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10 Lessons in Art and Life

Have you ever seen those memes with four to six images depicting different perspectives? There’s one for almost every profession or creative pursuit, mildly amusing but with a grain of truth. The headers are often variations of What My Friends Think I Do, What My Mom Thinks I do, What Society Thinks I do, etc.

Most people feel unappreciated in their job and that the world doesn’t understand them. The uncomfortable truth is that if we really don’t want to be doing what we do, we can always quit and go do something else, with corresponding consequences, of course. But it’s a still a choice we pretend we don’t have, to release ourselves from the responsibility.

Before going on, let me offer a disclaimer. None of the following is me complaining about being an artist for a living. Given every other job I’ve ever had, it’s still the only thing I want to do, warts and all. This list is for those people who might be considering that leap; quitting their job to follow their creative dream, thinking it will solve all of their problems.

It won’t.

Whoever said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” should be placed over a dunk tank full of manure while every self-employed dreamer takes a free throw.

“You want the truth?! You can’t handle the…” Sorry. Movie quotes. I can’t help myself.

Here we go.

1) Some people will like your work, most will not.

Whether you’re a painter, cartoonist, musician, writer, photographer, or basket weaver, the vast majority of people won’t buy your stuff. In fact, most won’t even care enough to hate it. They’ll just be indifferent.

My friends and family pay little attention to my art. Even my wife wouldn’t buy one of my funny looking animals if she saw it in a store and didn’t know me. I don’t think my parents would, either, though they have a lot of my prints. Really, it’s an excessive amount, but that’s because they’re my parents.

It doesn’t mean most of the people close to me aren’t supportive; it’s just that the art I want to create and art that resonates with them are two different things.

I guarantee that Celine Dion doesn’t care that I don’t like her music. She’s earned her millions by catering to the people that have loved and supported her work for many years, her audience.

There are plenty of people who do like my work. They subscribe to my newsletter, buy my prints and products, and share my work with their friends. There are 7.5 billion people on the planet. Relatively speaking, I need very few of them to support my work in order to make a good living.

These people, they’re my audience, and I’m grateful for them.

2) It’s a long game.

The work that’s worth sharing is the stuff that takes many hours, days, weeks, and years to create. And when you do share those pieces, often compressed into a three minute time lapse work-in-progress video, people are immediately asking where the next one is.

Good work takes time. Great work takes a lifetime.

You will most likely never be truly happy with anything you create. Given an equal measure of praise and criticism, you will always give the latter more weight. I used to think that was just me and the neurotic little hamsters running around the wheels of my own mind.

It’s not. Artists be whack, yo!

3) If you do it for a living, you’ll always worry about money.

Gaining and losing newspapers has been a part of my editorial cartooning job for almost twenty years. If I have fifty newspaper clients, lose one, but gain three, it will be the one I lost that keeps me awake at night, fretting over the future. That’s human nature. It’s the lizard brain part of our makeup that forces us to focus on the worst case scenario so that we are prepared to survive threats, real or imagined.

With a fridge, freezer and pantry full of food, you’ll still worry about where your next meal is coming from.

4) Frustration is part of the gig.

Why did a competitor get that cartoon spot instead of me? Why didn’t that newspaper run a cartoon today? Why doesn’t this new editor like my work as much as the last one did? Why weren’t my trade show sales as good as last year? Why do people like that painting I did five years ago better than the last ten I’ve done?

I could write a thousand why questions and they would all still equal the same one.

What am I doing wrong?!

There are often no satisfactory answers for why things don’t go the way you want them to, especially if clients are at arm’s length, as so many of them are in our digital world. I’ve worked with some of my editors for many years and will likely never meet them face to face. The same goes for the majority of people who license and sell my paintings.

When it’s doable, I will call or email an editor and ask why the change and the reason is often much less Machiavellian than I imagine. A lot of the time, it boils down to the first point in this list. The new editor likes somebody else’s work better.

But then, I’ve also gained newspapers for the same reason when a new editor likes my work better than the previous guy they were using. Of course, focusing on that positive angle would be a healthy choice, but artists don’t do that.

5) There are moments of joy.

When I first went to college, I majored in Psychology, which basically meant, “I have no idea what I want to do. I’ll do this until I figure it out.”

I didn’t do well on the graded portion of the experience, but I did enjoy the subject matter and still do today.

While most famous for his Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow had a theory called Peak Experience, which boils down to “moments of highest happiness and fulfillment.”

Often compared to the feeling of falling in love, a person holding their first child, a sunrise on a mountain top, something personal and profound, a euphoric mental state, they can also occur in day to day life, depending on the person. I’ve never taken LSD, but from what I’ve read, it sounds like many have reached peak experience while on acid.

The way I understand it is that it’s an experience where you feel you are right where you’re supposed to be in that moment, that everything is connected, a profound sense of meaning and transcendence where the stuff that doesn’t matter (which is almost everything) falls away and you’re at your very best in that moment.

I have been fortunate to have experienced many of those moments, often in nature, but the vast majority of them have been while painting. The right music in the headphones with the right painting on the screen at the right stage of progress, a hot cup of coffee, it all comes together and feels perfect. More than once, I’ve had to wipe away tears. It’s a profound rush that only lasts a moment or two, is a little depressing to come down from, but is unmistakable when it happens.

I’m always chasing that feeling.

6) Everybody has two cents to offer.

“You know what you should do!”

This is a running gag with every creative I know. People with no stake in the game, with no background in the field, with no filter between their brain and mouth, telling me in which direction to take my business.

My favorite, of course, is, “you should write children’s books.”

If I had wanted to, I would have.

As advice costs people nothing, they’ve always got an abundance to give away. Ignore most of it.

Of course, if an incredibly famous and wealthy children’s book author tells me I should write children’s books, I’m going to take her to lunch to hear her out. I’m nothing if not a sellout.

7) Most of it will still feel like work you don’t want to do.

Bookkeeping, taxes, packaging, licensing contracts, phone calls, image prep, travel to places you otherwise wouldn’t go. It’s a job. It requires compromise and often creating stuff you don’t want to for clients who don’t want the stuff you most like to create.

A lot of the time, it’s this business stuff that takes priority over the creative stuff. Often, I’d rather be painting, but instead I’m reconciling my bank statements in order to pay my quarterly GST on time, because the government gets bitchy when you’re late with their money.

8) Creating art is the easy part. Selling it is hard.

“I don’t feel like doing Expo this year. It’s just a lot of work,” I joked to my wife yesterday morning.

