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One More

One of the reasons I enjoy taking my own reference photos for paintings is that the animals often surprise me.

When I began painting these critters, before I took my own photos, I’d often have a pose in mind, and I’d go looking for it on the internet. I’d eventually find something I liked, but it would often look similar to the pose I used for a previous painting of a different animal.

If it were a stock photo, I’d pay the licensing fee for reference. Failing that, I’d contact the photographer, arrange for a high-res image and pay or barter for the use.

Australian photographer Scott Portelli allowed me to use his underwater photo for my Humpback Whale painting in exchange for a rolled canvas of the finished piece. Moose Peterson allowed the use of several of his animal images in exchange for my drawing a caricature of him and a business partner for a course they taught. We already had a connection through Photoshop World, so he was familiar with my work.

I paid a U.S. park warden $100 for his photo I found online for my first Wolf painting. He confessed surprise at my offering to pay since that image had been stolen and published illegally more times than he could count.

The problem with online reference photos is that I know that no matter what I find, there’s a good chance another artist has used the same image. Certainly, I’ll paint it with my spin and style, and it won’t look the same as another artist’s work, but it will undoubtedly share similarities.

By taking my own photos, it stands a better chance of being unique.

On a recent visit to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, I had another opportunity to take photos of their black bears during their presentation to the public. As I’ve known the keepers and staff for several years, they allow me into the large enclosures with them, though I’m behind a hot-wire. It’s an electric fence about a foot off the ground that the animals avoid, for obvious reasons. The keepers, however, interact up close and personal with the bears.

These animals are all orphans and rescues who came to the facility under conditions prohibiting their release into the wild. Many of them have been raised here since they were very young. They receive exemplary care and clearly have an affectionate relationship with their caregivers.

The keepers use the bear presentations each day to educate the public about wildlife. They teach how to be bear-aware while hiking, what to do if you encounter a black bear or grizzly in the wild, how to use bear spray, and keep a clean campsite so that the local fauna doesn’t learn to associate people with food.

The hope is that by educating the public, fewer orphans will end up in captivity, remaining in the wild where they belong.

One of those rescues is a big black bear named Gruff. With a genial and gentle personality, he has been hand-raised at the park since he was a cub.

Sadly, Gruff had a rough start in life. A hunter poached his mother in the Grande Prairie area, and people passed the frightened little cub from home to home.

Fish and Wildlife eventually confiscated the sick and frightened cub, and my friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, was asked if she could take him.

He was malnourished, in shock from his ordeal, and sick from untreated pneumonia that has since resulted in permanent left lung damage. Because he was in such bad shape, Serena didn’t know if she could save him. But with proper food, medication, round-the-clock care and a lot of patience, Gruff has grown into one of the most beautiful black bears you could ever see.

He is currently eight years old and 709 pounds at his last weigh-in.

I’ve painted Gruff several times, and I expect I’ll paint him again as I enjoy his expressions and antics. The bond between him and the keepers is evident, and he never fails to put a smile on my face.
While visiting in June, I was happily snapping pics of Gruff when he made a clumsy attempt to sit up from lying on his back. He looked right at me, with his tongue out, and immediately reminded me of a large guy trying to do a sit-up. With the camera on rapid-fire, I got quite a few shots of this funny situation and was delighted at the photos when I got home.

As none of them were quite right on their own, I used three different reference pics for this piece. One had the best head position, another one revealed a better overall pose and the third, while a bit out of focus, had some lighting I liked.

Could I have found these shots online, taken by another photographer? Unlikely. Would I have even thought to have looked for images like this? Not a chance.

I could list dozens of paintings I’ve created that have been inspired by situations and experiences I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s why taking the photos is as much a part of the finished pieces as the paintings themselves. Each of them has a story and conjures up fun memories.

Whether it’s a pose, lighting, or simply a look, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered future paintings while sorting through photos.

When I came across the photos of Gruff, looking like he was trying to get in shape, there was no doubt of a painting. But, before I put the first brush stroke on the digital canvas, I already knew that I would call it ‘One More.’

I imagine it 10 feet high on the wall of a gym somewhere.

Here’s a high speed video of ‘One More’, from start to finish. Prints of this piece are available NOW in the store.
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© Patrick LaMontagne

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New Releases and Recently Retired

It’s always a thrill when the first prints of a new painting arrive on my doorstep, even better when it’s more than one. So it’s my great pleasure to announce the first printing of The Brazen Bighorn and The Smiling Lion, now available as 11″X14″ poster prints in the store.

