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Bright Lights and Little Birds

I’ve been back at my desk for the whole week, which is a welcome relief. With the Calgary Expo, delivering prints to Discovery Wildlife Park, visiting my parents, and this past weekend out to Golden for a friend’s 80th birthday, I’ve been on the road more than I’m used to.

Someone whose job involves a lot of driving or travelling might think this is nothing and hardly qualifies as being ‘on the road.’ Still, my work involves long hours at my desk and the digital drawing board, so time away puts a big dent in my productivity.

I must draw editorial cartoons in advance to keep those clients supplied when I go anywhere. So, I have done very little whimsical wildlife drawing and painting in the past few weeks. Since that’s the work I enjoy most and where the future of my business lies, I’m holding up a virtual hand to other obligations for the next little while, saying, “This far, no further. I have animals to paint!”

As for the weekend in Golden, I’ve known my friend Babe for thirty years this August. He and I started working at The Douglas Fir Resort in Banff on the same day in 1994. I was in the waterslide facility, and he worked in maintenance. I pointed out to him on Friday that I was 23 when I met him at work, and I thought, “Who’s the old guy?”

He was three years younger than I am now.

Friends who’ve shared campsites and cabins for decades in various places, there were five of us in Golden this weekend. Babe and Sue stayed in their little house, Al in Babe’s art studio bedroom, and Jim in his little Boler trailer. I usually stay in their small cabin, a two-minute walk up a winding dirt path through dense forest. It was the first thing built there in 1993, and it is still solid, quiet, and comfortable.
We stayed up waiting for the northern lights Friday, but with none arriving by 11, we retreated to our separate spaces. I’m indeed one of the old guys now.

Around midnight, just about to climb the ladder to the cabin loft, I noticed the whole sky had turned pink and was moving. I dressed quickly, walked down through the woods to the main landing and knocked on Jim’s trailer. He woke startled, and I told him he’d want to get up and see the show.

When he saw the sky, he said I should get Al, while he went to wake Babe and Sue.

We all sat outside for an hour watching one of the most unique and spectacular northern lights shows any of us had ever seen.

In 1993, while I was in EMT training in Lac La Biche, a group of us drove out to Sir Winston Churchill Park on a very cold winter night to watch the northern lights. Many colours danced back and forth above, but what made it most memorable was seeing the sky reflected in the clear ice of the massive lake. From the edge of the shoreline, it felt like we were standing inside the aurora.

Those were the best northern lights I’ve ever seen. Last weekend was a close second.
The next morning, I admitted that just before I knocked on a dark, quiet trailer, I wondered if I was painting a target on my chest. Nobody likes to be woken from a dead sleep. Thankfully, all agreed it was worth it. After all, that’s what Saturday afternoon lawn chair naps are for.

My low-res grainy phone pics above are unremarkable compared to the fantastic captures I’ve seen online, shared by skilled photographers worldwide. Hopefully some of you got to see the show for yourselves. Photos rarely rival the experience.
On Saturday, several hummingbirds made rounds at three or four feeders Babe and Sue have around their home. Having never before captured decent shots of these tiny speedsters, I must have learned a few things over the years as I came home with several potential reference photos, more than you see here.
While these photos are edited, of course, that convenient red background is Babe’s little barn garage for his trailer, as a couple of the hummingbirds landed and sat on the safety wire surrounding the deck of the house.
My first instinct is to paint several of these poses, a line of little hummingbirds on the same wire, and devise my own vibrant colour scheme for each bird. I’m sure that seems like sacrilege to any hardcore birders, but my art doesn’t represent reality. I guess I’ll see what happens when I get into it, whenever that might be.
Regardless of how or when I paint from these pics, I enjoyed stalking the quick little critters. The best part about taking wildlife photos strictly for reference is that it doesn’t matter if the backgrounds or lighting aren’t great. Where a wildlife photographer might not see an image worthy of sharing or printing, all I care about is the detail and whether it inspires a possible painting or two.
And that’s my cue to head back to the drawing board. Next time, I’ll have some new artwork to share, or at least some works in progress.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Will the real whimsical wildlife painter please stand up?

If your art becomes popular enough that people like it, share it and buy it, somebody will steal it. Some creatives stamp ugly watermarks across every image they post to try to combat this, but what’s the point if you need to go that far?

It’s not uncommon for people to remove my signature or change the wording in one of my editorial cartoons and then post it on social media with no credit or link to my site. It happens to every cartoonist. It strikes me especially funny when the alteration is so they can call a politician a liar, thief, or criminal.

Today’s word is irony.

On occasion, a company has stolen my work and offered it on an online product, usually in another part of the world. In most cases, a cease and desist is all it takes to remove it, and then they steal somebody else’s work. But in some countries, everything online is seen as free for the taking. I know artists who’ve been on vacation in Thailand and seen their work sold at roadside market stands.

If you’re shocked by this, remember that scammers bilk senior citizens out of their retirement savings every day. Humanity has more than its fair share of bottom-feeding scumbags. Art theft isn’t even close to the worst of it.
Several years ago, my friend Kathryn alerted me to a woman on Vancouver Island using my Otter painting as the logo for her business. It was on her business cards, a sidewalk sandwich board, window decals and advertising. When I called the owner on it, she said she Googled ‘royalty-free images’ and my otter came up. I asked if Mickey Mouse had come up in that search, would she think Disney would allow her to use him as her logo? My signature is still on the image on that sign! She angrily told me I was being unreasonable and said if I had been nicer, we could have come to an arrangement.

Based on such a trustworthy beginning, I clearly missed out on untold riches.

On a trip to Vancouver Island, we stopped in Ladysmith to ensure it wasn’t still going on. She’d sold the store, and my work was nowhere to be seen. That’s why I’ve blacked out the name in the photo.
Another company in the same area had my Moose and Grizzly Bear paintings on their chocolate-covered candy labels sold in a local store. The company’s owner in Eastern Canada said they’d hired a graphic designer to make the labels. He just stole my work online and passed it off as his own.

The owner apologized and said he would remove the offending images from his products.

