If you read my last post on market tips and tricks, I wrote about the importance of staying healthy at these things. But in the best-laid plans category, I wrote it before realizing I had come home from the last Banff Christmas Market with the flu.
I don’t often get sick, but when I do, it kicks my ass. So, for a few days this week, I was in and out of consciousness on the couch, shaking and shivering, enjoying the nasty cold and flu symptoms with which we’re all familiar.
I managed to finish my editorial cartoons, but they took longer than usual, and the effort wiped me out. Most disappointing was that, after weeks of long hours of market prep and execution, I was finally looking forward to having some time to paint last week. I had even planned on recording a video. But the virus laughed at my hubris and beat me senseless.
Thankfully, I turned the corner Friday evening, and by Saturday morning, though still weak and weary, I got some work done. I’m not 100% yet, but I’m on the mend. I hope to get a full day in today.
But because I’m now even further behind than I already was, there won’t be a new Christmas painting video or a video gallery of my work this year. I’ve just lost too much painting time and I need to make that a priority.
Fortunately, I’ve got many new subscribers who likely haven’t seen this video from a couple of years ago and perhaps others who’d like to see it again. It’s a high-speed time-lapse window into my process, digitally painting whimsical wildlife. If you enjoy it, please share with whomever you like.
Also, this is a friendly reminder that my Stocking Stuffer Sticker sale is over tonight, so it’s your last chance to get either the Bear Pack or the Variety Pack. Those packs will disappear from the store tonight. Thanks to all of you who’ve already ordered.
I’ve only got three Wild Animals 2024 calendars left as well, so if you want one, act fast. They’re in the store while supplies last.
EDIT: Calendars have now sold out. My thanks to everyone who ordered one this year.
While labour-intensive, this painting wasn’t especially difficult. There weren’t any parts of it where I worried I might not have the necessary skills. That comes from experience, the feeling that “it’ll take a while, but I got this.”
I wanted the piece to be bright and colourful, with plenty of detail throughout. I planned it to work well for a print and several other products, but I was also thinking about puzzles and diamond art kits.
I’m a commercial artist; this is how I make my living. So, creating a new piece can’t just be about painting for my enjoyment. It’s both a creative and financial investment; that’s the deal you make when a hobby becomes a job.
People often ask how long it takes to me complete a painting. I don’t paint an image in one sitting; it’s usually over a couple of weeks, two or three hours here and there. At the same time, I’m also drawing daily editorial cartoons, writing, answering emails and phone calls while working on marketing, bookkeeping, and managing the self-employment minutia.
So, I usually ballpark it and say it takes ten to twenty hours to complete a painting, depending on the subject. That doesn’t include my time taking reference photos. This piece, however, took a lot longer, and I can’t even begin to guess, because one morning, I painted leaves for three hours.
I began the project with several sketches and refined those into this mockup.
Then I painted the individual giraffes, creating three expressions different enough to be their own characters, but I still had to match the colours, light and shadow so they belonged together in the scene. Each giraffe could have been a single painting.
Painting the environment was the most challenging part. I could have gone with generic-looking green deciduous leaves, and most people wouldn’t have cared. Even though my style of art is whimsical, and I take liberties with exaggeration and expression, I still try for accuracy in the anatomy and environment.
Just as I had looked up the appropriate trees and foliage for my recent sloth painting, I wanted to do the same for these funny-looking giraffes. It seems they’ll vary their diet when needed, but giraffes prefer acacia trees when dining out on the savannah.
And wouldn’t you know it, in addition to their distinctive overall look, one of the most prominent features of an acacia tree is sharp spiky thorns. I included less of them in my piece than are visible on some acacia trees as I wanted them to accent the leaves rather than overpower them.
WARNING: Here’s a little tech art nerd stuff for the digital artists in the crowd.
I used to love to create brushes in Photoshop. I’d spend hours experimenting, tweaking, and adjusting brush shapes and options until I got the behaviour I was after. I’ve got brushes for sketching, inking, blocking, hair, texture, rocks, grass, skin, clouds, and more. Most of the brushes I use daily aren’t complicated because it’s not the brush that does the work; it’s the person using it.
