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One More

One of the reasons I enjoy taking my own reference photos for paintings is that the animals often surprise me.

When I began painting these critters, before I took my own photos, I’d often have a pose in mind, and I’d go looking for it on the internet. I’d eventually find something I liked, but it would often look similar to the pose I used for a previous painting of a different animal.

If it were a stock photo, I’d pay the licensing fee for reference. Failing that, I’d contact the photographer, arrange for a high-res image and pay or barter for the use.

Australian photographer Scott Portelli allowed me to use his underwater photo for my Humpback Whale painting in exchange for a rolled canvas of the finished piece. Moose Peterson allowed the use of several of his animal images in exchange for my drawing a caricature of him and a business partner for a course they taught. We already had a connection through Photoshop World, so he was familiar with my work.

I paid a U.S. park warden $100 for his photo I found online for my first Wolf painting. He confessed surprise at my offering to pay since that image had been stolen and published illegally more times than he could count.

The problem with online reference photos is that I know that no matter what I find, there’s a good chance another artist has used the same image. Certainly, I’ll paint it with my spin and style, and it won’t look the same as another artist’s work, but it will undoubtedly share similarities.

By taking my own photos, it stands a better chance of being unique.

On a recent visit to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, I had another opportunity to take photos of their black bears during their presentation to the public. As I’ve known the keepers and staff for several years, they allow me into the large enclosures with them, though I’m behind a hot-wire. It’s an electric fence about a foot off the ground that the animals avoid, for obvious reasons. The keepers, however, interact up close and personal with the bears.

These animals are all orphans and rescues who came to the facility under conditions prohibiting their release into the wild. Many of them have been raised here since they were very young. They receive exemplary care and clearly have an affectionate relationship with their caregivers.

The keepers use the bear presentations each day to educate the public about wildlife. They teach how to be bear-aware while hiking, what to do if you encounter a black bear or grizzly in the wild, how to use bear spray, and keep a clean campsite so that the local fauna doesn’t learn to associate people with food.

The hope is that by educating the public, fewer orphans will end up in captivity, remaining in the wild where they belong.

One of those rescues is a big black bear named Gruff. With a genial and gentle personality, he has been hand-raised at the park since he was a cub.

Sadly, Gruff had a rough start in life. A hunter poached his mother in the Grande Prairie area, and people passed the frightened little cub from home to home.

Fish and Wildlife eventually confiscated the sick and frightened cub, and my friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, was asked if she could take him.

He was malnourished, in shock from his ordeal, and sick from untreated pneumonia that has since resulted in permanent left lung damage. Because he was in such bad shape, Serena didn’t know if she could save him. But with proper food, medication, round-the-clock care and a lot of patience, Gruff has grown into one of the most beautiful black bears you could ever see.

He is currently eight years old and 709 pounds at his last weigh-in.

I’ve painted Gruff several times, and I expect I’ll paint him again as I enjoy his expressions and antics. The bond between him and the keepers is evident, and he never fails to put a smile on my face.
While visiting in June, I was happily snapping pics of Gruff when he made a clumsy attempt to sit up from lying on his back. He looked right at me, with his tongue out, and immediately reminded me of a large guy trying to do a sit-up. With the camera on rapid-fire, I got quite a few shots of this funny situation and was delighted at the photos when I got home.

As none of them were quite right on their own, I used three different reference pics for this piece. One had the best head position, another one revealed a better overall pose and the third, while a bit out of focus, had some lighting I liked.

Could I have found these shots online, taken by another photographer? Unlikely. Would I have even thought to have looked for images like this? Not a chance.

I could list dozens of paintings I’ve created that have been inspired by situations and experiences I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s why taking the photos is as much a part of the finished pieces as the paintings themselves. Each of them has a story and conjures up fun memories.

Whether it’s a pose, lighting, or simply a look, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered future paintings while sorting through photos.

When I came across the photos of Gruff, looking like he was trying to get in shape, there was no doubt of a painting. But, before I put the first brush stroke on the digital canvas, I already knew that I would call it ‘One More.’

I imagine it 10 feet high on the wall of a gym somewhere.

