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Work-Life Balance, Retirement and Shades of Grey

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

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justifiable. Case dismissed.

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

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

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

____

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

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

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

OK, I had that coming.

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

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

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

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Ring-tail Renditions

When the Land of Lemurs exhibit opened at the Calgary Zoo several years ago, I was excited to get up close and personal with these critters. Lemurs are a matriarchal species, meaning the women are in charge. Only females were in residence at the time, but I don’t know if that’s still true.

Because of disagreements in sample size and the territories surveyed, the number of Ring-tailed Lemurs left in the wild is under dispute. However, one thing experts agree on is that the wild population is in severe decline. Deforestation and hunting means lemurs may go extinct in our lifetime.

The World Wildlife Fund and several other conservation organizations work to educate and support communities in Madagascar to help them coexist with lemurs. Unfortunately, colonies in captivity may one day be the only place where lemurs exist.

One of the interesting features of the lemur habitat at the Calgary Zoo is that the lemurs are free-roaming within the enclosure. People must enter through a controlled gate, where an attendant explains the rules. Once inside, other employees and volunteers answer questions while ensuring the safety of the lemurs.

The enclosure design means the lemurs can go where they like, including climbing atop an unsuspecting person who crouches down for something. With no fence or glass, this open concept makes taking photos a real treat.

Early in 2020, before the world shut down, Wacom commissioned me to record a video using their Wacom One display, along with a voice-over narrative I wrote. I recorded a ring-tailed lemur painting for that project, and it’s one of my favourite pieces, mostly because she looks ready to snap. It’s also a popular print with many of my collectors.

I’ve long wanted to create another painting featuring several lemurs, inspired by the following photo I took in 2017. All these lemurs look a little stunned; harmless goofs, not too bright, except for one.
This photo always makes me chuckle. That evil-looking stare straight down my lens, the squinting focused eyes, the chunk missing from her ear. She reminds me of a gangster saying, “Come closer. See what happens.”
What can I say, I see cartoon characters in real animals. This is why I paint the way I do.

I have considered this photo and the painting I have wanted to create for years. I even have a title for it: The Ringleader. The finished piece will be 7 or 8 of the goofy, stunned faces filling the canvas, with the sinister ringleader in the middle, staring down the viewer.

The big challenge isn’t painting the faces but making them look like they belong together. That’s why I’m working on seven faces in the same file. The ringleader herself is a separate file that I started earlier this week.

I haven’t yet got to the stage where I compose them into the finished piece, but I’m getting there. Once they’re each in position, I’ll need to paint more hair and fur to blend the faces as they overlap. There won’t be any bodies or paws because this painting is about the faces filling the space, but I will paint a few tails coming in from the sides and bottom.
I’m happy with how it’s turned out so far, and I’m also hoping to offer the finished piece as a puzzle later this year.

I’m used to working on one painting, start to finish, posting it, printing it, getting it licensed, and moving on to the next one. While quality is my main concern, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of quantity.
So, when I’m working on several paintings at once and more involved pieces featuring multiple animals or more detailed backgrounds, paintings that take much longer than a whimsical head and shoulders portrait can be uncomfortable. It feels like I’m not getting enough done.

However, I’ve realized in recent weeks that there is a silver lining in working on multiple pieces simultaneously. Each painting gets time to rest, and when I open a project I haven’t touched in a week or two, the deficiencies or problems jump off the screen. That’s good because it reveals areas of the image I need to improve.

Last Friday morning, I opened this goofy gallery of Ring-tail Lemurs for the first time in a few weeks. I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the seven faces on the screen and said, “They look so stupid.”

And I meant it in the best possible way.

Would I have had that moment if I hadn’t let the painting rest? I doubt it. My comical critters surprised me. What a gift.
The finished piece will be a lot more detailed than the images in progress you see here. But the vision for what I’m trying to achieve is clear in my mind, and I’m having fun discovering each of these faces.

All that’s left is hours of painting to bring them to life.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Back to Bears

I rarely visit the Calgary Zoo to drop off prints and stickers without making time to take pictures, and many of those photos eventually inspire paintings.

Skoki is a resident grizzly bear born in 1987 near Lake Louise.

Over several years, while he was young, Bear #16, as he was initially known, learned to associate people with an easy meal, an education he received from careless campers and tourists. When he tried to be a regular bear, eating grass and foraging for natural food, photo seekers harassed and pushed him to the point of bluff charges. Eventually, he lost his fear of people and hung around the Lake Louise townsite.