It’s no different than a traditional painter, woodworker, sculptor or other skilled creative. They all need good tools to allow them to create their best work.
The hair brushes I use today are ones I designed several years ago. What varies is how I use them, depending on the critter I’m painting. But because I’ve perfected the ones I use most and rarely need to change them, I seldom design brushes anymore.
For this painting, however, I wanted to design three new brushes for the foliage. I created one for the branches and painted those in as a base. Then I designed several variations of acacia leaves and experimented with the brush settings to get the desired results. I realized quickly, however, that I only needed one and used that for most of the painting, adjusting the size as required.
Finally, I created a thorn brush. I set it for random rotation and spacing and erased single thorns as needed if they didn’t look right.
In the image below, the top row shows the brush design for each, the bottom row shows how the settings allow me to use it.
I don’t use any colour dynamics in my brushes. I prefer to pick and choose colour while painting, sampling from adjacent colours to get a better blend.
These new brushes allowed me to create a solid foundation, but it looked flat and lifeless until I spent several hours painting light, shadow, and detail to achieve the finished result.
New digital artists often get obsessed with buying brush packs, thinking that’s all they need to achieve the same look as more experienced artists. But professional tools won’t provide a shortcut past the years of work it takes to become good at anything.
That’s like thinking you’re ready for a National Geographic assignment just because you bought an expensive camera.
I decline to share my brushes and advise people to learn to make their own. The best way to learn how to use them is to learn to design them. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy that until I created new ones for this painting.
Because this painting took so much longer than most others I’ve done, more than once I felt like I was running behind and not working fast enough. It was hard to slow down and accept there was no rush.
I blame the daily editorial cartoon deadlines for that state of mind. I can never take too long on a cartoon, or I miss the opportunity to have it published, which means I don’t get paid. Depending on the popularity of each image on prints and licensed products, the payment for a painting often spans several years, and it’s easy to forget that. I always feel that I need to get it done so I can start on the next one.
But I’m pleased with this finished piece and glad I spent so much time on it. It feels like a step forward in my work, and I want to invest more time in painting more involved pieces like this one.
While I called it Long Neck Buds, someone could easily interpret them as two parents and a child. People often tell me what one of my paintings is ‘thinking’ or what their expression means, and I wouldn’t dream of contradicting them. If the art makes them feel something or triggers their imagination, that’s good enough for me.
P.S. A special thanks to my buddy, Derek Turcotte. I sent this to him near completion and asked for his critique. He’ll send me work-in-progress shots from time to time with the same request. It’s so helpful to have another professional artist look at a piece with fresh eyes, and offer advice to help make a painting better, especially when it’s asked for and answered without ego.
When you stare at a piece for hours, days, and weeks, it’s easy to miss something. I had initially painted too much contrast in the clouds, which distracted from the foreground detail. Once Derek mentioned it, and I made the changes, it was suddenly so obvious he was right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the questions I get from people is, “what’s your medium?”
When I answer that it’s digital, I can expect a few different reactions because many people don’t understand it or think it’s something else.
Many people hear digital and think I’m just messing around with photos on the computer, especially because my work is highly detailed and often has a photorealistic quality. I explain that it’s all brushwork on a digital drawing display, like a cross between a TV monitor and a drafting table. Even though I take my own reference whenever I can, no photos are ever part of the paintings.
For most people, that’s enough of an explanation.
When I tell a traditional artist, somebody who paints with acrylic, oil or watercolour, that I’m working digitally, I often get disdain and condescension. A lot of traditional artists don’t like digital. It might be that they can’t do it, don’t understand it, or feel threatened that it will replace their work medium. Or they don’t like the idea that anybody creates anything on a computer and calls it art.
It used to bother me, and I’d feel insecure about defending my medium, but these days, I dismiss it and move on. I started creating art on a computer in 1998 with one of the first drawing tablets Wacom ever made. I’ve been making my full-time living as an artist for almost twenty years and arguing art mediums is wasted time and energy.
I can’t imagine any photographers or moviemakers still arguing film vs. digital these days. But when digital cameras first came out, those communities had plenty of heated discussions. It seems rather foolish as the camera doesn’t create the art; the photographer does.
