I often must explain to people that editorial cartoons aren’t always meant to be funny. Ideally, a satirical cartoon should make you laugh, think, or hopefully do both. But there are several occasions where it’s an illustrated comment with no humorous intent.
In the case of tragedies like 9/11 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, or whenever a person of historical significance dies, there’s no call for funny on the editorial page.
You likely don’t need me to tell you that Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. After more than 70 years on the throne, her impact on the world is impossible to deny. For most of us, she has always been ‘The Queen’ and the end of her reign is a historical moment of great significance.
When she got COVID earlier in February, I drew this cartoon, just in case it was time. While it might seem morbid to some, I can assure you that every media outlet in the world has had content and plans laid out far in advance for her inevitable passing. Long before this year, the Queen herself had a hand in the planning of the events of the past two weeks. I felt I’d rather take the time to do the work I wanted, rather than scramble at the last minute just to get it done by deadline.
When I awoke on Thursday the 8th, Shonna and I were heading to Red Deer for the day to take my parents out to lunch. From the news I read about the Queen’s family being called to her side, it seemed clear how the day would unfold. As such, I sent the cartoon to my newspapers, with a note advising that, should she die, this was my contribution.
A few hours later, we were walking to our car with my parents to go to the restaurant when I got the alert on my phone.
The above image appeared in several Canadian daily newspapers the following day.
Canadians will no doubt have a necessary conversation in the coming weeks about this country’s relationship with the monarchy and how it will look in the future. But I drew this second cartoon last week reminding readers that it would be crass to dig into that before her interment. I’m not a monarchist, but one need not be to understand simple respect for the recently deceased and empathy for her family and those who grieve her passing.
And finally, I drew one more cartoon this week for her funeral on the 19th.
While I don’t enjoy or look forward to drawing them, these types of editorial cartoons are still part of the job.
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.
When I’m not drawing and distributing daily syndicated editorial cartoons, I’m painting whimsical wildlife portraits for prints and licensing. Add in the usual office administration, marketing, writing and everything else that goes along with self-employment, and that’s pretty much how I spend my days.
However, I enjoy painting portraits of people, most often characters from movies. I usually make the time for a couple of these a year, but I’ve only managed this one in 2021.
I’ve often mentioned that I paint these when I’m feeling the need to reconnect to art for art’s sake or when I’m in a low place creatively, but thankfully I’m not feeling that this year. The whole year has been low for obvious reasons, and I just felt like painting a portrait.
I have no interest in painting the publicity or paparazzi headshots of movie stars or celebrities. The less I know about the gossip or their personal lives, the better. Instead, I’m more interested in the characters they play. Those characters are created by skilled writers, directors, and gifted actors, including the supporting cast and professional crews that bring it all together.
When I painted Quint from Jaws, it wasn’t just the actor Robert Shaw I was painting, but the character he inhabited, written by Peter Benchley, directed by Stephen Spielberg and brought to life in a scene with Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.
I love movies, but we’re living in an age with great television, too, with plenty of writing and acting that can easily go up against any Academy award-winning film.
One of the shows I’ve enjoyed most in recent years is Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. Written and often directed by Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone chronicles the lives of a generational ranching family in Montana, led by the patriarch, John Dutton.
It’s simply a great show, but not for the faint of heart. If you’ve got issues with language, violence, nudity, sex, lawlessness, smoking, gambling, alcohol, and more, you should seek your entertainment elsewhere.
There are no flawless heroes here. Instead, it’s a family of broken people, each with their dark pasts and demons. One moment they’re prey, the next predators, and you’re never quite sure when they’re right or wrong. But with incredible writing, scenery, and rich characters played by a stellar cast, it’s never dull. I am fulfilled and disappointed after each episode because I must wait a week for the next one.
But I’m glad they dole it out. If they released the season all at once, we’d easily gorge ourselves on it in a few days.
I realized that I wanted to paint John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, about the middle of last season. Tough as nails, Dutton tries to keep his ranch and family together, while outside interests plot to take it away from him, piece by piece. Even though he knows he’s fighting a losing battle against progress and the future, he won’t resign himself to his inevitable fate.
