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May You Live in Interesting Times

Like many people, the last week of any year inspires reflection. Despite my often-cynical perspective and the abundance of personal and professional setbacks I experienced in 2020, the silver linings aren’t hard to see.

Business advice articles and videos for freelance artists will often say that diversification and multiple revenue streams are what will get you through the hard times. That has never been more evident than this year.

With so many newspapers suspending freelance contributions in the spring, it would have been a much leaner year had I been solely relying on my editorial cartooning income.
I’m grateful that Mike at Pacific Music and Art could effectively pivot much of his focus to face masks. Not without difficulty, and requiring plenty of patience with design logistics and shipping delays, it turned out to be a welcome bright spot in a year of dark clouds. Several people have told me how much they’ve enjoyed having a fun and silly mask to wear, rather than the utilitarian alternative.

As recently as yesterday, an email about my latest painting contained a line about how many positive comments they get about their masks.

The masks brought more people to my work, increased my newsletter followers and generated more print and licensing sales for the rest of the year. How could I have possibly predicted that at this time last year?

2021 is a big question mark for all of us. Hard to plan for anything more than survival, in every meaning of the word. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic, of course, but reality will lie somewhere between hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

In other words, be ready to adapt and don’t get cocky.

For all of you who follow, share, and have supported my work, I hope I effectively expressed my gratitude in my post before Christmas. My Cartooning COVID video, still being viewed and well-received, serves as my cartoon wrap-up for the year.

That brings me to the paintings I completed in 2020. In what came as a surprise to me, I did more paintings this year than last, 17 of them: three dogs, three people portraits, and eleven funny looking animals. There were a handful of others, but those were the production level pieces.

The response to my latest paintings has been very nice; several people already asking for prints. I will be sending the latest five; Big Boy, Bear Hug, Winter Wolf, T-Rex and Winter Raven for proofing next week.

With the zoos and parks unlikely to be placing print orders anytime soon, and the Calgary Expo moving to the August long weekend in the coming year (maybe?), I’m reluctant to invest in a large print order right now, only to hold most of them in inventory for the foreseeable future.

So when I get the proofs, I’ll likely do a pre-order special, though I haven’t yet figured out how that will look. I’ll soon be clearing out some 12” X 16” canvas prints at drastically reduced pricing as well, so keep your eyes on the newsletter for that opportunity. With only one or two of each, they will likely go fast.

On the subject of canvas, every image I paint is available for custom special order. If there’s a painting you like and want to invest in a larger piece, my work has always looked best on canvas. ABL Imaging in Calgary does my printing for me, and they do an incredible job. Is there a painting you really like? Feel free to send me an email and request a quote.
A customer ordered a 32” X 32” canvas print of my Sire painting in March, and I was so pleased with it that I wanted to keep it for myself.

As always, feel free to drop me a line anytime with questions or comments. It may take me a couple of days to get back to you, but I always will.

While my original post ended with the 17 paintings posted as images, I decided to instead create a video montage of each piece, in the order in which they were painted. I have replaced the still images with that video below. Turn up your sound for the full movie trailer feel.

Happy New Year!

Patrick

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

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Thanks for Your Support

The podcasts I listen to change from time to time. I’ll add new ones, delete old ones, depending on what I get out of each and where I’m at in my work life.

The one that prompted me to write this post was recommended to me by my friend Crystal, a Calgary-based graphic designer. While skilled in her chosen profession, one of Crystal’s most outstanding qualities is that she is a cheerleader for other creatives.

Since I’ve known and liked Crystal for years, I take her advice seriously. While it was my licensing agent in Vermont that got me the deal, and I had little to do with it, Crystal has been bugging me for years to get my work on puzzles.  When I got the box of my artist samples from Spilsbury, Crystal was first on the list to receive two of them.

So when she suggested I listen to David duChemin’s podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, and said she thought I would connect with it, I didn’t hesitate.

David is a Canadian photographer and author, but his impressive skills far exceed his current professional pursuits. His podcast is not an interview format, but more of a ‘lessons learned and thoughts he’s thinking’ structure about pursuing a creative life. I could write a lengthy description, but David speaks better for himself than I could. I invite you to listen to see if it resonates with you as it does with me. There’s a link at the end.

When we’re allowed to travel again, one of the first places I’ll go is back to Vancouver Island. I cancelled two planned trips there this year, one for business, another a kayaking trip for Shonna’s and my 25th anniversary. As we’ve had some back-and-forth emails in recent months, I look forward to adding ‘meeting David in person’ to my next Island itinerary.

While beginning a new painting this morning, I listened to David’s latest, Episode 51: No One Needs a Juggler. In it, David talks about the feedback he received from another episode about his leaving social media.

In the current episode, he talks about the marketing challenges faced by self-employed creatives and some of the methods he used for reaching people before social media existed. It’s something on which I currently spend a great deal of mental energy. With so much content out there, it’s more challenging to get noticed in today’s world, but not impossible. It involves a great deal of work, not merely to create the art, but to get people to see it. While I am no expert at this and have made mistakes from which I’ve learned valuable lessons, I’ve also done many things right.

For most of my career, I’ve had a website that gets redesigned and improved every so often. I have it professionally done, try to keep it simple, and have always given serious consideration to feedback. I’ve kept a blog since 2008 and a newsletter since 2014, which has helped me become a much better writer. While blogs may seem antiquated to some, I regularly receive positive feedback on mine.  I’ve shared the details behind the work, milestones and setbacks, incredibly personal stories, both good and bad, frustrations, motivations, and highlights.