He had become a spoiled bear. Several relocation attempts failed, which is hardly a surprise for anyone who lives here. Relocation is often a last-ditch effort to avoid euthanizing a problem bear.

That closeup bear photo people are so desperate to take on the highway shoulder might go viral and deliver social media likes and shares, but it often ends badly for the bear. Nobody shares that photo on Facebook or Instagram.

It’s ironic that people object to animals in captivity, but we can’t seem to get it through our heads to respect them in the wild, allowing them space to live in their natural habitats.
Parks Canada officials would have euthanized Bear #16 in 1996, but the Calgary Zoo had an opening, and he has lived there ever since. In the wild, a male grizzly doesn’t live far past his 20s. Skoki is now 37 years old. He is an old bear and looks it, but despite obvious age-related deficiencies, he’s healthy.

Whenever I find Skoki active and playful, I take time for photos. Despite his relocation from the wild into captivity, he has been a wonderful ambassador bear, and his story helps to educate people about the wild world on our doorstep.

Skoki inspired my recent Spa Day piece, though I used several bears for the reference. One day, I found him sitting in one of his ponds, playfully eating what looked like a lettuce leaf. I noticed the ripples and reflections and wondered how I’d paint him. I didn’t get the reference I wanted that day, but the idea stayed with me.
One day in June last year, after dropping off prints, I found Skoki active again. I followed him around his large enclosure until he did something I’d never seen before. He walked the length of a log until he came to a larger log that crossed it. He straddled the one on which he’d been walking and put his paws up on the crossed log. He looked like he’d just bellied up to the bar and was waiting for service.

He sat there a long while, and I took so many photos of him looking this way and that, laying his head down on the log, sniffing the air, pawing left and right, that I came home with dozens of suitable reference photos. From this experience, I came up with the idea of painting several bears sitting beside each other at a log, as if they were indeed meeting up for an afternoon happy hour in the forest.
This painting has been rattling around in my noggin for quite a while, and I’ve drawn several sketches, including the ones in this post. All the reference I’m using for this work in progress is Skoki, but I’ll make the five bears different heights, weights and colour variations so they don’t all look like the same bear. Other photo references will help me do that, and I’m planning more sketches like these to explore my options.

I won’t make it an actual bar with drinks or food in front of them. I’ve no desire to paint a bear variation of Dogs Playing Poker. Even though my paintings aren’t true to life, and I paint whimsical expressions, I don’t want to start creating wildlife in human settings. There are exceptions, of course, where I’ve put a Santa hat on a bear, and I will paint some more Christmas-themed images like that strictly for commercial and licensing opportunities.
I started one of these Skoki sketches a little while ago and figured I’d try a full pose of how he sat that day. Before I knew it, I had drawn more detail and realized the image below was becoming its own painting.Because I don’t paint a lot of backgrounds in my work, I’ll often begin some paintings in grayscale so I can get the light, shadows and contrast right. Later, I can add colour using various techniques I’ve discovered in over twenty years of digital painting.

So, instead of one log bear painting in progress, I’ve got two. And all these sketches and bear paintings will contribute to the bear book.

If my skills match my vision for the  five bears piece, it will be one of the images I’ll include for my next round of puzzles later this year.

I’m working on more paintings right now than I ever have at one time, so next week, I’ll have another painting-in-progress to write about and some new  images to share.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Will the real whimsical wildlife painter please stand up?

If your art becomes popular enough that people like it, share it and buy it, somebody will steal it. Some creatives stamp ugly watermarks across every image they post to try to combat this, but what’s the point if you need to go that far?

It’s not uncommon for people to remove my signature or change the wording in one of my editorial cartoons and then post it on social media with no credit or link to my site. It happens to every cartoonist. It strikes me especially funny when the alteration is so they can call a politician a liar, thief, or criminal.

Today’s word is irony.

On occasion, a company has stolen my work and offered it on an online product, usually in another part of the world. In most cases, a cease and desist is all it takes to remove it, and then they steal somebody else’s work. But in some countries, everything online is seen as free for the taking. I know artists who’ve been on vacation in Thailand and seen their work sold at roadside market stands.

