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Quint

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.

After I get back to the paying gigs for a while.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Thank You Notes

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.

This year, my painted work is being seen in more places than ever before. Thanks to my licenses with Pacific Music and Art, Harlequin Nature Graphics and Art Licensing International, it’s very easy to buy my work online. You can now order a canvas print of my funny looking animals from Wal-Mart, Amazon and other sites in the U.S. through one of my licenses.

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.

It deserves better than a post-it note.

I can’t do anything about the bad handwriting.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Jingles

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.

Cheers,
Patrick

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John Malkovich – a Portrait

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.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Peaceful Panda

One of the things I value most in my profession is the relationships I’ve formed over the years.

Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale, Archipelago Wildlife Cruises in Ucluelet, and of course, The Calgary Zoo. I’ve made friends at all of these places and remain grateful for their generosity in allowing me to get close to so many critters.

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.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Sasquatch

From time to time, my retail clients will offer up subject matter if their customers have asked for a specific animal or if it’s popular in a region where my work is sold.

That doesn’t mean they’ll end up being popular paintings,but I’m usually willing to take a chance, especially if I think it’ll make a good image. Some that come to mind are the Elk and Ground Squirrel paintings, suggested by the first gallery that sold my work in Banff. Neither of those paintings ended up being bestsellers, but to be honest, I’ve never liked my elk painting and will likely take another crack at one soon.

The Panda and Hippo were suggestions by the Calgary Zoo, the Beaver and Black Bear by the former owners of About Canada in Banff, and a few others were random suggestions by friends and customers.

Regular readers will know that I recently signed a license with Pacific Music and Art on Vancouver Island. So far, I’m pleased with how this relationship is progressing. The owner, Mike, had asked for an Orca during our initial conversations. That painting was already in the works, but I bumped it to the top of the list and finished it just over a week ago.

But when he asked for a Sasquatch, that gave me pause. I told him I’d never painted a mythical creature before.

He joked, “But is it?”

At least I think he was joking.

The Sasquatch, he explained, is a popular theme among his customers in Western Canada and he thought it would do quite well for me. The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the idea. The whole challenge would be finding reference to paint from.

Of course, I couldn’t very well use the most popular photo in Bigfoot lore, the lumbering dark blurry shape with which we’re all familiar.My buddy Darrel has a theory that the reason nobody can get a clear shot of a Sasquatch is that they actually look blurry in real life. Who am I to argue?

I thought of doing a more animated pose in an elaborate forest scene, but this was supposed to look similar to my other whimsical wildlife portraits, so it’s the head and shoulders image where the expression and detail take center stage. While it’s nice to stretch boundaries and try new things, art for a living means you often have to paint commercial pieces as well.

Gathering the reference for this was a fun effort. I used a couple of dozen images with different subject matter. A few actors’ expressions and features were used as inspiration, including Ron Perlman, Kurt Russell, Vincent D’Onofrio and one stock photo of a random older man with a funny expression. I didn’t want any suggestion of the actual likeness of any of these people, however, so I just used their images for reference for eye wrinkles, skull structure, teeth and lips, and then exaggerated them all how I saw fit.

For animal reference, I used gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and grizzly bears, taking inspiration from each to create the facial structure,textures and hair.

And finally, I was well aware that the most famous Bigfoot characters in media are from Harry and the Hendersons , the Jack Link’s Sasquatch and even Chewbacca from Star Wars. I made conscious choices to deviate from their anatomy as much as I could so that I couldn’t be accused of copying those designs.

For example, both Harry and the Jack Link’s Sasquatch have prominent conical foreheads with dramatic receding hairlines. I deliberately structured the anatomy of mine to avoid that. What resulted was a bit of a salon hairstyle in my painting, but I think that just makes it funnier.

I also chose to paint in prominent white eyebrows, a higher cuter nose and frankly, impossible depth around the lower jaw. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the result and it contributed a little more to my growth as an artist. Whether it will be a popular image, remains to be seen.