It strikes me ironic that artists who are all about free expression, exploring creativity and pushing boundaries are often the first to tell another creative, “you have to stop because that’s not the way it’s done.”
Judge a piece of art by how it makes you feel. If you get nothing from my work, it’s simply not for you. Move on to another artist whose creations push your buttons.
Fortunately, anybody under 30 has grown up with digital art, so they have no stigma. They’ve seen it in movies and video games their whole life. They’ve been doodling on their tablets and phones for years. So when those people ask me about the work, they usually want to learn how to do it.
And I’m always happy to share what I know because so many generous artists gave me their time and knowledge when I was coming up.
While creating a Christmas-themed editorial cartoon this week, I decided to share the different stages of how I draw a cartoon. This isn’t a tutorial, as I don’t want to bore all of you who aren’t aspiring digital artists. Instead, it’s simply a window into the creation.
I put rough perspective guides on a layer in Photoshop for this cartoon.
On another layer, I’ll sketch out whatever I’m drawing and keep refining over and over until I get what you see here. It’s the same principle as sketching and drawing on paper, without all the mess of smudging and erasing.
Then I’ll drop the opacity of the sketch layer, so it’s very faint and create cleaner black lines on the layer above. I call this an Ink layer, even though there’s no ink involved.
I’ll delete the sketch, create a new layer beneath the ink layer and fill in sections of flat colour on different layers. This helps me establish a base colour for separate pieces and select certain painting sections easily.
On top of the flat layer, I create a layer for light and shading. The initial sketching and the painting layer are where I have the most fun.
Finally, I’ll create a painted background, add talk bubbles, my text and signature, and save different formats to send to my newspaper clients across Canada.
Years ago, I recorded a whole DVD on this process through PhotoshopCAFE. It’s no longer available, but this is the basic idea.
The painting process I use for my whimsical wildlife and portraits of people is more complicated because each painting takes many hours to complete and involves a lot of fine detail. But the tools are the same. Many artists have asked me about my painting brushes over the years, and they’re surprised that they’re not complicated. Just like in traditional art, it isn’t the brush; it’s the person wielding it.
As in any profession, creative or otherwise, skills only come from years of working on your craft, and there are no shortcuts.
I created a time lapse video of a Christmas reindeer a few years ago. It shows the Wacom display on which I work and a painting from start to finish in two minutes. Watch ‘til the end for a little digital magic.
As this is likely my last post before the 25th, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. I’ll have something else for you before New Year’s Eve.
Here’s my latest piece. I call it ‘Staring Contest.’ This is another painting of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park. I took the reference a couple of years ago, the same day I did for one of my favorite pieces, Grizzly on Grass. I love painting this bear. Spending time with her was, and continues to be, a highlight of my life. I’m forever grateful to Serena and her staff for that privilege. Below is a time lapse video of this piece, from start to finish, along with narration to go with it. The text for the voice-over is below the video if you’d rather read than listen to it. Thanks for being here.
Every artist is familiar with imposter syndrome. It has now become a cliché that’s right up there with the overshared quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
We compare ourselves to other artists and not only feel like we don’t measure up but that we never will. It’s easy to fall into the headspace that an art career is a zero-sum game, that when another artist wins, you lose. It can be somebody you’ve never met with whom you have no connection, but when they’re making headlines and you’re not, it feels like you’re failing.
Worse, news of other people’s successes is front and center all the time. As a result, we now compare ourselves to everyone else on the planet.
So-and-so exceeded their Kickstarter funding by $50,000. And there’s the guy who makes his entire living from his Patreon subscribers. That woman over there makes six figures from YouTube videos, and that other person has thousands of followers on Instagram.
That artist made millions on NFTs. Somebody else just published their 4th book. His course went viral. She’s featured at Comic-Con. That big company sponsored this guy, and that girl scored a five-figure art grant.
Some kid’s painting video goes viral, and now he’s making movies with James Cameron? He’s 18. That girl’s not even out of art school and got a gig with Disney?
Suddenly I have to start dancing on TikTok to sell my art.
