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Cattle Call

In need of a getaway, I spent four nights last week at the cabin near Caroline that friends and I rent from time to time. This little slice of heavenly Alberta ranch land never fails to recharge the batteries and provide new inspiration.

I was alone at the cabin for the first night and my friend Darrel arrived Monday for the next three. Having known each other most of our lives, it’s one of those rare friendships where we can go months without seeing each other and just pick up where we left off like no time has passed.

Over the five days, we explored more of the property we hadn’t yet seen, took daily drives down gravel and dirt roads, looking for critters and anything else of interest.

On one drive west, we ventured down a rough muddy road to get to Camp Worthington, beside the Clearwater River. In recent years, it’s been used as a survival training camp for Air Cadets. In the early nineties, however, I’d been out there multiple times as an instructor with the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves. Hadn’t been back since, and was surprised how little has changed, though flooding in recent years has altered some of the landscape.

The cabins, mess hall and other structures were unlocked and in good repair, clearly maintained. Amazing how opening a door can bring back a flood of fond memories.

Of course, wherever we went, I was looking for animals.


On our drives and around the cabin, we saw plenty of birds, wild and domestic horses, deer, and I even saw a moose right outside the kitchen window at 5am one morning. By the time I got dressed, grabbed the camera, and figured out where she’d gone, however, she had made it across the pasture, out of range.

Shonna said that a real artist would have gone out au naturel to get the shot. I’m sure the mosquitoes would have loved that.

Apparently there has been a grizzly in the area, but we didn’t encounter that particular neighbour. I can’t say it wasn’t on my mind around the cabin, especially on my own the first night.

I’ve wanted to paint some more domesticated animals in my whimsical style, farm and ranch critters to add to the gallery of funny looking animals I’ve created. On recent visits to KB Trails, I’ve been fortunate to get some pretty wonderful reference for some horse paintings I’m planning.
This time around, I was going to visit the neighbours to take some reference photos of their cows, but when I arrived on Sunday afternoon, our hosts told me we’d have some new neighbours of our own at the cabin. Turns out they’d leased the adjacent pasture to a friend for his herd of cattle and I was delighted at the news.


Of all the animals I photographed this time, the majority were cows. After going through the four hundred or so I took, keeping only the best of the bunch, I ended up with a great selection of reference and I’m looking forward to painting from them soon. Little cows, big cows, a group of cows, there’s no shortage of inspiration and material there.

The rest of the trip was what you’d expect from two boring middle-aged guys. Enjoyed good food and drink, played games and guitar, listened to music, and fell into naps in our chairs, mid-conversation. Weather was good, bugs weren’t bad, and the welcome quiet was surreal. We could have easily stayed another week if not for that whole work thing.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Grassi Lakes Owls

For the past five years, I’ve enjoyed hiking up to Grassi Lakes here in Canmore to watch the owls.

High up on an ancient coral seabed, a popular climbing wall with locals and visitors alike, there is a cave, where each year in the spring, a mated pair of Great Horned Owls raises a couple of owlets. If you’ve got a good pair of binoculars or long zoom lens, and you get there at the right time of day, you can catch a great view of an owl family in the wild. Most of the time, it’s only one adult looking after the young while the other is out hunting, or maybe taking some me time.  Because Grassi Lakes is in a provincial park, conservation offices hang a little red sign far below the cave, warning climbers to avoid that route while the owls are nesting. Since they have no reason to hide, the owls are usually right out in the open, enjoying their view of the tourists below.

It has been my experience that anybody with a dog, large or small, attracts their attention and I’ve captured some nice expressions as a result.

Earlier this year, I hiked up there a couple of times and saw no sign of them. Great Horned Owls will typically live about 13 years in the wild, much longer in captivity. Their fertile years are shorter than that, so I always expect that each year I see them, could possibly be the last.
Last week, with only time for a short exercise hike, I went up the trail to Grassi Lakes and was delighted to see one of the adults and an owlet. This week, on a return trip, I saw a second owlet. They’re quite large, so I missed them when they were little puffballs, but I’ve taken plenty of photos of that stage of development in recent years.

