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Bad for Business

If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen any new paintings in the most recent posts, it’s because I’m having trouble focusing on that. I did get up at my usual 5 am with the intention of painting this morning. I’m in the early stages of a little Corgi right now, but not making any headway. Instead of painting, I ended up surfing apocalypse news stories, brainstorming cartoon ideas for the only topic in town, and fretting over finances.

I’m sure that most people are doing the same thing, minus the cartoon idea part. That’s pretty specific to my profession.

This kind of ruminating and brow-furrowing is unproductive, bad for business and even worse for mental health.

How many of you are sleeping well right now?

Don’t answer that.

One thing that will come out of this, for the businesses that survive it, will be some interesting innovation, born of desperation. Many are trying to come up with new ways of making money to stay afloat, some I’ve seen are rather clever. And I think when this is over, a lot more people will continue to work from home, for companies that find it benefits their bottom line.

While they haven’t announced it yet, much to the growing impatience of vendors and attendees, the Calgary Expo is undoubtedly a wash this year. There’s no way this will be over in a month, at least not to the point where 90,000 people are going to want to get together in extremely close quarters. If you’ve ever been to a convention that size, social distancing is impossible. All the hand sanitizer in the world won’t help you in that Petri dish.

Since I’ve got plenty of stock right now, I’m going to assess my options and hope to have some specials and deals to announce in the next few days. I know extra funds are in short supply right now, but there might be something enticing for you.

As a recent customer said in the memo section of his order, “I’ve got to have something to look at while in quarantine.”

In the meantime, I wrote another post for Wacom this week, 9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists.  Even if you’re not an artist, give it a look, especially if your work and home are suddenly the same things.
Hopefully, I’ll find my painting mojo soon, but it ain’t happening today. I’m probably going to tidy my office and do inventory.

Hope you’re all well and making what you can out of this overabundance of uncertainty.

I’d make a horrible life coach. 🙂

Cheers,
Patrick

© 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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9 Tips for Working at Home for Artists

Our current global situation is unprecedented, and we’re each trying to figure out how to adapt to the new normal. We all face similar challenges; how to stay healthy while still getting groceries, staying connected with our family and friends, and planning our day to day with limited resources for however long our self-isolation lasts.

Each profession, industry or walk of life, however, will have specific hurdles to overcome, so this is directed at creative types.

Most of us find ourselves confined to quarters right now. You might be a professional artist who already works from home or one who works for a company and suddenly finds yourself working from your residence. You might be an art student home from school or a hobbyist who now has some extra time to devote to creating art.

Whatever your situation, I hope some of these tips give you ideas and inspiration to make the most of this challenging time.

I’m a professional artist, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for newspapers across Canada and a painter of whimsical wildlife. My painted work is licensed internationally on many products through different companies and sold as prints in several zoos and via my online store. I’ve been working from home full-time for the past fifteen years and part-time for five before that. I’d like to share with you some productive practices I employ to make the most efficient use of my time. I’ve learned most of these from correcting my own mistakes over the years. Here goes…

1) Set Up a Work Space

I work from a dedicated office in my home. When I’m in this space, it’s work time, so it’s easy to make that mental shift when I walk through the door. Occasionally, I’ll work at the kitchen island if I want a change of pace, but the majority of my work is done in front of my Wacom display, sitting at my desk.

I get that not everybody has the space for their own office. Twenty-five years ago, we lived in a tiny apartment, and my workspace was a small desk in the living room, jammed in beside the TV. When I sat at that desk, however, it was creative time. Facing the wall was a big part of that because there were no distractions in front of me.

2) Get Dressed

It is tempting when confined to your house or working from home to let yourself go a little, and that’s fine, but staying in your pajamas all day or throwing on a robe without showering will not put you in the right mindset to work. Get up, shower, and put on clean clothes. You don’t have to wear a power suit or anything silly like that, but being clean and presentable counts. It will make you feel like a professional. Walk your talk.

I wear pretty much the same thing every day unless I’m going out. My lounge pants could very well be used as PJ bottoms by some, but I wear them for comfort and a t-shirt. If it’s chilly in my office, I wear a hoodie. But it’s all clean clothing every day. If somebody comes to my door, I am presentable and don’t need to apologize for my appearance. How you look impacts how you feel.

