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Daisy

Many of my paintings have an interesting back story, but not this one.

A friend posted a picture of her daughter’s dog on Instagram, and because she’s already kind of a caricature…the dog, not the friend, or her daughter…amazing how quickly this went off the rails. Anyway, I realized I wanted to paint her…the dog, not the…never mind. Before I knew it, we were exchanging emails with photos and I was painting a dorky little Corgi named Daisy.

As this wasn’t a commission, this will eventually end up as a print and I’ll be uploading it for licensing. There’s a market for Corgi images, right? I mean, other than Buckingham Palace?

Seems a lot of people are dealing with boredom right now in our self-isolation, but I’ve actually been working longer hours than before. Drawing editorial cartoons, communicating with clients, investigating and preparing images for new revenue streams, writing and painting, it’s all keeping me busy. I’m still getting up at 5 every day, trying to keep to the same routine.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was having a hard time finding my painting groove in all of this, but I seem to be over that hurdle. Finishing this painting was easier and more enjoyable than the middle part. I’m pleased with the result, and I’m already thinking about the next one.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Bad for Business

If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen any new paintings in the most recent posts, it’s because I’m having trouble focusing on that. I did get up at my usual 5 am with the intention of painting this morning. I’m in the early stages of a little Corgi right now, but not making any headway. Instead of painting, I ended up surfing apocalypse news stories, brainstorming cartoon ideas for the only topic in town, and fretting over finances.

I’m sure that most people are doing the same thing, minus the cartoon idea part. That’s pretty specific to my profession.

This kind of ruminating and brow-furrowing is unproductive, bad for business and even worse for mental health.

How many of you are sleeping well right now?

Don’t answer that.

One thing that will come out of this, for the businesses that survive it, will be some interesting innovation, born of desperation. Many are trying to come up with new ways of making money to stay afloat, some I’ve seen are rather clever. And I think when this is over, a lot more people will continue to work from home, for companies that find it benefits their bottom line.

While they haven’t announced it yet, much to the growing impatience of vendors and attendees, the Calgary Expo is undoubtedly a wash this year. There’s no way this will be over in a month, at least not to the point where 90,000 people are going to want to get together in extremely close quarters. If you’ve ever been to a convention that size, social distancing is impossible. All the hand sanitizer in the world won’t help you in that Petri dish.

Since I’ve got plenty of stock right now, I’m going to assess my options and hope to have some specials and deals to announce in the next few days. I know extra funds are in short supply right now, but there might be something enticing for you.

As a recent customer said in the memo section of his order, “I’ve got to have something to look at while in quarantine.”

In the meantime, I wrote another post for Wacom this week, 9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists.  Even if you’re not an artist, give it a look, especially if your work and home are suddenly the same things.
Hopefully, I’ll find my painting mojo soon, but it ain’t happening today. I’m probably going to tidy my office and do inventory.

Hope you’re all well and making what you can out of this overabundance of uncertainty.

I’d make a horrible life coach. 🙂

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists

Our current global situation is unprecedented, and we’re each trying to figure out how to adapt to the new normal. We all face similar challenges; how to stay healthy while still getting groceries, staying connected with our family and friends, and planning our day to day with limited resources for however long our self-isolation lasts.

Each profession, industry or walk of life, however, will have specific hurdles to overcome, so this is directed at creative types.

Most of us find ourselves confined to quarters right now. You might be a professional artist who already works from home or one who works for a company and suddenly finds yourself working from your residence. You might be an art student home from school or a hobbyist who now has some extra time to devote to creating art.

Whatever your situation, I hope some of these tips give you ideas and inspiration to make the most of this challenging time.

I’m a professional artist, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for newspapers across Canada and a painter of whimsical wildlife. My painted work is licensed internationally on many products through different companies and sold as prints in several zoos and via my online store. I’ve been working from home full-time for the past fifteen years and part-time for five before that. I’d like to share with you some productive practices I employ to make the most efficient use of my time. I’ve learned most of these from correcting my own mistakes over the years. Here goes…

1) Set Up a Work Space

I work from a dedicated office in my home. When I’m in this space, it’s work time, so it’s easy to make that mental shift when I walk through the door. Occasionally, I’ll work at the kitchen island if I want a change of pace, but the majority of my work is done in front of my Wacom display, sitting at my desk.

I get that not everybody has the space for their own office. Twenty-five years ago, we lived in a tiny apartment, and my workspace was a small desk in the living room, jammed in beside the TV. When I sat at that desk, however, it was creative time. Facing the wall was a big part of that because there were no distractions in front of me.

2) Get Dressed

It is tempting when confined to your house or working from home to let yourself go a little, and that’s fine, but staying in your pajamas all day or throwing on a robe without showering will not put you in the right mindset to work. Get up, shower, and put on clean clothes. You don’t have to wear a power suit or anything silly like that, but being clean and presentable counts. It will make you feel like a professional. Walk your talk.

I wear pretty much the same thing every day unless I’m going out. My lounge pants could very well be used as PJ bottoms by some, but I wear them for comfort and a t-shirt. If it’s chilly in my office, I wear a hoodie. But it’s all clean clothing every day. If somebody comes to my door, I am presentable and don’t need to apologize for my appearance. How you look impacts how you feel.

3) Establish a Routine

If you’re new to working from home, a routine is vital. You’ll be forming new habits in your new work environment and what you prioritize will determine your success. I have no boss other than my clients, but I get up at 5 am every day, even on weekends. I do some moderate exercise, meditate for 15 minutes, shower and grab my coffee and am at my desk by 6.

