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May You Live in Interesting Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Patrick

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

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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
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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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.

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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.