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Whoever Fights With Monsters

(If you’re easily offended by profanity or negativity or just don’t want to deal with somebody else’s crap today, turn back now.)
I’m prone to rumination; deep, dark swan dives into the abyss. It’s a byproduct of my particular brand of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’m not going to go into a long boring history of it because people have seen too many movies, and most think it’s just about germs, lining up stuff in the fridge and avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. I have none of those traits.

The reason Hollywood has perpetuated that stereotype is that they can SHOW it. But anybody who lives with this nasty roommate will tell you that the worst of it plays out in their head. It’s a constant internal argument between a rational, logical realist and a batshit crazy lunatic.

The short version is that every so often, I’ll backslide into a period of doom, gloom, and depression.

Artists. We’re all so fucking mercurial.

Last night, I spiralled for most of the evening, went down the Google rabbit hole, looking for some relief from the dark thoughts, regret, and pervasive shame. When Shonna went to bed, I grabbed spare sheets, my pillow and made up the couch. No reason for the both of us to be tossing and turning all night.

I’ve slept on the couch more in the past two years than in the rest of my life. Before you read anything into that about my marriage, I do this voluntarily. With the constant barrage of pandemic news porn, my brain doesn’t easily shut down.

While lying awake most of the night, frustrated by insomnia, my mind went to all sorts of things, none of them good. Were I to detail the endless list of irrational fears and worries, you’d quickly get bored if you’re not already.

This morning, I woke at 4 am with no motivation to draw or paint. Thankfully, I have a cartoon ready to send that I finished late yesterday afternoon.

In an exercise in distraction, I decided to clean up my website and went through old blog posts. There are more than 600 posts from as early as 2008, detailing my focus at that time. I barely remember much of that work, and a lot of it is tough to look at since my skills have significantly improved.

There were posts about illustrations I did for board/card games, caricatures of celebrities and commissions, and several on a Flash animation series I created when it looked like editorial cartooning was heading in that direction.

There were even more irrelevant posts about new releases of Photoshop and videos I shared that no longer exist online, so they’re just broken links. I wrote posts about new business cards, websites, projects, and my complicated relationship with social media.

It’s not like anybody is going through my blog posts from more than a decade ago and spending weeks reading them. There is no good reason to keep this digital history.

But on more than a few posts, I lingered and gave them a quick scan. I’m a much better writer today than I was then. I’ve written many thousands of words between the first post and this one, so I’ve had plenty of practice.

While I deleted the first year of posts with barely a thought, I got a little pickier around the time I painted that first grizzly bear in 2009, and the posts revealing many of the animal paintings that followed. I’m not ready to get rid of those yet. There’s some relevant history there and fodder for the book I’m not writing fast enough for my liking. (cue the chorus of self-loathing).

I found some other posts that could use a rewrite, words of advice for other artists, warnings about dealing with disreputable people and how to recognize and avoid being scammed. I’ve learned a lot in the decade since then, and if I can spare some newbie some harsh lessons of experience, I’d like to.

I’ve got many more blog posts to go through and discard, but just like spring cleaning, it needs doing.

On days like this, the really dark days, I would much rather just curl up on the couch and zone out on Netflix, but it’s not in my nature. I’ll just feel worse at the end of the day for being lazy. So, I’ll spend it cleaning up my office closet, bookkeeping or on some other mindless chore that needs doing but doesn’t require any creativity.

I’m fully aware that this post is not inspirational, celebratory or positive. I almost didn’t share it, but that’s part of the bullshit we feed each other online that makes so many miserable. Everybody shares their best days and hides their worst, putting a false front out into the world. And even though we all know the warning about comparing your behind-the-scenes to somebody else’s highlight reel, we still play the game and fall for it. It doesn’t take much mindless scrolling through the social media curated gallery of somebody else’s greatness to end up feeling like garbage.