What the hell?
That’s the problem with attention. You’ve got to keep coming up with something new to get more of it and find a way to stand out in a crowd of millions doing the same damn thing.
When you’re not chasing the spotlight, you need to pay the bills.
I’ve been making my full-time living as an editorial cartoonist, illustrator and digital painter for nearly twenty years, plus several years part-time before that.
And yet, I wonder if I’ll still be able to do this for a living in six months.
I’ve had that worry every month since I quit my full-time job in 2005. It has never gone away. Good stuff has happened in my career, a lot of it. But when it does, that little voice always reminds me not to get comfortable. Because as soon as you stop and smell the roses, you get a thorn up your nose.
There are plenty of articles that try to talk you down from the comparison ledge. I know, I’ve read them. Hell, I’ve written some, though I felt like a fraud while doing it.
The worst part is the longing, that feeling that you could be so much more than you are, but you somehow missed that critical memo everybody else got because they seem to know what they’re doing, and you’re the idiot still looking for the light switch in a dark room. It’s that failure to live up to your own perfectionist personal potential, that dark cloud of not being good enough that will rob you of most of the joy of creating art.
Then there’s the shame that comes from not being more successful, feeling like a joke to your friends and family, as if they’re reluctantly indulging this phase you’re going through, just waiting for you to come to your senses and get a real job.
I can’t tell you how many acquaintances I’ve run into, people I hadn’t seen for years, who ask, “Oh, you still doing that art thing?”
“Good for you.”
All that’s missing is the pat on the head.
Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to let it all go, enjoy the ride, stop trying so hard and making yourself miserable. Comparison is the thief of joy. But then I’d be a hypocrite because I’m 51 years old, and I haven’t figured out how to accept any of that.
Not long ago, I watched that ‘Light and Magic’ series about the creative minds behind ILM. For a movie and art nerd like me, it was exciting stuff. The contrast between what they created in the ‘70s and what it has become today is remarkable. From little plastic spaceship models and whole camera systems they had to invent to bring Star Wars to life to later making dinosaurs real in Jurassic Park, it’s practically sorcery.
On the one hand, it was incredibly inspiring that they just made stuff up, and it worked. But, on the other, it triggered a sense of desperation that nothing I’ll ever create will ever be that good.
I paint funny-looking animals. How important is that? It’s not! But you know what? Neither is modelling toys and playing with space aliens. But those people changed movies forever. Those people changed the world
What I liked best about the story was how those people talked about each other 40 years later. They were like family. It was the kind of workplace everybody wants but is ultimately very rare. They gambled on a dream and turned it into reality.
It’s easy to quote, “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
But chances are better than average that they won’t. For every ILM lightning-in-a-bottle story, there are a hundred others we’ll never hear about, featuring creative types who dreamed just as big and worked just as hard.
This artist’s life delivers more than its fair share of torment, uncertainty, and feeling unoriginal like it’s all been wasted time. I wonder if I’ll still be able to draw when I’m older or if age will rob me of my dexterity and eyesight. I worry I haven’t saved enough for retirement because I’ve invested more into this creative life of risk than my financial security.
And yet, for all the fear I feel every single day, and the shame for not knowing how to make all the right business moves, it’s still one of the very few places in my life where I’m allowed to touch something magical and unexplainable. In the work is a sense of connection to something greater than myself, even though I can’t define it. It’s a feeling outside the five senses, a well I’m allowed to draw from but not one I own.
It doesn’t come in the first moments I sit down to paint, nor does it show up even an hour into it. I’m still distracted by random thoughts, checking emails, and going to YouTube to answer a question that just popped into my head, leading to three more videos. And finally, an hour later, I must remind myself to get back to painting.
Once immersed in the work, a couple of hours into a session, something happens that reminds me why I’m spending so much of my limited time on the planet painting little hairs around a silly little grizzly bear’s ear.
It just feels right, that it’s where I’m supposed to be. It quiets the angry, critical, unkind voices in my head. It’s an escape, something good in a world I’m convinced is not. It’s a fleeting thing, only sticks around for a little while, but it comes and goes in waves.
