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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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Painting Pet Portraits

Meet Wellington Bomber, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and my latest commission. Having shown it to the happy client this morning, I can now share it with you. I’ll let it sit for a day, give it one last critical eye, then send it for printing tomorrow morning. I hope to ship it later next week.

It was a privilege to paint Bomber, and I quite enjoyed this one.

This particular painting was an unusual circumstance as the commission was a gift purchase, so I only talked with the recipient after the fact. I usually don’t accept these commissions because they have created problems if the recipient isn’t familiar with my work. Assured that Bomber’s owner knew and liked my work, I took the gamble.

I need not have worried. Both the giver and recipient of the gift were ideal clients. From start to finish, this was a perfect commission experience.

Painting pet portraits is a challenging undertaking. I know plenty of artists who don’t take commissions because they can be a minefield of unwanted surprises.

When the experience is good, however, it’s usually great. I’ve had some fantastic clients, and it’s those paintings that keep me doing this work. More than one client over the years has said that I made them cry, including this one. Let me tell ya; there’s no better compliment.

For other artists, clients and the merely curious, here are some of the hurdles involved with pet portrait commissions.

Photo Reference
Given a choice, I would always take my reference photos, but since most clients aren’t local, that’s rarely possible.

It can take some time to find the right images, which means back-and-forth emails with clients. Most of the pet portraits I’ve painted have been memorials. When the animal has passed on, my only choices are what they have. I’ve turned down commissions for lack of good reference.

Are we On the Same Page?
Clients hire me for one of two styles, and I require a clear understanding of which before I begin. Do they want a portrait style or my whimsical wildlife style?

When it’s a memorial commission, the client most often wants a traditional portrait.

Sometimes the client will say they want my whimsical style, but then they attach conditions and limitations. One client had a big slobbery dog I was excited to paint because I was going to put some long stringy drool and goofy personality into that face.

The client asked that I paint my style, but make him look more dignified with no slobber at all, which are conflicting instructions. To this day, I wish I could have done my version.

When I have the freedom to paint the way I see it, the painting could end up goofy or with slightly less caricatured expression, depending on how it comes together. Clients who agree to allow me that freedom usually get something pretty special.

Price
Some bristle at the price tag, and I think it’s because we’ve become accustomed to online mass-market gimmick art, especially when it comes to pets.

No doubt you’ve seen those ads where they stick your dog’s head on the body of royalty or a military general in a renaissance-style portrait for under $100.

You choose from a handful of template options and backgrounds, upload the photo of your pet, they cut, paste, apply filters, and voila, Fido looking cute in a faux classic oil painting. Anybody with Photoshop experience can easily create that sort of image.

For a fun, inexpensive novelty item, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get what you paid for, and I’m sure many people find it amusing and enjoyable. It’s also the same thing that thousands of other people got.

Hiring an artist to paint a custom painting of your pet is a whole other animal; pardon the pun. You’re buying an original piece of art that’s personal to you.

There’s a significant amount of time involved in a pet portrait, from the initial consultation to delivery of the finished painting. My price includes a ready-to-hang medium-sized canvas print and shipping, but the cost for that is more than it seems.

I have my canvases printed professionally in Calgary by ABL Imaging. Their quality standards are high, which means I never have to apologize for cracked seams, inferior quality wood on the stretcher bars, or the wrong colour. If I wouldn’t hang it in my home, I won’t expect a client to hang it in theirs.

But quality costs.

For a one-off 12″ X16″ print, it costs me around $150. Then there’s the 2.5-hour drive round trip to Calgary to get it. If I’m running other errands or going to the zoo to take photos, it’s a detour and worth it. If not, I’ll have a courier pick it up. That’s another $35.

If I’m shipping the canvas, that’s more time and materials, plus $30-$50 depending on where it’s going.

That’s just the cost of production and time, and we haven’t even got to the creative part, which is where the real value exists.