“You sound like a Millennial,” she replied.

Sorry, Millennials. You hard working ones are being dragged down by those refusing to leave their parents’ basement and get a job that’s beneath them.

Next weekend, I’ll be setting up my entire Calgary Expo booth in my garage to make sure I’ve got it right before disassembling it the next day, packing it into the car only to reassemble it three days later in Calgary.     

To paraphrase that voice in the corn from Field of Dreams, it would be nice to believe that if you build it, they will come.

Sadly, that ain’t the case.

Production, assembly, promotion, marketing, networking, collaboration, delivery, the back-end admin, all of that stuff is a trial by fire. As every creator is as different as the things they create, selling enough of it to make a decent living is much more difficult and much less enjoyable than the work itself.

Worse, there is no map. There are examples from those who’ve successfully done something similar before, but luck and timing both play their parts. What worked for one person will not work for you. Everyone has a unique foundation from which they start, the ingredients they have access to at crucial crossroads, and the mentors or opportunities presented at different times.

You do your best with what you’ve got and wait to see if it pans out. Failure should not only be expected, but it’s required.

How many authors have you heard proudly recount the list of rejection letters they endured before they got published? That’s worth boasting about because they stuck it out when everybody told them to quit. They earned those bragging rights.

Everybody talks a good game, but it’s those who put their asses in the chair and get to work who find success. Even then, this comic tragedy can still end without ever producing life-changing rewards.

The statistics are clear. Creative professions are synonymous with failure. Most people who try it, will fail, which also makes being in it a long time a little sweeter, having beaten the odds. So far.

In the words of Han Solo, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.”

9) Focus, Young Jedi.

Likes and shares don’t pay the bills.

Quitting social media was frightening because so many people will tell you that it’s a necessity. (See #6). I’ve been asked in recent weeks how it’s been, by people considering the same move.

The first couple of weeks, coming down off the drug was tough. But now, I wish I’d done it sooner. I’m getting much more work done. The scramble to get editorial cartoons out doesn’t seem as tight anymore. I’m not so stressed watching the clock. I seem to have more time to draw, paint, write and have found more clarity of thought than I’ve had in years.

Social media is not the necessary evil that creatives have been led to believe. Well, not necessary, anyway.

10) It’s all worth it.

A friend recently commented that my wife and I were weird, because we don’t place much importance on birthdays or traditional holidays, etc. He meant it as an insult, but I chose to take it as a compliment.

Normal is overrated. Normal is boring. Normal is what keeps people in the same place for decades at a time wishing they were somewhere else. Normal is hiding your true self for fear of being judged by people whose opinions really shouldn’t matter to you.

It’s deviation from the norm, from the accepted, where life is lived. Be weird. Be different.

Fall in line with the mob simply to fit in? No thanks. To paraphrase Kennedy, we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

With limited time on this earth, with seemingly no real meaning, many at odds with their apparent lack of purpose, frustrated with the futility of it all, what else are you going to do with your time?

TV, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram? This is how we spend our most precious resource? On our phones?!

We create things because we can. We better ourselves because we have the luxury of doing so. Even if it results in more struggle, bad feelings, disappointment, frustration, depression, anxiety, it’s far better than simply watching the clock, waiting to die.

When I used to teach and do painting demos, I’d often tell people that it might take you ten years to become good at something you’ve never done, but those years are going to pass anyway. Wouldn’t you rather arrive on the other side of it looking back at a body of creative work, or a new skill you’ve developed?

If you get that far, you might even want to do it for a living.

Even if you don’t, you’d at least have the choice.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The F Word

February is always a melancholy month for me. My motivation is at its lowest, and what little optimism I normally have is reduced to crumbs in the bottom of the bin. It’s also the month I’m most likely to feel that my business is a breath away from failure. When the weather is bad and it’s bitterly cold, as it has been this past month, the weight of that seems even greater.

With year-end books being delivered to the accountant this week, a tax installment for the current year due next week, inventory and booth costs for next month’s Calgary Expo, and the ever tenuous nature of the newspaper industry, it’s easy to feel that it’s all about to end. Especially in February.

That’s called catastrophizing, kids. It’s a cognitive distortion common for a lot of people, self-employed or not.

Perception isn’t reality, but it sure feels that way. This time of year, I’m often staring at a blank page with no inspiration to fill it. In this business of creativity, that can get a little scary. My tendency to go right to the worst case scenario often triggers unsolicited advice from a familiar voice that resides in the darker corners of my mind. It’s loudest in winter. It never shuts up in February.

“Looks like you’re done. You had a good run, but who were you kidding? It’s not like you were any good at this anyway. You should probably start scanning the employment section, though I can’t imagine anyone will want to hire you with that 13 year gap in the résumé.”

One of the most common things I’ve heard from people over the years is that being an artist isn’t a real job, that all I do is draw and colour all day when everybody else has to work for a living.

It used to piss me off. Over time, I’ve realized that it’s a waste of time and energy to explain my own circumstances to people. Everybody’s job is hard but most people are under the impression that the conditions of their own employment (or self-employment) are the most difficult.

We’re all so busy worrying that other people don’t understand how hard things are for us, that we fail to realize that we just might be guilty of the same. One of the consequences of our outrage culture is that empathy has become scarce, despite our penchant for sharing tragic news articles on social media.

Thoughts and prayers. Repeat.

Some will tell me how great it must be to be an artist for a living, to draw and colour all day, to realize a dream. My initial thought is “Are you kidding me? It’s a lot of work, and I have to follow soul-sucking politics for a living, and it’s not just about creating the artwork, you have to sell it, and in a down economy, art is a luxury and when times are tough, people stop buying luxuries, and, and, and…”

In quiet moments of reflection, however, I realize that what they’re really telling me is that their own dreams and ambitions haven’t been fulfilled and they imagine mine have.

Our culture of showing off only our best adventures, photos, accomplishments, relationships, accolades and successes is creating unreasonable expectations in others and in ourselves. And even though we really do know that somebody’s carefully curated online persona is not an accurate representation of their reality, we can’t help but envy the fantasy, the media package they’ve chosen to share.

But that’s all it is, a promotional ad campaign for the lives most people wish they had.

If you find yourself looking to someone else’s life or circumstance with envy, take a moment to consider that there is some undesirable part of their experience that they haven’t shared with you. I guarantee it.