As often happens when I want to paint other characters, I won’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. Near the end of last season, there’s a scene where Dutton is sitting on his porch, and he looks off to the horizon in the fading light. The moment clicked with me, and I had found my reference, thanks to Cinematographer Ben Richardson’s lighting and cameras.
I painted the scene more sepia tone than the reference, with more contrast, making my own choices for the painting. I like to be inspired by moviemakers and their vision, but I don’t want to create a carbon copy. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I started this painting in July, and I worked on it for a couple of hours here and there whenever I could find the time. I had planned to have it done before the fourth season began this month, but the paying gigs always take priority. So this past week, I put in the last ten or so hours over a few days. With no deadline, there was no reason to rush it, but I also didn’t want this painting to last for too much longer. As much as I loved the work, the best part is calling it done.
If you’re already a Yellowstone fan, I hope you like my rendering of this great character.
If you haven’t yet seen the show, I envy you. You get to start at the beginning with almost four seasons of great storytelling ahead of you.
While on a recent visit to the tattoo shop, one of the artists asked me if I was painting anything for Halloween.
For the past twenty years, I’ve drawn plenty of editorial cartoons with a Halloween twist, but Eric’s question caught me off guard. I’ve never considered painting something for Halloween.
One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with the artists at Electric Grizzly Tattoo is that they offer a different perspective. I’ve had several projects, promotions, and ideas borne of conversation at the shop.
While I’ve seen these guys come up with many different tattoo designs in various themes, much of their work involves pop culture. Whether characters from TV, animation, movies, comic books, graphic novels or music, there are clients who get full sleeves done in a pop culture theme.
One of Derek Turcotte’s clients has an entire leg done with characters from horror movies. It’s pretty impressive, both in the artwork’s exceptional quality and the tapestry woven from all of those images.
A couple of years ago, Derek painted Pennywise from the 2017 movie IT, based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. For the most recent movie adaptations, the character is played by Bill Skarsgård.
But I remember another version of It, a 1990 two-part TV miniseries with Tim Curry in the title role.
The basic story is that there’s a creature living beneath Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, in the guise of Pennywise the clown, It murders children after luring them into the sewers and has been doing so for centuries. In the two-part story, a group of children takes on the clown and thinks they have killed It. But they make a vow that they will return to finish the job if it ever comes back.
Sure enough, 27 years later, Pennywise returns, as does The Losers Club, to fulfill their promise.
I’m a big Stephen King fan. I started reading his books when I was a young teenager, probably earlier than I should have. Pet Sematary gave me nightmares. I could give you a long list of favourite King novels, but top of mind are The Dark Tower books, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Dr. Sleep and, of course, It.
Unfortunately, a lot of King’s books became movies that weren’t very good. It’s usually a pleasant surprise when I enjoy one as much as the book. The writer/director Frank Darabont is also a Stephen King fan, which is why his three adaptations are among my favourite movies.
Many people are surprised that the movie The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. Darabont made that movie, as well as The Green Mile and The Mist. This scene from The Mist is especially telling in our current climate.
Other screen productions based on King stories that I’ve enjoyed have included Stand By Me, Misery, The Shining, Dr. Sleep and the second season of Castle Rock.
Stephen King made me want to be a writer, and I’ve read and listened to his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ a few times.
While I have started writing fiction again this year, when I force myself to put ass in chair, it has been a struggle. The editorial cartoon deadlines, the paintings, plus the admin and promotional work that goes along with that work don’t give me a lot of time to write anything other than blog posts and newsletters.
But that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Excuses are easy to come by.
So when it was suggested I paint something for Halloween, my thoughts returned to Pennywise. Not a difficult leap of inspiration, since Derek’s painting of the Skarsgård clown loomed large on the wall about ten feet to my left.
As I own the original IT miniseries on DVD, I began looking for reference that afternoon when I got home. Filmed for television, thirty years old and with special effects almost too painful to watch at times, the reference didn’t meet my usual criteria
There’s a scene at the end of the miniseries where the clown’s true form is revealed, a large spider-like creature. The effects are bad, with jerky puppet-like movements. The colour and light don’t match the background. It was scary in 1990, but now it’s just comical.
