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.
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.
Another horse painting, finished earlier this month.
I took the reference for this at the cabin a couple of years ago, the same weekend as the previous horse painting. While my recent Gold painting was a warm colour palette, this one is colder, a black horse in a winter scene. Each presented its challenges, though I find warm tones easier to paint.
Black fur is difficult. Using pure black or pure white in a painting will rob it of any life. For the darkest shadow areas, I’m careful not to use absolute black because it will appear as a flat spot in the image, especially when printed. There’s always a little colour in it. Even Sire, my black and white lion painting, is just shades of de-saturated blue. If it were pure black, white, and grey, it would appear lifeless, at least it would to me. The lighter areas on black fur are often warmer or cooler tones, reflections of the environment and ambient light. The same goes for white animals, the shades and shadows made up of whatever light is present.
Since my artwork isn’t supposed to be an accurate representation of the animal, I push the features to get a whimsical expression. Not quite caricature, but not real, either. I often do the same thing with the colours, which is why this horse looks very blue.
I’m confident I’ll paint more horses in the future, but having painted two in the past couple of months, I’m ready to move on to something else. Thankfully, I have a massive archive of reference photos, so no shortage of potential subjects.
The second order of whimsical wildlife face masks arrived this week and in less than two days, I was able to get them all out the door. Banff and Canmore local deliveries are done and all of the Canadian and US orders have shipped.
Compared to the first order, this one was a breeze.
As these are being sold to retailers and other venues, they need to look attractive on the shelf, so Pacific Music and Art added snazzy new packaging. While the quality and printing of the masks was already there the first go ‘round, the new packaging makes them look even better. That’s a large and small mask shown here. If you are an interested retailer, please contact Mike at Pacific Music and Art and he’ll be happy to set you up. Plenty of people have told me that they’ve received positive comments when wearing the masks. So far, I’ve only worn the Lion Face and the Amur Tiger, but I got a few more for myself on this order, too.
The Sasquatch looks ridiculously funny on the pictures I’ve seen, so I wanted to have one of my own.
As a lifelong wearer of eyeglasses, the most annoying part of wearing a mask is that they fog up. I tried doing the dish soap method, it just doesn’t work. But I found a great solution online from an optometrist. He explains it well in this video.
I’ve made one modification myself to his method, by rolling two strips of medical tape on the inside of the top of the mask. The inexpensive hypo-allergenic paper tape can be found at any drugstore. I prep the mask before I leave the house so I don’t have to mess with it (or wear it) in the car. When I get to the grocery store or post office, I put the mask on, press the taped areas in place and my glasses no longer fog up.
When I got a haircut the other day, for the first time in four months, I was required to wear a mask. But I anticipated that wearing the ear loops would make it a challenge to cut around my ears, so I taped the sides of the mask to my face so that the ear loops didn’t need to be secured. Worked like a charm and the tape doesn’t irritate the skin. Here’s the before and after haircut pic. Someone used the word nefarious to describe my expression in the after picture. I won’t argue that. I’m fortunate to still have thick healthy hair at my age, and for that I’m grateful. I was, however, very happy to get rid of it all.
To wear or not to wear, that is the question.
Here in Canmore and Banff, I’m surprised that few people are wearing face masks. I don’t mean on the street or in places where you can keep the 6ft. distance, but in grocery stores, post offices and other places where close proximity is not only possible, but probable.
This isn’t a question about whether or not the virus is as serious as they say, whether the precautions taken were too much or too little, or how much the masks help or don’t help. I’ve seen the arguments online and the uncertainty of it all isn’t what disturbs me most, but how people are speaking to one another in the discussions.
Whether an expression of their own fear or frustration with this new normal, I don’t know, but people are being downright nasty to each other, and it’s completely unnecessary. The discussion can be had without the vitriol.
My wife Shonna works full-time at a law firm, but has also worked part-time at Safeway for more than a decade. There are two senior women who work at the law firm, and at the beginning of the isolation, they had expressed concern about her coming in to work every day while still working at Safeway.
So she sacrificed that part-time income for the past few months so she didn’t potentially introduce the virus to the law office staff.