People will frequently look down on artists for not having ‘real jobs,’ or expect us to work for free or the ever-popular ‘exposure.’ Every time I try to pay my bills with this mythical currency, companies laugh at me. I guess it’s only good for art.

For many people, art is their business; when somebody steals from your business, you must deal with them. If it’s an overseas company in a country with lax copyright laws, you could sell your house and spend it all on lawyers, and you still wouldn’t win.

You pick the hill you want to die on.

Which brings me to last week.

A woman in Nevada has been selling my artwork as her own, alongside what I can only assume is questionable CBD potions. As far as I can figure, she has purchased canvases of some of my work, likely from print-on-demand sites like Art.com, Wayfair, iCanvas, and others.

These companies were licensed to sell my work through agreements I signed when represented by Art Licensing International. I ended that relationship early last year, but these companies had contracts with the rights to sell my work until the end of their terms.

Most of those have expired, so even though you can still see my work on some sites, you can’t order it anymore. I’ll write another post later on why I don’t find those sites appealing.

Since the art thief has been doing this for a few years or longer, I suspect that’s where she got them since I don’t post high-resolution images on my site. She then applied some brushstrokes to those canvases and sold them as her original work.

At Photoshop World Las Vegas in 2014, I took a class from a New York copyright lawyer. He was an entertaining character but knew his stuff and had represented plenty of artists who’d been ripped off. His advice even saved me from a deal I worked on that very week with a couple of scammers in Calgary.

The lawyer talked about the oft-quoted 10% rule, the belief that if you change another artist’s work enough, copyright no longer applies, so that you can resell it as your own. He shared the official legal term for that rule; Bullshit.

It’s the kind of thing amateur creatives tell each other to justify stealing.

According to Canadian and United States law, an artist owns copyright to their work as soon as they create it. However, officially registering allows you to claim more financial damages when suing somebody for a breach.
From what I’ve found, she stole my Coyote, Grizzly, Black Bear, Moose, Squirrel, Peanuts and Smiling Tiger paintings, but likely more than that. While the first five are no longer bestsellers, and a couple are even retired, my Smiling Tiger and Peanuts paintings are two of my most popular, bestselling and frequently licensed images.

Stupid is as stupid does.

She advertised that she’d be showing her art all month at a venue in Nevada, complete with photos on her website, Facebook and Instagram. She removed the image from her webpage, but I saw that coming and captured screenshots. Not my first rodeo. I have blacked out some areas of the image that may unfairly implicate others.
I contacted the venue and informed them that this ‘artist,’ for lack of a better term, had stolen my work. I included several links to my site, blog posts where I wrote about the images when I had painted them, and links to companies that licensed my art. And while I told them I didn’t blame them for the infraction, I suggested they distance themselves from the offender.

The response from the venue was better than I’d hoped. They apologized (not their fault), told me they removed the canvases from their walls and even copied me on an email they sent to the fraudulent artist. In it, they told her she was no longer welcome there, and if she wanted to collect her canvases, they’d be at the local Sheriff’s office for retrieval.

She declined to pick them up.

You don’t say.

I had also contacted a friend who lives in that area and asked if she knew the place. She said she did and spoke highly of it. I don’t believe they’re complicit, and as the business is also a victim of this fraud, I see no need to name them.

I have sent emails to other events she’s advertised on her site and to markets where she has sold my work in the past, informing them of the theft and asking them to cancel her registrations.

I am not an advocate of cancel culture and trial by media. Some people don’t know what a reasonable response is, and internet vigilantism seems to have one setting: scorched earth.

That said, given what I’ve seen, she has been stealing my artwork for years. The problem is that when I searched for her online, I came across a few other legitimate artists with the same name, and I don’t want them confused with this thief. It takes very little time to cancel somebody, and it’s nearly impossible to reverse it when you’ve got the wrong person.

So, instead, I’ve shared the photos from her site. I’ve blacked out the venue name and details but left her name intact. Since references to and images of my work are still up on her Instagram and Facebook, I’m also linking to those. The artwork may be removed when you read this, as I’ll share links to this post in her comments section. She has removed my images from the front page of her website.

From a cease-and-desist email I sent her, she responded, “Patrick. I’m very sorry. I will never paint again. The paintings I have will be destroyed. Kat.”
After a whole career dealing with this kind of thing, I am firm-footed in ‘fool me twice’ territory. Her reply almost stopped me from writing this post, but she’s standing proudly in that photo with six large canvases of an art style I’ve spent years developing. And 24 hours after her apology, my work is still visible on her social media with mentions of her amazing paintings. Very sincere.

Genuinely sorry, or sorry you got caught?
If your only available settings for creating art are stealing it or not painting at all, I’m at a loss to understand why you’d bother pretending to be an artist. Choose a profession more suited to questionable morality, like federal politics.

I’m sharing this story as a cautionary tale and a teaching moment. If you’re an artist learning new skills, copying somebody else’s technique, studying their methods, and imitating other styles to find your own is part of the process. That’s what every artist does. It’s how we learn. Eventually, you get tired of being a poor copy and strive to become an original.

But don’t steal somebody else’s artwork and pass it off as your own. It’s happened to every artist I know, and it can quickly become an open wound that never heals. People will find out. Artists routinely reverse-search their own images to catch this sort of thing, though I found out about this infraction another way.

When one artist sees another ripped off, they will tell them about it because we all know how it feels. In some cases, if the artist is popular enough, their community of followers will destroy you online. I’ve seen it happen more than once. It’s brutal.

Dealing with this issue has taken way too much of my time this past week, time I’d much rather have spent painting. It should be obvious why this got bumped up on the priority list.

While I’m not happy about this situation, I’ve mellowed in my older middle age, and I’m not raging or losing sleep over this. It would be naïve for her to imagine several years of theft can be erased by three short sentences in an email, with little action to back up her supposed remorse. I don’t know how much of my artwork she sold, but I’m confident I won’t get a cheque in the mail. And anyone who bought my work from her likely won’t get refunds.

I’ll keep an eye on her to make sure she stops stealing my work, and if further evidence presents itself of ongoing fraud, I’ll make it as uncomfortable as possible for her to continue.

