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Checking Out of Social Media

I’ll be leaving Instagram in about a week.

You might disagree with this choice, but I’m used to that. People told me I was foolish to quit Facebook and Twitter over a year ago. That decision had no effect on my business, but paid off big for my mental health.

So-called online marketing experts will say it’s best to be authentic.

Well, this is about as authentic as I get.

Instagram is not a creative space, it is a vehicle for delivery or denial of dopamine hits, and like any addictive substance, what once made you feel good, you eventually use to keep from feeling bad.

Building an Instagram following today revolves around frequent posting of content. Stories, videos, images, ads, all in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm into offering your stuff to an audience that will show or deny approval by tapping their finger on a little heart.

It doesn’t matter if that content is new or relevant, as long as it’s frequent.

To feed that beast, or get noticed by an art aggregator or influencer, I end up creating things simply so that I have something to post, which means the more detailed pieces that take many hours to complete suffer from inattention and take longer to finish.

Or I have to come up with clever gimmicks or pictures or make up stories that take me away from the work that pays the bills, in a vain attempt to fool myself that it’s advancing my business, when there is no supporting evidence.

Then I waste more time checking to see if anybody has liked or commented, and am always disappointed in the results, no matter what they are. After which I spend more time scrolling through the feed until I realize that the half hour I’ve just wasted on nothing could have been time spent drawing, painting, writing, bookkeeping, or on admin stuff. These are things that actually DO impact the success of my business.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for weeks, read countless articles on both sides of the argument, taken into account the bias inherent in each, while trying to filter my fear of missing out. I’ve explored the extremes of what-if worst case scenarios, the conjuring of which I am a pro.

I tried switching to a business page, to pay to promote my posts, but the only way you can do that is to go through Facebook, which meant I would have to go back on Facebook not only with a personal profile, but with another business page.

That’s like going back to an abusive relationship after a clean break.

Is it possible that the owners of Instagram will have a re-awakening, change their direction and suddenly make the platform better for everybody again? Or is it more likely that its best days are in the past and it has become infected by the same toxic decay plaguing Facebook?

Granted, I could be making a huge mistake, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People said that quitting my job many years ago to become a full-time artist was a mistake, too, and that worked out pretty well for me.

My income comes from a few different sources. There are daily editorial cartoons I email directly to my newspaper clients across Canada, print sales of my whimsical wildlife paintings at venues and shows, and licensing of the animal art where they end up in retail stores or on other sites. I don’t need to manipulate the data to convince myself that these sources produce revenue. The proof is in my bank account.

With Instagram, I have to tell myself it’s worth my time, even though I don’t believe it.

I posted a close version of this on instagram to give people a chance to see it before I pulled the plug. I still run into folks who think I blocked them on Facebook, even though I’ve had no presence on that platform for well over a year. They just missed the announcement.

It might seem like a ploy to get people to follow my newsletter and site. That would be accurate.

The only reason I was on social media was to direct traffic to my business. I’m a commercial artist. This is how I pay my bills. One of the things people forget about social media is that if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product. Instagram does not deliver me any value and it’s not paying me for my time, the ultimate non-renewable resource.

I have this website in which I’m invested, regular blog posts, a newsletter and I’m easy to find online. I plan to start recording more time-lapse videos on my YouTube channel, without being restricted to the one minute allowed by Instagram. All of that produces sustainable and searchable content that doesn’t disappear into an attention span black hole.


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Artistic License and Creative Risk

In late 2009, right around this time, I began work on my first whimsical wildlife painting, a Grizzly bear.

By the time I walked into a gallery in Banff in Cascade Mall in January, I had three. The Grizzly, a Raven, and an Elk.

The manager treated me well, the owners did not, and on a tip, I barely got my stuff out of there before they shuttered the store overnight a couple of years later.

But it led me to a store in Canmore called Two Wolves, where the two women who owned it treated me very well. They ultimately closed up shop, but I learned a lot, they urged me to seek a license with The Mountain on T-shirts which turned into a nice four year deal and opened other doors.

In Banff, when the first gallery closed, I sought out another and that’s how I ended up at About Canada retail gallery. We’ve had a very nice relationship for the past 7 years. It’s all been consignment, which means that I supply the prints; they pay me when they sell, and the cheques arrived every month without fail.

Richard and Alison taught me a lot about the business, they offered helpful suggestions, delivered harsh truths, and were always willing to try something new. Initially, they just wanted mountain animals, but I convinced them to try some others. My Otter painting has been their bestseller for a number of years, followed closely by the Bald Eagle, neither of which is associated with these mountains.

Because they had treated me so well for so many years, About Canada had exclusive rights to sell my work in Banff. It’s also the only place that sells my matted prints and canvas with consistent sales. The other is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring.

Earlier this year, they decided to retire from About Canada and put it up for sale. They had a large number of my prints and canvas on hand, and I authorized putting my stuff on sale with everything else. After a busy summer, it’s almost all gone.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make a big change.

Many successful artists will stock up and hit the road, especially this time of year to do multiple gift shows and sell their wares. I know a few who make the bulk of their annual income at Christmas markets. If my funny looking animal paintings were my only income, I would likely be doing the same thing.

Because of my editorial cartoon deadlines, I have to produce at least one cartoon every day, some days more than one. Following the news keeps me here, but since I dislike driving long distances, especially in the winter, working at home suits me well.

Oh yeah, and I loathe Christmas. Bah, Humbug.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen the licensing model. The artist creates the art, then signs contracts with companies who sell it on prints and other products. They do all of the work and promotion it takes to get the items into retail stores, on websites, produce the goods, ship them, invoice, collect and the artist just collects a cheque. If the artist is smart, he/she will never give up copyright and a reputable licensee won’t ask for it. All of my current licenses are non-exclusive on paper, but I’m careful not to sign with direct competitors.

