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A hippo, a dog, and a giraffe walk into a bar…

Whenever I start a new painting, I put pressure on myself that it needs to be a finished piece, suitable for prints and licensing. A consequence of that narrow focus, however, is that I don’t leave any room for practice pieces, which are often enjoyable.

Practice pieces are valuable for a few reasons. It keeps things loose and allows me to try new things without any pressure. If the painting ends up being unappealing, it’s no big deal. But sometimes, while working on a practice painting, I might see more possibility in it than I did when I first started. And if I get good feedback on a practice piece, that might spur me on to turn it into a finished painting. Some of my most popular paintings aren’t my personal favorites, so I never know what people will like.

My first Grizzly painting was an experiment. My ostrich painting was a practice piece on the iPad, but Shonna wanted me to finish it. Both paintings are still popular.

While looking for painting ideas last week, I went through a bunch of photos in my archive, pictures I’ve taken over the years that I might not have chosen as reference for a finished piece. When I’m choosing photos for practice pieces, however, I suddenly have more options.

A fully rendered painting usually takes me 10-20 hours to complete. I’m painting a sea turtle right now and it’s a lot of work. It’s proving to be time consuming to paint the patterns on the skin and the shell. I’m enjoying it, but it’s meticulous detail and will likely take a minimum of three weeks to complete. Working on practice pieces at the same time, each taking about two or three hours, means I get a break from that piece, allowing me to return to it each time with fresh eyes.

Finally, practice pieces give me more images to share and if I ever get around to creating an art book, I’ll be able to choose from a larger collection of work.

I took the reference for the hippo at the Calgary Zoo.
When I took the reference for the Bernese Mountain Dog, my camera was actually full of owl pics. A couple of years ago, Colin from the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre was in Canmore with some of his birds for an annual education event in the fall at the Civic Centre. He was holding a Great Horned Owl on his arm and this dog was very interested, both animals locking eyes on each other. The dog’s owner had a tight grip on the leash, but Colin didn’t seem too concerned. I don’t know who would have won that altercation, but my money was on the owl.

Here’s a one minute high speed video of the last practice piece, a giraffe from the Calgary Zoo, with a little musical accompaniment. I had to force myself to stop working on this one and I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with posting it, as it’s still quite rough. I already know that I’ll likely finish this piece as I think there’s more personality yet to show up and I was enjoying the work.

With thousands more reference photos from which to choose, I expect I’ll have more practice pieces to share soon enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Winter Raven

Before it debuted in 2010, nobody was asking for an iPad. Even after it launched, people made fun of it. There were plenty of articles criticizing it for not having a keyboard or a stylus. Even the name was fodder for ridicule. Who would want this when they could have a laptop or a home computer?

Years later, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody with a tablet device who doesn’t see the value.

While I’m not creating technical marvels or something the masses line up for, whenever I’m deciding on a new painting, I have to fight the urge to try to figure out what people want. Most of the time, we don’t even know.

When I painted my first funny looking Grizzly Bear in 2009, nobody was asking me for animal paintings. Like a lot of art, it was an experiment, borne out of boredom with the work I’d been doing.

There are times I will paint something purely for commercial reasons, to satisfy demand.  Most of my pet portraits are client commissions, I’ve painted pandas for the Calgary Zoo, and my Sasquatch and recent T-Rex painting were market suggestions from a licensing client.

It’s a nice thought to believe that you can create art for a living, and people will throw money at you, but the real world doesn’t work that way.

If I thought too hard about each piece’s outcome and marketability before I painted it, I would have never created some of my most popular pieces.

I’ve painted more bears than any other animal, and I’ll continue to paint more because I enjoy them so much. I’ve also painted multiple wolves, lions, tigers and owls. This is my third or fourth raven.

I paint some animals more than once because there will always be room for improvement and new approaches to try. You never know when the same animal, painted differently, will suddenly resonate with people the way a previous version didn’t.

