Posted on

The Black Bear Totem


Right up until the end of 2009, my art focus had primarily been on syndicated editorial cartoons and caricatures of people. Along the way, I’d also done illustration for businesses and board games, had tried my hand at some editorial Flash animation, and experimented here and there with creative off-shoots I thought might eventually yield some fruit.

Keeping a somewhat regular blog for the past nine years has served to become a business diary of sorts. It’s interesting to look back and read about my best laid plans. With the benefit of hindsight, some now make me cringe, knowing that had I gone further down some of those roads, I would have been disappointed. I’m also surprised at the blind optimism and enthusiasm in some of the posts, an elixir I wish I’d been able to bottle for mid-life.

The time I spent working on caricatures was excellent practice. I’m much better at drawing likenesses in my editorial cartoons today than I was then and it takes less time to get there. As I wasn’t interested in going that route, I never developed the skill to draw caricatures live. But people used to hire me to create them for birthday presents, wedding invitations, and other occasions. I can’t imagine I’d enjoy still doing that now, but it was all grist for the mill.

I was also getting pretty good at detailed caricature paintings of celebrities, but navigating the legal minefield of likeness rights, the large number of artists already doing that kind of work, and the awareness that my heart wasn’t going to be in it for long, I was a little lost.

This brings me to November 2009, right after my first trip to Photoshop World in Vegas. That summer, I had painted a caricature of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with her holding one of the Aliens on a leash. The whole reason I painted it was to try to win a Guru Award and I didn’t get nominated. I didn’t enjoy the work, the finished piece felt wrong and I wished I’d never done it.

While disappointed at the time, it was a turning point in my career. I learned not to create something just to win awards and it lit a fire under me to find something new.

Upon returning home with the realization that caricatures of people was no longer where I wanted to focus, I painted a grizzly bear. Although it didn’t start out to be a caricature, it definitely ended up as one.
By February, I had a gallery in Banff willing to hang canvas prints of the Grizzly and subsequent Raven and Elk Totems on consignment. And then people started to buy them. I’ll never forget something the gallery manager told me about my whimsical style of painting. He said that no matter how well I painted, if I’d brought him realistic wildlife, he wouldn’t have been interested, because that’s what everybody else was doing. I’ve heard that a lot over the years.

On my next trip to Photoshop World later that summer, my Moose Totem won the Guru Award for the Illustration category and my Wolf Totem took Best in Show. While I didn’t paint them to try and win awards, it was that event and those chunks of plastic that introduced me to some great people at Wacom, and helped open some other doors that might have remained closed.

Since then, these whimsical wildlife portraits have become a defining part of my life. There are now over thirty paintings in the Totem series, several other whimsical prints, dozens of pet portrait commissions, and hundreds of sketch paintings.

There are now three kinds of prints sold in the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, About Canada Gallery in Banff, and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. The images are currently internationally licensed on T-shirts through two different companies, and on decals and cases. I’ve written articles for magazines, have recorded a couple of training DVDs, taught webinars and run an event booth for Wacom, and am coming up on my fifth successful year with a booth at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

I’ve also discovered a love of photography as a result of this work. While I’ve often relied on generous photographer friends for reference photos, I now take my own reference photos whenever possible. This has led me to new friends and experiences that have helped me get up close and personal with these critters I enjoy so much, sometimes face to face.
It is my belief that the next chapter in this work is calling me to get more involved with conservation, to give back to the wildlife that has given me so much. It might have taken me most of my life to find it, but I believe there’s work for me there, although I don’t yet know how it will manifest. I’ve already been looking for and taking advantage of those opportunities.

As all of this started with a grinning funny looking bear, it seems appropriate to reflect and bookend this chapter with another bear, eight and a half years later. The Black Bear Totem, modeled from a wonderful gentle bear named Gruff who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park, although that’s Reno in the photo above. I admire Gruff from a little farther away.

In writing this and checking my facts, I found the following in my blog post from November 2009 when I revealed the Grizzly Bear Totem, which incidentally is still one of my best selling prints.