Those frequent perfect couple pics might be hiding an unhappy marriage on the rocks. The beach vacation full of selfies might have been funded with the last dollar on the fourth maxed out credit card before somebody claims bankruptcy. That always positive person who shares motivational memes might be masking their own pain from unrealized expectations and is desperately faking it until they make it.

We’re each our own hot mess, in one way or another. We’re all disappointed. We’ve all got pain.

Don’t envy somebody their job, their vacations, their car, their house, their stuff, their posts. You’re never seeing the whole picture. Heard that before? It bears repeating.

Now, there are certainly those whose example is worthy of admiration. History is full of people who’ve inspired others to greatness. But look to individuals because of their character, how they treat others, what their values are. Learn from them, but don’t deny your own potential.

The only real comparison worth making is who you want to be today against who you were yesterday, and it’s not measured in likes or shares. Last I checked, there aren’t tallies on tombstones, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s coming soon.

So much of this crap is just unimportant noise.

This landscape, these thoughts, this frustration, this angst, this is where I dwell in February.

But it’s finally March and at -1C today, it felt like frickin’ summer. Just as the bears are waking up and emerging from their dens, I expect to soon escape these familiar winter blues and find myself inspired by spring. I’m not there yet, but I soon will be.

Any day now.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Checking Out of Social Media

I’ll be leaving Instagram in about a week.

You might disagree with this choice, but I’m used to that. People told me I was foolish to quit Facebook and Twitter over a year ago. That decision had no effect on my business, but paid off big for my mental health.

So-called online marketing experts will say it’s best to be authentic.

Well, this is about as authentic as I get.

Instagram is not a creative space, it is a vehicle for delivery or denial of dopamine hits, and like any addictive substance, what once made you feel good, you eventually use to keep from feeling bad.

Building an Instagram following today revolves around frequent posting of content. Stories, videos, images, ads, all in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm into offering your stuff to an audience that will show or deny approval by tapping their finger on a little heart.

It doesn’t matter if that content is new or relevant, as long as it’s frequent.

To feed that beast, or get noticed by an art aggregator or influencer, I end up creating things simply so that I have something to post, which means the more detailed pieces that take many hours to complete suffer from inattention and take longer to finish.

Or I have to come up with clever gimmicks or pictures or make up stories that take me away from the work that pays the bills, in a vain attempt to fool myself that it’s advancing my business, when there is no supporting evidence.

Then I waste more time checking to see if anybody has liked or commented, and am always disappointed in the results, no matter what they are. After which I spend more time scrolling through the feed until I realize that the half hour I’ve just wasted on nothing could have been time spent drawing, painting, writing, bookkeeping, or on admin stuff. These are things that actually DO impact the success of my business.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for weeks, read countless articles on both sides of the argument, taken into account the bias inherent in each, while trying to filter my fear of missing out. I’ve explored the extremes of what-if worst case scenarios, the conjuring of which I am a pro.

I tried switching to a business page, to pay to promote my posts, but the only way you can do that is to go through Facebook, which meant I would have to go back on Facebook not only with a personal profile, but with another business page.

That’s like going back to an abusive relationship after a clean break.

Is it possible that the owners of Instagram will have a re-awakening, change their direction and suddenly make the platform better for everybody again? Or is it more likely that its best days are in the past and it has become infected by the same toxic decay plaguing Facebook?

Granted, I could be making a huge mistake, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People said that quitting my job many years ago to become a full-time artist was a mistake, too, and that worked out pretty well for me.

My income comes from a few different sources. There are daily editorial cartoons I email directly to my newspaper clients across Canada, print sales of my whimsical wildlife paintings at venues and shows, and licensing of the animal art where they end up in retail stores or on other sites. I don’t need to manipulate the data to convince myself that these sources produce revenue. The proof is in my bank account.

With Instagram, I have to tell myself it’s worth my time, even though I don’t believe it.

I posted a close version of this on instagram to give people a chance to see it before I pulled the plug. I still run into folks who think I blocked them on Facebook, even though I’ve had no presence on that platform for well over a year. They just missed the announcement.

It might seem like a ploy to get people to follow my newsletter and site. That would be accurate.

The only reason I was on social media was to direct traffic to my business. I’m a commercial artist. This is how I pay my bills. One of the things people forget about social media is that if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product. Instagram does not deliver me any value and it’s not paying me for my time, the ultimate non-renewable resource.

I have this website in which I’m invested, regular blog posts, a newsletter and I’m easy to find online. I plan to start recording more time-lapse videos on my YouTube channel, without being restricted to the one minute allowed by Instagram. All of that produces sustainable and searchable content that doesn’t disappear into an attention span black hole.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Young and Hungry

YoungHungry

“…So my question to you is, do you have any advice, or tips, for a young artist who wants to make it a way of life? Especially without a degree under my belt.”

I often get questions from young and hungry creatives who want insight into becoming a professional artist. In this case, his focus is on writing. As I’d like to keep things anonymous, I’ve met (let’s call him Brian) a couple of times where my work and his job have crossed paths. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write for a living. Art is art.

There are plenty of ‘you can do it, Nicky!’ posts out there that say if you want it and wish hard enough, your dreams will come true. This isn’t one of those. Motivation is important, but so are reality checks.

I sent questions and emails to artists when I was young and hungry, too, and I always appreciated responses, so I try to pay that forward. The edited version of my response…

We’re all just winging it, Brian. I’ve never met an artist (writer, musician, photographer, creative type) who has it all figured out.

We’re all products of the talents we’ve been given, the drive to do something with them, the skills that come from constant practice and the backgrounds that put us in front of the right opportunities at the right time.

The only thing we can control is whether or not we recognize and take advantage of those opportunities.

I didn’t realize I wanted to create art for a living until my late twenties and it seemed to happen by accident. There was an ad in the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper for an editorial cartoonist. Once a week, draw a cartoon on local politics and current events for $30. I was working at a hotel at the time and it seemed like an easy way to get some extra beer money, especially since nobody else applied. I had always been a doodler, but never went to art school, had no training and was simply willing to fail publicly.

I spent five years in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, I took Psychology in college and then was an Emergency Medical Technician who never worked for an actual ambulance service after my training. And I have no degree. At the time, I worked in tourism.

Those first cartoons were pitiful and took so many hours, but for three years I did it and never missed a deadline. Without even realizing it, I was putting in the practice time for what would become my career. When another local newspaper started up in 2001, they asked me to be their cartoonist.

