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Will the real whimsical wildlife painter please stand up?

If your art becomes popular enough that people like it, share it and buy it, somebody will steal it. Some creatives stamp ugly watermarks across every image they post to try to combat this, but what’s the point if you need to go that far?

It’s not uncommon for people to remove my signature or change the wording in one of my editorial cartoons and then post it on social media with no credit or link to my site. It happens to every cartoonist. It strikes me especially funny when the alteration is so they can call a politician a liar, thief, or criminal.

Today’s word is irony.

On occasion, a company has stolen my work and offered it on an online product, usually in another part of the world. In most cases, a cease and desist is all it takes to remove it, and then they steal somebody else’s work. But in some countries, everything online is seen as free for the taking. I know artists who’ve been on vacation in Thailand and seen their work sold at roadside market stands.

If you’re shocked by this, remember that scammers bilk senior citizens out of their retirement savings every day. Humanity has more than its fair share of bottom-feeding scumbags. Art theft isn’t even close to the worst of it.
Several years ago, my friend Kathryn alerted me to a woman on Vancouver Island using my Otter painting as the logo for her business. It was on her business cards, a sidewalk sandwich board, window decals and advertising. When I called the owner on it, she said she Googled ‘royalty-free images’ and my otter came up. I asked if Mickey Mouse had come up in that search, would she think Disney would allow her to use him as her logo? My signature is still on the image on that sign! She angrily told me I was being unreasonable and said if I had been nicer, we could have come to an arrangement.

Based on such a trustworthy beginning, I clearly missed out on untold riches.

On a trip to Vancouver Island, we stopped in Ladysmith to ensure it wasn’t still going on. She’d sold the store, and my work was nowhere to be seen. That’s why I’ve blacked out the name in the photo.
Another company in the same area had my Moose and Grizzly Bear paintings on their chocolate-covered candy labels sold in a local store. The company’s owner in Eastern Canada said they’d hired a graphic designer to make the labels. He just stole my work online and passed it off as his own.

The owner apologized and said he would remove the offending images from his products.

People will frequently look down on artists for not having ‘real jobs,’ or expect us to work for free or the ever-popular ‘exposure.’ Every time I try to pay my bills with this mythical currency, companies laugh at me. I guess it’s only good for art.

For many people, art is their business; when somebody steals from your business, you must deal with them. If it’s an overseas company in a country with lax copyright laws, you could sell your house and spend it all on lawyers, and you still wouldn’t win.

You pick the hill you want to die on.

Which brings me to last week.

A woman in Nevada has been selling my artwork as her own, alongside what I can only assume is questionable CBD potions. As far as I can figure, she has purchased canvases of some of my work, likely from print-on-demand sites like Art.com, Wayfair, iCanvas, and others.

These companies were licensed to sell my work through agreements I signed when represented by Art Licensing International. I ended that relationship early last year, but these companies had contracts with the rights to sell my work until the end of their terms.

Most of those have expired, so even though you can still see my work on some sites, you can’t order it anymore. I’ll write another post later on why I don’t find those sites appealing.

Since the art thief has been doing this for a few years or longer, I suspect that’s where she got them since I don’t post high-resolution images on my site. She then applied some brushstrokes to those canvases and sold them as her original work.

At Photoshop World Las Vegas in 2014, I took a class from a New York copyright lawyer. He was an entertaining character but knew his stuff and had represented plenty of artists who’d been ripped off. His advice even saved me from a deal I worked on that very week with a couple of scammers in Calgary.

The lawyer talked about the oft-quoted 10% rule, the belief that if you change another artist’s work enough, copyright no longer applies, so that you can resell it as your own. He shared the official legal term for that rule; Bullshit.

It’s the kind of thing amateur creatives tell each other to justify stealing.

According to Canadian and United States law, an artist owns copyright to their work as soon as they create it. However, officially registering allows you to claim more financial damages when suing somebody for a breach.
From what I’ve found, she stole my Coyote, Grizzly, Black Bear, Moose, Squirrel, Peanuts and Smiling Tiger paintings, but likely more than that. While the first five are no longer bestsellers, and a couple are even retired, my Smiling Tiger and Peanuts paintings are two of my most popular, bestselling and frequently licensed images.

Stupid is as stupid does.

She advertised that she’d be showing her art all month at a venue in Nevada, complete with photos on her website, Facebook and Instagram. She removed the image from her webpage, but I saw that coming and captured screenshots. Not my first rodeo. I have blacked out some areas of the image that may unfairly implicate others.
I contacted the venue and informed them that this ‘artist,’ for lack of a better term, had stolen my work. I included several links to my site, blog posts where I wrote about the images when I had painted them, and links to companies that licensed my art. And while I told them I didn’t blame them for the infraction, I suggested they distance themselves from the offender.

The response from the venue was better than I’d hoped. They apologized (not their fault), told me they removed the canvases from their walls and even copied me on an email they sent to the fraudulent artist. In it, they told her she was no longer welcome there, and if she wanted to collect her canvases, they’d be at the local Sheriff’s office for retrieval.

She declined to pick them up.

You don’t say.

I had also contacted a friend who lives in that area and asked if she knew the place. She said she did and spoke highly of it. I don’t believe they’re complicit, and as the business is also a victim of this fraud, I see no need to name them.

I have sent emails to other events she’s advertised on her site and to markets where she has sold my work in the past, informing them of the theft and asking them to cancel her registrations.

I am not an advocate of cancel culture and trial by media. Some people don’t know what a reasonable response is, and internet vigilantism seems to have one setting: scorched earth.

That said, given what I’ve seen, she has been stealing my artwork for years. The problem is that when I searched for her online, I came across a few other legitimate artists with the same name, and I don’t want them confused with this thief. It takes very little time to cancel somebody, and it’s nearly impossible to reverse it when you’ve got the wrong person.

So, instead, I’ve shared the photos from her site. I’ve blacked out the venue name and details but left her name intact. Since references to and images of my work are still up on her Instagram and Facebook, I’m also linking to those. The artwork may be removed when you read this, as I’ll share links to this post in her comments section. She has removed my images from the front page of her website.

From a cease-and-desist email I sent her, she responded, “Patrick. I’m very sorry. I will never paint again. The paintings I have will be destroyed. Kat.”
After a whole career dealing with this kind of thing, I am firm-footed in ‘fool me twice’ territory. Her reply almost stopped me from writing this post, but she’s standing proudly in that photo with six large canvases of an art style I’ve spent years developing. And 24 hours after her apology, my work is still visible on her social media with mentions of her amazing paintings. Very sincere.

Genuinely sorry, or sorry you got caught?
If your only available settings for creating art are stealing it or not painting at all, I’m at a loss to understand why you’d bother pretending to be an artist. Choose a profession more suited to questionable morality, like federal politics.