I’ve had a number of licenses for my work over the years with a few different companies. T-shirts, decals, phone cases, online art sales from multiple companies, and Art Licensing International currently represents me, based out of the US. They currently have 54 of my images out for licensing.

Now you might be thinking “cha-ching!” but when I sell an item through a license, I get a very small percentage of that sale, anywhere between 5% and 15% at the high end. That’s also from the wholesale price, not the retail price.

My licensing agent also takes a cut for any licenses they procure for me, so the percentage gets lower still.

Why would I bother? Same reason I sell syndicated cartoons to weekly newspapers for a lower rate than I would a custom cartoon.


The money isn’t made on one sale, it’s made on MANY sales of the same image. That first Grizzly is still one of my bestsellers nine years later.

My licensing agent gets me deals I can’t get on my own. They have the connections, the professional sales people, the legal expertise, and the means to deliver. Through my agent, I recently signed a two year license for one image to a company in Spain for a nice flat fee. How would I ever get that on my own?

I’ve seen one of my T-shirts on a Netflix show and Ozzy Osbourne was wearing one recently on TV. I have clients all over the world that I could not get on my own and best of all, it creates momentum. One license begets another and so on. Licensing is how artists get their work into Wal-Mart (and then retire!).

So licensing is proving to be the model that works best for me right now, allowing me to create more work, while somebody else sells it. It is a long game, and one license can take years to bring in decent revenue, but that time will pass anyway and all I did was provide the images.

As regular followers will know, I have two different printers who both deliver great products. My digital prints are produced in Victoria from Art Ink Print and are sold at The Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, the Calgary Expo and online. These aren’t on consignment. When I deliver to these places, it’s an immediate sale of product to the retailer. I’ll still be supplying prints directly to those customers.

My canvas, giclée matted prints and acrylics are produced in Calgary at ABL Imaging and those are sold at About Canada in Banff and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. Those are consignment sales, which I’ll no longer be doing.

I have over thirty paintings currently in stock, and that’s expensive. To get a good price on prints, I have to order more than I need, so I have multiples of those images, with the backer board, mats, bios, and cellophane sleeves to go with them. I don’t mind telling you that at present, I have hundreds of prints in stock.

They’re all neatly organized and inventoried, but they’re here, ready to deliver when there’s an order. They don’t expire and are well protected, so it’s an investment in future sales. Many of these prints won’t be sold until spring at Expo, especially now that I no longer have About Canada to sell the matted prints and canvas.

When Shonna and I were on Vancouver Island, it was a business trip as well as a little vacation. We visited licensees, my printer, I took a lot of reference pics for paintings and I was on the lookout for more ways to sell my work.

I saw my Otter T-shirt in a few stores in Victoria, which never gets old. I also saw lots of art from many talented artists. Art cards, magnets, trivets, coasters, and prints all with excellent printing quality, well packaged and presented.

There were two companies that stood out for me and I took pictures of the information on the back of the cards for reference when I got home.

The next time I stopped in to About Canada, I had a chat with Richard about the companies as he dealt with both of them. As he knew I was thinking of taking my prints in a new direction, he offered to send me their contact info, which I gratefully accepted.

In fact, he sent glowing introduction emails to the two people and cc’d me on them. See why I liked working with these folks?

Both companies contacted me and offered me contracts. Either would have been a good bet, I think, but after careful consideration and a long chat on the phone with the owner, I decided that Pacific Music and Art was going to be the best fit for my work.

From here on out, things will change on the printing front.

Pacific Music and Art will now be able to get my work into many more retailers in Canada and the US, with their sales reps doing the legwork to best represent my funny looking animals. For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, I just can’t create the work and meet my deadlines if I’m on the road going from store to store, building relationships with retailers, ordering and packaging the prints, shipping and delivering them, and doing all of the work that goes along with that.
Through Pacific Music & Art, my work will now be available to retailers on aluminum prints and magnets, art cards and other paper products, coasters, trivets, coffee mugs and more. It’ll be introduced to hundreds of retailers that I would never be able to reach and I’ll have more time to paint and have less stock to buy.

I am no longer bound by exclusivity in Banff, but my work will still be available at About Canada, in addition to other local retailers in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of prep work getting the first sixteen images ready. While the artist normally wouldn’t have to do a lot of the formatting and sizing work for all of the different products, I volunteered and was provided the templates.
Sizing the paintings for the different products required cropping them, a little squeezing and squashing, and making sacrifices, especially when a square painting had to be put into a horizontal template. I would rather make those decisions than a designer unfamiliar with my work. I’m proficient with Photoshop, so it was time consuming, but not difficult. After a couple of very long days of prep, I uploaded over 165 images to their server.

The fall catalog went live this week and my Otter is on the cover. I’m thrilled to be included among these well-known artists including Andy Everson and Sue Coleman.
The owner, Mike, was driving through here on Friday, a combination business and personal trip. He was visiting local retailers and introducing my work to them, many of whom were already familiar with it as I’ve been in this valley for 24 years.

We met for coffee in Canmore late Friday and had an enjoyable chat for more than an hour. He’d brought samples to give to the retailers and his Alberta reps, and he told me to take what I wanted from quite a large selection. I had to restrain myself as I have more than enough of my own work in my house. I settled on a couple of magnets, a few coasters, a trivet and a small aluminum print, along with the catalog. The quality of these items exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to see them in stores around here, as he’s already got quite a few orders. One store on Vancouver Island took all 16 images.

I’ve been at this art business for quite some time now and I try to temper my enthusiasm with healthy doses of reality and even cynicism, but I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and will free up time and money to pursue new things and allow me to create more artwork.

While it’s sad to see my relationship end with the owners of About Canada, I am grateful for the opportunity to see my business grow in a new direction. Without risk, there can be no reward and I’d rather fail reaching for something better than worry about keeping what I’ve got.