With no local cases, things opening up again, and safety measures in place at Safeway for the workers, she went back to work at the grocery store on Monday and has already worked a couple of shifts. Suddenly, she’s aware of how many people are wearing masks, or rather aren’t wearing them.
There are Plexiglas barriers at grocery stores now, but people forget themselves. They look around them, put their hands on the sides, and aren’t keeping the distance they should. Shonna has said she feels a little more relaxed and safer when a customer is wearing a mask, because she can’t wear one herself for her entire shift.
The messaging has been clear. A reusable non-medical mask is unlikely to protect the wearer from a virus, but it might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing it on to somebody else.
People need to be reminded that you aren’t wearing the mask for yourself.
Wearing a mask tells people that whether they believe in the threat or not, whether there are local cases or not, whether it’s all a deep-state, Illuminati, government conspiracy or not, you’re wearing one to make the people around you feel a little safer.
It’s an act of community.
People talk a really good game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments section about how other people should behave and how people don’t care as much as they used to and how things used to be better in the world. They use words like ‘hero’ for front line workers and grocery store clerks (Shonna does not), failing to understand that those people shop for groceries, too. They go to the post office, the bank, and the coffee shop. You can’t clutch your hands to your chest, get all weepy-eyed, and share memes on Facebook supporting them, then dismiss them as a kook in a mask behind you in the checkout line.
You don’t reveal yourself by the things you say, you reveal yourself by the things you do.
I get it, I’ve been the only one in an aisle at the grocery store wearing one. I’m very healthy, have no immunity issues, and I’m not worried about getting sick. It feels a little silly or unnecessary to wear one sometimes, but ultimately it costs me nothing but a few minutes to put it on and take it off, and wash it when I get home. And if people think I’m a sheep, or a dork, or paranoid for wearing one, that’s fine. The issue is theirs, not mine.
One of my best friends has asthma, two others have high blood pressure, and more than I like to think about are entering their senior years. That puts them in the vulnerable category. I’m not wearing the mask for me, I’m wearing it for them and people like them. That doesn’t make me noble, or better than anybody else, it just makes me part of a community.
Just as we’re all supposed to wear our seat belts, stop at traffic lights, drive the speed limit (or close to it), and stop behind a school bus to keep children safe, wearing a mask in close quarters is a simple act of telling your neighbours, “I’ll look after you, you look after me, and we’ll all look silly together.”
They had to make those other things a law because people didn’t get it. They shouldn’t have to make this mandatory, too.
You might think I’m just trying to sell you more masks, but I don’t care which one you wear. There are plenty of designs out there or you can make your own. I’m also not going to tell you what to do, because there are too many people doing that already. But give it some thought, especially the next time you’re at the grocery store and see a senior citizen, somebody with mobility issues, or just the looks of worry on the faces of your fellow shoppers. Do you really want to risk getting them sick, even if that risk is small, simply because you couldn’t be bothered?
This is all so new, we’re all frustrated, and hopefully it’s temporary. It’s not that big a sacrifice.
I thought this was going to be the last pre-order I did for a while. With warmer weather, people able to socialize outside and keep their distance, the demand seemed to be waning. But now with talk of a second wave, whether that’s a real threat or not, and that more people are seeing my masks out in the world, I’m getting more inquiries. Nobody wants to be trying to find them in the fall if there’s a sudden spike in demand.
As such, SUNDAY (the 21st) I’ll send out another newsletter, with an opportunity to order more. The new 2021 calendars will be available in that one as well. So stay tuned.
If you have any friends or family interested in the masks, have them sign up for my newsletter. It has proven to be the most efficient method of getting the word out.
In 2014, the cast of the 1986 film, Aliens reunited at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. There were autograph signings, photo ops, and a stand-alone event one night where the cast was interviewed, and shared stories in front of an audience of thousands.
Because I was working at my booth, selling my funny looking animal prints, I missed it.
For one reason or another, sci-fi and fantasy movie fans have one favorite franchise.
For some it’s Star Wars, others it’s Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel Universe and many others. While I can take or leave the Lord of the Rings, I enjoy those others and have seen them multiple times. Then again, I’ve seen all of the Scorsese’s stuff multiple times, too.
I just love movies.
Even though television writing has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and I’ve got many shows I like, I’d choose movies over TV every day of the week.