I’m sharing this story as a cautionary tale and a teaching moment. If you’re an artist learning new skills, copying somebody else’s technique, studying their methods, and imitating other styles to find your own is part of the process. That’s what every artist does. It’s how we learn. Eventually, you get tired of being a poor copy and strive to become an original.

But don’t steal somebody else’s artwork and pass it off as your own. It’s happened to every artist I know, and it can quickly become an open wound that never heals. People will find out. Artists routinely reverse-search their own images to catch this sort of thing, though I found out about this infraction another way.

When one artist sees another ripped off, they will tell them about it because we all know how it feels. In some cases, if the artist is popular enough, their community of followers will destroy you online. I’ve seen it happen more than once. It’s brutal.

Dealing with this issue has taken way too much of my time this past week, time I’d much rather have spent painting. It should be obvious why this got bumped up on the priority list.

While I’m not happy about this situation, I’ve mellowed in my older middle age, and I’m not raging or losing sleep over this. It would be naïve for her to imagine several years of theft can be erased by three short sentences in an email, with little action to back up her supposed remorse. I don’t know how much of my artwork she sold, but I’m confident I won’t get a cheque in the mail. And anyone who bought my work from her likely won’t get refunds.

I’ll keep an eye on her to make sure she stops stealing my work, and if further evidence presents itself of ongoing fraud, I’ll make it as uncomfortable as possible for her to continue.

And if she suddenly finds a new art style (she’s done this before), you can bet I’ll do my best to let the next victim know about it and help them in any way I can.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Solitude on This Side of Fifty

Most years, I’d rather let my birthday go unnoticed, and thankfully, I married someone who feels the same way about hers. If someone mentioned having a birthday ‘party’ for me, my first thought would be, “What the hell did I ever do to you?”

Given my nature, it’s no mystery why birthdays make me melancholy. Another year older with not enough accomplished. Dwelling on past mistakes or missed opportunities is an unhealthy perspective and does nothing good for the mind or soul, but we’re all human. We feel what we feel.

This side of 50, I no longer tolerate cheap-seat criticism for who I am, especially from those who wouldn’t take it from me. I’ve heard this sentiment called the Fuck-It Fifties, and I have embraced that. A wise philosopher once said, “I yam what I yam and dats all that I yam.”

As my 53rd birthday approached, I still felt low after a long, dark winter. Rather than stay home, brood and make Shonna’s weekend miserable, I decided to get away by myself. She had no objection.

While friends and I have rented a cabin a few times a year in the Central Alberta foothills, I associate that place with social gatherings, games, music, late nights, and sharing spirits of the bottled variety.
But on the northern border of that same property, nestled beside secluded wetlands, there is another cabin. It’s one room, one bed, solar power for lights, an outhouse, no water and no noise. It’s at the end of a road, behind a gate on private property.

Cooking is outside on a propane stove and tabletop BBQ. The only heat is from a wood stove and you bring your own bedding. Were it not for the comfort and unique personality of the place, it’s a stone’s throw from camping.

I brought my camera, guitar, books, writing and drawing tools and told myself I’d be open to what happens, intending to let go and relax. It took very little time, however, to realize that I had also brought myself on this getaway, and that’s not how I roll.

The usual 2.5-hour drive from Canmore took longer because of a spring snow event. Had I seen a video of the white-knuckle experience I was in for, I would have stayed home. But once I arrived and pried my fingers from the steering wheel, I was glad to be there.
While shovelling snow, I scared a snowshoe hare out from under the deck, and I took that as a good sign. I wanted to see wildlife, even though this critter did not want to see me.

After I unloaded my stuff, I sat on the couch, took a deep breath and thought, “Now what?”

At home, I prefer long days working alone, but I never have a shortage of things to do to occupy my time and mind. We all have nasty demons that remind us of our failures, regrets, and shortcomings. When you find yourself alone with nothing to distract you, their voices become louder. As the man said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
The property owners have become friends over the years, and I like to visit them. While on my daily wanders, I walked up to their place a couple of times, a 5-6 km round trip from where I was staying, as I had no interest in taking the shortest route.

I confessed Friday afternoon that I felt a little low, a confusing realization since I know and enjoy this place. Sitting in the cabin alone, looking at the beautiful view, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Karen said it often takes people at least 24 hours to get used to the solitude. She shared that one woman, another artist, booked a cabin for three nights and left after one day because she couldn’t handle being alone in the quiet.

I felt sorry for that stranger but didn’t judge her because I understood. On the walk back to the cabin, I wished she’d given herself a little more time.

By Friday evening, after dinner, I was past my own discomfort and genuinely began to relax. I sat at the small table, looking out at the falling snow, well into a book I’d wanted to read for a while. I made a big mug of tea, put more wood on the fire and that’s how I spent the rest of my evening.

For the remainder of the weekend, I played guitar, read my book, and sat quietly on the deck in the sunshine. I went to bed when I felt like it, got up early before the sun, and wandered the property with my camera.
Free to roam more than 300 acres of pasture, wetlands, and forest, I walked close to 20km over 72 hours in snow and sunshine. It was peaceful and very pretty.

People see moose here, walking right by the cabin. I saw one in the distance years ago. On previous visits, I’ve seen owls, deer, and coyotes several times. Even though I know that wildlife doesn’t punch a clock, I hoped for an encounter or two.
In the new fallen snow, fresh moose, coyote, deer and rabbit tracks were all over the place, many of them just hours old. I heard the coyotes at night and in the morning, and that was nice. It’s one of my favourite sounds. I listened to an owl calling two nights in a row. But all I saw were little birds flying here and there, a few ravens, a couple of geese, and that scared little bunny when I first arrived.

I didn’t even see a squirrel.
I know professional photographers who spend great amounts of time, energy and money to get to remote places, park themselves in a blind, right next to a game trail for hours and days on end, and often come home with little or nothing to show for it.

But I’ll confess to feeling a little insulted. When you paint personality in whimsical wildlife, you end up with a warped sense of expectation regarding actual wildlife. Come on, I thought we were friends, here.

Upon reflection, had I seen and photographed cooperative critters, I would have undoubtedly spent hours going through them on my iPad. I would have made some edits, considered possible paintings, and wrote something about the experience, and I would have edited that, too. Suddenly, I’d be working.

So, perhaps I got what I needed, instead of what I wanted.

On the perfect sunny drive home on dry roads with light traffic, I had time to reflect and was content with the experience. I spent my birthday by myself, without anyone telling me how I should be celebrating it. I got up early, as I prefer, without walking on eggshells for fear of waking anybody up, which is often the case on cabin visits with friends. I played guitar and sang, fumbled with chord changes, learning songs I didn’t know, without intruding on anyone else’s peace and quiet.