If you’re shocked by this, remember that scammers bilk senior citizens out of their retirement savings every day. Humanity has more than its fair share of bottom-feeding scumbags. Art theft isn’t even close to the worst of it.
Several years ago, my friend Kathryn alerted me to a woman on Vancouver Island using my Otter painting as the logo for her business. It was on her business cards, a sidewalk sandwich board, window decals and advertising. When I called the owner on it, she said she Googled ‘royalty-free images’ and my otter came up. I asked if Mickey Mouse had come up in that search, would she think Disney would allow her to use him as her logo? My signature is still on the image on that sign! She angrily told me I was being unreasonable and said if I had been nicer, we could have come to an arrangement.

Based on such a trustworthy beginning, I clearly missed out on untold riches.

On a trip to Vancouver Island, we stopped in Ladysmith to ensure it wasn’t still going on. She’d sold the store, and my work was nowhere to be seen. That’s why I’ve blacked out the name in the photo.
Another company in the same area had my Moose and Grizzly Bear paintings on their chocolate-covered candy labels sold in a local store. The company’s owner in Eastern Canada said they’d hired a graphic designer to make the labels. He just stole my work online and passed it off as his own.

The owner apologized and said he would remove the offending images from his products.

People will frequently look down on artists for not having ‘real jobs,’ or expect us to work for free or the ever-popular ‘exposure.’ Every time I try to pay my bills with this mythical currency, companies laugh at me. I guess it’s only good for art.

For many people, art is their business; when somebody steals from your business, you must deal with them. If it’s an overseas company in a country with lax copyright laws, you could sell your house and spend it all on lawyers, and you still wouldn’t win.

You pick the hill you want to die on.

Which brings me to last week.

A woman in Nevada has been selling my artwork as her own, alongside what I can only assume is questionable CBD potions. As far as I can figure, she has purchased canvases of some of my work, likely from print-on-demand sites like Art.com, Wayfair, iCanvas, and others.

These companies were licensed to sell my work through agreements I signed when represented by Art Licensing International. I ended that relationship early last year, but these companies had contracts with the rights to sell my work until the end of their terms.

Most of those have expired, so even though you can still see my work on some sites, you can’t order it anymore. I’ll write another post later on why I don’t find those sites appealing.

Since the art thief has been doing this for a few years or longer, I suspect that’s where she got them since I don’t post high-resolution images on my site. She then applied some brushstrokes to those canvases and sold them as her original work.

At Photoshop World Las Vegas in 2014, I took a class from a New York copyright lawyer. He was an entertaining character but knew his stuff and had represented plenty of artists who’d been ripped off. His advice even saved me from a deal I worked on that very week with a couple of scammers in Calgary.

The lawyer talked about the oft-quoted 10% rule, the belief that if you change another artist’s work enough, copyright no longer applies, so that you can resell it as your own. He shared the official legal term for that rule; Bullshit.

It’s the kind of thing amateur creatives tell each other to justify stealing.

According to Canadian and United States law, an artist owns copyright to their work as soon as they create it. However, officially registering allows you to claim more financial damages when suing somebody for a breach.
From what I’ve found, she stole my Coyote, Grizzly, Black Bear, Moose, Squirrel, Peanuts and Smiling Tiger paintings, but likely more than that. While the first five are no longer bestsellers, and a couple are even retired, my Smiling Tiger and Peanuts paintings are two of my most popular, bestselling and frequently licensed images.

Stupid is as stupid does.

She advertised that she’d be showing her art all month at a venue in Nevada, complete with photos on her website, Facebook and Instagram. She removed the image from her webpage, but I saw that coming and captured screenshots. Not my first rodeo. I have blacked out some areas of the image that may unfairly implicate others.
I contacted the venue and informed them that this ‘artist,’ for lack of a better term, had stolen my work. I included several links to my site, blog posts where I wrote about the images when I had painted them, and links to companies that licensed my art. And while I told them I didn’t blame them for the infraction, I suggested they distance themselves from the offender.

The response from the venue was better than I’d hoped. They apologized (not their fault), told me they removed the canvases from their walls and even copied me on an email they sent to the fraudulent artist. In it, they told her she was no longer welcome there, and if she wanted to collect her canvases, they’d be at the local Sheriff’s office for retrieval.

She declined to pick them up.

You don’t say.