Over the years, chasing those moments, that connection, those little hairs became a painting, then another, then a portfolio, and a body of work. Before I knew it, it was a career and life as an artist.
If you are lucky in a creative profession, you never stop learning and trying to become a better version of the artist you were yesterday, which is the only comparison that matters. I thought this painting was done, but then I realized that the bear’s muzzle wasn’t long enough. Most people wouldn’t care one way or the other, but once I’d seen it, I knew I’d forever look at the painting and wish I had changed it.
So I did some cutting and pasting, a little warping and nudging, and spent a couple more hours repainting that section. It was frustrating, but I’m more content with the finished result and glad I didn’t rush it. And though it’s done, it’s still not quite good enough. I can do better, and I’ll try again on the next one.
Because that is the hardest part of being a professional artist, making peace with the fact that you will never be good enough for your own expectations and will spend a lifetime reaching for that carrot on the stick, knowing you will never get it. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be what you thought it was.
Whenever there was a turning point in an 80s movie, you could expect a music montage. Whether it was rebuilding a classic car, a group of rebellious teens learning to dance, or the karate tournament advancing to the final match, an upbeat song helped the story jump through time without making the viewer watch all the actual hard work.
Did you really want to see the protagonist standing in line at the auto parts store to get an air filter for the ’67 Camaro he’s restoring?
It often takes many days or weeks to complete one of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and I enjoy most of it. Drinking hot black coffee, tunes in my earbuds, I’m quite content to spend hours at a time painting tiny little hairs on a wolf’s muzzle or adding texture detail so the sea turtle’s skin looks real.
But if you were watching this work over my shoulder, I guarantee you would be bored out of your mind.
My buddy Derek is one of the most incredible tattoo artists you’ll ever see. When I hang out at the shop, I’ll often lean over his shoulder to watch. His linework is ridiculously precise, and I’m fascinated at the silky-smooth colour gradients he achieves with a tattoo machine. But eventually, it gets boring. He’ll often have clients that sit for hours all day for three days straight.
I just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.
I’ve been creating time-lapse videos off and on for many years, and even though they can add hours of extra work to a painting, they’re fun to put together.
Sometimes I’ll record a voiceover, something inspirational for other artists, or relevant thoughts on the piece. Over the years, I’ve done a few of those for Wacom, the company that makes the tablets and displays I’ve been using since the late 90s. While I still love their products and will continue to recommend them, the best days of that working relationship are likely behind me now.
Most corporations are still chasing the likes and shares on social media, whereas I am not. I have no designs on becoming an Instagram influencer. I’d rather spend that time creating more art.
The time-lapse videos I enjoy most are the short ones with a musical accompaniment. These days I have a monthly subscription to Epidemic Sound, and it allows me to find the right track to go with a painting, regardless of the mood I’m trying to set.
I record the first part of the video over my left shoulder with my DSLR camera. I must keep in mind that the camera is beside me on the tripod, careful not to bump it. Because I’m recording a digital screen with a digital capture device, it also creates lighting problems.
Movies and TV shows will often add device and monitor screens after the fact in editing because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to record them with a camera.
But people like to see my hand holding the stylus, moving around the display.
For the rest of the video, I use Camtasia‘s screen capture software. I’ve been using it to record and edit since I created my DVDs ten years ago, and it works well.
But when I get down to the smallest of hairs in the painting, making subtle shading changes, and applying catchlights to the wet skin of the nose or around the eyes, it eventually becomes difficult for the viewer to follow the cursor.
And finally, our attention spans keep getting shorter. With slot machine scrolling on our phones, multiple tabs open on our desktops and pinging alerts going off all around us, holding somebody’s interest is a challenge.
I used to record four- or five-minute time-lapse videos, but most people won’t sit through those anymore, so I try to keep them under two minutes. Of course, it means there are significant jumps in the painting’s progress and detail, but it works.
People just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.
P.S. As always, feel free to share the video, with my thanks. That goes for anything else I post on this site as well.
When you create art for a hobby, it doesn’t matter how you spend your time. It’s an escape, a leisurely pursuit. You can read about art, sketch, watch videos, take courses, visit galleries, or attend workshops or clubs devoted to the same goals. You can doodle for an hour, then throw it in the recycling.