This is my routine, and by sticking to it, I get a lot done.

Obviously, you don’t have to get up as early as I do. I’m a morning person and established that time when I needed to get cartoons drawn and sent before going to my regular job. When I went full-time at home, I stuck to that because it works for me. Find what works for you and stick to a schedule.

I am at my creative best first thing in the morning, so I make sure I’m ready to work during that time. I save the afternoons for admin work and other parts of my job that don’t require my best creative skills.

It is too easy to sleep in, laze around, watch some TV, and figure you’ll do some work when you feel like it. Before long, hours have passed; you haven’t done anything, and then you beat yourself up for your failure.

Talent will only get you part of the way. Success comes from self-discipline, in all things.

4) Avoid the Kitchen

You’re at home; all of your favorite foods are available. It is effortless to make multiple trips to the kitchen and have little frequent snacks. A few crackers here, a cookie there, some chips, a handful of nuts. Before you know it, you’re gaining weight and can’t figure out why.

Stick to regular meals, and if you’re not getting your usual level of activity, make meals smaller than what you’d typically eat. You won’t starve and can adjust as needed. This goes back to having a routine.

5) No Excuses

If you have a primary focus in the art you’d like to create, then get to it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. That’s an excuse used by artists who don’t want to work. In my experience, the work comes first, and the inspiration follows.

Nobody is saying you have to work a four-hour stretch, chained to your desk. Start with a half-hour. Work for 30 minutes, without checking your phone, going on social media, watching Netflix, chatting with a friend. This is creation time! Start with less and build upon it.

6) Stop Scrolling

The biggest distraction we have, especially in stressful times like these, is our handheld devices. Silence your phone, turn off notifications, avoid social media and the news. You will survive a half-hour, hour, two hours without knowing every little thing going on in the world. Right now, it’s all pretty bleak, anyway, so what are you missing? There is no way to immerse yourself in your art with one eye on your phone.

7) Take Some Training

Every creative needs to keep learning. Even knowing that, it’s tough to make it a priority. I primarily need to use my creative time to produce art to pay my bills. With some extra time at home lately, I’ve been catching up on some online training and enjoying it.

Despite our present challenges, we live in a great time right now. Anything and everything is taught online. And best of all, with money tight for many, a lot of it is free. Not just click-bait teasers with the meat of the instruction behind a paywall, but real valuable art training, more than you could ever take in a lifetime, is available for free from world-class instructors.

You just have to go looking for it, and then make the time to watch, learn, and practice.

I’m an expert in painting and drawing in Photoshop, which comes from twenty years of doing it. And yet, I watched a recent tips and tricks video and rolled my eyes at some skills I could have been using, but didn’t know existed.

8) Try Something New

I’ve known many creatives in my life, and one thing I’ve noticed about most of them; they’re good at more than one kind of artistic expression. I know many painters who are also musicians. A tattoo artist I know is a skilled 3D modeller. An animator I know is a killer character designer. All are creative pursuits requiring different skills.

There was a time when I devoted a lot of my energy to learning Flash animation when many thought that was the direction editorial cartooning was heading. I got pretty good at it, but nobody wanted to pay what it was worth to create. And I didn’t like it much.

I was a bad graphic designer for a short time. Didn’t have the eye for it, nor the interest. I painted caricatures of people. I was good at that, but there wasn’t much call for it, and I grew tired of it.

But all of that work was worth my investigation. All of it taught me something, and I can trace a direct line through each of those pursuits to the painted whimsical wildlife work that is now half of my business. It pays, I’m good at it, and I enjoy it a great deal. I don’t think I would be doing it had I not tried those others first.

Part of trying new things is also realizing what you don’t want to do. By process of elimination, you might find your true calling. But you won’t know until you try.

9) Reach Out

We’re told to self-isolate, but we have the means to connect with anyone in the world.

Everybody is living this situation; we’re all nervous, a little afraid, and misery loves company. Just talking with people like you, who are going through the same thing, will ease tensions. Best of all, you never know what insights or opportunities might come up in an email exchange, Facetime chat or Skype call.

Just this morning, a graphic designer friend in a nearby city recommended a podcast to me that turned out to be one I liked. She was correct; it was right up my alley.

The other reason to reach out to your network is to get work. There might be skills you have that you don’t actively pursue that deserve a second look now. Survival under challenging times requires adaptation and approaching problems in a new way.

Be respectful, open-minded and receptive. The person you contact might not have any work for you, but they could suggest somebody else and offer an introduction or recommendation.

Nobody will give you these opportunities. You have to ask for them. And be honest in your inquiries, because it’s no secret that we’re all navigating strange waters. There’s no shame in saying that work has suddenly become difficult to find, and you’re exploring your options. Right now, that won’t surprise anybody.

They might say no, because a lot of companies are suddenly finding themselves in the same situation. But they might also say Yes.

How do you think I got this writing assignment?

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(this article was commissioned by Wacom, you can see it on their site here.)

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

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Freaking Out


Are you freaking out? So am I.

Over the past few days, I’ve been worrying about how this situation will turn out badly for me in the long run, both for my syndicated editorial cartoons and my licensed paintings.

Yes, that’s selfish.

We’re all in the same boat, dealing with this. We can still be empathetic while focusing on our own needs. Just like they say in that pre-flight briefing nobody listens to, “Secure your own oxygen mask first.”