I asked no permission, made no apologies, and had no schedule or agenda. And though it took me a day to settle into it, I now wish I could have stayed longer.

Maybe next time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Wishes

If you’re like me, bombarded daily with negative news and polarized opinions, this noisy world can become overwhelming. It bothers me, and I often wonder, “Why are people so mean to each other?”

As a species, we’re primed to pay attention to this stuff, which feels like an immediate threat. Not only do we focus on the worst of our behaviour, we feel compelled to share it with others. And when everybody shares bad news, it seems like that’s all there is.

Though I’m not on social media anymore, I’m as guilty as the next person. I’m fully invested in the negative bias that we’re all strapped into the proverbial handbasket, picking up speed on a steep downhill. Is it getting hot in here?

While editorial cartooning requires me to follow the news, I also spend much of my time painting whimsical wildlife that makes people happy. I know this because collectors and subscribers tell me so. And when I get to share that work in person at Christmas markets and the upcoming Calgary Expo, I see the evidence for myself.

At market events, a steady stream of people walks by my booth for hours on end. They might be talking to each other, looking at their phones, pointing at things, or absent-mindedly scanning their surroundings. But often, when their eyes find my work, they stop and smile. Over several days at a market, I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I see the same phenomenon.
It’s a moment of connection between my funny-looking animals and people I’ve never met. I love watching it happen, and it is a reminder that something I created made somebody else’s day a little better, if only for a moment. In a world that often seems nasty, with people intent on highlighting our worst qualities, I create art that makes people smile. I often forget that, but when I do remember, I’m grateful for this ability.

You can change yourself, but you can’t change other people. You can influence them, though, for better or worse.

It can be as simple as holding a door or letting someone go ahead of you in line, offering to take somebody’s photo for them when they’re struggling with an awkward selfie, being courteous on a shared bike/pedestrian path, or putting away your phone and giving somebody your full attention.
If you know me well, all this might sound hypocritical. I struggle with seeing the good in the world, which often puts me in a dark mood. But just like a smoker knows the habit is unhealthy, it’s worth the effort to try to cut back and eventually quit.

Because even though I’m not always a fan of our species, I know that life is hard for everybody. We’ve all got stuff we’re dealing with and can get so caught up in our own issues that we forget others are struggling, too. Empathy is a skill and a choice.
So, to spread some positive feelings around, I created these Wilder Wishes images you see here, from some of my paintings. If you like them, send one in an email or text it to someone who might need a lift. Share one on social media or wherever you want. Or print them for yourself to stick on your fridge or desk.

You can save each of these images from this post or download all five from this Dropbox link.
If one of these happy faces makes the day a little brighter, for you or somebody else, then that makes mine better, too. Sometimes, you’ve got to give a smile to get one back.

Have a good week,
Patrick

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Reflecting and a Raven on White

In the late nineties, I worked different jobs at a hotel in Banff for five or six years, from waterslide attendant and manager to front desk agent, night auditor and accounting clerk.

I used to doodle, sketch, and draw a lot in those days. I wasn’t very good at it, but like with any skill, you don’t produce your best work until you’ve paid for it with years of bad work. It was a hobby that I never thought would become a career.

While at the waterslides, after I’d finished cleaning, the job often meant minding the desk until guests showed up. I might spend hours alone in the slow season, so I would read or draw. The night audit position required a couple of hours running financial reports at the beginning of the shift, then babysitting the front desk all night until the day staff arrived.

More time to draw.

I filled countless sketchbooks during those years, all long ago discarded, recycled or shredded. I’m not a nostalgic person, and I don’t like clutter. Some have suggested I should have kept that stuff because it might have been worth money someday.

Ever seen American Pickers? Those outbuildings full of junk are all about people keeping useless stuff for that very reason. Most of it is worthless.

Proving we never know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone, I took all that creative freedom I now miss for granted. No deadlines, no expectations, and no need for any of that artwork to pay the bills. With no social media or website then, I didn’t have to post any of it.

Art for a living is a double-edged sword. While I certainly prefer it to that waterslide job or working midnight shifts minding a front desk, and working at home alone suits my nature; I no longer draw anything just for fun. If I’ve got time to draw, I spend it on editorial cartoons or whimsical wildlife paintings.

I used to enjoy editorial cartooning, but following politics and the news every day, especially in our increasingly toxic and adversarial culture, it’s just a job, and there’s little joy in it. But I can’t ignore that without cartoon deadlines; I wouldn’t have been as disciplined to draw almost every day for more than twenty years. That constant practice has made me a better artist. How could it not?

The wildlife paintings, however, are the antidote to the negative news cycle. I’d much rather spend every day painting fur and feathers, recording painting videos, or writing, but that’s currently just over half of my artistic income, so I need to devote equal time to the darkness and light.

The financial pressure I assign to my wildlife work often decides which animals I paint. I will avoid certain animals because they’re unlikely to be popular. I must always think about the market potential for anything I paint. Will this or that retail or licensing client be interested, will it be popular at markets, and which products might benefit from this piece?

I’ve only realized in recent years how loud those questions have become. My Otter and Smiling Tiger are two of my bestsellers, but I wasn’t thinking about that when I painted either of them nor could I have predicted their success.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to predict and produce the next bestseller every time I plan a new painting, even knowing it’s impossible. Art isn’t an algorithm. Based on market trends, you can’t accurately predict what will resonate with people. I know because every year, the licensing industry pretends they know what people want and what will sell, and they fail more often than succeed.

Like with political polls or long-range weather forecasts, we pay attention to these poor predictions and then complain about how often they’re wrong. We’re not as bright as we like to pretend.

Several people asked me to paint a sloth a couple of years ago. I kept putting it off because I had no interest. But I finally got tired of hearing it and wondered if I was missing something. So, I put the time in and painted one. It was a worthwhile challenge, and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I learned some things in the process, but it’s not one of my personal favourites. I’ve never felt any connection with sloths. It sells well enough, but it’s not a bestseller.

Over the past year, I’ve received a bizarre number of requests for another animal, at least twice a day at the Banff Christmas markets. It’s another I wouldn’t have chosen, but I started on it this week. With the Calgary Expo on the horizon, it’s the best place to test if requests will result in actual sales, should I manage to do a good job. Rather than tell you what it is, I’ll share it in a couple of weeks.
I’ve always liked ravens, and I talked a bit about that in my last post. Because ravens are popular, this piece was a marketing decision and an animal I wanted to paint. It’s nice when it can be both, but I catch myself asking composition questions while I paint that I never would have when I didn’t do this for a living.

Will no background make the painting more or less popular? Will people want the blues and purples in the feathers to be more or less vibrant? Should I have exaggerated the whimsy more, or did I go too far already?