I had also contacted a friend who lives in that area and asked if she knew the place. She said she did and spoke highly of it. I don’t believe they’re complicit, and as the business is also a victim of this fraud, I see no need to name them.

I have sent emails to other events she’s advertised on her site and to markets where she has sold my work in the past, informing them of the theft and asking them to cancel her registrations.

I am not an advocate of cancel culture and trial by media. Some people don’t know what a reasonable response is, and internet vigilantism seems to have one setting: scorched earth.

That said, given what I’ve seen, she has been stealing my artwork for years. The problem is that when I searched for her online, I came across a few other legitimate artists with the same name, and I don’t want them confused with this thief. It takes very little time to cancel somebody, and it’s nearly impossible to reverse it when you’ve got the wrong person.

So, instead, I’ve shared the photos from her site. I’ve blacked out the venue name and details but left her name intact. Since references to and images of my work are still up on her Instagram and Facebook, I’m also linking to those. The artwork may be removed when you read this, as I’ll share links to this post in her comments section. She has removed my images from the front page of her website.

From a cease-and-desist email I sent her, she responded, “Patrick. I’m very sorry. I will never paint again. The paintings I have will be destroyed. Kat.”
After a whole career dealing with this kind of thing, I am firm-footed in ‘fool me twice’ territory. Her reply almost stopped me from writing this post, but she’s standing proudly in that photo with six large canvases of an art style I’ve spent years developing. And 24 hours after her apology, my work is still visible on her social media with mentions of her amazing paintings. Very sincere.

Genuinely sorry, or sorry you got caught?
If your only available settings for creating art are stealing it or not painting at all, I’m at a loss to understand why you’d bother pretending to be an artist. Choose a profession more suited to questionable morality, like federal politics.

I’m sharing this story as a cautionary tale and a teaching moment. If you’re an artist learning new skills, copying somebody else’s technique, studying their methods, and imitating other styles to find your own is part of the process. That’s what every artist does. It’s how we learn. Eventually, you get tired of being a poor copy and strive to become an original.

But don’t steal somebody else’s artwork and pass it off as your own. It’s happened to every artist I know, and it can quickly become an open wound that never heals. People will find out. Artists routinely reverse-search their own images to catch this sort of thing, though I found out about this infraction another way.

When one artist sees another ripped off, they will tell them about it because we all know how it feels. In some cases, if the artist is popular enough, their community of followers will destroy you online. I’ve seen it happen more than once. It’s brutal.

Dealing with this issue has taken way too much of my time this past week, time I’d much rather have spent painting. It should be obvious why this got bumped up on the priority list.

While I’m not happy about this situation, I’ve mellowed in my older middle age, and I’m not raging or losing sleep over this. It would be naïve for her to imagine several years of theft can be erased by three short sentences in an email, with little action to back up her supposed remorse. I don’t know how much of my artwork she sold, but I’m confident I won’t get a cheque in the mail. And anyone who bought my work from her likely won’t get refunds.

I’ll keep an eye on her to make sure she stops stealing my work, and if further evidence presents itself of ongoing fraud, I’ll make it as uncomfortable as possible for her to continue.

And if she suddenly finds a new art style (she’s done this before), you can bet I’ll do my best to let the next victim know about it and help them in any way I can.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Expo Over and Out

I returned home from The Calgary Expo around 8:30 pm on Sunday, in good spirits but very tired. Shonna spent most of the day with me at the show, and it was fun to have her there. Even though she volunteered to help me tear down, I sent her home an hour before closing so she could beat the traffic.

With an established routine, I prefer to tear down alone and had the booth disassembled and loaded into the car in two hours. Shonna had homemade pizza waiting for me when I got home. She’s so sweet.

The week after Expo is almost as busy as the week before, unloading the car and stowing the booth hardware, taking post-show inventory, updating spreadsheets and paperwork, adding new subscribers to A Wilder View, and bookkeeping.

Add in the usual daily editorial cartoons, month-end invoicing and catching up on client emails, and it doesn’t slow down a little until midweek. And I still need to email those who inquired about pet portrait commissions.

People often joke that art-for-a-living isn’t work. I usually reply to those crass comments, “You’re absolutely right. I just draw and colour all day, and people throw money at me.”
From early prep to tear down, Expo went so smoothly that I kept waiting for something bad to happen. My booth location was ideal, my neighbours were friendly, and all the vendors I spoke with seemed to have a good show.