And if she suddenly finds a new art style (she’s done this before), you can bet I’ll do my best to let the next victim know about it and help them in any way I can.

Cheers,
Patrick

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You’ll Find Me at The Calgary Expo

As I write this, Calgary Expo 2024 is a little over two weeks away, April 25-28, 2024.

100,000 people attend over four days, one of the biggest events of its kind in North America. It occupies Exhibit Halls B, C, D, E, and F of the BMO Centre, plus an entire floor of The Big Four Building for Artist Alley.

While still a lot of work, I have a decade of experience with this show, so it’s not as stressful as it used to be. Prep starts on the last day of each Expo, putting down a deposit for the next one. More deposits follow throughout the year, hotel booking in December, following the same steps that lead right up to booking my electrical, parking and insurance, which I did just last week.

This weekend, Shonna and I opened up the first metal prints of my latest paintings, and that’s always fun. A painting never feels finished until I see it in print, as that’s when my work looks its best.

I bring hundreds of prints to this event, and they’re all here. I need to sign the latest order of 60 prints and assemble many more this week with backer board, art bios, and sleeves.

Vinyl stickers and postcard sets are ready, but I’m still awaiting a magnet and coaster order. I hope that shows up soon.

Over the next week, I’ll review my booth hardware, check grid walls, lights, tables, backdrops, banners, and the rest of the detailed checklist. Living out of a Calgary hotel for five days, working long late hours, there’s no chance of driving home if I forgot something.

Here’s the map of the BMO Centre and where you will find me this year.
In 2022, my booth location was up in the air until the day of the show, and it was stressful. At first, I didn’t get the type of booth I booked and I needed to address that. Following that, when I got there, one list said I was in one spot and another in a different spot. I couldn’t even unload my car. While I empathized with the organizers’ difficulty trying to please everybody, I still paid a premium for my corner booth, and I had to become the squeaky wheel with emails during the week leading up to the show. I am sure I annoyed the organizers when I became frustrated and could no longer be patient and keep quiet.

Even though that show began rough, it worked out well and was an excellent year for me.

I don’t recall ever having a bad booth placement, but some years have been better than others. As the show evolves each year, the layout often changes. Last year, they assigned my booth outside the main hall, where I’d been since my first year, to an adjacent hall near the Main Stage. I was at first disappointed but decided to make the best of it without complaint.

In yet another example of ‘got what I needed instead of what I wanted,’ last year’s placement turned out to be one of my best. As the Main Stage was a big draw throughout the show every day, there was plenty of traffic. I also heard that the main hall was crowded on Saturday and people needed extra time to get anywhere.

As vendors book for the following year on the show’s last day, I asked the Show Manager if I could request that hall again, and he seemed a little surprised. I explained that it was my best sales ever, and he told me to write down the request on my application and they would do their best. This was the same manager I had a minor conflict with the year before regarding the booth issue, so last year, I made every effort to be as friendly and pleasant as possible in every interaction with him. Had I done any damage to my relationship with the organizers, I wanted to do my part to repair it.

If somebody promises a service or product and fails to deliver on agreements, you should hold them to account and argue for what you paid for. It can quickly become a pattern if you don’t, especially if somebody gets used to your rolling over. But if someone tries to do right by you and correct their errors, that’s all you can ask. We too often fail to realize that everybody’s job is difficult. People make mistakes.

As the show grows closer each year, waiting for my booth placement is a bit of a nail-biter. Some years, it has come only a week before the show. An unexpected placement can mean redesigning the whole booth at the 11th hour.

This weekend, my booth assignment email arrived, and I quickly scanned the attached PDF floor plan. I started at last year’s location and saw that I didn’t get the same spot, which was OK because I knew it was a long shot. But I hoped it would be nearby.

I quickly found my booth number and breathed a sigh of relief. From what I know of this show, this year’s placement looks ideal, even better than last year’s.
Two more aisles of booths are in that hall this year, so it looks like a bigger show. Between the Main Hall and the Main Stage Hall is a corridor through which all traffic comes and goes. My corner booth is at the end of an aisle, within easy view of everyone coming through that corridor. Below was my booth design last year and it worked so well that I will use the same one this year, only reversed, and with a bunch of new artwork, of course.
The organizers are likely pulling their hair out two weeks out, trying to get everything done. No doubt, when they announce booth placements, they receive emails from people who didn’t get what they wanted or those politicking for a last-minute change.

Though we all get too many emails these days, I sent them a quick Thank You. At least they’ll get one that lets them know their efforts are appreciated.

Before I was an exhibitor at the Calgary Expo, I was an enthusiastic attendee. It’s a fun, family-friendly event for all ages and a real circus-like spectacle. I have rarely encountered anyone at this show who wasn’t having a good time or happy to be there. It’s just that kind of vibe and a professional and personal highlight of my year.

Advance tickets are on sale until midnight on April 10th. Hope to see you there.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

 

 

 

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Blizzard Bear

While I’m not a big fan of the season, I love winter colours, the blues, greys and whites. Seems like I’m on a bit of a snow kick right now.

I’m proficient with a camera but have no designs on working as a professional photographer or even being a serious hobbyist. I love taking photos, but only because it’s the first step in painting my whimsical wildlife. Images a pro would toss in the trash can still work well for reference. If the photo shows the necessary details, I can ignore any flaws, artifacts, lighting and exposure issues.

I prefer to take my own reference, but it’s not always possible, especially when the animals aren’t all that local. My Humpback Whale and Sea Turtle paintings come to mind. Thankfully, I’ve known several generous photographer friends willing to share their beautiful photos. If I tried to list them all, I would forget somebody and wouldn’t want hurt feelings. Hopefully, I adequately conveyed my gratitude to them at the time and in the blog posts accompanying any new painting.

I could buy stock photos for reference, and I’ve done so before. But if I’m going to use somebody else’s photos for reference, I prefer to have a connection with the person who took them. It often makes for a better story, and I have a lot of respect for artists who have skills I don’t, especially wildlife photographers.

I spend many long hours painting, obsessing over little hairs on a grizzly bear’s ears or the challenging horn texture on a bighorn sheep, but I’m in a comfortable office while doing it. I haven’t the patience, time, or funds to travel long distances to remote locations with a ton of expensive gear, only to sit in a blind for days, waiting for any animal to come down a trail, hoping to get that perfect shot.