All that aside, Tim Curry was still great in the role of Pennywise. I’ve enjoyed his over-the-top villain roles in many movies. From his iconic performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cardinal Richelieu in 1993’s Three Musketeers, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Curry shows up where I least expect him.
Sadly, he now uses a wheelchair following a stroke in 2012.
Finding the reference was tough. I ended up taking photos of the TV screen and then trying to salvage what I could in Photoshop. None of the reference was what I would call good, and while it’s still got the bones beneath it, the finished painting doesn’t resemble Curry’s character as much as I had initially intended.
Partway through, I realized I wanted to make it as horrific as I could; the fangs, skin texture, demonic expression in the eyes. Eventually, it became my own version of Pennywise, which made it a lot more fun. I wanted to paint the clown that would have scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I believe I achieved that. But rather than scare me now, I found myself smiling a lot. I kept wanting to push it a little further, adding more texture and detail, trying for just a little more realism in the brushwork.
I didn’t want it to end.
This is not the kind of work my regular followers expect from me. But before 2009, all people got from me were editorial cartoons and my painted caricatures of celebrities, no animals at all. You never know where new ventures might lead.
No matter how much I enjoy my animal art, it can get a little boring from time to time if it’s just about pumping them out, one after another. Every so often, I need to take a break, try something different and take a vacation from the fur and feathers. The collection of those occasional side projects have now become a gallery of portraits, mostly movie characters. Some of those paintings have resulted in the most unexpected and wonderful moments of my art career.
While I don’t expect to be turning my attention to painting more killer clowns or creatures from the depths of horror movies, this was worth my time. It was a welcome visit to the dark places I usually avoid, shining a flashlight on just one of the things that live there in the shadows.
The best part about this painting was that it wasn’t work. I had no illusions that this would end up being a published print or an image for licensing.
In a year when self-employed job security is shakier than ever, when the future is a towering question mark (with an exclamation beside it), and it seems like every creative moment should be spent trying to increase revenue, I’m glad I made time for Pennywise.
For you digital artists with tech questions, I painted this in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. I used screen captures for reference, but no photos are part of this work. I created the textures with brushwork alone, no images or overlays. The finished file is 30″ X40″ at 300ppi, painted in the AdobeRGB(1998) colour space. I have no idea how long it took to paint.
In the waning days of the self-isolation portion of our COVID program, I bought new glasses to replace the ones I’d broken near the end of March. I took a selfie and posted it on Instagram, complete with a goofy expression. Someone said, “you look like a caricature of yourself,” to which I replied, “I AM a caricature of myself.”
That planted the seed for this painting, although it became more of a self-portrait than caricature, with little exaggeration. My face just looks like that when I ham it up.
Isn’t Shonna a lucky lady?
Why do artists create self-portraits? That occurred to me while painting this.
Is it narcissism? Sure, that’s part of it. Though artists are notorious for self-criticism, we wouldn’t bother to put our creations out into the world without at least a little conceit.
Self-portraits are also about process and practice. I’ve painted caricatures and portraits of myself a few times over the past twenty years, mostly for promotional reasons.
It’s also a way to see the evolution of art skills, an exercise in progress, and an opportunity to poke a little fun at myself. And I’m a model who works cheap.
I paint portraits of people for my enjoyment, primarily characters from movies, though I have done one professional portrait commission of Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen for Canadian Geographic Magazine. I only accepted that one because the editor’s proposed vision was clear, and he hired me because he liked all of my other portraits. I’m not actively seeking other such opportunities but never say never.
I know some excellent portrait photographers whose editing abilities are one of their most laudable skills.
It’s a common photography practice to augment reality by taking portraits using excellent lighting, backdrops, great gear and the all-important artistic eye. If a blemish can easily be removed, have at it. Nobody wants a head-shot, especially for business, that shows a pimple, stray hair, red eyes or deep shadows in undesirable places.