I’m assuming it’s the same adults each year, but it could very well be a different pair, possibly one of the young from previous years. Regardless, it’s nice that the cave provides a recurring safe space for new owls to be born.
My painting, One in Every Family,  (shown above) was done the first year I noticed these owls and it’s not only a favorite creation, but a popular print. At Photoshop World in 2014, the image won Best in Show.

Even though I’ve already painted these critters, I still enjoy seeing them each year and taking more photos, all of the ones seen here taken this week. Who knows, maybe I’ll paint them again one day.

Cheers,
Patrick

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10 Lessons in Art and Life

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

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

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

It won’t.

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

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

Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) It’s a long game.

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

Good work takes time. Great work takes a lifetime.

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

It’s not. Artists be whack, yo!

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

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

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

4) Frustration is part of the gig.

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

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

What am I doing wrong?!

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

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

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

5) There are moments of joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m always chasing that feeling.

6) Everybody has two cents to offer.

“You know what you should do!”

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

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

If I had wanted to, I would have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sound like a Millennial,” she replied.

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

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

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

Sadly, that ain’t the case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) Focus, Young Jedi.

Likes and shares don’t pay the bills.

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

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

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

10) It’s all worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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Podcasts I Have Known

Podcasts have become a big part of my work day. While I enjoy listening to music when I paint my funny looking animals or portraits, I’m almost always listening to podcasts when I draw editorial cartoons, drive to Calgary or on longer road-trips. I consider myself late to the party when it comes to podcasts, because I only started listening to them a couple of years ago and they’ve been around for quite some time.

Once Shonna got tired of hearing me talk about all of the things I learn from various subscriptions and episodes, she started listening to them as well and a lot of our conversations revolve around some of our favorite topics and podcasts, many of which we share.

From Wikipedia, “A podcast or generically netcast, is an episodic series of digital audio or video files which a user can download in order to listen to. It is often available for subscription, so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user’s own local computer, mobile application, or portable media player.”

How do you listen to them? No matter what device you’re on, there’s an app for that. I listen to them on my iPhone via the Apple Podcasts app, but you can listen to them on Spotify, your desktop PC at their various sites and via many other apps.

They have sponsors, which mean there are commercials, but usually only two or three and for the content you’re getting without having to pay for it, they’re worth the annoyance. People need to get paid.

It occurs to me that while I’ve mentioned podcasts before, I haven’t talked about which ones I listen to. I gravitate toward random topics, history, long-form interviews, self-employed business stuff, and inspiration. So if you’re new to podcasts or are looking for some new ones to explore, here are my four favorites and a few honourable mentions.

WTF with Marc Maron. Marc interviews some pretty fascinating people and is a real character. He’s been a working stand-up comedian all of his adult life, but never really achieved real fame or recognition until this podcast, which just had its 1000th episode.

He’s now synonymous with the genre, one of the highest rated, is open about his own recovery from alcoholism and addiction, really gets to the heart of people in his long-form interviews and comes across as a genuine human being looking to make sense of the world, just like the rest of us. He managed to get President Barack Obama as a guest awhile back while he was still in office. When a sitting US President comes to your garage in California for an interview, you know you’re doing something right.

Duration/Frequency: 60-120 Minutes, Biweekly

Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin. Unlike many other podcasts, this isn’t an interview; it’s just Seth, an incredibly successful author and former dot com business executive. Yeah, I got that description from Wikipedia because when you’ve had the impact this guy has had, it’s hard to describe him. I just discovered this podcast a couple of weeks ago, now in its fourth season. But I started at the beginning and have been listening to multiple episodes every day. I’m coming to the end of the archive and now have to make peace that I will only get a new one each week. Will probably mean I’ll have to buy one or more of his 18 books.

