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Spring in My Steps

Twice last week, while working on my latest Grizzly on Grass painting, I got an idea for a post. Instead of simply jotting it down, I ended up writing a thousand words. Before I knew it, I thought, “wait, wasn’t I just painting?”

Winter is nose to the grindstone time for me; low on inspiration and motivation, putting in the hours to get the work done. Spring is the opposite; an abundance of nervous energy, plenty of ideas and not enough time for all of them.

Not having enough ideas is bad, but having too many can be worse, especially when all of them seem important. There is the fear that if I don’t address these lightning strikes right away, I’ll have lost whatever mojo that made it exciting enough to stop painting in the first place when I finally do get to them.

I count on that spring motivation to pull me out of the winter blues. I usually get a lot done in spring and summer. Last year, that spring motivation never showed up, for obvious reasons. I spent most of those months and a good chunk of summer worrying about losing my business.

While it certainly wasn’t a comfortable time, my worst fears didn’t materialize, so all of that worry was a big waste of time, as worry usually is.

I must now be used to this new base layer of uncertainty because this year, the spring high thankfully showed up. I’ve got many things I want to do, not enough time to do them, and I must prioritize what’s important.

As I talked about in a recent post, marketing my work and looking for new ways to get the word out has become one of those priorities. David Duchemin has opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t considered, and now I’m seeing them more often. There are plenty of little ways to improve my marketing efforts. Lumped together, it seems like a monumental effort, a mountain to be climbed. But you know what they say about the journey and single steps.

Besides drawing, painting, and writing, I’m trying to add a bit of marketing every day, either research or actual implementation.

Here are a couple of recent changes that I hope are improvements.

Checking Out?

If you don’t have a PayPal account and want to buy something online from an independent seller, it’s clunky to go to the checkout on the site and then keep going when you find you have to set up another account somewhere else.

For some, it’s one step too many and leads to cart abandonment, which translated for the site owner, means you just lost a sale.

Shopping is supposed to be easy.

PayPal is the most popular online payment method, and plenty of people have an account, but if you don’t or don’t want to use one, I’ve tried to make my online store a little simpler at check out.

As of yesterday, in addition to the usual PayPal option, you can now checkout directly with your credit card. My site was already well secured, and while the back-end payment engine is still PayPal, it will no longer take you to another site to process payment; it will happen right in the shopping cart.

Better still, if you’re looking for a specific print, you can now buy directly from the item and bypass the cart process entirely.

Care to Comment?

Blogs were a big thing in the early/mid-2000s. I’ve had mine since 2008. Over time, they seemed to fall out of fashion, criticized for something that old people did. In recent years, however, I’ve been reading about their resurgence. With so much content online, people are again more interested in the stories behind the work and long-form articles. The wheel has come around again, and blogs have integrated with newsletters.

I kept my blog going all of these years because I enjoy writing. I don’t remember when I turned off the comments, but I certainly know why.

Before Facebook and Twitter became the polarized sewers they are today; there were still people who wanted to turn every available comment opportunity into a forum for their political or social grievances, regardless of where they were.

My early work’s foundation was editorial cartooning, so my work attracted quite a few trolls long before that term was in widespread use. The same people would show up on my site and accuse me of being in bed with one political party or another, regardless of what I posted. When it was just on the editorial cartoons, I tolerated it because I felt it only fair to allow a rebuttal to my own illustrated opinion.

That was back when I would foolishly engage in political discussions with strangers. Live and learn.

As my work became more diversified and I’d paint caricatures of celebrities or illustrations for board games, those same commenters would still have something to say, and often it had nothing to do with the post. They had just become used to my site being somewhere they could spew whatever bile they had thought up that day.

When these same people began to drive away others or tried to start an argument with followers in my comment section, I’d had enough and disabled the comments. Think about it, if you were about to check out a retail store and saw people inside having a loud argument, would you go in or keep moving?

That’s also why I deleted my Facebook page and Twitter account. Because Facebook and Twitter are now notorious for anger and bitterness, with people posting and repeating their political agendas all over the place, it’s easy for artists and other self-employed people to get caught in the crossfire, with little means of controlling the damage.

The upside of all that vitriol concentrated on social media is that blog posts like mine are no longer attractive venues for political opinion carpet bombing. People who engage in that type of recreation want as many eyes on their rage as possible and social media is their preferred playground.

Now that I’m focusing more on serving my audience, I thought a little more engagement might be beneficial. People send me emails all the time, something for which I’m grateful. I try to respond to each one. But as my work gets more popular and my audience grows, it can be a little time-consuming. Comments are one way I can still hear what my audience has to say, what they like and what resonates with them, but they might not always require me to reply.

In the end, all of this stuff is an experiment, anyway. I could suddenly be inundated with spam or inappropriate comments and might have to turf it all again as I did before. I hope that doesn’t happen, and I’d like to see it become one more small improvement to the overall enterprise.

Time will tell. With fingers crossed and happy thoughts, what do you think? Feel free to comment below.

