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Snow Day

When I started this painting, I had a vision in mind. Three cougar cubs, mouths open, looking like they were having a good time. I even had a title for it, Caterwauling. That could mean they were singing, shouting, or just kids making noise.

I had plenty of reference to work from as the models for this painting were Quora and Tavo, the two cougar kittens adopted by Discovery Wildlife Park last year. They’ve grown quite a bit, but are still juveniles. As is my artist’s prerogative, I decided I wanted a trio in this painting, rather than a duo.

In the beginning, it had kind of a rocky looking background, and it was going to be bushes and leaves in the front, intentionally blurred a little to suggest a depth of field effect.

I’d done a good rough painting of the cats, but I hadn’t yet added in any detail. When I started roughing in the leaves, I found little enthusiasm for it, so I deleted the layers and wondered what else I could do.

I live in cougar country. There’s a running inside joke in this valley about how stealthy these animals are,  that you may have never seen a cougar, but a cougar has seen you. So even though I can see a cougar’s home environment by looking out my window, I googled cougar photos for ideas.

A lot of the photos I found showed cougars in the snow, and I realized none of my paintings suggest that environment. Even my Polar Bear and Snow Leopard paintings only have simple blue icy looking backgrounds.

Once I started experimenting with the snow, the painting took on a whole new life. Not only did that environment make the image look brighter and more vibrant, but it became a lot more enjoyable to paint. I smiled a lot while working on this because the cougar cubs just seemed to be having so much fun. I realized that Snow Day was a much better title.

It was a challenge to add the snow on their faces and make it look like it belonged. I found images of golden retrievers playing in the snow to help me with that. It required experimenting with different brushes and shadow techniques to get it to look right, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.

This might not be the most fun I’ve had working on one of my whimsical wildlife paintings, but it’s a contender.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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The Infinite Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Instagram? But you said…!

Late last month, I attended the Calgary Tattoo Show to support my friends at Electric Grizzly Tattoo, the shop I frequent here in Canmore.

I spend most of my working life alone, which can be unhealthy at times, so to have somewhere I can go to hang out with other working artists, commiserate on the bullshit inherent in this business of self-promotion, to decompress and share a few laughs, it’s a wonderful thing. Shonna still jokingly refers to it as my artist support group.

Add to that the constant flow of inspiration watching these people work, these past two years getting to know these artists has been all positive. One of the side benefits from hanging out at the shop is that I get to meet many of their clients as well. These folks are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, from different places, who’ve had myriad experiences, with unique perspectives.

More than a few of them have become my clients, since my work is hanging in the shop as well.

The group discussions in that place have not only been enjoyable, but enlightening. Just recently, one client on one table used to work for CN Rail while another on the next table currently does oil pipeline maintenance. In the midst of a political maelstrom of promises, disinformation and the online outrage of the election, that was one of the most informative (and civil) discussions I’ve had about media spin and partisan politics vs. the reality of natural resource safety, economics and transportation.

It gave me a new perspective and further reinforced that the world isn’t black and white, and the truth in most things is only revealed in the subtle shades of grey.

I’ve met more open-minded and tolerant people at Electric Grizzly Tattoo than I have almost anywhere else in my life. Organized religion and the political party faithful could learn a lot from tattoo culture.

Back to the tattoo show…

I had considered getting a booth at this show to sell my work, with the encouragement of my friends in the business, but I’m glad it didn’t work out. With the pressure of the election, getting cartoons drawn and sent, what it would have involved with stock ordering, prep and prints, the expense of it all, it was too much. I still went to check it out to decide if I might do it next year.

It was a good plan. While I enjoyed the experience, it really wasn’t the right place to sell my stuff, despite all of the talented artists in attendance. It just wasn’t my audience and it was a much smaller show than the Calgary Expo.

One side benefit, however, is that I got to hang out with an incredibly talented landscape photographer I’ve met through the shop. Wes isn’t a photographer for a living, but his landscape photos are some of the best I’ve seen. Wes heads out to the mountains and takes road trips on a whim, regardless of weather, and captures incredibly beautiful scenes.

They’re surreal, moving, ethereal…basically just choose an adjective that says, “this guy’s work is unique.”

While standing in front of a stage for a good half hour, waiting for one of the many contest events at the show, Wes and I caught up. I showed him my latest stuff and he showed me his latest work and I realized how much I missed seeing it.