The what-ifs have been flying fast and furious in my noggin’.

What if more newspapers close? What if retailers don’t order anything for months? What if the zoos don’t order prints for the rest of the year? What if I have to dip into my savings? What if I start going into debt? What if we get sick? What if my parents get sick? What if these restrictions get worse? What if we really do run out of toilet paper?

Yes, some of these could happen, but it’s unlikely for it to be the worst-case scenario, and even less likely I’d be unable to deal with it.

I already spend most of every day working at an accelerated pace, drawing new editorial cartoons as fast as I think of them, painting new images for licensing, fretting the details, trying to make this fiscal quarter exceed the last one.

The available information with this crisis is changing so fast that I’m ping-ponging back and forth between “I can handle this” and “I’m going to lose everything!”

I’m sure most of you can relate. And if not, I’ll have what she’s having!

This isolation home work environment isn’t as unusual for me as it is for so many. But one thing that does come with this job is too much time in my head, leap-frogging from one cognitive distortion to the next.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the behaviour. From the list of the 15 most common distortions, I engage in many of these on any given day, and that’s when times are good.

Right now, they’re lined up in a queue, waiting for their chance to occupy my present thoughts, and they’ve got no concern for social distancing.

The two ringleaders of this gang of hooligans in my own head are Catastrophizing and Polarized Thinking.

Catastrophizing means that I will always jump to the worst possible outcome in any situation I find threatening.

A weird sound in my car means the transmission is going or something equally expensive I can’t afford right now. A month where one newspaper doesn’t run my work as often as they have in previous months means all of my clients are suddenly going to decide they don’t need me anymore. The absence of thousands of followers in my newsletter or social media means nobody likes my art, and I’m going to lose my career. Gaining two pounds this week means I’m going to be 30 pounds overweight in a month.

There is no evidence to support any of this. I’ve got more evidence to support the opposite of every one of these false beliefs, but they feel true, and that’s where the struggle lies.

I had a 1994 Eagle Summit for 12 years, bought it when it was already seven years old. I loved that little car, looked after it, and it was fun to drive. I took it to the mechanic many times for regular maintenance, or when things went wrong, most of which were minor. At the end of its life, my mechanic said it was time to send it to the wrecker because this time, the transmission really was the problem, and it wasn’t worth fixing or selling it. So I donated it, got some money for the local SPCA, paid for half of my wife’s new car, and I took hers. And I love this car, too.

The worst thing in my mind actually did happen, and it worked out fine. But it only arrived at the end, not all of the other times I worried that it might.

In 2009, I lost nine newspapers in one day, when a national chain decided to get rid of all freelance cartoon submissions for weekly papers. I thought that was the end of my career. It wasn’t. The next year was better than the previous one.

I had a decent following on social media before I left the big three. A couple of months ago, I rejoined Instagram, and while my audience is growing, it seems slow. Neither decision had any impact on my income.

As for weight, I’m physically fit. As I approach 50, I’m in better shape now and weigh less than I have for most of my adult life. Even when I was at my heaviest, it was only 12 or 15 pounds more than I weigh now, that middle-age belly weight that sneaks up on everybody in their late 30s until you make healthier choices.

I catastrophized about all of it and still struggle with those and many other false beliefs to this day.

Polarized Thinking, also called Black-and-White Thinking, is the mindset that things are either all bad or all good. Logically I know that’s ridiculous. The world is one big grey area and most situations, problems and experiences fall within it.

Accepting that is hard when it seems like we’re taking one big hit after another, especially when all of the information is a BREAKING NEWS ALERT on how many people are sick or dying in the world from our latest foe.

My email alert sound should be a gunshot for how jarring it has become.

There are plenty of cognitive distortions, and I suspect anyone immune to them is a sociopath. Because cognitive distortions are all about feelings and people are feeling creatures.

This heightened level of anxiety is unsustainable, and today I find it waning a little. I’m taking a lot of deep sighs, stretching, and letting my tense shoulders relax a bit. I’m still anxious, of course, but it’s the baseline anxiety I’m already used to. Still not healthy, but I can handle it for now.

All of this makes me uncomfortable, not knowing what comes next. But I realized yesterday that I’ve been here before. When I quit my job 15 years ago, I had no idea if I could make a full-time go of this art for a living. The difference was that it was my choice, and if I failed, I could just get a job to shore up the losses.  Neither of those is true right now, but the uncertainty is the same.

How long will this last? That’s the big question.

But another question worth asking, what if this is an opportunity?

It’s tempting to fire off more editorial cartoons to try to get as many of the open freelance daily spots as possible, but all that will do is dilute my idea pool, lower how much I’m making per hour, and ultimately mean that a lot of cartoons, and effort, will be wasted. So what to do with the time? I can always paint more animals. I’m always complaining about not having enough time to paint. Part of that, however, is that I want to get as many images available for licensing as possible. But I’ve already got a sizeable portfolio; nobody’s buying right now, so why rush to get more out there during this challenging time?

I can work on painting experiments, images that might not be right for licensing now, but could open up avenues later. I now have the time for some exploration, to throw some things at the wall and see what sticks.

I can write. Not just blogs, but fiction, stories I’ve wanted to tell. I’ve already been doing that this year but it’s a struggle to make the time. I have that now.

Or perhaps I could just be bored for a while. Creativity LOVES boredom. When you slow down, turn off the TV, put down the devices, stop panic-scrolling and just sit and simmer, your mind has the freedom to wander.

I’m uncomfortable right now. I’m afraid. I’m stressed.