Time
Whether it’s art for a living or any other service provided by a self-employed professional, pricing needs to factor in time. You can’t create two things at once, at least not well.

There is time spent talking with the client, checking reference photos, explaining why one works and another doesn’t, having email conversations to ensure expectations are reasonable and that there’s a shared vision. That consultation time adds up.

Most importantly, when I’m working on a commission, that’s time I’m not working on editorial cartoons or paintings for prints and licensing.

Then there’s the actual painting time. A commission will usually require a minimum of fifteen hours, but most likely more, spread out over a few weeks, depending on my other deadlines. I treat the likeness and personality as I would that of a portrait of a person. It has taken me decades of training, practice and experience to create my signature style of artwork.

Just as a skilled trades-person commands a professional rate, so do creative professionals. People often think that because an artist enjoys his or her work, that they will (and should) gladly do it for free.

The work we choose to create is the work we enjoy most. The work somebody else wants us to do, that comes at a price. You are buying not just my art skills that took a lifetime to master, but also my work time, which I never get back.

This latest commission was a real challenge. I had a hard time with the personality, mainly because the dog is a senior. Goofy didn’t seem to be the right direction, so most of the character had to be more subtle, and I spent hours trying to get it right.

It was only when I stopped trying to force it that the personality showed up. I’m happy with the result, and my standards are so much higher than that of my clients.

Friends and Family
In my experience, artists are notorious people pleasers and pushovers, most often to our own detriment.

Friends, family and even total strangers often strongly suggest that they expect a discount or free painting, or they outright request one.

Most people mean well and don’t consider it a big deal, nor do they realize that they’re the 100th person who has asked you to paint their pet “in your spare time.”

Like most people, I don’t have spare time. Ever.

Live long enough, and you accumulate many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are genuinely lovely people, all of whom you want to give a discount.

But sooner or later, you’re going to lose your business because you wanted to be a nice guy.

The hardest thing people pleasers need to learn is how to say No. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. The worst part of it is when people get used to you saying Yes all the time, they’ll resent you when you say No.

Suddenly you’re not the nice person who has always been agreeable to their requests; you’re the rude person who has gotten too big for his britches.

Sometimes, it’s personal.
From time to time, I may want to paint somebody’s dog, for the same reasons I want to paint a wild animal. I see something I like, or I have a connection with the dog or cat, or I want to give a gift that only I can give.

I’ve painted my parents’ dog, who passed away last year, and I will undoubtedly paint their new dog.

Our next-door neighbours have a wonderful dog that Shonna and I adore. Running into her in the driveway never fails to brighten our day, and she gets offended if we don’t visit for even just a minute. I’ve already taken reference of her when she was still a big puppy, and I’m going to paint her eventually.

I’ve talked about the cabin north of here that friends and I have gone to in recent years. I drive by the owners’ place on the way to the cabin, and even if I know they’re not home, I stop to visit their dog, Jingles. I painted her in a portrait style simply because that’s what felt right at the time. I was happy to give them a framed print as a thank-you for always being such great hosts.
Whenever I finish these personal pieces, however, I always get messages and comments from people ‘offering’ to let me paint their dog, assuring me that their dog is adorable, cute, and has a great personality.

Almost every dog I’ve ever met matches that description, especially to their family.

But despite what most people think, art is a business, one that requires thick skin. Art for a living is finding a balance between producing work that pays the bills and making time for the work I want to do.

When I choose to paint a pet for my enjoyment, much like the portraits of people I paint, there is little to no market for that painting after the fact. People rarely want paintings of someone else’s dog to hang on their wall; they want a painting of their own dog.

Conclusion
When a client hires me to paint their pet, I take it seriously. Someone is choosing to spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on a personal piece of my artwork. Depending on where they hang it, they might look at it every day for many years to come.

I owe every client my best work.

Whether you’re an artist thinking of offering pet portrait commissions as part of your menu of services or a client thinking of hiring me or someone else to create a piece of art personal to you, hopefully this has provided a little insight.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to create art for a living for many years. The artistic skills have been challenging to earn, often frustrating, featuring many course corrections and more than a few dead ends.