I left social media quite some time ago because it felt like I was spending more time promoting my paintings than creating them, without having much to show for the time invested. I got sucked into the culture that says you have to be constantly posting CONTENT, even when you have nothing to post, just so that the people who follow you will see you pop up in their feed every day, because the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm says so.

The likes were never enough, the shares were never enough, and it just made me miserable. When you see some kid posting his lunch every day and he gets a million followers, you kind of wonder if you’re even in Kansas anymore.

I also dislike being on my phone.

But in my hiatus, I’ve realized a couple of things. One, the likes and shares will NEVER be enough. If I get 10,000, I’ll soon be shooting for 20,000, then 100,000, then…well, you get the idea.

The second thing I learned, which is more of a reminder, is that there is no rulebook for being an artist for a living, or for life in general. You just do your best, try to be a decent person, make your choices and see what happens. And you can change your mind.

While I’m confident that I’ve closed the book on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been mulling over the idea of giving Instagram another shot because of something I didn’t anticipate when I left it in February.

Basically, I miss seeing the work of many artists I admire and that’s how they choose to share it. I’m missing out on seeing work that inspires me. As for my own posts, I’m simply going to share stuff when I have stuff to share, just like on this blog or in my newsletter. I won’t be creating content just to have stuff to post, nor will I be paying to promote anything, because that requires a business account and a Facebook profile in order to pay for it. I might post a painting, then nothing else for two weeks until the next one.

This will mean less people will see my posts, I’ll get fewer likes and shares, but honestly, that kind of thing rarely generated any revenue for me in the first place. When I left Instagram the first time, only a handful of those followers signed up for my newsletter as a result, which speaks volumes about how invested many of those nameless, faceless followers were really interested in seeing what came next.

Everybody talks a good game online.

An art career is constantly changing and when the wind shifts, you adjust your sails and try to hold course, waiting for it to inevitably shift again. Sometimes you seek safe harbour from the storm for a while, other times you stand on the deck shaking your fist, hands tied to the helm, daring the tempest to sink you.

Why do I like nautical metaphors so much? I don’t even sail!

If I find in six months that my first instincts about leaving Instagram were correct, well then I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

I remain, as always, a work in progress.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Quint

Seems that each year, right around this time, I get the urge to paint a portrait.

When fall starts feeling like winter, my mood lowers, some years worse than others. It might be the waning light and the colder temperatures, perhaps the early onset of seasonal affective disorder. Maybe it’s that the end of another year triggers my existential angst, wondering where this whole art career is heading next, and whether it’ll continue to sustain me. Too much time alone naturally leads to expert level navel gazing, a little too much introspection and prolonged eye contact with whatever is down there, lurking in the abyss.

See? Now I’m paraphrasing Nietzsche. How melodramatic.

For whatever reason, I’ve been using portraits of people as a pressure release valve for quite a few years now. I paint them for myself, with no eye on sales, a reminder that even though I am a commercial artist; it doesn’t always have to be about making a buck.

I’ve always found painting likenesses especially challenging, so from time to time, it’s nice to step into that ring and go a few rounds.

The federal election occupied most of my recent attention, not to mention quite a bit of behind-the-scenes file prep for licensing. I’ve not had much time to paint anything, let alone write any blog posts. But when I could, I was stealing time for this portrait, one I’ve wanted to paint for a while.

Regular readers will be well aware of my affinity for movies. As a consequence, most of my portraits end up being paintings of characters from films, rather than the actors themselves. Trust me, there’s a big difference, although you don’t get great characters without great actors, so you can chicken and egg that all day long.

While the actor in this image is the late Robert Shaw, the character I’ve painted is Sam Quint, the shark hunter from the movie, “Jaws.”

It’s one of those movies that seems like it has always been there, likely because it first hit screens in 1975. That’s right, Jaws is over 40 years old. It’s one I watch at least once every couple of years and while gathering reference for this painting, I watched it again. It still holds up, even if the non-CGI shark looks a lot more fake than it used to.

That’s right, kids, they used to make movies with hand-made models and camera tricks. There was something called a phone booth in those days, too. Go Google it, I’ll wait.
I read somewhere that Jaws was the first real summer blockbuster, and it was so successful, that it changed the way that movies were made and marketed.

Culturally, Jaws is an uncomfortable guilty pleasure. It scared the living hell out of people when it first came out, keeping many away from the beaches in 1975. There are many adults today who saw it when they were too young, and it gave them a lifelong fear of sharks.