It would be easy to focus on the losses this year, and I’m not going to give you yet another positive ‘we’re all in this together’ message because we get those every day, and we’re all a little tired of them.

David’s podcast this morning reminded me of the one precious thing I have that I never want to take for granted, and that’s all of you.

Many of you have followed my work for a long time, some for almost two decades. Seriously, I could list a bunch of your names who have been supporting my work for well over ten years. Many of you remember the days when the extent of my work was editorial cartoons and celebrities’ caricatures. And a lot of that work was terrible!

Over time, the list has grown, and more of you have signed up for the ride. When I left Facebook and Twitter, many of you signed up for my newsletter. I know many of your names but have never met you in person, and I may never will. Some have never bought a print, calendar, mask or product, yet you send me regular emails telling me how much you like something I’ve created. That encouragement is just as valuable to me as a sale, and I mean that.

Some of you have commissioned paintings of your pets, a few more than once. I know which of you like big cat paintings, the ones who love bears more than any other animal, some of you name your prints when you get them, and some have even shared your personal struggles with me. I know that a couple of you buy prints to send to your grandkids overseas, more than a few of you have whole walls of my images in your homes, and I’m well aware which of you are patiently waiting for me to paint your favourite animal one of these days.

Though I do include links to the online store in each newsletter, hopefully you don’t feel like I’m always trying to sell you something. On the other side of that, however, I hope you understand when I have new prints or products to advertise or let you know about a pre-order or sale.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year like no other. While it’s personally been a challenging year, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually in a better frame of mind in December of this year than I have been in many others. I think it’s because I’m beginning to realize what I could be discovering if I wasn’t so desperately trying to hold on to what I’ve got.

2020 has taught many of us that the things we always thought we could count on are illusory.

I’ve got some new things on which to focus in 2021, stuff that I have been reluctant to try for fear that it might not work. I bought a webcam, and I want to try doing some painting demos on my YouTube channel. Not formal, scripted lessons, or start-to-finish paintings, but talking about what I’m doing while I’m painting. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, videos that answer common art questions. Who knows where it might lead?

Thanks for being here, for following along, for your encouragement, for the emails you send after I publish a newsletter or release a new painting. Thanks for so many thoughtful responses to the Cartooning COVID video essay I posted this week. I didn’t expect such a positive response, and I’m glad it connected with so many of you. Many of my newspapers either published it on their sites and social media or are doing so this week. One even called for an interview about it.

And finally, I will take some more advice from David duChemin’s podcast and do something incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to ask for your help.

It always strikes me funny when one of you sends me an email asking if you can share something I’ve sent. I not only love it when you think enough of one of my creations to share it with your friends and family; I want you to. Word of mouth is an absolute requirement for the success of my business and career.

When somebody buys a print from me, I always include a personally hand-written card in a little envelope, along with two business cards. One is for you to keep, and the other so you have one to give away. The best compliment you can ever pay me is to refer my work to somebody else.

So here’s the ask.

In the coming year, if I share a new painting, a video, a written post, a cartoon or anything else that connects or resonates with you, the best thing you can do to help me keep doing what I love to do is to share it. Please send it in an email to one friend, share it on your sites, on social media, private messages, or post a link to my site with my sincere gratitude.

If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or simply want to say hello, please drop me a line. I try to respond to every email I get, and I love hearing from you.

Finally, as this will be the last post before Christmas, I know it’s going to be a tough one for many. Long-time followers know that I’ve never been a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to diminish anyone else’s holiday. However different things look for you this year, I hope you can find some joy and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Cheers,
Patrick

As promised, here’s the link to David’s podcast and to my friend Crystals’ site.

___

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

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Cartooning COVID

As this year has been like no other, I decided not to do a ‘Best of’ editorial cartoon selection for 2020. Instead, I’ve created a video essay.

The idea came to me just this morning. Rather than wait, I decided to power through. Selecting the cartoons from the more than 360 I’ve drawn this year, choosing the music, writing the narrative, recording and editing it all, this took about 8 hours. But it was cathartic. Whether it resonates with anyone else is beyond my control. I just wanted to do it.

It’s about a five minute watch. Let me know what you think.

Take care,
Patrick

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

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To Post or Not to Post

My wife Shonna is an excellent cook. She finds recipes online, experiments with them, and usually produces something delicious, although she always feels she could do better the next time.

We’ve had a running joke in our home for as long as I can remember. When Shonna gets ready to go shopping for ingredients, or starts gathering things in the kitchen, I’ll sometimes ask, “what are we having?”

Her answer is occasionally, “(Some recipe) or pizza.”

Which means, “I’m trying something new, and if I screw it up, you are going to get pizza.”

I think I’ve had to get last minute pizza maybe three times in the 26 years we’ve lived together.

Shonna has a job she likes at a law firm, and works at Safeway part-time, because while she’s minimalist when it comes to stuff, she still has expensive tastes. Not for clothing, jewelry, or a luxury vehicle, but with most things, she consistently buys the best quality she can afford.

We budgeted more for our recent renovations, so she could get the kitchen she wanted, rather than settle for something less. She hated our old kitchen.