Even the weather was good. It was a little windy and cold a couple of mornings, but walking back and forth to the hotel each day was comfortable. Considering it’s been snowing a few days this week, last week is nothing to complain about.

Though last year saw the best sales I’ve had at this show, this year was a very close second. Considering the current economy, I’m very pleased.

With the BMO Centre renovations and expansion nearing completion, the 2025 Expo will see everything together in a brand-new state-of-the-art convention centre next door rather than spread out over several halls and two buildings. It should be an exciting year.
I always come away from this show inspired to draw and paint, with an overwhelming gratitude for those who allow me to keep doing it. Like most artists, I’m an introvert who spends most of my time alone with my work, so when I meet people who enjoy it, it refills the creative tank.
During the first two hours on Thursday, I saw many regulars flood my booth. It was chaos, it was bedlam, it was awesome. The only downside was that these were all people I wanted to spend extra time with, but they all showed up at once. I had the best Thursday sales I’ve ever had, and most of those were from longtime collectors and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Paintings, Products and Prints

Postcard sets had a slow start on Thursday, but I figured out by Friday how to display them better and talk about them more. Stuff doesn’t sell itself; you must engage with people and let them know what’s available, especially if it’s something new. Magnets, stickers, and coasters continue to be popular items.
As I’ve written before, Expo is a proving ground for determining which paintings make for popular prints. While all the new paintings were well received, Highland Cow, Raven on White and Spa Day were top sellers.

Because of early feedback, I brought a lot of the Highland Cow with me, but I still sold out by Saturday morning. I have never sold that many of one print at any show. Who knew?

Process

The best part of this show is talking with people who collect my work, many of whom I now consider friends. Their feedback gives me plenty to think about, especially when it comes to what I share in A Wilder View.
One collector and friend told me that he likes my Long Neck Buds giraffes piece because I shared the different stages of the painting from start to finish. He said it made him feel part of the process. I only did that because the image was so involved and took longer than most paintings, and I still wanted to send out regular emails.

When I asked some other longtime Expo subscribers for their take on it, everyone agreed.
I had thought half-finished work might be boring, and the perfectionist part of me is reluctant to share the unpolished stages of work in progress. But from now on, you’ll see a lot more of my painting process.

Thanks again for that feedback, Sheldon.

Puzzles

With only two Sea Turtle puzzles in stock, I left them off the Expo price list and didn’t put them out because it might look a little sad. But I brought them along just in case.

When two people asked about puzzles, they liked and bought them. I’m now sold out and pleased with that whole venture. Thanks again to all who pre-ordered and bought the first round of puzzles last year and everyone who bought them online, at the Banff Christmas Markets and Calgary Expos.
I’m working on five different paintings right now, a few that feature multiple animals in the scene, and I aim to include those on future puzzles later this summer, 1000-piece options many of you have been asking for.

What’s Next?

With Expo behind me, I’m focusing on paintings in progress, future pieces on the horizon and ongoing projects. Once this round of spring snow ends, I’ll deliver a large print and sticker order to Discovery Wildlife Park as they open for the season this week.

I hope to deliver another print and sticker order to the Calgary Zoo soon, allowing me to take some spring reference photos for future paintings. I didn’t visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale last year. I plan to make up for that later this month as I take a trip south to see some eagles, owls, and hawks at their newly renovated and improved facility.

And, of course, I will kick myself in the hindquarters to replace talking about the book with working on the book…dammit. Some of my collectors don’t have any wall space left! They’ve waited long enough.

Whether you added to your collection this year at Expo or just visited me for a chat, thanks for being there. You remind me that my happy-looking critters matter to so many of you, which means more to me than you know.

Until next time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Pet Painting Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers
Patrick

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Twas the Week Before Expo

As I write this, everything is going well in the run-up to my biggest show of the year. I’m almost ready to load the car and drive in for setup on the 24th.

I still have to draw twice as many editorial cartoons this week to cover my newspapers while I’m away. I’ll also want two ready to send for the morning after I get home because I’ll be too tired to draw. But that’s always part of the prep.

This always feels a little like a looming new year to me. I look back on the 12 months since the last Expo, thinking about what I got done and what I failed to deliver.

The Book

I promised myself I’d have it finished for this year. If you’ve been patiently waiting, there’s no way you’re more disappointed in me than I am in myself.