But by far, the hardest lessons I continue to learn have been about the business of art. People want art in their lives, but they often forget to view it the same way they do other services and products. What’s worse, artists themselves are often the worst failures at running their own businesses for the same reason.

And to those artists, I will leave you with three critical thoughts.

Creating art is easy. Selling art is hard.

If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will, either.

Trying to please everybody is a recipe for misery, in art and life.

Cheers,
Patrick

A Final Word on Commissions
From recent market consultation and after careful consideration of my work’s value, I have increased my commission rate to starting at $1900.00, which includes the ready-to-hang canvas print and shipping. That rate is effective immediately, but my newsletter subscribers can still lock in the current rate of $1100.00 by booking a commission with a non-refundable deposit by March 31st.
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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A hippo, a dog, and a giraffe walk into a bar…

Whenever I start a new painting, I put pressure on myself that it needs to be a finished piece, suitable for prints and licensing. A consequence of that narrow focus, however, is that I don’t leave any room for practice pieces, which are often enjoyable.

Practice pieces are valuable for a few reasons. It keeps things loose and allows me to try new things without any pressure. If the painting ends up being unappealing, it’s no big deal. But sometimes, while working on a practice painting, I might see more possibility in it than I did when I first started. And if I get good feedback on a practice piece, that might spur me on to turn it into a finished painting. Some of my most popular paintings aren’t my personal favorites, so I never know what people will like.

My first Grizzly painting was an experiment. My ostrich painting was a practice piece on the iPad, but Shonna wanted me to finish it. Both paintings are still popular.

While looking for painting ideas last week, I went through a bunch of photos in my archive, pictures I’ve taken over the years that I might not have chosen as reference for a finished piece. When I’m choosing photos for practice pieces, however, I suddenly have more options.

A fully rendered painting usually takes me 10-20 hours to complete. I’m painting a sea turtle right now and it’s a lot of work. It’s proving to be time consuming to paint the patterns on the skin and the shell. I’m enjoying it, but it’s meticulous detail and will likely take a minimum of three weeks to complete. Working on practice pieces at the same time, each taking about two or three hours, means I get a break from that piece, allowing me to return to it each time with fresh eyes.

Finally, practice pieces give me more images to share and if I ever get around to creating an art book, I’ll be able to choose from a larger collection of work.

I took the reference for the hippo at the Calgary Zoo.
When I took the reference for the Bernese Mountain Dog, my camera was actually full of owl pics. A couple of years ago, Colin from the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre was in Canmore with some of his birds for an annual education event in the fall at the Civic Centre. He was holding a Great Horned Owl on his arm and this dog was very interested, both animals locking eyes on each other. The dog’s owner had a tight grip on the leash, but Colin didn’t seem too concerned. I don’t know who would have won that altercation, but my money was on the owl.

Here’s a one minute high speed video of the last practice piece, a giraffe from the Calgary Zoo, with a little musical accompaniment. I had to force myself to stop working on this one and I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with posting it, as it’s still quite rough. I already know that I’ll likely finish this piece as I think there’s more personality yet to show up and I was enjoying the work.

With thousands more reference photos from which to choose, I expect I’ll have more practice pieces to share soon enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Winter Raven

Before it debuted in 2010, nobody was asking for an iPad. Even after it launched, people made fun of it. There were plenty of articles criticizing it for not having a keyboard or a stylus. Even the name was fodder for ridicule. Who would want this when they could have a laptop or a home computer?

Years later, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody with a tablet device who doesn’t see the value.

While I’m not creating technical marvels or something the masses line up for, whenever I’m deciding on a new painting, I have to fight the urge to try to figure out what people want. Most of the time, we don’t even know.

When I painted my first funny looking Grizzly Bear in 2009, nobody was asking me for animal paintings. Like a lot of art, it was an experiment, borne out of boredom with the work I’d been doing.