“I recently found myself inspired to do a series of wildlife paintings, but I wanted them to have personality and life to them. Something different, something fun…I really think I’ll enjoy working on this series.”

I had no idea.

Posted on

Zendaya

Zendaya
My latest painting, a lion cub named Zendaya.

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a couple of lion cubs at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail. It’s a wonderful place I’d driven by on many an occasion but had never made the time to stop in.

I’m wary of supporting zoos if they don’t have a mandate or reputation for existing for the right reasons and for treating the animals well, so I did a little research before attending. I was pleased with what I found out and if you’re curious, I’d encourage you to visit their site to read a little about the work they do.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the generosity of many of my photographer friends who’ve been willing to let me use their images for reference on a number of my paintings. Some of my most popular pieces wouldn’t have been possible without their assistance. In other cases, I’ve purchased stock photos online. The common thread in both of those options is trying to find the right photos to work with that will get me close to the vision I see in my head. Often, I find that even though the photos might be excellent, I’m working with what I’ve got and have to settle a little. This should in no way be seen as a criticism of the photographs, just a missing element, namely my own experience with the animal I’m painting.

In recent years, I’ve been taking my own reference pics and that has quickly become the preferred option. Having won a high end camera along with my Best in Show Award at Photoshop World last year, I’ve been working to become a better photographer. Between that camera and the one I already had, each with their own uses, more and more often I’m using my own reference pics for paintings.

Discovery Wildlife Park offers behind-the-scenes experiences with some of their animals, under the vigilant supervision of their keepers. This year, with the arrival of two lion cub siblings, they offered an opportunity for very small groups of people to get up close and personal with the cubs, for an additional fee, as would be expected. This will only last as long as the cubs are enjoying it and while they’re small enough that it doesn’t expose guests to any risk.
LoungingTwo trainers, two other guests and I were brought into an area outside of the cubs’ main enclosure, but still in a controlled area. The two cubs were each brought out on a leash by a trainer. Initially, the female, Zendaya, the subject of this painting, didn’t seem to want to come out and be sociable and they had told us earlier that it was up to the cubs. If they didn’t feel like participating, they wouldn’t be forced. I quite liked that.
CubCuddleGriffin, the boy, seemed to love the attention and exploring outside of his enclosure. He was also clearly enjoying the physical interaction with the keeper and there was an obvious bond there. When Zendaya finally decided she was missing out on her brother’s fun, she wanted to come out as well and was just as affectionate with her keeper.
WalkWe had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and for much of the time; I was within arm’s reach of either cub. When the keeper felt that one of the cubs was relaxed enough, we were allowed to touch them, specifically told to keep our hands away from their heads as they didn’t know us. I was allowed to take plenty of pictures and the whole experience was a real thrill.

When I got home, I had so many great shots to choose from, I knew I was going to paint one of the cubs and will very likely paint the other in the near future. I’m also planning to return to the Park very soon to get some more photos of the other animals for similar painting reference. They have a very cooperative beaver there that I’m dying to get some good shots of as I’ve wanted to paint one for a while.
ZendayaCloseI had initially intended this first lion cub piece to be more of a sketch painting, but the more I worked on it, the less I wanted to stop, so I carried it through to a completion. I’m very happy with the result and I’m looking forward to seeing it on canvas.

This was my first painting done with the recent upgrade of Photoshop CC 2015 and it worked flawlessly. As usual, no photos or textures are used in the actual painting, just for reference. Everything is brush work, using both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the Cintiq 24HD displays.

Thanks for reading.
Patrick

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

Posted on

Another great year, looking forward to the next.

Ukee02_05
Coming up on the end of another year and while it’s just a date on a calendar, having these periodic markers along the way does give a person a chance for reflection and to make plans for the next go round the sun.

I’ve been fortunate that every year in my art career has been better than the one that came before it. 2014 was no exception. Always learning and improving my skills, the challenge this year was to keep my eyes on where I’m going, despite the distractions that tempted me to lose focus. It’s easy to look at what other artists are doing and to wonder if they know something you don’t, but in my experience, we’re all just winging it, no matter what profession you’re in.