It also applies to writing posts like this. Am I being too negative? Will this angsty artist crap turn people off? Should I write something peppy and encouraging, even though I feel none of that right now? What do people want to hear?

These questions are pointless, but I find them impossible to ignore.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

But because this work is my livelihood, it’s nearly impossible to avoid these thoughts. My time is limited, and spending it on a painting that doesn’t sell well feels like I wasted it on the wrong painting.

Second guessing like that often leads to procrastination and self-doubt. Too long in that headspace, and I’ll ultimately paint nothing because I’m looking for impossible guarantees.

It would be nice to end a post like this with a positive affirmation or some conclusion that hints at some 11th-hour writing wisdom. But I have no clear answer to this flawed perspective. I’m still working on it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Market Lessons


Sales were good for both Banff Christmas Market weekends, so I’ll book again next year. The weather was great, right up until a sudden snowstorm Sunday evening, just in time for load-out, but that’s life in the Rockies.

When you make art for a living, profitability is the critical metric for an event’s worthiness, but after you achieve the financial goals, there are intangible benefits, too.

At the Calgary Expo earlier this year, a new vendor introduced himself, thanked me for a couple of blog posts I’d written about the Expo, and said it helped him prepare for his first booth. I got plenty of help and advice when in his shoes, so I was pleased to pay it forward.

There are plenty more experienced vendors than I am, but I’ve done enough over the years to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Every vendor has something to teach you. From where to find a decent meal in a sea of deep-fried food trucks to when to get there on the last day for a good parking spot for load-out. Those who’ve been there before have the wisdom; most are happy to share it.

Keep good records. I have a detailed sales spreadsheet I update each day of the show, whether home or away. You may only do a particular market once, but if you do well and come back the following year, you won’t be able to remember what you sold, so you won’t know what to bring. It’s not enough that I know the Smiling Tiger or Otter were bestsellers. I need to know how the other 40 images did, too.

Be honest about your costs. You don’t make any money until you know what you’ve spent.

Because I got to come home each night, the expenses for these recent markets were low, mainly booth cost and insurance. At the Calgary Expo, once I added up booth cost, parking, power, insurance, hotel and meals, I spent $2000 before I sold one print. To make it worth my time, I must make much more there than at the Banff Christmas Market.

Then, every sticker, magnet, coaster, calendar, puzzle, and print has a cost that must be deducted from each sale before I know what I made. And every time somebody pays with a credit card, there’s a fee, too.

Shit happens. On Thursday, as I set up, I dropped the first metal print of my Blizzard Bear painting. Most wouldn’t have noticed the corner damage, and it still looked good on display, but a slip of my fingers and the profit from that piece was gone. Thankfully, another vendor, a fan of my work from Expo, was happy to buy it at cost. So, I didn’t lose money, and she got a big metal print that wasn’t in her budget at full price.Booth location and size might be inaccurate, neighbours may be challenging, organizers could be stressed out, and anything can happen. Roll with it until you can’t, and then ask for help.

Help your neighbours. It might be scissors, a hammer, or a band-aid, but somebody always forgets something. I have power at my booth, and occasionally, somebody needs to charge their phone. Keep an eye on a neighbour’s booth for a washroom break. Hold the other end of their banner while they hang it up. I get plenty of offers for help and do my best to return in kind. And it helps you make friends, too.

You won’t always connect with the people around you. I remember one Calgary Expo where none of my neighbours were interested in friendly small talk. That makes for a longer market, especially during slow periods.

In Banff, I had two fun neighbours. We were all on the same page with work ethic and professionalism, but I enjoyed their company when there was room for kidding around and chatting. I hope to share space with them again in the future.

Foam floor pads and comfortable shoes. If you do it right, you’ll stand long hours for multiple days. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Don’t complain or talk politics. This past weekend, a woman started going off about world government plots and chem trails in the sky. One minute, we talked about the great weather and beautiful mountains; next, she headed down the conspiracy rabbit hole. I smiled and politely said, “It’s a strange world.” After I said it the second time, she seemed to realize I wasn’t taking the bait and moved on. Arguing politics and controversial topics with strangers is a waste of life and will do nothing good for your business.

Eat well and often. Pack small healthy items you can eat quickly between customers without stuffing your face: carrot sticks, protein bars, a pre-cut sandwich, and pieces of cheese. Drink water. Setting up and tearing down grid walls and hardware, expect to damage yourself. My hands are wrecked at the end of a show from dry skin, cracked fingertips, and chipped or split fingernails. Bring a first aid kit. Nobody wants blood on their prints or stickers. Bring hand sanitizer and moisturizer.

All these people you’re talking to, especially this time of year, several of them are spreading colds or flu they don’t even know they have yet. It’s unavoidable, but healthy habits are your best chance of prevention.

Lozenges and breath mints are a must. You’ll have to talk a lot, and foul coffee breath won’t help your sales.

You’re there to sell. One vendor told me about someone at another show complaining that he wasn’t making any money. He left his booth often to wander the show. I’ve often seen neighbours spend all their time on their phones, heads down, ignoring people who walk into their booth, failing to engage with potential customers. A vendor next to me at this market, her friends and family hung out at her booth all day long socializing. Customers came and went without a word exchanged.

Respect other vendors. If you’re chatting with a neighbour and a customer approaches, leave the conversation. If it’s their customer, they’ll appreciate it. If it’s your customer, a professional neighbour will understand.

Be positive. Slow times happen, but they can also turn around on a dime. Desperation is contagious, and customers will pick up on it.I’m a pessimist. I don’t have a lot of faith in people. It comes from following the news for a living for my editorial cartoons. I work at home and enjoy my solitude. And yet, at markets, I try to be upbeat, smile, happy and joke around. It’s part of the job. It’s not all an act; I’m genuinely pleased to introduce new customers to my art, and many have become friends over the years. I’m always happy to see them again.

You never know who you’re talking to. If you make assumptions about people, you might say something that makes you look foolish and miss a valuable opportunity. Many people ask about commissions, and I advertise them in my booth with a large metal print of my Luna painting from last year.

When they ask about pricing, I tend to soften the blow with “it’s an investment” before I tell them it’s $1900. The sticker shock is evident on most faces, but then I explain the amount of work that goes into each one, the many hours of painting, the back-and-forth photo exchanges and prep before I paint one brushstroke, and that, unlike my other work, there is no market for that piece when finished. Most people understand, but spending that amount on a painting of their dog or cat is not often a priority. I get that. It’s the reason I only get hired to do two or three of these a year.