Here’s hoping the real Bigfoot isn’t an art critic.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Sonora

This past weekend, I finished another memorial commission for a little dog named Sonora. She passed away at the end of May this year.
Not the first time I’ve been commissioned by Donna, a freelance photographer in Connecticut. You can check out her work here. I painted her horse Mocha five years ago in my more whimsical style. It’s one of my favorite commission pieces and I’d love to paint more horses. She also made some horse reference available to me and I painted another of her horses, but not as detailed.
Donna was on vacation in Texas thirteen years ago and found this little pup at a rest stop in Sonora, nearly lifeless. She was only 4 or 5 weeks old. They couldn’t leave her and were going to find a rescue organization to take her.

Not hard to guess what actually happened, as often does in these cases. Sonora had already found her home.
When Donna commissioned me to paint her, she was having a hard time finding reference of her without the cataracts Sonora had developed in her senior years, but she wanted me to try and paint her with more youthful eyes. I agreed with her and we’re both pleased with the result. My goal is not to just recreate what I see in the reference, but to find the personality in these paintings, even when I’m not painting them with a caricature look like my whimsical wildlife paintings.
This painting will go to print soon, but it isn’t yet known on what surface. I had suggested the new acrylic print, but Donna said it doesn’t really go with her house, which is an important consideration when choosing the type of print. With plenty of options available, I’m sure we’ll come up with something that will be appropriate for Sonora’s portrait.

It’s always a privilege to be trusted with one of these memorial paintings, knowing that this will be part of how somebody remembers their furry family member for years to come.

Thanks for reading,
Patrick

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A Portrait of Alan Doyle

Whenever I’m having a hard time finding my footing, when the dark stuff settles in, painting a portrait can often be a refuge.

I consider the daily editorial cartoons to be my day job, but in recent years, the whimsical wildlife portraits have become that as well, which is a little sad since I never wanted those to feel like work. While it’s great that people like my painted animals, that the prints sell well in zoos and galleries and I’m finding licensing opportunities, that part of my work used to be the escape. Now, not so much.

I’ve been quite candid recently revealing that I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety, a direct consequence of years living with OCD. While people most often associate that with germophobia and checking things, 95% of my particular version is not visible to other people. While I’ve no intention of going down that road in great depth in this post, I’ll just say that these past few weeks have been the most difficult of my life. It is my nature to want this fixed NOW so that I can move on and get back to normal, whatever that is. Apparently it doesn’t work that way and I must be patient. This will be a long road back and I have to stop thinking of it as a destination and simply as something I need to learn to live with.

While I’m not anywhere near there at present, I am moving in the right direction. I’ve found a therapist who understands OCD better than any I’ve spoken to before, and while I haven’t ruled it out, we’ve agreed that medication is a last resort for me and doesn’t look to be necessary at this time as other tools are producing results.

This experience, however, has granted me some much needed perspective. I’ve been working too hard when I haven’t had to. I’ve made it all about becoming more successful and producing more work at the expense of having a life. While I’ve had wake-up calls before, this has been more profound and frightening than any that have come before.

Artists. We’re such drama queens.

In hindsight, it seems I look to portraits of people as island escapes when the seas get too rough. I was in a similar frame of mind when I painted Martin Sheen a few years ago.

I’ve wanted to paint Alan Doyle for a year or two, but just kept putting it off for the work and the deadlines. With workmen currently in the house installing new floors, my office taking up part of the kitchen and not being able to count on any routine right now, this painting was a necessary diversion.

My buddy Darrel and I went to see Doyle play in Calgary a few years ago when he was touring with his first solo album, ‘Boy on Bridge.’ It was a real treat because the tour was playing small venues across Canada and we ended up at a front row table at the Ironwood Stage and Grill in Inglewood. Had we wanted to, we could have put our feet up on the floor level stage.

It was the type of venue where you’d expect to see up and comers before they’re well known. Had Doyle been touring with his band, Great Big Sea, the venue would have been much larger and when he came through Calgary again with his second solo album ‘So Let’s Go,’ he moved up to the Jubilee Auditorium.