I’ve been a fan of the Alien movie franchise for most of my life, although I can’t remember when I first saw the original movies but I know it wasn’t in a theatre. I do know that the gateway movie for me, however, was James Cameron’s Aliens.
Over the years, I’ve owned the box sets in multiple formats and have watched them often. I own all six on Blu-Ray and digital and enjoy each movie on its own and as part of the whole. I could rate them in order of preference, but I’m not a militant fan-boy about it. They’re still just movies.
You won’t find me on a forum anywhere arguing continuity errors, or debating the Ridley Scott vision of the canon vs. James Cameron’s. I didn’t get angry when Prometheus and Covenant went off in a truly unexpected direction, because I’m just a fan along for the ride. They don’t owe me anything and truth be told, I like those latest movies, too.
I don’t have shelves full of toys and action figures…OK, I have one xenomorph figure, and I also have the poster for Alien: Covenant beside my desk, but simply because I love the art.
H.R. Giger’s Alien design and art wasn’t part of why I started liking these movies, but it certainly is today.
It’s fun escapism and for whatever reason, this franchise resonates with me. I can quote more lines from Aliens than from any other movie, much to the eye-rolling annoyance of my wife.
For reasons I need not explain, I’ve been pretty low the past couple of months. Lost a big chunk of my newspaper clients, the licensing momentum I was looking forward to building upon this year has been crippled, the Calgary Expo was cancelled, along with two trips to Vancouver Island this spring and summer, and until recently, I haven’t been able to see my friends.
I haven’t slept well in quite some time and my back is killing me, both directly related to my inability to deal with stress. It’s been a shitty year so far, as it has been for everyone.
I have little motivation to paint happy animals right now, because I’m just not feeling it.
Even before the virus-that-shall-not-be-named ruined everything, I’ve fallen down in the dumps creatively from time to time. It happens to all artists.
While it usually occurs at the end of the calendar year, when the darkness and cold of winter sets in, this year it’s spring, usually my most upbeat and productive time of year. It’s a feeling that everything I’ve ever painted sucks and there’s no hope for it to get better. I’m a hack, kidding myself about my skills, might as well throw in the towel and give up this foolishness. Anyone who creates anything knows this feeling at some point.
What has worked in the past to help me shake the blues is to paint a portrait of a movie character I like. It gives me a break from the commercial stuff, reminds me why I like painting, and has no financial pressure or deadline attached to it. With a few exceptions, most of the portraits in my Character gallery were painted for my own enjoyment.
Canadian Geographic Magazine commissioned me to paint Rick Hansen in 2018, and a couple paintings have attracted attention after I posted them on Twitter years ago, most notably Martin Sheen and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The latter sent me two tweets from the International Space Station about my work, a surreal experience. But, I don’t really expect the subject will see the portrait I paint of them.
So even though I’ve been focused on keeping my finances secure during all of this, trying to maximize revenue, my mood has been steadily declining and I needed a break.
I figured my skills might finally be good enough to attempt a painting of my favorite movie action hero, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in multiple films.
My buddy Derek once asked me if she was a movie crush and no, it was never about that. What I admired about the character was that she was a regular person, put to the test. Step up or buckle, and most likely die.
At a time when women in action movies were usually just damsels in distress, T&A accessories for the men who would ultimately save them, Ripley became a leader who held it all together and kicked some ass, even though she didn’t want the hero role.
Say what you want about James Cameron and the stories about him being difficult to work for, but he’s always written great roles for strong independent women. Sarah Connor in Terminator, Rose in Titanic, Lindsey in The Abyss, Neytiri and Grace in Avatar, and Ripley in Aliens.
True, Ridley Scott birthed the Ripley character in the original Alien movie, but it was Cameron who allowed Sigourney Weaver to turn her into a badass.
Interesting side note about James Cameron’s creative skills, it was his hands drawing the portrait of Rose in the movie Titanic. He was drawing right handed for those scenes but is actually left handed. He also drew all of the sketches in Jack’s portfolio for that film.
Throughout this painting, I found myself rushing it at times and having to stop myself. This wasn’t a deadline, I had all the time in the world, and the whole point was to enjoy it, get lost in it, and to improve my skills with the work.