What if those aren’t bad things? What if there are ideas hidden behind doors in my mind that I’ve been afraid to open? What if I’ve been so focused on keeping the revenue I’ve got, chasing the next dollar, that I’m missing opportunities that might now show up? What if they’ve always been there and I’ve been too busy to notice?

It’s kind of like driving a familiar route every day, and it isn’t until you’re a passenger one trip that you get to really take a look around. Has that barn always been there? I didn’t know there was a llama in with those horses.

Unlike a localized event or disaster somewhere else, we’re all going through this. When this is over, we will all have our individual stories. Nobody’s life is the same right now as it was a few months ago before most of us had ever heard of Covid-19.

How we cope with it will be an individual choice. What changes will we each embrace when we come out the other side, things we’re forced to do without now that later we’ll decide we never needed?

I’m still going to go back and forth between moments of panic and acceptance. I know that. But I also know this storm shall pass, and it is only when things get bad that we grow. Nobody changes when things are comfortable.

A lot is going on in the world besides the coronavirus, even though its shadow falls upon everything. People are dying of things they were already dying from—heart attacks, car accidents, strokes; you name it. Diseases are being diagnosed, houses are burning down or flooding, businesses are folding, relationships are ending, and families are grieving.

And yet, babies are being born. In all this isolation, babies are definitely being conceived. Artists are creating art; musicians are playing music, writers are writing, teachers are still teaching, professionally and otherwise. Discoveries are being made, buildings are going up, and adventures are being planned.

In many parts of the world, people are still pausing to watch a sunrise with a profound sense of gratitude.

Are you still freaking out? So am I.

Take a breath. Take another.

Keep doing that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Sire

My latest painting, finished this morning.

It’s the largest piece I’ve done to date, with a file size of 45”X45” at 300ppi. For those unfamiliar with digital art, that’s a big file, and it stretched my computer’s abilities. My desktop is quite powerful, but it has its limits, as does Photoshop.

Put this image and my recent Ring-tailed Lemur together, and they’re quite different. Both are still my style, but not the same character and feeling.

Once you get an established niche or look, it’s tempting to approach each painting from a cookie-cutter perspective, so you don’t risk alienating customers. But I’ve painted more than 70 animal images, and while many look like they belong together, some veered into another lane, and yet still became popular. As much as I love this work, it can get boring if I don’t try new things from time to time.

You never know what will grow from planting a different seed. As I’m fond of telling people, my first animal painting of a Grizzly in 2009 led to all of the others. It not only changed the direction of my career but my life as well. At the time, it was an experiment.

Most of the time, I can’t predict the outcome. My Roar painting (below) was almost a practice piece and yet many people like it. Most recently, DecalGirl added it to my licensed images for phone cases and device decals.
Some experiments aren’t popular at all, but as I recently told an art student who sent me some questions, every piece teaches you something. Sometimes the lesson is what doesn’t work, but you don’t find that out until after the painting is finished.

My recent Lemur painting was far more popular than I thought it would be. I’d been a little worried about that one because it doesn’t look like he’s playing with a full deck. My buddy Derek Turcotte, an incredible wildlife artist himself, ordered it on canvas for the shop at 32” X 24” which is the largest canvas I’ve printed to date. I should be picking that up this week.

And Shonna, ever my harshest critic, is urging me to paint more animals like that Lemur, critters that are more “bent” as she put it.

While going through my extensive photo library recently, looking for an animal to paint, I wrote down four different ones, including this lion. I took the reference for it at the Calgary Zoo. One of the reasons I didn’t paint it in a happy whimsical style is that I’m saving that painting for a particular model.

Griffin, the male lion from Discovery Wildlife Park, is now an adult, and while he will get more regal-looking as he ages, I’m ready to paint him this year or at least gather the reference. Serena has long told me I could do a photo-shoot with him when the time was right. So I’m reserving the happy, whimsical painting of a lion for him.

This is one of the reasons why this lion is more severe-looking, also because I just felt like painting him that way. Painted in grey-scale (black and white), I added the slight blue cast at the end, just to give it a little more life. The eyes are bluer still, which is a bit of a cliché in paintings and photos, but as Eric at the tattoo shop pointed out to me the other day, everything in art is a cliché, especially if it’s something people like.

Rather than avoid it, I just went with the look I wanted. Whether others like it or not, only time will tell.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Fear, Panic and Calgary Expo


In the wake of the rapidly changing (over)reaction to the Covid-19 virus, I’ve been thinking about the Calgary Expo next month.

It’s the only show I do, but it’s a big one. Close to 100,000 people attend each year. With the Alberta economy doing so poorly, my expectations for this year are already low. People don’t have a lot of money for luxuries, of which art is undoubtedly one.

But I was optimistic it would still be worth my time to connect with my regular customers, hold my booth space until things improve and hopefully make some money.

In recent days, however, with conferences and events being cancelled all around the world as people shy away from crowds, it’s now looking like the Calgary Expo could be twice cursed.

The Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle was postponed yesterday until sometime in the summer, a week away from their event, about the same size as Calgary’s. Leading up to it, the list of cancelled guests was huge. The organizers offered refunds to advance ticket holders nervous about attending because of the virus, and 10,000 people took them up on it. That’s a significant number.

The SXSW (South by Southwest) event in Austin, Texas, which draws 400,000 people, was cancelled yesterday.

So I find myself facing a dilemma. If I cancel, I lose my booth fees, $1200 in a year where my revenues are already taking a hit because of the economy.