What’s worse is that by turning the Great White Shark into a monster, the movie was indirectly responsible for granting tacit approval to the global slaughter of sharks that goes on to this day. According to Greenpeace, 100 million to more than 250 million sharks are killed each year around the world.

Just like every other wild creature with which we share the planet, they’ve got a lot more reason to be afraid of us than vice versa.

Peter Benchley , the author who wrote the novel Jaws and co-wrote the Spielberg screenplay, said he later regretted writing it and felt genuinely responsible for his role in casting sharks as villains, which directly contributed to culls around the world. He spent the rest of his life advocating for shark protection and ocean conservation.

So while the movie’s theme may be yet another scar on our dismal track record as a species, the film is still one I enjoy. In the right context, it’s a thrilling monster movie with plenty of action and well-rounded memorable characters.

I guess I could have painted Chief Brody or Matt Hooper, played by accomplished actors Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, but it’s usually a specific scene that captures my attention when I choose which character I want to paint. It might be something they said, a trick of the light, an expression, anything that prompts me to cock my head, pause or rewind the movie and think, “hey, there’s a painting there.”

There’s a familiar and wonderfully playful scene in the movie where Hooper and Quint are comparing scars, having drinks while sitting at the galley table of the Orca. At one point, Chief Brody asks about the one on Quint’s forearm. Quint tells him that it’s a tattoo he had removed, the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

Suddenly the tone gets serious and Quint tells his tale.

The scene is one of my favorites of any movie, a classic edge-of-the-seat monologue, leaving the audience hanging on every word. Not only is the real-world tale of the Indianapolis tragic, but it explains Quint’s hatred for sharks and why he hunts them. What you might not know is that the late Robert Shaw was an accomplished writer, and he rewrote the scene with Spielberg. By all accounts the collaboration made it the most resonant scene in the film.

Quint meets his demise a short time later when the shark evens the score. Oh sorry, should I have said, “spoiler alert?”
I enjoyed working on this portrait and once I found the time to really devote some hours to it this week, I didn’t want it to end. There was always one more brush stroke to make, a small wrinkle here, a blemish there, just to improve the likeness a little more, to capture the feeling of Quint.

Eventually, as with all of my paintings, I just had to accept that it would never be perfect. I called it finished, content that I was able to carve out some creative time for myself, hopefully improved my skills a little through the effort, and abandoned this painting so that I can start another. I’m pleased with how it turned out and I think I accomplished what I had envisioned.

Given that this winter melancholy and malaise seems to have settled in early this year, I believe I might have another portrait to paint before long.

After I get back to the paying gigs for a while.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Visit with Birds of Prey

After my first visit to the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta last year, I was looking forward to another visit this season. Unfortunately, with other obligations close to home, I didn’t manage to get there before they closed last month for the season.

After reading their latest newsletter, which is always informative, I realized that I had not only failed to visit this year, but I hadn’t contributed financially either. I called up last month to make a donation and the patriarch of the family, Colin Weir, told me they’d be in Canmore again on October 5th at the Civic Centre.

I marked it in my calendar and made sure I wouldn’t be away or have other obligations.

A really nice day for it, I got there first thing on Saturday to avoid what would later become a good crowd of people. The birds were outside, in conjunction with a larger event focusing on Geology, fossils and the Canmore Museum, located in the Civic Centre.

The regular cast of characters were there, the ambassadors that travel with Colin when he goes to these events. These are birds that can’t be released back into the wild and have lived at the Centre for a long time. A Great Horned Owl, Short Eared Owl, Barn Owl, Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle, each with names like Basil, Dexter and Edgar.
Their Golden Eagle is in her early thirties, and I painted her a couple of years ago. Sarah is a beautiful bird and Colin admits he’s very close to her, having raised her since the 1980s. His daughter, Aimee has joked that Sarah is the favorite child.

While I enjoyed painting Sarah, it’s not one of my more popular prints, largely because when the general public thinks of eagles, they’re most often after the Bald variety and that painting of mine is far more popular than this one.

Even still, I couldn’t resist taking more photos of Sarah, knowing I still may do another painting of her, for my own enjoyment.
I spent a good couple of hours there, taking hundreds of photos of all of the birds. The opportunity to get up close and personal, acquiring such detailed reference is one I rarely pass up. I was happy to leave another donation for the privilege of having the birds come to me.
When it comes to supporting charities and causes, I would encourage you to find the thing for which you feel a personal connection.