There are times I will paint something purely for commercial reasons, to satisfy demand.  Most of my pet portraits are client commissions, I’ve painted pandas for the Calgary Zoo, and my Sasquatch and recent T-Rex painting were market suggestions from a licensing client.

It’s a nice thought to believe that you can create art for a living, and people will throw money at you, but the real world doesn’t work that way.

If I thought too hard about each piece’s outcome and marketability before I painted it, I would have never created some of my most popular pieces.

I’ve painted more bears than any other animal, and I’ll continue to paint more because I enjoy them so much. I’ve also painted multiple wolves, lions, tigers and owls. This is my third or fourth raven.

I paint some animals more than once because there will always be room for improvement and new approaches to try. You never know when the same animal, painted differently, will suddenly resonate with people the way a previous version didn’t.

My Smiling Tiger painting is one of my best-selling pieces. Had I failed to paint it simply because I had painted tigers twice before, I would have missed out on an image that many people love, including me.
In September of this year, I gave my wife a photo of a raven for her birthday, printed on aluminum with a clear coating. It’s easily one of the best gifts I’ve given her because she loves it. Shonna hung it opposite the kitchen entry so that when you walk in, it never fails to catch your eye.

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with the image as well. Because of the print medium, the different light throughout the day changes the photo. Sometimes it’s devoid of colour; other times, it’s shades of gold, and on an overcast, gloomy day, it has hints of blue. Both Shonna and I often stop to look at it.

My friend Darrel and I remain fans of the 90s television show Northern Exposure. The fictitious tales from Cecily, Alaska, often incorporated First Nations beliefs and symbolism. On one holiday episode, the radio DJ, Chris Stevens said, “You know, twinkling coloured lights are nice, and so are plastic Santas and reindeers and manger scenes, but I’ll tell you something, friends… nothing like the sight of a beautiful black-as-pitch raven to get you in the Christmas spirit.”

I doubt there’s a December since that Darrel and I haven’t recited the last part of that quote to each other.
So it’s no wonder I’ve had ravens on my mind. It’s also likely why I chose such stark contrasts in this painting, inspired by the same quality in that photo.

I’ve had to remind myself often of the lesson I learned a long time ago. If I paint what I think people want to see, the image rarely captures the attention I expect. It’s likely those paintings won’t be ones I enjoy much either. It’s the ones I paint without any expectations that end up being the most fun and often become surprising hits.

So here’s another raven, whether you wanted one or not. And here’s to the next one I’ll no doubt paint somewhere down the road, whenever the mood strikes me.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Thanks for Your Support

The podcasts I listen to change from time to time. I’ll add new ones, delete old ones, depending on what I get out of each and where I’m at in my work life.

The one that prompted me to write this post was recommended to me by my friend Crystal, a Calgary-based graphic designer. While skilled in her chosen profession, one of Crystal’s most outstanding qualities is that she is a cheerleader for other creatives.

Since I’ve known and liked Crystal for years, I take her advice seriously. While it was my licensing agent in Vermont that got me the deal, and I had little to do with it, Crystal has been bugging me for years to get my work on puzzles.  When I got the box of my artist samples from Spilsbury, Crystal was first on the list to receive two of them.

So when she suggested I listen to David duChemin’s podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, and said she thought I would connect with it, I didn’t hesitate.

David is a Canadian photographer and author, but his impressive skills far exceed his current professional pursuits. His podcast is not an interview format, but more of a ‘lessons learned and thoughts he’s thinking’ structure about pursuing a creative life. I could write a lengthy description, but David speaks better for himself than I could. I invite you to listen to see if it resonates with you as it does with me. There’s a link at the end.

When we’re allowed to travel again, one of the first places I’ll go is back to Vancouver Island. I cancelled two planned trips there this year, one for business, another a kayaking trip for Shonna’s and my 25th anniversary. As we’ve had some back-and-forth emails in recent months, I look forward to adding ‘meeting David in person’ to my next Island itinerary.