One of the owners, who was the editor and is now a good friend, asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. She told me to start doing cartoons on national topics and just start sending them out to papers across Canada. For the first two years, I had two papers, each paying me $10 a week. It was pitiful. I was working so hard, evenings, early mornings before work, and weekends drawing cartoons and sending them out, getting almost no bites at all, while still working a full-time job to pay the bills.

I often thought of giving up. Hours and hours and hours drawing cartoons that never got published. And in hindsight, it was just more of the necessary practice it took to help me become the artist I am today. I just didn’t know it at the time. I felt taken advantage of and tremendously foolish, as if I was kidding myself to think that I could make a career of it.

When things finally started to click, however, it happened pretty quickly. I started getting more and more papers and a little over ten years ago, my wife and I had a serious discussion about my quitting the full-time job. I was 34 years old, but I felt like I was too old to be taking such a risk. I now know different. You can take risks at any age and nothing great ever comes without one.

But for each person, the sacrifice will be different, greater or less depending on your personal circumstances.

The only way I could quit my job was if my business could still pay half of our mortgage and bills. While those first two or three years were pretty damn lean, we managed, and these days I don’t have to refer to myself as a struggling artist.

I’ve had good advice from unexpected sources, bad advice from others. I’ve made mistakes that have cost me time and money, something that still happens occasionally but a whole hell of a lot less. I’ve planted and cultivated new ideas and pursuits that have withered and died on the vine. Other crops have flourished. My career has shifted from solely focused on editorial cartoons to including my paintings of whimsical wildlife. Each year that part of my business shows positive growth and I plan for that trend to continue.

But there’s no secret that only successful artists know. It’s the same requirement for anybody who wants to be self-employed in any field.

You have to work your ass off.

When your friends are going out partying on a Friday night, you have to consider that Saturday will be wasted if you’re hungover. Every leisure activity you do has to be reconsidered. You must sacrifice.

Those two years when I wasn’t getting any newspapers but was still working what seemed like a full-time job on top of a full-time job, I was giving up time with friends and family, I quit skiing because I could no longer afford it, we got by on one car and vacations were few and far between. We rarely went out for lunch or dinner.

I’ve heard stories of photographers who had to sell expensive lenses to pay the rent, writers who write all day and then go work night jobs while the only thing showing up in the mail is rejection after rejection after rejection, not to mention artists who paint on anything they can find because they can’t afford canvas or other materials.

I think that’s the universe’s way of making you prove how bad you want it. It’s an old cliché, but it applies…if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Paying the bills isn’t as hard as it used to be, but I still expect it to be all taken away tomorrow, by some unexpected calamity. It feels like I’m always living on borrowed time and I’m days away from having to go back and get a real job, even though I’m not. I am always working. Even when I’m camping or on vacation, I’m thinking about projects or cartoon ideas, following the news, etc. Success in self-employment means having to remind yourself to stop and smell the roses, but you’ll still only budget a small amount of time for it. I force myself to take afternoon hikes as often as possible just to stay healthy and get out of the office, but I’m still thinking about cartoon ideas and paintings while doing it.

That young guy in the picture above was not thinking about work that whole weekend. I guarantee it.

You want to be a writer? Write. All the time, even when you don’t feel like it. Waiting for inspiration is for independently wealthy trust fund babies. Success only comes to the creatives who treat their gifts like tools, just like a plumber, electrician, or other skilled trades-person. He or she worked hard for their expertise, artists have to as well.

Write about the dirt on the window, the dust on the desk, the clouds in the sky, that rude barista at Starbucks (wait, you can’t afford Starbucks anymore), the guy who cut you off in traffic, the ridiculousness of Apple iTunes agreements, the first blade of green grass you saw in the Spring. Just write!

Making a living at it isn’t for everybody. For some artists, the thought of soiling their talents with money and sales is as distasteful as dining on raw sewage. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can still create and have a job on the side to pay the bills. That works for a lot of people. Their creative pursuits are what make their job bearable.

So you have to decide what you want, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.

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Fine Tooning

WynneToonI spent most of Sunday (and a bit more of Monday) working on the cartoon you see above, featuring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a comment on this week’s provincial budget. From an efficiency perspective, it wasn’t the best use of my time. I could have easily done two or possibly three cartoons in the same span. But I love to paint and it’s been quite some time since I’ve poured everything into a caricature.

From an hourly perspective, I doubt I made minimum wage on this one, but it was fun and good practice, so it can’t really be seen as time misspent. I would love to be able to create this kind of detail in editorial cartoons on a regular basis, but in the quest to find the middle ground between best art and making a living, sacrifices must be made.

Like every other creative I know, chief among the questions I’m asked about editorial cartooning is, “where do you get your ideas?”

The short answer is that I follow the news closely, pretty much all the time. Newspapers, television, Google, websites like CBC, CTV, Global, National Newswatch and social media if you want specifics. While I won’t have the cartoon idea right away, I’ll be able to see from a headline and summary that there is likely one to be found within. That just comes with experience.

I’m what you call a self-syndicated editorial cartoonist. This means that I create one or two cartoons each weekday on regional, provincial, national and international topics, which I then send off to newspapers across Canada. Some clients only run my work; otherwise I am competing for space with other editorial cartoonists.

There are some daily newspapers that have a staff cartoonist, which is an endangered position, especially when layoffs seem to be the quickest way to cut expenses. I’ve often said that I’m glad I never got a job with a daily newspaper, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t still have it today.

From 2001 to 2006, I was self-syndicating to newspapers across Canada while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills. I would get up at 5:00am each day to draw and send a cartoon before heading off to work. I would also draw evenings and weekends. When I finally became busy enough to quit the ‘real job’ and still pay my half of the bills, I continued to get up at the same time simply because I’m a morning person. While most think it’s nuts, I truly do enjoy getting up that early. A lot of other artists work late at night into the wee hours, but that’s just not me. I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 most nights.
WynneCloseI work almost every day, though on weekends I have a little more flexibility. Saturdays I try to paint in the morning, but my wife and I will usually go do something the rest of the day. Sundays, I’m working on editorial cartoons. I squeeze in painted work and writing whenever and wherever I can.

The big challenge with freelance editorial cartooning is the speed at which cartoons need to be done. Someone who draws for a daily newspaper has the luxury of taking time to come up with the right idea and then enjoying the whole day to draw it. Nobody is going to take that spot on the editorial page from them as it’s reserved for their work.