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Zen and the Art of Course Correction

It would be an understatement to describe this past year as challenging. However you choose to define it, we’ve all lost something, and much of it won’t be coming back.

Those newspapers that laid me off a year ago said that it would be temporary, but to still believe that now would be wishful thinking. We can choose to desperately hang on to false hope or have a moment of grief and move on.

Like many people, I’ve been struggling with next steps and feeling a little bit helpless and defeated, despite knowing I’ve got plenty for which to be grateful.

There’s an old Zen proverb that states, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a couple of mentors, people without whose assistance I might not be a self-employed artist today.

In 2001, at thirty years old, I was drawing a weekly editorial cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon, something I’d done for a few years. At the time, I had no designs on becoming a professional artist; it was just an amusing side gig.  Even still, I began drawing other cartoons for casual clients along with some illustration work. When my newspaper publisher discovered this, she told me I could only draw cartoons for The Crag in Banff and couldn’t do any other cartoons. For $30 a week, I was not about to accept that and planned to quit.

At the same time, an upstart newspaper was about to launch in Canmore. The owners wanted to create a better vision of a paper for the whole Bow Valley, consisting of Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. One of the Crag and Canyon reporters left to join the new paper and let them know I was unhappy. The new editor had already planned to offer me the job as their editorial cartoonist.

It was only a bit more money, but Shonna and I had just left Banff to buy our first home in Canmore, and the timing was right.

Carol Picard was the editor and part-owner, and before too long, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. I told her it was difficult for an unknown artist to sign with a syndicate.

She told me that was silly, that I should do it myself, something I didn’t know was possible. At the time, submissions went by fax (look it up, kids). So I went to the library in Calgary to find all of the addresses and contact info for Canadian newspapers. None of that information was as yet available online.

And I bought a fax machine.

For the next couple of years, in addition to the Rocky Mountain Outlook cartoon, I drew two or three cartoons a week, sent them out to newspapers and got almost no bites. It was brutal, demoralizing and I came close to quitting many times. I had a full-time job to pay the bills and drew cartoons early in the mornings before work and in the evenings afterward, as well as every weekend.

It took over a year of submissions, but I still remember my first syndicated weekly paper, The Vulcan Advocate. They paid me $10 a week for a syndicated cartoon. That first $40 cheque was like winning the lottery. By the end of the second year, I had two papers.

Carol no longer owns the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but it survives and thrives today. Their competitors, the same two papers that ridiculed them for their brash audacity; one is gone and the other is a shell of what it once was.

I still draw a local cartoon for The Outlook. It will be twenty years this fall since their first issue, and I have never missed a week. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be an artist for a living had Carol not intervened at the right time.

During those early first few years of syndicated cartooning, I watched a Sunday morning news show where they interviewed one of Canada’s most notable and accomplished editorial cartoonists, Terry Mosher. Drawing under his nom-de-cartoon, Aislin, he’s been a cartoonist since the late 60s, part of the foundation of the Montreal Gazette.

In the interview, he remarked about how difficult it was for young cartoonists to get started. In my early thirties, I was not so young, but knowing little about the rest of the industry, with no contacts to speak of, I threw a Hail Mary pass and sent him an email, asking for advice.

He replied with one line, “Send me some of your stuff.”

Over the next few years, we got to know each other, and he introduced me to the world of Canadian editorial cartooning. He told me I needed to draw more, that I had to send out at least five cartoons a week, rather than two or three.

As I wasn’t a very good artist, with no grasp of the fundamentals, it took many hours to draw a cartoon, three or four times what it takes today, so I struggled to increase my workload.

Terry was the editorial cartoon editor of Maclean’s Magazine and put me in the rotation in the company of some of the most well-known cartoonists in Canada. It paid $400, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. He introduced me to Doug Firby, the former editor of the Calgary Herald. Doug was generous with his time and advice and started using my cartoons when their in-house cartoonist Vance Rodewalt had days off.

Terry came out west in 2003 with his wife to talk at the Banff Centre and visit family in Jasper. They took Shonna and I out to dinner, and we were their guests at his presentation. It was an exciting visit. I had the assignment for Maclean’s that week. Though I don’t recall the cartoon’s context, I had to draw former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, and I remember sending Terry the cartoon for his OK while he was still in Jasper.

He called me and said, “it doesn’t look like him.”

Having spent hours on it, I was crushed, but he told me over the phone how to fix it. Put his eyes closer together; his hair is bigger; you’ve got the mouth wrong. I scrambled to write it all down and worked ’til 2 in the morning fixing it, even though I had to be at my day job by 8:30. His critique was accurate, and he said my revision was much better.

Terry taught me how to take constructive criticism. There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

I was so appalled that I had failed to capture Klein’s face that I became obsessed with becoming an expert at capturing likenesses, which has served me well in my painted work. When Klein retired from office in 2006, I painted a caricature that appeared in the Calgary Herald and other Alberta papers. I sold a few prints of it and somebody gave him one for his retirement. This photo appeared in the Calgary Herald.