As an artist creative type, this guy has some of the most fascinating insights I’ve ever come across. Really resonates with me and I think I’ll be talking about him more in the future. He’s changing the way I look at my business and life at its foundation, with concepts that only seem like common sense after somebody points them out.

Seth not only provides focused alternatives to the way we do things (without even knowing why), especially for self-employed people, but he also has a section at the end of each podcast where he answers questions about the last episode, and he encourages listeners to pose them.

Duration/Frequency: 20-40 Minutes, Weekly

Stuff You Should Know Podcast. Hosted by Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant, this is the brain child of the folks who bring you How Stuff Works. With easy going humour and camaraderie, these two charismatic guys do an incredible amount of research on their wide ranging field of topics. From the truth about the Loch Ness Monster to How Druids Worked, to name a couple of recent ones, I spend most of my SYSK listening time thinking “Really?! That’s nuts!” and then I call Shonna in the other room to ask if she’s heard this, and if not, she should add it to her list.

If you want a wide range of topics to choose from in order to get your feet wet, start with this one.

Duration/Frequency: 20-60 Minutes, Biweekly

The End of the World with Josh Clark. Half of the duo from Stuff You Should Know, this is only one season. Just 10 episodes but so good! Talks about all of the ways the world could end, from the Fermi Paradox to Natural Disasters. Rather than depressing, it reinforces how fortunate we are to be here at all.

A lot of this is difficult science explained in a way that won’t make you feel stupid.

Duration/Frequency: 60-70 Minutes, 10 Episodes

A few others that I subscribe to but don’t always listen to are as follows.

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Long-form interview style, gets some really interesting guests.

The Tim Ferriss Show. Best-selling author of The Four Hour Work Week and others, Tim often talks with guests that don’t interest me or heads off in a direction I find distracting, but some of his interviews and discussions are among my favorites. While driving up to the cabin this past weekend, I listened to his interview with author Neil Gaiman and didn’t want it to end.

Making Sense with Sam Harris. Thought provoking topics and discussions, requires an open mind to hear opinions and perspectives you might not agree with, but will ultimately help you grow. Shouldn’t that be how we approach life in general?

No matter who or what you’re into, there’s a podcast out there for you. In this information age where we are bombarded with trivial nonsense and empty calories for the mind, podcasts can help you change the channel. Think of it as furthering your adult education.

Cheers,
Patrick

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What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

This past weekend, I returned once again to the little cabin near Caroline that my friends and I rent from time to time, this trip booked in early December.

With one eye on the forecast, my plan was to head up Thursday morning, with Jim and Al coming up later that day when they finished work.

The owner’s son, Wilson, called me Wednesday evening to ask me what I was driving. He said there was a large section of the road covered in water and he was concerned that it might be too deep for a car. I drive a Pontiac Vibe, a modern version of a station wagon.

I thanked him for the call, and then spent the rest of the evening dealing with all of the what-ifs flooding my overactive imagination. At the darkest end of the unlikely scenarios created by my obsessive psyche, I’d try to go through the water, underestimate its depth, water would splash up into the air intake, damage the engine, and I’d have to buy a new car.

An unrealistic and foolish prediction, I know, but when my mind goes exploring these dark places, it’s like trying to talk logic to a kid throwing a tantrum in a supermarket. The pin is out, the grenade thrown.

Never mind that I had already been presented with simple solutions. Wilson has said if I got there and it wasn’t passable, I could just come back to their house, load my stuff into their truck and get to the cabin that way. The other option, wait for Jim and Al to arrive, and ferry my stuff in their truck.

The silly thing about this whole scenario is that whenever life presents me with unexpected situations, I don’t curl up in the fetal position. I’ve never shrunk from a challenge, unable to cope.
I once stopped on the side of a highway in a winter storm in northern Alberta, the first responder to a scene where a guy had hit the guardrail and was lying on the ground outside of his car. Lucky for him, I was a new EMT at the time, and handled the situation without hesitation. As a student on my EMT practicum in Calgary in the early nineties, I once pushed my way through a room full of firefighters to help a dying AIDS patient, because everyone else seemed afraid to touch him.