But I also spoke to a couple this weekend who seemed genuinely interested, sharing photos and asking about timelines, shipping, and specific details. This was after they’d heard the price, which is always a good sign. They wanted it in my whimsical style, and their dog has a great face and character. I want to paint him.  Even if that possible commission never materializes, my next important client or avid collector could be standing in front of me at any time. That Luna painting? Six months after I first spoke with him, he hired me for the piece, and it was one of the best client experiences of my career.

Listen to people. Ask questions. You’ll discover why certain pieces connect with people and how to use that knowledge for future sales. I learn a lot from my customers. I’ll soon start a painting of an animal I wouldn’t have considered on my own. It must be trending because at least a dozen people (not kidding) have independently asked for it this year. I don’t get it, but I’m going to paint it because I’m clearly missing something.Ask people where they’re from, especially in a tourist town. I met people from all over the world this weekend.

One gentleman said he was from a town in Saskatchewan, and “you probably don’t know it.”But I asked, and then told him that I’m the editorial cartoonist for his local paper and have been for years. He and his wife know one of Shonna’s uncles because her large extended family is from the same area.  People like to tell you about themselves, and it’s nice to give them the opportunity, not just for the sales, but to connect with another human being, something we all missed more than we realized the last few years.

Celebrate the little things that make it fun. I reluctantly confess I found myself singing along to Christmas carols. It might have involved toe-tapping. Those who know me well…close your mouths. I know it’s shocking that this Grinch found a little holiday spirit. Damn that Mariah Carey!

Plenty of happy dogs (and puppies!) were walking around, and their people were most accommodating with requests to say Hello. It made my weekend.  Want an overdose of pure joy? A Bernese Mountain puppy. Take what you want from my booth; I’m no longer paying attention.

While this advice sounds easy, we’re human. People make mistakes. I have complained to a neighbour. I’ve allowed a problem to frustrate me instead of working on it. I’ve talked politics with someone and always wished I hadn’t. I’ve failed to ask for or declined help when it was readily available, usually out of stubborn pride. I have seen somebody who could have used my help but didn’t offer it because I was busy with my booth.

But making course corrections is easier than people think. Most of the time, it’s just a choice.

If you and I have encountered each other at a market or show, whether you’re a customer or visitor to my booth or a fellow vendor, I hope it was a good experience. And if so, I hope to see you again down the road. If you have any questions I can answer, post them in the comments. I’ll help if I can.

If you attended this year’s Banff Christmas Market and took some of my whimsical wildlife home with you, thanks for supporting a local artist. I love my work, and I hope you do, too.

Cheers
Patrick

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Reflections on Remembrance


Whether it’s plumbing, building homes, or farming, many people go into ‘the family business.’

If my family had one, it would be the Canadian Armed Forces. Both my parents grew up in career military families. My mother’s three brothers served, as did my father’s three brothers. My Dad had a decorated career in the Air Force and retired after 31 years. With two separate tours overseas, I spent ten years of my youth living in the former West Germany.

Many think it must be a difficult way to live, and I would argue the opposite. It was a privilege to grow up in Europe. Given the choice, I would have stayed longer, and I know my parents would have, too.

Base brats have a connection one can only understand through shared experience. When meeting somebody who also grew up in the military, it’s common to compare postings. Were we ever in the same place, do we know any of the same people, do our parents know each other? You’d be surprised how often the answer is ‘yes’ to all three.

My oldest and closest friend, Darrel, the guy I often talk about when I write about my cabin trips, was a base brat in Germany when I was. He’s five years older than I am, so we weren’t friends then, but our families were. The connection goes back even further. While stationed in France in the fifties, Darrel’s mother and my father hung out together as teenagers.

Eventually, our families ended up on the same base outside of Red Deer in the late eighties, when Darrel and I became friends.

Like a lot of base brats, I thought about a military career. I spent five years in the Reserves,  two of them full-time, teaching basic training at the Air Reserve Training School at CFB Penhold.

Shonna was a Reservist for three years, which is where we met. Truth be told, I might have joined the Regular Force if it hadn’t been for her because I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, but I knew the military life.

Thirty-three years later, Shonna and I have just celebrated our 28th anniversary, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than draw and colour for a living. In hindsight, I made the right call.

But I always try to put extra effort into my Remembrance Day cartoons for obvious reasons. It gets more challenging to develop something new each year, trying to avoid images or phrasing that don’t sound trite, overused or cliché.

Some years, my cartoons are better than others, but I’m pleased with what I came up with this time, the image at the top of this post. The effort I put into the artwork is evident, and the sentiment is sincere.
On occasion, I focus less on veterans of the wars and more on those who currently serve. And throughout the year, I take every opportunity to draw cartoons intended to shame our political leadership into less talk and more action.
From decades-long procurement problems and endless red tape tying up much-needed equipment replacement to an enlistment shortfall that gets worse each year, the Canadian Armed Forces has its issues. Stains and scandals are public record, and for those, they’re held to account.

But our failing as a nation is that we don’t insist on providing them with the continued support they need. You can’t deny them training and equipment when times are easy then expect them to be ready and able when the inevitable hard times arrive.

There’s an old saying that nobody loves a soldier until the enemy is at the gate. These days, the enemy is as likely to be a threat on our own soil as it is from another nation.
Just this year, the military was tasked with emergency deployments when wildfires threatened several communities. They’ve rendered such assistance in countless natural disasters across Canada over the years. Given our changing climate, Canada will require more of their aid in the future.

Just as we might not think much about the nursing or doctor shortages in our hospitals until we need them ourselves, how often do we realize the value of a robust and well-equipped military?
Politicians on all sides talk a good game about supporting our men and women in uniform when it buys them votes, only to slash budgets when they no longer benefit from the optics. The men and women who serve have surrendered their right to openly complain about the government, something the rest of us take for granted.

So, it’s left to us to advocate on their behalf. Because when we fail to give them the support they need, we inevitably fail ourselves and our communities. If we only think of them for a couple of minutes on one day each year, or when we fix a poppy to our lapels for a couple of weeks, it’s only lip service.
Yes, think of those who have fallen in service of our country. Remember them and their sacrifice, so that history isn’t allowed to repeat.

But support those who still serve because you never know when you’ll need them.
____
©Patrick LaMontagne 2023

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A Genial Grizzly

Winter reared its ugly head this week in Alberta, and I’m already feeling the blues. It happens every year, but painting a happy face usually puts me in a better mood. Grizzly Bearapy. It’s an effective prescription.

For my primary reference for this piece, I selected a few I took during a day with Berkley at Discovery Wildlife Park several years ago. It was the same day I took the reference for my Peanuts painting. But I also referenced other grizzly bears to vary the features.

Half of my business is editorial cartooning; for that work, my clients are newspapers. That’s a business model that was on shaky ground already when I got into it a couple of decades ago. Today, many papers are hanging on by their fingernails. Despite that, it’s still worth my time and effort to draw five or six syndicated editorial cartoons each week for several publications across Canada.