Whether it’s research into a medical illness that has touched you or a member of your family, efforts for building a new library in your community, or a regular donation to the food bank, find something you can regularly support that makes you feel like you’re making a difference.

As this is a wonderful facility that rescues and rehabilitates birds of prey, I know how much they rely on public support to continue the work they do. With so many worthwhile charities and causes out there, it can be overwhelming to want to give to everybody, but only having the funds to support a few. I decided quite some time ago that all of my charitable donations would go toward wildlife causes, especially facilities that help animals in need of emergency care and rehabilitation. I make a monthly donation to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation in Airdrie, contribute to Discovery Wildlife Park in whatever way I can, and I support the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, but I say No to most everything else, even though I still feel guilty while doing so.

Giving is one of the most selfish things we do, because it feels so good. It’s addictive. I’ll freely admit that it’s also self-serving for me to support wildlife causes and facilities because it’s allowed me to be able to get up close and personal with many of the subjects I’ve painted. How could I not support them in return?

I make a good living, but I’m not wealthy, despite the outsider’s view that everybody who lives in Canmore and Banff is rich. That’s right, the people serving coffee in the local shop, working at the gas stations, cleaning hotel rooms, and working in the grocery store are all rich people, slumming it because they’re bored.

To support a charity, any charity, doesn’t required a huge outlay of funds. A monthly donation of even $20 helps these places because they’re not just relying on your contribution but all of the others who can only give a little, which amounts to a lot. A monthly donation helps them budget for the year, to get the most of their donations and stretch it as far as they can.

I was talking to Colin on Saturday about the challenges faced with fundraising in a facility like his. He told me that their small staff does everything, from rescuing the animals, caring for them, releasing them, training new staff and volunteers, ordering for the gift shop, maintaining the facilities and what I can only imagine is a much longer list of daily duties that go on even when the facility is closed to the public in the off-season.

He told me about somebody who had called him recently from Fort McMurray who hit a Great Horned Owl with his truck at night. Colin showed me the picture of the owl trapped inside the damaged grill, looking out at the man taking the photo. He had to talk the guy through the extrication over the phone and they managed to free the owl that was seemingly undamaged. These types of calls are not unusual, and come at all hours.

On top of all of that, they also have to have a sharp focus on fundraising, or it all stops.

While the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation has a few generous corporate sponsors, like Fortis Alberta and AltaLink, they don’t receive any funding from the Alberta or federal governments. When governments change, priorities change and funding can suddenly be frozen or come with strings attached that would ultimately hinder their good work, rather than help.

If you think about some of the larger, more well-known charities, Colin points out that those organizations often have fundraising and marketing departments with more people in them than the entire staff at the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. Not to mention that the marketing budgets of larger charities often exceed the entire operating budget of a facility like the Birds of Prey Centre, where all of the funds raised go directly to conservation.

The next time you’re thinking about where best to put your limited charitable donations, I would encourage you to find somewhere that does great work that aligns with your values. Consider choosing a small facility, where they might not have the flashiest of ad campaigns, but are on the ground doing great work that matters, necessary work that if they didn’t do it, nobody would. You won’t get the chance at a lottery prize or be invited to a gala fundraiser, but you’ll be able to see firsthand where your money goes and the good that it does.

It might be your local SPCA or animal shelter, a local greenhouse that grows food for struggling folks in your own community, or somewhere like the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation.

Be selfish. Give a little.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Clearwater Calf

On a recent visit to the cabin near Caroline in June, I was delighted to hear from the owners of KB Trails that they’d leased the adjacent pasture to a neighbour for his cows.  While I’m not exactly a city slicker, I’m pretty sure that nothing says, “he ain’t from around here” quite like standing in the middle of a field taking pictures of cows.

Even the cows seemed to be asking, “What’s this guy’s deal?”
But for me, any chance to get up close and personal to a critter for some photo reference is a good day.

I do love that landscape up there in Clearwater County, and the pasture behind the cabin. It seems there’s always something new to photograph. Deer, coyotes, moose, horses, cows, and a wonderful dog names Jingles. This is the second painting I’ve done from my trips up there, Jingles being my first. But it certainly won’t be the last.