My Smiling Tiger painting is one of my best-selling pieces. Had I failed to paint it simply because I had painted tigers twice before, I would have missed out on an image that many people love, including me.
In September of this year, I gave my wife a photo of a raven for her birthday, printed on aluminum with a clear coating. It’s easily one of the best gifts I’ve given her because she loves it. Shonna hung it opposite the kitchen entry so that when you walk in, it never fails to catch your eye.

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with the image as well. Because of the print medium, the different light throughout the day changes the photo. Sometimes it’s devoid of colour; other times, it’s shades of gold, and on an overcast, gloomy day, it has hints of blue. Both Shonna and I often stop to look at it.

My friend Darrel and I remain fans of the 90s television show Northern Exposure. The fictitious tales from Cecily, Alaska, often incorporated First Nations beliefs and symbolism. On one holiday episode, the radio DJ, Chris Stevens said, “You know, twinkling coloured lights are nice, and so are plastic Santas and reindeers and manger scenes, but I’ll tell you something, friends… nothing like the sight of a beautiful black-as-pitch raven to get you in the Christmas spirit.”

I doubt there’s a December since that Darrel and I haven’t recited the last part of that quote to each other.
So it’s no wonder I’ve had ravens on my mind. It’s also likely why I chose such stark contrasts in this painting, inspired by the same quality in that photo.

I’ve had to remind myself often of the lesson I learned a long time ago. If I paint what I think people want to see, the image rarely captures the attention I expect. It’s likely those paintings won’t be ones I enjoy much either. It’s the ones I paint without any expectations that end up being the most fun and often become surprising hits.

So here’s another raven, whether you wanted one or not. And here’s to the next one I’ll no doubt paint somewhere down the road, whenever the mood strikes me.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Cartooning COVID

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

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

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

Take care,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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T-Rex


One of the things I’ve learned about licensing is that I need to be open to suggestions, especially from my licensing partners. Mike from Pacific Music & Art has more than once asked that I paint a dinosaur, but I didn’t want to.

The first time I considered it, earlier this year, my biggest concern was that the only available reference  is scientific illustration based on the fossil record for an extinct animal. That means I would need to reference the work of other artists. Having been a victim of it myself, I’m hyper-sensitive to artistic theft. To use another artist’s work feels wrong.

Since the obvious subject choice was the Tyrannosaurus Rex, I thought perhaps if I got the reference from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, I could ease my conscience a little, even though the animatronic dinosaurs are still the collective work of artists. I’ve used scene references for all of my portraits of movie characters.

I watched Jurassic Park, realized that all the closeup shots were in darkness and while raining. Since I didn’t want to paint my dinosaur like that, that was the first problem. Recent discoveries have shown that the T-Rex likely had feathers, some theorizing they had brighter colouring rather than that of a giant lizard. I couldn’t decide whether to paint the classic T-Rex we all know and love or go with a more up-to-date scientific version.

I gave up on the whole idea because it pushed all of my ‘this isn’t right for me’ buttons.

I started to think about it again in recent months and went on a deeper dive for reference.

While talking to a friend recently, I mentioned I was painting a T-Rex. I joked that taking the photo reference involved a DeLorean and a lot of running.

I watched all of the Jurassic Park movies on Netflix, found a couple with some potential reference scenes, and bought two of the films so that I could get some screen capture shots.

The best reference was still in darker scenes, again with rain, but I managed to find some useful scenes. That still didn’t get me everything I needed, so I went scouring the internet to see what others had done. I found 3d models, photos of dinosaur sculptures from zoos and parks, and scientific illustrations.

And I made peace with the idea that I’d be painting the traditional lizard looking T-Rex.

While preparing for this painting, I found an interview where Steven Spielberg revealed that he knew that some of his dinosaurs, including the T-Rex, weren’t accurate. He said that he was making an adventure movie, not a documentary and wanted to go with scary.

That convinced me to go with what felt right for my art style, and if some took exception to the scientific inaccuracies, then clearly it’s not for them.

I once had somebody angrily comment about my painting that “a fox’s eyes don’t look like that!” I invited him to look at my other art. None of my animals look precisely like the real thing.