However, I shouldn’t need to explain why that could change tomorrow.

About thirteen years ago, anticipating the day when editorial cartooning would no longer be enough to provide a full-time income, I looked for ways to diversify. With a steady decline in newspaper revenue in recent years, it was a good call. Thankfully, my whimsical wildlife paintings became the other half of my career and business, which still has plenty of growth potential.

While neither part of my business is presently enough on its own, together, they’re my full-time job.

It can be easy to get complacent and coast when things are going well enough. But life can turn on a dime, and the things we think only happen to other people can quickly happen to any one of us.

I’m an unapologetic pessimist; there’s no sense denying it. I’ve had too many plans scuttled by someone else’s decisions, so I don’t take anything for granted. One year, I lost nine papers in one day because a newspaper chain sold. When the pandemic hit, I lost even more. I’ve had licensing and other opportunities vanish overnight when corporations changed direction or personnel.

As we’re all aware, companies are quick to talk about trust and loyalty when convenient, but their actions often walk a different path.
Though this painting was fun to do, as are most of my whimsical wildlife pieces, it was a commercial decision. It’s the first in a series of paintings I’m creating to promote my work to new licensing clients. It’s also another painting for the bear book.

If you’re a self-employed artist, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially relevant in today’s economy.

By the end of this week, I’ll have drawn seven editorial cartoons, finished this grizzly bear painting, worked on a pet portrait commission, written content for the book, created page layouts so my publisher can get pricing estimates, and done month-end invoicing and bookkeeping.

All are necessary to keep my business viable but also prevent monotony. By having different things on which to focus, I’ve always got something else I can be doing. Painting grizzly bear fur and features for three hours is delightful—eight hours, not so much.

So it’s nice to make progress on a painting in the morning, then switch to drawing an editorial cartoon, sort and select photo reference, read some marketing material, research and reach out to potential new licenses, plan for upcoming gift shows, or write a post like this one.

Then, when I return to the painting the next day, it’ll be with fresh eyes to correct any errors and add more life to the piece for a few more hours. I get to enjoy the work I love most without allowing it to become a yoke I resent.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Slowing Down for a Sunrise

Shonna and I planned to celebrate our 25th anniversary in the latter half of 2020, right after she turned 50. Our birthdays are six months apart to the day, and my 50th was the following spring.

We don’t usually buy gifts or make a big deal out of our birthdays and generally let them pass without fanfare.

However, we’d planned a Vancouver Island kayak trip to mark those three milestones. Cancelled by the pandemic, we finally took that trip in August of last year, and it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had. You can read about it here and see pics.

But around my actual 50th birthday in the spring of 2021, I spent an evening with my buddies Jim and Al in Exshaw. It was somewhat subdued, a casualty of lockdown life.

Two other friends wanted to be there, but they’re both seniors, and it wasn’t worth the risk to their health during the pandemic. But they got on the phone, and the four gave me a birthday gift of a hot air balloon ride in Calgary.

I appreciated the thought but soon discovered this experience came with logistical challenges because there was an issue every time I tried to use it. First, the pandemic wore on (and on and on and on), and when that settled down, it was the weather.

From the Sundance Balloons website, “We require light winds, good visibility, no rain and no storms in the area.”

If it wasn’t the wind this area is famous for, it was thunderstorms, hail, or wildfire smoke that gets worse each year.

And, as always, it’s tough to get away from work. A self-employed person is somebody who would rather work 80 hours for themselves than 40 for somebody else. Time off has been a low priority, especially this year.

It has been over two years since receiving this gift, and I wondered if I would ever use it. It began to feel like another item on the to-do list for which I didn’t have time. Rather than look forward to it, I grew to resent the obligation and felt guilty for wasting my friends’ money. I even considered refunding each of them for the gift, which would no doubt offend, so I was stuck.

Fortunately, Sundance Balloons continued to extend the deadline without complaint, and I kept looking for an opportunity.

Earlier this week, the forecast looked good, and they had availability, so I booked for Wednesday morning. You must call the flight line number the night before departure to confirm the meetup location and that the flight will proceed. Again, all good.

Unless I’m out of town, I’m up at 5 a.m. seven days a week, so early mornings don’t bother me. But the pickup time in Calgary was 610 a.m., and it was over an hour’s drive to get there, so I set the alarm for 3. Unfortunately, I didn’t need it, as I’ve had insomnia all week. I was up at 2.

Hopped up on coffee, cranking the tunes and singing along, I drove through the dark and made it with fifteen minutes to spare. However, it rained on and off between Canmore and Calgary, and when I got there, the operators were considering if they had to cancel.

One couple who waited with me said their trip had been cancelled four times due to weather. Luck was finally on their side. Mine, too.

We left our cars at the Blackfoot Hotel in Southeast Calgary and drove to South Glenmore Park in a van and trailer. The crew explained the procedures, we had a safety briefing, and they began inflating the balloon, complete with a big Mr. Rooter Plumbing logo. A smaller Re/Max balloon joined us, but that didn’t take passengers.
Our balloon could hold thirteen people, but we had plenty of room with only five guests, our pilot and two crew. The basket was spacious, with different compartments, plenty of padding and handholds.

I left my professional camera home and brought my trusty little Canon PowerShot. It has served me well as a carry-everywhere for more than ten years, and still, I took most of my pictures with my phone, attached by a tether to my wrist.
Shonna and I have gone skydiving and flown in an open-cockpit biplane. I’ve taken an air acrobat stunt flight, so I’m fine with heights. One woman’s husband surprised her that morning on her sixtieth birthday, and she openly admitted to fearing heights before the trip. But once in the air, she didn’t seem nervous and enjoyed herself, as it’s such a smooth, relaxing way to sight-see.
With almost an hour of flight time, we went from flying high in the air, enjoying panoramic views on all sides with a fantastic sunrise to hovering motionless ten feet off the ground in Fish Creek Park.
While the higher altitude flying was a thrill, I most enjoyed lazily floating over suburban neighbourhoods at treetop height as people went to school and work. Several times, folks stood in their driveways and backyards, waving and calling out ‘Good Morning,’ so close we barely had to raise our voices. While stopped at intersections on their morning commutes, people honked and waved out the open windows of their cars. A couple of times, kids hurried out of the way, thinking we were about to land on them.
You never know your exact landing spot, and the pilot has dozens of options on the route and plenty of experience. Apparently, parks and school activity fields are ideal, and our pilot explained that the City of Calgary is supportive, flexible and accommodating.
Our route is indicated by the blue line from top left to middle right. Each of the purple pins along this pilot’s navigation display are potential landing zones. Mitch explained that he could select more detail for each to see the associated features, obstacles and hazards. There truly is an app for everything.
As a sudden bit of wind showed up at the last minute, we overshot the first landing site and ended up in a large green space surrounded by houses, condos and an elementary school where the students were just about to go inside to start their day. Excited by this spectacle, many of them came over to watch. The red arrow indicates where we landed.
The basket bumped up and down three times before tipping over onto its side as it stopped. We’d been well briefed on landing positions, so it wasn’t even a little uncomfortable, especially with the partitioned compartments. As instructed, we waited until they secured the rig before climbing out.