From time to time, I’ll paint an animal where it’s a real challenge to get it to look right. Might be something in the features or in the fur, but some of my paintings have felt like real work.
This one, however, was quite easy, which was a welcome surprise. It still required quite a few hours at the digital drawing board, but it never had any frustrating moments. It was just putting in the time until it was finished.

Up next…well, I’ll let you know.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Roar

This painting began on the iPad in procreate as a sketch exercise. Playtime, if you will. I liked where it was heading, however, so I brought it into Photoshop and continued painting at a larger size. A departure from my style, but it was a fun experiment.

I called it ‘Roar’ but bears don’t really roar. They might make loud noises from time to time, but not the kind you hear in movies. That’s all Hollywood magic, the roaring sound added in editing.

Whenever I go to Discovery Wildlife Park, I usually watch the bear show, even though I’ve seen it quite a few times.

The bear show is kind of a misnomer and a big head fake. While people think they’re coming to see the bears just do a few tricks, they’re actually there for an education. The keepers use the opportunity to talk to people about bears in the wild.

Involving everything from how to tell a black bear from a grizzly, what to do when you happen upon either animal and how best to avoid any negative encounters, especially when camping or hiking. They also explain that the reason bears become orphaned in the first place (like all of the bears they care for) is most often a consequence of their encounters with people. By getting too close, directly feeding them, or leaving food out for them to find, we teach them bad behaviours that are difficult to break.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Park, you might think that having the bears do tricks is kind of cruel, like they’re in a circus or something. The reality is the opposite. It would be cruel NOT to teach them, as this keeps them active. It’s called enrichment.

In the wild, animals have three big priorities…finding food, procreating and avoiding predators, each requiring large expenditures of energy and attention.

The animals at Discovery Wildlife Park aren’t driven by the same priorities. They receive a well balanced diet of healthy food, have no concerns with predators, and they’re not being actively bred.

So the tricks, for lack of a better word, are designed to keep their minds working. It gives them problems to solve, tasks to complete, and they actively participate, all with positive reinforcement. There is no punishment for failing to do a trick. They can just walk away if they don’t feel like it.

One of the challenges for the keepers is coming up with new and interesting things to teach the animals. They’re so smart (the animals, not the keepers…wait, that didn’t come out right) that they learn things very fast and it becomes too easy for them. Some of the tricks serve double purpose, too.

By learning to present their paws, blood can be drawn without having to sedate them. They can also check their claws to see if there is any damage in need of intervention. They will urinate on command for samples, step up onto scales for weighing and a number of other behaviours designed to ensure they stay healthy.

One of the tricks the bears are taught at Discovery Wildlife Park is to “Be scary!”

Not only is it a standard trick of actor bears, it gives the keepers an opportunity for a dental inspection. A number of their animals have needed dental intervention, just like your own pet.

I find the “Be Scary” trick especially amusing, because I was there a couple of years ago when Berkley was just learning it and her scary bear was pathetic. If you’d like to see it, the video is available here, about the 1:15 and 3:25 marks. She now does a very impressive scary bear impression, gets her treat and then instantly reverts back to her regular adorable self.

This painting, however, is Gruff. He was raised at the park and his scary bear is top notch. Gruff is one of my favorite bears. As you can see below, I’ve painted him as a cub and as an adult, and have painted a number of roughs of him as well.

When he was first surrendered to the park, Serena wasn’t sure she could save him. He was pretty far gone, having been mistreated by a number of people who had initially found him as a cub, then traded him around. But thanks to Discovery Wildlife Park’s excellent care, he has become a wonderful gentle six-year old bear with a great personality.

On a recent visit to the park, I was invited to step inside the outer enclosure fence while the keepers and bears did the show. Sitting on a log beside one of the other keepers, I managed to get some very nice photos of the black bears, including the reference for this one.
As you can see, the painting is intentionally rough. A loose, large stroke style, with plenty of artifacts, errant brush strokes and I got creative with an analogous colour scheme. Each time I found myself starting to focus on painting finer detail, I forced myself to stop, erring instead on the side of discovery.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Artist Q&A

From time to time, I’ll receive emails from art students or aspiring artists who have questions about my process or my road from there to here. I remember doing the same thing when I was first starting out. You never know when a kind word or tidbit of information might make a big difference, as it often did for me when more experienced artists took the time to respond to my own inquiries.
 
Hi Patrick!

My name is **** and I am a senior at UC Berkeley studying Biology and Art Practice – I stumbled upon your website while learning how to draw on my own Wacom tablet using photoshop!