Art Ink Print does my digital prints, Harlequin Nature Graphics is my T-shirt license and now Pacific Music and Art will be a major license for me, all of these companies are in and around Victoria, BC. Considering how much we love Vancouver Island, it’s amazing how many reasons we now have to go there.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Selling Out Selling Art

A student from the Alberta College of Art and Design recently asked to interview me for an assignment. I was happy to oblige. While in Calgary to drop off prints at the zoo and take some photos, I made time to meet her for coffee last week.

It got me thinking about the road traveled.

My first paying gig as an artist was as the editorial cartoonist for the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper. I drew my first cartoon in May of ’98, so it’s been just over twenty years. I’ve been a full-time artist since 2006.

Over my career, it has always been easy to find resources in order to become a better artist. While I started with books and magazines, no matter what style of art you want to learn today, there are talented teachers on the internet willing to share their skills, often for a very reasonable price.

Google: “How do I learn to draw?”

While you can peruse countless lessons, videos, books, articles, buy all of the best materials, tools and hardware, unless you practice, you will never become good at anything.

People want the skills, but a relative few are willing to invest the countless lonely hours drawing and the years of bad artwork, most of which will be incredibly unsatisfying and unpaid. I have a hard time looking at my earlier work, but all of that led to all of this.

Creating art for fun can be a great hobby and escape. I’ve encountered many skilled artists with no designs on becoming pros. They are content to draw, paint, sculpt, or play simply for the joy of it, with no illusions.

As for me, I am a commercial artist. It’s how I make my living.

I’ve encountered plenty of artists over the years who’ve told me that I was selling out by selling art, that they wouldn’t dare sully their creative process by putting a dollar amount on it, that real art is made for creativity’s sake alone and not for financial compensation.

That’s bullshit.

I enjoy being an artist, but it’s my job, and just like any other. There are many necessary parts of my job that I do not enjoy.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to reformat paintings to conform to multiple templates for a new licensing contract. Sixteen images had to be resized, cropped, and uploaded in eleven different formats each, many of which were uncomfortable compromises. Over two days, it took about fifteen hours, during which I still had to meet my daily editorial cartoon deadlines for my clients across Canada.

Prior to that, I was in contract negotiation with that company, back and forth, making changes to the wording, all amicable and professional, but time consuming.

On Sunday, I drew three cartoons to send out Monday because I spent that day reconciling my books for the past three months so that I could file my GST remittance with the government. The day after that was month end invoicing for all of my editorial cartoon clients across Canada.

And still, editorial cartoon deadlines had to be met.

Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting with the owner of the aforementioned company as he will be driving through town. If I’m sending mixed signals, let me clarify. The setup work and contract stuff was tedious, but the license itself is exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing the details very soon.

My point is that I have spent as much time this week on the administration and promotion of my art as I have creating art, and that art was all cartoons.

I’ve only squeezed in a couple of hours of painting in this week. That’s it. But I’m hoping to find time for it this weekend, which is why I still get up at 5am on Saturdays even though I don’t have a cartoon deadline that day.

I painted my first funny looking animal in 2009 as an experiment, to try something different that might end up being a more marketable print than the caricature portrait commissions I was doing. Ironic that it was looking to sell more art that led me to the work I enjoy most and a whole new product that changed my whole direction. Commercial art led me to photography as I knew I could paint better images if I took my own reference. It is unlikely I would have found either of those if I wasn’t trying to grow my business.

None of this is complaining, I assure you. Everybody has parts of their job they dislike. That’s why it’s called work.

Quite often over the years, I’ll get emails or questions from young artists asking me for advice on how to create art for a living, which I’m happy to answer.

They become less enthusiastic when I tell them the single most important thing they can do is learn the business of art. Bookkeeping, contracts, licensing, customer service, meet deadlines, keep regular hours, pay your taxes, stop wasting time on social media, be polite to your customers, under-promise and over-deliver. Be accountable and professional.

It’s tedious and you’ll spend all of that time wishing you were drawing or painting instead. You’ll make so many mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and be better for the lessons. Whenever I work with somebody new, especially when it comes to licensing, a voice in the back of my head is always asking, “How is this person trying to screw me?”

Cynical? Yes.

Appropriate? Absolutely.

People take advantage of artists because we not only allow it, we encourage it. Artists are the biggest pushovers around. We not only want you to like our work, we want you to like us, too. Here, just take it for free.

These days, I have enough experience that the warning signs are easier to spot, but I don’t imagine myself immune to more lessons down the road.

I have been screwed more than once in this business. I will get screwed again, but hopefully not in the same ways, because then I won’t have learned anything.

Most of the time, however, the person on the other end of a negotiation is fair, professional, accommodating and a pleasure to work with. But most of the people in your neighbourhood are probably nice, too, and yet you still lock your doors at night.

This business of art is always challenging and the learning is never over. It’s hard work, all the time, and it’s not for everybody.

Creating art is easy. Selling art? That’s the hard part.


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A Visit To Harlequin Nature Graphics

This trip to Vancouver Island has almost become an annual thing, and I always return home with plenty of reference photos and renewed inspiration for painting. Back at the desk, having gathered another collection of pics, but an added bonus on this trip was being able to pay a visit to Harlequin Nature Graphics Ltd. in Cobble Hill.

This is my first year working with Harlequin and they came highly recommended by current clients. While shopping around for a new licensee for my work on apparel, both the Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park spoke well of Harlequin’s quality and service. When I was first considering licensing my images with Harlequin last fall, the fact that they are Canadian, primarily focused on wildlife and that they support wildlife causes were all high on my list of pros.
As this trip is a working vacation, we included in our plans a drive down to Cobble Hill on Monday, from where we were staying near Qualicum Beach. Unless you’re moving from one end of the island to the other, we never seem to have to travel long distances to get where we need to go. Since we’ve always planned our visits for early June, before school is out and vacationing families pack the highways, we usually don’t have much in the way of heavy traffic.
Kevin and Gillian were very welcoming and spent more than an hour giving us a tour of the facility, showing us the shirts, their printing operation, talking about the history of the company and where their future plans might take them. They’re working on a new website at present that I’m looking forward to sharing.
I’d already had a good feeling about Harlequin from the beginning, which is why I signed with them. They initially took on a lot more of my images than I expected and time will tell which designs generate the most interest among their many clients across Canada.