I can keep myself alive, and have simple skills in the kitchen, but I am not a good cook, primarily because I don’t enjoy it. I’ve had to convince Shonna that cooking is creative, that if she and I both followed the same recipe, it would be the difference between fine dining and a TV dinner. She doesn’t realize how much tinkering to taste she does, based on interest and experience.

Shonna has never had interest in cooking professionally, she just enjoys the challenge, the process, and of course, the result.

Recently, she bought a Staub Cocotte, which to me is just a heavy and expensive pot. She told me she’s had this recipe for no-knead bread for about ten years, and finally wanted to try it. I had no idea why she needed this French cooking pot, considering she has so many other cooking pots. But she lit up when telling me about it, kind of like me with a new Wacom display.

The bread was delicious.

All I needed to know was, how do I clean it, without damaging it?

When Shonna’s spent hours in the kitchen making a delicious meal, which will usually involve plenty of leftovers, it’s a foregone conclusion that the cleanup is on me.

Sure, she cleans as she goes, puts some stuff in the dishwasher, isn’t throwing food at the walls but I’m the cleanup guy, without complaint.

Since I work at home, I do most of the housework. As for most of us, it’s a boring chore, but a necessary evil. The only thing I like about it is the result.

We each do our own laundry, but I wash the bedsheets. Shonna will sometimes pick a deep-clean project, but the day-to-day tidying and cleaning is on me.

Even though I have a full plate of work right now, I found myself fuming earlier this week for no apparent reason. I got a cartoon done and sent, but I couldn’t shake the dark cloud over my head. I had already planned on sweeping and tidying, but once I got moving, I kept going.

We live in a townhouse condo. Not a big place, but three levels with two flights of stairs, and luxury vinyl plank flooring throughout. That was the second round of renovations a few years ago. It’s a great floor, but it’s dark, so it gathers and shows dust. Sweeping always takes longer than anticipated and the stairs need to be done twice. But it’s always a good feeling when it’s done.

In my grumpy mood, I needed to burn off some steam. So after sweeping, I decided to wash the floors. Not with a mop or wet Swiffer, but hands and knees washing, multiple water changes, moving furniture, shaking out area rugs. It took about 2.5 hours.

After her own difficult day, Shonna appreciated coming home to a clean house, I was able to spare her my foul mood, and I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment.

I had another opportunity to reinforce this lesson later in the week.

At the end of my work day on Thursday, something somebody said to me prompted me to write a post about how following the news and social media all day is bad for mental health. In our current global situation, increased time spent at home has more people glued to their devices and cable news.

We’ve become more afraid, anxious, and angry which keeps us going back to those poisoned wells looking for certainty, where there is none to be found. The simple answer is to turn it off, and if you can’t, then that’s likely an addiction issue.

That’s the whole post in two short paragraphs. But what I first wrote was 2000 words of ranting. It was cynical, bitter, preachy, and self-righteous.

Isn’t that what the world needs more of right now?

Rather than power through on the editing, I left it for the next day and went downstairs to make my dinner. While heating up the leftovers, I realized that I was in a pretty decent mood, and felt a little lighter.

Because the products I sell are the results of my time spent creating, anytime I draw, paint, or write something, I get stuck in the mindset that it must be quantifiable. When I make time for fun work, like painting portraits of people, it feels like skipping school or taking a sick day to go golfing.

To write 2000 words, likely 1500 after editing, and not post it, felt like wasted time, which is why it was difficult to admit there was nothing to gain from sharing it.

The Artist’s Way is a book by Julia Cameron. I read it in the late 90s, but it’s still popular today, for good reason. It’s about boosting your creativity. One of the practices in that book is called The Morning Pages; writing three long-hand pages first thing each morning, stream of consciousness stuff, no editing.

It’s not quite journaling but it accomplishes the same thing. It’s about getting all of the stuff that’s in your head out onto the page, like weeding a garden, so all that’s left is the pretty flowers or delicious veggies.

I wrote those morning pages for about a year and still have those notebooks. In the beginning, it was rambling incoherent drivel, but the later stuff had some interesting thoughts and ideas that I enjoyed reading twenty years later. That’s also the point of the morning pages. When your subconscious mind understands that this is going to be a daily thing, it seems to realize that perhaps it should come up with something worth writing about.

I eventually gave up the practice because first thing in the morning is when I do my best painting and editorial cartoon work. I’ve only got a window of about four hours from 6 – 10 when I’m at peak performance. After that, I slow down a little, run errands, do admin work, and then I’ll sketch more cartoons in the afternoon and do some writing.

Just like the housework, I didn’t enjoy that angry rant while I was writing it, but I felt better when it was done. I got all of that negative garbage out my head, making room for more positive creative ideas, stuff that might actually benefit somebody else when they read it, rather than give them shit for being human.

I no longer consider that hour of writing to be wasted time, because experience isn’t just about learning what to do, it’s also about learning what not to do. By taking out all my frustration on the keyboard, much like a punching bag, I exhausted that angry little demon in my head, giving him time for his tantrum so he could finally go down for a nap and allow me some peace.

And I learned that just because I write it, doesn’t mean I need to share it, adding even more negative energy to an already wounded world.

I’d still like people to consider turning the dial down on their news consumption. There’s an excellent 2013 article from The Guardian by Rolf Dobelli, entitled “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier.”