But when art is your work, how you spend your time and energy is directly related to your income. If you’re not making art that sells, you’re risking your financial security. Bill collectors don’t take good intentions as payment, nor do they accept the absence of a creative spark as an excuse.
Anyone who has ever held any job knows what it’s like to have a horrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling unmotivated to do anything. But you haul your ass out of bed and go to work anyway. Because your boss is unlikely to accept “I’m just not feeling inspired today” as a valid reason for not showing up.
Talk to anyone in a creative field who does it for a living, and they’ll tell you that waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals get to work, even when they don’t feel like it. Art for a living is no different. You stick to a schedule, show up every day, and you do the work, even when you don’t want to.
But just as people in many fields go away for conferences, take additional training in the latest techniques, or keep up to date on industry literature to remain competitive, artists also need to make time for the unquantifiable.
The only way to improve on skills is to invest in them, even when it feels like you’re not getting any work done.
Whenever I start a new painting, my intent is most often to create a production piece. If it’s a painting of an animal, I want the result to be a print or an image for licensing, something that goes into the inventory to generate future income.
On occasion, I’ll make room for a character portrait for my own enjoyment (I’m working on one right now), but when it comes to the whimsical wildlife, I don’t often make time for sketching, or experiments, or ‘let’s try something and see what happens.’
But I should.
Even though I never went to art school, I know enough from talking to artists who have, that sketching and playing around is essential. It’s where you find your happy accidents, those unexpected gems that pop up simply from drawing for fun or practice.
My Grizzly, the very first whimsical wildlife painting in 2009, was an experiment. I was trying something new to see what might happen, and it eventually changed my entire career, leading me to the work I enjoy most.
It’s an easy bad habit to get into, judging the art I create to be only as valuable as its revenue. But, unfortunately, that’s a short-sighted view of what has been a long career and will hopefully continue to be.This eagle-in-flight could have become a production piece, but I got to a point where I realized that even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like taking it any further. It was good practice; I recorded it, so I get to show another time-lapse, but this is as far as I’m taking it. It’s more than a sketch but less than my usual hyper-detailed renderings. Click here or on the image to see the full sized piece and the 2-minute video.
I’m going to accept that it was a practice piece and creative time well spent.
One of the reasons I enjoy taking my own reference photos for paintings is that the animals often surprise me.
When I began painting these critters, before I took my own photos, I’d often have a pose in mind, and I’d go looking for it on the internet. I’d eventually find something I liked, but it would often look similar to the pose I used for a previous painting of a different animal.
If it were a stock photo, I’d pay the licensing fee for reference. Failing that, I’d contact the photographer, arrange for a high-res image and pay or barter for the use.
Australian photographer Scott Portelli allowed me to use his underwater photo for my Humpback Whale painting in exchange for a rolled canvas of the finished piece. Moose Peterson allowed the use of several of his animal images in exchange for my drawing a caricature of him and a business partner for a course they taught. We already had a connection through Photoshop World, so he was familiar with my work.
I paid a U.S. park warden $100 for his photo I found online for my first Wolf painting. He confessed surprise at my offering to pay since that image had been stolen and published illegally more times than he could count.
The problem with online reference photos is that I know that no matter what I find, there’s a good chance another artist has used the same image. Certainly, I’ll paint it with my spin and style, and it won’t look the same as another artist’s work, but it will undoubtedly share similarities.
By taking my own photos, it stands a better chance of being unique.
On a recent visit to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, I had another opportunity to take photos of their black bears during their presentation to the public. As I’ve known the keepers and staff for several years, they allow me into the large enclosures with them, though I’m behind a hot-wire. It’s an electric fence about a foot off the ground that the animals avoid, for obvious reasons. The keepers, however, interact up close and personal with the bears.
These animals are all orphans and rescues who came to the facility under conditions prohibiting their release into the wild. Many of them have been raised here since they were very young. They receive exemplary care and clearly have an affectionate relationship with their caregivers.