While watching the movie again to find reference, I had a lot of options. I could have painted her with the pulse rifle in the action hero pose, the alien eggs around her, ready to start firing. Maybe in the power loader suit doing battle with the Alien Queen, or standing outside on the planet after they realized they were stranded on LV-426, right after Newt says, “They mostly come at night. Mostly.”
I know, I’m descending into nerdy stuff here. Bear with me.
Ultimately when I choose to paint a character, there’s usually a look I see on screen, combined with the right lighting and I just know that’s it.
This painting is from a scene close to the end. The colony has been blown up, the drop ship has returned to the Sulaco in orbit and Ripley is telling Bishop that he did okay. Seconds later, the Alien Queen emerges from the landing gear, tears Bishop in two and starts looking for revenge.
It’s at that moment, Ripley looks up at the Queen in disbelief, but realizes once again that it’s either step up or run and hide. That’s the moment I painted.
Not long after, Ripley steps out into the light in the power loader and says one of the most memorable lines in movie history.
“Get away from her, you bitch!”
The two hardest parts of any painting is starting and finishing. Getting those first lines of the sketch down, convincing myself, “I can do this,” while a louder voice in my head says, “No, you can’t.”
Eventually I come to a moment when I have to say, “This is the best I’ve got right now” and call it finished, while that other voice is saying, “well your best ain’t much.”
It happens on every single painting.
In between those moments, however, it’s like working clay, smoothing out the curve of a cheekbone, lightening a shadow that’s too dark, choosing colours, angles, highlights, a hair here, another there, and putting in the hours, all in search of an accurate likeness and bringing a vision to life.
A likeness in a portrait isn’t about getting the features right, it’s about the relationship between those features as well. I could paint the eyes perfectly, but if the nose is too far away from them, or the angle of the mouth is wrong, the whole thing falls apart.
It’s a balancing act, zooming in and out, squinting, painting tweaks here and there, flipping the canvas and reference back and forth to see what I’m not seeing, shutting it down and walking away, only to open it again the next day and instantly see something I need to fix.
Finally I had to call it done; knowing that a year from now, I’ll look at this and think I could do a better job of it. But that’s art for you; it’s the epitome of the cliché about the journey vs. the destination. As for the whole cast coming to Calgary that year, my priority was my booth, not signatures and photo-ops. The video of the interview session in the corral was put online later on, so I still got to watch all of that after the fact. I enjoy behind-the-scenes stories of movie making, especially ones I’ve enjoyed for years.
I did share an elevator with Lance Henriksen, who played the android Bishop, at the Palliser Hotel that week, twice in fact. I didn’t embarrass myself, and simply said it was nice to see him and I hoped he enjoyed Calgary.
Shonna and I and our friend Michelle were having a late dinner one night in the lounge, when almost the entire cast of Colonial Marines from Aliens came in to have a drink together. Peppered around the room were other celebrity guests. It was quite the surreal environment, but in true Canadian fashion, nobody approached or bothered them, mindful that they deserved their downtime too.
I never did see Sigourney Weaver or Bill Paxton that week, but I was fine with that. Had I the skills to have painted this portrait then, I might have lined up to have Ms. Weaver sign it, but that would have been an exceptional circumstance.
At the end of the Expo that year, while everybody began tearing down, a voice came over the loudspeaker. I don’t know if it was live or recorded earlier, but Bill Paxton recited some of his most famous lines from Aliens, including Hudson’s “Game Over, Man”, with intentional overacting.
After five long days, the vendors and staff exhausted, weary and wanting to go home, the place went nuts with cheers and applause. That’s one of my favorite memories from Expo, and a little bitter sweet. Paxton died four years later at 61, complications from surgery to repair a damaged heart valve.
I don’t know what I’m going to paint next, will need to give it a bit to see if this portrait shook loose the creative cobwebs, but I’m glad I made the time.
Now that some businesses and services are opening up again, I’ve realized how many little things I take for granted.
My eye appointment last Monday for new glasses was a strange experience with all of the precautions, but I was grateful to have had it after I broke my frames weeks ago. Looking forward to the new ones, as a piece of duct tape is holding the current ones together.