While beginning a new painting this morning, I listened to David’s latest, Episode 51: No One Needs a Juggler. In it, David talks about the feedback he received from another episode about his leaving social media.

In the current episode, he talks about the marketing challenges faced by self-employed creatives and some of the methods he used for reaching people before social media existed. It’s something on which I currently spend a great deal of mental energy. With so much content out there, it’s more challenging to get noticed in today’s world, but not impossible. It involves a great deal of work, not merely to create the art, but to get people to see it. While I am no expert at this and have made mistakes from which I’ve learned valuable lessons, I’ve also done many things right.

For most of my career, I’ve had a website that gets redesigned and improved every so often. I have it professionally done, try to keep it simple, and have always given serious consideration to feedback. I’ve kept a blog since 2008 and a newsletter since 2014, which has helped me become a much better writer. While blogs may seem antiquated to some, I regularly receive positive feedback on mine.  I’ve shared the details behind the work, milestones and setbacks, incredibly personal stories, both good and bad, frustrations, motivations, and highlights.

It would be easy to focus on the losses this year, and I’m not going to give you yet another positive ‘we’re all in this together’ message because we get those every day, and we’re all a little tired of them.

David’s podcast this morning reminded me of the one precious thing I have that I never want to take for granted, and that’s all of you.

Many of you have followed my work for a long time, some for almost two decades. Seriously, I could list a bunch of your names who have been supporting my work for well over ten years. Many of you remember the days when the extent of my work was editorial cartoons and celebrities’ caricatures. And a lot of that work was terrible!

Over time, the list has grown, and more of you have signed up for the ride. When I left Facebook and Twitter, many of you signed up for my newsletter. I know many of your names but have never met you in person, and I may never will. Some have never bought a print, calendar, mask or product, yet you send me regular emails telling me how much you like something I’ve created. That encouragement is just as valuable to me as a sale, and I mean that.

Some of you have commissioned paintings of your pets, a few more than once. I know which of you like big cat paintings, the ones who love bears more than any other animal, some of you name your prints when you get them, and some have even shared your personal struggles with me. I know that a couple of you buy prints to send to your grandkids overseas, more than a few of you have whole walls of my images in your homes, and I’m well aware which of you are patiently waiting for me to paint your favourite animal one of these days.

Though I do include links to the online store in each newsletter, hopefully you don’t feel like I’m always trying to sell you something. On the other side of that, however, I hope you understand when I have new prints or products to advertise or let you know about a pre-order or sale.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year like no other. While it’s personally been a challenging year, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually in a better frame of mind in December of this year than I have been in many others. I think it’s because I’m beginning to realize what I could be discovering if I wasn’t so desperately trying to hold on to what I’ve got.

2020 has taught many of us that the things we always thought we could count on are illusory.

I’ve got some new things on which to focus in 2021, stuff that I have been reluctant to try for fear that it might not work. I bought a webcam, and I want to try doing some painting demos on my YouTube channel. Not formal, scripted lessons, or start-to-finish paintings, but talking about what I’m doing while I’m painting. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, videos that answer common art questions. Who knows where it might lead?

Thanks for being here, for following along, for your encouragement, for the emails you send after I publish a newsletter or release a new painting. Thanks for so many thoughtful responses to the Cartooning COVID video essay I posted this week. I didn’t expect such a positive response, and I’m glad it connected with so many of you. Many of my newspapers either published it on their sites and social media or are doing so this week. One even called for an interview about it.

And finally, I will take some more advice from David duChemin’s podcast and do something incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to ask for your help.

It always strikes me funny when one of you sends me an email asking if you can share something I’ve sent. I not only love it when you think enough of one of my creations to share it with your friends and family; I want you to. Word of mouth is an absolute requirement for the success of my business and career.