I’ve long been a fan of Great Big Sea, but to be honest, I like Doyle’s solo albums better and hope they’re just the first of many. He’s playing with some great musicians and that experience at the Ironwood felt like a special opportunity, reminding me of the days when Darrel and I used to hang out at pubs in Red Deer more than twenty-five years ago, listening to live music.

It occurs to me that perhaps I might paint some more Canadians this year, musicians, actors or average folks like me. Maybe I’ll call it a Canada 150 project, purely to find some joy in painting again, and an escape from the work. I won’t be taking requests or entertaining suggestions, nor will I be putting it on a schedule or trying to get a certain number completed. That’s what got me into trouble in the first place.

I could have spent many more hours nitpicking this one, but I deliberately stopped myself before it became an exercise in frustration. It’ll never be perfect, so why bother trying?

I listened to Doyle’s albums and some Great Big Sea while painting this. Here’s a favorite, ‘My Day’ and the video from where I got the reference for this painting.

And if you get a chance to see him live, don’t pass it up.

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John C. McGinley – A Portrait

mcginleyfinalIf somebody had asked me a few months ago what I remembered about the television show ‘Scrubs,’ I would have likely said that it was good, a funny show. I was a regular watcher during its initial run and had fond, albeit non-specific memories of it.

In recent months, I have rediscovered the show on Netflix. As each episode is just over twenty minutes, it’s something I’ve been able to watch while having breakfast or lunch, and I found myself enjoying it even more the second time around. I’d forgotten how much heart it had. It could take you from laughing out loud at over-the-top ridiculous story lines to breaking your heart in the final two or three minutes.

The story arc featuring Brendan Fraser as a guest star just killed me, as one example. Another wonderful rediscovery was the music. I bought a few albums in the last couple of months, just because I heard songs on that show that I’d forgotten; Jeremy Kay, Colin Hay and Fountains of Wayne, if you’re curious.

One of the characters I most identified with was Dr. Perry Cox, played by the incredibly talented (and underrated) actor, John C. McGinley. His portrayal of the character could make you hate and love him in the same episode. Without a detailed dissection, I’ll just say that Cox was damaged, protecting himself by putting up walls and keeping everybody at a distance. But every so often, you’d get a look inside at a caring individual who just wanted to make a difference, despite knowing he was fighting a losing battle.

No more was that evident than in the 5th season episode, “My Lunch.”

McGinley’s performance in that episode was profound. Without shame, I’ll admit that it moved me to tears. Not just a single tear down the cheek, but hitching my breath crying. I bought it completely and was at a bit of a low point in my own life at the time. It was cathartic.

I just felt the urge to paint that moment, the moment Cox shattered. When he finally reaches his broken and beaten mentor in the following episode, J.D. tells Cox how proud he is of him that “after twenty years of being a doctor, when things go badly, you still take it this hard.”

While I’m not a doctor, I get that, for so many reasons. It hit me deep. That’s what happens when you combine exceptional creators, writers, and performers, all delivering at the top of their game. Magic.

I worked on this in between the deadlines, so it was painted here and there when I had time. When it wasn’t working, when I didn’t feel it, I went back and watched that scene again and it refilled the tank, reminding me why I’d started it in the first place. I just watched it again before writing this and as I do, the painting is still not done. But it’s close. I could nitpick it for another week, I’m sure, and while it’s not as polished as other portraits I’ve done, that’s probably a good thing. It’s time to let it go.

Just as with every other portrait of a person that I’ve painted, this was a personal project. No deadline, no pressure, not something I’ll have to sell. I painted it for me, and it was well worth my time. I hope others like it, but if not, that’s OK, because I improved my own skills, took a break from the paying gigs, enjoyed myself and am now ready to move on to something else.

And I’m feeling pretty good.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Death Cartoons and David Bowie

BowieAs an editorial cartoonist, one of the topics I loathe is death cartoons.

I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but it all comes to mind again today with the death of David Bowie. You want the brutal truth, here it is. When somebody dies and I hear about it in the news, I weigh the depth of their publicity and decide whether or not I have to do a death cartoon, which for me, is often a memorial, more painterly than my other cartoon work. I’ll often include a quote, their name, and the birth/death dates.