The week everything shut down, I was supposed to have my teeth cleaned, something I do three times a year. Our hygienist has been looking after Shonna’s and my teeth for more than twenty years and has never seen me as happy about an appointment as I was yesterday.
Because of how busy they are at the best of times, I book my haircuts months in advance. Obviously, I have missed the last two, but I’ve got another booked for next Thursday. They’re not open yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.
Shonna and I went to Costco in Calgary for the first time in three months on Tuesday. We spent a lot more than we usually do, but we’re set for a while on the stuff we use most. They were well organized, and we went on a Tuesday morning, so it didn’t take long at all.
I noticed quite a few people wearing masks while we there. We were both wearing my Lion Face design and got quite a few appreciative looks. One woman asked where she could get one, so I suggested she follow my newsletter for when the next order would be available. She opened her purse on her cart, stepped back to maintain physical distancing and asked me to drop my card into it—what a strange new dance we’re all doing.
Here’s a selfie I took in Costco to send to a friend. Which brings me to…
The Next Face Mask Order
The masks from the first order have all been delivered or shipped. I know many still haven’t received them with the mail moving a lot slower these days. But some of you have been sending me photos the last few days of you or your families wearing your newly received masks, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. Some of them have made me laugh out loud.
So if you want to send me a picture of yourself in your mask, please do! And if you’re OK with me sharing it on my Instagram profile, let me know if that’s OK, too.
I heard from several newsletter followers who were disappointed they missed out on the first pre-order. For one reason or another, as happens to all of us, they missed that email.
With that in mind, this is the TWO DAY warning that the next mask pre-order will be happening on Saturday, May 23. Just as I did with the last one, I will be announcing it Saturday morning, sending out the options, pricing, and when you can expect them.
Pacific Music and Art went through a gauntlet of challenges with the first order, but they’ve worked out the bugs, supplies are on hand, and we aren’t expecting any delays.
Sign up for the newsletter here. Please don’t send me any orders until after I send the next newsletter on Saturday. Because of the work involved taking the orders and that I still have other editorial cartoon deadlines on the weekend, there will be a 24-hour window to get your order in.
My 2021 calendar from Pacific Music and Art has launched, and the first shipment is on its way to me right now. I expect to receive it any day, might even be today. I’ll be offering those for sale sometime next week. The theme for my second calendar is BEARS, which is appropriate, considering that it’s National Bear Awareness Week.
I received my first sample with the last order of masks and was quite pleased with it. It’s funny that six of these bear paintings are of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park, and two of the black bears live there as well.
I’ll be uploading half a dozen new prints to the online store next week, and spending a good part of today putting those together. There will be a promotional offer combined with a calendar that will go along with that, with more details to follow soon.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.
If you’d asked me how I was doing during the past couple of months, I might have answered that I’ve had OK days and not-so-OK days, for reasons I need not explain.
This past Sunday, however, was the first good day in a long while. And it was a really good day.
Discovery Wildlife Park is open as a drive-thru right now, an Alberta Health Services approved method for people to still come and see the animals, but they must stay in their vehicles. It’s proving very popular and they’ve been busy, with a steady stream of cars winding through the park on their well-manicured gravel pathways. The staff helps the animals be seen, they answer questions and do their best to make it an enjoyable experience for their guests, despite the distancing measures.
While I think it’s great they have this option, it’s not one I’d planned on experiencing. I’ll admit to being spoiled by my connection to the park, and the access they’ve given me. I just don’t want to see Berkley from my car, especially given the drive time to get there.
Shonna and I have been very good at following the isolation rules in all of this. She still goes to work at the law office each day, but it’s closed to the public and they have the appropriate safety measures in place. I’ve stayed home, only going out once a week for groceries, completing all of my errands in as few days a week as possible.
Alberta relaxed a number of restrictions on Friday, allowing people to get together in small groups. Some more businesses have been allowed to open and people are venturing out of their homes, though still being advised to wash their hands, keep their distance, and exercise caution.