The reasons aren’t hard to decipher. There’s an imposter syndrome part of it, where if I keep procrastinating, I never have to put it out there and risk that it won’t measure up to my expectations. I’m not a deep well. This is basic psychology.

I have explained before that editorial cartooning provides a consistent monthly income, even though it’s less each year as newspapers stop using freelance work or they close entirely. But it’s hard not to prioritize reliable revenue.

My whimsical wildlife artwork continues to grow each year. Thankfully, It is now more than half my annual income, but licensing payments come in irregularly and are often late. Gift and trade shows are held at different times each year, so those, too, are inconsistent.

Though I’ve been self-employed for almost twenty years, I’m from a generation used to biweekly paycheques, and though it’s only an illusion of security, it’s difficult to dismiss.

THE BOOK (cue the Imperial March) means investing time, energy and funds into a project that may not generate revenue; if it does, it will come later. Making time to write and draw the content and learn Adobe InDesign means sacrificing drawing an editorial cartoon or a painting for immediate licensing that will generate revenue in the short term.

When I was in my early 30s, it felt like I had all the time in the world to risk and experiment. Twenty years later, it feels irresponsible, even though I know that’s yet another false perception. But I’ll continue to work to find a way to climb Bear Book Mountain, even though I know the only way to do that is one step at a time.

And, of course, I must prepare my apologies for another Expo where people (Hi, Kim!) ask me, “Did you finish your book yet?”

No. No, I haven’t. Maybe next year.

(awkward silence)

Want to buy a sticker?

A Great Show I Never See

I looked through the Expo Exhibitor List last week to see if any vendor friends were near my booth. Though it seems like they all have good spots, none are in my immediate neighbourhood, so I’ll only get to visit them briefly before the show opens each day.

When I attended this event as a ticket holder, I loved seeing the wealth of great artwork all over this show, but as a vendor, I see almost none. When the show is open, I’m there to work and can’t leave my booth.

In my early days of this show, Shonna came with me, but she’d have to take time off work. Eventually, she’d be there only on the weekend, as Saturday is especially busy, and I felt I needed help. That allowed me to leave the booth occasionally and check out the show. But it quickly became apparent that while Shonna was great at promoting and selling the work and even telling the stories behind the art, people always want to talk with the artist.

My leaving the booth for any length of time is bad for business.

I think it was 2019 when Shonna was supposed to drive in on Saturday, but a sudden whiteout snowstorm showed up, as will happen in this part of the world. The power even went out a few times. I called and told her to stay home; it wasn’t worth the risk. While only a one-hour drive from Canmore to Calgary, lousy weather makes that highway treacherous. Add in Alberta’s abundance of aggressive drivers and it was safer to stay home.

However, with her absence, I learned that I could manage the busiest day of the Expo by myself, and that was the last time I needed her to attend. Shonna has two jobs, and I never liked asking her to sacrifice her only day off each week to work at my job, too.

But last week, she surprised me and said she took Sunday off from her part-time job and wants to revisit the show and help me pack up at the end. Isn’t she sweet? I’m looking forward to her being there.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t snow.

What’s New This Year?

Every year, I have a loyal group of supporters who add to their collections. A few of them even volunteer to watch the booth for me if I need a bathroom break. Such nice people!

This year, I’ll have the usual magnets, coasters and stickers, a lot of large metal prints and some canvas, and new postcard sets, too!

The most popular offering, however, is always the 11”x14” poster prints, and I bring hundreds of them. This year, there are over 50 different animal paintings available. It’s always flattering and amusing when people flip through the bins and ask each other, “Do we already have this one?”

A couple of years ago, one of my favourite collectors flipped through the bin like he was looking through hockey cards or comic books and joked, “Got it, got it, got it, need it, got it, got it, need it.”

So, before this year’s show, whether they’re already up or waiting their turn on your wall, take a moment and remind yourself which prints you already have. But hey, if you buy a duplicate, you can always gift it to somebody else. Just sayin’.

To help plan this year’s print acquisitions, here are the nine new pieces I have painted since the last Expo. I’m bringing prints of all of them, but if you can’t make it to Expo, they’re already available in the store. A reminder that all prints are hand-signed and it’s Free Shipping on orders over $48. Check them out!

I don’t include a title or my website on the actual prints, just my signature. And I have lost count of how many times people tell me the prints look so much better in person than they do on the screen. I wholeheartedly agree that my Victoria printer, Art Ink Print, does a fantastic job.