It’s not always reasonable or economical to meet face to face when licensing is concerned. I’ve got licensees in the U.S. with whom I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to sit down and have a chat, but given the option, I’ll always choose to. The opportunity to meet with Kevin, Gillian and their staff was well worth the drive to Cobble Hill and we came away from the meeting with a better understanding of the operation and an even greater confidence in our shared vision for my whimsical wildlife paintings.
Of course, since we were there, I managed to beg a few more shirts in my size, too. Thanks, Kevin!

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Showing Up

eaglepat At this weekend’s Calgary Expo Holiday Market, a neighbouring vendor mentioned that it’s probably healthy for us to get out of our own orbits, to network with new people, actually talk face to face with customers. While my instinct is to shy away from that, I know she was right.

She added, “Besides, it’s nice to listen to people tell you how much they like your stuff for an entire weekend.”

Over the course of this weekend, I found myself questioning the value of trade shows, mostly because I’ve gone from doing only the one each year, adding another and am considering more.

So you don’t mistake the following mixed feelings with a misconception that this here hermit artist just doesn’t know how to talk with people, I’ve worked more years in customer service than I have as an artist. I know how to play the sales game.

I was in retail and hotels for years before I became self-employed. I managed a waterslide facility full of screaming children and worked a hotel front desk over multiple Christmas holidays and sold out summers in one of the busiest tourist towns in the world. I’ve smiled through a guest check-in while they’ve told me everything had better be perfect, and again during their check-out when it wasn’t.

I didn’t sit down while in my trade show booth, not once through the entire weekend. Sitting down tells people they’re bothering you and most will just move on. I wasn’t on my phone all the time, or sketching, or standing with my arms crossed. When somebody walked by the booth, I smiled, said Hello, engaged them in conversation, made small talk. If I noticed people looking, but they hadn’t approached, I invited them over to take a look. They most often did and often bought as a result. No sales pressure, just being friendly.

I tell you this not to sound like a martyr. Most people who work customer service know they must do the exact same thing, or at least the successful ones do.

As this Holiday show was put on by the same people who do the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring, they marketed it to their regular attendees. From this vendor’s perspective, that was great as I’ve gotten to know a number of customers over the four years I’ve been doing Expo. Many have purchased more than once and have become collectors of my work. I do look forward to Expo each year, because prior to being a vendor, I was an attendee. It’s an event I enjoy.

There were a number of familiar faces that approached me, asked what was new and bought some more prints. One gentleman, who owns a few of my prints already, bought his first canvas print. A couple of my Facebook followers came by to visit and both bought prints. Up until now, they’ve been names I recognize from likes/comments. It was a real pleasure to talk to them in person and I was flattered that they made the time to come down and see me.

I was able to chit chat with my neighbour in the next booth and as she’s a regular Expo vendor and sells at many other shows, her insight was valuable.

These are the benefits that are hard to quantify. There is no specific dollar value, nothing that can be put on a balance sheet, but the information and connections you gain from networking will most definitely contribute to the bottom line in the future.

As for the cons, those are more personal. I’m a results oriented person, which often isn’t associated with people in the arts. If I’m not using my time well, then I view that time as wasted.

When I go for a hike, it’s because I know that my senior years will be painful and difficult if I don’t stay fit. Most days, I’d rather just stay in and work, but I force myself to get out and walk those 6-10km, often with a 20 pound backpack which includes a couple of cameras. If I see a squirrel, bird, or something larger, I can take a photo that might end up being used for reference. I also come up with cartoon ideas on my walks. I’ll walk downtown on an errand, rather than drive, not because I’m being environmentally conscious, it’s just multi-tasking.

I don’t do idle well. So while I’m standing in the booth in a slow period, saying Hi to people that walk by, just looking ready to engage, I’m thinking that I could be writing on my iPad, or drawing a cartoon in my sketch book, or perusing the news on my phone. But that would make me look unapproachable and that’s bad for sales.

While some can relax for days on end while on vacation, lying on a beach doing nothing for longer than an hour is torture for me. Let’s go tour a ruin, learn something new or have a new experience. Thankfully, my wife has the same outlook.

boothThe trade show experience, as a result, feels like I’m wasting a lot of time that could be spent producing more work. It took me almost four hours to set up my booth on Friday and two hours to tear it down and pack the car Sunday evening. There was also the drive time to and from, which amounted to three hours total for Calgary.

I could have gotten a lot of painting done in that time, a blog post, or a few editorial cartoons.

The idea of doing multiple Christmas shows fills me with dread. I don’t set foot in a shopping mall between now and January to avoid the madness and festival frenzy. The idea of going on tour to different cities to experience that very thing seems horrific to me. Luckily the weather was great this weekend, but I thought about what it would be like doing this sort of thing when there’s a whiteout on icy roads in a packed car, sharing the road with aggressive Alberta drivers looking at their phones. Sugar plums dancing? More like animal prints littering the ditch.

We canceled our Thanksgiving plans this year because the roads were treacherous. Canceling a booth with all of the associated costs would be pricey.

A period of evaluation lies ahead of me. How much of this do I want to do? How much of my best energy (the stuff I rely on to create!) do I spend on this sort of thing, especially at a time of year when that energy is in shortest supply? Psychologically, winter is when I struggle most, when I am much closer to the bottom than the top, for months at a time.