I’m reminding myself of the sunk cost fallacy, which makes people do something against their best interest because of money already spent. We’re emotional, irrational creatures and will often tend to double down on a bad bet because of money or time we’ve already lost.

If I continue on this present course, I will spend more money on three nights in a hotel, electrical fees, parking, insurance, ordering more stock, only to potentially have a large corner booth in the middle of a ghost town for four days.

If the guests and celebrities don’t show up, people don’t show up. With the economy down and folks staying away out of fear, the odds of making enough sales to make a profit this year goes beyond optimism. It’s naïve wishful thinking, bordering on delusion.

If I cancel, I lose the booth cost and my preferred booth space, which is based on seniority. There’s a good chance I’d no longer do this event.

I’m not worried about getting sick. I have a healthy immune system and most people who get this particular coronavirus have mild symptoms and recover well. Seniors with existing medical conditions are the most vulnerable to this illness, and the Calgary Expo is just not their scene.

It’s not a question of fear or pessimism, but surveying the land and deciding if there’s a reasonable expectation of growing any crops there. I still want to do the Expo, but it’s a LOT of work, before, during and afterward. It seems foolish to invest that time and money only to be standing there for four days, stinking of desperation.

Ideally, it would be great if the Calgary Expo cancelled the event and issued refunds, but if that happens, I don’t see it coming for another month. They’d have a hard time postponing the event until the summer as Emerald City Con did because that would require a vacancy at the BMO Centre for a five day event, and that’s unlikely. If they cancelled the event this year and bumped everybody’s booth and fees to next year, I’d be okay with that, too.

A lot of people will be affected by cancelling Expo. This event is a big moneymaker for many, including me. For some, it’s part of the foundation of their annual income, especially those putting the con together. People have booked flights, rental cars, ordered stock and planned their big book, art, and product launches around this event. The local economy counts on this event, the largest in Calgary each year, second only to Stampede.

To lose it will hurt a lot of people.

To go ahead with it could be just as bad.

I’m an obsessive worrier by nature, and even I’m not worried about getting sick. Since the symptoms of coronavirus are mild for MOST people, I expect there are thousands worldwide who’ve had it, recovered from it, and nobody even knows. How often does the average person go to the hospital for the flu? Most will assume that’s just what they had.

But if one person dies or catches it at Calgary Expo and infects somebody else who dies, that could likely be the end of the whole event. The mass hysteria, finger-pointing and unreasonable fear that’s currently infecting the world are far worse than the virus itself. The court of public opinion, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else would descend en masse on the organizers.

When we become gripped by unreasonable fear, we start looking for an enemy to blame.

The SARS outbreak in 2003 would have been far worse for the world and economy if we’d had social media. Daily updates on where the virus has shown up are incredibly bad for your mental health. What’s worse is that people aren’t only absorbing the panic; they’re spreading it on their own social media feeds.

This is new. We’re freaking out, and losing all perspective. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average, 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. In the United States alone, 37,000 people DIE in car crashes each year.

Could you imagine being updated EVERY TIME somebody dies in a car accident, let alone gets hurt in one? We’d never get in our cars.

But we’re so used to it; we ignore it to the point where we have to be told not to use our phones while we drive.

Despite the assertions of everyone and anyone on Facebook, Twitter and the News Comments sections who have suddenly become virology experts in the past five minutes, there are no easy answers. There rarely are for complicated issues.

At present, I will wait on a decision, evaluate the situation as it unfolds, expect the worst, but hope for the best. Eventually, I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to go ahead or pull the pin, take the loss and accept the consequences.

In the meantime, I won’t be buying any masks, hoarding toilet paper or running and screaming every time I see an Asian person. It’s stupid, dangerous, and if it goes unchecked, it won’t be long before we’re turning on each other. Because when things get scary, that’s what people do.

To illustrate that point, I’ll leave you with this short scene from the movie, The Mist.

Take a breath,
Patrick

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Wacom One Inspiration

One of the unexpected benefits of having been a digital artist since the late 1990s is that I’ve been able to see all of the advances in the medium. My first Wacom tablet was an original Intuos with only a 4”X5” drawing surface.

It seemed so futuristic.  I could move the stylus on this tablet, which would be mirrored on the screen by the cursor, and then DRAW. To some, it seemed complicated, but to me, it seemed like a prosthetic limb I’d been missing.

I don’t know how to paint with oils, acrylics, or watercolours. My sketching skills with a pencil are adequate; my pen and ink skills less so. I’ve tried charcoal, woodcarving, sculpture, but just barely, and all of it felt clumsy.

This is obviously a personal problem, given the centuries of incredible artwork created with those tools.

But digital tools always felt right to me. It has been my medium for more than twenty years.

When it came to software, there was Photoshop, Painter, and a few others. I tried them all. But for the hardware, if I wanted to work digitally, a Wacom tablet wasn’t an option. It was a requirement.

Since then, I can only guess how many Wacom devices I’ve owned, upgrading when I felt the need and could scrape together the funds. For the first half of my professional career, I used tablets rather than displays. That’s where you look at the screen but draw on the device sitting on your desk. It’s not difficult to get used to since we all use a mouse the same way. We look at the cursor, not the device in our hand, and our brain figures it out pretty fast.

Drawing with a Wacom tablet was easy for me.

But in 2011, I got my first Wacom Cintiq display, a 12WX, where I could draw right on the screen. These days, that seems unremarkable, considering how many screens and mobile devices we have at our fingertips. But at the time, it was a huge deal for me.