It’s important to pay attention to our community news and keep informed about the world around us, but Dobelli’s article makes some excellent points for pulling the plug on most of it, and does it much better than I would have with my venting tirade.

When the world is beating us up with challenges and bad news as it has all year long, it falls to each of us to consider our role in it. Before sharing news links, divisive opinions, and angry memes, take some time to pause and reflect. Be honest and ask yourself how it will help somebody cope in this difficult time. Will it make them feel better or worse?

Sometimes not sharing something will be the kindest thing you can do.

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

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Creating a Remembrance Day Cartoon

Each year, I struggle to come up with a Remembrance Day cartoon, assigning it more weight than almost any other theme. It’s a challenge to create images and text that evoke the appropriate reverence without being trite.

Many of my newspaper clients are weekly publications. While Remembrance Day is November 11th, many papers will run the cartoon this week, depending on which day their paper comes out. It always needs to be done early to accommodate everyone.

Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for cenotaphs and memorials in different towns and cities. I take reference photos from which I can paint, and then, I try to write something original to accompany the art. As there is very little about this year that’s normal, I went in a different direction.

This is the first year I’ve included the words Lest We Forget in a cartoon to the best of my knowledge. I’ve avoided it because of its overuse. But for the image I drew this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

With many parades and ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, most will stay home this year. Services and observance will be virtual and live-streamed. Traditionally busy venues on Remembrance Day, especially for veterans and seniors, Royal Canadian Legion branches will be closed in most places. The safety of members and their families will take precedence over fellowship. I’m sure that it will be difficult for many veterans.

This year, I recorded a short high-speed video of my cartoon, with accompanying music. Feel free to share it.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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If It’s Broke, Fix It

Taking the summer off from promoting my business was an uncomfortable decision.

Covid-19 was the catalyst, but this period of reflection was overdue. I’ve been uninspired, bored with my own art and writing, unable to maintain the pace.

In 2005, I had been working as an Office Admin for a small physiotherapy clinic here in Canmore, spending early mornings, evenings and weekends drawing editorial cartoons. Eventually, that part-time side hustle allowed me to quit my job and become a full-time artist.

It seemed like a big risk, but not massive. We decided that if I couldn’t pay my half of the bills, I’d just get a part-time job. There were plenty of them available.

I’ve had a pretty good run as an editorial cartoonist for the past two decades. It afforded me the ability to try other art-related avenues, one of which became the evolution of my career, painting my funny looking animals.

I’ve never lost sight of the fact, however, that the foundation of my profession for the past twenty years has been an industry afflicted by a slow and terminal cancer. To expect that I will be drawing editorial cartoons in ten years is almost fantasy.

Then again, I said the same thing in 2001, so what do I know?

We pretend to be masters of our own fates, but we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future. Who had Global Pandemic on their schedule for 2020?

As one might expect, those first years were a struggle. I often went into overdraft on my business account and couldn’t afford many luxuries. I did get a part-time job working at a local DVD rental place (remember those?) but not because of the money. I needed to get out of the house and one of the perks was free movie rentals. This was in the dark ages, kids, before streaming video.

I enjoyed the experience for a year, but working until 11:30 some nights, then getting up at 5:00 to draw quickly lost its appeal.

There were some in my profession who figured the next evolution in the craft would be animated editorial cartoons.  I invested in Flash software, training courses, royalty free music, learned how to record audio, and spent countless unpaid hours creating those things. During a federal election one year, all of the big Canadian media outlets wanted to run my animations on their websites, but in a sign of things to come, almost none were willing to pay for them.

I even had a weekly series called Big Plans, where a cartoon beaver in a suit and tie, talked about the week’s political events, complete with cutaway scenes. It was an animated version of the Daily Show or Rick Mercer Report, without interviews and not nearly as funny.

It took about twenty hours a week to create each one, and I only got paid a small amount for a handful of them.

I didn’t like the work much and wasn’t a very good animator. I was more relieved than distraught when it came to an end. But I took the risk, and invested the time, on the off chance that it might pay off.

There have been a few ventures like that, but I’ve learned something from each, lessons for the next idea. Eventually, one of those tries became my whimsical wildlife paintings, changing the course of my life and career. As Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots in hindsight.

When COVID-19 landed on us, a lot changed for most people in a short amount of time. All in the same week, several of my newspapers told me they could no longer afford to pay any freelancers. A temporary layoff, but nobody could say for how long. That was at the end of March. Only one of those papers has hired me back.

This year was supposed to be a big one for my painted work, building on the momentum of my newest license with Pacific Music and Art. I was beginning to see (and hear about) my work being sold in stores all over the place. With multiple re-orders, more retailers signing on and word getting out, 2020 should have been a leap forward.

I don’t need to explain why it wasn’t.

Thankfully, Mike at Pacific Music and Art had the foresight to see the coming demand for face masks and that my paintings would work well on them. I put in late nights, even earlier mornings, and long days preparing the images while still drawing the same number of cartoons for about half the clients.

Promoting, packaging and shipping the masks, plus the paperwork and bookkeeping, it was exhausting. Add in the uncertainty of the pandemic, both the health and financial repercussions, and burn-out was inevitable.

Thanks to my newsletter followers, I filled two large mask orders, and a third smaller one, the revenue helping to shore up my other losses. Pacific Music and Art is now selling the masks wholesale to retailers and individual customers can order directly from their site. I’ve received photos from people who’ve bought my masks at The Calgary Zoo. They’re also available at Shopper’s Drug Mart here in Canmore, stores in Banff, plus a bunch of other places in Western Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.