This event has become a proving ground for my latest work, and it’s often where I find out which prints will become popular and discover if perhaps my next bestseller is among this year’s creations.

I’m excited to find out.

Cheers,
Patrick

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You’ll Find Me at The Calgary Expo

As I write this, Calgary Expo 2024 is a little over two weeks away, April 25-28, 2024.

100,000 people attend over four days, one of the biggest events of its kind in North America. It occupies Exhibit Halls B, C, D, E, and F of the BMO Centre, plus an entire floor of The Big Four Building for Artist Alley.

While still a lot of work, I have a decade of experience with this show, so it’s not as stressful as it used to be. Prep starts on the last day of each Expo, putting down a deposit for the next one. More deposits follow throughout the year, hotel booking in December, following the same steps that lead right up to booking my electrical, parking and insurance, which I did just last week.

This weekend, Shonna and I opened up the first metal prints of my latest paintings, and that’s always fun. A painting never feels finished until I see it in print, as that’s when my work looks its best.

I bring hundreds of prints to this event, and they’re all here. I need to sign the latest order of 60 prints and assemble many more this week with backer board, art bios, and sleeves.

Vinyl stickers and postcard sets are ready, but I’m still awaiting a magnet and coaster order. I hope that shows up soon.

Over the next week, I’ll review my booth hardware, check grid walls, lights, tables, backdrops, banners, and the rest of the detailed checklist. Living out of a Calgary hotel for five days, working long late hours, there’s no chance of driving home if I forgot something.

Here’s the map of the BMO Centre and where you will find me this year.
In 2022, my booth location was up in the air until the day of the show, and it was stressful. At first, I didn’t get the type of booth I booked and I needed to address that. Following that, when I got there, one list said I was in one spot and another in a different spot. I couldn’t even unload my car. While I empathized with the organizers’ difficulty trying to please everybody, I still paid a premium for my corner booth, and I had to become the squeaky wheel with emails during the week leading up to the show. I am sure I annoyed the organizers when I became frustrated and could no longer be patient and keep quiet.

Even though that show began rough, it worked out well and was an excellent year for me.

I don’t recall ever having a bad booth placement, but some years have been better than others. As the show evolves each year, the layout often changes. Last year, they assigned my booth outside the main hall, where I’d been since my first year, to an adjacent hall near the Main Stage. I was at first disappointed but decided to make the best of it without complaint.

In yet another example of ‘got what I needed instead of what I wanted,’ last year’s placement turned out to be one of my best. As the Main Stage was a big draw throughout the show every day, there was plenty of traffic. I also heard that the main hall was crowded on Saturday and people needed extra time to get anywhere.

As vendors book for the following year on the show’s last day, I asked the Show Manager if I could request that hall again, and he seemed a little surprised. I explained that it was my best sales ever, and he told me to write down the request on my application and they would do their best. This was the same manager I had a minor conflict with the year before regarding the booth issue, so last year, I made every effort to be as friendly and pleasant as possible in every interaction with him. Had I done any damage to my relationship with the organizers, I wanted to do my part to repair it.

If somebody promises a service or product and fails to deliver on agreements, you should hold them to account and argue for what you paid for. It can quickly become a pattern if you don’t, especially if somebody gets used to your rolling over. But if someone tries to do right by you and correct their errors, that’s all you can ask. We too often fail to realize that everybody’s job is difficult. People make mistakes.

As the show grows closer each year, waiting for my booth placement is a bit of a nail-biter. Some years, it has come only a week before the show. An unexpected placement can mean redesigning the whole booth at the 11th hour.

This weekend, my booth assignment email arrived, and I quickly scanned the attached PDF floor plan. I started at last year’s location and saw that I didn’t get the same spot, which was OK because I knew it was a long shot. But I hoped it would be nearby.

I quickly found my booth number and breathed a sigh of relief. From what I know of this show, this year’s placement looks ideal, even better than last year’s.
Two more aisles of booths are in that hall this year, so it looks like a bigger show. Between the Main Hall and the Main Stage Hall is a corridor through which all traffic comes and goes. My corner booth is at the end of an aisle, within easy view of everyone coming through that corridor. Below was my booth design last year and it worked so well that I will use the same one this year, only reversed, and with a bunch of new artwork, of course.
The organizers are likely pulling their hair out two weeks out, trying to get everything done. No doubt, when they announce booth placements, they receive emails from people who didn’t get what they wanted or those politicking for a last-minute change.