Cartoonist Gary Larson, of The Far Side fame, once had a reader take issue that one of his cartoons had a penguin and a polar bear in it. He had pointed out to Larson that penguins and polar bears do not live in the same climate. Larson responded, “But it’s OK that they’re talking, right?”

Because I used so many different reference images and it would be impossible to say which one was the most significant contributor to the finished piece, I felt comfortable that I have not ripped anyone off in my depiction of the T-Rex.

I wanted to go big on the exaggerated mouth, a toothy grin with an equal mix of menace and fun. I think I achieved that.
I was prepared for this to be a difficult piece, and it was. The skin texture proved incredibly challenging because I wanted to convey the reptilian skin, but I didn’t want to go in and map it so that it was hyper-accurate. The overall feel of the painting was more important to me.

I did create a couple of new brushes for this, something I haven’t done in some time. I’d forgotten how much fun that can be. The background is not the focus of the piece, but it took a long time to paint, though it’s mainly out of focus to suggest depth of field. I deliberately didn’t include the little arms for which the T-Rex is well known because I wanted the face to be the focus, and it would have required a different composition.

Earlier this year, I had to replace my computer. When the motherboard failed, at least I think that’s what failed; I knew it was time for a whole new machine, rather than replacing parts. My computers are custom built and not inexpensive, so it’s money I didn’t want to spend this year, but on the other side of it, I’m glad I did.

This piece really put it through its paces. The final image size was 30”x40” at 300ppi, and the working file size was 1.4GB. This new computer had no perceptible lag or hiccups, and I’m confident the old computer would have struggled. I would have had to have babied it at the end of the piece, careful not to crash it.

I’m glad that I revisited this idea and am pleased with the finished piece. I learned a few new tricks and techniques out of necessity, and that’s always well worth my time.

Best of all, Shonna really likes this one, and she’s my harshest critic. She had some excellent advice when I asked her opinion, most notably to tone down the saliva. I had initially painted several strands between the teeth, and her critique was accurate; less was more. Whenever she likes a painting, that’s a nice bonus.

When I released my last two paintings, Bear Hug and Winter Wolf, I immediately had newsletter followers asking to buy prints. While I would have liked to have had them available right away, I won’t be having those proofed until the new year, along with this one. I’ll be sure to announce it when they’re all available.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Bear Hug

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on a whimsical wildlife painting. For those who follow my work specifically to see those, thank you for your patience.

Wacom hired me to create a video for them connected with a promotion they’re doing right now called “Find Your Gift.”

As many of you know, Wacom creates the tablets and displays on which I’ve created my work for more than twenty years. I’ve been their guest on webinars, created new product demo videos for them, represented them at an event in Calgary, presented at their booth at Photoshop World, and they generously allowed me to donate tablets to a local school.

My work wouldn’t be possible without Wacom.

So when my friend Pam asked me to create another video for them, there was only one answer.

What I like best about our relationship is that Pam lets me do my own thing. Of course, we have some back and forth to make sure my vision matches hers, but she knows what to expect from me, and I do my best to deliver.

In this case, I had the freedom to interpret the word gift and paint and write what I wanted, which allowed me to create my best work.

I spent the last three or four days chained to my desk, creating this painting, recording with the camera and screen capture, writing and recording the narration, and editing it all together a la Dr. Frankenstein. It was a lot of work, but I’m quite pleased with the result.

I realized that the three recent paintings I like best are ones I did for Wacom videos. Those include the Amur Tiger, the Ring-tailed Lemur and this one.

The model for this painting is one of the most handsome residents of Discovery Wildlife Park. Gruff was an orphaned black bear cub who had a rough start in life, but thanks to Serena and her staff’s tireless efforts, he has grown into a beautiful, gentle bear with a wonderful personality. The keepers try not to pick favourites, but they each have a special place in their heart for Gruff, as do I.

I’ve often written about how much I value my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. They allow me incredible access to the animals, for which I’m immeasurably grateful. On my most recent visit in September, I was able to sit inside the enclosure while they did their bear education presentation, where they teach people about bear safety, behaviour and conservation.