There is a certain amount of self-doubt about this where I think, “Am I just shying away from this because it’s different, out of my comfort zone, or a foreign experience?” But then there is also the confidence that comes with age where you also know who you are and that what works for one person might not work for you. I’m an atheist, but the serenity prayer comes to mind.

Living your life by somebody else’s playbook, especially in a profession where being unique is the ideal, doesn’t make any sense.

On the surface, sales were decent, but if I factor in everything from my print costs, hotel, food, parking, booth rental and power, then my end profit amounted to less than a minimum hourly wage for all of the prep, setup, time on site, tear down and post-work at home.  When I looked at that final number after calculating all of the expense, I thought, “That’s it? For all of that work?”

I don’t feel that way when I get my payments for editorial cartoons, licensing royalties, commissions from the galleries or payments from the zoos. Because when somebody else is selling my work, I’m producing more work.

I’ll be overthinking this for some time. It will factor into whether or not I add more shows or commit to a season of the Canmore Market next spring, summer and fall. I lost money on the first Expo I did and barely made any money on the second, but if not for those first two, I wouldn’t have made money on the next two and this past spring Expo was a really great year. But I also like doing that show, and that matters, too.

As with most decisions in self-employment, there are no easy answers. There’s no map. Most of the time, it’s just feeling around in a dark room looking for a light switch. And when you finally find one, it illuminates a very small area and you’re once again squinting into the dark, looking for the next light switch.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.

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Totems, Tourists, and Taking Chances

OtterTotemGallery owners know their business. If you check your ego at the door and are willing to listen and learn, you’ll find out there’s a lot of middle ground between artist expectations and the reality of the business of art.

In recent years, my prints have sold primarily at About Canada Gallery in Banff and at the Calgary Zoo, in addition to my online and trade show sales. The owners at About Canada have been wonderful to work with and I told them early on that they didn’t have to spare my feelings when it came to what they were willing to stock. Thankfully, they took me at my word, give me honest feedback and are receptive when I reciprocate.

If something isn’t selling well in Banff, I replace it with something that might do better, without any ill feelings. One person’s favorite painting might not be that of others and when it comes to limited space, majority rules.

Limited edition canvas prints are at a higher price point so they don’t sell as quickly or as often as matted prints do, but they’re well worth having. They look great on the wall and attract a lot of attention, but it’s the 11”X14” matted prints that sell best and consistently, simply because they’re still great quality, but at $44, they’re priced well for an impulse buy and are small enough to fit in a suitcase. The 16”X20” matted prints will eventually be discontinued because they’re a pain for tourists to carry home or ship. These are the things you learn along the way.

Initially, About Canada only wanted animals that were found in this area, many of which are my most popular, including the Grizzly, Wolf, Moose, Raven, and Great Horned Owl Totems. But with the Otter selling well online, I suggested they give it a try. It didn’t take long for my little sea otter to become a best-seller in Banff, joined shortly by a few other non-mountain animals, including the Giraffe, Parrot, and Cows.

While the matted prints do very well in Banff, they weren’t flying off the shelves at The Calgary Zoo , despite a lot of interest. The retail manager and I figured that the $44 price tag might be a little steep for a souvenir of a day at the zoo. With that in mind, I swapped out all of the matted prints and introduced a line of Poster Prints I have done at Maranda Reprographics and Printing in Calgary. Printed on a satin finish paper, resembling a high quality magazine print, they look great and are popular sellers at the Calgary Expo. As they’re not archival giclée prints like my others, I’m able to offer a lower price. At $25 with backer board, artist bio and in a plastic sleeve, it didn’t take long to realize that our assumption was correct and they now sell very well at the zoo, even prints of the animals they don’t have in residence.

While on Vancouver Island last month, I figured it was a good opportunity to scout galleries in the Ucluelet and Tofino area. Knowing the area I was going to, I packed 11”X14” matted prints of the Totems I thought would best get me in the door, including the Bald Eagle, Otter, Wolf, and Humpback Whale.

HumpbackTotemAfter making inquiries of my hosts aboard the Raincoast Maiden on my wildlife tours and others around town, it became clear that the best venue to approach would be Reflecting Spirit Gallery. With locations in both Ucluelet and Tofino, it would be an ideal arrangement to work with one owner in both communities. I also remembered that my wife and I enjoyed our visit to that gallery on our last trip to the area.

It’s a daunting exercise to cold call a business. With nothing to lose, I went in with a positive attitude, but ready for rejection. The owner wasn’t in, so I talked to one of her staff about the gallery and showed her my work. An artist with work in the gallery herself, she was very nice, encouraged me to come back the next day and I left with a little more information, better prepared for a second visit.

It’s important to keep in mind when cold calling a business, especially one that’s owner operated, to treat everyone you encounter with respect. You could be talking to a member of the owner’s family or one of their closest friends.

The next day, I returned and spoke to the owner. A talented artist herself, she looked thoughtfully at the work I brought and gave me honest feedback. I opened my portfolio to show her the rest of my Totem series and she pointed out others that she thought would do well there. The Raven is significant for the native people of that area and there are plenty of cougars in and around Tofino and Ucluelet. Again, gallery owners know their market.

We discussed price points, consignment rates, and numbers. Before too long, she agreed to take my prints for both of her galleries. Needless to say, this Albertan was thrilled, especially since Reflecting Spirit primarily sells the work of Vancouver Island artists. Rather than order specific numbers of each, she left it up to me to give her more of the best-sellers and less of the others, based on my experience with my own work.

By Canada Day, a large order of matted prints had arrived safely, are on display and for sale in both of the Reflecting Spirit Galleries. It won’t be long before I find out how the prints will do in this new market, but it was well worth the investment of my time and money to give it a shot.