Here’s a high speed video of ‘One More’, from start to finish. Prints of this piece are available NOW in the store.
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© Patrick LaMontagne

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A Different View on The Calgary Expo

Although it was a miniature version of the usual event, I spent Sunday at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. I have no regrets about passing on a booth this year as I still think it would have been more expense than revenue, but a day at the Expo made me realize how much I miss it.

When I’m a vendor, there’s little opportunity to walk around to meet and talk with other artists, aside from my immediate neighbours.

The best I could hope for in previous years is showing up a little early to take a quick tour, but it’s tough to chat with other vendors while they’re trying to set up for the day. Shonna has occasionally worked my booth with me on the busier days, and she’s a big help, but people want to talk to the person who created the artwork, so I stay close to my own customers.

This time, free to wander, I met some talented artists, asked questions about their setup and advice on products they sold, and enjoyed talking shop without having to rush back to my booth. But, of course, when potential customers stepped up, I quickly moved aside and let the vendor go to work.

In my experience, fellow vendors are always willing to share information. At my first show in 2014, I didn’t know anything, so I was grateful for the constructive criticism and advice that came my way. Now that I’ve gained my own experience, I try to help newbies when they show up at my own booth with questions.

I spoke with quite a few vendors who sell vinyl stickers along with their prints and other products. When I showed them my first sticker pack and asked their advice/opinions, all agreed that I was selling them for too little. For the size of my stickers, the vinyl and design quality, a four-pack for $15.95 is a lot less than the current market price.

So, after careful research and consideration, I’ll soon be increasing the price of those stickers in the store to $20.95. As I learn more about the sticker market, I’m optimistic and excited about the possibilities. They’ll undoubtedly be prominent products in my Expo booth in April.

It was also great to reconnect with Alexander Finbow, the owner of Renegade Arts Entertainment, a growing publishing house right here in Canmore. Alex has published several award-winning graphic novels, comic and children’s books by international authors and artists. It seems they’re well known in the industry but still a well-kept secret here in the Bow Valley.

Having arrived on Sunday at 9:30 that morning, I had plenty of time to accomplish my own goals before my buddy Derek arrived with his daughter and her friend around 1:00. The owner of Electric Grizzly Tattoo here in Canmore, he’s an accomplished tattoo artist and skilled painter, so it was nice to walk around with somebody who’s as much into the art as I am. Also, even though I’m not a ‘kid person,’ I will admit that seeing a couple of nine-year-olds excited about comic and cartoon characters I didn’t know or recognize was fun.

And if it weren’t for the kids’ excitement about a booth full of snakes and lizards, I might have missed the opportunity to face up to one of my phobias.

Hairy spiders have always given me the creeps, but I don’t like being afraid of them since they’re such fascinating creatures. So when I realized that I could hold one, courtesy of Calgary Reptile Parties, I had a quick argument in my head. I knew that if I chickened out, I’d beat myself up all the way home and likely wake up the next morning regretting it.
So, I stepped up and let a hairy tarantula crawl around my hands and arms. She was delicate, fragile, light and gentle, and after a few seconds, I was more afraid of flinching and maybe hurting her. While not quite the same as close contact with a bear cub, a wolf, or an owl, it was an exciting critter experience, and I’m glad I did it.

The fear in our heads is usually so much worse than reality.

I also bought some art, something I rarely do at this event, since I never have the time to look.
Edmonton artist Sabrina O’Donnell does more than 25 shows a year (pre-Covid) and gave me some of the best advice on selling stickers. She based this little Canuck Crow piece on a news story she read about a Vancouver crow who stole a knife from a crime scene. I liked her rendering and that the work tells a story.
I bought a couple of books from Toronto cartoonist Scott Chantler. Both are graphic novels/stories about real people and histories. I’m not big on comics or graphic novels, but I like his art and the subject matter and found his work inspiring. Always worth it to explore another’s approach.
Finally, I bought a piece of art to hang in my office, something I’ve not done for a long time. Regular readers know that I’m a movie fan and will paint character portraits from time to time. I enjoyed the 2019 Joker movie, especially Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, so when I saw this piece by Alberta artist Sheldon Bueckert, I wanted it.

Even still, I waited a couple of hours before pulling the trigger to ward off any buyer’s remorse from an impulsive purchase. But right before I left the Expo, I went back for it. Whether it’s Sheldon’s choice of pose, colour, or his style of brushwork that drew me in, there’s just something about the piece I like.