The 12WX was pretty thrilling, even though it could be a bit clunky at times. Marketed as a portable model,  being the first one that didn’t take up your whole desk, it was more like the prototype for what would come next.
When I got my Cintiq 24HD in 2012, everything changed for me. Not only was I now using their most professional display model, but I also had a working relationship with Wacom.

That display is still the one I use every day, and while there are newer models available, I have a sentimental attachment to this display, and I never feel it’s lacking. Yes, it’s a piece of technology, but like a reliable car, years out of the showroom, my 24HD is like an old friend. I’ve created many of my favourite paintings on this display.

In the past six months, Wacom has sent me a couple of their newer portable models to evaluate and work with, recording videos with them. The Cintiq 16 I received last summer is a welcome addition to my digital toolset.  I use it while working on my laptop, often on the couch in the evenings while watching TV. You can see a recording I did with that one in a blog post from late last year.
Just recently, I was asked if I would take their new Wacom One display for a spin. Pitched as an affordable solution for artists looking to make the jump to digital or for those just starting, it’s an entry-level display.

After using it to paint my latest Ring-tailed Lemur, however, I find that notion rather amusing. This display is better than all of the tablets and displays I used for most of my professional career.

Without getting too technical, it’s a comfortable experience. From the feel of the stylus on the screen, the pressure sensitivity, the image quality of the display and the simple setup and installation, this is a display I would have been thrilled to have worked with early in my career.

I know many people these days draw on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, and I’ve seen some incredible work done with those tools. I have an iPad Pro, I use it every day, and when I bought it, I expected I’d be doing a lot of drawing with it. There’s even a professional level painting app called procreate that’s pretty incredible.

But no matter how often I work with the iPad, it never feels quite right to me.

Whether it’s the stylus on the screen, the display itself, or the size, I can’t seem to get comfortable with it. To be fair, the iPad is a standalone device, where a Wacom display has to plug into a computer, whether a PC, Mac, Notebook or Laptop. But most people have those already.

I’ve often said that the best tools are the ones you don’t have to think about. When I’m in the zone, painting fur, feathers or details, I don’t want to have to stop because the tools aren’t doing what I want them to do. I’ve invested quite a bit of time on the iPad Pro, and it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as a Wacom display.

I’m well aware that we resist change, so I’ve tried other devices and displays. But I keep coming back to Wacom time after time. Part of me knows that being sent the display, tasked with doing a video, it’s my job to pump it up and promote it.

But honestly, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t. And I know my friend Pam at Wacom wouldn’t want me to. I was thankful I didn’t have to find a way to put a positive spin on this display. There is nothing about this display that I can criticize. For what was promised, it over-delivered.

The only thing I missed while using it was the Express Keys I have on my Cintiq 24HD. I use those all the time. Those are buttons and dials that you can program to access features you use often. Those features are now automatic to me. Thankfully, in recent years, Wacom introduced a device called the Express Key Remote. It’s a standalone device, and it worked flawlessly with the Wacom One.

A beginner might find Express Keys too intimidating at first, and I understand why they left out of this entry-level display, both for price and function. But it’s nice to know that if a user wants to try them, there’s an affordable add-on option.

As for the video above, called ‘Voices,’ my task was to offer a message to new artists, something to inspire them to give their creativity the chance it deserves. I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I would have wanted to hear when I was new at this artist’s life, trying to gather the courage to stick my neck out.

Ultimately, I ended up speaking to myself two decades ago, that twenty-something kid who was scared to death of being a fraud, having never gone to art school. I’d have wanted to let him know that it isn’t easy for anybody. The only way to navigate this world is through experience. Decades later, it’s still scary to do this for a living, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’d like to think the message I recorded would have given him hope.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Ring-Tailed Ringleader

Here’s a new painting, a Ring-tailed Lemur just finished this morning.

Wacom sent me their new Wacom One display to take for a test drive and to record a video for them. The video has an inspirational theme, rather than a technical one. I’ve written the script, recorded the video, but now I need a few days to edit all of the footage and record the audio, especially since I have my cartoon deadlines as well. It’s a lot of work to take a painting that took about 15 hours and compress it into a 3 or 4 minute video so people won’t get bored.

Seriously, I love painting hair and fur, but it would be effective torture to make me watch many hours of somebody else doing it.

Initially supposed to be more of a cartoony creation, I wanted to see what kind of advances Wacom had made in their display technology, so I painted with it instead. The Wacom One is being marketed as an entry-level display, but I enjoyed working with it and didn’t feel hobbled at all.

I’ll have a more technical evaluation post a little later, but for those of you who just like looking at my funny looking animal paintings, I’ll save those details.

The Ring-tailed Lemurs at the Calgary Zoo are fun to watch, and the Land of Lemurs is an immersive experience. Their enclosure allows them to freely roam where they like and it’s the people who are restricted in the center, but with no barrier. With zoo staff on hand to make sure people follow the rules, the open-air concept allows for some great photo opportunities.

I’ve taken many shots of these critters and plan to paint a group of them together as they like to huddle in a ball. All of the expressive faces peeking out is quite comical.
While going through my photo reference, however, I came across the image above. She’s a female, as are all of the ring-tailed lemurs at the zoo (or were at the time of this photo), and I liked what I saw. I even loved the blue sky background, and saw no need to change it. I don’t know if she really has a bad attitude, but part of the reason I paint the personalities I do is that I actually see that in the photo reference I take. The painting definitely looks male, however.