When it stops looking like the person, however, that’s a clear indication you’ve gone too far. A skilled portrait photographer knows just how far to take it without it becoming surreal. Unless of course, that’s what the artist is going for, which is a whole other realm of artistic expression.
It’s easy to spot those social media selfies where the result is more filters than photo because nobody looks like that in real life. The lines in our faces are part of who we are. We age, we weather, we’re asymmetrical and imperfect.
Even though we pretend to go along with the ruse, to obtain that perfect selfie, some take two dozen shots, fix their hair many times, change their shirt, apply makeup, filters, suck in their belly, adjusted the lighting, primp and preen, all to make it look like the photo was spontaneous.
The next time you see one of those serene-looking yoga poses, that meditative scene with bright sun rim lighting, in the mountains, by a river, or any other idyllic setting, take a moment to consider that they had to set up the camera and position themselves into the pose. Using either a timer or remote, they took the shot, went back to the camera or phone, checked the result, then repeated the process until they got the one that looked most like they had achieved nirvana and oneness with the universe.
The photo I used for reference for this painting had less than ideal lighting, my eyes were a little redder, I hadn’t shaved that day, and the background was my kitchen. But in the painting, I was careful to alter or improve only the things that I could do naturally in real life. Had I taken the shot following a better night’s sleep and after I’d put a razor to my face, it would look more like what you see here.
Naturally, it’s still a promotional painting and done in the same style I paint my animals and other portraits. It’s not supposed to look just like the photo, but it still needs to look like me.
Had I removed the grey or stray hairs from my beard, the lines in my face, or painted a perfectly coiffed hairstyle, I’d only be fooling myself, but not really. While painting this portrait, I often forgot that it was me. It was just about getting the likeness right, the shape of the features, the values in the shadows and highlights.
Shonna is always my harshest critic. She can spot the flaws in my paintings, and it used to drive me nuts. I now brace myself before asking her opinion because she’s going to be honest. While it’s always frustrating, the nits she picks will usually result in a better-finished piece.
When I asked her about this portrait, her only critique was a structural problem with the bridge of my nose, easily fixed once I could see it. Other than that, I’m confident it’s me, or at least how she sees me.
While she liked this painting, she has suggested I should do another, one that shows my dark side, a glimpse of the inner demons with which we all wrestle. I told her I find that idea frightening, which she said was probably a good thing, kind of like art therapy.
Yet, one more reason for this artist to paint a self-portrait.
Seems that each year, right around this time, I get the urge to paint a portrait.
When fall starts feeling like winter, my mood lowers, some years worse than others. It might be the waning light and the colder temperatures, perhaps the early onset of seasonal affective disorder. Maybe it’s that the end of another year triggers my existential angst, wondering where this whole art career is heading next, and whether it’ll continue to sustain me. Too much time alone naturally leads to expert level navel gazing, a little too much introspection and prolonged eye contact with whatever is down there, lurking in the abyss.
See? Now I’m paraphrasing Nietzsche. How melodramatic.
For whatever reason, I’ve been using portraits of people as a pressure release valve for quite a few years now. I paint them for myself, with no eye on sales, a reminder that even though I am a commercial artist; it doesn’t always have to be about making a buck.
I’ve always found painting likenesses especially challenging, so from time to time, it’s nice to step into that ring and go a few rounds.
The federal election occupied most of my recent attention, not to mention quite a bit of behind-the-scenes file prep for licensing. I’ve not had much time to paint anything, let alone write any blog posts. But when I could, I was stealing time for this portrait, one I’ve wanted to paint for a while.
Regular readers will be well aware of my affinity for movies. As a consequence, most of my portraits end up being paintings of characters from films, rather than the actors themselves. Trust me, there’s a big difference, although you don’t get great characters without great actors, so you can chicken and egg that all day long.
While the actor in this image is the late Robert Shaw, the character I’ve painted is Sam Quint, the shark hunter from the movie, “Jaws.”
It’s one of those movies that seems like it has always been there, likely because it first hit screens in 1975. That’s right, Jaws is over 40 years old. It’s one I watch at least once every couple of years and while gathering reference for this painting, I watched it again. It still holds up, even if the non-CGI shark looks a lot more fake than it used to.