That’s art for you. When it speaks to you, go with it.

I had an enjoyable day, better than expected. It was nice to be a bit of a fan again, rather than working the whole event. I’ve confirmed with the organizers that my booth is good for April, and I can expect to have the same spot I had in 2019. It’s a placement I worked hard to get over several years, earned through seniority.

To all of you I used to see at the event, I’ve missed you, and I’m already looking forward to seeing you again in 2022.

In the meantime, a day with all that inspiring art has filled the creative tank, and I’m anxious to paint. Anybody up for a cute and cuddly painting of a tarantula? ?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Stuck on Brown Bears

My first order of vinyl stickers has arrived, and they are now available in the shop.

For the first (of hopefully many) sticker pack, I chose four of my grizzly/brown bear paintings; Big Boy, Happy Baby, Kodiak Cub, and Peanuts.

These die-cut vinyl stickers are approximately 4” X 5” with some variance for design. They’re weather-resistant, long-lasting, easy-to-peel with a smooth matte finish. Vinyl can be tricky when it comes to full-colour printing, but these look great.
Each pack retails for $15.95 CDN. I’m able to offer free shipping for Canada; no code required. Shipping to the U.S. is a little more complicated as Customs rules now state that any commercial product is automatically a parcel regardless of package size. For U.S orders, the flat rate for these stickers is $9. Don’t shoot the messenger.

The Grizzly/Brown Bear pack was fun to design, and I hope to launch another pack soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Sticker Situation

Before I became a full-time artist almost twenty years ago, I worked at a local sign shop here in Canmore. Some of the valuable skills I learned still contribute to the work I do today. One of those skills was printing and cutting vinyl. I worked on vehicles, signage, and vinyl application on different materials.

A little while ago, my friend Darrel mentioned that he had noticed vinyl stickers on the rear windows of vehicles, some fun and colourful designs. He suggested that might be something I could do with my animal paintings.

As diversifying revenue streams has become essential for freelancers and self-employed artists, I’m always looking for new markets and opportunities. So it seems odd, given my sign shop experience, that I’d never considered vinyl stickers.

While I have an ongoing license with DecalGirl, a company that produces decals for mobile devices and laptops, phone cases and sleeves, their designs are specific to that market.

Some quick online research revealed that stickers are trendy, especially among millennials and younger generations. For the right theme and designs, it’s big business for many artists, especially on craft and sales marketplaces like Etsy.

On a recent visit to the tattoo shop where I hang out from time to time, I asked my buddy Derek about it. He’s fifteen years younger than I am, and his metal supply cabinets at the shop are covered in different stickers of varying size, quality, and theme. It’s a big part of that culture. He agreed that I’d probably do well to offer my work on vinyl stickers.

Since then, I’ve researched several companies, figured out sizing, and ordered the Orca test you see above. The order arrived this week from Jukebox Print. I couldn’t be happier with the vinyl quality and printing, so I’m moving forward on creating more of them.

Derek stuck the first one on a cabinet at Electric Grizzly Tattoo.

To begin with, I’ll be offering a selection of 4 bear stickers, though I’ve not yet chosen which ones will be in the first pack. It’ll be free shipping for Canada, and hopefully, I can offer the same for the U.S., but that’s yet to be determined. Each 4-pack will retail for $15.95 (CDN). The stickers are around 4” X 5”, depending on the design. Each will vary a little in size, but they’re all in that neighbourhood.

I’m still experimenting with the composition and cut-lines, but these are a few I’m working on.
If the first pack is popular, I plan to regularly release new stickers, eventually having several packs in the online store. With my ever-growing menagerie of critters, there’s potential for sticker packs in a variety of themes and species.

Stay tuned!

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Wild Calendar Offer

Thanks to everyone who entered the calendar giveaway by commenting on the post. As I said in yesterday’s reminder email, all the kind and supportive things you had to say were greatly appreciated.

Hey, you weren’t just sucking up to get a calendar, were you?

No, I’m gonna choose to believe each was genuine and sincere, because you’re all such nice people.

I wish I could give away a calendar to everyone, but the grocery store and utility companies are still insisting I pay them in actual currency. I know, right?!