Many cartoonists will draw the pearly gates, where there is a humorous or heartfelt exchange between St. Peter and the recently deceased. I loathe that concept and have never drawn a ‘pearly gates’ cartoon, at least as far as I can remember. For one, I’m an atheist, but otherwise, it’s just an overused vehicle that grates on my nerves.

That last statement makes me a hypocrite, by the way. I have recycled plenty of overused vehicles in my time as an editorial cartoonist, just not that one.

It seems incredibly callous that I must end up passing judgment on somebody’s life, whether their death is worth my effort. Does this person’s passing warrant the expense of my time and energy and will newspapers want to publish it? I have to ask myself that question. Then I must answer it.

Politicians, it comes down to their impact on society, the level of their station and historical significance. Celebrities, it’s whether or not they were beloved or famous enough. Religious leaders, artists, social activists, anybody who has contributed to our culture in some way or another merits weighing them on the decision scale.

Yes, it feels as dirty as it sounds. Sadly, it’s part of the job. In the case of Robin Williams, I deliberately chose not to draw a cartoon, even though he warranted one. It just hit me at a very low point in my own life and I didn’t feel like digging a deeper hole.

I woke this morning at my usual time of 5AM. I live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I have newspapers in the east so I need to get an early start every day, especially on Mondays. As I’ve done this for years, I even get up that early on weekends, because it turns out I’m a morning person and that’s when I do my best work.

My routine is to go into my office, turn on the computer and go downstairs to start the coffee. I come back up, check my email, scan the news headlines and hop into the shower. If there’s a breaking story, I’m thinking about cartoons.

The first email this morning was a CBC news alert about the death of David Bowie.

“Shit.”

Yeah, that sucks. 69 is not old anymore and cancer, well… shit. David Bowie. What a shame.

No doubt I had to do a cartoon and even though it was unlikely to happen, I had to try to be original, which is a tall order at the best of times, but especially when doing a memorial cartoon. I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t using a quote, because that guy was a poet and everybody else would be quoting his lyrics or something profound that he said. Many would be using the same ones.

I showered quickly, got dressed, grabbed a coffee and starting looking for reference and ideas. The only thing I could think of was to do a portrait but it would have to be quick. I’m an obsessive nitpicker when I paint and I invest a lot of time in that work. But on a Monday morning when all of my papers are expecting cartoons before 10 and everybody and their dog is posting memes and my competitors will be doing the same thing I’m doing…yeah, I had to be fast.

I found a few reference pics, figured out what I was going to do, put down the broad strokes, got the features in the right place and then just painted, with upbeat music playing in the headphones to help me keep the necessary pace. The choices were made on the fly. Originally it was going to be Bowie when he was young, then as Ziggy Stardust, even as The Goblin King from Labrynth, then finally just a portrait of him as an older man, trying to capture his personality.

I used my own digital texture brushes, layer upon layer upon layer, threw down darks and lights, and just kept piling it on. Eventually, getting to a point where it was coming together quickly, after only about an hour and a half of painting. Finally, I wanted to add in some different colour and almost did the full Ziggy lightning bolt on his face, but opted for more of a suggestion of that persona, faded like an old tattoo, a remnant of his past but still a big part of who he is and what he’ll be remembered for.

The final piece ended up taking only a couple of hours, and yet still stretched my skills, that element of haste forcing me to cut corners, paint more loosely, and sacrifice the detail I normally enjoy and am known for in my painted work. I even abandoned my usual practice of using typed text, having to choose an appropriate font and instead just scrawled in the name and dates. It just seemed to work.

This piece ended up being a happy accident, brought about by the sad passing of a true visionary. I didn’t just have to do a death cartoon, I realized that I wanted to, a small tribute among so many today, paying respect to an artist whose impact on music and culture can’t be overstated. Few of us can claim that we have lived our lives so well.

I’ve drawn a lot of death cartoons and when I finish one, I usually feel a sense of relief, that it’s over and I can move on to something else, despite the fact that the responses are usually very positive.

With this one, however, I feel I’ve learned something, and become a better artist as a result.

This piece made an impression on me.

Just like David Bowie.

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