That’s right, kids, they used to make movies with hand-made models and camera tricks. There was something called a phone booth in those days, too. Go Google it, I’ll wait. I read somewhere that Jaws was the first real summer blockbuster, and it was so successful, that it changed the way that movies were made and marketed.
Culturally, Jaws is an uncomfortable guilty pleasure. It scared the living hell out of people when it first came out, keeping many away from the beaches in 1975. There are many adults today who saw it when they were too young, and it gave them a lifelong fear of sharks.
What’s worse is that by turning the Great White Shark into a monster, the movie was indirectly responsible for granting tacit approval to the global slaughter of sharks that goes on to this day. According to Greenpeace, 100 million to more than 250 million sharks are killed each year around the world.
Just like every other wild creature with which we share the planet, they’ve got a lot more reason to be afraid of us than vice versa.
Peter Benchley , the author who wrote the novel Jaws and co-wrote the Spielberg screenplay, said he later regretted writing it and felt genuinely responsible for his role in casting sharks as villains, which directly contributed to culls around the world. He spent the rest of his life advocating for shark protection and ocean conservation.
So while the movie’s theme may be yet another scar on our dismal track record as a species, the film is still one I enjoy. In the right context, it’s a thrilling monster movie with plenty of action and well-rounded memorable characters.
I guess I could have painted Chief Brody or Matt Hooper, played by accomplished actors Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, but it’s usually a specific scene that captures my attention when I choose which character I want to paint. It might be something they said, a trick of the light, an expression, anything that prompts me to cock my head, pause or rewind the movie and think, “hey, there’s a painting there.”
There’s a familiar and wonderfully playful scene in the movie where Hooper and Quint are comparing scars, having drinks while sitting at the galley table of the Orca. At one point, Chief Brody asks about the one on Quint’s forearm. Quint tells him that it’s a tattoo he had removed, the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
Suddenly the tone gets serious and Quint tells his tale.
The scene is one of my favorites of any movie, a classic edge-of-the-seat monologue, leaving the audience hanging on every word. Not only is the real-world tale of the Indianapolis tragic, but it explains Quint’s hatred for sharks and why he hunts them. What you might not know is that the late Robert Shaw was an accomplished writer, and he rewrote the scene with Spielberg. By all accounts the collaboration made it the most resonant scene in the film.
Quint meets his demise a short time later when the shark evens the score. Oh sorry, should I have said, “spoiler alert?” I enjoyed working on this portrait and once I found the time to really devote some hours to it this week, I didn’t want it to end. There was always one more brush stroke to make, a small wrinkle here, a blemish there, just to improve the likeness a little more, to capture the feeling of Quint.
Eventually, as with all of my paintings, I just had to accept that it would never be perfect. I called it finished, content that I was able to carve out some creative time for myself, hopefully improved my skills a little through the effort, and abandoned this painting so that I can start another. I’m pleased with how it turned out and I think I accomplished what I had envisioned.
Given that this winter melancholy and malaise seems to have settled in early this year, I believe I might have another portrait to paint before long.
One of the more interesting highlights of my art career happened in 2013 when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. I’ve told this story more than once, but if it’s new to you, here’s the link.
While it did generate some media publicity for me, and was personally exciting, it did little for my career. Painting portraits of people is something I do for my own enjoyment and with the exception of one commission I did for Canadian Geographic and the occasional editorial cartoon portrait (usually when somebody dies), I’m not hired for this sort of work and that suits me fine. The editorial cartoons and funny looking animals keep me plenty busy.
I do enjoy telling the story about that experience when it comes up, especially about how genuine and kind both actors were in our communication. Not only did they sign a print for me that hangs in my office, they gave me a signed copy of the book they co-wrote as well, as I’d mentioned in our correspondence that I’d given my copy to my father. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the movie The Way, which inspired my painting, it’s one of my favorites. Few films have moved me the way that one still does.