I took hundreds of reference shots and didn’t realize I’d be using ones from that session so soon.

One of the keepers, Jacob, was in Canmore last week, and I had a brief visit with him. I told him what I was painting, inspired by the poses I shot. He told me that Gruff almost always has a ball with him. It doesn’t need to be the same ball, but it’s kind of like his security blanket. He even takes a ball with him into his den when he hibernates.

On one visit to the park a couple of years ago, Serena sent me a text asking where I was. I said that I was watching a silly bear play with a ball. She responded, “Gruff.”

Gruff taught himself how to pose with the ball and because it was so endearing, the keepers used positive reinforcement to encourage that behaviour. It was this pose that inspired the painting. As the light wasn’t great in this shot, the sun beside and behind him, I had to use other reference photos for the details. Thankfully, I have hundreds of pictures of Gruff.

Even though I was pressed for time on this, more self-inflicted than not, this painting was a joy to create. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun painting one of my whimsical wildlife portraits. Considering the kind of year it’s been for all of us, that’s no small thing.

If you’ve got five minutes, you can see a high-speed time-lapse below of how I painted Gruff and hear some of my thoughts about the importance of finding and sharing your own gifts.

Take care of yourselves,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Odds and Ends

As the title suggests, here’s a collection of smaller updates in one post.

Pacific Music and Art

The funny-looking face masks continue to be popular, now sold in many retail stores in Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and everywhere else via their online store. The masks have gone through a recent design evolution. The image now covers the entire mask, the straps are more elastic, with a flexible nose bridge inside the upper seam. They still come with rubber grommets to make the straps more adjustable.
In addition to the masks, there are now face scarves available, fun because they’re so versatile. They can be used as a neck scarf, beanie, head band, head scarf and they can be doubled up over your face to serve as a mask.
Once again, the masks and face scarves are not for medical use and are not intended as a replacement for N95 masks or medical grade PPE.

If you’d like to see the available designs for both masks and scarves, follow this link. There are also some new face mask designs that previously weren’t available, so be sure to look through all three pages. Use the promo code Patrick5OFF, and you get 5% off everything on the site. The code expires at the end of December.

Limited Print Run

While a few of you told me that the Pennywise clown painting was not your cup of tea, and one of you even thanked me for not including it in the newsletter, one long-time supporter, and fellow Stephen King fan, wanted a print. Since I’m having it done anyway, I figured I’d see if anybody else wants one. Please let me know this week as I’ll be ordering them quickly.
And since I’m doing that one, I’m going to offer the recent Ripley painting as a print as well. These are 11″X14″ poster prints, so it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame wherever those are sold.
The price is $24.95 each, plus tax & shipping. Since these aren’t in the store, drop me a line to patrick@nulllamontagneart.com if you’re interested. I’m accepting e-transfer for Canadian orders and Paypal for the US (I’ll send you an invoice).

I won’t be keeping these images in stock, so this will be a pre-order. Please allow extra time for delivery.

Wacom

I’m recording another video for Wacom over the next couple of weeks. These are always challenging, but I usually end up having a lot of fun with them. For anyone new to my work, Wacom is the company that makes the digital displays on which I create my art. I’ve been using their tools for more than twenty years and welcome any opportunity to work with them.

A couple of videos I did this past year for Wacom resulted in two of my favourite paintings, the Ring-tailed Lemur and the Amur Tiger, shown below. I’m excited about the image I’m painting in this new video as well.

Sharing

I have been ripped off quite a bit throughout my career. People have used my images illegally for promotion, have altered my cartoons and paintings for their own agendas, and have claimed my images as their own work. One woman on Vancouver Island even used my Otter painting as her business logo and had large images on her store’s windows for two or three years. Then she had the nerve to get mad at me when I sent her a cease-and-desist. She argued that she found it on Google, so she thought it was free. Try that with Mickey Mouse and let me know how it turns out for you.

Sadly, it’s part of the online world. Once your work gets good enough to sell, then it’s good enough to steal. Every artist I know who makes their living from their creations deals with this problem.