During the 2013 flood, when we had to evacuate our home, Shonna and I dealt with it. No tears, no freaking out, we just worked the situation.

My track record of handling unexpected situations and difficult problems is pretty solid, especially if I don’t have a lot of time to think about it.
A few years ago, while with these same friends, we were driving up a familiar dirt road to a lake we frequent in BC. It can be challenging at times, but most often, slow and careful gets the job done. Almost to the lake, we stopped to admire the view and I heard a hissing sound. Sure enough, a flat tire.

I’d barely begun unloading my gear before Al and Jim were jacking up the car, and putting my spare donut on it.

To make sure we got our preferred spot, they took half of my stuff with them up to the lake and I had to drive back down the road to the highway and then to Canadian Tire in Invermere to get it changed, about three or four hours round trip.

Now, had you told me a day or two before that I was going to get a flat tire on the road up to the lake, my mind would have turned it into a disaster, throwing up dozens of unanswerable what-if questions. What part of the road? Is the rim damaged? Will I be able to get out of there? Is the rest of the car damaged? Was the spare good enough? Can you even drive on that road on a donut? Was it really worth the risk or should I just cancel?

Even knowing the unlikelihood, my mind goes straight to the worst case scenario in a futile attempt to control it.

The irony is that I don’t remember any other specifics from that weekend other than the fact that the weather was great and we had a good time. What I remember most is the flat tire, and it’s not a bad memory, it’s just another story to tell.

The whole thing was an inconvenience. I wasn’t even that put out by it. Had a nice lunch at a café while waiting for the car to be done and I got out of gathering and splitting wood, which is the first chore to be done on arriving at the lake.

All because I didn’t know about it in advance, so I couldn’t worry about it. Every year, I worry about that road and on dozens of trips, that’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Fast forward to this past weekend.

I woke up in a better frame of mind, determined to simply deal with whatever I was presented. I have winter boots and hiking boots, but never had the need for rubber boots. Given the warning call about the water, however, I stopped in Cochrane and picked up a pair.

Upon arriving at the house, Wilson met me and said it might not be as bad as he initially thought. I told him I’d head down and if it wasn’t passable, I’d come back.

On the road down to the cabin, I came to the water hazard across the road, put on my rubber boots and walked through. It was about three car lengths long, maybe six inches at the deepest. Sure, you wouldn’t want to race a car through that, but it certainly wasn’t impassable.

All of that worrying for nothing. Story of my life.

And still, in retrospect, I’m glad he called. With so much spring melt and what became three beautiful sunny days, anytime we were out of the cabin and off the deck, we had to wear rubber boots because there was water and mud everywhere. I would have destroyed my hiking boots or shoes. I even went for a hike down to the Clearwater River, which meant crossing a creek three times, something I could only do in the rubber boots.
It was a great weekend. Sunshine, lots of laughs, no politics, spent time with the horses, and got to hang with Jingles a little. Sure would have hated to have missed it over what amounted to little more than a big puddle.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that the lesson learned is not to worry about every little thing, to let it go, to just take life as it comes, but the truth is that I’ve been presented with that lesson countless times and I still haven’t learned it. I know you can’t control everything and that it will always be the thing you DIDN’T think of that bites you in the ass.

Like angry beavers.
It’s just the way I’m wired, and as annoying as it might be to my friends and family, it’s nothing compared to how much it bothers me, because the noise of it never stops. But I’m always working on it. I still manage to face my worries, rather than hide from them. Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

I also know this…if everything always went according to plan, if nothing ever went wrong, if it was always sunshine and rainbows, it would be pretty damn boring.

And I’d have nothing to write about.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Jingles

In January  of last year, my buddy Darrel and I rented a cabin in central Alberta and were instantly taken with the place and the area around it. A couple of months later, my friend Jim and I went out there and he fell for the place, too. Since then, he’s gone there on his own, introduced another friend to it, and we’ve all had more than a few repeat visits over the course of a year. I’ve been there five times.