For freelancers, however, it’s all about getting a good idea, drawing it fast, and sending it out to as many papers as possible before they go to print. For some weekly papers, that’s before noon on certain days and if there’s a time change in the wrong direction between here and there, that window of opportunity closes fast. This is where the early mornings help.

Not only do I have to make sure I deliver on time, but I’m also competing with other freelancers, not to mention a syndicate that resells cartoons from the few cartoonists who still work for the major dailies or the ones who’ve been laid off.

While I’m comfortable spending my days working alone, the isolation does have its stresses. For example, when big shifts happen in the world of newspapers, like last month’s round of Postmedia layoffs, things change quickly. Those Postmedia daily papers that used to run me quite often, well there’s been a sudden drop this month as editorial page editors have lost/left their jobs and new ones have started in. When there’s a shift like that, I often have to figure it out on my own and adapt quickly. Freelancers don’t get invited to meetings.

There’s also been a noticeable lurch to the right in much of the commentary on some of those daily pages, so any cartoon I draw that doesn’t paint the Conservatives in anything but a positive or persecuted light, well lately they don’t see the light of day. I’ve got no love for the Liberals or NDP, but I can’t bash them every single day ‘just because.’ That’s the Opposition’s shtick.

There is no doubt that the winds have changed. While I don’t expect any sympathy for having to adjust my sails to compensate, especially when so many have been outright laid off from their jobs, it has got me a little concerned. With an overactive OCD fueled imagination and a lot of time alone to think bad thoughts, the stress multiplies.

Thankfully, I have my painted work and print sales to reinforce the hull where it shows potential signs of leaking, but in a down economy, art isn’t a priority for a lot of people, either.

So what does one do? Well, the only thing I can do, I guess. Keep working, scramble a little harder, draw a little faster, look for new revenue streams, try to keep my current customers happy and borrow from a famous prayer. Accept what I can’t change, change what I can and figure out the difference.

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What I Didn’t Know Then

PatPainting
Last week, I got an email from a fellow in Germany. He complimented me on my work, and asked, “Imagine you had a time machine and could meet the younger version of yourself. What would the number one advice be, in regards to art?”

My wife and I were making dinner at the time and I read the email to her off my phone. While Shonna is not an artist, she’s been on this ride with me since the beginning, and she knows what I know when it comes to this business.

We took turns rattling things off and within minutes came up with twenty or thirty different nuggets of truth and I wrote them all down on a scrap of paper.

Experience will always be the best teacher. If you’re an amateur artist looking for wisdom, you’ve got to earn it. But here is a small sampling from that list, some of the things I’ve learned so far.

1) Don’t work for exposure. When is the last time you saw an image, a logo, a website, design or anything creative and then thought, “I’m going to find that person and hire them.”

That’s what this type of client is promising. They want something for nothing and anybody they refer you to will want the same. I have worked for exposure more than once. I never will again.

2) Don’t work for spec. Spec work is often disguised as a contest, a call for entries or an audition piece. It often means a company asks many people to submit designs and the winner gets prizes or prize money. The company then owns whatever the winner created and gets it at a fraction of a cost they would have had to pay a professional. The company usually owns everything else submitted to the contest as well.

Spec work is for suckers. Work disguised as a contest is for suckers. I have been that sucker, more than once, and it feels dirty.

3) Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Don’t follow trends. Don’t copy someone else’s success. It just won’t work. Unless you have the exact same background as that person, started from the same place, with the same opportunities, jumped the same hurdles, had the same skills, influences, inspirations, environment, training, experiences, talent or luck, you will not duplicate another person’s success. You can still BE a success, but it’ll be YOUR success, not a poor copy. By trying to mimic another artist or ride his coattails, you are depriving yourself of discovering your own niche or voice.

Learn from everybody. Copy nobody.

4) Figure out the difference between trolls, constructive criticism and just plain bad advice. There will always be those who tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Some of them will be competitors who are threatened by you or other artists that are just plain jealous. The view has always been clearest from the cheap seats. People that never try will criticize those who do. Social media often seems to be based entirely on that premise.

Some people are genuinely supportive, want to help you, want to see you succeed and have nothing but the best of intentions. If they aren’t in your business, however, don’t know what’s involved, haven’t got more experience than you, or just don’t know what your goals are, you need to find a way to smile and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Good people with good intentions can still give bad advice.

5) Do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That is one large steaming pile of manure.

Turning your art into a business may ruin everything you love about art. You can live a satisfying creative life without ever making it your livelihood.

I’ve been self-employed full-time for over a decade now. I haven’t been a struggling artist for many years and I’m making a good living at it. The mortgage gets paid; we’re not living in debt, and have never borrowed money from our parents. And while I take nothing for granted, I haven’t had to worry about getting a real job for years.

But every day I draw something I don’t want to. Sometimes I spend my whole week drawing things I don’t want to. This is not a complaint. This was a choice. I still make my own schedule. I get to go for my hikes in the afternoon, grab some time to take photos at the zoo and myriad other activities and diversions I wouldn’t get to enjoy if I had to report to a desk during specific hours assigned by somebody else. And I’m still drawing every day, which means I’m getting better at it every day.

I work longer hours for myself than I ever did for anybody else, very early mornings, evenings, weekends, statutory holidays and have done so for twenty years. I don’t know how to live any other way now. Art for a living is hard work.

You must invoice, keep your books and accounting in order, pay your taxes first and yourself last. You need a website, social media, keep up on industry news and advances. You need to contact clients, sell whatever you produce, figure out what works, what doesn’t, read articles, read books, make phone calls. When an invoice isn’t paid, you have to track it down. When equipment breaks down, you have to pay to fix it, when your internet crashes; you have to call your provider. There is no I.T. department, no human resources, and often no immediate help in a crisis. You must make time for training and improving your skills. I could write a thousand more words without once mentioning creating anything.

All of this is time away from doing the actual work you need to do in order to get paid. I’m writing this post, I’m not getting paid. That’s OK. This sort of thing has become a small part of my brand and I enjoy writing. It is good practice, too, and a little payment forward.

Honestly, I didn’t think much about whether or not I should turn my love of drawing and painting into a business, I just ended up doing it. But we never had kids and my wife told me in no uncertain terms that she could not support us both. Not in Canmore, Alberta where the paradise tax is high. The minute I couldn’t pay my half of the bills, I had to get a job, an ultimatum to which I agreed.