Many artists spend years waiting to be discovered, figuring that if they produce good work, supporters and customers will simply show up. “If you build it, they will come,” was a wonderful premise in ‘Field of Dreams,’ but in real life, success requires that you stick your neck out and do so often. As unpalatable as it is for many creative types, especially those who think it beneath them to sully their creative passion with talk of money, art is a business and it requires sales skills. You not only have to sell your work, but yourself as well.

If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!

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Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013


Only a few days left before I haul this banner and everything else into Calgary to set up my booth.  Having been to the Calgary Expo as a ticket-buying attendee a couple of times, including during last year’s ‘if something could go wrong, it did,” event, this will be my first year as an exhibitor.  With a mixture of paranoia and excitement, I’ve spent the last four or five months obsessing about every last detail, trying to anticipate anything and everything that could go wrong and preparing for it.  As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s simply my nature.”

You could pretty much divide my career into two professions.  I’m a cartoonist, editorial and otherwise, but I’m also a digital painter.  While they both rely on the same artistic skills and the styles do intermingle, they’re actually quite distinctive in their differences.  As a cartoonist, I create and sell daily editorial cartoons and do custom cartoon style illustrations for clients.  As a painter, I create my Totem artwork, those whimsical funny looking animals that are printed and sold online, in galleries, retail outlets and licensed on T-shirts through The Mountain.  I also regularly paint commissions of pets for people.  They’re almost two different businesses.  And while the learned experts would say that an artist or business should focus on one thing and be good at that, they’re both large parts of how I make my living.  I enjoy them both equally, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m good at both and would have a hard time letting one of them go.

For the Expo, however, the two styles don’t belong together in the same booth.  So for this event, I am a digital painter first and foremost and this is the work I’ll be selling.  If the animals I painted were in the realistic style of Robert Bateman, this venue might not be the right choice to sell my work, but because of the nature of my Totems, their caricature look that borders on the fringes of other artistic styles, I think this will be a good fit.  There are a lot of people looking to buy art at this event and I’m optimistic that mine will generate some interest with this crowd.  The fact that my Eagle Totem made it into the Calgary Expo Art Book this year would seem to support that theory.


A survey this year of those folks who follow me on my Facebook page revealed my Top Ten Totems and I’ve been busy ordering, signing, assembling, and pricing the three types of prints I’ll be offering when the Expo kicks off on Friday.  There are 11″X14″ Poster prints, the quality you would expect to find in a book or on a poster (funny how that works).  I’m also offering 11″X14″ matted giclée prints.  These are exceptional quality, printed on high end paper with archival ink and materials.  These are the prints I regularly sell in galleries, the ones in the above image.  And finally, 12″X16″ giclée stretched limited edition canvas prints, complete with certificates of authenticity, gallery quality as well.  A couple of 18″X24″ framed canvas prints will be also be available.

OstrichWhen planning this booth, I went back and forth on which items to offer, how much of each image to print, how much stock to bring, what prices to assign to each, and what retail hardware and support equipment to buy as well.  I could end up bringing home a lot of prints, or selling out too early and have nothing to offer on the last day.  Both would be undesirable, although to be honest,  selling out wouldn’t be so bad.  There are so many variables to consider the first year and I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘best guess’ is the final say on almost every decision made.  I’ve had friends give me advice based on their experience, I’ve read articles online, in books, and magazines, but in the end, it will come down to not how somebody else has done at this sort of event, but whether or not my images will sell at this venue.  The only way to know that is to put my best foot forward, then wait and see.  Of course, having a very supportive wife who is taking a couple of days off to work the booth with me does make it a lot easier.  Fail or succeed, at least I’m not doing this alone.  She’s even going to wear an Ostrich Totem shirt.

I’ve always done well in my career by taking risks, especially ones that make me nervous and require me to stick my neck out.  The financial investment for this venture has been significant because I can’t bring myself to do anything half-assed.  If I’m going to take a shot, I need to be proud of the effort, win or lose.  I’ve spent the money, I’ve got more inventory in my possession right now than I’ve ever had, and now I just have to show up and put on a smile.

The Expo sold out of tickets a couple of weeks ago, and 60,000 people are expected to show up between Friday and Sunday.  It’s going to be a zoo, but also a lot of fun.  Some of the most interesting people you could ever want to meet will be invading the BMO Centre in Calgary this weekend, a number of them in costume.  This time next week, I’ll be exhausted, but it’ll be worth it.

If you’ve got tickets, you can find me in the Small Press section, Booth R 08.  See you there!

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Another Photoshop World

Photo courtesy of Chuck Uebele.

This past week, I once again found myself in Las Vegas for Photoshop World.  Following last year’s event, I wrote that it was unlikely I would attend again as the classes no longer offered me any significant benefit and that it had become very much a conference about photography rather than one about Photoshop.  Since I still believe that, you might wonder why I returned, especially since I only attended a few classes.

I got to hang out with many friends from all over Canada and the U.S., a number of whom I’ve worked with on projects or have plans to in the coming year.  I rely on these folks for reference photos, business contacts, and often just critiques of my work and moral support throughout the year, so it was great seeing them.  There is a great benefit to spending time with likeminded creatives with whom you can connect.

One of those was my good friend Jeff Tamagini from Boston.  Jeff is an architect, 3D designer and photographer whose work I really admire in all three disciplines.  Jeff was a big part of the reason Vegas was fun last week.  In addition to his introducing me to the amazing food at Julian Serrano at Aria (my wife was very jealous of that one), it was just guys hanging out, attending parties, dinners, and laughing an awful lot.  But I hired Jeff as a photographer while we there, too.

I plan to have a new PhotoshopCAFE DVD coming out this Fall, this one on painting portraits of people.  To avoid having to worry about model releases and licensing issues, I’ll be using myself as the subject.  The other reason is that anybody hired to paint a portrait is unlikely to have a model as their subject.  By using myself, I get to talk about how to minimize flaws (I have those in abundance) and to paint your subject in the best possible light, working with what you have.  I even woke with a zit on my nose that day, so I set aside my ego and told Jeff not to correct it from the shot, so I could show how to prep your reference photo as well.  The sacrifices I make for my craft, I tell ya.