Serena and I were texting Saturday night as we sometimes do, as I’m always curious to see how the animals are doing. She often sends behind-the-scenes pictures and videos for us. I made the off comment that it’s too bad I wouldn’t be able to see the wolves while they were pups, to which Serena replied, “Why not?” As she did with their Brown bear Berkley when she was a cub, Serena takes 8-week-old Sassenach and Highlander for a walk each evening in the large fenced wooded area at the park. She lets them explore, play, and get into trouble, without having to worry that they’ll go anywhere.
We’ve had the privilege of many walks in the woods with Berkley. So it was exciting when Serena invited us to come up Sunday evening and meet the wolf pups in the same way.
Shonna later said she was impressed at how I jumped at the chance without overthinking it. Spontaneous is not my default setting.
We couldn’t have asked for a better day. With warm temperatures, sunny and cloudy skies, very little traffic on the highways, we headed up that afternoon, a little over two hours’ drive one way.
I talk with my parents often enough on the phone and via FaceTime, but we hadn’t had an in-person visit since they left for Arizona in the fall. As they live ten minutes from the park, we made time for a short visit on their deck beforehand, keeping our distance, of course.
We met Serena at the park at 6, drove over to the wooded area and before long; the wolves were doing their thing while we took pictures. Part of the reason we have such a good relationship with the park is that we’ve always given the animals their space. There’s no chasing, lunging, grabbing, yelling, basically any behaviour that’s going to freak them out. We were content to watch, let them get comfortable with our presence and it was up to them to come to us.
Thankfully, once they did, both pups did check us out, but their primary focus was on each other, exploring, playing and attacking. As Serena said, “It’s Fight Club, every night.”
We spent about two hours with them, visiting and catching up with Serena and taking a lot of pictures. I had my camera, but also my phone. Shonna and Serena took pictures with their phones and I got copies of all of them. So most of these pictures are mine, but some are theirs, too. And we don’t really know which are which. The funny thing is that like most young animals, they were just bundles of energy, until they weren’t. Once they crashed, they crashed hard. Serena then told us we could pick them up, because at that point, they didn’t care. Holding a snoozing wolf pup is a real treat. As always, we are forever grateful for our connection with Discovery Wildlife Park. Their orphaned and rescued wildlife critters receive the best care, and you need only look to how the keepers and animals behave around each other to realize how much love there is between them. We were happy to make another donation to the park while we were there, as they really need it right now. In a regular year, they’re only open from May to October, but they still need to feed and care for the animals the other six months of the year. Maintenance of the facilities, upkeep of the grounds and enclosures, veterinary bills and a long list of accessory expenses, not to mention the salaries of the dedicated staff, makes for an expensive undertaking.
I came home with about two thousand photos. After hours of weeding out the ones I can’t use, I still ended up with dozens of reference shots. I’m so glad to have taken photos while they were little, because they certainly won’t remain that way for long. Their eyes are already changing from blue to yellow. There’s no doubt I’ll eventually create paintings of both of them.
After more than two months of being locked down, that was the perfect break from isolation. And to top it all off, Shonna and I drove back into the mountains that night under a brilliant red sky, one of the prettiest sunsets we’ve seen this year.
In addition to the usual daily editorial cartoons, this business of face masks has occupied the majority of my last few weeks. The response from my newsletter subscribers was overwhelming and far exceeded my expectations. While there were delays for various reasons, and I sent regular updates to those who ordered, it all came together this past week.
With two shipments from Pacific Music and Art, three evening visits to Shonna’s work to use the postage meter, four visits to the post office, and one trip to Bow Valley Basics when I ran out of large bubble mailers, not to mention the hours of sorting, checking and double-checking the list, it’s been a challenge. I made two trips around Canmore delivering masks, one trip to Banff yesterday morning, and by the end of day yesterday, the bulk of this adventure has been completed.
(I did come home from Banff with home-baked cookies. Thanks, Helen!)
As of yesterday, all of the Canadian orders have been delivered or shipped. There are a couple more minor deliveries I need to make, and the U.S. orders will go out Tuesday morning. Monday is a holiday here in Canada so the post office will be closed. The US orders are a little more work with Customs forms and the fact that they have to go as small parcels, rather than regular large letter mail like the Canadian shipments.