Without further delay, the two winners (already notified) of two calendars each are…

Jason from Fort St. John, BC

Lisa from Houston, Texas

For those who didn’t win this time, I’m working on some more downloadable goodies for subscribers to A Wilder View, so stay tuned. And If you haven’t yet signed up, here’s the link.

In the meantime, my 2022 calendars are now available for purchase at a special price! Regularly $12.99, I’m offering them for $12.00 each or 2 for $20. Shipping is a flat rate of $5.00 for Canada, $11.00 for US. If you live in Canmore, I’ll happily deliver free of charge.

OR, if you’re looking to get some of my 11”X14” prints in the store, I’ll throw in a FREE calendar with every order of TWO or more prints. You don’t even need to tell me, I’ll just add it automatically.

HOW TO ORDER:

As this is a special promotion, send me an email (patrick@nulllamontagneart.com) with your order and address. I’ll let you know the total with tax. Folks in Canada can pay by e-transfer (no password required), and I’ll be happy to send a PayPal invoice to anybody in the U.S. and elsewhere on the planet.

THE CATCH:

This offer expires at 4:00 MTN time tomorrow (Wednesday, July 21).

Any questions, feel free to ask. AND please share this with anybody you like.

Thanks again to all the contest entrants and congratulations to the winners.

Cheers,
Patrick

NOTE: This offer has expired. Thanks to all who ordered. Cheers!

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Wild Animals All Year Long

It’s hard to describe the good feeling when a new product shows up in the mail or lands on my doorstep.

Sometimes it’s proofs from Art Ink Print in Victoria, the first time I see a new painting in print. Or it might be a sample from a new licensing contract, like the big box that arrived from Spilsbury Puzzles last year. More fun than receiving them was giving them away to friends, family and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Spilsbury gave me 12 puzzles, and I didn’t keep one. Giving them away was much more fun than any enjoyment I would have had putting one together. Of course, I could have held a couple, had them collect dust in the closet, but where’s the fun in that?

Pacific Music & Art has a calendar rack in the Canmore Save-On-Foods store, right near the front door. I shop there often, so I’m used to seeing my calendars on display. I’ll confess that each time I go in, I glance at the rack.
However, the other day, I knew they had received their first shipment of my Wild Animals 2022 calendar, and I wanted to see it. Even though I selected the images, approved the digital proofs, and knew what it would look like, there’s just something about holding the finished product.

This morning, my own first order of calendars showed up. I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, yet a box of calendars on my front step is still incredibly validating. So pulling the first one from the box made me smile.

Each year, more of my work ends up on licensed products, many of which were a surprise. T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics, phone cases and decals from DecalGirl, puzzles, fabric samples, and other products I’ve approved on paper but have never seen in real life.

Pacific Music & Art, however, has the most variety of any company that licenses my work. Magnets, coasters, trivets, art cards, notepads, coffee mugs, face masks and more. It’s an extensive list, one that is ever-changing and evolving. Sold in stores all over Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, new locations and venues are added all the time.

Though the Calgary Zoo has sold my prints for many years, it’s often the first place I’ll see and hold a new design from Pacific.
Mike sent me a picture of this display last week from the Save-On store in Duncan, BC, featuring artists from the Pacific catalogue. I’m told I’ll be able to share an even better display photo very soon from the Save-On here in Canmore.

Wild Animals 2022 is my third calendar from Pacific Music & Art. A friend recently expressed surprise that printed calendars were still popular. Even though we all have access to a digital calendar on our phones and devices, I explained that people still like to have a printed calendar in their offices or kitchen at home to mark down appointments or family events.

Some of these people choose one featuring my funny-looking animals, and it’s flattering that they want to look at my grinning critters all year long.

Next week, I’ll offer up the Wild Animals 2022 calendar for sale to my subscribers. So if you haven’t yet signed up for A Wilder View, perhaps now is the time.

In the meantime, I’m giving away two calendars each to two different winners so that each winner can keep one for themselves and give one away.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post below. Do you have any of my funny-looking animals in your home, either on a print or product and which one(s)? Or tell me what kind of product or item might look good with one of my whimsical wildlife paintings on it.

Anyone may enter; I’m happy to ship these prizes worldwide.

I’ll let the winners know on Tuesday, July 20th, giving you a week to enter. Good luck to all!

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne

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A Different Kind of Canada Day

Drawing an editorial cartoon or illustration for Canada Day is usually fun, and most of the time, without controversy.