My credibility as a Maclean’s magazine cartoonist opened doors with many other newspapers across Canada. In 2005, I quit my day job and became a full-time professional artist.

Because Canmore is one of Canada’s most expensive communities in which to live, there was no chance of living on one income. Shonna and I agreed that if I couldn’t pay half of the mortgage and bills, I’d get a part-time job. It didn’t seem like as big risk then as it would now.

Both Carol Picard and Terry Mosher were the mentors I needed at the time, and I remain forever grateful for their help.

Some time ago, my friend Crystal, a graphic designer in Calgary, recommended a podcast by David Duchemin. I’ve written about it before.

David has had a strange but wonderful creative career. He’s been a comedian, photographer, author and educator. I guarantee there are other professions in there with which I’m not yet familiar. His podcast is geared toward creatives, and it’s quite inspirational. We’re about the same age, but I think of David as older than I am, based on his wealth of experience.

I’ve never shied away from sending emails to people whenever they’ve influenced me or provided content worth my time. I know what it’s like to work in a lonely profession. No matter how successful or influential you might imagine someone might be, they’re still just people. We all like to know that we’re doing a good job or are providing value to somebody else.

People are too often quick to criticize but slow to applaud.

When I’ve found one of his podcasts particularly resonant or uplifting, I’ve sent David an email.

Not too long ago, following one of those messages, for which he was always gracious and kind, we got into a more detailed discussion about this business of art. He lives on Vancouver Island, one of Shonna’s and my favourite haunts, and he’d already said to let him know when I was next in the area.

But not too long into this discussion, he said that we should have a phone call.

After some initial small talk, David suggested I could be doing better at marketing my work. Realizing he was treating me with kid gloves, I assured him he could speak frankly. He wasn’t criticizing my art but my business, and I already knew I had plenty of room for improvement. As I said, I welcome constructive criticism, especially from somebody who has walked their talk.

He hit me with both barrels, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

For two hours, David lobbed marketing advice and ideas at me, and we had a fascinating discussion. Many of these suggestions seemed so obvious in hindsight, but I had never considered them. Grateful for the help, I asked him why he was so generous with his time and advice, especially since we didn’t yet know each other well.

I can’t remember his exact words, but it came down to this – for the quality of my artwork, I should be a lot further ahead, and he wanted to help me get there.

David gave me a crash course lesson in getting more newsletter followers and better serving them. He stressed the importance of focusing less on individual sales and more on my relationships with those who’ve supported my work for years. His philosophy on serving my audience revealed how I’m already doing that well and pointed out where I could be doing better.

He helped me make improvements to my website, with more changes coming. He suggested I offer desktop and mobile device wallpapers to my audience, something I should have thought of years ago, but it had never occurred to me. The immediate positive feedback from my subscribers was overwhelming. They loved them!

He reminded me that many of my customers buy my work for the children in their lives. Wouldn’t they love to be able to give their grandkids, nieces and nephews colouring pages of my paintings? What about publishing a colouring book from them later? Let me tell you, that was a palm to the forehead moment. I’m releasing a few of those to my subscribers today, and I learned a lot while creating them.

David was surprised with how quickly I’ve implemented some of the ideas generated from our discussions. My view on that is simple. When somebody gives you a push in the right direction, the one you’ve REALLY needed, you don’t sit down and think about it. You take advantage of the momentum and speed up.

That’s how you show your gratitude for their generosity.

I wrote to David the other day, “While telling my wife about our last chat and the options you suggested, she said it was nice to see me excited about my work again, focusing on forward movement, rather than worrying so much.”

He replied, “That makes me very happy.”

I don’t know how long I’ll benefit from David’s willingness to share his hard-earned knowledge with me. I’m simply going to do the work to be worthy of it.

If you’re a photographer, designer, illustrator, cartoonist, any other type of creative, I’d encourage you to check out his site and listen to his podcast, ‘A Beautiful Anarchy.‘ Recommend it to any creatives in your life, too, especially if they could use a boost.

My first two mentors showed up when I was at a significant crossroads in my career and life, though I only recognized it in hindsight.

This time, there is no doubt.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting and Peak Experience

The pervasive uncertainty of the past year continues. We can be hopeful that we’ll make progress in the next few months, with vaccines, reopening, and putting the economic engine back into gear. However, everything still comes with a big asterisk and question mark.

Even when you know that change is necessary for growth, it almost always comes at a time when we least expect it, and it’s rarely comfortable. There is the change you make happen, change that happens to you, and then change you have to make to adapt.

Over the past year, I’ve spent many hours reading and listening to articles about boosting sales, getting more followers, expanding my reach, and introducing my work to new markets. I worry about the next quarter, the one after that, and juggle the what-ifs, ad nauseam.

Nail-biting, teeth grinding, hand wringing. More than a few tossing and turning sleepless nights and heavy sighs with head in hands.

