a second, then raised it about a foot.

He gets it.

Facing the scary stuff is the only way you take your skills to the next level.

Speaking of Derek, he recently introduced me to a whole new project he was exploring and suggested I join him in the endeavour. Each of us will be promoting our own work, so we’re not partnering on it, simply going down the same road. He made some introductions on my behalf, and we navigated it together. It’s an opportunity that might go nowhere but could also change our careers for the better.

From initial tire-kicking less than two weeks ago to serious discussions with the parties involved, Derek and I have signed agreements and are excited about the possibilities. But, having been down this kind of road before, we’re tempering our enthusiasm with a liberal dose of reality.

As in all things speculative, you hope for the best outcome but allow for the worst. What I like about the project is that there was a short deadline to get involved, with no room for procrastination. We had to get our shit together inside of a small window to make the launch dates. So, rather than talk it to death, we did our due diligence, got to work, and climbed aboard.

I realize this is vague, but until it launches, revealing specifics would be premature. I only mention it because it’s nice to focus on something with positive potential, given all we’ve dealt with the past two years.

At a time when so many people are tearing each other down, it’s gratifying that a fellow artist and friend discovered an opportunity and invited me along. He didn’t have to.  

I’m also working on two other painting projects. First, I’ve finally started the elephant as I want it done for Expo, which isn’t that far away. And it won’t be long before Mike at Pacific Music & Art needs another selection of paintings to consider for the 2023 calendar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the elephant in there?
There is also a much larger project I’m doing, involving several paintings of Burrowing Owls. So you can expect to see plenty of these characters pop up in posts over the next few months, each with different poses and expressions.

Between the commission, the elephant, the burrowing owls, the painting course, editorial cartoons and the daily support stuff I do for my business, I have an overflowing plate. But I’m not complaining. I’m at my best when I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m just happy to look to the horizon and see many more positive possibilities than negative realities.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Collars and Colours on Canvas

A couple of months ago, I shared a finished commission piece of Bomber. Here’s the link to that post.

This was a unique experience for a few reasons. The person who hired me was not the person with whom I had worked or who received the painting— it was a gift commission. As I mentioned in that post, the experience was ideal. The gift giver and the recipient were terrific to work with, and I have nothing but fond memories of that commission.

The recipient often works for periods of time in one province but lives in another, and not the next one over, either.

So when it came time to ship the canvas, Bomber’s Mom asked me to send it to her work address, so when she was missing being home with her dog, she’d have the art to keep her company. I kind of liked that.
I finished this painting in February and shipped it shortly after. While Sharon has seen the image and was happy with it, she didn’t get to see the 12”X16” canvas until last week.

I’m proud of the quality of my poster prints; otherwise, I wouldn’t sell them. The quality available today versus what was possible and affordable twenty years ago is night and day. Art Ink Print in Victoria does my poster prints, and it has gotten to the point where I rarely need to proof them because they do such a great job. They know my work and how it’s supposed to look. I can rely on them to make it look the way I want it to, and I never have to apologize to my customers, as the prints they order consistently exceed their expectations.

I sent an additional poster print of this commission to the person who hired me, a little bonus and keepsake.

Despite how much I like my poster prints, I’ve been telling people for years that my work looks best on canvas. There’s just something about the added texture of the fibres and the giclée print quality from ABL Imaging in Calgary. It makes the image pop, the colours look richer, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see the first canvas printing of a piece.

A little unsolicited advice to artists; if you’re going to print your work, don’t go for the cheapest you can find. People will pay for quality. You want to look at your own prints and think, “yeah, I’m happy to put my signature on that!”

I took photos of the Bomber canvas before I shipped it but didn’t want to share it until after Sharon had seen it. The photos still don’t do it justice, because iPhones have a tendency to wash out the lighter areas, which you can see in the top image and closeup. Even still, why would I want to dilute her moment of seeing the painting at its best?

She sent a message last week with this…

“I wanted to send you a note to let you know I finally made it back to ___ and just opened the package. You were right, it does hit different in person! It’s even more perfect than the picture. It’s up hanging in my office now and will remind me every day of home.”

There are few things I like better than happy clients.

If you’d like more information about commissions, you can read about them on my site, either in the post I linked to at the beginning of this piece, or on my Commissions page.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting Pet Portraits

Meet Wellington Bomber, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and my latest commission. Having shown it to the happy client this morning, I can now share it with you. I’ll let it sit for a day, give it one last critical eye, then send it for printing tomorrow morning. I hope to ship it later next week.