The Toronto and Calgary Zoos placed two large print orders recently, eating up a good chunk of my inventory. I am most definitely not complaining, quite the opposite. The Toronto order has already arrived, and I’ll be delivering the Calgary order first thing this week, which gives me a welcome excuse to take some fresh reference photos.

Between the zoo orders and those who took advantage of the free calendar with every order of two prints, I had to label a handful of prints as TEMPORARILY SOLD OUT for the past week. But with quick production and delivery from Art Ink Print in Victoria, I’m pleased to say that the Snow Leopard, Kodiak Cub, Otter, Sire, and Smiling Tiger prints are back in stock.

I’ve enjoyed creating each of my paintings over the past 12 years, but I’m always painting new ones. My very first whimsical wildlife piece, the Grizzly I painted in 2009, is still a fan favourite. Unfortunately, while some prints remain popular for many years, others don’t perform as well as I’d like in the online store. So from time to time, I need to make room for my new work to have a chance to shine.

Recently retired prints are the Amur Tiger, Happy Baby and Lion Cub.

These retired images only apply to the prints in my store. Some of these, and other retirees are still popular in zoos and Discovery Wildlife Park, and they can order them when they like. And my entire catalogue remains available to my licensees for their products.

As a result of the zoo orders coming at the same time as my recent ‘buy two prints and get a free calendar’ promotion, a couple of people were unable to get the prints they wanted. So I was happy to extend the promotion to them until items were back in stock.

But, let’s extend that for everybody. If you buy two or more prints in the online store by 4:00 (MST) on Tuesday, August 3rd, I will include a free Wild Animals 2022 calendar with your order.

Any questions, ask me in the comments or send me an email.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Playing the Hand I’m Dealt

Rounders, Molly’s Game, 21. I’ve always loved movies about card games and gambling, even though the limit of my experience has been playing low stakes Blackjack at the Photoshop World conference. The most I’ve ever lost is $300 over five days, which is nothing for Vegas. I had budgeted to lose that money from the start, since I’ve got no delusions about my skills.

With about a half dozen obvious tells, likely more, I’ve often said that I would be the worst poker player, so I’ve never bothered. I’m a bad actor; I wear my heart on my sleeve.

So this week, I’m not even going to pretend to have it all together. I haven’t got the bandwidth, and I’m confident most of you can relate. The pandemic has been going on for longer than any of us expected, and regardless of where you stand on the whole thing, I’m sure you’re as tired as I am.

I’m struggling.

My motivation is deep in the red, I’m easily distracted, I don’t want to talk to people, and I’ve got a short fuse. If one more person tells me to hold on just a little while longer, especially a politician, well, I’m just gonna…

…well, I’m just gonna hold on a little while longer.

Because what else is there?

In keeping with my current short attention span, and complete lack of inspiration to write anything motivational or upbeat, here are simply some updates.

Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo

Despite that they moved it from the usual April date to the August long weekend this year, Expo has once again been cancelled.

I know they made the right call, but it’s still one more gut punch in a long series of them.

It wouldn’t have been a good year even if they had gone ahead. With the U.S. border likely to remain closed, or perhaps just opening by then, the big celebrity guests they need to draw people in won’t be showing up.

Expo boasts close to 100,000 people over four days on a good year, moving between multiple convention halls. A few years ago, it was the sixth biggest Comic-Con in North America. But it is mainly an indoor event, and I don’t think people are ready for that yet.

Shonna and I are three weeks past our first vaccine shots and likely will have our second by then, but like many others, I’m pretty shell-shocked by this whole experience. After running my booth all day, I’d probably spend the first hour back at my hotel room having a Silkwood shower.

It would be a significant investment of time and funds in a year when both are in short supply. I wouldn’t expect to recoup my costs, let alone make a profit. Now, that’s not always the goal because I enjoy seeing many of you each year. While I’ve talked to quite a few of my favourite Expo people over email during this lock-down, it’s hardly a substitute for seeing them in person.

And I also love introducing new people to my funny-looking animals. So I will miss not being there again this year.

Fingers crossed for next year.

Continuing Education

I’ve been taking a marketing course over the past couple of months, which has been pretty damn impressive. I’ll be happy to tell you about it soon, but it has been hands-down one of the best investments of my time in a lot of years. It granted me a new perspective on promoting my work and a new appreciation for those of you who’ve come along for the ride.

Continuing education is always a good investment, and when you’re self-employed, it’s an absolute necessity. Technology changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up, but it’s worth the effort.

I gave a video presentation to a Grade 7 class here in Canmore this week. They’re doing a module on editorial cartooning, and I was asked to talk to them about that side of my work. I’ve done several of these in person at local schools over the years, but this was a new experience. While many people are having regular meetings over Zoom and Google Meet, I haven’t. I enjoyed becoming familiar with the technology, and it went smoothly.