3) Establish a Routine

If you’re new to working from home, a routine is vital. You’ll be forming new habits in your new work environment and what you prioritize will determine your success. I have no boss other than my clients, but I get up at 5 am every day, even on weekends. I do some moderate exercise, meditate for 15 minutes, shower and grab my coffee and am at my desk by 6.

This is my routine, and by sticking to it, I get a lot done.

Obviously, you don’t have to get up as early as I do. I’m a morning person and established that time when I needed to get cartoons drawn and sent before going to my regular job. When I went full-time at home, I stuck to that because it works for me. Find what works for you and stick to a schedule.

I am at my creative best first thing in the morning, so I make sure I’m ready to work during that time. I save the afternoons for admin work and other parts of my job that don’t require my best creative skills.

It is too easy to sleep in, laze around, watch some TV, and figure you’ll do some work when you feel like it. Before long, hours have passed; you haven’t done anything, and then you beat yourself up for your failure.

Talent will only get you part of the way. Success comes from self-discipline, in all things.

4) Avoid the Kitchen

You’re at home; all of your favorite foods are available. It is effortless to make multiple trips to the kitchen and have little frequent snacks. A few crackers here, a cookie there, some chips, a handful of nuts. Before you know it, you’re gaining weight and can’t figure out why.

Stick to regular meals, and if you’re not getting your usual level of activity, make meals smaller than what you’d typically eat. You won’t starve and can adjust as needed. This goes back to having a routine.

5) No Excuses

If you have a primary focus in the art you’d like to create, then get to it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. That’s an excuse used by artists who don’t want to work. In my experience, the work comes first, and the inspiration follows.

Nobody is saying you have to work a four-hour stretch, chained to your desk. Start with a half-hour. Work for 30 minutes, without checking your phone, going on social media, watching Netflix, chatting with a friend. This is creation time! Start with less and build upon it.

6) Stop Scrolling

The biggest distraction we have, especially in stressful times like these, is our handheld devices. Silence your phone, turn off notifications, avoid social media and the news. You will survive a half-hour, hour, two hours without knowing every little thing going on in the world. Right now, it’s all pretty bleak, anyway, so what are you missing? There is no way to immerse yourself in your art with one eye on your phone.

7) Take Some Training

Every creative needs to keep learning. Even knowing that, it’s tough to make it a priority. I primarily need to use my creative time to produce art to pay my bills. With some extra time at home lately, I’ve been catching up on some online training and enjoying it.

Despite our present challenges, we live in a great time right now. Anything and everything is taught online. And best of all, with money tight for many, a lot of it is free. Not just click-bait teasers with the meat of the instruction behind a paywall, but real valuable art training, more than you could ever take in a lifetime, is available for free from world-class instructors.

You just have to go looking for it, and then make the time to watch, learn, and practice.

I’m an expert in painting and drawing in Photoshop, which comes from twenty years of doing it. And yet, I watched a recent tips and tricks video and rolled my eyes at some skills I could have been using, but didn’t know existed.

8) Try Something New

I’ve known many creatives in my life, and one thing I’ve noticed about most of them; they’re good at more than one kind of artistic expression. I know many painters who are also musicians. A tattoo artist I know is a skilled 3D modeller. An animator I know is a killer character designer. All are creative pursuits requiring different skills.

There was a time when I devoted a lot of my energy to learning Flash animation when many thought that was the direction editorial cartooning was heading. I got pretty good at it, but nobody wanted to pay what it was worth to create. And I didn’t like it much.

I was a bad graphic designer for a short time. Didn’t have the eye for it, nor the interest. I painted caricatures of people. I was good at that, but there wasn’t much call for it, and I grew tired of it.

But all of that work was worth my investigation. All of it taught me something, and I can trace a direct line through each of those pursuits to the painted whimsical wildlife work that is now half of my business. It pays, I’m good at it, and I enjoy it a great deal. I don’t think I would be doing it had I not tried those others first.

Part of trying new things is also realizing what you don’t want to do. By process of elimination, you might find your true calling. But you won’t know until you try.

9) Reach Out

We’re told to self-isolate, but we have the means to connect with anyone in the world.

Everybody is living this situation; we’re all nervous, a little afraid, and misery loves company. Just talking with people like you, who are going through the same thing, will ease tensions. Best of all, you never know what insights or opportunities might come up in an email exchange, Facetime chat or Skype call.