There are plenty of quotes about worry, how unproductive it is. We’ve all seen the memes.

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
– Winston Churchill

“If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.”
– Dean Smith

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
– Erma Bombeck

Envying other artists, looking at their followers, careers, losing sight of the big picture, knowing that comparison is the thief of joy, but still falling for the same trap over and over again, despite knowing that it’s unproductive.

But then there are mornings I find myself at my desk, having had a welcome good night’s sleep, tunes in the earbuds, a shuffle of songs hitting all the right notes, painting tiny little hair’s on a bear’s muzzle. And I realize that I’m grinning.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow coined the term ‘peak experience.’

From an article by Kendra Cherry, “Peak experiences are often described as transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. These are moments that stand out from everyday events. The memory of such events is lasting and people often liken them to a spiritual experience.”

Yeah, I know. It sounds out there and flaky, and you wonder what I’ve been smoking, but I believe in these moments. I’ve had them. While paddling in a canoe on a lake early in the morning as the sun’s coming up, or when a Humpback whale surfaced right beside our boat in the Broken Group Islands near Ucluelet, or when a little bear cub named Berkley decided to crawl up my back and lick my ear.

But most of the time, I have these moments while painting. Usually early in the morning when it’s still dark, about an hour into the work, drinking hot black coffee, the right song in my ears, laying down brushstrokes on one of my funny-looking animals.

It’s the feeling that, within that moment, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes it lasts for seconds, others for minutes. It comes on like a wave, a welling up of feeling, like a hypodermic shot of happiness.

And none of that other crap seems important.

This is that living in the moment stuff they go on about in all the mindfulness articles and self-help books. At these times, I get it, and I want to bottle it for those times when I don’t.

That other real-life stuff still needs to be handled, no doubt about it. Ignoring your bookkeeping or taxes, skipping that medical checkup for the fourth time, pretending that clunking sound in your engine will go away — all of that will bite you in the ass later if you’re not paying attention.

Sometimes things work out, other times they don’t, and shit happens.

I wouldn’t say I like it, but I accept it. So, I’ll get to that other stuff.

Right after I finish painting more little hairs on this lovable bear’s face.

“Stop worrying about what can go wrong, and get excited about what can go right.”
– Anonymous

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting Pet Portraits

Meet Wellington Bomber, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and my latest commission. Having shown it to the happy client this morning, I can now share it with you. I’ll let it sit for a day, give it one last critical eye, then send it for printing tomorrow morning. I hope to ship it later next week.

It was a privilege to paint Bomber, and I quite enjoyed this one.

This particular painting was an unusual circumstance as the commission was a gift purchase, so I only talked with the recipient after the fact. I usually don’t accept these commissions because they have created problems if the recipient isn’t familiar with my work. Assured that Bomber’s owner knew and liked my work, I took the gamble.

I need not have worried. Both the giver and recipient of the gift were ideal clients. From start to finish, this was a perfect commission experience.

Painting pet portraits is a challenging undertaking. I know plenty of artists who don’t take commissions because they can be a minefield of unwanted surprises.

When the experience is good, however, it’s usually great. I’ve had some fantastic clients, and it’s those paintings that keep me doing this work. More than one client over the years has said that I made them cry, including this one. Let me tell ya; there’s no better compliment.

For other artists, clients and the merely curious, here are some of the hurdles involved with pet portrait commissions.

Photo Reference
Given a choice, I would always take my reference photos, but since most clients aren’t local, that’s rarely possible.

It can take some time to find the right images, which means back-and-forth emails with clients. Most of the pet portraits I’ve painted have been memorials. When the animal has passed on, my only choices are what they have. I’ve turned down commissions for lack of good reference.

Are we On the Same Page?
Clients hire me for one of two styles, and I require a clear understanding of which before I begin. Do they want a portrait style or my whimsical wildlife style?

When it’s a memorial commission, the client most often wants a traditional portrait.

Sometimes the client will say they want my whimsical style, but then they attach conditions and limitations. One client had a big slobbery dog I was excited to paint because I was going to put some long stringy drool and goofy personality into that face.

The client asked that I paint my style, but make him look more dignified with no slobber at all, which are conflicting instructions. To this day, I wish I could have done my version.

When I have the freedom to paint the way I see it, the painting could end up goofy or with slightly less caricatured expression, depending on how it comes together. Clients who agree to allow me that freedom usually get something pretty special.

Price
Some bristle at the price tag, and I think it’s because we’ve become accustomed to online mass-market gimmick art, especially when it comes to pets.

No doubt you’ve seen those ads where they stick your dog’s head on the body of royalty or a military general in a renaissance-style portrait for under $100.

You choose from a handful of template options and backgrounds, upload the photo of your pet, they cut, paste, apply filters, and voila, Fido looking cute in a faux classic oil painting. Anybody with Photoshop experience can easily create that sort of image.

For a fun, inexpensive novelty item, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get what you paid for, and I’m sure many people find it amusing and enjoyable. It’s also the same thing that thousands of other people got.