The masks just didn’t arrive in time for me to get all of that done by the cut-off yesterday. I sent a bunch of masks to Discovery Wildlife Park and The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation yesterday, both places I’m anxious to visit as soon as I’m allowed. My friend Serena said they can’t wear masks around the animals as it freaks them out, but I donated them for the keepers to use in their regular day to day lives wherever it might be required.
The first orders were sent Wednesday morning and some in Calgary already got them. People have been kind enough to send me photos, which was fun to see. I’m sharing them here with permission.
I’ve been getting many requests for a second order, but making no promises, as this situation seems to change every five minutes. Right now, the demand is incredibly high but I don’t know if that will continue. It seems some are switching gears from extremely diligent to, “screw it, who cares?”
For example, Alberta was still advising caution on Thursday, and then yesterday announced, “Hey, it’s the long weekend, have at ‘er!”
I’m not sure how a large group of people having a backyard BBQ are expected to keep a 6 ft. distance outside, but then all go into the house to use the same bathroom and hand towels. Not to mention that it’s well established that alcohol and impaired judgment go hand in hand. Hopefully, in hindsight, this won’t be referred to as the Victoria Day Petri Dish Debacle.
Guess we’ll see what happens.
All of the masks contained an additional method of ensuring a good fit.
Some received a little packet inside containing a couple of rubber grommets. Since the actual grommets are still on back-order, the owner of Pacific Music and Art tried a number of different solutions and came up with surgical tubing. He then cut it into little pieces, and included instructions on how to attach them. Because I wanted to make sure I had all of the masks for the orders, I only took one mask out for myself this week; to wear into the post office and other confined spaces. The grommet solution worked very well. They stayed in place and allowed me to put the mask on and take it off without touching the front of it, which is what ‘they’ advise. While that first shipment arrived with the grommets, the second shipment included plastic pieces that go behind your head. The ear loops attach to different prongs and make it adjustable. Some have been calling these ear savers, as thin elastic ear loops are irritating the wearer. In the limited time I wore my mask, I found the grommets worked well and didn’t find the loops to be a problem.
Some orders will receive a mix of grommets and those plastic fasteners. Production costs were higher than expected and prices have been adjusted accordingly. If you did get the plastic piece, count yourself fortunate. On future mask orders, those will be an add-on with additional cost of $3.00. The masks themselves have gone up in price. $15.99 for the large, $14.99 for the small.
So while my newsletter customers had to be patient through delays on the first order, they got the masks at a much better price, with additional fasteners at no extra cost.
I’ve had three people this week tell me to send them a text when the next order is available. That’s not realistic. For any future offers, sign up for my newsletter, as that’s where I’ll announce it.
Since I haven’t had any time to do so lately, I wanted to get up and start a new painting this morning, but that didn’t happen. I still have plenty of work to do today, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the creative stuff. I’ve been hearing a lot about idle time and boredom during this isolation and how people are trying to occupy themselves. I haven’t experienced any of that. I’m worn out.
Thanks to all who ordered the masks and were so patient throughout the process.
For many years, I was a member of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I don’t remember when I joined, but I think it was sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I remained a member until 2014 when it rebranded.
Owned and operated by Scott Kelby, the organization contained a wealth of online tutorials, a magazine called Photoshop User, and the Photoshop World conference. There was extensive training from internationally well-known instructors, each with their own areas of expertise.
Before social media ruined it all (yeah, I said it!), when like-minded individuals wanted to learn from each other, share their work for critique, answer each other’s questions and simply offer support, there were online forums where artists could gather.
I learned a lot from the NAPP forum and made some terrific friends there. Quite a few of them, I never got to meet in person, but when I finally got to Photoshop World Las Vegas for the first time in 2009, that was the best part of the whole experience, meeting this community in real life.
Over the next five years, I enjoyed seeing them each year, attending classes together all day, parties at night, hanging out at different venues. It was a fun event.
My involvement with NAPP was in a large way responsible for my now expert level skills in Photoshop. The networking opportunities introduced me to people and companies that advanced my career in many ways. I recorded a couple of training DVDs for Photoshop CAFE, wrote some articles for Photoshop User magazine, and won a few prestigious awards. It was due to a weird comedy of errors at my first conference that led me to a long and productive relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the digital tablets and displays on which I create my artwork.