And since wildlife doesn’t punch a clock, they often don’t get the shot. I admire those folks and their commitment.

For most of these artists, the experience and pursuit are often as important as the photos, but I’ve always been more of a destination guy. I don’t even like road trips.
My friend David duChemin is a talented and skilled photographer. He’s been on multiple trips to northern Manitoba to take photos of polar bears. I don’t remember if I had asked or if he volunteered, but he once offered some of those photos for reference.

When I ask to use reference pics, I’m okay with receiving a No, which has happened a few times. I also expect to pay for the exchange, in cash or trade, and am prepared that I might not be able to afford the asking price, which has also happened. Photographers work hard for their craft and deserve compensation. Even with that perspective, I always feel a little weird about asking, wondering if I’m crossing a line, especially with friends.

But I wanted to paint another polar bear, so I swallowed my pride a couple of weeks ago and asked David if the offer was still good. He not only replied right away, but within a few hours, I had a large collection of his photos to download.

I hadn’t planned on using them for a month or more, so I asked early, wary of implying any rush. I was surprised to get them so quickly. I loved looking through the photos because they are all beautiful shots. Rather than try to anticipate what I wanted and create unnecessary work, David just uploaded a bunch and let me decide. Most of them wouldn’t be suitable for reference, but quite a few gave me what I needed. The photos inspired me, so I started this painting the next day and completed it this past Sunday.

If you’d like to see some of David’s polar bear shots, here are two posts (first and second) where he shares some of them. He’s also an excellent writer, so look around his site and enjoy his photography and stories. He casts a wide net with his subjects and themes, but it should come as no shock that I’m partial to his wildlife images, especially the bears. David has taken several trips to hard-to-reach locations all over the Pacific coast and interior to capture glimpses of bears in their natural habitats.

David underwent a surgical procedure earlier this summer, and I drew this cartoon for him. He’s recovering well and will undoubtedly be back in bear country soon. I’m happy with how this polar bear painting turned out, and I look forward to the day I can repay David for his generosity.

Because of the whimsical nature of my work, with an almost caricature quality to the animals, and that I don’t often paint landscapes or detailed backgrounds in my pieces, my paintings rarely look the same as the photos I use for reference. I’m not looking to replicate a picture; I just need to see the details, where the shadows and highlights fall in the anatomy, and what the fur texture looks like. I can’t paint my version of wildlife unless I know what the reality looks like.

That said, I like to take my own photos whenever possible because there have been countless times where the photo has inspired the painting. It might be a hint of an expression I can exaggerate, the way the light hits fur or feathers, or the personality I see in the actual animal that I can develop in the painted version.

But for those times I haven’t been able to take my own reference, I’m grateful for so many photographer friends who have helped bring some of my paintings to life. You know who you are.

One of the challenges with a square format painting is that I need to crop it for my standard 11”x14” print, either vertical or horizontal. I tried both layouts, and vertical was the clear winner. Of course, you can always order the original square format as a canvas or metal print. Drop me a line for more details.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

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The People That You Meet

While the warm weather is here, I try to be on the bike at least once a day, which means any excuse for an errand is welcome. One loaf of bread? Sure, I’ll pick that up, but I’ll take the long route and turn it into an hour ride. Even though we’ve had our e-bikes for about a year now, I turn off the pedal assist most of the time to get some daily exercise, which turns it into a regular, but heavier, fat bike. But the assist/throttle is handy when starting from a traffic light or biking up a steep hill with groceries on board.

While biking along the Bow River trail in town today, I got a call from a woman visiting from Edmonton, asking where in Canmore she could find my work. I told her prints were available at Art Country Canada on Main Street, and she said she was right near there. She confessed that her 10-year-old daughter was smitten with my animals as they had seen them and bought the Smiling Tiger at the Calgary Zoo on Wednesday.
While I can’t usually drop everything to go downtown to the gallery, I was already out and about and only a few minutes away, so she was pleased when I offered to meet them there. I showed them the canvases and available prints, explained a bit about the work and was happy to answer their questions about digital painting.
They left with another print of my Two Wolves painting (now on reorder) and four of Pacific Music & Art’s art cards.

I’m grateful that anybody buys my work, especially those who’ve done so for years, but it felt good to express that appreciation in person to somebody who has just discovered it. Of course, I suggested they subscribe to A Wilder View to keep up with new work and behind the scenes stuff.  So if you’re reading this, Sandy and Julianna, it was nice to meet you and thanks again for supporting local Alberta art.

Cheers,
Patrick
 

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That’s a Wrap for Expo ’23

It’s been a busy week of post-show inventory, filling custom orders, drawing editorial cartoons and stowing my stock and booth hardware, but that’s normal after my biggest event of the year.

The Calgary Expo was phenomenal! Despite one OCD episode that kept me up late Thursday night worrying about something in my booth, it was an almost perfect event. Perhaps it’s plenty of experience or a recent shift in my overall perspective, but compared to other years, the stress I usually feel around the prep and execution of this event was dramatically reduced. Hard work and long days on my feet, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was excited to be there.

It’s impossible to describe Expo to somebody. Some might dismiss it as a large gathering of nerds dressing up in costumes and geeking out over comics, movies and gaming. Of course, that’s a big part of it, but it’s so much more. People of all ages, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, education levels, colours, shapes and sizes fill this event. Couples and families come to this show together, and I don’t know who’s having more fun, the parents or the kids. Big bikers to little old ladies, a world of diversity visited my booth this weekend.

You want inclusive? That’s Expo.

Best of all, everybody was there to have a good time. It’s simply a great vibe. And that’s coming from a guy who generally avoids more than two people at a time.

It still pushes the childhood buttons when a fully functional R2-D2 glides by my booth. With a rotating head, lights, whistles and sound effects, panels that open and close, and full mobility, it looks and behaves like the real thing. I even know the guy who manufactured it; I used to work for him years ago in Canmore. So I know he’s running it by remote control from about ten feet away, that it’s all mechanical gears, parts, and wires. But the illusion that it’s the beloved movie character is strong.