When somebody buys a print from me, I always include a personally hand-written card in a little envelope, along with two business cards. One is for you to keep, and the other so you have one to give away. The best compliment you can ever pay me is to refer my work to somebody else.

So here’s the ask.

In the coming year, if I share a new painting, a video, a written post, a cartoon or anything else that connects or resonates with you, the best thing you can do to help me keep doing what I love to do is to share it. Please send it in an email to one friend, share it on your sites, on social media, private messages, or post a link to my site with my sincere gratitude.

If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or simply want to say hello, please drop me a line. I try to respond to every email I get, and I love hearing from you.

Finally, as this will be the last post before Christmas, I know it’s going to be a tough one for many. Long-time followers know that I’ve never been a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to diminish anyone else’s holiday. However different things look for you this year, I hope you can find some joy and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Cheers,
Patrick

As promised, here’s the link to David’s podcast and to my friend Crystals’ site.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Winter Wolf

When beginning a new painting, it’s tempting to scour my photo archives for an animal I haven’t painted before. Sometimes that intent works, but often I end up sacrificing my enjoyment of the work because I chose the animal for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.

My photo reference files are well cataloged, a folder for each animal. With thousands of photos to choose from, having them all in a big pile makes life a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

I try to steer myself away from painting too many bears. I could happily paint ten of those in a row, but not everybody has the same affinity for my favourite creature, though I have no idea why.

I’ve painted three wolf images, four if you count that one of those paintings has two wolves in it. So, it came as a surprise to me that I chose to paint another one. Often I’ll decide to paint an animal because it feels right at the time.

My friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, gave me a folder of wolf images a few years ago, a large collection of shots she’d taken over the years. These orphaned and rescued wolves had all died of old age long before my first visit to the park.

I came across one image from 2010 that inspired the above painting and asked Serena who it was. She said it was “Smith. He was a sweet wolf.”

The photo has low light, grainy, and taken on a foggy winter day. Serena is a skilled photographer, and many of the images in the folder were much better. But still, I kept returning to this one.

Rather than fight it, I decided to go with it and paint another wolf.

The finished piece looks nothing like Smith. It has a more feminine feel, and I’ve taken liberty with the eyes, expression and everything else. I used five other reference shots for the detail I needed. A couple were Serena’s photos, the others my own.

There are two or three hours of work painting fur detail that I later covered up with snow, which was the most challenging part of this piece. I had to decide between too much or too little snow and where to put it.

Leaving the background white felt uncomfortable, as I often use colour and texture to make the foreground image pop or establish more mood. I added some blue flecks to the background to take the edge off the sharp contrast and accent the eyes, but it’s still a predominantly nondescript backdrop. I did add a subtle light blue to make it softer and mute the contrast a little more at the end. From a commercial perspective, it will make it easier to adapt this painting to various licensed products.

While I enjoyed working on this piece and its challenges, I’m not sure how I feel about the finished painting. I’ll need to let it rest awhile. Still my style, not as whimsical as my other pieces and a departure from the usual composition, but the same could be said for my Roar and Sire paintings, both of which have become popular.

I can control the work, the choices I make, and the art I send out into the world. After that, it’s out of my hands.
I’m starting a new painting right away on Monday, something completely different, Mike’s suggestion at Pacific Music and Art. I’ve said no to him on this critter before, for reasons I’ll explain later. I’m a little nervous about it as it will be tough. The detail alone will double my usual painting time. But if I can manage to bring it to life, it might be a fun piece with a lot of personality.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Another Day of Discovery

I’m not breaking any news here when I point out that most businesses have had to adjust to operational difficulties during the past six months. Many had to close, some permanently. For the ones that survived, the opening came with severe restrictions, reduced hours and a strange new reality.

Discovery Wildlife Park began its late-season start as a drive-thru. People could visit the park, but had to stay in their vehicles, while staff did their best to ensure a worthwhile experience. It proved to be quite popular, especially since there were few options elsewhere for a family outing at the time.