Since I really like Jeff’s work and he’s a friend who’s also not going to make me look bad, I trusted him for the gig.  The shoot didn’t take long; I got the light and scene I wanted, to see the images in real time, and as a bonus, I have a little anecdote to share to make the DVD a little more engaging.

The second reason for attending was networking.  It’s an overused buzz word these days, but it basically means building new and reinforcing existing relationships to the benefit of your professional interests.

I was able to spend time with people from different companies, some of whom I’ve met before, but also a few with whom I’ve had no prior connection, but now have opened doors and dialogue for opportunities in the coming year.  There’s no online substitute for being introduced to a department head over lunch, and then realizing you’ve segued into discussing potential projects you might work on together.  You’re also a lot more likely to find out inside information about a great many things while sharing a drink with somebody at a social event than you will over email or social media.

At one point this week, I participated in an on-camera interview for an Adobe promotional video.  They asked me to show my painted work on camera.  At the end of the shoot, one of the camera crew gave me his card and asked for mine; because he might have a project he wants to hire me for.  Who knows if anything will come of it, but you just don’t find yourself in those moments when you only exist to people online.  I also had the opportunity to participate in an informal forum discussion with Adobe designers to discuss expectations and share thoughts on future releases and possibilities, a process I enjoyed very much.

And finally, I was invited to demo for Wacom in their booth on the Expo Floor.  I will admit to being a little nervous about that, but I’m also a firm believer that if you don’t step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, you stagnate, especially as a creative.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to build relationships with a few key people at Wacom and I count myself lucky.  Wes, Joe and Pam have been very supportive of my work, and have treated me very well.  The trip alone was worth my time just to spend some with them. While the demo didn’t go completely according to my plan, (does it ever?), apparently nobody noticed and many told me afterward that they enjoyed the presentation.

Once I got rolling, it really did feel quite natural.  As Joe from Wacom said to me in an email the week before, “It is 45 minutes of doing what you do so well.”

You see why I like these folks?

After giving it some thought, I’m not going to make a ruling on whether or not I’ll go to Photoshop World again, but I can honestly say that I won’t be there as a conference attendee.  Without any advanced classes on painting and illustration, there’s just nothing there that I can’t learn online.  I may be back, however, for the reasons I’ve mentioned here.  What made the conference worth attending were the conversations and experiences I had at the Expo, as well as the number of meetings, planned and otherwise, in which I participated.  Some of my friends have said they won’t be back next year, so that will factor into it as well, but for now, I’m just leaving my options open.

All in all, I enjoyed the week.  While it was technically a business trip, it was also a bit of a vacation from the office, too.  Sometimes, even that’s just reason enough to go.

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The upside of 2011

Bighorn Sheep TotemAll things considered, 2011 was a great year.  While every year will have it’s challenges, I’ve been fortunate that I’m honestly able to see each year of the past decade as having continual forward momentum.  The work I’m doing is far beyond what I had hoped for when I first started in this profession and I’m very grateful for it.

I became nationally syndicated in September of 2001, sending cartoons out across Canada each week, and got very few bites.  For two years, I had no more than three newspapers, paying the bare minimum rate, and I will admit to almost giving up on it more than a few times.  With a full-time job to pay the bills, I had to get up at 5:00am each morning to get a cartoon out before I went to work.  When I came home, I had to sketch in the evening and work on the weekends in order to manage it all.  Finally I started making progress, got a few more papers, took advantage of other opportunities, and about six years ago, I was able to leave my job and play this game full-time.

Through it all was my ever supportive wife, Shonna, and I’m incredibly grateful that she never told me not to do any of this.  The only caveat given when I went full-time was that if I couldn’t pay my half of the mortgage and bills, I had to go back to work.  Canmore is an expensive place to live and we couldn’t do it on one income.  Fortunately, it never came to that, and each year has been better than the one before.  At the time, it was an incredible struggle, but in retrospect, I’m glad I had to go through it because it makes the present all that much sweeter.

If my 2001 self could see the work I’m doing now, he’d be pleasantly surprised, and I try to think about that when I’m having a bad day or feeling sorry for myself because of a heavy workload or when money is tight.  So far, I’ve not only gotten what I wanted, I’ve gotten much more.  Best of all, I discovered that I loved getting up at 5:00am to work, I still sketch in the evenings, and being self-employed means you often work weekends anyway, so I was already used to the routine.  Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Here’s a recap of my professional highlights of this past year, some of which I’d forgotten about until I went back through the blog entries month by month.

iPad Painting: Started playing around with this in January, and damn if it hasn’t been a lot of fun figuring it all out.  Ended up trying four different styli and half a dozen apps.  It would seem that I’ve finally settled on the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, the Nomad minibrush, and the procreate app.  The combination of those three gives me the best results, and while I don’t consider anything I paint on the iPad to be finished work, I would go so far as to call it advanced sketching, and I plan to keep doing it.

PhotoshopCAFE DVDs:  In March, I finished my first DVD, called Cartoon Illustration Techniques in Photoshop.  Easily one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever worked on.  Having only done a little bit of sound and video editing for a failed Flash animation project a few years back, it was a struggle.  But I finished it, it went into production, and is selling well.  I’ve heard from many who bought the DVD that have learned a lot from it and complimented me on my instruction, so I’m guessing I didn’t do so bad a job.

The second DVD, Animal Painting in Adobe Photoshop, was a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable as I wasn’t teaching raw Photoshop beginners.  It was more about the painting than the software and while it was a challenge, the difficulty I went through with the first DVD paid off while recording the second as there were few problems I hadn’t already solved.  Recording one DVD this year would have been enough of a milestone, but I never expected to record two, and to be very pleased with both of them.