May the 4th be with you. 😉

The Calgary Expo is an escape from the world, just like a carnival or a trip to Disneyland. It must be experienced.

On Saturday evening, having texted back and forth each day, my buddy Darrel sent me this text.

All the time! It’s overwhelming sometimes.

A big burly intimidating guy excitedly told me he was thrilled to finally meet me as he and his wife have bought several of my prints at the Calgary Zoo, and they love the art. I don’t even know what to do with that, mainly because it happens a lot at this event. It’s incredibly flattering and validating. That my menagerie of funny-looking animals connects with so many different people is a wonder, a gift for which I’m incredibly grateful.

One young woman came by the booth and showed me a screenshot on her phone from a recent issue of A Wilder View. Her mother is a subscriber and wanted her to buy the Bugle Boy print.
Several folks stopped by to tell me that their friend or family member couldn’t make it to Expo this year, but they wanted them to say Hello for them.

Connecting with people through my silly little animal paintings is a feeling I can’t quantify.

Working at home alone all day and spending too much time in the darker corners of my head, I don’t get much feedback that my work means anything to anyone. The Calgary Expo is like an overwhelming overcorrection. I’d love to bottle the energy I get from this event and save it for, oh, I don’t know, a bitter cold snap in deepest darkest January.

Other gift shows give me some feedback and reward for the long days painting skin texture on a bear’s nose or feathers on an eagle, but not like Expo.

Each year, more and more people tell me they discover my work in places I’ve never been, primarily because of licensing. I often see someone trying to make the connection that they’re talking to the person who painted the Otter on their Pacific Music & Art coffee mug they bought in Nanaimo.
People walk by the booth, their eyes scan the art walls, and they smile. Then they nudge whoever they’re with and point, and the smile infects that person, too. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s like a drug. I can’t get enough of it.

I recognized plenty of people, but if I didn’t know their names, I apologized and asked. Of course, they were OK with my not remembering, but I’m not. These people spend their money on my work year after year; I’d like to greet each of them by name to show my appreciation for their support.

Each day, I thought I must have seen most of the familiar faces, subscribers, and collectors by now, but another steady stream of welcome reunions kept coming right up until the end of the day on Sunday. I even got an unexpected welcome visit from a good photographer friend from my NAPP and Photoshop World days. Gudrun managed to time it for a slow spell on Sunday afternoon, so we had a nice catchup.

I am fortunate to have super collectors of my work. I’ve talked about them before, and you know who you are. I can’t adequately express my appreciation that you keep coming back each year for more, especially since you introduce others to my work, too.

While I sell a little of everything, some bestsellers consistently do well at Expo, like Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sire, Sea Turtle and Grizzly on Grass. Some new ones like Snow Queen, Sloth and Grump also did well. I sold out of several prints, so some still haven’t made it into the store. I’ll get those stocked as soon as I can.

The big surprise, however, was the Tarantula. I sold six of them before Saturday. Who knew?
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Expo without a well-meaning follower reminding me that I am long overdue on my promise of a book. Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, I don’t know what my problem is there. My failure to launch bothers me more than anybody else. But the push is well deserved, Kim! Thank you for that.

Regular readers know how much I love movies. While I’ve encountered many celebrities over the years, especially at this event, I don’t get star-struck. I could see quite a few guests on the main stage from my booth over the weekend, but it was a bit weird Sunday morning when actor Danny Trejo walked into my booth. He said, “These are cool,” and flipped through some prints.

As he was attracting attention and his handlers looked like they wanted him to keep moving, he said something like, “I might come back,” and gave me a fist bump. I wasn’t about to bother him for a photo, but I thanked him for coming to Calgary. I knew I wouldn’t see him again, as he had a busy day ahead of him, but it was a fun encounter.

Anything can happen at Expo.

Here’s a cartoon I drew that appeared in The Calgary Herald last Tuesday. Nobody comes to this event to talk politics.

The weather was perfect, a real gift after a late start to spring. Expo had a capacity crowd of 100,000 people over four days. Sixteen thousand attended the Parade of Wonders in downtown Calgary on Friday! I’ve never seen it so busy in my eight years as a vendor. While attendees took a long time to get anywhere, I was happy to remain in my booth and watch it all go by. The only downside is that I never get over to Artist Alley to check out all the incredible creations, but I’m there to work. Can’t do it all.

I brought a cooler and healthy food from home to make my lunches each morning at the hotel. Trying to survive five days on deep-fried carnival food is a bad idea, and it’s unlikely I could have made it to those vendors even if I wanted to. I was sore and tired when I got home, as I barely sat down while in my booth, and those were very long days. My throat is still a little raw from so much conversation, but I feel really good. I couldn’t have asked for a better show.

Best of all, the creative tank has been refilled. This is like coming home from Photoshop World years ago, where I feel inspired and want to work. The only frustrating part of this week is that I haven’t yet had time to return to my current giraffe painting—hopefully, tomorrow.

To everyone who contributed to this being my best year of sales to date, those who told me how much they like seeing A Wilder View in their inbox, and everyone who stopped by to visit and reconnect, THANK YOU! Painting these funny-looking animals wouldn’t be as much fun without you. And to all of you new subscribers, thanks for being here. I hope you find it worth your while.

I’ve already booked for next year and was so pleased with my new location that I requested the same booth. Hopefully, they can accommodate, but floor plans change, so I’ll take what I get and hope for the best.

It was undoubtedly a winning strategy this year.

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The Professional, Personal, and Paintings of 2022

Keeping a blog is handy when I write a year-end wrap-up because I don’t have to remember what happened. So here are some of the standouts from this year.

Sticker Surprise
While on a cabin trip last year, my buddy Darrel suggested my work might lend itself well to vinyl stickers people put on vehicle windows. So, I designed a few, sourced a production company, and realized he was onto something.

The ten designs have done well with regular re-orders at the Calgary Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, and Stonewaters in Canmore. They were also popular at Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets. This week, I reordered a bunch and added two new designs. In the upcoming year, I’ll be working to get these into more stores.