This year, however, with all we’ve been through living with the virus and coming to terms with the darkest parts of our nation’s history, July 1st will no doubt be a day of reflection for many.

With the discovery of more unmarked graves at former sites of Indian residential schools, Canadians are once again coming to terms with our past.

We have long pretended that we walk the high road, especially when comparing ourselves to other countries. We have prided ourselves in being polite, friendly, and first to come to the aid of others in need, even when we weren’t any of those things.

But we were never on firm ground while walking that road because we’ve always known our own history, even when we chose to ignore it. These graves might be new physical evidence, but what went on at residential schools was never a secret.

In 1922, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce wrote a whistle-blowing book entitled “The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice for the Indians of Canada.” He had submitted a report in 1907 to the Department of Indian Affairs that was largely ignored.

It wasn’t until 1958 that Indian Affairs regional inspectors recommended the closure of all residential schools. The last one didn’t close until 1996.

One of the most overused clichés surrounding Remembrance Day in Canada, when we remember our fallen service members on November 11th, is the phrase ‘Lest We Forget.’

It has become more of a tagline, something companies can put on their ads, and individuals can share online because they’re supposed to. It almost feels like saying ‘Bless You’ when somebody sneezes, a courtesy without meaning. It’s just something you say.

But Lest We Forget is important. It’s about remembering your past so that you don’t repeat it.

Despite our bad habits on social media, where we are quick to point out the failings of others, comparing our best traits to their worst, there isn’t one of us who would have all of our past sins laid bare for public scrutiny. We are fallible and damaged; we are human.

We tear down statues and spit on the ground when we say the names of the architects of the residential school system, but we conveniently forget that Canadians elected these people. Many of those native children are alive today, and they’re not as old as you might think.

This is not ancient history. It happened in our lifetime, much more recently than the world wars we remember each year without fail.

We point the finger at our past leaders and say that they should have done something, but that’s the easy way out. It’s also easy to blame the current leadership and say that it’s their fault, but most of the time, that’s simply partisan politics. We switch political parties in this country more than we switch vehicles.

A hundred years from now, our descendants will not look kindly on our inaction. Such is the luxury of hindsight.  Our behaviour during the pandemic, how we treat our most disadvantaged citizens, our obsession with moral grandstanding on social media, and our disregard for the threat of climate change, the ground on which we stand is indeed shaky.

But we can change. We can have more empathy for our fellow travellers. We can try and put ourselves in another’s shoes before passing judgment on the narrow snapshot we might see of them. These are choices.

Some municipalities have cancelled their Canada Day events, others are going ahead with the party, and more are still on the fence. Individuals must decide for themselves.

I don’t agree with scrubbing away our history, nor do I support daily self-flagellation. Neither accomplishes much of anything. We should know our nation’s past, reflect on it, and learn from it.

Remembrance is not just about the wars we won, but our collective history as a nation, the good and the bad.

Lest we forget.

© Patrick LaMontagne

 

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Levelling Up

In our content-obsessed online existence, it can be easy to believe that if you’re not sharing all the time, then you’re failing.

I lived in that trap for a long time, equating the value of my work with how many likes and shares I got, success defined by the quantity of posts rather than the quality. I’ve interrupted enjoyable moments relaxing with friends, taking pictures of wildlife or even paused in the middle of a painting so that I could have something to post.

That’s right; I’ve turned off the music I’m listening to, picked up my phone and taken a picture of my hand holding a stylus on the display with a closeup of whatever I’m painting. Then I’ve edited it, uploaded it to Instagram, typed in a poor attempt at clever, considered the hashtags, and posted it. Then I likely got lost for ten minutes scrolling through other posts.

I interrupted one of the things I enjoy most in the whole world to try to get people to like me.

I mean, to like my work.

Yeah, that’s what I meant.

It’s essentially saying, “this experience is great, but maybe it will be better if a bunch of people who aren’t here approve of it.”

Because maybe that means they approve of me.

I haven’t posted anything on Instagram in about a month, and it has been a bit of relief.

I’ve realized that a lot of the time I spent on there was checking to see the response. With no posts to check, it’s surprising how the urge to spend time aimlessly scrolling has significantly diminished.