But from time to time, people ask if they can share the paintings, cartoons, newsletters, and blog posts I send. While I appreciate that consideration, you don’t need permission. If I share it with you, then you can share it with anyone you like. In fact, I’m always grateful when people introduce my work to others.

As long as it’s not altered, my site name or signature remains on the image, and you aren’t making money from it, then share away, with my thanks.

Take care of yourselves. I’ll have something new to share in a couple of weeks.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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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
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Pennywise

While on a recent visit to the tattoo shop, one of the artists asked me if I was painting anything for Halloween.

For the past twenty years, I’ve drawn plenty of editorial cartoons with a Halloween twist, but Eric’s question caught me off guard. I’ve never considered painting something for Halloween.

One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with the artists at Electric Grizzly Tattoo is that they offer a different perspective. I’ve had several projects, promotions, and ideas borne of conversation at the shop.

While I’ve seen these guys come up with many different tattoo designs in various themes, much of their work involves pop culture. Whether characters from TV, animation, movies, comic books, graphic novels or music, there are clients who get full sleeves done in a pop culture theme.

One of Derek Turcotte’s clients has an entire leg done with characters from horror movies. It’s pretty impressive, both in the artwork’s exceptional quality and the tapestry woven from all of those images.

A couple of years ago, Derek painted Pennywise from the 2017 movie IT, based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. For the most recent movie adaptations, the character is played by Bill Skarsgård.

But I remember another version of It, a 1990 two-part TV miniseries with Tim Curry in the title role.

The basic story is that there’s a creature living beneath Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, in the guise of Pennywise the clown, It murders children after luring them into the sewers and has been doing so for centuries. In the two-part story, a group of children takes on the clown and thinks they have killed It. But they make a vow that they will return to finish the job if it ever comes back.

Sure enough, 27 years later, Pennywise returns, as does The Losers Club, to fulfill their promise.

I’m a big Stephen King fan. I started reading his books when I was a young teenager, probably earlier than I should have. Pet Sematary gave me nightmares. I could give you a long list of favourite King novels, but top of mind are The Dark Tower books, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Dr. Sleep and, of course, It.

Unfortunately, a lot of King’s books became movies that weren’t very good. It’s usually a pleasant surprise when I enjoy one as much as the book. The writer/director Frank Darabont is also a Stephen King fan, which is why his three adaptations are among my favourite movies.

Many people are surprised that the movie The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. Darabont made that movie, as well as The Green Mile and The Mist. This scene from The Mist is especially telling in our current climate.

Other screen productions based on King stories that I’ve enjoyed have included Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining, Dr. Sleep and the second season of Castle Rock.

Stephen King made me want to be a writer, and I’ve read and listened to his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ a few times.

While I have started writing fiction again this year, when I force myself to put ass in chair, it has been a struggle. The editorial cartoon deadlines, the paintings, plus the admin and promotional work that goes along with that work don’t give me a lot of time to write anything other than blog posts and newsletters.

But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Excuses are easy to come by.

So when it was suggested I paint something for Halloween, my thoughts returned to Pennywise. Not a difficult leap of inspiration, since Derek’s painting of the Skarsgård clown loomed large on the wall about ten feet to my left.

As I own the original IT miniseries on DVD, I began looking for reference that afternoon when I got home. Filmed for television, thirty years old and with special effects almost too painful to watch at times, the reference didn’t meet my usual criteria

There’s a scene at the end of the miniseries where the clown’s true form is revealed, a large spider-like creature. The effects are bad, with jerky puppet-like movements. The colour and light don’t match the background. It was scary in 1990, but now it’s just comical.

All that aside, Tim Curry was still great in the role of Pennywise. I’ve enjoyed his over-the-top villain roles in many movies. From his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cardinal Richelieu in 1993’s Three Musketeers, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Curry shows up where I least expect him.

Sadly, he now uses a wheelchair following a stroke in 2012.