Just this morning, a graphic designer friend in a nearby city recommended a podcast to me that turned out to be one I liked. She was correct; it was right up my alley.

The other reason to reach out to your network is to get work. There might be skills you have that you don’t actively pursue that deserve a second look now. Survival under challenging times requires adaptation and approaching problems in a new way.

Be respectful, open-minded and receptive. The person you contact might not have any work for you, but they could suggest somebody else and offer an introduction or recommendation.

Nobody will give you these opportunities. You have to ask for them. And be honest in your inquiries, because it’s no secret that we’re all navigating strange waters. There’s no shame in saying that work has suddenly become difficult to find, and you’re exploring your options. Right now, that won’t surprise anybody.

They might say no, because a lot of companies are suddenly finding themselves in the same situation. But they might also say Yes.

How do you think I got this writing assignment?

____
(this article was commissioned by Wacom, you can see it on their site here.)

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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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All Fear, All the Time!

I was going to write this long post about how hard this crisis is hitting freelance artists, those who work in the gig economy and me personally.

But after a few hundred words, it just sounded incredibly self-pitying, the kind of post I hate to read because it triggers feelings of, “you think you’ve got it bad?!”

We’re consuming way too much information on Covid-19, and then sharing it before we’ve even read the last sentence, usually with our own opinion tacked on.  We forget that everyone is hurting from this.

Everybody is scared, if not for health reasons, then for economic ones.

One friend is worried about what this will do to his retirement savings. Another manages an entertainment venue and saw every event cancelled for this month. Another works in tourism, and hotels around here are starting to lay people off. A few friends are brick-and-mortar business owners and are wondering if they’ll survive until this ends. Others are seniors and while financially stable, are the most vulnerable if they get sick. Another friend is a doctor, and she has accepted that she will get sick, sees it as inevitable. Another friend had to cancel his family trip to Mexico this week; he’s out about $4000 because cancellation insurance won’t cover it for this virus.

Then there are the businesses I work with in newspapers and tourism. Newspapers rely on ads, and when companies are on the ropes, they don’t buy advertising. When people aren’t travelling, and everybody is acutely aware of their finances, retail stores and gift shops are wary of what they’re stocking, which means the wholesalers that license my work aren’t selling as much. The trade shows they attend to introduce my work to new customers have been cancelled.

Despite my recent assurance that I’m still doing the Calgary Expo, five weeks away, I highly doubt they’re going ahead with it. And if they do, it’s going to be a dismal year for attendance and sales. I sent my last two paintings for proofing, but I have no idea when I’ll order prints of them. A waste of money for them to just sit in the closet with the extensive inventory I’ve already got.

So yes, I’m scared, just like everybody else.

Fear of the unknown. It’s the reason people are hoarding toilet paper and other supplies. It’s not because they’re crazy, it’s because they’re afraid. When there are so many uncertainties and things we can’t control, our nature is to look for anything we can control.

We may not know if we’re going to have a job next month, but at least we have toilet paper! It’s not the product itself; it’s what it represents—safety, stability, and comfort.

This need to control our environment expresses itself in many different ways. Some people do the buying and hoarding, while others make fun of them for it. Because If I can convince myself that I’m better than those crazy people, then that must mean I’m going to be safe. As if we needed one more thing to reinforce our US versus THEM mentality.

Then there are those in between. I’ll stock up on a little more toilet paper, but not too much. Fine, I’ll add a few more cans to the grocery cart, maybe some extra meat for the freezer. Might as well, I’m here, right?

And then when we get to the grocery store and see all of the empty shelves, the fear escalates, and we buy more than we’d planned.

Because, what if the crazies are right?

It’s all fear. And even though that’s OK, we also end up judging ourselves for being panicky little mammals, too. We know we shouldn’t be checking social media or the news as often as we are because it creates a destructive loop. But we still do, because…

What if?!

We do what we can with what we have, both in resources and information. Think twice before sharing every news story with your friends, because they don’t need to see it any more than you do. If they’re not following the news already, then they probably don’t want to see all of the articles YOU think they should.

We’ve all seen the graph about flattening the curve, so it doesn’t need to be posted again. We’ve all seen the conspiracy theories and the posts from doctors trying to be the voice of reason, the comparisons between the 1918 flu and the predictions of what happens if it gets worse.