Cartoon Ink: While my old website was ‘fine,’ it had become difficult to use and it was no longer the image I wanted to project.  While I had always done my own website in the past, this time I realized one of the most important business practices that so many have learned before me.  Hire professionals to do their job, so you can focus on doing yours.  With that in mind, I hired Erik Bernskiold of XLD Studios in Sweden to create a new website for me.  I knew Erik’s work and know him personally, so I was confident he would deliver much more than I could create myself.  With the help of Elizabeth Gast at Design by Firgs, another colleague and good friend who consulted on the site, and created an improved evolution of my logo, I was very pleased with the final logo and website and would highly recommend both of their work.  The time I saved was well worth the money spent and reduced stress.

Wacom: I began to form a relationship with the great folks at Wacom at Photoshop World in 2010 after I won the Guru Awards for two of my Totem paintings and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Having used their tablets since the late 90’s, you won’t find a bigger fan, so I’m very pleased to be working with them from time to time.

Over the course of the year, I’ve been featured in the Wacom eNews, have represented the company and demonstrated their products at one of Scott Kelby’s seminars in Calgary, and have been a featured guest on two of their one-hour Wacom webinars.  The people I’ve worked with at Wacom have been incredibly supportive and are absolute pros at what they do and I look forward to a continuing relationship with them.

The photo shown here is Joe Sliger demonstrating the new Wacom Inkling for me at Photoshop World this year.  He is also one of the moderators of the webinars.

Island Art Publishers: In July of this year, I began a licensing deal for some of my Totem paintings to be produced on art cards.  These are distributed throughout Western Canada and the northwestern U.S. and time will tell whether this arrangement bears any fruit.  An artist friend once told me that art cards are often your best advertising, because not only does the person buying it see your work, but so does the person receiving it.  You may not make much money early on, but it’s enough to get your work out there to a market that otherwise might not see it.  And the cards look really good.

Photoshop World: While it’s true that I didn’t learn much about technique or improving my work at this year’s Photoshop World in Las Vegas, I still think it was worth attending because of the networking opportunities.  Having recorded two DVDs for PhotoshopCAFE, it was great to finally meet the owner of the company in person, and see their operation on the Expo Floor.  I was able to meet a few more of the Wacom folks in person, and talk with other industry professionals I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to talk to.  Online interaction is fine, but it doesn’t compare with face-to-face conversations.  So while I won’t be going back as an attendee, I still think this year’s trip was well worth it.

knmadventuresAt the time, I was doing some illustration work for wildlife photographer and instructor, Moose Peterson as well, and being able to go over sketches with him in person was a real treat, as most of the time this would have all been done online.  The other benefit of the Photoshop World conference is that I get to meet with so many talented photographers, many of whom I consider close friends.  For somebody who relies on great photo reference for my painted work, their skills and talent are often one of my most valuable resources, not to mention their generosity with their work, and the support they offer for mine.

Paintings: Saved the best for last.  I am so very pleased with the progress I’ve made on my painted work this year.  The first half of the year, I was so busy with the DVDs and other work that I only painted one animal in my Totem series, the Great Horned Owl.  When I realized this in the latter half of the summer, I was ticked off.  The work I love to do most, I had placed in last priority.  In retrospect, however, I’m glad it happened because when I realized it, I vowed it would never happen again and it stoked the fire.  The end result is that from September to December, I’ve painted a number of new images and I feel they are my best work to date.

I had been becoming bored with painted caricatures of people in the past couple of years, but recently, I’ve realized that it wasn’t people I was bored with painting, just caricatures of them.  Beginning with a couple of iPad paintings, I’ve discovered how very much I enjoy painting portraits, and I’ve done a couple of pieces recently that I’ve really enjoyed.  Inspired by the work of Drew Struzan and others, I think I’ll be painting a lot more portraits of people, if nothing more than for the sheer enjoyment of it.  While style is always evolving, I think my paintings now have a definitive look that is mine, whether it’s people or animals, and it’s one I want to continue to develop and refine.

I’m now getting commissions to paint pet portraits and caricature this year, and it’s really enjoyable work.  The painting of Don Diego that I did for my DVD, the memorial to Titus the cat, and to being able to finally create a real painting for my folks of their dog, Bailey, it’s looking like this could be a big part of my work in the coming years.  Working on another commission at the moment, and having fun with it.

My real passion, however, is still the Animal Totems.  Nothing I’ve ever done in my career has filled me with as much joy as that I get from painting these whimsical caricatures of wildlife.  Not only are they fun to work on, but they sell well in the galleries which means others like them, too.  I’ve been fortunate that a number of wildlife photographers I know have been willing to sell me the license rights to use their photos as reference, or have enjoyed my work enough to want to trade me the use of their images for canvas prints of the painting when it’s done, both of which I’m more than willing to do.

Humpback Whale TotemEach of them is my favorite for different reasons, but the one I was most happy with this year was the Humpback Whale Totem.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve wanted to paint it for so long or that it was such a challenge to paint an animal with no fur or hair, and the end result lived up to my expectations.  Either way, these paintings are the only work I’ve ever done that I still enjoy months and even a year after I’ve painted one.  That alone tells me this is the work I’m meant to do, at least for now.

As you can see, I’ve had a very good year, and I’m grateful for it.  For all of you that follow my work, your messages of support here on the blog, through social media, and email are all appreciated.  It’s a solitary existence, this freelance lifestyle, and it’s nice to know that others are getting enjoyment out of the work I do.  And if you’re struggling with your own creative endeavors, whether you’ve just begun or are just trying to keep going, I would urge you not to give up.  It may not seem like it in the moment, but I assure you, if it’s something you love to do, it’s worth the effort.