This is where I’m supposed to end the post with a cheery, upbeat turnaround, say ‘oh well’ and acknowledge that things could be worse and others in the world are having a much rougher time and, and, and…

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that failing to feel the bad shit, dismissing it, and shoving it aside will just make it worse, as will making yourself feel guilty for expressing it.

Over the years, I’ve talked with therapists, read a whole library of self-help books, listened to hours of podcasts, politely listened to unwanted advice about essential oils, mindfulness practices, apps, vitamins, medication and every suggestion under the sun, including the oh-so-helpful, “Hey, cheer up!”

The truth is, from time to time, you just find yourself travelling through hell. And over the past year and a half, we’re each experiencing our own personal brand of it.

So yeah, this too shall pass.

But probably not today.

__

© Patrick LaMontagne

P.S. While looking for an image in my archives to go with this post, I discovered that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Well, at least that gave me a chuckle.

 

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Learning, Listening, and Rising Together

Early in this editorial cartoon profession, somebody once told me that editorial cartoons are supposed to make you laugh, think, and hopefully do both. I think it was Terry Mosher (Aislin).

I have repeated that line often. In interviews, blog posts, talks to school kids or simply as an explanation when somebody challenges me on the content of a cartoon.

As we’re all now attuned to our individual offensensitivity meters, convinced that if something makes us uncomfortable, it must be inappropriate; I’ll often get emails chastising me for drawing a cartoon, telling me, “that’s not funny.”

Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.

Several times a year, I’m required to draw cartoons for tragedies, recurring events, serious moments and on topics where any levity would indeed be inappropriate by any metric.

Nobody drew funny cartoons the day after 9/11. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a knee-slapper in any newspaper in Canada on Remembrance Day. And there’s nothing funny about what went on for decades in Canada’s Residential School System.

When the federal government announced that September 30th would mark the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I knew I’d have to draw something.

An editorial cartoon isn’t unbiased. I don’t consider myself a journalist. While I do try to consider all sides of an issue, my cartoons are my illustrated opinions. So when you see them on the editorial page, it means the editor shared my opinion or at least thought that many of their readers might.

I can’t just spout off and draw something about whatever might cross my mind. I must consider whether it’s fair comment, reasonably concluded, and if it might get myself or my client in trouble. The standards for your local newspaper are a lot higher than Facebook or Twitter.

When it comes to residential schools, the last thing an indigenous person needs is yet another colonial descendant analyzing their history, whitesplaining it and offering up his conclusions. So, I won’t.

But I still had to draw a cartoon because it’s my job.

I’ll admit that my more serious cartoons have a distinct look to them. Often a more painted illustration, rather than a crisp ink line cartoon, accompanied by some text. Sometimes I’ll use a quote, especially if the cartoon is about a notable person who has just died, some of their own words or song lyrics.

But I prefer to use my own words, a couple of lines to complement the artwork so that the entire piece is my own creation. And these always take a lot longer to draw.

I’ve drawn cartoons about this topic before and wanted to avoid the same imagery. I avoided using the recently revealed Survivor’s Flag, as it felt like I would be appropriating the artwork painstakingly created by those who directly experienced this dark history.

We all have our own ways of connecting to what I call ‘the other.’ For some, it’s through organized religion, or it might be an individual faith and relationship with their god, whatever that means to each person. For others, it might be the connection they feel when they volunteer, do charitable works, or anything that makes them feel that there’s more to the world around them than what they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

While I don’t believe in a god, heaven or hell, or practice any organized religion, I frequently feel connected to something I can’t define. I most often feel closest to that when I’m painting, and I’m grateful to that something else for granting me the ability and the means to create.

I feel it most when I’m painting my whimsical wildlife paintings. It’s what I imagine Maslow meant when he defined the peak experience.

When I first created my animal art, I called them Totems but stopped the practice a few years ago.

About the change in 2018, I wrote, “What (totem) meant to me was paying homage to the animal spirit meaning of the word. The personality and character I paint in these animals make them feel alive to me. I’ve had some unique and special experiences with animals in recent years and can’t help but feel a connection with them, so it’s for personal reasons that I decided on that name.”