Hiring an artist to paint a custom painting of your pet is a whole other animal; pardon the pun. You’re buying an original piece of art that’s personal to you.

There’s a significant amount of time involved in a pet portrait, from the initial consultation to delivery of the finished painting. My price includes a ready-to-hang medium-sized canvas print and shipping, but the cost for that is more than it seems.

I have my canvases printed professionally in Calgary by ABL Imaging. Their quality standards are high, which means I never have to apologize for cracked seams, inferior quality wood on the stretcher bars, or the wrong colour. If I wouldn’t hang it in my home, I won’t expect a client to hang it in theirs.

But quality costs.

For a one-off 12″ X16″ print, it costs me around $150. Then there’s the 2.5-hour drive round trip to Calgary to get it. If I’m running other errands or going to the zoo to take photos, it’s a detour and worth it. If not, I’ll have a courier pick it up. That’s another $35.

If I’m shipping the canvas, that’s more time and materials, plus $30-$50 depending on where it’s going.

That’s just the cost of production and time, and we haven’t even got to the creative part, which is where the real value exists.

Time
Whether it’s art for a living or any other service provided by a self-employed professional, pricing needs to factor in time. You can’t create two things at once, at least not well.

There is time spent talking with the client, checking reference photos, explaining why one works and another doesn’t, having email conversations to ensure expectations are reasonable and that there’s a shared vision. That consultation time adds up.

Most importantly, when I’m working on a commission, that’s time I’m not working on editorial cartoons or paintings for prints and licensing.

Then there’s the actual painting time. A commission will usually require a minimum of fifteen hours, but most likely more, spread out over a few weeks, depending on my other deadlines. I treat the likeness and personality as I would that of a portrait of a person. It has taken me decades of training, practice and experience to create my signature style of artwork.

Just as a skilled trades-person commands a professional rate, so do creative professionals. People often think that because an artist enjoys his or her work, that they will (and should) gladly do it for free.

The work we choose to create is the work we enjoy most. The work somebody else wants us to do, that comes at a price. You are buying not just my art skills that took a lifetime to master, but also my work time, which I never get back.

This latest commission was a real challenge. I had a hard time with the personality, mainly because the dog is a senior. Goofy didn’t seem to be the right direction, so most of the character had to be more subtle, and I spent hours trying to get it right.

It was only when I stopped trying to force it that the personality showed up. I’m happy with the result, and my standards are so much higher than that of my clients.

Friends and Family
In my experience, artists are notorious people pleasers and pushovers, most often to our own detriment.

Friends, family and even total strangers often strongly suggest that they expect a discount or free painting, or they outright request one.

Most people mean well and don’t consider it a big deal, nor do they realize that they’re the 100th person who has asked you to paint their pet “in your spare time.”

Like most people, I don’t have spare time. Ever.

Live long enough, and you accumulate many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are genuinely lovely people, all of whom you want to give a discount.

But sooner or later, you’re going to lose your business because you wanted to be a nice guy.

The hardest thing people pleasers need to learn is how to say No. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. The worst part of it is when people get used to you saying Yes all the time, they’ll resent you when you say No.

Suddenly you’re not the nice person who has always been agreeable to their requests; you’re the rude person who has gotten too big for his britches.

Sometimes, it’s personal.
From time to time, I may want to paint somebody’s dog, for the same reasons I want to paint a wild animal. I see something I like, or I have a connection with the dog or cat, or I want to give a gift that only I can give.

I’ve painted my parents’ dog, who passed away last year, and I will undoubtedly paint their new dog.

Our next-door neighbours have a wonderful dog that Shonna and I adore. Running into her in the driveway never fails to brighten our day, and she gets offended if we don’t visit for even just a minute. I’ve already taken reference of her when she was still a big puppy, and I’m going to paint her eventually.

I’ve talked about the cabin north of here that friends and I have gone to in recent years. I drive by the owners’ place on the way to the cabin, and even if I know they’re not home, I stop to visit their dog, Jingles. I painted her in a portrait style simply because that’s what felt right at the time. I was happy to give them a framed print as a thank-you for always being such great hosts.
Whenever I finish these personal pieces, however, I always get messages and comments from people ‘offering’ to let me paint their dog, assuring me that their dog is adorable, cute, and has a great personality.

Almost every dog I’ve ever met matches that description, especially to their family.

But despite what most people think, art is a business, one that requires thick skin. Art for a living is finding a balance between producing work that pays the bills and making time for the work I want to do.

When I choose to paint a pet for my enjoyment, much like the portraits of people I paint, there is little to no market for that painting after the fact. People rarely want paintings of someone else’s dog to hang on their wall; they want a painting of their own dog.

Conclusion
When a client hires me to paint their pet, I take it seriously. Someone is choosing to spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on a personal piece of my artwork. Depending on where they hang it, they might look at it every day for many years to come.

I owe every client my best work.