Once allowed to fully open, they had reduced hours, but visitors could roam freely while keeping their distance from other guests. The park itself is a well-manicured open-concept venue, and just walking around the place is relaxing. Add in the rescued and orphaned animals, and it’s a unique experience.

Their season ends typically on Thanksgiving, but this year the last day is September 30th. With that date looming and the fantastic fall weather this year, I made the time on Monday to drive up and spend the day taking photos.
As always, my first stop was to see Berkley, a brown bear I’ve known since she wasn’t much bigger than a cat. She has a massive enclosure all to herself, complete with a pond, big fallen trees on which to climb and plenty of daily attention from staff and guests alike.
In August, Berkley weighed in at 388 pounds. As she’s been preparing for her long winter’s nap by eating a lot more, I suspect she’s well over 400 now. She’ll turn four years old this coming January and still isn’t full grown. Given the excellent care the animals receive at the park, Berkley is one of the healthiest brown bears you’ll ever see. Her thick, luxurious coat sometimes makes her look like she might be carrying a little extra weight, but she’s fit and lean.

It never fails to make me smile when I call her name, and she ambles down to see me, even if she’s at the other side of her enclosure. It’s such a privilege to sit on the grass and look into those beautiful brown eyes.
Serena (the head keeper and Berkley’s Mom) and the staff have become friends over the years. I’m ever grateful for the behind-the-scenes access they give me when I visit. During the bear presentation, I was able to take up-close unobstructed photos and got some nice reference pics of the black bears. I tried to hide a little during Berkley’s part of the presentation. She tends to get distracted if she sees people she knows.
In the middle of the day, I drove ten minutes down the road to have a visit with my folks and meet their new little animal; a Yorkie named Lily. Once again, the first favoured LaMontagne child has four legs and a fur coat. She’s a skittish little thing, but she seemed to like me. A baggie full of dog treats helped.

Upon my return to the park for the lion presentation, I got another nice batch of photos. I’ve wanted to paint their male lion, Griffin, for some time. While I still don’t have THE shot I’ve been looking for, I did get plenty to paint other images.
While nobody knows what the future holds, I expect a winter with even more time indoors than usual. With a topped-up stock of new photo reference, I’ll be using that time to paint and write.

Lions, tigers, and bears…oh my.

And an elephant.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Horsing Around with Prints


My latest paintings have arrived. Both Gold and Midnight Blue have been signed, packaged and are ready to ship. You can find them in the online store, along with 45 other available images.

These are hand-signed 11″X14″ digital poster prints, packaged with backer board and artist bio in a cellophane sleeve, printed in Canada.

I’ve sized all of my prints so that it’s unnecessary to spend a bundle on custom framing. Most stores that sell off-the-shelf frames will offer 11″X14″ as it’s a standard and popular size.

I’m always happy to answer any questions, so feel free to drop me a line anytime.

Click on the images to go to each print, or follow this link to the online store.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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The Stories Behind The Work

When I plan to paint a funny looking animal, the goal is usually to create a finished piece, something destined for print. That’s what I’m thinking when I go through my extensive archive of reference, selecting photos to help me create the next painting. As such, there are many images that don’t make the cut.

I’ve recently been going through those files with a different goal in mind, finding reference I still like, from which to practice sketching and drawing.

The first three I tackled, the ones throughout this post, ended up being painted pieces. Still not the level of detail you’ll find in my production prints, but images I enjoyed bringing to life. Unlikely to become prints on their own, I painted them for fun, knowing that one of these might inspire other ideas.

Years ago, while learning to create on the iPad, I painted a practice piece of an Ostrich. At my wife’s insistence, I later developed it into a fully rendered painting and it became one of my bestsellers.

While painting these three pieces, however, I began to think of another use for them.

It doesn’t seem like four years ago, but I had intended on producing a book of my artwork. I had a local publisher lined up and the plan was to have it ready for 2017. But at the end of 2016, life got complicated.