This business was part-time for ten years before it was full-time. Had I tried to do it too early, I might not be doing it today. Most of the things I thought I wanted, I’m glad I didn’t get, like a full-time job with a daily newspaper, which would have meant being laid off by now. Timing matters and that leap of faith is frightening, because you have to burn a lot of security when you jump. While it was pretty tight those first couple of years, I have no regrets and can’t imagine doing anything else.

As for the best advice I would give my younger self if I had the opportunity?

He did just fine without it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Artistic Freedom

CoyotePostThe greatest freedom in being self-employed is that you get to choose where you want to go. It’s one of the reasons so many creatives work for themselves and yet we too often forget that simple fact.

I’ve always felt a need to catch up, especially since I operated for a long time under the assumption that I started late. While I doodled as a kid and teenager, I never really started drawing with any intent or wanting to learn to be a better artist until my late twenties.  That was when the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper needed a weekly cartoonist and nobody else applied.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t draw well or know much about politics or current events.  They weren’t paying much and nobody was looking to the Crag’s editorial cartoon to set the standard. I already had a full-time tourism job and no ambition to do anything art related past this one thing.   Draw one small town editorial cartoon each week for some extra beer money.  Let’s face it, I was 27 years old, I had never gone to art school, and I didn’t draw very well.  I never expected this to go anywhere.

Fast forward to today, I’m now 43, I’ve been doing this art gig full-time for almost 8 years and am very happy drawing and colouring for a living.  It has thankfully been more than a few years since I would consider it a struggle to make ends meet.  I’ve tried a number of different art related tangents, discarded the ones I didn’t like or that didn’t work, sought to become better at the ones I felt passionate about, and year after year, my focus has become sharper.

One of the best things I did this year was to begin removing myself from a few imaginary races I’ve been running.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hype today that an artist’s value is entirely dependent on how many people follow you on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and that the incremental rise and fall of your Klout score will determine whether or not your business survives the end of the week.  I know, because for a long time, I worried about that very thing.  It’s exhausting and it’s an illusion.

Social media has been great for my business, don’t get me wrong, but it just never worked for me when I was trying too hard to get it to work for me.   The scramble to be noticed by Company A, to be retweeted by Company B, and to have your site address posted by Company C becomes like an addiction.  When it happens once, you try to make it happen again.  When it doesn’t happen, or it happens but not as well as you wanted it to, and fails to pay the street-cred dividends you expected, you wish you’d never had the initial boost to your profile in the first place.  You start to question your own value when the person who was happy to hear from you last year suddenly isn’t returning your calls anymore.

Then you end up looking to other people in your industry that you view as more successful and try to copy what they’re doing.  Person A is writing articles, so I guess I need to write articles.  But Person B is teaching, so I guess I should be teaching.  Person C is traveling all over the place doing demonstrations at trade shows, so maybe I should be doing that, too.  And I don’t know what Person D is doing but everybody is talking about them so I need to find out why.

All of that scrambling leaves little time for anything creative.  While it’s true that I’m drawing editorial cartoons every day to meet my deadlines, last year I didn’t paint nearly as much as I had expected to, and not even close to how much I wanted to.  The one thing I enjoy most about my work, I shoved aside so that I could promote myself.  But what exactly was I promoting if there wasn’t any work?

This year, I’ve realized that the growth of my business is not tied to my connection to movers and shakers, nor is it tied to blogging freelancing tips and tricks or spending hours writing yet another tutorial on how to use brushes in Photoshop.   While people may value that contribution, it has rarely translated to income or led me in a direction in which I wanted to go.  I found myself looking forward and thinking, why do I feel like I’m voluntarily walking into a trap?  It also left me little time to paint or draw anything outside of my deadlines.

The greatest gains I’ve seen in my business, both financially and in my public profile, have been when I produce the work I enjoy creating.  The connection I make with the people who enjoy and buy my work doesn’t happen when I talk about being creative, it happens when I AM creative.

Therein lies the simple plan for the next year.  Pay the bills, learn to be a better artist, and chart my own course.  Spend a lot more time producing artwork and a lot less time talking about it.

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Fall Reflections

Creek091813BlogThis time of year finds me reflective.  The Canadian Rockies are breathtaking in the fall and it somehow makes me want to slow down and find a little more peace.

Earlier this month, I found myself paying attention to the goings on at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, a conference I’ve attended for the past four years, but one I decided to take a break from this time.

It was a surprise to me that I missed being there, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, since not going was a conscious decision.  The last couple of years, I’d been going for networking, socializing, and making strategic moves to further my career via different connections and affiliations.  While that proved to be well worth my time, it also tainted the experience I’d had the first couple of years when I’d been taking classes and was really excited to be there.

When I first began this self-directed career, I was always hungry to become better.  Having never gone to art school and starting pretty late to this business of art, I felt a need to catch up to my competitors, to prove I could hold my own, even had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing.  Over time, through a lot of trial and error, I eventually found the work I love most.  But during that period, I was learning new techniques from other artists, watching DVDs, reading articles, tutorials, and taking classes.

Then there came what I thought was a natural evolution.  Suddenly, I’m the one writing articles, recording videos and training DVDs, doing demos and training for companies, schools and groups, and figuring that this was what I was supposed to be doing now, moving up to the teaching level.  Many friends and colleagues have made teaching a large part of their businesses and some of them are not only very good at it, they really seem to thrive on the experience.

But more teaching will involve more traveling, writing scripts, recording, and less time doing the work I enjoy most.  It will also involve breaking down the work I love so much into an assembly process, evaluating it to death and sucking all the life out of it.  There’s still a feeling of magic in my work when I draw and paint, a connection to something else that isn’t me, as nauseatingly artsy as that might sound.  It’s what I love most about painting, the soul of it all.  You can’t dissect something without killing it.

The opportunity to speak and demo at the Wacom booth last year in Vegas was one I enjoyed.  Even as an introvert (not to be confused with shy), I’ve got no problem with public speaking or talking with people, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it.  Repeating that experience now and then is something I’m happy to do.  I’ve realized that I do not, however, want teaching to be a large part of my career, at least not now.  I’m fine with showing how I do it, talking about what I’m thinking, and trying to inspire others to explore their own creative instincts, but breaking my work down to stereo instructions is not something I enjoy.

I’ve written in the past that one way to find out what you want to do is to start checking off the things you don’t, then look at the choices that remain.

Over the past few weeks and months, an underlying melancholy has been lurking just below the surface, this feeling that something is missing.  This week, while taking one of my regular walks up Cougar Creek, on the day I took the photo you see above, I realized what has been bugging me.  I miss being a student.