I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been a member of that organization, with the opportunities and insights it afforded, I wouldn’t be painting my whimsical animals today. There’s a direct line between those people and experiences and the work I enjoy most.
Sadly, nothing lasts forever. The organization changed focus, became the Kelby Media Group, they retired the forum, and most of my friends stopped attending Photoshop World. It doesn’t hold the same value that it used to.
I still talk to some of them now and then, but not nearly as often as I’d like. To this day, there are still a few people who call me Monty, my username from that forum.
For the first part of my career, while I’d been drawing editorial cartoons, I would also paint detailed caricatures of celebrities, and people would hire me to paint them for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and the like. But I didn’t see a future in it. The first funny looking animal in 2009 was an experiment, inspired by some personal reflection following my first Photoshop World that year.
Without good reference photos, I can’t paint the detail I enjoy, so in the beginning, I had to buy stock photos and relied on the generosity of photographer friends I knew through NAPP.
In 2014, I had already been taking my own photos with a decent camera I’d bought, but it was essentially a point-and-shoot with a good zoom lens. That spring, I painted a family of owls from the reference I’d taken myself here at Grassi Lakes above Canmore. At Photoshop World that year, I won the Best of Show Guru award for that painting. At the last minute, they announced that part of the grand prize would be a Canon 5D Mark III camera. The oohs and aahs from an audience of mostly photographers indicated that it was something special. I had no clue.
When I won, I remember somebody laughing and saying, “Of course, the illustrator won the camera!”
When I returned to my seat, the friends I’d been sitting with told me just how good it was and that it was worth thousands of dollars. I remember calling Shonna to tell her I’d won, and we mused that I should probably sell it on eBay as such a professional camera would be wasted on me.
When I mentioned that idea to my buddy Jeff from Boston, he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my career. He told me to keep it and learn to use it.
Since then, I’ve discovered a love of taking reference photos, and it has become as much a part of the creative process for me as the painting itself. While I don’t make a habit of calling myself a photographer and have no designs on going pro, I enjoy it a great deal.
I’ve taken good care of that camera, been using it for six years, and it still does the job I need it to do. If something happens to it, or when it comes to the end of its life, I’ll buy another professional camera, because it’s now such a big part of my work. Still, now and then, I find myself unable to take my own reference pics. This is especially true of commissions, where I rely on clients to provide me with the photos I’ll use to paint their furry family members.
Or it’s merely a case of access and travel being prohibitive. I’ve been searching for the right reference for an elephant painting for years. My friend Serena from Discovery Wildlife Park went to Africa earlier this year and brought back the perfect photos for me.
One of the people I knew well from my years in the NAPP organization and Photoshop World was Susan Koppel. It’s not enough that she was a flight instructor at 18 and then became an aeronautical engineer, but she’s also an incredible photographer and supporter of animals.
Now retired from the aviation industry, Susan’s photography business is her primary focus, pun intended. She volunteers for the Nevada Humane Society taking pictures of the animals to make them look their best for their adoption photos. She also donates her skills to a wildlife sanctuary and nature center in Reno called Animal Ark.
The facility has adopted several cheetahs, and one of their regular events is to have cheetah runs. This gives the animals much-needed exercise opportunities to run full out, as they would in the wild, but also provides photographers with a chance to take pictures they can’t get outside of Africa. These photography events give the sanctuary added funds to continue the work they do.
Years ago, Susan provided me with the reference for my Raccoon and Fox paintings. I’ve seen her cheetah photos before and recently asked her if she’d be willing to share some. I’ve wanted to paint a full body cheetah in a running pose, mostly inspired by the photos Susan has posted over the years.
Susan generously opened up her online archive to me and told me I could use what I’d like. I ended up grabbing a dozen or so and expect to do three cheetah paintings in the near future. The reference was just so good that I couldn’t decide. This is the first of those cheetah paintings, and I obsessed over the details. I expect I could have spent another 10 hours on this one, just nitpicking every little hair. But as every creative knows, eventually you just have to abandon one piece so that you can start on the next.
I miss all of those great people in the NAPP organization and at Photoshop World conferences. Each of them, in one way or another, inspired and contributed to my creating the work I love most, and I believe I’m a better artist and a better person for having known them.