I love drawing animals and the detail in all your work is truly stunning – I especially love the shine and depth of the eyes.
I was just wondering – what size canvas do you usually work with in Photoshop to have such high quality? Is all of your work on display digitally or have you ever printed them out for a physical show, etc.?

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! I’d love to cite your work as some of my inspiration for my senior thesis.

 
Hi ****:
 
Thanks for the compliments about my artwork. I do enjoy creating my funny looking animal paintings. People often mention the eyes as being the part they like most about my work and I would agree. If I don’t get the eyes right, there’s just no life in them.
 

My digital process hasn’t really changed much over the years, even though it sprang from technology shortcomings. I begin a painting at 9″X12″ at 300ppi, or sometimes at 12″X16″. The reason is that I want to get the ‘bones’ of the work done before I work on the detail. A mistake amateurs often make is focusing on detail too soon. It’s a lesson I had to learn myself after much frustration. If the likeness or character isn’t right, painting in a ton of detail won’t fix it.

Once I have the general look right, painting the broad strokes, playing with different colour choices, experimenting with expressions, then I’ll bump up the size. Early on, I used to start with a smaller canvas because my computer and Photoshop would start to lag if I was trying make broad brush strokes on a big canvas. But these days, my hardware/software is plenty fast enough that I could start on a large canvas without any issues, but I still start small for the reasons mentioned above.
 
As I create more and more detail, I’ll bump up the size of the image. 12″X16″ becomes 15″X20″, 18″X24″, 21″X28″…until eventually I’ve been topping out lately at 30″X40″, so my Master files are very versatile for sizing, whatever the need. With each bump up in size, the detail ends up blurring a little, so I’ll sharpen sections as I go, by painting in more detail at that size. It adds to a layered look, especially on fur, which is how it looks in real life. That was initially just a happy accident, but it’s now a critical part of my process.
 
Most importantly, I save multiple versions of a painting as I go. While it’s rare that I experience a crash these days while painting, it was common enough in the early days that I risked losing whole paintings or files if I wasn’t expecting it. Again, it was because the technology couldn’t keep up with the demand I was placing on it. Photoshop would freeze and I’d have to do a reboot, sometimes losing the file in the process. I’ve also got into the habit of saving often, even have an Express Key on my Wacom tablet set so I can one-click it at any time. By the time a painting is done, I’ll have seven or eight working files in different stages of progress. That way, if the most recent file ever gets corrupted, I’ll have only lost two or three hours of work instead of ten or twelve. It still hurts, but not as much.
 
When a painting is done, the first thing I do is upload a Master file to Dropbox. I’ve also got multiple backups on external hard drives. Failing all off that, my licensees and printers have full-res files, so I’m confident my bases are covered. I’ve heard far too many stories from artists who have lost everything because of a failed hard drive at just the wrong time, sometimes years of work because they weren’t diligent in their backups.
 
As for the second question…
 
Because my work is licensed and I sell prints, I usually keep most of it to the same size and ratio. I personally hate buying a print for $25 and then having to spend $100 or more to frame it. So I keep my prints at a uniform size where frames can be easily bought off the shelf. The majority of my consumer prints are 11″X14″, an easy size to find. That helps with sales, too, because people are more likely to buy if they know it won’t cost them a fortune to frame it.
While my work looks best on canvas, I don’t print a lot of those these days, because they’re more of an investment both for me and my customers. They don’t move as fast as the paper prints so I end up hanging on to a lot of inventory. When I do print canvas, it’s usually 12″X16″, the sides are printed black and include hanging hardware on the back. This creates a free hanging look so people don’t have to frame it at all. Looks pretty sharp as is. Any canvas sales are usually done in person at a trade show I do each year, The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, or by special order. From time to time, people will commission me to paint their pets and a canvas print is included. I don’t print large canvas very often because my type of art doesn’t usually define a big room, like a landscape or modern art piece does.
 
I once had a customer at a trade show tell me that they had two of my pieces in their bathroom. His wife gave him a light punch and said, “Don’t tell him they’re in the bathroom!”
 
To which I replied, “Hey, you had to buy them to hang them there.”
 