The NFT boom goes bust
Earlier this year, I thought there might be a market selling NFTs of some of my paintings. I read a lot of information, entertained offers from online galleries, and eventually signed with one. They were professional and good to work with, but then the entire crypto art market fell apart.

Thankfully, I lost no money on the experiment. I never bought any cryptocurrency or paid for my own NFT minting. The time I lost was an educational experience, and I have no regrets. You will never have any success without risk. Kevin Kelly once said, “If you’re not falling down occasionally, you’re just coasting.”

Will NFTs come back into favour? I doubt it.

Cartoon Commendation
I don’t usually enter editorial cartoon contests, but I made an exception this year for the World Press Freedom Competition. I’d already drawn the cartoon above that fit the theme, and the top three prizes included a financial award. Though I hadn’t expected much, I won 2nd place and the prize money paid for most of my new guitar.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook is our local weekly paper. I’ve been their cartoonist since it began in 2001, and I’ve never missed an issue. National awards matter to weekly papers as they lend credibility to the publication, especially when soliciting advertisers who pay for it. The Outlook enters my work into the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards each year.The CCNAs didn’t happen last year because of the pandemic, so they awarded two years at once this time. For Best Local Cartoon, I won First, Second and Third for 2020 and Second and Third for 2021 in their circulation category.

Given there are fewer local papers each year and even fewer local cartoonists, I wonder if the multiple awards say more about the lack of competition than the quality of my work.  Regardless, the recognition is still welcome.The problem with local cartoons  is that you kind of have to live here to understand most of them. So the ones I’ve shared here are a random selection of local and national topics.
Between the five or six syndicated editorial cartoons I create each week, plus the local cartoon for The Outlook, I drew 313 editorial cartoons this year.Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets

I know artists who do the gift and market circuit all year long. For some, it’s their entire living, and they do well. Others try it for a few years, don’t make any money, and move on to something else. It can be a real grind.

More than once, I’ve considered getting a bigger vehicle, a tent and the display and booth hardware I would need to do the fair and market circuit in the warmer months and the holiday shows in November and December.

But with daily editorial cartoon deadlines, long days away and travelling each week are next to impossible. I enjoy working in my office every day and have no desire to spend a lot of my time driving and staying in hotels.

The one big show I look forward to each year is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April, five long days, including a full day for setup. So when the full event reemerged from its two-year pandemic hiatus, I was excited to return.

Not only was 2022 my best year of sales to date, but it was also great fun. I’m already looking forward to the 2023 event, though I’m tempering my expectations with a possible looming recession. Then again, I didn’t think this year would be good, and I was happily proven wrong.

There were several Mountain Made Markets this year, with weekend events every month from May to December. Held indoors at the Canmore Civic Centre, it’s an easy setup close to home, so it’s worth my time.

Each market was profitable, and I enjoyed introducing new people to my work, meeting subscribers in person and visiting with customers, vendors and friends. Significant changes are coming for that event this year. Whether good or bad remains to be seen, but I hope to do more of them in 2023.

Licensing

If you’ve ever bought a face mask, magnet, coaster, or calendar from me, those come from Pacific Music & Art, just a handful of the many items they sell. I often hear from people who’ve bought a trivet in Banff, a coffee mug in Alaska, or an art card in Washington.

Licensing allows me to spend my time painting and still reach new markets and audiences. I signed a few new deals this year with Art Licensing International agency, a company that has represented my work for several years. Agencies might have many more contacts, but they take a big chunk of the royalties, so it’s a double-edged sword. I prefer to find most licenses on my own.

Sometimes companies cold call me. When Diamond Art Club contacted me about licensing my work, I had barely heard of diamond art kits.

Though there was a lead time of many months, the Otter kit finally launched this summer and sold out in days. Producing these kits involves more than simply printing the image on an item, so it took a few months for them to restock that first piece, but it’s again available on their site.

More diamond art kit designs are coming in 2023, but I’m not allowed to share which ones yet.

I signed a new contract last week for ten of my images with an overseas company for another product, but that, too, will be something I can’t share until the middle of next year. Licensing usually involves quite a bit of time between signing contracts and actual production, so it’s work now that pays later.

Come to think of it, that’s a good way of looking at commercial art in general. Every piece I paint is an investment in future revenue.

Special Projects

As I wrote about my latest commission earlier this week, here’s the link if you’d like to see and read about the pet portraits I painted this year.

Every year, I begin with great plans and expectations, but things go off the rails or new opportunities show up, and the whole year becomes a series of course corrections. All I can do for delayed projects important to me is try again.

I tend to slip into a fall melancholy or winter depression most years. When it happens, I often throw my efforts into a personal project, usually painting a portrait of a screen character. I’ve painted several portraits of people, and many result in great stories to go with them. Here’s the John Dutton character painting I did last year.I realized earlier this month that I wouldn’t get to one this year, even though I had already chosen someone to paint. While disappointed, not having the time was likely due to the work I put into the markets, something I hadn’t done in previous years. However, my latest commission of Luna almost felt like a personal piece because I so enjoyed that painting.

I still had down days this fall, especially with our brutally cold November and December. But September and October were beautiful and right before the weather turned, I had a great cabin trip with my buddy, Darrel.

So the seasonal depression wasn’t as dark as it has been in recent years, and for that, I’m grateful.

The Personal

On a sunny June day in Calgary, a woman ran a red light and wrote off Shonna’s car. While we had no immediately apparent injuries, we’ve been sharing one vehicle ever since and likely will until sometime in the middle of next year. Unfortunately, everything we can find, used or new, is overpriced, and we’ve heard many stories of fraudulent car dealers adding extra fees and playing bait-and-switch games. As if the near criminal behaviour of our own insurance company wasn’t bad enough.

But we bought Pedego Element e-bikes and love them. Canmore is easier to get around by bike than car, and it has become a necessity since they brought in paid parking. So we were both disappointed when winter arrived with a vengeance in November, and we had to put them away. While we had planned to get studded tires and ride the bikes all winter, as many around here do, 20″ studded fat tires are just one more item on the long list of global supply problems.