A short time ago, I came across a note card that Estevez included when he returned the signed prints. Or it came with the book, I don’t remember. It was an unnecessary nicety that might not seem like much, but it struck me as a classy gesture. I remember thinking at the time that I should get little note cards like this. It added more value to the experience, and I thought it might be nice to pass the same feeling on to my clients. Obviously it’s something on which I failed to follow through.
Whenever I send a print out to someone who has purchased from my online store, I usually include a little note on the invoice or on a post-it, just a little thank you in my own handwriting, which is atrocious, by the way.
But on the invoice or post-it, it always feels a little cheap to me. It’s a personal note, sure, but it’s still the bare minimum.
But when people order from MY store, they’re getting it from me. I hand-sign the print, I package it, I put the art bio in the sleeve and I’m the one who personally takes it to the post office to ship it. Sure, I’ve included an extra art card or another small goodie when I can, but every once in a while, I’ve thought about that note card from Emilio Estevez.
A couple of weeks ago, I designed and ordered new business cards to reflect the changeover from Cartoon Ink to LaMontagne Art. Those arrived yesterday, along with my new note cards. It’s just a small thing and it adds to the print cost on my end, but I think it’s worth it.
At a time when you can order anything and everything online from an impersonal shopping cart, every so often I like to remind my customers that their purchase is appreciated, that it was bought from a real person. We all work hard for our money, so when somebody thinks one of my prints is worth parting with some of theirs, that’s pretty cool.
In January of last year, my buddy Darrel and I rented a cabin in central Alberta and were instantly taken with the place and the area around it. A couple of months later, my friend Jim and I went out there and he fell for the place, too. Since then, he’s gone there on his own, introduced another friend to it, and we’ve all had more than a few repeat visits over the course of a year. I’ve been there five times.
The owners of KB Trails have been welcoming, friendly and we’ve all enjoyed getting to know them. We’ve invited them over for drinks while we’ve been on their property, they’ve returned the favour, and Jim and I were even invited for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods.
We wondered if they thought we were a couple.
As always, I’ve often got the camera at the ready, because you never know when an unexpected critter will show up and capture my eye. On those multiple visits to the cabin, I’ve taken plenty of photos of their horses and will shortly be working on my first painting from some of those. I’ll often hang on to reference for quite some time before I get to it. I take a lot of pictures out there.
One of my favorite things about the cabin visits is Jingles. She’s a great ranch/farm dog, friendly to all, likes to be around people, but definitely not a pampered princess. She’s happiest outdoors and Bob and Karen have told us that she’s only interested in sleeping in the house on the coldest of nights. I expect this past February saw her inside more than usual.
But most of the time, Jingles is content to be by Bob or Karen’s side, or out holding court over her 320 acres. She’s always happy to see people, but she tires of it quickly. Squirrels to chase, property to patrol, a dog with things to do.
I remember on one of Bob’s visits, we’d been sitting on the back deck and once the chill set in, the three of us went inside to warm up by the fire. I called Jingles to come in and she did. But it wasn’t long before she was looking expectantly at the door and Bob said she was getting antsy to go back outside. So I opened the door and without hesitation, Jingles was out into the snow.
When Bob was ready to leave, she showed up to jump in the truck and off they went.
Like most dogs I’ve encountered, Jingles doesn’t like having her picture taken, but despite that, I’ve managed to get plenty of shots on our past visits and knew that I’d eventually find the time to paint her. I began this last month and while a slow start, the past few sessions on this have been quite enjoyable and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I do plan to paint her again in the other style, but this was the right choice for this painting. Here’s a closeup.
Before I started writing this post, I wondered on which visit I took the reference pic. I figured it was either in January or March. Turns out I finished this painting exactly one year from when I took the reference. March 11th, when Jim and I were there. Quite the coincidence, and completely unplanned.
We’ll be at the cabin again later this month for the first visit of the year, with more to follow, no doubt.
Whenever I’ve painted portraits of actors, it’s been a character I like from a movie, rather than a portrait of the person playing the part. This one is an exception.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the movie Bird Box, mostly because the media reported that some were mimicking the characters and doing silly things while blindfolded. Despite hearing some negative reviews, I guess the gimmick worked well on me, because I gave it a chance while drawing one evening.