Finding the reference was tough. I ended up taking photos of the TV screen and then trying to salvage what I could in Photoshop. None of the reference was what I would call good, and while it’s still got the bones beneath it, the finished painting doesn’t resemble Curry’s character as much as I had initially intended.

Partway through, I realized I wanted to make it as horrific as I could; the fangs, skin texture, demonic expression in the eyes. Eventually, it became my own version of Pennywise, which made it a lot more fun.
I wanted to paint the clown that would have scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I believe I achieved that. But rather than scare me now, I found myself smiling a lot. I kept wanting to push it a little further, adding more texture and detail, trying for just a little more realism in the brushwork.

I didn’t want it to end.

This is not the kind of work my regular followers expect from me. But before 2009, all people got from me were editorial cartoons and my painted caricatures of celebrities, no animals at all. You never know where new ventures might lead.

No matter how much I enjoy my animal art, it can get a little boring from time to time if it’s just about pumping them out, one after another. Every so often, I need to take a break, try something different and take a vacation from the fur and feathers. The collection of those occasional side projects have now become a gallery of portraits, mostly movie characters. Some of those paintings have resulted in the most unexpected and wonderful moments of my art career.

While I don’t expect to be turning my attention to painting more killer clowns or creatures from the depths of horror movies, this was worth my time. It was a welcome visit to the dark places I usually avoid, shining a flashlight on just one of the things that live there in the shadows.

The best part about this painting was that it wasn’t work. I had no illusions that this would end up being a published print or an image for licensing.

In a year when self-employed job security is shakier than ever, when the future is a towering question mark (with an exclamation beside it), and it seems like every creative moment should be spent trying to increase revenue, I’m glad I made time for Pennywise.

Happy Halloween!

For you digital artists with tech questions, I painted this in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. I used screen captures for reference, but no photos are part of this work. I created the textures with brushwork alone, no images or overlays. The finished file is 30″ X40″ at 300ppi, painted in the AdobeRGB(1998) colour space. I have no idea how long it took to paint.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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The Great Grey Hunter

With the brilliant fall colours and abnormally warm October temperatures, the timing couldn’t have been better for some R&R in Central Alberta ranch land with a good friend of mine. For five days, we caught up, reminisced, ate good food, tipped back a few drinks, played Scrabble and cards like old men, and enjoyed the slower pace.

As usual, I took plenty of photos, mostly of horses, cows and Jingles, the most good-natured dog you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet.

I even caught sight of a moose one evening, though too far away for reference. But anytime I see wildlife is a win.

In my regular day to day, I get up at 5am, even on weekends. For anyone who is self-employed, weekends often don’t mean much anyway. So when I do take time off and sleep in, I’m still an early riser.

On our last morning, I woke just after 7 to an eerie warm light coming through my window. I got out of bed, pulled the curtain back and thought it looked like that strange hazy glow of forest fire smoke. Since we haven’t had any of that in a few weeks around here, it took me a minute to realize it was just the light bouncing off the yellow leaves on the trees and ground.

I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera, and snuck out the back door of the cabin. I didn’t want to go past my buddy’s bedroom and possibly wake him. My photography skills just weren’t adequate to figure out how to capture the weird light I was seeing, so I resigned myself to simply appreciating the moment. The three previous mornings had been pretty, but this was much more intense.

Since I was up already, I wandered out to the road to see if there might be some deer or a coyote around. I knew that anything I might encounter would take off as soon as I saw it, so the best I might hope for would be a few quick snapshots.

When I emerged from the lane onto the road, I spotted a large shape on a fence post. At first, I thought it might be a hawk. I’ve long been trying to get photos of a red-tailed hawk in the wild, but each time I see one, it’s usually while I’m driving with nowhere to pull over.

At the same time, a little way down the road, there were two white-tailed deer. They spotted me just as I raised my camera. I got one shot before they bolted into the trees, but it isn’t worth sharing.

My attention quickly returned to what I now realized was a Great Grey Owl. A common species in Alberta, but I’ve never seen one in the wild. I thought I might get a few quick shots before it took off, especially since it looked right at me, but my presence didn’t seem to be a problem.