The owners of KB Trails have been welcoming, friendly and we’ve all enjoyed getting to know them. We’ve invited them over for drinks while we’ve been on their property, they’ve returned the favour, and Jim and I were even invited for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods.

We wondered if they thought we were a couple.

As always, I’ve often got the camera at the ready, because you never know when an unexpected critter will show up and capture my eye. On those multiple visits to the cabin, I’ve taken plenty of photos of their horses and will shortly be working on my first painting from some of those. I’ll often hang on to reference for quite some time before I get to it. I take a lot of pictures out there.

One of my favorite things about the cabin visits is Jingles. She’s a great ranch/farm dog, friendly to all, likes to be around people, but definitely not a pampered princess. She’s happiest outdoors and Bob and Karen have told us that she’s only interested in sleeping in the house on the coldest of nights. I expect this past February saw her inside more than usual.

But most of the time, Jingles is content to be by Bob or Karen’s side, or out holding court over her 320 acres. She’s always happy to see people, but she tires of it quickly. Squirrels to chase, property to patrol, a dog with things to do.

I remember on one of Bob’s visits, we’d been sitting on the back deck and once the chill set in, the three of us went inside to warm up by the fire. I called Jingles to come in and she did. But it wasn’t long before she was looking expectantly at the door and Bob said she was getting antsy to go back outside. So I opened the door and without hesitation, Jingles was out into the snow.

When Bob was ready to leave, she showed up to jump in the truck and off they went.

Like most dogs I’ve encountered, Jingles doesn’t like having her picture taken, but despite that, I’ve managed to get plenty of shots on our past visits and knew that I’d eventually find the time to paint her. I began this last month and while a slow start, the past few sessions on this have been quite enjoyable and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I do plan to paint her again in the other style, but this was the right choice for this painting. Here’s a closeup.

Before I started writing this post, I wondered on which visit I took the reference pic. I figured it was either in January or March. Turns out I finished this painting exactly one year from when I took the reference. March 11th, when Jim and I were there. Quite the coincidence, and completely unplanned.

We’ll be at the cabin again later this month for the first visit of the year, with more to follow, no doubt.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Peaceful Panda

One of the things I value most in my profession is the relationships I’ve formed over the years.

Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale, Archipelago Wildlife Cruises in Ucluelet, and of course, The Calgary Zoo. I’ve made friends at all of these places and remain grateful for their generosity in allowing me to get close to so many critters.

Some of my best work wouldn’t have been possible without their assistance in gathering the reference I need to paint my whimsical wildlife paintings. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to ensure these relationships are quid pro quo. I’ve created artwork for them, made donations, or have simply tried to promote the conservation work they do whenever I can.

My prints have been sold in the various gift shops at The Calgary Zoo for more than five years, along with licensed images on other products. During that time, I’ve become friends with the Retail Manager. Kathryn has given me invaluable marketing advice and has always been supportive of my work, helping me put my best foot forward.

In the spring of last year, the Calgary Zoo received four pandas from The Toronto Zoo. The two adults had been there for five years, on generous loan from China, with two cubs born during that time. As per the agreement with China, the remaining five years of the loan, they’ll live in Calgary, although the cubs will be returned to China sometime next year.

While I’m not a professional photographer, I take some decent photos from time to time and she needed some for her own marketing purposes to promote the pandas. The deal was, I could get into the habitat early, in exchange for some of my photos.

The Calgary Zoo is strict about no behind the scenes photography, so I should clarify that I was still only allowed in the public areas, just a couple of days early.
Early one morning at the end of April, Kathryn took me over to the brand new Panda Passage habitat and aside from a couple of keepers, we had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours. Of the four residents, I only saw Da Mao that morning, the adult male. He was active and accommodating, which is a rare treat when it comes to pandas. They spend a lot of their time sleeping.
I ended up with a LOT of nice photos, a couple of dozen I shared with Kathryn, and many others that will serve as good reference for paintings. I’ve already done one painting from that session (above) , and it became a popular acrylic magnet that sold well at the zoo. My previous Panda painting has been a best seller over the past year in their gift shops and I’m hoping this new one does equally well.