I didn’t find the movie terrible, but it’s not one I’d rush to watch again. It struck me as a poor man’s copy of A Quiet Place, but it was certainly watchable and I didn’t count it a waste of my time. A shame that the characters were forgettable, however, since it featured accomplished actors.
One of those, in a supporting role, was John Malkovich, an actor I’ve always liked and admired.
As often happens when I paint movie characters, it wasn’t something I had planned in advance. There was a scene where Malkovich turned and it struck me that I wanted to paint him from that moment. The light, the composition, his expression, who knows?
Aside from one commission last year from Canadian Geographic Magazine, where I was tasked with painting Rick Hansen, I paint portraits of people for my own enjoyment, to challenge and improve my skills. A couple have attracted attention after I posted them on Twitter years ago, most notably Martin Sheen and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, but I don’t ever expect the subject will see the portraits I paint of them.
Now that I’m off social media entirely, there’s no incentive to tag them or add a dozen hashtags, which I think is a good thing. It takes away the pressure for likes and shares and leaves me free to paint how I like without wondering how it will be received. I started this on the iPad Pro in the procreate app, then brought it to my desktop and painted the second half in Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. The brushwork was initially a lot smoother while I nitpicked the details to get the likeness right, but in the final couple hours, I added layers of texture and grunge to rough it up. Seems to better fit the character and feel of the movie.
There are some other portraits I expect to paint this year, but for now, it’s back to the funny looking animals.
Some of my best work wouldn’t have been possible without their assistance in gathering the reference I need to paint my whimsical wildlife paintings. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to ensure these relationships are quid pro quo. I’ve created artwork for them, made donations, or have simply tried to promote the conservation work they do whenever I can.
My prints have been sold in the various gift shops at The Calgary Zoo for more than five years, along with licensed images on other products. During that time, I’ve become friends with the Retail Manager. Kathryn has given me invaluable marketing advice and has always been supportive of my work, helping me put my best foot forward.
In the spring of last year, the Calgary Zoo received four pandas from The Toronto Zoo. The two adults had been there for five years, on generous loan from China, with two cubs born during that time. As per the agreement with China, the remaining five years of the loan, they’ll live in Calgary, although the cubs will be returned to China sometime next year.
While I’m not a professional photographer, I take some decent photos from time to time and she needed some for her own marketing purposes to promote the pandas. The deal was, I could get into the habitat early, in exchange for some of my photos.
The Calgary Zoo is strict about no behind the scenes photography, so I should clarify that I was still only allowed in the public areas, just a couple of days early. Early one morning at the end of April, Kathryn took me over to the brand new Panda Passage habitat and aside from a couple of keepers, we had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours. Of the four residents, I only saw Da Mao that morning, the adult male. He was active and accommodating, which is a rare treat when it comes to pandas. They spend a lot of their time sleeping. I ended up with a LOT of nice photos, a couple of dozen I shared with Kathryn, and many others that will serve as good reference for paintings. I’ve already done one painting from that session (above) , and it became a popular acrylic magnet that sold well at the zoo. My previous Panda painting has been a best seller over the past year in their gift shops and I’m hoping this new one does equally well.
While I don’t often share the reference photos I use for paintings, I’m making an exception here to show that my work is more of an interpretation of the reference rather than a copy. This photo wasn’t one of the best quality I took that day and would have been of no use for promotional purposes for the zoo. It was shot through glass, with a bit of a glare I couldn’t compensate for, not even with a polarizing filter. But with Da Mao climbing up on the log and looking right at me, the pose was a gift I couldn’t pass up. I used other reference for some lost detail, especially in the face. This is one of the reasons I like to take my own reference. The pose is the same in both photo and painting, but both images are mine, so a photographer can’t say I copied their composition. When I buy stock photos for animals to which I can’t gain access, I try to create an image different than what the photographer took, but when it’s my image in the first place, it hardly matters. This won’t be the last panda I paint; there might even be another this year. I’m pleased with how this turned out because it’s a full body image but still has that whimsical quality inherent in the rest of my work.