After my twenty-minute presentation, sharing some cartoons and talking about the work, there was one question about drawing and digital art. I explained to the students that they were fortunate to live in one of the greatest times in history for learning to do anything they want. It’s all out there on the internet waiting to be discovered.

But they have to be willing to put in the work, always the most essential ingredient. There are no cheats or shortcuts around it.

What’cha working on?

Of course, I’m always drawing daily editorial cartoons.

But I’m also working on a new painting of a Bighorn Sheep, something I hadn’t planned. It began from a frantic rough sketch when I just needed to put something (anything!) onto a blank page to keep the demons at bay. This Bighorn has attitude and a little sarcasm, might have a screw or two loose, but sometimes those are the most fun. My Ring-tailed Lemur comes to mind. He’s not all there, is he?I’ve also started a character portrait from a streaming series and have gathered references for another character portrait from a movie. Many of you already know that when I’m feeling lost and overwhelmed, I’ll paint portraits of people to try and reset things. Those don’t contribute to my bottom line, but they usually do help my mental health. Usually, I paint one of these in late fall or winter, but there is nothing usual about this time in which we’re living.

Here’s one I did in November 2019 of Quint from the movie Jaws.
I’m trying something new, writing the story behind one of my favourite paintings. It’ll be a small e-book, a free downloadable pdf for followers of A Wilder View. It’ll feel like a chapter of the art book I’ve always wanted to write. I figure if it works out, and I write a few more, I’ll have enough of them to actually populate a book and won’t have any more excuses for not publishing one.

Sometimes I have to trick myself.

Housekeeping

I’m planning to design a new website, but in the meantime, I’m making improvements to the existing one.

I’ve added some new payment options to the online store to make it easier for you to add one of my whimsical wildlife prints to that bare section of wall you’ve got. You really should put some artwork there, y’know, maybe a Smiling Tiger or a family of Owls. I’ll let you choose.

In addition to the existing credit card payments and Paypal, I’ve added Stripe and Apple Pay as additional payment options. That’s right; if you’re an Apple user, you can buy with a thumbprint.

And if you live in Canmore, I’m always happy to take payment by e-transfer, and I’ll deliver free of charge. Just send me an email for those orders instead of going through the store.

Wrap it up, LaMontagne!

Live video presentations, streaming TV, buying stuff from our phones, we’re living in a sci-fi movie. We should be saying “Wow” a whole lot more often, instead of complaining when the Wi-fi gets slow. A lesson we’ve all learned this year is how much we’ve been taking for granted.

I got nothing else.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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A Smiling Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure, I’ve painted lions before.

I’ll paint lions again.

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

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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The Delight Is In the Details

I began a new painting last weekend, which will have a high-speed painting video to go with it. I didn’t intend to paint this animal right now, but the video narrative will explain the choice and why I tried to talk myself out of it for all the wrong reasons.

A week into it, I’m enjoying the work a lot more than I thought I would because I stopped overthinking it and surrendered to having some fun.

With daily editorial cartoon deadlines, the usual admin work, and other myriad tasks that go with self-employment, I usually reserve Saturday mornings for painting. I paint throughout the week, of course, but if I’m home, Saturday morning is usually my sacred painting time. Sundays are one of my busiest days of the week because I draw two editorial cartoons to send out first thing Monday morning.

This week was a little different.

Shonna and I were fortunate to book our first vaccines for mid-morning on Saturday. Grateful to get our shots; it was obviously our top priority.

While it doesn’t happen every year, there have been times where I haven’t felt that great the day after my annual flu shot, a common possible side effect with any vaccine. A couple of friends both felt a little under the weather the day after their COVID shots, so I planned to take Sunday off if needed. This meant getting my editorial cartoons done on Saturday.

I had still planned to get up at five on Sunday as usual, but with the cartoons done, I realized that I could paint all day if I felt good. If I didn’t, no big deal.

I woke feeling fine, more than a little relieved to have received the first shot, so I spent the day painting hair, fur and features. I don’t recall the last time I switched up that routine, but I might do it again. I enjoyed the freedom of having the deadlines done a day early.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the detail so far. And no, it’s nowhere near done yet.

As Shonna worked at her part-time job Sunday evening, I decided to watch Kong: Skull Island again, a light, fun, monster movie. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

The original King Kong was released in 1933. That’s 88 years ago! The original monster was stop-motion, clunky, and laughable by today’s standards, but it was an incredible achievement at the time. Since then, each of the eleven King Kong remakes has pushed the realism envelope a little more.