Whether you’re an artist thinking of offering pet portrait commissions as part of your menu of services or a client thinking of hiring me or someone else to create a piece of art personal to you, hopefully this has provided a little insight.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to create art for a living for many years. The artistic skills have been challenging to earn, often frustrating, featuring many course corrections and more than a few dead ends.

But by far, the hardest lessons I continue to learn have been about the business of art. People want art in their lives, but they often forget to view it the same way they do other services and products. What’s worse, artists themselves are often the worst failures at running their own businesses for the same reason.

And to those artists, I will leave you with three critical thoughts.

Creating art is easy. Selling art is hard.

If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will, either.

Trying to please everybody is a recipe for misery, in art and life.

Cheers,
Patrick

A Final Word on Commissions
From recent market consultation and after careful consideration of my work’s value, I have increased my commission rate to starting at $1900.00, which includes the ready-to-hang canvas print and shipping. That rate is effective immediately, but my newsletter subscribers can still lock in the current rate of $1100.00 by booking a commission with a non-refundable deposit by March 31st.
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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May You Live in Interesting Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Cartoons, Clichés and COVID

There’s an exhaustive list of images, references and tropes that cartoonists (over)use. I could attempt to list them all and it would still only be the tip of the iceberg. Oh, that’s one right there.

The Statue of Liberty or an eagle representing the US, a beaver for Canada, a bear for Russia, panda for China, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates greeting whichever notable figure just died, or somebody looking down from heaven. Variations of logos for the Olympics, companies, and events; broken records, road signs, going off a cliff or over a waterfall, weighing scales, talking animals…it’s a long list.

I’ve yet to meet any cartoonist who hasn’t used many of these, although most will be quick to criticize another for doing the same. I’ve been guilty of both of those, more than once. Sometimes it’s laziness, other times it’s trying to find a new angle on an old theme, and more often than not, it’s desperation.

But we’ve all used these tropes.

It’s a point of personal pride that I’ve never drawn a pearly gates cartoon, but that’s splitting hairs, because I’ve used almost all of the others.
As you can see above, I released a cartoon this week that used one of the biggest clichés in cartooning. The Titanic has been drawn often, by many. I don’t think I’ve drawn the whole ship before, but I’ve certainly drawn sunken or sinking ships and alluded to the iceberg, which is the same thing.

The Titanic represents hubris, man’s ego coming back to bite him in the ass. It’s appropriate for politics, corporate greed, and blind ambition, unchecked by reality. Sooner or later, an iceberg comes along to challenge the unsinkable claim. PLENTY of cartoonists have drawn politicians standing on the bow as it sinks.

While I would normally avoid the Titanic imagery, and I’m sure other cartoonists who see it will roll their eyes at my audacity for bringing it out of mothballs, it was a popular cartoon this week. I heard from several editors who loved it, proving once again that we’re supposed to be pleasing our customers, not each other.

In my experience, most of us are bitter and cynical ‘hey you kids, get off my lawn’ types anyway, as insecure about our work as every other artist, something a few attempt to hide with false bravado and imagined authority that everybody else sees through.

It happens in every industry, especially creative ones. Artists will spend days debating details that nobody else cares about.

When I used to attend the Photoshop World conference each year in Las Vegas, several classes I attended were for photographers. Long before I took the volume of photos I do today, I learned a lot from those classes, because what makes one image better will ultimately make another image better.

Alan Hess is a skilled concert and event photographer, author, instructor and he takes photos of other genres as well.  He’s also a friend, who helped me out with reference photos in the early days of animal work, and I wrote a guest piece years ago about digital painting on the iPad, for one of his books.

During one of his classes, Alan shared a photograph, then zoomed in to show that, seen up close, it was grainier than it looked at full size. I can’t remember the context of that lesson, but something he said has always stuck with me.

“You know who cares the most about noise in photographs? Photographers!

It still makes me smile, because that kind of quibbling over inconsequential details exists in every field, especially creative ones. Artists will obsess (!!!) over the most ridiculous things in their work. We’re miserable about it. We’ll talk each other to death about details that nobody sees or cares about, and judge each other harshly for it, almost as much as we judge ourselves.

Plenty of freelance writers who imagine themselves Hemingway or the next Woodward or Bernstein will author listicle after listicle to pay the bills. You know the articles I’m talking about. 21 Uses for Old Underwear or 10 Reasons Your Editorial Cartoons Suck!

Then they’ll judge other writers for releasing yet another listicle.

We’re all hypocrites.

While it’s still worthwhile to try to be original and not fall back on tired or overused imagery, sometimes it is indeed that imagery that works best, because it resonates with people. There’s nothing to be gained by over-complicating a simple message.

And sometimes, it’s just an off day with a deadline.

I enjoyed drawing the Titanic in this cartoon. I could have spent a couple more hours nitpicking it. But that would be obsessing over details that nobody would see, and in a deadline-driven profession, time is money.