When you’re self-employed at anything, especially in a creative field, fear is a part of daily life.  After you’ve been in the gig for a number of years and are making a good living at it, the fear can stop being a motivator, however, and can instead keep you from moving forward, a fear of losing what you have already gained.  It can happen so subtly that you don’t even realize that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

The last couple of years have found me concerning myself with marketing moves, making connections and evaluating promotion strategies, all absolutely necessary for anyone who has chosen  art as a profession.  But when you’re going ninety miles an hour trying not to fall behind where you think everybody else is (a race you can NEVER win), you start missing the reason you’re on the road in the first place.  That’s when it’s time for a change.

I still plan to draw the daily editorial cartoons, paint my whimsical wildlife paintings and some portraits, and take illustration and painting commissions as usual.  I’ll still be promoting my work the same way I’ve always done, running my booth at the Calgary Expo in the Spring, and evaluating each opportunity as it comes along.  I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I make a good living doing the work I love, and I still do have to make a living, so I’ll always run my business to the best of my ability.

But, I’ve decided to take my foot off the pedal for a little while.  I’m tired of running all the time and want to slow down.  There is some fear that if I stop scrambling in the promotion game, that I may ‘lose ground’ but really, what the hell does that mean anyway?  Lose ground to whom?

I miss being a student, so I’m going to spend more time being one.  I can’t recall the last time I sat and read an article about painting or drawing or took some lessons to become better.  Lately, when I see other artists and illustrators posting teaching and training videos, I’m not thinking, “I should be doing that.”  What I’m actually thinking is, “I want to learn from these people.”

When in doubt, trust your gut, and this just feels right.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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Be careful what you wish for.

YesNoGot this question on my Facebook page this morning.  After writing the response, I thought I’d share it here as well with a few added sentences I thought of after the fact, as I get this sort of question a lot…

Hey Patrick, is your illustrations your main income?? I’m rattling around so much with going full time with my gift of photography but afraid to take that jump.. I seem to have no time to create working a full time job and kids;)

Hi ________:

Between editorial cartooning, illustration, painting commissions, print sales and licensing…yes. I’ve made a good full-time living as an artist for the past seven years. But for nine years before that, it was a gig I did on the side while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills.

I built my business working mornings before work, evenings and weekends and finally got to a point where I couldn’t get any busier until I quit my job as an office manager for a physiotherapist. Living in Canmore (high cost of living in the Canadian Rockies) on one income is near to impossible, or at least was for us then, so the deal with my wife was that if I couldn’t pay my half of the mortgage, I had to at least get a part-time job to supplement the art income. Fortunately, my boss at the time was (and still is) a great guy, knew what I was planning from day one, and when I gave him two months notice, he suggested I go part-time first and he hired somebody else part-time to take up the slack. About six months later, I had to give notice again as I got a lot busier, but waited until he found the right person to fill my job, which took about a month. It was the best LAST job to have.

It was a real struggle for the first few years, a lot of waiting for money to come in, going into overdraft more times than I can count before I wasn’t relying on every invoice being paid in order to pay my half of the bills, but every year has been better than the one before. It hasn’t really been a struggle for about three or four years now.

I don’t want to discourage you, but your situation contains a big factor that mine doesn’t. We never chose to have kids, so the risk wasn’t nearly as much. My wife and I have often said that if we’d had children, I likely wouldn’t have been able to quit my job. I’m not saying it’s impossible, of course, lots of people do it, but it will be a lot more pressure on you. In those first few years, I had no time for anything else but working. Even now, I work almost every day.  I finally figured out awhile ago why they say ‘do what you love for a living.’ It’s not because you’ll be happy all the time. It’s because when everything is hitting the fan, you haven’t slept, eaten, and the bills are overdue, if you didn’t love it, you’d toss it all out the window and quit. Loving what you do is a survival requirement.

Without knowing anything more about your situation, I would advise that before you quit your job, make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Everything from bookkeeping, accounting, taxes and some money in the bank. Get as many gigs as you can part-time first and make your big mistakes while you still have a job. Those first few years, I was on edge and scared ALL the time, feeling like I was one gig away from losing my business.  You spend half of your time doing support work. In addition to bookkeeping and invoicing, you’ve got marketing, correspondence, portfolio and website maintenance, travel time, all of the little things that will take time away for your photography. So those billable hours have to cover that time, too.

I’m a big believer in doing what you love for a living, but it’s never easy. A lot of sleepless nights, chewed fingernails, and figuring things out as I went along, most often from doing a lot of things wrong.  The stress WILL take its toll in a number of different ways.  For however long it takes, vacations can no longer be a priority and you must go without luxuries.  When you do take time off, you’re not getting paid.  There is no such thing as a weekend anymore and if you don’t have a spouse whose job comes with health and dental benefits (fortunately I do), then you have to factor that into the equation.  I know a number of people who quit their jobs without having any idea of what running their own business required and it’s unfortunate, because often they’ll end up giving up their artwork altogether because of the failed business. So they took what they loved and killed it in an effort to make it their job.

Having a hobby you love is not justification for doing it for a living.  There are many days where the last thing I want to do is draw.  I’ve invested so much of myself into my business, and honestly there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Many people like the idea of being self-employed, but it isn’t for everybody.  You can also count on friends and family failing to understand your choice and telling you that you work too much and should take more time off.  They never stop doing that, by the way.

Whatever you decide, give it a lot of thought, but keep doing what you love. If it takes a little longer to do it for a living, and that’s what you really want, so be it, even though it’s frustrating to have to wait. I started very late to this art gig, didn’t even consider it until I was in my thirties and I know people who started even later than I did and are doing very well.

Anything’s possible, but as the old saying goes, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Best of luck,
Patrick

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Death and Cartoons

Last Friday, I was out in Golden, BC for a guys weekend at a buddy’s cabin.  When I first started going out there, it was just the cabin itself on this plot of wooded land, but now, my retired friend and his wife have an art studio and a new home on the land as well.  But that cabin up the hill is still there and he generously allows his friends to use it.  I don’t take a lot of time off, but as that Friday was my birthday and Sunday was my friend Jim’s birthday, it was a great excuse to get away with no work.  Set up on the deck of the house, the three of us enjoying the sunshine, I decided to grab my bedding and gear and hike it up the hill early so I didn’t have to do it in the dark later.  On my way back down the trail, enjoying being in the woods with great weather and just starting to relax, I got an email alert on my phone.  I stopped and already had an idea what it was.  My suspicion was confirmed when I read that former Premier of Alberta Ralph Klein had died.