But as I explained in the post, having read and learned more about the difficult conversations surrounding cultural appropriation, I didn’t want the work I enjoy most to be tainted by misunderstanding. I didn’t want to imply or claim any connection to native culture, so I no longer refer to my animal paintings as Totems.

And yet, it’s through this work and these animals where I feel the most tethered to that something I can’t explain.

When I had the opportunity to create this cartoon, I felt that the sincerest offering I could make to this difficult discussion was to combine all my skills into one image.

In much of First Nations culture, the eagle is a sacred image. In my most basic understanding, it represents the closest connection to the creator, and it’s a conveyor of messages and prayers.

To illustrate just how sacred the beliefs surrounding this animal spirit are, it is illegal in Canada and the U.S. for any non-indigenous person to own any eagle parts, including feathers. I’ve learned more about this from my visits to the Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta, where they rescue and rehabilitate eagles, among other species. It’s also where I took the photo reference for this eagle image.

Any eagle feathers dropped by the birds at their facility are collected and sent to Alberta Fish and Wildlife. After examination for conservation research and screening for disease, they’re distributed to different tribal councils.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about honouring the children who died in residential schools, healing for the survivors and promoting understanding and education about our history. So the eagle image seemed the best fit for what I wanted to say.

Whether it resonates with my editors or their readers is beyond my control. But hopefully, I did my job.

 If not, then I will try harder next year.

___
© Patrick LaMontagne
To find out more about The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, please begin here.

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A Different Kind of Canada Day

Drawing an editorial cartoon or illustration for Canada Day is usually fun, and most of the time, without controversy.

This year, however, with all we’ve been through living with the virus and coming to terms with the darkest parts of our nation’s history, July 1st will no doubt be a day of reflection for many.

With the discovery of more unmarked graves at former sites of Indian residential schools, Canadians are once again coming to terms with our past.

We have long pretended that we walk the high road, especially when comparing ourselves to other countries. We have prided ourselves in being polite, friendly, and first to come to the aid of others in need, even when we weren’t any of those things.

But we were never on firm ground while walking that road because we’ve always known our own history, even when we chose to ignore it. These graves might be new physical evidence, but what went on at residential schools was never a secret.

In 1922, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce wrote a whistle-blowing book entitled “The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice for the Indians of Canada.” He had submitted a report in 1907 to the Department of Indian Affairs that was largely ignored.

It wasn’t until 1958 that Indian Affairs regional inspectors recommended the closure of all residential schools. The last one didn’t close until 1996.

One of the most overused clichés surrounding Remembrance Day in Canada, when we remember our fallen service members on November 11th, is the phrase ‘Lest We Forget.’

It has become more of a tagline, something companies can put on their ads, and individuals can share online because they’re supposed to. It almost feels like saying ‘Bless You’ when somebody sneezes, a courtesy without meaning. It’s just something you say.

But Lest We Forget is important. It’s about remembering your past so that you don’t repeat it.

Despite our bad habits on social media, where we are quick to point out the failings of others, comparing our best traits to their worst, there isn’t one of us who would have all of our past sins laid bare for public scrutiny. We are fallible and damaged; we are human.

We tear down statues and spit on the ground when we say the names of the architects of the residential school system, but we conveniently forget that Canadians elected these people. Many of those native children are alive today, and they’re not as old as you might think.

This is not ancient history. It happened in our lifetime, much more recently than the world wars we remember each year without fail.

We point the finger at our past leaders and say that they should have done something, but that’s the easy way out. It’s also easy to blame the current leadership and say that it’s their fault, but most of the time, that’s simply partisan politics. We switch political parties in this country more than we switch vehicles.

A hundred years from now, our descendants will not look kindly on our inaction. Such is the luxury of hindsight.  Our behaviour during the pandemic, how we treat our most disadvantaged citizens, our obsession with moral grandstanding on social media, and our disregard for the threat of climate change, the ground on which we stand is indeed shaky.