No, this isn’t another ‘I’m leaving social media!’ post. I’ve cried wolf on that before. As my buddy, Darrel, once said, “this isn’t the airport. You don’t need to announce your departure.”

I didn’t shut down my profile. I’ve just let it stagnate. If people find me there and want to see more, there are plenty of signposts directing them to my site. If that’s too much work, then they aren’t interested in the first place.

I’ve read recently in more than one article that a side effect of the lockdown for many people has been some much-needed personal reflection. The COVID experience — no, not a new Vegas attraction — has been an unprecedented period of stress for most of us.

Things we tolerated or thought were important when life was normal aren’t working anymore.

Some are realizing that their job that was already pushing far too many of the wrong buttons has become even worse, having to do it from home. The narcissist demanding boss, the whole reason you looked forward to Friday, now requires you to answer your e-mail at 9:00 pm on a Saturday. After all, he knows you’re home. Where else would you be?

People are leaving those jobs, realizing that whatever they thought they were getting in return for their precious time isn’t worth it. Employers who took their staff for granted are suddenly finding out that loyalty requires more than a paycheque.

Why give your heart and soul to a big corporation when you know that you could be a victim of the next round of layoffs? Or that you can’t remember the last time your boss told you that you did a good job or that you’re appreciated, something that often means a lot more to a person than a 25-cent raise.

On the other side of that coin, some employers who’ve bent over backward to accommodate their staff and do right by them have realized it’s a one-way street.

I’ve heard from more than a few business owner friends whose staff found ways to avoid coming back to work, preferring instead to stay home and get the government COVID subsidy cheques. But when those dried up, they wondered why their job was no longer waiting for them.

People are moving on from their one-sided relationships and false friendships. They’re reconsidering the stuff they buy to impress people they don’t know. And they’re asking themselves the hard questions, the meaning-of-life questions. I know I am.

Why am I doing things this way? Where am I going? What do I want?

There is a folder on my computer called Next Level Projects. Each subfolder within that one is a painting project idea that will take significantly more time than usual. Each involves more than one critter or is a painting on a much larger scale that I know will be more work than usual.

This little unfinished burrowing owl is the first part of one of those pieces. It’s incomplete because I’ll be drawing several more in different poses, and I don’t yet know how each will fit into the scene.

I have procrastinated on these projects because while I’m working on them, there won’t be a lot to share, especially on quick hit sites like Instagram. These are projects I’ve long wanted to do, but they scare me a little because I don’t know if I’ll do a good job of them. I might put a lot of work into one of these endeavours, and it could be a spectacular flop.

People might not like them.

Or worse, they won’t care.

I’ve been putting off creating pieces that will stretch my skills and help me grow as an artist, all because I’ve been worried about whether or not I’ll get a thumbs-up on social media, mostly from people who aren’t all that interested in my work.

If they were, they’d be subscribers to A Wilder View.

I’ve been sucked into believing that I need to have painted more images at the end of each year than I did the year before. This isn’t an actual art-for-a-living rule; I just made it up. How often do we stop to consider that the stories we tell ourselves are complete fabrications, big steaming piles of bullshit most often borne of insecurity?

Focusing on these next-level projects means I’ll have fewer finished pieces, but it might also mean that the ones I do create could be something new and special, leading to even better work in the future.

© Patrick LaMontagne© Patrick LaMontagne

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Bias and Bighorns

Driving back to Canmore from visiting a friend in Exshaw, I came around the bend to a massive herd of bighorn sheep. There were 40-50 of them on both sides of the secondary highway and a handful crossing from one side to the other. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to slow down and navigate the obstacle course of rams, ewes, lambs, and the four or five tourist vehicles stopped to take pictures.

Watching for wildlife on highways around here is routine. Rarely have I made that ten-minute drive without seeing one or two sheep.

When I got home, I sent my buddy a text about the largest herd I had ever come across, and he was unimpressed. Like many Exshaw residents who work in Canmore, he’s made that commute for years, so bighorn sheep along the highway are more annoying than enjoyable, especially when winter renders that road more treacherous.

Along with that stretch of highway, you can often find these critters around the junction of Kananaskis and Smith Dorrien Trails on Highway 40 and on the Lake Minnewanka loop outside of Banff. But they can pop up anywhere.

It can present problems with traffic jams and often-shocking displays of poor judgment, but tourists love to see wildlife, and it’s a big part of the allure of the Canadian Rockies.