Those sales now will mean revenue later this year.

I did a couple of successful print promotions, launched my 2021 calendar, and have gotten used to this new reality. You thought I was going to say normal, didn’t you? I think we can all agree, that ship has sunk. We need to build a new one.
This frenzy of activity, adapting daily to more potholes than road, I had no gas left in the tank. I was still meeting my cartoon deadlines, but painting was a slog, and it felt like anything I’d write would be crap, even before I put my fingers to the keys. My past work seemed like garbage and I was circling the drain.

When you spend year after year creating art, promoting it, trying to sell it and come up with something better every day, taking time off from promoting it feels irresponsible.

I like to work. I don’t do well with too much time off. I’ve got a friend who has been talking about his retirement for years and finally managed to do it before he was 60. Unless something radical changes in me in the next ten years, the thought of not working does not appeal to me.

At this stage in my life, looking down the road, retirement to me would mean the freedom to only do the work I want to do. But I still want to work.

My biggest fear is that something will happen that will prevent me from being able to create, paint, and write. I dread the thought of an injury, an illness, a cognitive deficiency, something that will rob me of my abilities or mental faculties.

On report cards when I was a kid, common teacher comments were “doesn’t pay attention in class” and “not living up to his potential.”

It’s ironic that I’m now wary of not having enough time to reach that full potential.

Last year, my friend Jim and I were sitting on a deck of a cabin we rent, looking out at the pasture. In front of us, there were two windows in the covered section, but to the immediate left, the deck is wide open. A wasp was repeatedly bouncing off the glass, trying to get through.

I don’t recall if I said it or if Jim did, but we both connected with the message. “Boy, if that’s not a metaphor for life.”

All that wasp had to do was back off, turn left and fly six inches to freedom. Instead, it just kept bouncing off the glass.

Jim credits that moment with his decision to finally retire.

I took it as a message to rethink where I’m putting my energy.

There are many ways to reach your goals but beating your head against an immovable object isn’t one of them.

I’m already getting up early every day, working hard. I rarely take a day off and when I do, I still somehow manage to squeeze in something related to my business. It might be taking photos, doing some writing, reading trade articles, but that’s only because I enjoy my work and the creative pursuit. I don’t know how to separate the two, so I don’t try.

That also means there is no extra time to do more. It’s such a cliché, to work smarter, not harder, but clichés have longevity because they contain simple wisdom.

Maybe it’s because he was younger, with seemingly more time ahead of him than I’ve got. But, there’s a lot of water under the bridge between me and the guy who said, “well, if I don’t make enough money, I’ll just get a part-time job.”

I feel like I have a lot more to lose than he did.

He didn’t know that editorial cartooning would provide him with a good living for the next fifteen years. I know for a fact that it won’t provide me with another fifteen. Failing to course correct for that reality would be short-sighted.

I remember somebody telling me once to cup my hands together as if I were holding some water within them, then to squeeze my hands into fists and asked, “what happened to the water?”

When you hold onto something too tightly for fear of losing it, you lose it anyway.

During the past two months of promotional hiatus, I completed a few paintings, wrote quite a bit in a fiction novel I started this year, drew the usual editorial cartoons, listened to podcasts, read books and articles and I worked. My computer died suddenly one night, which I’ll talk about in another post, and I had to get a new one built. I got away to the cabin for a few days, took some pictures, and hid from the tourists who have flooded this valley all summer.

And I asked myself some hard questions.

“Where do I want to be in a couple of years? Five years? Ten?”

“On what am I wasting a lot of time and effort that doesn’t get me there?”

“What marketing opportunities am I missing out on?”

“If I stopped banging into the glass, backed up, took a breath, and looked around, what might I see?”

For the first couple of weeks, I felt like I’d forgotten something, that nagging feeling like I’d left the stove on. I’d become so used to posting on Instagram, sharing stories, scrolling through other people’s stuff. It ate up a lot of creative time.

When I finished a painting, it felt strange not to immediately size it for the blog, create a closeup, write a post about it, share it on Instagram with all of the hashtags, tell a story, write a newsletter, share that, then wait to see what kind of reaction I might get.

Promotion and marketing, it’s part of working for yourself. It’s necessary if you want to make a living with your art or whatever you create. You must sell it. But taking this break made me think about how I’m doing that.

Do I need to share it as soon as it’s done? Would it matter if I waited a day? Maybe two? Do I have to immediately write about it? Does it have to be immediately shared on Instagram?

The answer to these last questions is No.

One marketing opportunity I’ve decided to explore is to offer an audio version of some of my blog posts, starting with this one.

I’ve had several people tell me they like my writing, but some get the newsletter and realize they haven’t the time to read it, They put it aside for later and never get back to it.

I hear ya. Happens to me all the time. But if there’s an audio version, it can be downloaded and listened to at your leisure.

An audio version allows followers to consume the content the way they want to. From what I’ve read, it increases followers and site interaction, which directly translates to sales.

Will that kind of marketing work for me? I have no idea, but I’ll give it a try.

As for those other questions, they’ll require a longer view, some percolation in the old melon. Not quite as deep as “Why am I here?” but not so shallow as, “Peanut butter? Or jam, too?”