The downside of these tropes, however, is that when other cartoonists draw on them, eventually you’re going to use the same ones, sometimes on the same day. A well-known moment in editorial cartoon culture is that many cartoonists used the same image to depict the events on 9/11, the Statue of Liberty with tears in her eyes.

I was about two weeks away from trying to become a syndicated cartoonist when that happened, so I didn’t draw a 9/11 cartoon, though I certainly wouldn’t fault any of those artists. How original can you be with such a monumental event, with no time to let it all sink in before drawing a cartoon? The deadline was as immediate as the disaster.

They call this a Yahtzee when multiple cartoonists come up with the same idea. The fact that they even have a name for it, reveals that it’s not uncommon. While idea theft does happen, it’s more often just a bad luck coincidence. None of us wants to draw the same thing and the ones who do steal ideas are usually well known for it.

In my experience, this kind of thing happens a lot in holiday seasons, whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, the New Year, and especially Christmas.
I drew this cartoon yesterday afternoon and sent it out first thing this morning.

Then I went to peruse the daily papers that publish my work to see if they’d printed any of mine. In the Edmonton Journal, I saw this cartoon by Malcolm Mayes, their staff cartoonist. I will admit to uttering a four-letter word or two.
I don’t need to tell you that Rudolph is as common a Christmas image as Santa, the elves, the North Pole, a lump of coal, a stocking, a tree, lights, we don’t have all day. Malcolm and I won’t be the only ones to imagine the COVID-19 virus replacing Rudolph’s nose. It’s low-hanging fruit and if we hadn’t used it this week, somebody else would use it next week, or already has and I just haven’t seen it.

I’ve been sending out 7 cartoons a week, every week, for many years, as have all of my colleagues, especially the ones that are still managing to make a living in this profession, or part of one. With that volume of content, it’s the truly original ideas that are the exception, not the rule.

In the old days, before the internet, an editorial cartoonist with a daily staff job had all day to stew over an idea, come up with multiple angles, try to squeeze out another ounce of cleverness, and take hours to bring a cartoon to life. A very few still have that luxury, knowing that spot is reserved for them every day.

Back then, once the cartoons were published, they wouldn’t immediately see what their colleagues at other papers had drawn because it didn’t matter as much. These undesirable coincidences wouldn’t even get noticed.

But today, with instant connection, websites and social media, freelance cartoonists are often competing for the same open spaces, so it’s as much about the speed of delivery as it is about the idea. First past the post often wins the day.

What’s worse is that we’re not just competing with each other, we’re competing with viral memes and videos, too. I keep a long list of ideas for editorial cartoons and can’t tell you how often I’ll see a meme that necessitates me opening that Word file, finding the same idea and deleting it.

The holiday season will see a lot of cartoonists combining masks, sanitizer, and distancing, our now universal COVID clichés with all of the traditional Christmas ones we trot out every year, trying to be original, but ultimately failing. This dominating news story isn’t going away soon and having to find a way to draw something new about COVID-19 day after day after day after day…it’s exhausting.

I know this cliché cartoon coincidence will happen again and it will bother me as much as it did this morning, but will probably go unnoticed by most, except for other cartoonists.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like my story better.

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

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

That’s even if you still have a job.

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

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

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

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

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

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

Support small business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those sales now will mean revenue later this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim credits that moment with his decision to finally retire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I asked myself some hard questions.

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

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

“What marketing opportunities am I missing out on?”

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

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

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

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

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

The answer to these last questions is No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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Face Masks: To Wear Or Not To Wear

The second order of whimsical wildlife face masks arrived this week and in less than two days, I was able to get them all out the door. Banff and Canmore local deliveries are done and all of the Canadian and US orders have shipped.

Compared to the first order, this one was a breeze.

As these are being sold to retailers and other venues, they need to look attractive on the shelf, so Pacific Music and Art added snazzy new packaging. While the quality and printing of the masks was already there the first go ‘round, the new packaging makes them look even better. That’s a large and small mask shown here. If you are an interested retailer, please contact Mike at Pacific Music and Art and he’ll be happy to set you up.
Plenty of people have told me that they’ve received positive comments when wearing the masks. So far, I’ve only worn the Lion Face and the Amur Tiger, but I got a few more for myself on this order, too.

The Sasquatch looks ridiculously funny on the pictures I’ve seen, so I wanted to have one of my own.

As a lifelong wearer of eyeglasses, the most annoying part of wearing a mask is that they fog up. I tried doing the dish soap method, it just doesn’t work. But I found a great solution online from an optometrist. He explains it well in this video.

I’ve made one modification myself to his method, by rolling two strips of medical tape on the inside of the top of the mask.
The inexpensive hypo-allergenic paper tape can be found at any drugstore. I prep the mask before I leave the house so I don’t have to mess with it (or wear it) in the car. When I get to the grocery store or post office, I put the mask on, press the taped areas in place and my glasses no longer fog up.