I’m under no delusion that my art will someday be in a book of great masters. The paintings make people happy, provide me with a good income, and that’s enough.
I consider myself a commercial artist. I make my living at it so I’ve got no dreams of having my work hang in a prestigious art gallery somewhere. I sell prints at zoos, online and at the occasional trade show. But the largest market for my animal art is through licensing. I’ve got over sixty paintings licensed globally through Art Licensing International. They act as my agent for a number of licenses, mostly for print on demand websites. I’ve also got my work licensed on T-shirts through Harlequin Nature Graphics and on a number of different retail products (magnets, coasters, trivets, art cards…) through Pacific Music and Art, both based on Vancouver Island. Those two licenses wholesale my work to retailers across Western Canada and in a number of States. It’s strange and gratifying to visit somewhere I’ve never been, walk into a gift store, and see my own work staring back at me from a rack or shelf.
The other half of my business is editorial cartooning. I’m nationally syndicated across Canada, providing daily editorial cartoons to many weekly and daily newspapers. I create a minimum of seven cartoons each week, often more, especially during elections. We’re in a federal election campaign right now in Canada.
 
It’s a tough balance sometimes. While both sides of my business involve artwork, they’re very different in theme and audience. There are plenty of people who know me as either an editorial cartoonist or a painter of whimsical wildlife, often unaware of the other work.
 
As is the case for most self-employed folks, it’s an ongoing challenge to adapt to the ever increasing pace of a changing market, but for the most part, it’s work I enjoy.
 
Good luck with your thesis and feel free to quote any parts of this email. Now that I’ve written this much, it occurs to me that this would make a good blog post, for anyone else who might have similar questions. Your name and details will be kept confidential, of course.
 
Cheers,
Patrick
 
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Brown Bear Beauty


Yes, it’s another painting of Berkley, without apology.

Every time I see her, I think of all of the garbage I pay attention to in my daily life that just isn’t important, stuff I should let go. If I had to pick one word to describe this little bear, it’s joy. She sure knows how to live in the moment and has a personality that just can’t help but make you smile.

I was up at Discovery Wildlife Park in the middle of last month and Berkley’s enclosure was my first stop. With the camera ready, I went to the bottom of her large enclosure and seeing her at the other end, I called out to her. She looked, sniffed the air and came right to me. I tried to take shots of her while she was coming, but no dice.

Once she got to the fence and I started to talking to her, there was no chance for good photos, too close to the fence. She started digging as she usually does so I walked only the fence line with her and she followed me. Just a cartoonist and a bear going for a walk, it’s still a strange but wonderful experience.

At one point, other visitors came up to the fence so I stepped back so they could see her, but because I was behind them, she started digging again and accidentally hit the electric wire that surrounds the enclosure. There was a loud snap, Berkley let out a startled ruffing growl and ran away into her enclosure.

It’s important to note that the electric fence is the same as a cow fence. It doesn’t hurt her and is of low enough power that it just acts as an annoying deterrent and the animals learn to avoid it. The keepers regularly come into contact with the wires and get zapped themselves, with no lasting effects.

Berkley retreated to her large pile of tree trunks in the middle of her enclosure. Last year, she dug her hibernation den beneath it, so I imagine that’s her safe space. She was sulking a bit, but crawled around on top, and I was able to get some nice photos without the fence showing up in the shots.

It didn’t take her too long to forget about the shock and she came right back over to the fence to continue our visit.

There’s a lesson there, about moving on from the negative stuff, one I still have yet to learn.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Wacom and Happy Accidents

My friend Pam, who is the Database Marketing Manager at Wacom, posted a very nice blog post on the Wacom Community Page, featuring the video they had me do for them. She also  shared the story of my tiger painting that went awry.

Funny, but Pam and I talked after the fact and both of us agreed that the strange twist with that painting actually made for a better story to tell in the video. Something I’ve learned over the years is that the stories behind the art are as interesting to folks as the art itself. That’s nice because not only are the stories about why I paint some of these critters important to me, but I enjoy telling them.

There’s a common term among creative types, that describes how sometimes your art or experience delivers a better result than what you had initially planned, from being forced to adapt to the unexpected. We call them happy accidents. I’ve had them happen while creating brushes, trying new painting techniques, program crashes that required creating handy shortcuts to deliver on deadline, and just like hindsight, you never quite realize what happened until you’ve had time to reflect. Some of those happy accidents became part of my process.

I’ve heard from a number of people this week who not only appreciated learning about the controversy surrounding white tigers, but also preferred the second painting over the first. Who knew?

Here’s the blog post on the Wacom Community Site.

Cheers,
Patrick

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