We had a wonderful vacation in August, glamping and kayaking for a week off northern Vancouver Island, a 25th-anniversary trip we had postponed at the beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the best adventures we’ve ever had.

I bought a silent acoustic guitar this year and began to play music again. It’s always within arm’s reach of my desk, and I’ve been playing it almost every day, sometimes for ten minutes, but most often for an hour or more. With regular practice, I’m a better musician now than I’ve ever been, and it’s a lot of fun, especially bringing it on a couple of cabin trips.Best of all, there is no chance I will ever play guitar for a living. It’s a purely creative escape with no responsibility to pay my bills.

Painting

Including the two commissions, I completed nine full-resolution production pieces this year. I wanted to paint more.

Best I can figure, preparing for and attending the additional Mountain Made Markets this year ate up a lot of time and energy, especially on weekends when I do a lot of my painting. I still had to create the same number of editorial cartoons each week but sacrificed painting time. That’s valuable information to have when considering future markets and shows. While those might give me more opportunities to sell the work, they steal from time creating it.

I’ve put together another video to share this year’s painted work. Most of these are finished paintings, with a few works in progress.

Hundreds of new people subscribed to A Wilder View in 2022. My sincere thanks to you who’ve been with me for years and those who just joined the ride. Whatever challenges you face in the coming year, I hope the occasional funny-looking animal in your inbox gives you a smile and makes life a little bit easier, if only for a moment or two.

Good luck with whatever you work toward in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Patrick.

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A New Marshal in Town

In November of last year, I finished this painting of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from the top-rated Paramount show Yellowstone. Like many of the portraits I paint, it was a personal project, something I did for my own enjoyment. You can read about that piece here.

I don’t attach any expectations to these portraits, but sometimes they either reach the people I’ve painted or attract some attention after the fact that I couldn’t have anticipated. But I learned long ago that if you try to make stuff like that happen, it rarely works. All I can do is complete the painting, put it out there and move on to the next one.

I have a couple of favourite unexpected results, like when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original canvas of a painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. That was almost ten years ago, so I won’t rehash it again. However, if you’re not familiar with that story, you can read about it here. The print signed by both of them hangs in my office.
Another was when I painted Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was in command of the International Space Station. He saw the painting online and sent me an appreciative tweet from space, which was a special moment.

This week, the Calgary Stampede announced that Kevin Costner would be this year’s parade marshal. I’m a fan, or I wouldn’t have painted the portrait in the first place. But I’m not big on crowds, and it’s unlikely I’ll attend the parade or Stampede. Still, the event is a big deal for Calgary. After the last two years, here’s hoping an unrestricted Stampede is a welcome economic boost for the city and surrounding communities, mine included.

As the Calgary Herald has been running my syndicated cartoons regularly for almost 20 years, I emailed the editor and suggested the painting as a cartoon for the announcement, with the caption you see below. He liked the idea, and it appeared in Wednesday’s edition.
As it also made national news, and Yellowstone is a wildly popular show, I sent it out to my other papers this morning, in case there’s more interest in it. For context outside of Calgary, I added “Calgary Stampede:” before the caption for those other papers.

I’ve done portraits for cartoons before, but most often, it’s for memorials, and they’re never as detailed as I would like. It took more than 20 hours to paint this portrait, so it’s not something I would have done specifically for this purpose. There wouldn’t be a decent return on the investment, and I couldn’t get it done on a tight deadline anyway. To have had the painting done and ready to use for this announcement was a nice moment of serendipity.

Newsprint is unfortunately a muddy medium. Publications use different colour profiles and printers, so a cartoon that might look bright and crisp in one paper might look too bright or dark and desaturated in another. I can do nothing about that, so I adjust the image to find the middle ground for all papers. I put a lot of time into getting the colour right in my work, so I’m most often disappointed when I see it in newsprint, but I’ve had to make peace with that.
The Costner portrait file is 30” X 40” with a lot of detailed brushwork. To shrink it down and prepare it for newsprint, I had to boost the contrast, oversharpen it, and make other Photoshop adjustments to mitigate a poor result. So while I was happy to see it printed in the Calgary Herald (digital edition above), I couldn’t help but see all the flaws in the reproduction, even though I know that most people won’t notice or care.

As always, I just hope people like it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The People That You Meet

I woke Tuesday in a foul mood.

Though tired, I’d gone to bed with a lot on my mind and couldn’t sleep, an ongoing problem over the past two years for obvious reasons. My worrying usually revolves around black-and-white, all-or-nothing, perfectionist ruminating, catastrophizing, and other cognitive biases that frequently plague overthinkers like myself.

Logically I know that every setback is just a setback, but my subconscious mind turns it into the end of all things, despite any evidence to the contrary.

I’m not going down this road again, simply explaining that a familiar dark cloud was hanging over my head when I got up at my usual 5AM.

I spent the next few hours drawing and sending an editorial cartoon before prepping my camera gear for a trip to the Calgary Zoo. I didn’t much feel like taking photos, but with a welcome print order to deliver, I’d be there already.

Although zoo attendance continues to pick up since the removal of restrictions, I happened to choose a quiet day.

From a business perspective, I want the zoo to be busy. But I’ll admit that I prefer it quiet when I’m taking pictures. I don’t have the patience for screaming children running around my feet and bumping into me while trying to hold the camera steady.

Sorry, I’m not a fan of kids. Bring on the cancel culture.

When I arrived at the Gift Shop, I asked if Kathryn, the Retail Manager was in, fully expecting them to say she wasn’t. Unfortunately, my visits earlier in the week often conflict with her days off, so most of our communication is via email. I think the last time I saw her in person might have been in 2019.

It’s a shame because Kathryn has been buying and selling my work for the past ten years. I enjoy seeing her, she always has good advice to share, and I learn a lot from her marketing experience.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to catch up in person, and we had a productive meeting. We talked about the year ahead, which paintings I’m going to retire and which ones I might consider painting soon. The first batch of stickers I had delivered a couple of months ago have almost sold out, so upon returning home, I packed up another order and dropped them in the mail yesterday.

Kathryn mentioned that Mike from Pacific Music & Art would be there the following day, so I texted him, kidding him that he was avoiding me. He said he’d be in Canmore later in the week, and he took me to lunch Thursday.