This was a lot of fun. I know I say that about many of my paintings, but I’d put this painting experience in the Top 3. Many of my paintings could be labelled cute, but this one borders on psychotic, which is probably why I liked it so much. Those crazy eyes suggest a critter that isn’t quite all there.

As my friend Pam at Wacom said this morning on Instagram, “He looks like an evil ringleader.”

So while I don’t know if it’s the kind of image that will be popular on a print or licensed product, some of my best images were ones I did for myself. I never expected my cantankerous Ostrich image to be popular and that one has developed a strange cult following I don’t fully understand.

I worked a very long day on Sunday drawing three editorial cartoons so that I could spend all day yesterday putting the final hours in on this piece. I could have finished it last night, but I erred on the side of patience and decided to sleep on it. When I opened the image this morning, I laughed out loud. It’s such a ridiculous expression.
Another hour on the fine hairs, tweaks here and there, tunes cranked in the earbuds, and I’m glad I waited. It was a great way to start my day.

I’m looking forward to sharing the video soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Rocky


My latest commission, this is Rocky.

This is the second piece for the same client as my most recent commission post, my painting of Sammy, the Golden Retriever.

Rocky’s portrait is a memorial piece, as he passed away some time ago. The very image of a firefighting dog, Rocky was the fire mascot in the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver in 2009.  He even participated in the parade and opening ceremony.

I’ve never painted a Dalmatian before and this was a fun piece. It was a challenge to make sure I got all of the markings in the right place, even as I exaggerated his features in my whimsical style.

When it comes to getting it right, it’s not only about the features themselves, but also the relationships between the features, affecting how believable the likeness will be. This is especially important when painting people.

Black and white fur is tricky because I couldn’t paint pure black or pure white. The blackest black or whitest white in a colour piece will create flat dead spots that will rob the image of its life. It’s all about degrees of shading and how the light reflects in the dark and light areas. Black will often be a very dark blue, white the brightest yellow or pink.

There isn’t much fur detail in a short-haired black and white dog, so it requires restraint. Too much detail and it wouldn’t look right, especially if I painted the fur too sharp. It became about manipulating the depth of field, blurring out some areas and sharpening others. The personality and overall image were the focus and it was important not to have any one detail distract from that. He really does have that heart shaped feature above his nose, however, and I wanted to make sure it was evident.

This client was a joy to work with, for purely selfish reasons. Aside from some minor direction I was happy to accept, I had the freedom to paint these beautiful dogs my own way. For this painting, I asked if they wanted me to include the collar or not. I didn’t include one for their other dog because he had long, luxurious hair, but I was hoping they would want it for this one. They did and said they preferred it to be red.

Considering that Rocky was a firefighter dog, it added a lot, balancing out the black and white with a splash of colour. Had they given me no direction at all, I would have made the same choices.

Because I don’t know how the clients are planning to hang the canvases, I wanted them to look good on their own or together, so I made both of the backdrops blue, with Rocky’s a little darker because I liked the way it looked against the subject.
After painting whimsical wildlife and pet portrait commissions for more than ten years, I’m confident in my abilities and the skills I’ve developed. But each painting still presents unique challenges, and I would be disappointed if it were otherwise. Overcoming those obstacles makes for improved skills and better prepares me for the next piece, no matter what that may be.

As always, the most crucial part of any commission is the client’s approval and I’m happy to report that they were pleased with both finished pieces. Next up, I’ll be sending these off for printing, then shipping them to their new home in B.C.

For you tech and art people, I painted this image in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. Photos are only for reference, not used in my paintings. It’s all digital brushwork.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Habit-Forming

The timing of this post might seem like a New Year’s resolution update, but that’s a coincidence. Shonna recently recommended this book she’d found interesting, but had she done so in August, I would have tried these changes then.

Atomic Habits is a New York Times bestseller by James Clear. While I’ve read my share of self-help and pseudoscience over the years, often with more than a grain of salt, I was willing to give this a shot. It didn’t seem like the usual positive-thinking-will-solve-all-of-your-problems tripe.

I wasn’t a fan of the title, but it wasn’t long before Clear explained the reason for it by calling out the definition. Atomic, meaning powerful but also tiny. The premise of the book is that small changes yield big results, building good habits and breaking bad ones.

Full of practical perspectives within, two strategies caught my attention.

The first is something Clear calls habit-stacking. We all have habits we do every day, from our morning rituals to how we accomplish routine procedures at work. These are behaviours we do to be more efficient with everyday tasks. Habits, when appropriately used, add some automation to our day, freeing up our brainpower for more interesting things.

Habit stacking involves adding onto an existing habit or series of habits, making the new behaviour easier to adopt. In my case, I’ve been trying to make time for meditation every morning. I’ve been unsuccessful at keeping a regular practice over the years because I could never find the time.

In the fall, I took an eight-week course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combined with Mindfulness Meditation, which I found well worth my time. I’ve been meditating ever since but found it easy to skip a day here, two days there and hadn’t yet found my groove, despite my best intentions.

After reading Atomic Habits, I realized I just had to add it to my existing routine. In the mornings, I get up at 5, turn on my computer, go downstairs, start the coffee, have a shower, get dressed, go back downstairs, do a series of push-ups and sit-ups, grab my coffee and back up to my office to start work.