The keepers use the bear presentations each day to educate the public about wildlife. They teach how to be bear-aware while hiking, what to do if you encounter a black bear or grizzly in the wild, how to use bear spray, and keep a clean campsite so that the local fauna doesn’t learn to associate people with food.
The hope is that by educating the public, fewer orphans will end up in captivity, remaining in the wild where they belong.
One of those rescues is a big black bear named Gruff. With a genial and gentle personality, he has been hand-raised at the park since he was a cub.
Sadly, Gruff had a rough start in life. A hunter poached his mother in the Grande Prairie area, and people passed the frightened little cub from home to home.
Fish and Wildlife eventually confiscated the sick and frightened cub, and my friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, was asked if she could take him.
He was malnourished, in shock from his ordeal, and sick from untreated pneumonia that has since resulted in permanent left lung damage. Because he was in such bad shape, Serena didn’t know if she could save him. But with proper food, medication, round-the-clock care and a lot of patience, Gruff has grown into one of the most beautiful black bears you could ever see.
He is currently eight years old and 709 pounds at his last weigh-in.
I’ve painted Gruff several times, and I expect I’ll paint him again as I enjoy his expressions and antics. The bond between him and the keepers is evident, and he never fails to put a smile on my face. While visiting in June, I was happily snapping pics of Gruff when he made a clumsy attempt to sit up from lying on his back. He looked right at me, with his tongue out, and immediately reminded me of a large guy trying to do a sit-up. With the camera on rapid-fire, I got quite a few shots of this funny situation and was delighted at the photos when I got home.
As none of them were quite right on their own, I used three different reference pics for this piece. One had the best head position, another one revealed a better overall pose and the third, while a bit out of focus, had some lighting I liked.
Could I have found these shots online, taken by another photographer? Unlikely. Would I have even thought to have looked for images like this? Not a chance.
I could list dozens of paintings I’ve created that have been inspired by situations and experiences I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s why taking the photos is as much a part of the finished pieces as the paintings themselves. Each of them has a story and conjures up fun memories.
Whether it’s a pose, lighting, or simply a look, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered future paintings while sorting through photos.
When I came across the photos of Gruff, looking like he was trying to get in shape, there was no doubt of a painting. But, before I put the first brush stroke on the digital canvas, I already knew that I would call it ‘One More.’
I imagine it 10 feet high on the wall of a gym somewhere.
To see all the little painted hairs I suggest watching this full-screen. Here’s the narrative from the video…
On a recent Saturday morning, I woke with no idea what to paint, which meant going through my photo archives, looking for reference.
None of the photos spoke to me and I began to feel uneasy.
A brown bear? No I’ve done a lot of those and just finished one. I’ve painted plenty of bears. An owl or an eagle? Painted lots of those, too.
On it went. Having painted more than 80 production pieces, plus commissions and portraits of people, finding something new is a challenge. I wanted to choose an animal I’d enjoy painting but would also appeal to others.
Was it just a bad morning or worse —the beginning of a rut?
The peanut gallery of internal critics, those loudmouths in the cheap seats, they love this stuff. Whenever self-doubt finds a foothold, that chorus of cretins is ready to attack.
“You had a good run. Time to go get a real job. You weren’t that good at this stuff, anyway. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
I tend to overthink these things. Lately, I’ve been focused a lot on trying to figure out what my audience wants to see, the people who already follow me and support my work.
What I forget, however, is I didn’t know what they wanted to see in the first place. I painted funny looking animals and the people who liked them hung around for more. The more I painted what I wanted; the more people showed up. I don’t recall taking a poll asking if I was painting too many bears.
As I looked through hundreds of reference photos, I tried to ignore those inner voices telling me why each was not good enough, that I’m not good enough. They can’t be silenced, but they don’t deserve the spotlight or center stage.
A favorite line from the movie, Dr. Strange goes, “we never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.”
In my frustration at failing to find the one reference image that spoke to me, the one with the perfect lighting, composition, that captured a moment, I stopped looking and started writing this narrative, instead.
And in the writing, I found a little clarity. The advice I would give another artist in this situation applies to myself as well.