Pacific is my favourite license because I’m regularly involved in setting up my work for the various retail items, and I’m kept in the loop on upcoming plans, which is uncommon with licensing agreements. Mike’s also fun to work with, even though he regularly takes jabs at my being the stereotypical temperamental artist.

In the words of Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man 2…“Agreed.”

I left my meeting with Kathryn in better spirits. I had another large sticker order, some positive feedback and information to consider, and an upcoming meeting with Mike to look forward to.

And the zoo was still quiet.
I spent a couple of hours taking photos, but nothing was grabbing me. I’m writing this after I’ve gone through all the shots, and while I got a few I might paint from, most were unremarkable. Some days you feast, others you go hungry. But there are worse ways to spend a cool spring day than walking around with a camera.

Eventually reaching the end of the zoo, I started back the way I came and soon recognized a familiar face, my zookeeper friend, Kayla. We had a good catchup a couple of months ago at the zoo when I delivered a canvas she ordered. I didn’t want to interrupt her work again, so I hadn’t told her I was coming. I figured if I ran into her, great. If not, I’d see her at The Calgary Expo in a couple of weeks.

Kayla and I met years ago after I painted my Smiling Tiger. She had walked by my Expo booth and asked me if the painting was based on a real animal. I told her it was and that I had taken the reference at the zoo. She said the tiger’s name was Katya, that she looked after her all the time and recognized her in the painting.

Considering my style is whimsical, and I take significant liberties in exaggerating the expressions, it was an incredible compliment that she could recognize the tiger she knew in my painting.

Since then, I’ve seen Kayla at Expo and on multiple visits to the zoo. Along with the Smiling Tiger, she has bought other pieces, and I’ve learned a lot about the different animals she cares for. As Serena at Discovery Wildlife Park and Colin at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre can undoubtedly attest, if you spend your life looking after animals, I’m going to annoy you with questions.

Now, running into Kathryn and Kayla at the zoo is not much of a coincidence. They both work there. And Kathryn telling me that Mike was coming in this week is also not too unexpected since he has family in Calgary and is out in Canmore three or four times a year to see clients. So we usually meet up if our schedules allow.

But the most bizarre turn of events happened after I let Kayla go back to work. I walked twenty feet to the red panda exhibit and started taking pictures.

Then I heard my name.

Although they follow A Wilder View, and we exchange emails occasionally, I only ever see Sheldon and Tracy at the Calgary Expo, so it took a couple of seconds for it to click.
They’re two of my favourite people to show up at my booth, not just because they’ve been great supporters of my work for several years. Here’s their collection.

I was already looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks, but to run into them at the zoo, on a quiet random weekday in a city of 1.3 million people, was truly strange. I don’t know how long we stood there catching up, but it was getting a little chilly, so we walked around the zoo together. I realized that what had started as a bad day had suddenly become a very good one.

It was a real treat to spend the better part of the afternoon wandering the zoo with them. I always want to, but it’s hard to visit with people at Expo while looking after others who want to talk about and buy my work. So to have that time to walk and talk with no other obligation or timeline was a privilege, and I was delighted to send them a Thank-You email when I got home. It really made my day.
One of the best parts of making art for a living, art that makes people happy, is that I’ve been able to build relationships over the years. And while I’m grateful that Tracy and Sheldon, and so many others have liked my work enough to buy it, it’s a lot more than that.

I don’t get that connection with people with the other half of my business. In fact, editorial cartooning is more likely to foster and reinforce division in our culture. But that’s a post for another time.

To all of you who’ve found some joy in my funny-looking animals, whether you’ve bought any or not, it is sincerely my pleasure, and I don’t take your support for granted.

Shonna and my close friends would likely agree that I’ve become a cynical grumpy old man before my time because I take a lot of the stuff going on in the world far too personally. It bothers me a great deal how people talk to each other, leading with outrage at the expense of empathy.

I’m a heart on my sleeve guy, so letting things go is not one of my strengths.

But if there is an antidote to this poison, personally and professionally, I find it in these paintings and how they make some people happier, if only for a short time. Meeting some of these people and hanging out with them once in a while has been an unexpected bonus.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Reflections

Last year, I created a video of the paintings I created in 2020. I enjoyed sourcing the music, creating pan and zoom features for the images, editing and putting it together. So I spent some of the day on Christmas Eve putting together another one for this year and had fun with it.

Watch it on full screen and turn up the volume for full effect. And if you like it, feel free to share it.

My personal favourite paintings from this past year are Grizzly on Grass, John Dutton and the Sea Turtle. I have been reminded often in my career that the ones I like best, however, aren’t always the most popular with subscribers and customers. But that’s art for ya.

As this will be the last post of the year, please accept my sincere thanks for continuing to follow, support and share my work. I’m incapable of expressing how much I appreciate it.

Very few people get to make a living from their art, and I’m well aware that it can go away instantly. Many of you have been hanging around this virtual studio for many years, and I’m grateful for your company. You frequently respond to my Wilder View emails with such encouragement and compliments, and when I’ve gone through dark times, you’ve often sent messages of overwhelming empathy and compassion.

To all of you who display my whimsical wildlife on your home and office walls, fridges, filing cabinets, coffee tables, put it on your phones, laptops, and vehicles, wear it on your bodies and faces, have bought it for yourselves, your friends and family, or commissioned me to paint your pets, Thank You hardly seems adequate.

These past two years have been difficult for everyone, and we’ve all responded to it differently. I’m going to keep this positive, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole. But I’ve heard and read quite often that this pandemic experience has spurred a lot of people to make overdue changes in their lives.

Some are leaving jobs where they’re unappreciated. Others have reached the limit of what they’ll endure from toxic relationships. Many are realizing that life is too valuable to spend on unimportant crap. I’ll be trying to find the courage to walk more of that talk in 2022, and I hope you do, too.

This ain’t over yet, but fingers crossed it will be soon. Until then, when you have the choice between joining the mob in rage and conflict, or extending a hand of support and kindness, please choose the latter.

Here’s to a better year ahead for all of us.

Cheers,
Patrick