While I have lived in one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet for almost thirty years, wildlife is a big draw in many parts of the world. Each has its hierarchy of popular species.

Everybody wants to see a lion or elephant on an African safari, but few have shelled out the big bucks just for a wildebeest or zebra.

Shonna and I are frequent visitors to Vancouver Island, and the big-ticket item there is whales, preferably humpbacks and orcas. Our friends own a wildlife tour company in Ucluelet, and while they usually see plenty of animals on their cruises, they’ve had to be specific that they can’t promise whale sightings. Any company that does, it comes with a caveat; the guarantee usually means you can come on the tour again for free.

Guides know where they’re most likely to find the animals, but luck and timing play a big part. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock.

Eagles, otters and black bears are a welcome sight out there — sea lions, seals and seagulls, not so much. Large fat sea lions congregate on docks causing costly damage for fishing boat operators and municipalities, requiring inventive countermeasures to keep them away. Sea lions are lazy, noisy and they smell nasty.

However, as a tourist, I’ll happily snap photos each time I see them, and I’ve painted more than one. Not surprising that they weren’t popular prints.

Back here in the mountains, the big sighting for tourists is bears, preferably a grizzly. And if she’s got cubs, well, that might as well be a lottery win. Conservation Officers and Park Wardens spend a great deal of time shooing tourists away from these situations. Summer ‘bear jams’ are common around here, sometimes leading to confrontation.

When a tourist and a stressed bear have a bad encounter, they don’t shoot the tourist.

Wolves and moose are high on the list, followed by pikas, marmots, pine martens, and other elusive smaller critters. But somewhere in there, you’ll find elk, bighorn sheep and deer, animals that aren’t difficult to find. While still exciting for tourists, locals are used to them, and they’re often the reason for traffic delays, or worse, injuries and fatalities from collisions on highways.

For many locals, these animals are a prime example of familiarity breeding contempt. I would imagine the feeling is mutual.
I’ll still take pictures of elk, bighorn sheep and deer, but it’s not nearly as much a thrill as it used to be. I didn’t stop when I came across that herd the other day, despite a safe pullout parking lot close by, but I have before. The reference for this painting was a photo I took at Lake Minnewanka a few years ago when I had explicitly gone searching for bighorn sheep.

While browsing my reference archive the other day, looking for something to paint, I opened that folder with low expectations. An image caught my eye, though, and I thought, “why not?”

Sure, he’s grinning, but the expression isn’t genial like many of my other whimsical wildlife pieces, and that’s by design. He’s untrustworthy and up to something. I wouldn’t turn my back on him. When I asked Shonna for a critique, she complimented the artwork but was less enthusiastic than usual about the subject. When pressed, she simply said, “I don’t like bighorn sheep.”

Clearly, she’s not alone.

But he was fun to paint.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Playing the Hand I’m Dealt

Rounders, Molly’s Game, 21. I’ve always loved movies about card games and gambling, even though the limit of my experience has been playing low stakes Blackjack at the Photoshop World conference. The most I’ve ever lost is $300 over five days, which is nothing for Vegas. I had budgeted to lose that money from the start, since I’ve got no delusions about my skills.

With about a half dozen obvious tells, likely more, I’ve often said that I would be the worst poker player, so I’ve never bothered. I’m a bad actor; I wear my heart on my sleeve.

So this week, I’m not even going to pretend to have it all together. I haven’t got the bandwidth, and I’m confident most of you can relate. The pandemic has been going on for longer than any of us expected, and regardless of where you stand on the whole thing, I’m sure you’re as tired as I am.

I’m struggling.

My motivation is deep in the red, I’m easily distracted, I don’t want to talk to people, and I’ve got a short fuse. If one more person tells me to hold on just a little while longer, especially a politician, well, I’m just gonna…

…well, I’m just gonna hold on a little while longer.

Because what else is there?

In keeping with my current short attention span, and complete lack of inspiration to write anything motivational or upbeat, here are simply some updates.

Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo

Despite that they moved it from the usual April date to the August long weekend this year, Expo has once again been cancelled.

I know they made the right call, but it’s still one more gut punch in a long series of them.