As we quickly helped the crew gather up the deflated balloon and ready it for transport, the chase van and trailer arrived, and we packed it. Soon, it was like we hadn’t even been there, though I expect those school kids probably talked about it all day.

When we returned to our vehicles, there was a champagne toast to wrap things up, though I opted for orange juice. I was already running on fumes from insufficient sleep, and my mind was on another large coffee for the drive back to Canmore. Within ten minutes of arriving home, I passed out on the couch for a couple of hours.

The weather cancellation issue might be challenging for some when booking a trip like this, never knowing if the date you choose will come with favourable conditions. It’s also a very early morning, especially if you must travel to get there, but the experience was worth the wait. I enjoyed myself and was pleased and relieved to send my generous friends my thanks and some photos later in the day.

It would have been better if Shonna could have shared it with me, but her workload is ridiculous right now, and it just wasn’t in the cards.

I’d recommend Sundance Balloons without hesitation, as their crew and our pilot, Mitch, were friendly and professional the whole time.

And thankfully, I finally got a full eight hours of sleep last night.

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Bearing the Elements: Navigating the Wilds of an Art Career

Here’s a time lapse drawing video of my little friend Berkley when she was a cub. You may listen to the voice-over or read it below.

Most artists will experience an inspirational drought where the creative well appears to have dried up, often several times in a career. Get to the bottom and start digging, you may only find more dry dirt.

That’s some scary shit, especially when hauling that water is how you make your living.

The pandemic was a wake-up call for many. Some changed careers because they had to. Others considered returning to their pre-lockdown jobs and realized they’d rather be unemployed.

We were all confronted with hard questions.

One I keep returning to is, “What do I want?”

The easy answer is often ‘more money’ as many imagine that would solve our problems. I don’t want a sports car, a big truck, or a huge house. I’m not a ‘buy more stuff’ guy. More money means safety and security, not having to fret about the finances, now or in my senior years.

Retirement doesn’t appeal to me. To keep my existential angst at bay, I need to have something to do. Idle time is not my friend. Barring any injury, illness or a cognitive decline, a prospect that honestly scares the hell out of me, I plan to work for the next twenty-five-plus years.

But what work do I want to do?

Parents used to tell their children to get an education and have something to fall back on, but those safety jobs have become rare. The days of thirty or forty years with a company followed by a healthy pension are long gone. We read daily about massive layoffs from corporations with names that used to be synonymous with stability.

That’s one reason I opted to sail my own ship rather than shovel coal on a larger vessel where the captain can throw you overboard on a whim, most likely into shark-infested waters during a hurricane.

But even working for yourself, you must still answer to customers. The art you want to create and the art your clients want you to create are often two different things.

At my market or gift show booth, people often ask for their favourite animal. Do you have an iguana, a hedgehog, or a kangaroo? If I don’t, I’ll add it to the list and might eventually paint it. If they follow my work, they might even still be around when I complete it. It could become a bestseller but likely won’t because most people want popular animals like lions, tigers, bears, and wolves.

At one event earlier this year, somebody asked if I had a sloth. I had just painted one, so I plucked it from the bin, put it in her hands and proudly said, “Why yes, I do.”

The woman looked at it briefly, put it back in the bin and started flipping through the others, asking, “Do you have a platypus?”

I wished I had so that I could find out what she’d ask for next. When I said I didn’t, she said, “Oh, too bad, I would have bought one,” and she walked away.

This is often what it’s like working for clients.
Several licensing companies rent the rights to put my work on their products. Occasionally, one will ask for a painting of a specific animal. If I can, I’ll try to accommodate the request. But without fail, as soon as I do, the client has a list of other images they want me to create.

Suddenly, licensing my catalogue has turned into their ordering custom pieces, but without commission rates or guarantees that the time spent will generate revenue. It’s somebody else gambling with my money or, more importantly, my limited time.

I recently negotiated with a puzzle company to create a few designs for them. The first was a detailed painting of three giraffes. It was my idea, but one they approved. Shortly after I finished it, the owner told me they couldn’t add any new artists this year due to unforeseen circumstances. No big surprise in this economy.

I’m disappointed but have no hard feelings because I got some valuable experienced advice about what makes a good puzzle, and I stretched my skills to create something new. And I’m also happy with the finished piece. Once I complete a couple more puzzle-minded pieces, I’ll be shopping that first painting and new designs to other puzzle companies. Failing that, I’ll produce my own.
When companies are your clients, your needs are not their needs. If your art resonates with their customers, then it’s mutually beneficial. But the moment it doesn’t, you’re yesterday’s news. They’ll work with the artist who makes them the most money. They’re in business to promote their company, not your work.

On the reverse of all my prints, there is an artist bio. The last line invites people to subscribe to A Wilder View on my website, a regular email where I share news, paintings, and the stories behind them. One retailer will only sell my prints if I remove that line from the bio, as they don’t want their customers going to my website.

I’ve had a website for over two decades, and I’m easy to find, so I’m not concerned. But I am reminded of my value every time I prepare to deliver new prints because I must slice off that last line from each bio before sticking it to the backer board.

I recently severed ties with an art licensing agency that kept asking me to create new work to follow whatever trend was popular this quarter, whether it was the type of work I did or not. It wasn’t personal; they wanted all their artists to do the same thing.

If you’re a graphic designer or illustrator, following trends is often part of the job and what you signed up for. But if you’ve found that rare jewel of an established niche as I have, changing what you do every few months because somebody read a post on Facebook that robot plumbers wearing figure skates are in this year, you might as well be panhandling. The artist takes all the risk, creating new work in the faint hope the licensing agency might find a buyer for it. If they don’t, too bad.

If you won’t do it, they can find thousands of young desperate artists who will.

That’s no way to sustain a career. Nobody wins a race to the bottom.
Customer service, professional behaviour and sound business practices are essential, as is compromise and accommodating your clients’ needs and wishes. People pay you to supply what they need, and delivering that often builds lasting relationships beneficial to both parties. All boats rise with the tide. Fail to realize these things, and you’ll soon be out of business.

But if you don’t write your own story, you’re just a bit player in somebody else’s. When you spend all your creative energy trying to please your clients and customers at the expense of the things that made you want to be an artist in the first place, you become bitter and resentful.