The break was worth it and I will do it again.

Whether you read this, or listened to it in the new format, thanks for making the time. One thing I’ve never forgotten in this roller coaster life of being creative for a living…it wouldn’t happen without you. 

___

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

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Snake Bite

I’d like to begin by saying that I’m feeling better since my last post, so no need for a warning on this one.

I’ve concluded that what I needed was to get that shit out of my head and onto the page. It’s a cliché from old westerns that if a cowboy gets bitten by a rattler, the first thing you do is suck the poison out.

Now, putting aside the fact that it would never actually work and, depending on the level of innuendo that infers, the disturbing imagery, it’s what came to mind when I woke the morning after I wrote that post.

While I had reservations about posting it in the first place, I’m glad I did, because the response from many of you was a little overwhelming. Some of you just wrote to tell me they hoped I’d feel better, others shared their own issues with all of this, and apparently, I put into words how many of you are feeling.

A couple of you even attempted to give me a bit of ass-kicking. I tolerated that because I knew it came from a place of good intentions. At least that’s what I’m choosing to believe.

My friend Crystal from Calgary, a self-employed graphic designer, always a source of encouragement to her fellow artists, sent me a link to Brené Brown’s latest podcast. It was a welcome suggestion because I’ve long enjoyed Brown’s insights, but also because that particular episode gives me (and everyone else) permission to feel bad without the accompanying shame that often goes with such self-pity.

I’d encourage you to give it a listen; there’s a link at the end.

Writing all of that was cathartic. That evening, I avoided the news altogether, stayed away from the internet and slept well in my own bed that night, woke at five feeling better and worked on cartoons while listening to music.

Feeling better the next day was evidence of what I said in that dark post. You have to give yourself room to feel your pain, so it doesn’t overwhelm you. I’m not saying I won’t visit that abyss again, probably more than once in this self-isolation experience, but I know what to do when it happens.

I’m going to write it down. Not to worry, I won’t continue to inflict them on you by posting them, but just the exercise itself, to vomit it all out to make room for moving forward, is therapeutic.

I know that many people feel their writing skills are lacking or that they don’t write well, and that’s fine. You can still go through the exercise without showing it to anybody, just put onto the page what you’re feeling, without judgment. Don’t worry about sentence structure, paragraphs, grammar, spelling or any of that crap. Just get it out onto a piece of paper or a screen as fast as you think it. You can write swear words for a full page or a four hundred character, “AAAAAAAAGH!”

Exhaust yourself with it. Write until you can’t write anymore. Leave it all on the page. Be whiny; feel sorry for yourself, make it all about you; feel your pain. That post I wrote was twice as long before I edited it and went even darker than what you read.

Then take that page, or two pages, or three, crumple it up, tear it into little pieces, throw it in the trash, light it on fire (outside!) or close the file, and when it asks if you want to save it, click NO.

If writing doesn’t work for you, find a way to feel it without guilt or shame. Listen to that podcast episode, if for nothing else than to remind you that we all crack from time to time, and it’s OK.

I don’t regret writing that dark, depressing post. I needed to write that post. I don’t regret sharing it, either. We spend so much time in this life pretending we’re strong when we’re not, denying that we’re vulnerable, feeling ashamed of who we are and trying to be everything to everybody. All it does is make us miserable and no good to the people around us, anyway.

The proof is in the practice. After writing all of that, I wanted to paint again.

Cheers,
Patrick

OTHER NEWS:

Speaking of news, I’d like to make a request. Please don’t send me news articles or links to news articles, especially not opinion pieces. I’ve been following the news more closely than anybody should for more than twenty years. The deluge of information we’re receiving now is ridiculous and moving so fast that what was news this morning is no longer news in the afternoon. I appreciate that it probably comes from good intentions, but thanks in advance for refraining.

Other types of emails, however, are always welcome.

CALGARY EXPO:

The Expo was postponed until July, and they gave vendors the option of a refund, a booth at the July show, or skip this year, with paid funds moved to next year’s booth at the same rate. I chose the last one for a few reasons.

If there is an event in July, I don’t think there will be many guests, people will still be in shock from this and won’t want to assemble with that many people, and they won’t have much money to spend anyway. There’s no doubt I would lose money by doing the show in July.

So for those of you I see each year at Expo, I’ll see you in April 2021…unless we’re still in lock-down.

Here’s the Brené Brown podcast link.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Intolerable Uncertainty

(WARNING: The following is dark, contains profanity, and you may not want to read it)

Last night I gazed too long into the abyss, and before I knew it, the abyss had taken my hand, and we were going on a tour of all of the bad shit that was going to happen in the next few months.

For about two hours before bed, while watching TV I wasn’t really watching, against my own advice from my last blog post, I surfed news stories on my iPad, going from one to the next, basically asking the same question, “How long will this last?”

My mind has been telling me, “Your business will not survive this. You’re fine right now, but what about tomorrow? You just cancelled a trade show and a business trip, what about the next trip, what if my clients go out of business, what if this art thing I’ve worked on for the past 20 years just vanishes like a fart in the wind, where am I going to work when this is over, ….what if, what if, what if…”

I’ve slept on the couch two or three nights a week the past month, so I didn’t toss and turn and keep Shonna up. No reason for both of us to lay awake wrestling demons. Then I read something that says if you’re not sleeping, it’s even worse for your mental and physical health because it compromises your immune system.