But we can change. We can have more empathy for our fellow travellers. We can try and put ourselves in another’s shoes before passing judgment on the narrow snapshot we might see of them. These are choices.

Some municipalities have cancelled their Canada Day events, others are going ahead with the party, and more are still on the fence. Individuals must decide for themselves.

I don’t agree with scrubbing away our history, nor do I support daily self-flagellation. Neither accomplishes much of anything. We should know our nation’s past, reflect on it, and learn from it.

Remembrance is not just about the wars we won, but our collective history as a nation, the good and the bad.

Lest we forget.

© Patrick LaMontagne

 

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Standing Room Only – Find Your Audience


Finally writing this post makes my day because I’ve wanted to share this news for quite some time.

Most artists hate marketing. Hell, most people who are self-employed hate marketing. While it’s a necessary evil to let people know what you have to offer, self-promotion often feels like begging.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve written a few posts over the past several months on David duChemin’s impact on helping me expand and improve my marketing. What I haven’t shared is that in addition to a couple of incredibly informative personal calls, David has been working hard on a new course called Standing Room Only.

I’ve been part of a group of a dozen or so creatives who’ve taken and completed this course in recent months.

Regular readers will know how little respect I have for business promotion on social media. It has been indescribably frustrating how much energy, time, and money I’ve spent on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram over the years, receiving very little in return.

As David wrote in one of his recent Audience Academy e-mails, “I’m on social” is not a marketing plan.”

Regular followers of A Wilder View have seen some of the changes I’ve made in recent months. The fact that I no longer call it ‘my newsletter’ is just one of them.

The colouring pages, free wallpapers, positive changes to my website and online store, the new look to A Wilder View and a sharper focus on where I want to take my work — all of that is thanks to David and this course.

And I’ve just barely scratched the surface on the changes that are coming.

NONE of this course is flowery self-help crap, nor is it empty “you can do it” motivational pablum. David isn’t offering a list of tips and tricks; he’s teaching a perspective and offering a viable alternative to spinning your wheels on social media.

It’s not about getting people to just give you their money; it’s about serving your audience, to make them want to follow your work because you’re giving them something they can’t get somewhere else.

We all complain that so many businesses have forgotten about customer service, and I agree.

I remember Shonna and I going to a restaurant in Calgary a few years ago for lunch. Our young server was attentive, efficient, friendly, and it was remarkable how that stood out as unusual.

We told her how much we appreciated her efforts, and she started to tear up, telling us how much she needed to hear it. Because get this—she was having a bad day!

What was she like when she was having a good one?!

Her gratuity reflected our appreciation, and I made a point of finding her manager before we left to tell him how her efforts were responsible for our positive experience.

The food was good, but I don’t remember what we ate that day. I do remember that we felt like valuable customers.

THAT’S how I want my followers to feel, that their experience here matters to me.

David’s Standing Room Only course is all about teaching people how to do that.

I am not being paid to promote the course, I don’t get any kickback if you say you heard about it from me, and there is no affiliate link you need to click.

I’ve spent a lot of time and money reading books, articles and watching videos that promised results and delivered nothing, ones that talked about how to outsmart the social media algorithms, how to trick people into buying your work or employ various cheesy used-car sales gimmicks.

This isn’t that.

This is about changing how you look at promoting your business, taking a long view of where you want your work to take you, and how to invite people to come along for the ride by making it fun for them, whether they buy something or not.

I’m promoting this course because it’s hands down one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my business. And when I say investment, I mean time, money, and effort. Because I won’t lie, this course is a lot of work, and David doesn’t sugarcoat that.

Anything worthwhile is work.

But it’s rewarding work. I’m actually about to go through the resources again because I already need a refresher. There was so much information.

Now, I could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up because if you need this — and if you’re a self-employed creative, you need this! — I’ll let David speak for himself on the Standing Room Only course site. Let me assure you, it may sound too good to be true, but he delivers more than what he’s promising.