AmurTiger
This past year, I found myself doing a lot of sketch paintings, simply the term I use for what I consider unfinished work. Some of those went further to become finished paintings in my Totem collection, others ended up being practice pieces, and still others sold well as prints, even though that hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the year. I plan to do a lot more of that type of work in 2015, as I really enjoyed it.

BoothWEB
In the spring, my wife and I were once again working my booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, our second year at that event. As it was a big success for us, I’ve been signed up for the 2015 Expo almost since the last one ended. I’ll be trying a few new things with print sales this year and I look forward to participating in their tenth anniversary. We also plan to have a booth at a few other trade shows during the year.

ElephantRock
I painted my first landscape in 2014, an enjoyable personal project I did just to see if I could. I doubt that I’ll become a landscape artist anytime soon, but I’ve still got a few ideas I’d like to bring to light, so there will likely be one or two in the coming year, along with some experiments that may or may not involve animals.

Ukee02_03
One of the reasons I chose that particular image to paint, a landmark called White Face Rock, was that I had fond memories of Ucluelet, British Columbia, somewhere my wife and I had vacationed a few years ago. I decided to go back this year on my own in June for sort of an artist’s retreat and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life so far. I rented a little cabin off the harbour for four days, took three days of wildlife cruises through Barkley Sound, brought home plenty of photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That trip also gave me the opportunity to get my work into two new galleries in Ucluelet and Tofino.  In the New Year, I plan to go back there and will stop in at some other places along the way. I still have reference photos I have yet to use from the last trip and I plan to get to some more of those soon.

SeagullsFINAL
One of the more valuable life lessons I’ve learned is to make time for personal projects. Seems each one ends up yielding unexpected benefits. One such project this year came from finding a nest of Great Horned Owls up at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore. After watching the family of owls for a couple of weeks, taking plenty of photos and doing some sketch paintings, I ended up with a painting that I called, ‘One in Every Family.’  It was a departure from my usual style of animal paintings.

GrassiOwls
At Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, that painting won me the Best in Show Guru Award, the second year I’ve received that honour. A nice surprise bonus of that award was winning a Canon 5D Mark III camera, a professional piece of hardware that I am enjoying learning how to use. I’ve discovered that photography as a hobby has opened new creative avenues for me, especially since it contributes directly to my work. I take the camera with me whenever I go hiking or for a drive and it has helped me get even better reference photos for paintings. Funny how things work out.

Wacom
While I’ve got plenty of fond memories of Photoshop World in Las Vegas, having attended five times, made plenty of friends and learned a lot, this year was a high note and I think a good ending for me for that particular event. I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, certainly not in 2015. I’ve learned never to say never, but there are plenty of other experiences and trips I’d like to take.  The world’s a big place.

Bruno
In August, I met a gentleman named Bruno, a vendor at one of the Canmore Market booths. I just liked his character and felt the urge to paint him, another personal project. He was willing to participate in the experience and I ended up doing a portrait piece that I was quite proud of.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know Bruno and he has been giving my wife and I a crash course in the community and inner workings of the artist trade show circuit in Western Canada. We’ve been learning a lot and planning to venture into that world a little more as a result. Serendipity once again. I will be doing more portraits in the coming year.

DenzilFlat
And finally, one of my favorite pieces this year was the commissioned painting of Denzil, one I consider to be my best work to date, at least when it comes to a realistic rendering. It raised the bar for what I will now consider a finished piece and it’s going to make me try harder. Many times I’ve finished a painting and thought, “that’s it, I can’t do better than that,” and I’m always wrong. With time and practice comes more skill and that applies to everyone and everything, no matter what you do.

I’ve no desire for time to move quicker than it already does, but I find myself excited to think about the paintings I’ll do five years from now.

For the next year, I’m playing the long game. I’ve met with and hired a local designer friend and neighbour who is going to help me bring a book of my artwork into reality, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Up until now, I didn’t feel I had enough pieces with which to populate the book I had in mind. I still don’t, but by the end of 2015, I will, so there will be a lot of painting this year.  Before I commit to anything else as the year goes on, that will be front of mind.