We’ve all seen the videos of frenzied shoppers at Costco and the holier-than-thou posts from people who think they’re all idiots.

Some of the memes are pretty funny, sure. Laugh at the absurdity, but avoid the cruelty. These are your friends, your family and your neighbours, and they’re frightened. Cut them some slack. They’re judging you just as harshly, maybe not for this, but something else.

When we’re scared, we act irrationally. It’s human nature. Ironically, by trying to avoid this virus, we end up hurting ourselves with our coping mechanisms. We might drink a little more alcohol or partake of other substances, eat more unhealthy food, avoid exercise, socializing, and laughter.

We’ll spend even more time on the internet, hopping from one news story to the next, refreshing the feed, reading all of the comments, and then sharing the more truthy looking ones to social media, where we scroll madly through our news feed to see what we’ve missed. Then we check to see how many comments and likes we got on our apocalypse porn.

It’s difficult, but we do have the capacity to rein in these fears and habits. We need only summon the will.

I’m an atheist, but I’ve always liked the Serenity Prayer, favoured by Alcoholics Anonymous. It applies to so much of our lives, in good times and in bad.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m still short on the wisdom part, but I’m working on it.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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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Habit-Forming

The timing of this post might seem like a New Year’s resolution update, but that’s a coincidence. Shonna recently recommended this book she’d found interesting, but had she done so in August, I would have tried these changes then.

Atomic Habits is a New York Times bestseller by James Clear. While I’ve read my share of self-help and pseudoscience over the years, often with more than a grain of salt, I was willing to give this a shot. It didn’t seem like the usual positive-thinking-will-solve-all-of-your-problems tripe.

I wasn’t a fan of the title, but it wasn’t long before Clear explained the reason for it by calling out the definition. Atomic, meaning powerful but also tiny. The premise of the book is that small changes yield big results, building good habits and breaking bad ones.

Full of practical perspectives within, two strategies caught my attention.

The first is something Clear calls habit-stacking. We all have habits we do every day, from our morning rituals to how we accomplish routine procedures at work. These are behaviours we do to be more efficient with everyday tasks. Habits, when appropriately used, add some automation to our day, freeing up our brainpower for more interesting things.

Habit stacking involves adding onto an existing habit or series of habits, making the new behaviour easier to adopt. In my case, I’ve been trying to make time for meditation every morning. I’ve been unsuccessful at keeping a regular practice over the years because I could never find the time.

In the fall, I took an eight-week course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combined with Mindfulness Meditation, which I found well worth my time. I’ve been meditating ever since but found it easy to skip a day here, two days there and hadn’t yet found my groove, despite my best intentions.

After reading Atomic Habits, I realized I just had to add it to my existing routine. In the mornings, I get up at 5, turn on my computer, go downstairs, start the coffee, have a shower, get dressed, go back downstairs, do a series of push-ups and sit-ups, grab my coffee and back up to my office to start work.

Over the past month, I now meditate for 15 minutes, after the sit-ups, before grabbing my coffee. I’ve inserted it into my usual routine, and it’s ridiculous how easy it was to do because it’s not something for which I need to find the time. It’s now just part of how I start my day.

As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness meditation, suspend your preconceived notions about lotus positions, chanting like a monk and becoming one with the universe. The practice is about being present in the moment. Most of us are victims of endless mind chatter where we ruminate on our past mistakes or shortcomings and worry about the future, while rarely being right here, right now.

I’m not very good at it, but that’s not the point. My mind still goes off on its own on dark tangents, and I have to gently bring my attention back to my breath or a chosen focus. Some days are harder than others, but I still sit there in silence for 15 minutes, and the benefits are evident. There’s plenty of information online if you’re curious.

The second habit-changing practice I’ve adopted from the book involves my office calendar. The jury is still out on whether or not this has become a good habit or bad.

At present, my revenue streams are my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons, which I work on most days but send out Monday to Friday. Then there’s my painted work, which involves commissions, prints, and licensing on many different products through several different companies.

On top of those pursuits, I enjoy writing, but for many years, that’s been confined to my regular blog posts and newsletters. But in recent months, I’ve wanted to get back into writing fiction. I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t elaborate here.