Well, thanks. That makes me nod off with dreams of kittens and rainbows, now doesn’t it?

As mentioned in a recent post, catastrophizing is one of my worst bad habits, and this virus has opened the flood gates of despair, as I’m sure it has for many. This post pretty much contradicts the slightly more optimistic tone of the other, because as we’re all learning, this situation changes by the minute.

Now with what should be more time to do anything I want to do, paint, write, draw cartoons, everything takes a lot longer because I get distracted by a news story, news alert, phone call and then down the rabbit hole I go.

A cartoon I drew yesterday that should have taken a couple of hours to draw took about five, because, in the middle of that, I had several newspapers from one chain tell me they were shutting down for the month of April, possibly May. That’s in addition to the half dozen that did so at the end of last week.

We’re bombarded by stats and articles telling us how bad this is going to get, and projections that tell us we’re in this lock-down until the end of April FOR SURE…no wait, MAY…no wait…JULY…no wait…FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

Logically, I know that the majority of these articles, blog posts, science journals, pseudo-science journals are all just spewing information so that they have something to post, and that 95% of it is conjecture, but I seek out the worst ones. It’s a desperate search for anything I can control. If I can deal with the worst-case scenario, then I can deal with anything better than that. But it means reading a lot of bad shit.

It doesn’t matter that I know I’m being illogical, Spock. I’m human, which means I’m illogical, you green-blooded pointed eared Vulcan!

Anybody else notice that Dr. McCoy was racist?

The worst-case scenario almost never happens, but because I said almost, that means it could happen, so hello darkness, my old friend.

I would love to be spending my time writing, but all of the story ideas, notes, the novel I’m working on, sitting there waiting for me to put in the time, I just can’t focus. And in the time I do make to work on anything creative, it all seems like garbage because I see it through a dark negative lens.

It would be nice to come out the other side of this with a stack of new images to license and yet I’m finding it hard to paint. It doesn’t feel like this will ever end, and when it does, I’ll have lost so much that my focus will be on survival, not success.

That’s the problem with catastrophizing. It’s sticky stuff, and if you do manage to get one leg free from it, you’re in it up to your knee with the other.

At this point in the post, I’m supposed to turn this around and start saying that we’ll get through this, we‘re in it together, there are always people worse off, do your part, it’ll be over soon, take this opportunity to discover new things, when one door closes, another door opens, blah, blah, blah.

There’s a meme I thought was funny when I first saw it, but now I find it infuriating. It reads, “Your grandparents were asked to go to war. We’re being asked to sit on the couch.”

Then it ends with variations of, “Don’t screw this up,” or “We got this” or “Suck it up, Princess.”

It just feels like so much bullshit.

Shaming people into acceptance doesn’t work. All it does is tell us that who we are is unacceptable and makes us bury our feelings of despair, so we don’t make strangers feel uncomfortable. Too long on that course and you’re looking at a nervous breakdown, a heart attack or worse.

The truth is, life has always been hard, and this is hold-my-beer level hard. People need to feel their pain and chastising somebody else to cheer up does more harm than good.

I try to tell myself that many others have gone through horrific stuff and came through it, far worse than this. The people who went through the 1918 pandemic, those who endured concentration camps, devastating financial crises, health crises, 9/11, our history is replete with people surviving long odds.

For 10 million people who died in the concentration camps, I can’t imagine the hopelessness and despair, a horrific end to their lives at the hands of cruel oppressors. And despite the courage and endurance of those who survived it and lived to tell the tale, I can’t imagine there were many, lying in their hard wooden bunks, packed in like sardines, freezing all night, awaiting their fate, telling each other, “Hey, we’re all in this together, and some people have it worse, cheer up, mmmK?”

Sharing online finger-wags about what Anne Frank, John McCain, or the Chilean miners put up with while imprisoned in their own circumstance is just more online shaming. Yes, they endured, but they weren’t having a good time!

This isolation we’re being asked to do is not just sitting on the couch watching Netflix, drinking wine and playing board games, without a care in the world.

It’s watching our savings dwindle away, the panicky market destroy investments, our businesses close, possibly to never open again, our careers implode, relationships suffer, the fruits of our labour shrivel up and die on the vine, and any plans we made up and vanish, while we just sit and wait, unable to do anything about it, for who knows how long?

This is not a vacation for which we should be expected to feel grateful.

Yes, people have gone through worse, but putting a metric on somebody else’s pain does not diminish our own. These are still our lives. Expecting people to shrug and say, “aw shucks, shit happens” is not only unrealistic, it’s cruel, especially when it took two seconds to share a meme or post that wasn’t designed to make somebody feel better, but to make them feel worse. You’re just scolding friends, family and strangers for having real human emotions and a difficult time coping with them. People have different tolerances for pain, and most of us are pretty damn hard on ourselves already without the added weight.

Knocking somebody down does not make you taller. It makes you a bully.

Instead of drawing first thing this morning, I just poured all of the angst into this, hoping for some sort of pressure release valve, because having a global sing-along is not going to do it for me. I almost didn’t post this because of worries over branding, being negative, pissing people off, and not being enough of a Polly Anna.