I watch a lot of movies more than once and get something new out of them each time. This was no exception. The camera got close to Kong’s skin, hair, eyes, and I frequently paused the movie to take a good look at the incredible realism they achieved.

One of the things I love most about movies today is the extra content. From Director’s commentary to behind-the-scenes features, I enjoy seeing how movies are made, the artistry and collaboration of hundreds of creative professionals coming together to realize a shared vision.

In one featurette, Jeff White, the Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Director for ILM Vancouver, explained how they brought Kong to life. While he talked about the structure, rigging, muscles and skin, it should come as no surprise that I was most fascinated by how they achieved such realistic hair.

“He’s covered in about 19 million hairs. A lot of the detailed styling and sculpting of the hair is all done by hand. We had two artists working on it for almost a year, just on getting all the different styles and looks to his hair.”

He then went on to talk about how messing up the hair was a big challenge because, in the story, the fur would get wet and damaged, which would change the texture and consistency.

Two artists worked on hair for a year?!

I have a lot of patience painting hair and fur because I enjoy it so much. I’m always trying to achieve a new level of realism. While I never quite get there and will eventually abandon a painting to move on to the next one, I’m now inspired to try even harder.

Granted, for two artists to devote that much time to get the hair right in the movie, they had to be compensated, so their bills got paid. I would imagine there were more than a few days where that meticulous detail got tedious, especially when the software started acting up, as it always will from time to time. This would have been an incredible amount of challenging hard work.
But when they saw their efforts come to life on the big screen, for it to look so delightfully real and terrifying, I can only imagine their pride in the accomplishment. I also suspect they both still noticed flaws that nobody else would see.

Because that’s what artists do. We are always our own worst critics.

This morning, while continuing to work on the current painting, I decided I’m not going to rush it. I’m taking a little more time on this one to push it further because I’m enjoying it so much.

I’ll be pleased to share the finished piece and the video that goes with it, though I don’t currently have an idea when that will be. But even if I’m happy with it, it won’t be long before I see the flaws, wish I’d done something different, and try to do better the next time.

Because that’s what artists do.
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Collars and Colours on Canvas

A couple of months ago, I shared a finished commission piece of Bomber. Here’s the link to that post.

This was a unique experience for a few reasons. The person who hired me was not the person with whom I had worked or who received the painting— it was a gift commission. As I mentioned in that post, the experience was ideal. The gift giver and the recipient were terrific to work with, and I have nothing but fond memories of that commission.

The recipient often works for periods of time in one province but lives in another, and not the next one over, either.

So when it came time to ship the canvas, Bomber’s Mom asked me to send it to her work address, so when she was missing being home with her dog, she’d have the art to keep her company. I kind of liked that.
I finished this painting in February and shipped it shortly after. While Sharon has seen the image and was happy with it, she didn’t get to see the 12”X16” canvas until last week.

I’m proud of the quality of my poster prints; otherwise, I wouldn’t sell them. The quality available today versus what was possible and affordable twenty years ago is night and day. Art Ink Print in Victoria does my poster prints, and it has gotten to the point where I rarely need to proof them because they do such a great job. They know my work and how it’s supposed to look. I can rely on them to make it look the way I want it to, and I never have to apologize to my customers, as the prints they order consistently exceed their expectations.

I sent an additional poster print of this commission to the person who hired me, a little bonus and keepsake.

Despite how much I like my poster prints, I’ve been telling people for years that my work looks best on canvas. There’s just something about the added texture of the fibres and the giclée print quality from ABL Imaging in Calgary. It makes the image pop, the colours look richer, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see the first canvas printing of a piece.

A little unsolicited advice to artists; if you’re going to print your work, don’t go for the cheapest you can find. People will pay for quality. You want to look at your own prints and think, “yeah, I’m happy to put my signature on that!”

I took photos of the Bomber canvas before I shipped it but didn’t want to share it until after Sharon had seen it. The photos still don’t do it justice, because iPhones have a tendency to wash out the lighter areas, which you can see in the top image and closeup. Even still, why would I want to dilute her moment of seeing the painting at its best?

She sent a message last week with this…

“I wanted to send you a note to let you know I finally made it back to ___ and just opened the package. You were right, it does hit different in person! It’s even more perfect than the picture. It’s up hanging in my office now and will remind me every day of home.”

There are few things I like better than happy clients.

If you’d like more information about commissions, you can read about them on my site, either in the post I linked to at the beginning of this piece, or on my Commissions page.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting and Peak Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And none of that other crap seems important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We just might not be able to see it yet.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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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