It even comes with a money-back guarantee, and he’ll stand by it. Take the time to watch the video and read through the site. Please invest that much. Enrollment closes this Friday, so do yourself a favour and take a look. And if you know an artist, maker or creative, do them a favour and send them the link.

Cheers,
Patrick
© Patrick LaMontagne

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A Smiling Lion

To see all the little painted hairs I suggest watching this full-screen. Here’s the narrative from the video…

On a recent Saturday morning, I woke with no idea what to paint, which meant going through my photo archives, looking for reference.

None of the photos spoke to me and I began to feel uneasy.

A brown bear? No I’ve done a lot of those and just finished one. I’ve painted plenty of bears. An owl or an eagle? Painted lots of those, too.

On it went. Having painted more than 80 production pieces, plus commissions and portraits of people, finding something new is a challenge. I wanted to choose an animal I’d enjoy painting but would also appeal to others.

Was it just a bad morning or worse —the beginning of a rut?

The peanut gallery of internal critics, those loudmouths in the cheap seats, they love this stuff. Whenever self-doubt finds a foothold, that chorus of cretins is ready to attack.

“You had a good run. Time to go get a real job. You weren’t that good at this stuff, anyway. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

I tend to overthink these things.  Lately, I’ve been focused a lot on trying to figure out what my audience wants to see, the people who already follow me and support my work.

What I forget, however, is I didn’t know what they wanted to see in the first place. I painted funny looking animals and the people who liked them hung around for more. The more I painted what I wanted; the more people showed up. I don’t recall taking a poll asking if I was painting too many bears.

As I looked through hundreds of reference photos, I tried to ignore those inner voices telling me why each was not good enough, that I’m not good enough. They can’t be silenced, but they don’t deserve the spotlight or center stage.

A favorite line from the movie, Dr. Strange goes, “we never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.”

In my frustration at failing to find the one reference image that spoke to me, the one with the perfect lighting, composition, that captured a moment, I stopped looking and started writing this narrative, instead.

And in the writing, I found a little clarity. The advice I would give another artist in this situation applies to myself as well.

Paint what you like. Stop worrying about the marketing, the likes and shares, the sales, the prints, the licensing, the niche, the pressure, the noise. Stop anticipating and giving in to the critics, real or imaginary.

If you’re creative for a living, the business stuff is important, no denying it. You can’t wing it and pretend that money is just going to flow to you. You must think like a business owner, treat it like a job, and remember this is how you pay your bills.

But not all the time.  Otherwise, what’s the point of being an artist for a living?

I went back to the archives with a different goal, to paint something for me. If other people like it, great. If not, I’ll paint something for them next time.

Once I got past all the critical voices in my head, I really enjoyed this piece. I immersed myself in the long hairs in his mane, the short hairs on his muzzle, the dark shadows that defined the larger shapes, the warm colours in the fur, the bright highlights, and that contented smile on his face, which put a smile on mine.

Sure, I’ve painted lions before.

I’ll paint lions again.

That’s OK, because each will be different than the last. And all will be time well spent.

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting and Peak Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And none of that other crap seems important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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The Big Picture

Late last spring, on top of everything else 2020 dished out, my computer’s motherboard died. I remember thinking, “Not now! I haven’t the time or money to deal with this.”

I called up Memory Express in Calgary to design the new build, put down my deposit and waited. There was a shortage of PC cases at the time, but it only took about an extra week as I wasn’t picky about that. My computer sits under my desk; I don’t much care how it looks.

The new computer is incredibly fast, I can work on massive image files with no issues, and it has exceeded my expectations.

One of the first things I do at my desk in the morning is sift through news stories looking for cartoon ideas. I usually know the night before what I’m drawing, but sometimes big news breaks overnight, and I need to change course.

According to one story that caught my eye, more people are playing video games during the pandemic, the kind that requires a lot of speed and power from a computer. Besides the occasional diversion on the iPad and perhaps an online game of Scrabble with my buddy Jim, I’m not a gamer. I haven’t got the time.

But my new PC could easily be called a gaming rig. When it starts up, the initial screen graphic is a Republic of Gamers logo.

All of the requirements for a gaming PC are the same as those for a graphics PC. Illustrators and digital painters require the same hardware as gamers, especially when working on large files. Without that hardware, brush strokes would lag while I’m painting, Photoshop would crash often, and it would be near impossible to complete my detailed paintings.

I’m pretty adept at software, but I have a basic understanding of hardware, which is why I get professionals to build my computers. One thing I do know, however, is that for any high-end graphics requirements, whether it’s gaming, video editing, 3D design, or digital painting, a top-of-the-line graphics card is necessary.

It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a need-to-have.

The gaming news story’s main thrust was that there is currently a global shortage of graphics cards. You can’t find them on Amazon or other retail sites, and the wait measures in weeks and months. That’s if there’s even an ETA at all. Some are selling for three times their value on eBay.

Though I didn’t know it then — and lamented my bad luck — my computer broke down at the best possible time. Had it hung on for another 8-10 months, I wouldn’t be able to replace it right now.

When stuff’s going bad, it’s difficult to see the big picture, to realize that what seems like a stumble might be just one step on the path to something better. As Steve Jobs famously said, “we can only connect the dots in hindsight.”

There’s no doubt that we’re all struggling. While some deal with the worst tragedy, having a loved one in the hospital or succumbing to the virus, others have caught it. I have a friend who is a COVID long-hauler, and he’s been dealing with the lingering health effects for months.

Even if we aren’t infected, we’re all affected. Financial loss through decreased revenue or losing an actual job or business, homeschooling your children and feeling woefully unqualified, new mental health challenges or worsening existing ones.

The circumstances are as diverse as we are, unique to our situation. No big deal to one person might be devastating to another.

When I’m not reading about COVID numbers, political scandals, protesters, and all of the other bleeding leads I see in the news; occasionally I’ll stumble across a hidden gem of a story.  Peppered in along the conveyor belt of tragedy news are occasional inspirational personal interest stories.

Believe it or not, quite a few people have seen their businesses thrive in this new climate. Some have started new jobs they like much better than the ones they lost. Parents enjoy more time with their kids, spouses getting to know each other again, and a much slower pace.

We’re realizing that some friendships are long past their best-before date, while others are more appreciated than ever.

I’m not going to try and sugar coat this whole pan-dammit experience and say that it’s a good thing because that would be naïve, and frankly, insensitive. But peering into that rusty pan of mud, dirt, and gravel, I’ve been able to see a few shiny specks of gold.

When all of this ends–and it will end–we’ll see countless articles, books, and documentaries that analyze the data, compile the experiences and offer a bird’s eye view of this moment in history.

Despite having so many things in my life for which to be grateful, I’m a glass-half-empty type of guy. I hope for the best but expect the worst in almost all things. My skewed perspective is the result of a combination of things. I follow the news for a living, which is about the worst thing you can do for your mental health. But I’m also a product of my personal wiring, my brain’s chemical composition, and the stew of my experiences, just like everybody else.

Even with my negative bias, I believe we will come out of this better than we expect, with a clearer picture of what’s important to each of us.

We just might not be able to see it yet.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Cartooning COVID

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

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

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

Take care,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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One Thing I Know For Certain

In 2013, when the Bow Valley experienced severe flooding, we had to evacuate our home. Unable to take personal vehicles, my wife and I left with a backpack and suitcase each, our cat in a carrier, and we walked down the street to the yellow school bus that would take us to the other side of the floodwaters.

We didn’t know the extent of the threat, but authorities said the water might reach our home or cause a landslide above us. When the firefighters showed up and told us to go, we went.

We didn’t know if it was necessary but didn’t want to be the people you see on the news, sitting on the roof of their house, pleading for rescue.

Three days later, we came back to our home just as we’d left it, with gratitude and relief.