Female Great Grey Owls are larger than males but there’s no other way to easily tell their gender. As this was a single and quite large, I’m going with she.

With each step I took, I expected her to fly away, but she seemed more interested in finding her breakfast than worrying about me. I crept closer and moved a little farther down the road around her to get the best light, continuously taking shots.

Eventually, I got to within 8 or 10 feet and figured that was close enough. I didn’t want to crowd her. With a 70-300 mm lens, I knew I’d still capture plenty of detail.

Finally, after watching her snag a mouse and eat part of it on the next post, she gracefully dropped from the post and silently flew down the fence-line. Having taken a few dozen photos, I thought that was it, and I was grateful for the gift.

But she didn’t go far. Her next perch was even closer to the cabin than the first. I wandered back the way I came, again expecting her to take off, but she stayed put. I enjoyed her implied audacity at ignoring the No Trespassing sign, coupled with the fact that the sign colour matched her eyes.

Eventually, she flew into the trees, but still close to the property line. I took even more photos because her perch this time clearly showed the incredible camouflage of her feathers against the nearby tree bark.

Since Darrel is also an early riser and I didn’t want him to miss out on this privilege, I walked back to the cabin to tell him. I knew she might be gone before we returned, but I’d already taken plenty of shots and thought it worth the risk. He was eager to see her as well, and by the time we got back, she was in the same spot.

We watched her move between three different perches. We were so close that Darrel could still get some nice shots with his phone. He took some video as well, but it also captured the sound of my camera shutter on rapid fire.

At one point, a brief gust of wind came up, throwing clouds of yellow leaves around her. It was such a treat to take photos of her in multiple environments, almost like she was a model for hire.

Finally, we decided we’d invaded her space enough and I didn’t want to ruin her chances of getting a meal, even though I’d seen her catch one mouse already.

I thanked her for her patience, and we walked back to the cabin, looking through the shots we’d taken.

After we’d eaten a small breakfast, Darrel saw movement out the window and said, “She’s back!”

Now perched on the fence on our side of the road, she still didn’t seem to care that we were there.

We watched her jump down into the grass to catch a mouse, hop back up on to the same perch, eat it down whole and repeat the process. Here’s a time-lapse of the Great Grey hunter in action. Not a good day to be a mouse.

I’ve taken photos of Great Grey Owls before, at the Calgary Zoo Aviary and at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale. In those cases, they’ve been orphans and rescues that can’t be released back into the wild. I’ve even painted a closeup of a Great Grey before.

But to see one this close, at eye level in the wild, going about her morning, so tolerant of our visit, was a truly special experience for which I’m grateful.

As the cold weather will no doubt be fast upon us, and with nowhere to go, I plan to spend a lot of time painting. Much like the squirrels and other critters storing up food for the winter, I’ve been stockpiling reference photos for new pieces and have a few already planned.

I believe I’ll add a Great Grey Owl to that list.
If you’d like to support these beautiful birds and others like them, please donate to the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. They do great work for wildlife conservation and education.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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The Stories Behind The Work

When I plan to paint a funny looking animal, the goal is usually to create a finished piece, something destined for print. That’s what I’m thinking when I go through my extensive archive of reference, selecting photos to help me create the next painting. As such, there are many images that don’t make the cut.

I’ve recently been going through those files with a different goal in mind, finding reference I still like, from which to practice sketching and drawing.

The first three I tackled, the ones throughout this post, ended up being painted pieces. Still not the level of detail you’ll find in my production prints, but images I enjoyed bringing to life. Unlikely to become prints on their own, I painted them for fun, knowing that one of these might inspire other ideas.

Years ago, while learning to create on the iPad, I painted a practice piece of an Ostrich. At my wife’s insistence, I later developed it into a fully rendered painting and it became one of my bestsellers.

While painting these three pieces, however, I began to think of another use for them.

It doesn’t seem like four years ago, but I had intended on producing a book of my artwork. I had a local publisher lined up and the plan was to have it ready for 2017. But at the end of 2016, life got complicated.