While I don’t often share the reference photos I use for paintings, I’m making an exception here to show that my work is more of an interpretation of the reference rather than a copy. This photo wasn’t one of the best quality I took that day and would have been of no use for promotional purposes for the zoo.
It was shot through glass, with a bit of a glare I couldn’t compensate for, not even with a polarizing filter. But with Da Mao climbing up on the log and looking right at me, the pose was a gift I couldn’t pass up. I used other reference for some lost detail, especially in the face.
This is one of the reasons I like to take my own reference. The pose is the same in both photo and painting, but both images are mine, so a photographer can’t say I copied their composition. When I buy stock photos for animals to which I can’t gain access, I try to create an image different than what the photographer took, but when it’s my image in the first place, it hardly matters.
This won’t be the last panda I paint; there might even be another this year. I’m pleased with how this turned out because it’s a full body image but still has that whimsical quality inherent in the rest of my work.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Stretching Style

A new Wolf painting and some new ideas.

One of the hardest things for artists to do when they’re first starting out is find their niche, that style of work for which they’ll be recognized and stand out from the crowd.

For those who’ve not yet found it, it can be frustrating to go looking for something so elusive that one might only recognize it in hindsight. It often comes from trying different mediums, tools or subject matter until something resonates, but you have to dig a lot of empty holes before you find treasure.

Once you find it, and realize it, there’s relief. A sense of traction, that time can now be better spent focusing and becoming really good at that one thing that defines YOUR art.

Twenty years ago, I fell into editorial cartooning. An ad in a local weekly paper in Banff, draw a cartoon once a week, did that for three years, joined a better newspaper where the editor encouraged me to self-syndicate, and before I knew it, it was a good part-time income. In 2006, however, supplying many newspapers across Canada, but with no more room to grow the business, I quit my job and it became my full-time career.

At that time, I would have said my niche was editorial cartooning and I had developed my own recognizable style. I’ve been drawing editorial cartoons for more than 20 years and I still draw seven a week, sometimes more, but it’s only one part of my business.

In 2009, I painted a funny looking Grizzly Bear. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had found my other niche.

With that side of my business continuing to grow, it’s been ten years developing and painting pretty much the same style of whimsical wildlife portrait.  A lightly caricatured head-shot, a goofy grin, sneer, or some sort of amusing expression, coupled with realistic detailed painting of fur, feathers, and features.

I have cultivated a recognizable and marketable style that lends itself to prints, products, and licensing. And while my cartoony critters aren’t for everybody, there are plenty of people who like them and hang them on their walls.

After ten years painting these portraits, and working hard to get them seen and sold, contemplating change is frightening. Once you’ve found a recipe that people enjoy, messing with the ingredients could just as easily make a dish worse instead of better. But a bored creative is an uninspired creative and it will eventually show in the work.

This isn’t about moving away from painting animals, but allowing them to evolve. These paintings often provide the brightest lights in my life, especially when the real-life shadows get a little too dark and threatening. I’ll still be doing the same painted portraits, because I’ve now got plenty of clients that depend on this style for the products in which they’ve invested. I’m a commercial artist. It’s my job.

But like this wolf, here, I’ll be painting more experimental pieces, compositions that deviate from my normal.  I think this one worked well.


My One in Every Family painting is a popular piece and that was quite different, as was my recent painting of Boston, the forlorn looking dog. They’re not the usual head and shoulders, but they’re still recognizable as my work, in my style.

I’ve got some more ambitious pieces in mind for the coming year. More animals in one image, more full bodied scenes, more story-telling in the paintings. At the risk of sounding arrogant, the head-and-shoulders paintings, they aren’t very challenging anymore. It’s just a matter of putting in the hours, but I know I’ll get there. It’s pretty safe and comfortable.