It was a privilege to paint Bomber, and I quite enjoyed this one.

This particular painting was an unusual circumstance as the commission was a gift purchase, so I only talked with the recipient after the fact. I usually don’t accept these commissions because they have created problems if the recipient isn’t familiar with my work. Assured that Bomber’s owner knew and liked my work, I took the gamble.

I need not have worried. Both the giver and recipient of the gift were ideal clients. From start to finish, this was a perfect commission experience.

Painting pet portraits is a challenging undertaking. I know plenty of artists who don’t take commissions because they can be a minefield of unwanted surprises.

When the experience is good, however, it’s usually great. I’ve had some fantastic clients, and it’s those paintings that keep me doing this work. More than one client over the years has said that I made them cry, including this one. Let me tell ya; there’s no better compliment.

For other artists, clients and the merely curious, here are some of the hurdles involved with pet portrait commissions.

Photo Reference
Given a choice, I would always take my reference photos, but since most clients aren’t local, that’s rarely possible.

It can take some time to find the right images, which means back-and-forth emails with clients. Most of the pet portraits I’ve painted have been memorials. When the animal has passed on, my only choices are what they have. I’ve turned down commissions for lack of good reference.

Are we On the Same Page?
Clients hire me for one of two styles, and I require a clear understanding of which before I begin. Do they want a portrait style or my whimsical wildlife style?

When it’s a memorial commission, the client most often wants a traditional portrait.

Sometimes the client will say they want my whimsical style, but then they attach conditions and limitations. One client had a big slobbery dog I was excited to paint because I was going to put some long stringy drool and goofy personality into that face.

The client asked that I paint my style, but make him look more dignified with no slobber at all, which are conflicting instructions. To this day, I wish I could have done my version.

When I have the freedom to paint the way I see it, the painting could end up goofy or with slightly less caricatured expression, depending on how it comes together. Clients who agree to allow me that freedom usually get something pretty special.

Price
Some bristle at the price tag, and I think it’s because we’ve become accustomed to online mass-market gimmick art, especially when it comes to pets.

No doubt you’ve seen those ads where they stick your dog’s head on the body of royalty or a military general in a renaissance-style portrait for under $100.

You choose from a handful of template options and backgrounds, upload the photo of your pet, they cut, paste, apply filters, and voila, Fido looking cute in a faux classic oil painting. Anybody with Photoshop experience can easily create that sort of image.

For a fun, inexpensive novelty item, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get what you paid for, and I’m sure many people find it amusing and enjoyable. It’s also the same thing that thousands of other people got.

Hiring an artist to paint a custom painting of your pet is a whole other animal; pardon the pun. You’re buying an original piece of art that’s personal to you.

There’s a significant amount of time involved in a pet portrait, from the initial consultation to delivery of the finished painting. My price includes a ready-to-hang medium-sized canvas print and shipping, but the cost for that is more than it seems.

I have my canvases printed professionally in Calgary by ABL Imaging. Their quality standards are high, which means I never have to apologize for cracked seams, inferior quality wood on the stretcher bars, or the wrong colour. If I wouldn’t hang it in my home, I won’t expect a client to hang it in theirs.

But quality costs.

For a one-off 12″ X16″ print, it costs me around $150. Then there’s the 2.5-hour drive round trip to Calgary to get it. If I’m running other errands or going to the zoo to take photos, it’s a detour and worth it. If not, I’ll have a courier pick it up. That’s another $35.

If I’m shipping the canvas, that’s more time and materials, plus $30-$50 depending on where it’s going.

That’s just the cost of production and time, and we haven’t even got to the creative part, which is where the real value exists.

Time
Whether it’s art for a living or any other service provided by a self-employed professional, pricing needs to factor in time. You can’t create two things at once, at least not well.

There is time spent talking with the client, checking reference photos, explaining why one works and another doesn’t, having email conversations to ensure expectations are reasonable and that there’s a shared vision. That consultation time adds up.

Most importantly, when I’m working on a commission, that’s time I’m not working on editorial cartoons or paintings for prints and licensing.