It’s with quiet confidence that I close out 2014, with great expectations for the coming year. I see no reason why the recent trend should not continue and I look forward to 2015 being better than the year that came before it.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a follower of my work. Perhaps you’ve purchased my prints at the galleries, online or at Expo, or you’ve been a client that hired me to paint one of your fuzzy faced loved ones. You might follow my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or subscribe to my newsletter. You might be one of my many editors across Canada who sees fit to publish my cartoons on your editorial page. Maybe you’re one of those friends or industry colleagues I’ve been fortunate to know and work with over the years. No matter where you fit in with your support of my daily work of drawing and colouring all day, please accept my sincere thanks.  I do appreciate it.

My very best to all of you in the coming year. Take chances, start checking items off those bucket lists, don’t wait to live the life you’ve imagined. It is well worth the risk.

Airborne

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

Posted on

The Other Side of Another Photoshop World

Last week found me once again at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2014. While I’d love to be able to say that it’s all work and no play, I’d be lying through my teeth.

While I did decide to take a break from the conference last year, this was the fifth time around for me at PSW. Every year is different depending on which classes I’m taking and which group of friends is showing up.

This creative community of artists is an interesting mix. Photographers, designers, illustrators, compositors… they come from all over the world and from a number of different generations, but everybody is looking to have a good time and learn a few things. Many of the people with whom I spend my time at this conference are ones I talk to all the time via email and social media, but only get to see once a year, sometimes not even that often.   But it’s very easy to pick up where we left off and it’s definitely a working vacation.

AirborneOn that latter point, I budgeted a little time to check one more item off the bucket list, a flight with Sky Combat Ace to experience some airshow acrobatics in an Extra 330LC, which was quite a thrill ride. Here’s a link to the video.

Airborne2While the conference itself is very heavy on the photography side of things, it has still been worth this cartoonist/illustrator/digital painter’s time to attend. One thing I’ve learned from taking classes at this event is that whether you’re talking photos, design, or illustration…images are images. The principles that will make an image better in one medium will often translate to another, so a class on composition in portrait photography will help me become a better portrait painter, too.

Since I take many of my own reference photos for a lot of my recent work, editing those images and figuring out how to get the best from them will also help me produce better digital paintings.

In 2010 at this event, I was fortunate to have won two Guru Awards, one in the Illustration category and also the Best in Show award. This year, I submitted three images, again under the Illustration heading. While I knew ahead of time that two of my images were finalists, I assumed both were in that category. When the awards were announced however, my portrait of Bruno was the only one that came up in the Illustration genre. As I’d gone in with low expectations, I was OK with not winning.

GuruBIS

Much to my surprise, however, my painting, “One in Every Family” was awarded the Best in Show award again this year and I was very pleased. While the prize that was announced ahead of time was a gift card from the sponsor, B&H (one of my favorite shopping destinations), a surprise addition to the prize was a Canon 5D Mark III camera with lens included. It now appears that I have to up my game when it comes to my knowledge of photography. My photographer friends at this event have all assured me that I now have one of the best cameras I could ever want and have physically threatened me if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to become a better photographer.

With that in mind, I took the camera with me on one of my regular hikes the day after I got home, and managed to get a few photos that I thought were pretty decent, a couple of them shown here.

LittleBird

Butterfly

I still have a LOT to learn, but have plenty of resources with which to do so and many professional photographer friends who’ve offered their assistance.

As I was already going to be in attendance at the event, my friends at Wacom invited me to present at their booth on the Expo Floor for the second time. As luck would have it, the topic I chose was the story of discovering the family of Great Horned Owls at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore earlier this summer, which led to the painting that won the award the day before I presented at the booth. Add in a little painting demo and I think it went rather well.

WacomI really enjoyed myself at the conference, largely because of the people with whom I spent the week. While it’s too early to tell if I will return again next year, this year’s trip was time and money well spent and I find myself inspired to produce even better work in the year ahead. You really can’t put a price on that.

TheGang