At least I have. But I’m working through it by redefining my boundaries in work and life.

An old maxim cautions, “Don’t kill yourself working for an employer that would advertise your job before anybody sees your obituary.”

If I suddenly dropped dead, my licensing clients would (hopefully) send my royalties as usual and negotiate any future licensing with my wife. Everybody else would move on.

Newspapers continue to struggle, and the question of how long I’ll be an editorial cartoonist has been front and center for over a decade.

These are things I can’t control.

So I ask again, “What do I want?”
I enjoy creating my animal art, but lately, whenever I go to paint something, I think, “Will this animal be popular? Have I painted too many of these? Not enough? Will this make me any money?”

Every art decision has become about revenue. And when money is the prime motivator, the creative light dims. That leads to burnout and no joy left in the work. When the economy is down, costs are up, interest rates rising, and companies are laying people off, it’s hard to invest time in projects that might bear fruit later when other short-term work is more likely to generate income now.

Payments from clients and licensing companies are taking increasingly longer to reach my mailbox, despite their tight deadlines and demands for quick delivery.

Below the surface of every current piece of art is an undercurrent of desperation. Doom and gloom valley is not the preferred habitat for happy-looking animals.

Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

But then he also said, “The people who make art their business are mostly imposters.”

I’m gonna focus on the first quote and conveniently ignore the second one.
So while I’m trying to answer the question of what I want to do, I’m working on my art book about bears. Not promising to work on it like I’ve been doing for more than six years, but working on it, as I’m well and truly sick and tired of my own procrastination and bullshit excuses.

A very patient publisher recently told me to write the kind of art book I like to buy and read. The art books I like have smaller drawings, sketches, and unfinished pieces among the fully rendered paintings.

So, I’ve been alternating between writing the bear stories and drawing accent pieces like the ones you see here. I enjoy drawing them and expect one or two will inspire future paintings, as sketches often do.

While working on these images, I realized that whenever I’m lost and trying to navigate this ridiculous profession of art for a living, I always seem to come back to bears.

____

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Spending Some Time With Skoki

On Wednesday, I delivered a large print order to the Calgary Zoo. A zookeeper friend had ordered a couple of canvases, so I was also happy to deliver those to her.

It poured rain all day, and I was not complaining. After our unusually dry spring, all the wildfires, smoke, and extreme fire hazard risk, the water and cool temperatures were welcome.

But I figured it would be a quiet day, allowing me to take some reference photos. I prefer a cool, overcast day for pictures rather than a hot sunny one. Not only is the light better, but the animals are more active. How much would you want to move around in 30C wearing a fur coat?

 I failed to realize that many school groups visited the zoo in June, and the place was infested with loud, screaming, unruly children. They had filled the interior spaces on this rainy day, so I couldn’t take any pictures inside the Asia or Africa pavilions.

I know many kids and their parents like my artwork, so I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me. Zoos are great places for kids to learn to appreciate animals and foster empathy for them. Kids that love and learn about animals might become adults who want to protect them in the wild.

I also know that I was a hyperactive, rambunctious, loud kid, and I undoubtedly annoyed plenty of adults around me. So, payback’s a bitch, I guess. People talk about getting in touch with their inner child. Given the opportunity, I would tell mine to please, calm down and be quiet. Go draw something.

I realize that my lack of patience for children is entirely my own character flaw. Working alone at home all day, I thrive in a solitary quiet environment.

And you wonder why I don’t write or illustrate children’s books.

Since I couldn’t tolerate the little people inside the buildings, and finding unobstructed space to take photos was impossible, I decided to cut the day short.

But on my way back to the car, I figured it would be foolish not to visit the bears in the Canadian Wilds, at least.

I was pleasantly surprised to find them all active, moving about and playing. Skoki, a famous grizzly bear around here, seemed to be having a good day. At 34 years old, he’s a special ambassador bear whose story has been quoted countless times to educate tourists on why feeding and harassing bears for photos in Banff National Park doesn’t end well for the bear.

Rather than rewrite it, I’ll encourage you to read Colleen Campbell’s recent retelling of Skoki’s story.

Nobody wants to see animals in captivity, but as I’ve written countless times before, we are unwilling to sacrifice to keep that from happening. Everybody wants that sharable photo of a grizzly and her cubs on the side of the highway, and if one person stops, a dozen others stop. Soon, the bears are harassed and stressed, and if the mother defends herself or her cubs, she gets relocated or put down.
People leave food out while camping which attracts wildlife. When a bear associates people with food, it’s game over for the bear. I’ve lived in this valley for almost thirty years, and I don’t want to count how many times I’ve read about bears who’ve been euthanized because of selfish and careless people.

The more people repeat Skoki’s story, the more they educate young people to want to protect them in the wild and prevent them from being put in a zoo or destroyed.

One pet peeve I have at the zoo is the many times I’ve heard parents saying to their kids, “Watch out for the scary bear. He’s gonna get you. Rawrrrrrrr!”

I know they’re just fooling around and playing with their kids, but the message is clear — bears are frightening monsters, and you should be afraid of them. When you’re scared of something, it’s easy to justify killing it. There’s a big difference between respect and fear, and they have a lot more reason to fear people.
I must have taken about 700+ shots of Skoki on Wednesday. He gave me so many beautiful poses. At one point, he walked across a log, sat up and straddled it, then hung out there. The wind came up, and he was sniffing the air, clearly enjoying the rain, and I ended up with many great references. Look at those little feet.
He gave me a great idea for a painting. I imagine several bears lined up at a log, like a bunch of friends hanging out at a bar. With his multiple poses and expressions in the same spot, I can paint five or six different bears using him as the reference. I’ll paint the faces and bodies differently for variety, making one thinner, another heavier, taller, and shorter; there are plenty of options. By varying the colours, the finished bears will look like their own characters, but the primary reference will still be one bear.

One of the best things about taking photos for painting is that even though almost all my photos are poor shots, they’re still excellent reference. I was shooting behind very wet plexiglass windows from inside two different shelters. He was a good twenty or thirty feet away, so I could focus past all the water drops and spots, but it was still like shooting through a dirty lens. None of my images are sharp focus.

But I’ve painted so many bears and have taken thousands of photos of them that I only need the pose and the idea to craft a painting from these shots. I have enough experience with bear anatomy and painting hair that bad photos are still a good reference.

Plus, I know enough Photoshop tricks to sharpen them to give me more detail. They’re still bad photos but good enough for my purposes.
Resuming my walk back to my car about an hour and a half later, it struck me funny that I began the day hoping to get photos of animals I hadn’t yet painted or only painted once but left the zoo with a camera card full of grizzly bear photos. I have more pictures of bears than any other animal.

But I was happy once I saw them, armed with an idea for another painting.