Though we all get too many emails these days, I sent them a quick Thank You. At least they’ll get one that lets them know their efforts are appreciated.

Before I was an exhibitor at the Calgary Expo, I was an enthusiastic attendee. It’s a fun, family-friendly event for all ages and a real circus-like spectacle. I have rarely encountered anyone at this show who wasn’t having a good time or happy to be there. It’s just that kind of vibe and a professional and personal highlight of my year.

Advance tickets are on sale until midnight on April 10th. Hope to see you there.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

 

 

 

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Wilder Wishes

If you’re like me, bombarded daily with negative news and polarized opinions, this noisy world can become overwhelming. It bothers me, and I often wonder, “Why are people so mean to each other?”

As a species, we’re primed to pay attention to this stuff, which feels like an immediate threat. Not only do we focus on the worst of our behaviour, we feel compelled to share it with others. And when everybody shares bad news, it seems like that’s all there is.

Though I’m not on social media anymore, I’m as guilty as the next person. I’m fully invested in the negative bias that we’re all strapped into the proverbial handbasket, picking up speed on a steep downhill. Is it getting hot in here?

While editorial cartooning requires me to follow the news, I also spend much of my time painting whimsical wildlife that makes people happy. I know this because collectors and subscribers tell me so. And when I get to share that work in person at Christmas markets and the upcoming Calgary Expo, I see the evidence for myself.

At market events, a steady stream of people walks by my booth for hours on end. They might be talking to each other, looking at their phones, pointing at things, or absent-mindedly scanning their surroundings. But often, when their eyes find my work, they stop and smile. Over several days at a market, I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I see the same phenomenon.
It’s a moment of connection between my funny-looking animals and people I’ve never met. I love watching it happen, and it is a reminder that something I created made somebody else’s day a little better, if only for a moment. In a world that often seems nasty, with people intent on highlighting our worst qualities, I create art that makes people smile. I often forget that, but when I do remember, I’m grateful for this ability.

You can change yourself, but you can’t change other people. You can influence them, though, for better or worse.

It can be as simple as holding a door or letting someone go ahead of you in line, offering to take somebody’s photo for them when they’re struggling with an awkward selfie, being courteous on a shared bike/pedestrian path, or putting away your phone and giving somebody your full attention.
If you know me well, all this might sound hypocritical. I struggle with seeing the good in the world, which often puts me in a dark mood. But just like a smoker knows the habit is unhealthy, it’s worth the effort to try to cut back and eventually quit.

Because even though I’m not always a fan of our species, I know that life is hard for everybody. We’ve all got stuff we’re dealing with and can get so caught up in our own issues that we forget others are struggling, too. Empathy is a skill and a choice.
So, to spread some positive feelings around, I created these Wilder Wishes images you see here, from some of my paintings. If you like them, send one in an email or text it to someone who might need a lift. Share one on social media or wherever you want. Or print them for yourself to stick on your fridge or desk.

You can save each of these images from this post or download all five from this Dropbox link.
If one of these happy faces makes the day a little brighter, for you or somebody else, then that makes mine better, too. Sometimes, you’ve got to give a smile to get one back.

Have a good week,
Patrick

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Spa Day

This painting has been rattling around in my noggin for some time. I think I first had the idea at the Calgary Zoo when I saw Skoki, the grizzly bear, sitting in one of his ponds, playing with something floating on the water.

I had taken photos at the time, hoping for some good reference, but while they didn’t give me what I needed, the idea stuck. I have more reference photos of brown bears than anything else, thanks to the time I’ve spent at Discovery Wildlife Park and I used several bears for reference for this painting.

That made it more challenging with different angles and lighting, as did painting wet fur rather than dry and fuzzy. I’ll admit that I didn’t think I could pull it off for much of this painting. It didn’t look half decent to me until several hours in, but that often happens when I paint these critters.

As the man said (often falsely attributed to Churchill), “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Eventually, it comes together, the personality shows up, and it turns into an enjoyable pursuit rather than a frustrating one. What was at first a slog, seeming like hours of no progress, ended up to be work I didn’t want to stop.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of painting grizzly bears.

Cheers,
Patrick