Continuing down the hill, I opened up a beer, sat down in my chair on the deck and began working on my phone.  My buddies gave me grief that I was supposed to be relaxing, but I explained the situation, told them I needed a half hour and I began sending emails to the daily newspapers across Canada that would want a cartoon on this breaking news.  You see, the cartoon was already done.  The files had been on my phone for about a week, ever since the news came out that Ralph Klein was close to the end after years of suffering a debilitating illness.  Once the cartoons were sent, I spent another half hour answering emails from editors either thanking me for getting the cartoon out so quick or a couple of others asking if I had a Ralph Klein cartoon for them.

KleinToon

Yes, it’s morbid that from time to time, I make my living from a product that is derived from someone’s death.  When I hear that someone of note, whether political or cultural, is close to death or has died, I often feel like a vulture, sitting on a fencepost, waiting to take advantage of the situation.  It’s not a great feeling.  And it’s very difficult to be genuine and not come across as maudlin.  There’s a lot of ‘bandwagon grief’ and crocodile tears on social media these days and I try to walk a fine line between honest respect and overt false sentimentality.  There are few things I dislike more than hypocrisy and social media is ripe soil for that particular crop.

What’s even more morbid is that when I find out somebody has died, I have to decide if it’s cartoon worthy or not.  I must ask myself if newspapers will find it newsworthy enough to write stories or editorials on this person.  In some cases, it’s quite obvious.  In the case of Ralph Klein, he was one of the most charismatic and popular provincial Premiers in Canadian history.  He was beloved by many and not just in Alberta.  Personally, I was saddened by his death, largely because his debilitating end seemed so unfair, given how he lived.  I felt the same for former NDP leader Jack Layton when he passed, one of the few politicians I genuinely liked, even though I didn’t agree with a lot of his politics.  Those cartoons aren’t as difficult because I actually feel something for who the person was, for the life they lived.   While I wouldn’t call it grief, there’s a small connection and a desire to honour them appropriately,  to do right by them in the cartoon.

Then there are the cartoons I must do about death that are newsworthy, but are regarding people for whom I feel little.   This is not a comment on their character, their impact, or their value as a human being, simply that they are strangers to me.  A recent example would be former Premier of Alberta Peter Loughheed who passed away last year.  A respected leader, a man of vision whose footprints are all over the province I call home, and whose death was mourned by many.  But Lougheed ended his run as Premier in 1985.  I was 14 years old, living overseas in West Germany and I didn’t even start following federal politics until my late twenties, let alone that of any province.  I’ve never felt a connection to the man.

Loughheed

The same could be said for former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who passed away this morning at the age of 87.  While her influence was definitely felt on my generation, I feel little connection to her.  While it’s unlikely that I would have shared her obviously right wing views while she was in office, her legacy is undeniable.  Her impact on the UK and the world is clear.  Up at 5:00 this morning, I was working on a cartoon about her death by 5:30 as it was obvious newspapers would be reporting and editorializing on her life and times.

Both of these previous mentions are examples of situations where my profession dictates that I must observe the contribution of these two people even though I feel nothing for them on a personal level.  So, how do I do that without being cliché, falsely sentimental or hypocritical.  The simple answer is that I can’t, not completely.  But I do my best.

StompinTom

Then there are the many more people who die whose lives are not of interest to the editorial page.  Annette Funicello died today as well.  Roger Ebert died a few days ago.  I did not feel their deaths warranted the drawing of a cartoon.  There was no money in it.  That’s the distinction I have to make.  Can you believe that?

Often there will be a natural disaster where a lot of people have died and I have to draw a cartoon on that because there is nothing else to do.  Trust me, nobody is going to print something funny or political on their editorial page when more than 200,000 people have died from a tsunami on Boxing Day.  It was horrible, a tragedy and a nightmare for so many.  The last thing I wanted to do was draw anything about it, because I didn’t feel my illustrative voice could possibly make anything better.  My solution was to guilt people into giving.

Tsunami

I also have a difficult time with Remembrance Day, which is an annual cartoon about death.  I’ve drawn a cartoon each year for November 11th for more than a decade, and each year it gets more and more difficult to create fresh imagery.  Poppies, cenotaphs, senior citizen soldiers talking with children, military iconic images, memorials, passages and quotes about 11:11, In Flanders Field, Lest We Forget, and We Remember.  Each year, I do my best to summon up hackneyed images to appear genuine, but feel like a fraud doing it.  What’s worse is that I come from a military family on both sides, I grew up a base brat, and spent five years in the Reserves.  Heck, I even met my wife there.  But saying ‘Lest We Forget’ feels like a routine, kind of like saying Bless You when somebody sneezes.  We say it, but how many really mean it?

Remembrance

One of the all time cliché death cartoons is that of the pearly gates.  Cartoonists the world over have been showing the deceased either talking with St. Peter or being greeted by somebody who has passed away before them.  There are many variations on the theme.  I can honestly say that I have never drawn a pearly gates cartoon and never will.  It’s an image that has been done to death, pardon the pun.  But that’s not to say that mine are terribly original, either.

When I approach this sort of cartoon, if you could call it that, I’ve now developed what could easily be called my signature ‘tribute’ image, examples you can see above.  Usually a painted portrait, rendered as well as I can in the short amount of time I’ve got, with either a quote, the name of the deceased, the dates they lived, or anything else I can think of.  Having done a number of these over the years, even this now feels trite.  Give me a week or more and I might be able to come up with something more original, but that’s not how the 24 hour news cycle works.  Because I have a knack for portraiture and people seem to like and publish them, I continue to do these cartoons when appropriate and then I move on as quickly as I can.

Regrettably, it’s part of this business of being a freelance editorial cartoonist in Canada.  The bills get paid by getting that spot on the editorial page earmarked for images rather than text.  If I choose not to draw these memorial or tribute cartoons, somebody else will and I’ll be out of a job.  Most of the time, I get to draw and colour and make smartass comments for a living. It involves long hours, it’s competitive, and it’s non-stop, even on a weekend off in the woods on my birthday.  I thrive on the pace, I enjoy the work and it’s rarely boring.  But while it’s a great gig and a great way to make a living,  no job is perfect.

From the tone of this post, you can probably deduce that drawing another death cartoon this morning did little for my mood, today.  Drawing cartoons about people dying is part of this gig I could really do without.