Over the past month, I now meditate for 15 minutes, after the sit-ups, before grabbing my coffee. I’ve inserted it into my usual routine, and it’s ridiculous how easy it was to do because it’s not something for which I need to find the time. It’s now just part of how I start my day.

As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness meditation, suspend your preconceived notions about lotus positions, chanting like a monk and becoming one with the universe. The practice is about being present in the moment. Most of us are victims of endless mind chatter where we ruminate on our past mistakes or shortcomings and worry about the future, while rarely being right here, right now.

I’m not very good at it, but that’s not the point. My mind still goes off on its own on dark tangents, and I have to gently bring my attention back to my breath or a chosen focus. Some days are harder than others, but I still sit there in silence for 15 minutes, and the benefits are evident. There’s plenty of information online if you’re curious.

The second habit-changing practice I’ve adopted from the book involves my office calendar. The jury is still out on whether or not this has become a good habit or bad.

At present, my revenue streams are my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons, which I work on most days but send out Monday to Friday. Then there’s my painted work, which involves commissions, prints, and licensing on many different products through several different companies.

On top of those pursuits, I enjoy writing, but for many years, that’s been confined to my regular blog posts and newsletters. But in recent months, I’ve wanted to get back into writing fiction. I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t elaborate here.

In Atomic Habits, the author suggests that one method of adding a desirable habit is to employ a calendar.

I’ll use eating healthier as an example. Each day you have a serving of fruit, you put an X on the calendar. Successive calendar marks will make you want to add more, an absence of them will motivate you to prevent further blank spaces. It’s a visual representation of what you’re actually doing, rather than what you think you’re doing. Eventually, you just become somebody who has a habit of eating fruit.

You can use this for reading, playing an instrument, going for a walk, stretching or adding any good habit to your life. Consequently, you can use the same strategy for eliminating bad habits, marking an X each day you don’t perform a habit you dislike.

I’ve got three creative outlets I want to accomplish each day; Editorial cartooning, Painting and Writing.  All three every day is possible, but not realistic. However, that’s still my goal.

Adding writing into an already busy schedule, I knew that was going to be tough, but I also knew that if I didn’t, I’d suddenly be 20 years older, lamenting the road not taken.

Blog posts and newsletters count as writing, so if I wrote something like this post, I got to add a W to that day. But if I only wrote a sentence or two, I wouldn’t, since I’d only be fooling myself.

Having done this all month, I looked at all of the red letters on the calendar for this month and had mixed feelings.

Clearly the editorial cartoons are where the bulk of my creative time is spent, followed by painting, which makes sense since that’s how I earn my living.

As intended, I’m writing fiction again, something I haven’t done in twenty years. I’m quite a few thousand words into a story that I’m enjoying, even though I have no idea where it’s headed. Without this calendar practice, I believe I’d still be wishing I’d started, just as I have for years.

As I recently heard in a book or podcast, “Writing isn’t hard. Putting your ass in the chair to start writing is hard.”

There were days this month when I wanted to write, but life got in the way. Shonna’s car battery died during a brutal cold snap, -30C and below for more than a week, which took two days of problem-solving, trips to Canadian Tire, and serving as her taxi. Now, I work at home, have the most flexible schedule and I was happy to take care of that stuff. OK, happy isn’t the right word, but I certainly didn’t blame her for the inconvenience, especially since my car was warm and comfortable in the garage.

Add to that all of the other daily stuff that comes with life, year-end bookkeeping, tax prep, month-end invoicing, communicating with clients, all of the usual and unavoidable tasks.

The most startling revelation in this whole experiment, however, was that there isn’t a day off on this calendar. Even on Saturdays, my day with the most freedom in the week, I still get up at 5 a.m. and put in 3 or 4 hours before Shonna gets up.

This might seem like humble bragging, as in look how busy the martyr is, but I’m well aware that just being busy isn’t a badge of honour. If it were, we’d all get a participation medal. Everybody is busy.

No, this is indicative of a bigger problem. Anybody who has ever been self-employed knows how much work it takes, especially in the beginning. Then if you make a good go of it, it becomes less about enjoying the successes and more about hanging on to what you’ve got for fear of losing it.

When the inevitable losses do come, in the usual ebb and flow of life, you end up working even harder (not smarter!) to keep as tight a grip as possible. Pretty soon, you’re taking little time off, are perpetually tired, grumpy, depressed, running on empty and operating from a position of fear. You spend less time with friends, and the concept of spending an entire day doing nothing feels, well…irresponsible.

Like any bad habit, it’s easy to come up with excuses that sound reasonable.

Some of the greatest hits we’ve all said or have heard include…I’ll quit smoking next month when work is less stressful. I’ll start saving money next year because it’s Christmas and it’s too hard right now. I’ll make time to exercise later when I’m not so tired. Any bad habit comes with a dump truck full of enthusiastic excuses that sound good at the time, but ultimately don’t hold water.

I’m too busy to take time off. In reality, I’ve just forgotten how.

So while this calendar habit was supposed to be a motivating carrot on a stick, I ended up beating myself with it, and I’m disappointed. Awareness, however, is the most significant part of solving any problem, so I intend to continue using it to motivate me to write. But it will also serve double duty as a cautionary device, reminding me that having a blank day here and there is ultimately healthier than killing myself for another editorial cartoon.

The next time somebody suggests I write a children’s book, get into animation, draw something for their fundraiser, or do a commission for them ‘in my spare time,’ however, I’ve got an excellent visual aid for when I respectfully decline.

I remain a work in progress, just like everybody else.

Cheers,
Patrick

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