When I got a haircut the other day, for the first time in four months, I was required to wear a mask. But I anticipated that wearing the ear loops would make it a challenge to cut around my ears, so I taped the sides of the mask to my face so that the ear loops didn’t need to be secured. Worked like a charm and the tape doesn’t irritate the skin.
Here’s the before and after haircut pic. Someone used the word nefarious to describe my expression in the after picture. I won’t argue that. I’m fortunate to still have thick healthy hair at my age, and for that I’m grateful. I was, however, very happy to get rid of it all.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Here in Canmore and Banff, I’m surprised that few people are wearing face masks. I don’t mean on the street or in places where you can keep the 6ft. distance, but in grocery stores, post offices and other places where close proximity is not only possible, but probable.

This isn’t a question about whether or not the virus is as serious as they say, whether the precautions taken were too much or too little, or how much the masks help or don’t help. I’ve seen the arguments online and the uncertainty of it all isn’t what disturbs me most, but how people are speaking to one another in the discussions.

Whether an expression of their own fear or frustration with this new normal, I don’t know, but people are being downright nasty to each other, and it’s completely unnecessary. The discussion can be had without the vitriol.

My wife Shonna works full-time at a law firm, but has also worked part-time at Safeway for more than a decade. There are two senior women who work at the law firm, and at the beginning of the isolation, they had expressed concern about her coming in to work every day while still working at Safeway.

So she sacrificed that part-time income for the past few months so she didn’t potentially introduce the virus to the law office staff.

With no local cases, things opening up again, and safety measures in place at Safeway for the workers, she went back to work at the grocery store on Monday and has already worked a couple of shifts. Suddenly, she’s aware of how many people are wearing masks, or rather aren’t wearing them.

There are Plexiglas barriers at grocery stores now, but people forget themselves. They look around them, put their hands on the sides, and aren’t keeping the distance they should. Shonna has said she feels a little more relaxed and safer when a customer is wearing a mask, because she can’t wear one herself for her entire shift.

The messaging has been clear. A reusable non-medical mask is unlikely to protect the wearer from a virus, but it might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing it on to somebody else.

People need to be reminded that you aren’t wearing the mask for yourself.

Wearing a mask tells people that whether they believe in the threat or not, whether there are local cases or not, whether it’s all a deep-state, Illuminati, government conspiracy or not, you’re wearing one to make the people around you feel a little safer.

It’s an act of community.

People talk a really good game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments section about how other people should behave and how people don’t care as much as they used to and how things used to be better in the world. They use words like ‘hero’ for front line workers and grocery store clerks (Shonna does not), failing to understand that those people shop for groceries, too. They go to the post office, the bank, and the coffee shop. You can’t clutch your hands to your chest, get all weepy-eyed, and share memes on Facebook supporting them, then dismiss them as a kook in a mask behind you in the checkout line.

You don’t reveal yourself by the things you say, you reveal yourself by the things you do.

I get it, I’ve been the only one in an aisle at the grocery store wearing one. I’m very healthy, have no immunity issues, and I’m not worried about getting sick. It feels a little silly or unnecessary to wear one sometimes, but ultimately it costs me nothing but a few minutes to put it on and take it off, and wash it when I get home. And if people think I’m a sheep, or a dork, or paranoid for wearing one, that’s fine. The issue is theirs, not mine.

One of my best friends has asthma, two others have high blood pressure, and more than I like to think about are entering their senior years. That puts them in the vulnerable category. I’m not wearing the mask for me, I’m wearing it for them and people like them. That doesn’t make me noble, or better than anybody else, it just makes me part of a community.

Just as we’re all supposed to wear our seat belts, stop at traffic lights, drive the speed limit (or close to it), and stop behind a school bus to keep children safe, wearing a mask in close quarters is a simple act of telling your neighbours, “I’ll look after you, you look after me, and we’ll all look silly together.”

They had to make those other things a law because people didn’t get it. They shouldn’t have to make this mandatory, too.

You might think I’m just trying to sell you more masks, but I don’t care which one you wear. There are plenty of designs out there or you can make your own. I’m also not going to tell you what to do, because there are too many people doing that already. But give it some thought, especially the next time you’re at the grocery store and see a senior citizen, somebody with mobility issues, or just the looks of worry on the faces of your fellow shoppers. Do you really want to risk getting them sick, even if that risk is small, simply because you couldn’t be bothered?

This is all so new, we’re all frustrated, and hopefully it’s temporary. It’s not that big a sacrifice.

I thought this was going to be the last pre-order I did for a while. With warmer weather, people able to socialize outside and keep their distance, the demand seemed to be waning. But now with talk of a second wave, whether that’s a real threat or not, and that more people are seeing my masks out in the world, I’m getting more inquiries. Nobody wants to be trying to find them in the fall if there’s a sudden spike in demand.

As such, SUNDAY (the 21st) I’ll send out another newsletter, with an opportunity to order more. The new 2021 calendars will be available in that one as well. So stay tuned.

If you have any friends or family interested in the masks, have them sign up for my newsletter. It has proven to be the most efficient method of getting the word out.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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