In art and life, however, there’s no growth when you’re comfortable.

Cheers,
Patrick

Technical stuff: I started this piece on the iPad Pro using the procreate app, then moved into Photoshop on my desktop with my Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. The finished piece is 30” x 40” at 300ppi.

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Boston


From time to time, my buddy Jim and I will visit our friends Babe and Sue at their place in Golden, BC. In the early nineties, while still living in Banff, Babe and friends had built a small cabin high up on the property. A little later, he built his studio on the main landing and when he and Sue retired from Banff, they built a new house across from that.

In the old days (did I just write that?), the cabin was a quiet getaway. Most of the time, as they were still working, Babe and Sue wouldn’t even be there, but they’ve always been generous folks and the cabin has had a long-standing open door policy for their close friends.

No water, no power, haul the gear up the hill on a winding trail. In winter, with infrequent use, the trail had to be broken with snowshoes, first to the cabin, then to the outhouse. We had to pull the gear up by sled.

The not-so-airtight Franklin stove would smoke us out from time to time, but we had to have something to bitch about, usually while we were chopping wood to fill it.

You really earned that first beer. OK, second beer.
In recent years, however, as they’ve moved away from Banff and transitioned to retired life, the reason we visit isn’t for the seclusion, but to see our good friends. Today, it’s hardly roughing it, with fresh coffee waiting for us at the house each morning, a big breakfast in their modern kitchen and a daily shower. They’re wonderful hosts.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve been out there in the past 23 years.

In all that time, they’ve made plenty of new friends in that area, good people we’ve come to know as well. Birthdays, holidays, or just Friday afternoon in the sun on their deck ‘hey, come on over,‘ visits.

As it’s a rural area on the mountain side, bordering the Blaeberry, all of the homes are acreages of varying size, with plenty of trees providing natural privacy. Close enough to be friendly with your neighbours, far enough to often feel like you’re alone.

Wade and his family live across the road and he’s a big fan of a certain hockey team, which is why he named his dog, Boston.
Shonna and I don’t have the lifestyle for a dog, but if we ever did, I’d want one just like him. I’ve never met a Golden Retriever I didn’t like and I imagine most people feel the same way. In the right environment with plenty of exercise, it’s such an affable breed.

On our last visit in October, the weather was still nice enough to sit outside most of the time. Boston doesn’t always visit, but on that weekend, he was there often, likely because he was getting plenty of attention.

It wasn’t long before I got the camera out of the truck and started snapping photos, something I’ve inflicted on him before. In my experience, most dogs aren’t fans of having their picture taken, and Boston is no exception. He tolerated the snapping fingers to draw his eyes, the kissing noises, the endless calling of his name, but only for so long.

Eventually, he just lay down and looked anywhere but the camera, which was still in his face as I lay down in the driveway in front of him.

If I recall correctly, the reference for this photo was him pleading to Susan, “Please, make him stop.”

Eventually I gave in and went back to throwing the stick for him.

Like most people who take photos of wildlife (or dogs), I shoot on rapid fire. That weekend, I probably took a couple hundred photos of Boston. As is often the case when I select a reference shot from which to paint, it’s not what I had initially planned.

If you’d asked me what I was looking for, before I took any photos, I would have talked about getting him to look at the camera, mouth open panting so it looked like a smile, with nice lighting, of course. Kind of like this.
When I paint a commission, that’s what the client is usually after, so that’s what I tell them to look for in the photos they send me.

As this wasn’t for a client, I had the freedom to paint what I wanted. While going through the reference, it was the “make him stop” pose that I kept considering, and I like how it turned out.

Susan sent me a text the day after I got home from the last visit and said that Boston had come back that morning looking for us. I’ll have to bring him some treats or a new toy next time, payment for being such a tolerant model.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Newsletter

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Cheers,
Patrick