With no desire to dig through old ground, or drag any of you through it again, the short version is that I went through a bout of severe depression. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the experience was a necessary evil and I’m now grateful for that catharsis. Real change never happens when you’re comfortable.

I came out the other side with a better perspective on things, not the least of which is a much lower tolerance for toxic bullshit. Leaving Facebook and Twitter was a good first step in eliminating quite a bit of it.

It took a long time to right that capsized ship, however, and one of the casualties of that dark night of the soul was the art book.

As I’ve been doing a lot more writing this year, the blog, newsletter and fiction, thoughts have returned to that dormant project.

The kind of art book I’ve always enjoyed from other creatives, whether it’s photography, painting, or sketching, is one that talks about the stories behind the work. That’s the kind of book I wanted to produce then, and four years later, I still have the same desire.

Many of my paintings have stories behind them. Hell, just the stories, sketches and paintings about my time spent with Berkley the Bear from Discovery Wildlife Park could fill a large volume.

The thought of such a project fills me with doubt. Anyone who has ever created anything, let alone a book, has experienced imposter syndrome. Who am I to write a book and assume anyone will want to buy it?

I can easily come up with a long list of reasons why publishing an art book is a bad idea.

It’ll cost a lot to produce. Even though I may or may not have to publish it myself, there’s a significant expense involved, and books don’t sell as well as people think they do. It has long been my experience that for every twenty people who say they will buy something, only one actually does.

It’s so easy for someone to post a supportive casual comment on Instagram or drop me a line saying they can’t wait until prints of a new painting are available. And while many of my supportive, generous, loyal customers do indeed follow through, most people don’t, despite their good intentions.

If you’re a creative starting out on this journey and happen to be reading this, that’s Lesson #1 in life and in business. People talk a good game.
So, what about Kickstarter or Patreon? For those to be successful, creatives have to offer different tiers of incentives to entice backers, or people will simply wait until the book comes out to buy it. Suddenly, all of the work involved with writing the book, laying it out, hiring an editor, and having it professionally produced is now paired with coming up with added incentives for the different tiers.

As I am a one man operation, already using most of my limited hours in a day, there’s no more water to draw from that well.

There are plenty of people who’ve done all of the work, launched a book, did the promotion, put in the hours and still ended up years later with boxes upon boxes of them gathering dust in their garage. I recently heard of one author who took most of her leftovers to the landfill as she couldn’t bear to look at them anymore. That must have been a hard day. I would imagine the drive home would have involved a stop for chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, or all three.

While it’s easier than ever to self-publish and produce a book today, it becomes the duty of the creator to do the lion’s share of promoting and selling it. That means gift and trade shows, events, readings, book store signings, not to mention all of the online promotion to ensure people are even aware that you have a book to sell. That’s difficult when things are normal, even tougher now that many of those opportunities aren’t possible due to COVID-19.

At this point, I wouldn’t approach the same publisher again without a finished book in hand. I’ve already abused that faith once before. While it’s a common tale in the publishing trade for well-intentioned would-be authors to fizzle out before launch, that personal failure weighed heavy on me. I wasted another self-employed person’s time, a crime I will not repeat.

As you can tell, talking myself out of this project is easily done. I have no shortage of excuses. I can come up with many more reasons why creating an art book is a bad idea.

I can also give you many reasons why creating art for a living is a bad idea, not to mention self-employment or starting any business. But that didn’t stop me or the millions of other people who’ve done the same thing, and succeeded against the odds.

Nothing good comes without risk.
I’m going through the stories behind the paintings again, with fresh eyes. I’m looking through all of the work I’ve done, both the production paintings and ones like those you see here, deciding which would be good candidates for inclusion. The art books I enjoy have smaller pieces peppered throughout, and I have plenty of those from which to choose.

But I plan to paint a lot more of them as well.

Despite all of the arguments I gave against the idea, and many more that I didn’t, I still want to create an art book, whether it makes any money or not.

One thing I do know for sure, is that I can’t sell one if I don’t write one.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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