Paint what you like. Stop worrying about the marketing, the likes and shares, the sales, the prints, the licensing, the niche, the pressure, the noise. Stop anticipating and giving in to the critics, real or imaginary.
If you’re creative for a living, the business stuff is important, no denying it. You can’t wing it and pretend that money is just going to flow to you. You must think like a business owner, treat it like a job, and remember this is how you pay your bills.
But not all the time. Otherwise, what’s the point of being an artist for a living?
I went back to the archives with a different goal, to paint something for me. If other people like it, great. If not, I’ll paint something for them next time.
Once I got past all the critical voices in my head, I really enjoyed this piece. I immersed myself in the long hairs in his mane, the short hairs on his muzzle, the dark shadows that defined the larger shapes, the warm colours in the fur, the bright highlights, and that contented smile on his face, which put a smile on mine.
Sure, I’ve painted lions before.
I’ll paint lions again.
That’s OK, because each will be different than the last. And all will be time well spent.
Many artists I know have multiple shelves full of art books. I only have about a dozen of this type of book. Any more than that and some would probably never get opened more than once. As it is now, the ones I have only leave the shelves about once a year. But I’m still tempted to buy every time I see a new one.
Some notables include The Art of Tangled, a favourite animated movie, Drew Struzan’s Oeuvre, and Sebastian Kruger’s Stones. And I’m not even a Rolling Stones fan, I just enjoy Kruger’s study of them.
One of the things I love is the sketches and smaller illustrations peppered throughout these books. They’re usually unfinished doodles, sometimes chicken scratches, often looking like last-minute additions to fill up too much white space. But this accent art is deliberately and carefully chosen to compliment an illustration or story.
I enjoy seeing the bones of an illustration, the gestures, the rough idea, where the artist might have begun and what changed between the concept and finished piece. You can learn quite a bit from what the artist discarded.
I’ve long wanted to do an art book, but it’s always over the next hill. You readers that have been with me for years (thank you!) will recall my mentioning this once or twice (probably more). I could make any number of excuses, but it’s a pretty easy truth to admit — I haven’t made it a priority. There are plenty of stories in my more than a decade of blogging about my art, and I’ve got much more finished work than I need to fill a book. Hell, I even have a publisher who wants to make it happen.
So the failure to launch is all mine, a victim of fear, perfectionism and procrastination. I have visions of boxes of books in my garage, gathering dust for years.
However, even if I conquer the imposter syndrome, one ingredient that is still missing is all of those little sketches and rough illustrations that I enjoy so much in other art books. I barely have any.
Even though sketching for fun, drawing from life and for practice has long been proven to make an artist’s skills better, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so for many years.
Almost all my work ends up being a finished painting. I spend a lot of time beforehand planning it out and choosing the correct reference. I experiment while I’m painting, but all of it leads to having a fully rendered piece done at the end of each beginning.
One of the reasons I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil was that I wanted to do more digital sketching. The procreate app is an incredible bit of software. It’s better for digital drawing and painting than Photoshop was for most of my early career. Plenty of artists are doing finished work on it, some impressive stuff.
But I haven’t been using it as often as I thought I would, at least not for drawing.
I recently went through my photo archives and grabbed a bunch of reference I liked, but not enough to contribute to a finished production print. I uploaded many of these to the iPad and promised myself that I would make more time for sketching, drawing and painting that I may or may not show to people, but eventually, they might be good accent pieces for an art book.
I started on this meerkat earlier this week. I got it to a point where it was a decent sketch, and I could have put it away and started something else. But I was having so much fun with it (dammit!), I didn’t want to stop.
Before I knew it, I was painting in little hairs around the ears and muzzle, adding finer detail work, and experimenting with a different brush style. While not quite as refined as some of my other work, this could be a production piece.
And because procreate has a great feature where you can record every brushstroke, I could export that, edit it, add some music and voila — a high-speed short video with some fun music to go along with the brush strokes.
Once again, I have failed at creating some rough sketches but succeeded in having some more fun rendering a funny-looking animal painting. I’ll call that a win.
As for sketching, I’m probably going to have to set a time limit — 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and I have to stop when the buzzer goes off.