It wouldn’t have been a good year even if they had gone ahead. With the U.S. border likely to remain closed, or perhaps just opening by then, the big celebrity guests they need to draw people in won’t be showing up.

Expo boasts close to 100,000 people over four days on a good year, moving between multiple convention halls. A few years ago, it was the sixth biggest Comic-Con in North America. But it is mainly an indoor event, and I don’t think people are ready for that yet.

Shonna and I are three weeks past our first vaccine shots and likely will have our second by then, but like many others, I’m pretty shell-shocked by this whole experience. After running my booth all day, I’d probably spend the first hour back at my hotel room having a Silkwood shower.

It would be a significant investment of time and funds in a year when both are in short supply. I wouldn’t expect to recoup my costs, let alone make a profit. Now, that’s not always the goal because I enjoy seeing many of you each year. While I’ve talked to quite a few of my favourite Expo people over email during this lock-down, it’s hardly a substitute for seeing them in person.

And I also love introducing new people to my funny-looking animals. So I will miss not being there again this year.

Fingers crossed for next year.

Continuing Education

I’ve been taking a marketing course over the past couple of months, which has been pretty damn impressive. I’ll be happy to tell you about it soon, but it has been hands-down one of the best investments of my time in a lot of years. It granted me a new perspective on promoting my work and a new appreciation for those of you who’ve come along for the ride.

Continuing education is always a good investment, and when you’re self-employed, it’s an absolute necessity. Technology changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up, but it’s worth the effort.

I gave a video presentation to a Grade 7 class here in Canmore this week. They’re doing a module on editorial cartooning, and I was asked to talk to them about that side of my work. I’ve done several of these in person at local schools over the years, but this was a new experience. While many people are having regular meetings over Zoom and Google Meet, I haven’t. I enjoyed becoming familiar with the technology, and it went smoothly.

After my twenty-minute presentation, sharing some cartoons and talking about the work, there was one question about drawing and digital art. I explained to the students that they were fortunate to live in one of the greatest times in history for learning to do anything they want. It’s all out there on the internet waiting to be discovered.

But they have to be willing to put in the work, always the most essential ingredient. There are no cheats or shortcuts around it.

What’cha working on?

Of course, I’m always drawing daily editorial cartoons.

But I’m also working on a new painting of a Bighorn Sheep, something I hadn’t planned. It began from a frantic rough sketch when I just needed to put something (anything!) onto a blank page to keep the demons at bay. This Bighorn has attitude and a little sarcasm, might have a screw or two loose, but sometimes those are the most fun. My Ring-tailed Lemur comes to mind. He’s not all there, is he?I’ve also started a character portrait from a streaming series and have gathered references for another character portrait from a movie. Many of you already know that when I’m feeling lost and overwhelmed, I’ll paint portraits of people to try and reset things. Those don’t contribute to my bottom line, but they usually do help my mental health. Usually, I paint one of these in late fall or winter, but there is nothing usual about this time in which we’re living.

Here’s one I did in November 2019 of Quint from the movie Jaws.
I’m trying something new, writing the story behind one of my favourite paintings. It’ll be a small e-book, a free downloadable pdf for followers of A Wilder View. It’ll feel like a chapter of the art book I’ve always wanted to write. I figure if it works out, and I write a few more, I’ll have enough of them to actually populate a book and won’t have any more excuses for not publishing one.

Sometimes I have to trick myself.

Housekeeping

I’m planning to design a new website, but in the meantime, I’m making improvements to the existing one.

I’ve added some new payment options to the online store to make it easier for you to add one of my whimsical wildlife prints to that bare section of wall you’ve got. You really should put some artwork there, y’know, maybe a Smiling Tiger or a family of Owls. I’ll let you choose.

In addition to the existing credit card payments and Paypal, I’ve added Stripe and Apple Pay as additional payment options. That’s right; if you’re an Apple user, you can buy with a thumbprint.

And if you live in Canmore, I’m always happy to take payment by e-transfer, and I’ll deliver free of charge. Just send me an email for those orders instead of going through the store.

Wrap it up, LaMontagne!

Live video presentations, streaming TV, buying stuff from our phones, we’re living in a sci-fi movie. We should be saying “Wow” a whole lot more often, instead of complaining when the Wi-fi gets slow. A lesson we’ve all learned this year is how much we’ve been taking for granted.

I got nothing else.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt