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A Cheetah Painting and Photoshop Friends

For many years, I was a member of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I don’t remember when I joined, but I think it was sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I remained a member until 2014 when it rebranded.

Owned and operated by Scott Kelby, the organization contained a wealth of online tutorials, a magazine called Photoshop User, and the Photoshop World conference. There was extensive training from internationally well-known instructors, each with their own areas of expertise.

Before social media ruined it all (yeah, I said it!), when like-minded individuals wanted to learn from each other, share their work for critique, answer each other’s questions and simply offer support, there were online forums where artists could gather.

I learned a lot from the NAPP forum and made some terrific friends there. Quite a few of them, I never got to meet in person, but when I finally got to Photoshop World Las Vegas for the first time in 2009, that was the best part of the whole experience, meeting this community in real life.

Over the next five years, I enjoyed seeing them each year, attending classes together all day, parties at night, hanging out at different venues. It was a fun event.

My involvement with NAPP was in a large way responsible for my now expert level skills in Photoshop. The networking opportunities introduced me to people and companies that advanced my career in many ways. I recorded a couple of training DVDs for Photoshop CAFE, wrote some articles for Photoshop User magazine, and won a few prestigious awards. It was due to a weird comedy of errors at my first conference that led me to a long and productive relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the digital tablets and displays on which I create my artwork.

I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been a member of that organization, with the opportunities and insights it afforded, I wouldn’t be painting my whimsical animals today. There’s a direct line between those people and experiences and the work I enjoy most.

Sadly, nothing lasts forever. The organization changed focus, became the Kelby Media Group, they retired the forum,  and most of my friends stopped attending Photoshop World. It doesn’t hold the same value that it used to.

I still talk to some of them now and then, but not nearly as often as I’d like. To this day, there are still a few people who call me Monty, my username from that forum.

For the first part of my career, while I’d been drawing editorial cartoons, I would also paint detailed caricatures of celebrities, and people would hire me to paint them for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and the like. But I didn’t see a future in it. The first funny looking animal in 2009 was an experiment, inspired by some personal reflection following my first Photoshop World that year.

Without good reference photos, I can’t paint the detail I enjoy, so in the beginning, I had to buy stock photos and relied on the generosity of photographer friends I knew through NAPP.

In 2014, I had already been taking my own photos with a decent camera I’d bought, but it was essentially a point-and-shoot with a good zoom lens. That spring, I painted a family of owls from the reference I’d taken myself here at Grassi Lakes above Canmore.
At Photoshop World that year, I won the Best of Show Guru award for that painting. At the last minute, they announced that part of the grand prize would be a Canon 5D Mark III camera. The oohs and aahs from an audience of mostly photographers indicated that it was something special. I had no clue.

When I won, I remember somebody laughing and saying, “Of course, the illustrator won the camera!”

When I returned to my seat, the friends I’d been sitting with told me just how good it was and that it was worth thousands of dollars. I remember calling Shonna to tell her I’d won, and we mused that I should probably sell it on eBay as such a professional camera would be wasted on me.

When I mentioned that idea to my buddy Jeff from Boston, he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my career. He told me to keep it and learn to use it.

Since then, I’ve discovered a love of taking reference photos, and it has become as much a part of the creative process for me as the painting itself. While I don’t make a habit of calling myself a photographer and have no designs on going pro, I enjoy it a great deal.

I’ve taken good care of that camera, been using it for six years, and it still does the job I need it to do. If something happens to it, or when it comes to the end of its life, I’ll buy another professional camera, because it’s now such a big part of my work.
Still, now and then, I find myself unable to take my own reference pics. This is especially true of commissions, where I rely on clients to provide me with the photos I’ll use to paint their furry family members.

Or it’s merely a case of access and travel being prohibitive. I’ve been searching for the right reference for an elephant painting for years. My friend Serena from Discovery Wildlife Park went to Africa earlier this year and brought back the perfect photos for me.

One of the people I knew well from my years in the NAPP organization and Photoshop World was Susan Koppel. It’s not enough that she was a flight instructor at 18 and then became an aeronautical engineer, but she’s also an incredible photographer and supporter of animals.

Now retired from the aviation industry, Susan’s photography business is her primary focus, pun intended.  She volunteers for the Nevada Humane Society taking pictures of the animals to make them look their best for their adoption photos. She also donates her skills to a wildlife sanctuary and nature center in Reno called Animal Ark.

The facility has adopted several cheetahs, and one of their regular events is to have cheetah runs. This gives the animals much-needed exercise opportunities to run full out, as they would in the wild, but also provides photographers with a chance to take pictures they can’t get outside of Africa. These photography events give the sanctuary added funds to continue the work they do.

Years ago, Susan provided me with the reference for my Raccoon and Fox paintings. I’ve seen her cheetah photos before and recently asked her if she’d be willing to share some. I’ve wanted to paint a full body cheetah in a running pose, mostly inspired by the photos Susan has posted over the years.

Susan generously opened up her online archive to me and told me I could use what I’d like. I ended up grabbing a dozen or so and expect to do three cheetah paintings in the near future. The reference was just so good that I couldn’t decide.
This is the first of those cheetah paintings, and I obsessed over the details. I expect I could have spent another 10 hours on this one, just nitpicking every little hair. But as every creative knows, eventually you just have to abandon one piece so that you can start on the next.

I miss all of those great people in the NAPP organization and at Photoshop World conferences. Each of them, in one way or another, inspired and contributed to my creating the work I love most, and I believe I’m a better artist and a better person for having known them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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A nice mention in Photoshop User

It was pointed out to me yesterday that I received a mention in the April issue of Photoshop User magazine regarding my article on brushes in last month’s issue.  Pete Collins, one of the NAPP Photoshop Guys and an all around great guy (don’t tell him I said that) was kind enough to give a tip of the hat to my tutorial in his current feature, “What Would MacGyver Do?”  (April issue, Page 46)   Pete’s article is a very interesting read that talks about different resources and solutions available to designers in Photoshop when faced with a tight deadline and a limited budget.

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Of DVD’s and Don Diego

This is my latest painting, one very close to my heart as this little fella, name of Don Diego, belongs to a good friend of mine in Nebraska, and is the subject of my latest DVD from PhotoshopCAFE.  While I still have some editing to do, and am a couple of days away from being completely finished the DVD, the painting portion is done.

I’m quite pleased with how this process went.  I found the last DVD very difficult, but this one felt very natural.  Recording it was a real pleasure, and I forgave myself a few flubs here and there, in favor of authenticity.  I’m really looking forward to seeing this DVD make its debut at Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year.

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Wacom eNews

The February Wacom eNews is out, and I’m very pleased to be featured in it. You won’t find a bigger fan of Wacom than me.

Having owned half a dozen drawing tablets over the past 12 years, I wouldn’t be able to do any of my work without one. I feel it’s important to note, I’ve only replaced tablets when new ones have come out with better features. I have never had one die on me and to my recollection, the only problem I’ve ever had is that a pen started acting up on me a couple of years ago, and Wacom replaced it right away, no questions asked.

I remember doing a painting demo at a gallery last year, and explaining to a parent why a Wacom was such a good investment for his daughter who was showing some real artistic talent. While I let her try out the tablet, I was telling him how inexpensive the entry level Bamboo tablets are, how they had a lot of the same great features as the Intuos4, and even told him where he could buy one.

He asked me if I worked for them.

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Photoshop User Magazine Recognition


Photoshop User magazine launched a new feature in their March 2011 issue called Notable NAPP Members. I’m very honoured that they selected me as the first one.

It’s always nice to have one’s work recognized, and lately I seem to be getting more than my share of publicity. I’ve had a lot of wonderful milestones and opportunities this past year, but I’m trying to keep things in their proper perspective and take it all with a grain (or a pound or two) of salt. Wiser folks than I have cautioned that you should never believe your own hype. While I’m grateful for the publicity, I think that’s excellent advice.

Even though being a freelance cartoonist and illustrator isn’t always a ‘wine and roses’ profession, it’s enough that I get to do what I love for a living.

(click on the article to zoom in)

Reprinted with permission by NAPP and Photoshop User Magazine.

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Digital Painting Interview with Psd Tuts+

Back in November, I was approached by Psd Tuts+ about an interview regarding my digital paintings. It was a good experience, but to be honest, I’d kind of forgotten about it. This morning, someone brought to my attention that the interview was online, so I went and took a look and found that I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I especially liked that they put the interview in the ‘Inspiration’ category. It would be nice if another artist was inspired by something I love to do.

I’ve realized that I’ve been putting painting on the back burner lately because of other deadlines and obligations, but I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve missed it until I read the interview. With two paintings on the go, I really do need to make the time, especially since it’s the work I enjoy most.

If you’d like to read the interview, here’s the link.
Amazing Digital Animal Paintings of Patrick LaMontagne

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2011: The Year I Turn 40.

When I used to think of a midlife crisis, I thought of shallow guys buying flashy red sports cars, hanging out with twenty year old bleached blond bimbos, and trying desperately to hang on to whatever was left of their youth. The reality is a lot less ‘TV sitcom’ than that.

Some psychologists have started calling it ‘midlife transition’ instead of ‘midlife crisis’ because ‘crisis’ has a negative connotation to it. So far, their political correctness hasn’t figured out how to keep me in my 30’s, though.

In the grand scheme of things, 40 is just a number, and since nobody really knows when their time is up, midlife is an assumption. I could kick off tomorrow, or have 60 more years coming at me. There is no expiration date tattooed anywhere on my body, that I’m aware of, although I wouldn’t be surprised to find a ‘Best Before’ date.

Logically, I shouldn’t have a problem with turning 40, but as Spock (the Vulcan, not the baby guy) always told McCoy, humans are not logical.

Time’s ticking. I’ve had a great ride so far, but there’s a lot I want to do that I haven’t done, both in my work and in my life. In previous years, my New Year’s resolution has simply been to keep moving forward and try to be a better person. I’ve come to realize that’s a cop-out, because there’s no accountability. So for the first time in a number of years, I’m setting some actual goals for the year, some specific and professional, some general and more personal, but all overdue.

Learn Adobe Illustrator (again).

I used to work for a sign shop here in Canmore. Really interesting job and I found that I really liked creating vector art. To this day, I use paths and vectors in Photoshop regularly while drawing cartoons because I like using the tools. While I still do contract work for the sign shop from time to time, I’ve realized my vector skills haven’t kept up with each new version of Illustrator, even though I keep upgrading with each new release (although I’ve yet to buy CS5). Continuing education is important in any field, and I haven’t done much of it in the last couple of years.

Learn more 3D in Photoshop CS5 Extended.

This cartoon was created a couple of years ago using Hexagon, Carrara, and Photoshop. I’d like to use more 3D elements in my work. While I don’t intend to try and become an expert, it’s fun and challenging, and I want to get better at it. The whole reason I chose the Extended track of Photoshop was for the 3D and aside from building the occasional rudimentary model for an editorial cartoon from time to time, I wield those tools like I’m performing surgery wearing oven mitts. Very clumsy with no finesse. I’d like to change that this year.

Learn to sculpt

I’ve been feeling the urge to do this for a couple of years now. I’ve had ALL of the tools necessary sitting in a toolbox in my office closet for about a year. I’ve done my research, bought Sculpey polymer clay, a couple of books on how to use it (including the one pictured above), and acrylics for painting after it’s been baked. I have no excuse not to get started, and no pressure to produce anything good because I bought it just to have a hobby again. A wise man once said, when your hobby becomes your work, you need to find another hobby and I think this might be it. I’d just like to see if I’m any good at it.

Paint. Every chance I get.

Last year, I discovered what I love to paint most, so this year, I want to paint more animal totems. In a perfect world, I’d like to paint every day, and even if it’s only for 10 minutes, I plan to do that, starting today.

In 2010, I only painted one person, Bert Monroy, and I’m missing that, too. I’d like to paint some more images of people this year, and I have a list I’ve kept over the last year, with about a dozen names on it. The great thing is that while they’re all well known character actors, none of them are what you would consider A-list celebrities.

Work Less, Play More!

I work too much, and I put it ahead of everything else. I’ve often taken on work that I should have realized would do nothing to advance my career, made poor use of my best skills, and was of very little interest to me, not to mention that it usually wasn’t worth it financially. That stops completely this year. I learned how to say ‘No’ last year. This year, I’ll be saying it a lot more.

I get bored very easily, so while I still intend to be very busy, it’ll be on projects and commissions that are worth my time. There’s no point in being your own boss if you’re still doing work that you shouldn’t be doing.

When I do take time off, however, I’d like to slow down a little more, relax and enjoy life. Time off shouldn’t mean watching TV all the time or going for coffee every day. While those pastimes do have their place, I’m looking for more experiences that create fond memories. More, hiking, camping, caving…hell, I’m going skydiving this year. That last one is right out of the midlife crisis manual. Page 36, I think.