In Atomic Habits, the author suggests that one method of adding a desirable habit is to employ a calendar.

I’ll use eating healthier as an example. Each day you have a serving of fruit, you put an X on the calendar. Successive calendar marks will make you want to add more, an absence of them will motivate you to prevent further blank spaces. It’s a visual representation of what you’re actually doing, rather than what you think you’re doing. Eventually, you just become somebody who has a habit of eating fruit.

You can use this for reading, playing an instrument, going for a walk, stretching or adding any good habit to your life. Consequently, you can use the same strategy for eliminating bad habits, marking an X each day you don’t perform a habit you dislike.

I’ve got three creative outlets I want to accomplish each day; Editorial cartooning, Painting and Writing.  All three every day is possible, but not realistic. However, that’s still my goal.

Adding writing into an already busy schedule, I knew that was going to be tough, but I also knew that if I didn’t, I’d suddenly be 20 years older, lamenting the road not taken.

Blog posts and newsletters count as writing, so if I wrote something like this post, I got to add a W to that day. But if I only wrote a sentence or two, I wouldn’t, since I’d only be fooling myself.

Having done this all month, I looked at all of the red letters on the calendar for this month and had mixed feelings.

Clearly the editorial cartoons are where the bulk of my creative time is spent, followed by painting, which makes sense since that’s how I earn my living.

As intended, I’m writing fiction again, something I haven’t done in twenty years. I’m quite a few thousand words into a story that I’m enjoying, even though I have no idea where it’s headed. Without this calendar practice, I believe I’d still be wishing I’d started, just as I have for years.

As I recently heard in a book or podcast, “Writing isn’t hard. Putting your ass in the chair to start writing is hard.”

There were days this month when I wanted to write, but life got in the way. Shonna’s car battery died during a brutal cold snap, -30C and below for more than a week, which took two days of problem-solving, trips to Canadian Tire, and serving as her taxi. Now, I work at home, have the most flexible schedule and I was happy to take care of that stuff. OK, happy isn’t the right word, but I certainly didn’t blame her for the inconvenience, especially since my car was warm and comfortable in the garage.

Add to that all of the other daily stuff that comes with life, year-end bookkeeping, tax prep, month-end invoicing, communicating with clients, all of the usual and unavoidable tasks.

The most startling revelation in this whole experiment, however, was that there isn’t a day off on this calendar. Even on Saturdays, my day with the most freedom in the week, I still get up at 5 a.m. and put in 3 or 4 hours before Shonna gets up.

This might seem like humble bragging, as in look how busy the martyr is, but I’m well aware that just being busy isn’t a badge of honour. If it were, we’d all get a participation medal. Everybody is busy.

No, this is indicative of a bigger problem. Anybody who has ever been self-employed knows how much work it takes, especially in the beginning. Then if you make a good go of it, it becomes less about enjoying the successes and more about hanging on to what you’ve got for fear of losing it.

When the inevitable losses do come, in the usual ebb and flow of life, you end up working even harder (not smarter!) to keep as tight a grip as possible. Pretty soon, you’re taking little time off, are perpetually tired, grumpy, depressed, running on empty and operating from a position of fear. You spend less time with friends, and the concept of spending an entire day doing nothing feels, well…irresponsible.

Like any bad habit, it’s easy to come up with excuses that sound reasonable.

Some of the greatest hits we’ve all said or have heard include…I’ll quit smoking next month when work is less stressful. I’ll start saving money next year because it’s Christmas and it’s too hard right now. I’ll make time to exercise later when I’m not so tired. Any bad habit comes with a dump truck full of enthusiastic excuses that sound good at the time, but ultimately don’t hold water.

I’m too busy to take time off. In reality, I’ve just forgotten how.

So while this calendar habit was supposed to be a motivating carrot on a stick, I ended up beating myself with it, and I’m disappointed. Awareness, however, is the most significant part of solving any problem, so I intend to continue using it to motivate me to write. But it will also serve double duty as a cautionary device, reminding me that having a blank day here and there is ultimately healthier than killing myself for another editorial cartoon.

The next time somebody suggests I write a children’s book, get into animation, draw something for their fundraiser, or do a commission for them ‘in my spare time,’ however, I’ve got an excellent visual aid for when I respectfully decline.

I remain a work in progress, just like everybody else.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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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The Infinite Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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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

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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.