Then there’s the actual painting time. A commission will usually require a minimum of fifteen hours, but most likely more, spread out over a few weeks, depending on my other deadlines. I treat the likeness and personality as I would that of a portrait of a person. It has taken me decades of training, practice and experience to create my signature style of artwork.

Just as a skilled trades-person commands a professional rate, so do creative professionals. People often think that because an artist enjoys his or her work, that they will (and should) gladly do it for free.

The work we choose to create is the work we enjoy most. The work somebody else wants us to do, that comes at a price. You are buying not just my art skills that took a lifetime to master, but also my work time, which I never get back.

This latest commission was a real challenge. I had a hard time with the personality, mainly because the dog is a senior. Goofy didn’t seem to be the right direction, so most of the character had to be more subtle, and I spent hours trying to get it right.

It was only when I stopped trying to force it that the personality showed up. I’m happy with the result, and my standards are so much higher than that of my clients.

Friends and Family
In my experience, artists are notorious people pleasers and pushovers, most often to our own detriment.

Friends, family and even total strangers often strongly suggest that they expect a discount or free painting, or they outright request one.

Most people mean well and don’t consider it a big deal, nor do they realize that they’re the 100th person who has asked you to paint their pet “in your spare time.”

Like most people, I don’t have spare time. Ever.

Live long enough, and you accumulate many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are genuinely lovely people, all of whom you want to give a discount.

But sooner or later, you’re going to lose your business because you wanted to be a nice guy.

The hardest thing people pleasers need to learn is how to say No. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. The worst part of it is when people get used to you saying Yes all the time, they’ll resent you when you say No.

Suddenly you’re not the nice person who has always been agreeable to their requests; you’re the rude person who has gotten too big for his britches.

Sometimes, it’s personal.
From time to time, I may want to paint somebody’s dog, for the same reasons I want to paint a wild animal. I see something I like, or I have a connection with the dog or cat, or I want to give a gift that only I can give.

I’ve painted my parents’ dog, who passed away last year, and I will undoubtedly paint their new dog.

Our next-door neighbours have a wonderful dog that Shonna and I adore. Running into her in the driveway never fails to brighten our day, and she gets offended if we don’t visit for even just a minute. I’ve already taken reference of her when she was still a big puppy, and I’m going to paint her eventually.

I’ve talked about the cabin north of here that friends and I have gone to in recent years. I drive by the owners’ place on the way to the cabin, and even if I know they’re not home, I stop to visit their dog, Jingles. I painted her in a portrait style simply because that’s what felt right at the time. I was happy to give them a framed print as a thank-you for always being such great hosts.
Whenever I finish these personal pieces, however, I always get messages and comments from people ‘offering’ to let me paint their dog, assuring me that their dog is adorable, cute, and has a great personality.

Almost every dog I’ve ever met matches that description, especially to their family.

But despite what most people think, art is a business, one that requires thick skin. Art for a living is finding a balance between producing work that pays the bills and making time for the work I want to do.

When I choose to paint a pet for my enjoyment, much like the portraits of people I paint, there is little to no market for that painting after the fact. People rarely want paintings of someone else’s dog to hang on their wall; they want a painting of their own dog.

Conclusion
When a client hires me to paint their pet, I take it seriously. Someone is choosing to spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on a personal piece of my artwork. Depending on where they hang it, they might look at it every day for many years to come.

I owe every client my best work.

Whether you’re an artist thinking of offering pet portrait commissions as part of your menu of services or a client thinking of hiring me or someone else to create a piece of art personal to you, hopefully this has provided a little insight.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to create art for a living for many years. The artistic skills have been challenging to earn, often frustrating, featuring many course corrections and more than a few dead ends.

But by far, the hardest lessons I continue to learn have been about the business of art. People want art in their lives, but they often forget to view it the same way they do other services and products. What’s worse, artists themselves are often the worst failures at running their own businesses for the same reason.

And to those artists, I will leave you with three critical thoughts.

Creating art is easy. Selling art is hard.

If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will, either.

Trying to please everybody is a recipe for misery, in art and life.

Cheers,
Patrick

A Final Word on Commissions
From recent market consultation and after careful consideration of my work’s value, I have increased my commission rate to starting at $1900.00, which includes the ready-to-hang canvas print and shipping. That rate is effective immediately, but my newsletter subscribers can still lock in the current rate of $1100.00 by booking a commission with a non-refundable deposit by March 31st.
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© Patrick LaMontagne
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