In the days following, this community rallied to support friends and neighbours whose homes hadn’t fared so well. Plenty of folks helped with the clean-up, businesses supplied food for volunteers, and valley residents proudly proclaimed that we were all in this together. The crisis brought out the best in people.

These days, we’re fighting about face masks, arguing about conspiracy theories, pretending we’re righteous and justified, and treating frontline workers like shit.

Same people, different circumstances.

When all of this is over, there will be many relationships that don’t survive it. I’ve got a few friends and family members whose company I won’t be seeking. It’s not that I don’t support their right to a difference in perspective. I make a good chunk of my living drawing my own opinion in editorial cartoons. In some countries, my job might land me in jail or blindfolded up against a wall.

Freedom to express opposing views is important.

What I’m no longer willing to tolerate, however, is the name-calling, the shouting, the unnecessary conflict, the seizing of every opportunity for many to call their friends and family stupid.

Few were comfortable with the strict isolation measures we had to endure, and the restrictions under which we’re still living. Many have fed that discomfort by going online each day, looking for a fight, spending their precious limited time desperately trying to prove their superiority. They do this by sharing real and fake news stories, passive-aggressive memes, and ‘share if you agree’ posts, all designed to widen the divisions between us.

This situation is frustrating. I get that.

Many of us are afraid, even if we don’t want to admit it. I get that, too.

But taking it out on the people around you will only ensure that when we can see each other freely again, you might end up lonelier than the time spent in isolation.

When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue because somebody called you an idiot? Kicking somebody repeatedly when they’re already down makes you a bully. Expecting them to thank you for it is delusional.

Ironically, some will spend hours online blaming the government for being manipulative, controlling, and stealing our rights. Meanwhile, they’re complaining on Facebook and Twitter, companies that have openly admitted to using our private information against us for profit.

It’s hypocrisy to log on to social media to call someone else a sheep.

People are scrambling to find any information online to back up their preconceived notions and beliefs, giving little pause to consider the sources, despite their assertions that they’ve done their research. We ignore anything that contradicts our bias and post whatever we can find that supports it. The right accuses the left of cherry-picking information, while the left accuses the right of the same.

Your politician is a crook; mine will save us all. Your facts are fake; mine are truth. I’m a critical thinker; you’re a sheeple.

It doesn’t mean you give up fighting for important issues. But maybe it means you stop to consider that you’re complaining to people who either already agree with you or are alienating and browbeating people who don’t deserve it.

There are three little words that most people avoid saying because it makes them feel vulnerable.

I don’t know.

Do masks make a difference? Are we being given accurate information? Will there be a safe vaccine anytime soon? Will the economy recover this year or next? Will my business survive? Will I lose my job?

I don’t know.

Does arguing about it all day online get me any closer to answers? Will posting bad news articles over and over and over again change anything for the better? Will antagonizing memes and confrontational posts make my friends and family feel better about their already difficult situation?

No.

There’s a lot of anger. I feel it, too.

Over the years, when frustrated and feeling helpless, I’ve tried venting, ranting and raging online. I even convinced myself that it made me feel better, but all it did was make me cynical and bitter. Anger begets anger.

I’ve also tried bottling it up. All that did was give me psychosomatic physical problems. Back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia. And eventually, I’d reach a breaking point and explode anyway.

I don’t know what the answers are. I’m still looking for them. A wise man once said, “Being human is a complicated gig.”

(Fine, it was a character on Northern Exposure, but I’m going with it.)

As I get older, I realize that things I was certain of yesterday, I’m less sure of today.

The answer to a lot more questions is, “I don’t know.”

But I do know that throwing shit at your friends, family and neighbours, just so you feel safer and more certain, does more damage to yourself than to anyone else.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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If It’s Broke, Fix It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those sales now will mean revenue later this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim credits that moment with his decision to finally retire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I asked myself some hard questions.

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

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

“What marketing opportunities am I missing out on?”

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

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

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

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

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

The answer to these last questions is No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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