With no desire to dig through old ground, or drag any of you through it again, the short version is that I went through a bout of severe depression. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the experience was a necessary evil and I’m now grateful for that catharsis. Real change never happens when you’re comfortable.

I came out the other side with a better perspective on things, not the least of which is a much lower tolerance for toxic bullshit. Leaving Facebook and Twitter was a good first step in eliminating quite a bit of it.

It took a long time to right that capsized ship, however, and one of the casualties of that dark night of the soul was the art book.

As I’ve been doing a lot more writing this year, the blog, newsletter and fiction, thoughts have returned to that dormant project.

The kind of art book I’ve always enjoyed from other creatives, whether it’s photography, painting, or sketching, is one that talks about the stories behind the work. That’s the kind of book I wanted to produce then, and four years later, I still have the same desire.

Many of my paintings have stories behind them. Hell, just the stories, sketches and paintings about my time spent with Berkley the Bear from Discovery Wildlife Park could fill a large volume.

The thought of such a project fills me with doubt. Anyone who has ever created anything, let alone a book, has experienced imposter syndrome. Who am I to write a book and assume anyone will want to buy it?

I can easily come up with a long list of reasons why publishing an art book is a bad idea.

It’ll cost a lot to produce. Even though I may or may not have to publish it myself, there’s a significant expense involved, and books don’t sell as well as people think they do. It has long been my experience that for every twenty people who say they will buy something, only one actually does.

It’s so easy for someone to post a supportive casual comment on Instagram or drop me a line saying they can’t wait until prints of a new painting are available. And while many of my supportive, generous, loyal customers do indeed follow through, most people don’t, despite their good intentions.

If you’re a creative starting out on this journey and happen to be reading this, that’s Lesson #1 in life and in business. People talk a good game.
So, what about Kickstarter or Patreon? For those to be successful, creatives have to offer different tiers of incentives to entice backers, or people will simply wait until the book comes out to buy it. Suddenly, all of the work involved with writing the book, laying it out, hiring an editor, and having it professionally produced is now paired with coming up with added incentives for the different tiers.

As I am a one man operation, already using most of my limited hours in a day, there’s no more water to draw from that well.

There are plenty of people who’ve done all of the work, launched a book, did the promotion, put in the hours and still ended up years later with boxes upon boxes of them gathering dust in their garage. I recently heard of one author who took most of her leftovers to the landfill as she couldn’t bear to look at them anymore. That must have been a hard day. I would imagine the drive home would have involved a stop for chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, or all three.

While it’s easier than ever to self-publish and produce a book today, it becomes the duty of the creator to do the lion’s share of promoting and selling it. That means gift and trade shows, events, readings, book store signings, not to mention all of the online promotion to ensure people are even aware that you have a book to sell. That’s difficult when things are normal, even tougher now that many of those opportunities aren’t possible due to COVID-19.

At this point, I wouldn’t approach the same publisher again without a finished book in hand. I’ve already abused that faith once before. While it’s a common tale in the publishing trade for well-intentioned would-be authors to fizzle out before launch, that personal failure weighed heavy on me. I wasted another self-employed person’s time, a crime I will not repeat.

As you can tell, talking myself out of this project is easily done. I have no shortage of excuses. I can come up with many more reasons why creating an art book is a bad idea.

I can also give you many reasons why creating art for a living is a bad idea, not to mention self-employment or starting any business. But that didn’t stop me or the millions of other people who’ve done the same thing, and succeeded against the odds.

Nothing good comes without risk.
I’m going through the stories behind the paintings again, with fresh eyes. I’m looking through all of the work I’ve done, both the production paintings and ones like those you see here, deciding which would be good candidates for inclusion. The art books I enjoy have smaller pieces peppered throughout, and I have plenty of those from which to choose.

But I plan to paint a lot more of them as well.

Despite all of the arguments I gave against the idea, and many more that I didn’t, I still want to create an art book, whether it makes any money or not.

One thing I do know for sure, is that I can’t sell one if I don’t write one.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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