Be Less Cynical.
This one will be tough, because despite the successes of last year, I focused too much on the dark side of people. I’ll often blame that on following politics for a living, but I’ve recently realized that it’s a choice, and to paraphrase an all too familiar phrase, if I let it ruin my life, “then the politicians have already won.”

My wife says I hold people to unreasonably high standards, including myself. I expect everyone to take the high road, wanting to believe that people will do the right thing most of the time. And then inevitably, when someone’s unethical behavior still gets them ahead, I end up disappointed and angry. This year, I’m going to try and let that go and be less judgmental. Cut everyone a break, including myself. Nobody’s perfect.

You’ll hear of people who’ve faced life threatening illnesses that thankfully survive the ordeal. Often, they’ll tell you that the challenge they faced was the best thing that could happen to them because it made them realize that life isn’t to be taken for granted, that it was a gift to be given a wake-up call.

I’m going to try and look on turning 40 the same way. And just like last year and the year before, I’ll still try to keep moving forward, and to be a better person.

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NAPP-A-THON


Anybody who knows me professionally will have figured out that I’m a fan of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I’ve been a member for 6 years and I’ve often told people that if there was only one organization I could belong to, it would be NAPP. I have learned a lot from this affiliation.

Whether it’s their online training, their crash courses on the first day a new version of Photoshop is released, or the great experience of attending two Photoshop World events, NAPP consistently gives me good value. And best of all, I consider so many of the people I’ve met online and in person through NAPP to be valued friends and colleagues, not to mention some of the most talented people I’ve ever run across.

The best thing about NAPP, is that they try to have fun with their training, even though it’s often intentionally cheesy. If you’re not a NAPP member and would like to get an inside look at how they operate and what they offer, tune in tonight for NAPP-A-THON. Even though it’s free, be sure to register in order to qualify for prizes. 7PM Eastern for three hours. Should be fun.

And yes, there will be cheese. Guaranteed.

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Photoshop User Magazine


Got a nice smile this month when I opened the December issue of Photoshop User magazine. While NAPP had asked me last month for permission to use my images, I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big spread, so it was a very nice surprise. While this image of the Wolf Totem is the first page of the article, all of the Guru Award winners from Photoshop World in Las Vegas AND Orlando earlier in the year are featured on the subsequent pages, so my Moose Totem is in the article as well. A great spread of images. They even quoted my Photoshop World blog entry.

The above photo doesn’t do the image quality justice. I switched to the Zinio reader and the digital version of Photoshop User when I bought my iPad, so this is a photo of the screen, which never quite works out. The magazine was already great quality, but I prefer being able to zoom in on the images to check out the detail. And it takes up a lot less space on my bookshelf. The actual iPad image of this page looks incredible.

Photoshop User is available on newsstands, but it’s included if you’re a NAPP member, just one of the many perks. Usually it’s 8 issues a year, but just recently NAPP announced that they’re increasing it to 10 issues. For regular readers, that’s a big bonus, as it’s one of the few magazines I read religiously.

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NAPP-Canada Facebook Page


Having been a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals for the past six years, it should be pretty clear by now that I’m a fan.

There are only a couple of organizations I belong to, and this is the one I’d hate to be without. From weekly video tutorials, the latest news and info about the digital image industry, not to mention that these are the folks that put on Photoshop World twice a year, NAPP has almost everything I need to stay at the top of my game.

I consider many of the people I’ve met through NAPP to be good friends, and I’ve yet to meet a more helpful bunch of talented people. While many of the forums you’ll find online often degrade into squabbling playgrounds, the NAPP forum is well moderated, very civil and supportive, and is one of my most valuable resources. I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve had a problem that was solved instantly by posting it on the forums, whether it was specific to Photoshop or just freelancing in general.

Since social media is obviously not a passing fad, NAPP has recently expanded their already active online presence to include localized Facebook pages. In the U.S., they’re focusing on cities and states. Here are the links to the NAPP-Chicago page and the NAPP-Arizona page to give you an example.

Internationally, there are national Facebook pages for different countries. I was asked to run the NAPP-Canada page and I’m happy to do it. While much of the information I post will be related to NAPP events and releases that aren’t region specific, I intend to put a Canadian spin on things wherever I can, which will hopefully involve more than references to Tim Hortons and hockey.

You don’t need to be Canadian to ‘Like’ the page. You don’t even need to be a NAPP member, although when you see all of the great benefits, you’ll probably want to become one. Become a NAPP member, I mean. Not Canadian.

Here’s the link. Hope to see you on the Facebook version of the Great White North. Cheers!