I’m not dealing well with this, and I imagine that’s the case for most people, each with their own unique grievances.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if this will go on for a couple of months or many months? I don’t know if, at the end of this self-isolation, there will still be money coming in from anywhere for anybody. I don’t know how many will get sick, how many will die, if these measures are overkill, not enough, necessary, unnecessary, if the media is being irresponsible with the constant fear-mongering and death toll scoreboard, or if the fear is needed to scare people into compliance with the new rules.

I don’t know much of anything.

And that’s what’s keeping me up at night.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Broken News

I follow the news for a living, and at the best of times, it wears on me. A constant diet of negative news is awful for your mental health. I have to limit it as much as I can, or my mind goes down that dark rabbit hole of despair.

Now that many of you are home all day, I know you’re spending a lot of time on the internet, surfing through the horror, continual updates on the global death toll, getting into arguments online about which information is right or wrong, and then sharing news stories to your social media that you think sound right as if your friends aren’t surfing the same news you are.

We do this because it makes us feel like we’re in control and informed, when we all know that we aren’t.  In fact, by reading this stuff and sharing it, you’re making yourself even more anxious. When you share it, you’re not making people feel better; you’re making them feel worse. This virus of anxiety we’re all spreading is more damaging than the virus itself.

I’ve been actively avoiding phone calls and conversations with people because the whole discussion just ends up being about the news, this article and that, these facts and those, what Trump said, what Trudeau said, what this doctor said, what this victim said, and the numbers. I end up leaving the phone call feeling worse than before and wished I’d never called or picked up.

I understand it’s the topic on everybody’s lips, we’re all frightened, and we think that by talking it to death, it will make us feel better. Ask any psychologist, and they’ll tell you the opposite.

The media is hurting for revenue right now; they’re fighting each other for your online attention because they’re trying to get advertisers to keep paying them. The only way they can do that is to be upping the tragedy, to find new angles to make you afraid, new headlines to get you to open their link. They will never do that by telling you, “It’s going to be OK.”
I’ve always gotten news alerts from multiple outlets; it’s part of my job as an editorial cartoonist, it’s how I know a breaking story is happening, one that I might have to comment on with a cartoon. But in recent weeks, these outlets have been abusing the privilege. I now get multiple BREAKING NEWS alerts from each outlet throughout the day.

The Prime Minister’s been offering a daily briefing from his house because he’s been in isolation since his wife was exposed to Covid-19. CTV was sending me an alert that this was happening, which was helpful. But in recent days, they’ve been sending the alert about a half-hour early, meaning I tune in and have to watch/listen to doomsday coverage I don’t want to hear before I get to the coverage I need to see.

That’s click-baiting. And while I understand it, I resent it. And so should you.

The constant apocalypse feed breeds more anxiety, contributes to depression, and when those two degenerates get a hold of you, you start thinking irrationally and make poor decisions. Spending hours on social media, surfing the news and talking about all of this is not only detrimental to your mental health, but it’s also unsustainable.

I’ve had OCD for years, ever since I was a kid, though I didn’t know it until I was in my early thirties. While I’ve always been mindful of washing my hands, not touching my face, etc., mine doesn’t manifest as germophobia. OCD is much more than that. It’s about control, worrying, ruminating, fear, and anxiety.
After I went for groceries yesterday, I mentioned to a friend over email that the fear and tension in peoples’ faces were disturbing. But when this is all over, if people ask me what OCD is like, I now have an example. Do you remember how you felt all day long during the pandemic? That’s it, except that you feel it when times are good, too.

Mine has been much better over the past couple of years, mainly because I read some excellent books, was in therapy for a while, found coping tools, meditate almost every morning and I’ve established boundaries. I still worry more than is necessary about things I can’t control, but it doesn’t consume me like it used to.

The most significant contributing factor to my feeling better than I did, however, was limiting my exposure to the news and social media. The easiest way to know if it’s a problem for you is to try and turn it off for a day.

One day.

Don’t even look at it. If you can’t, you have a problem, and the first step to solving any problem is to admit that there is one.

If you can’t go one whole day without social media or the news, you don’t need me to tell you that’s an issue.

I’m not saying to avoid the news or social media forever. While we’re in isolation, we need to be informed, but be smart about it. Pick the news outlets you trust and follow them, especially your local news. Don’t click on anything and everything your friends post just because the headline or graphic triggers your fear. That’s what it was designed to do.

It shouldn’t matter to somebody in Saskatchewan that some people in Australia aren’t following social isolation rules. That’s a problem for them to solve. The borders are closed. They can’t get to you. There are almost 8 BILLION people on the planet. Following every story of tragedy for all of those people will ruin you, especially when most of those tragic stories are embellished, spun and manipulated for maximum fear.
My wife had to tell a friend two days in a row that a “news” story she shared was inaccurate; it took her no time at all to find evidence that it was false. But then she saw the same stories shared by a bunch of other people. Nobody is even bothering to check, primarily if it supports what they already believe. I shouldn’t have to explain how dangerous that is.

But to spend our isolation with a display in our hand all day long, punching that refresh button, madly scrolling for fear of missing out, you’re making yourself miserable, along with everybody with whom you’re sharing it.

If you’re going to share stuff, why not good news stories for a change? There are still plenty of those out there, too. Videos of people on their balconies singing, applauding first responders, live concerts online for charity, and kitten videos. Come on, you can never have enough kitten videos.

Your friends and family are already scared. You can contribute to that fear, or you can help them down off that ledge.

It’s a choice.

__

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