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Will the real whimsical wildlife painter please stand up?

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

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

Today’s word is irony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You pick the hill you want to die on.

Which brings me to last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid is as stupid does.

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

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

She declined to pick them up.

You don’t say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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Expo Over and Out

I returned home from The Calgary Expo around 8:30 pm on Sunday, in good spirits but very tired. Shonna spent most of the day with me at the show, and it was fun to have her there. Even though she volunteered to help me tear down, I sent her home an hour before closing so she could beat the traffic.

With an established routine, I prefer to tear down alone and had the booth disassembled and loaded into the car in two hours. Shonna had homemade pizza waiting for me when I got home. She’s so sweet.

The week after Expo is almost as busy as the week before, unloading the car and stowing the booth hardware, taking post-show inventory, updating spreadsheets and paperwork, adding new subscribers to A Wilder View, and bookkeeping.

Add in the usual daily editorial cartoons, month-end invoicing and catching up on client emails, and it doesn’t slow down a little until midweek. And I still need to email those who inquired about pet portrait commissions.

People often joke that art-for-a-living isn’t work. I usually reply to those crass comments, “You’re absolutely right. I just draw and colour all day, and people throw money at me.”
From early prep to tear down, Expo went so smoothly that I kept waiting for something bad to happen. My booth location was ideal, my neighbours were friendly, and all the vendors I spoke with seemed to have a good show.

Even the weather was good. It was a little windy and cold a couple of mornings, but walking back and forth to the hotel each day was comfortable. Considering it’s been snowing a few days this week, last week is nothing to complain about.

Though last year saw the best sales I’ve had at this show, this year was a very close second. Considering the current economy, I’m very pleased.

With the BMO Centre renovations and expansion nearing completion, the 2025 Expo will see everything together in a brand-new state-of-the-art convention centre next door rather than spread out over several halls and two buildings. It should be an exciting year.
I always come away from this show inspired to draw and paint, with an overwhelming gratitude for those who allow me to keep doing it. Like most artists, I’m an introvert who spends most of my time alone with my work, so when I meet people who enjoy it, it refills the creative tank.
During the first two hours on Thursday, I saw many regulars flood my booth. It was chaos, it was bedlam, it was awesome. The only downside was that these were all people I wanted to spend extra time with, but they all showed up at once. I had the best Thursday sales I’ve ever had, and most of those were from longtime collectors and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Paintings, Products and Prints

Postcard sets had a slow start on Thursday, but I figured out by Friday how to display them better and talk about them more. Stuff doesn’t sell itself; you must engage with people and let them know what’s available, especially if it’s something new. Magnets, stickers, and coasters continue to be popular items.
As I’ve written before, Expo is a proving ground for determining which paintings make for popular prints. While all the new paintings were well received, Highland Cow, Raven on White and Spa Day were top sellers.

Because of early feedback, I brought a lot of the Highland Cow with me, but I still sold out by Saturday morning. I have never sold that many of one print at any show. Who knew?

Process

The best part of this show is talking with people who collect my work, many of whom I now consider friends. Their feedback gives me plenty to think about, especially when it comes to what I share in A Wilder View.
One collector and friend told me that he likes my Long Neck Buds giraffes piece because I shared the different stages of the painting from start to finish. He said it made him feel part of the process. I only did that because the image was so involved and took longer than most paintings, and I still wanted to send out regular emails.

When I asked some other longtime Expo subscribers for their take on it, everyone agreed.
I had thought half-finished work might be boring, and the perfectionist part of me is reluctant to share the unpolished stages of work in progress. But from now on, you’ll see a lot more of my painting process.

Thanks again for that feedback, Sheldon.

Puzzles

With only two Sea Turtle puzzles in stock, I left them off the Expo price list and didn’t put them out because it might look a little sad. But I brought them along just in case.

When two people asked about puzzles, they liked and bought them. I’m now sold out and pleased with that whole venture. Thanks again to all who pre-ordered and bought the first round of puzzles last year and everyone who bought them online, at the Banff Christmas Markets and Calgary Expos.
I’m working on five different paintings right now, a few that feature multiple animals in the scene, and I aim to include those on future puzzles later this summer, 1000-piece options many of you have been asking for.

What’s Next?

With Expo behind me, I’m focusing on paintings in progress, future pieces on the horizon and ongoing projects. Once this round of spring snow ends, I’ll deliver a large print and sticker order to Discovery Wildlife Park as they open for the season this week.

I hope to deliver another print and sticker order to the Calgary Zoo soon, allowing me to take some spring reference photos for future paintings. I didn’t visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale last year. I plan to make up for that later this month as I take a trip south to see some eagles, owls, and hawks at their newly renovated and improved facility.

And, of course, I will kick myself in the hindquarters to replace talking about the book with working on the book…dammit. Some of my collectors don’t have any wall space left! They’ve waited long enough.

Whether you added to your collection this year at Expo or just visited me for a chat, thanks for being there. You remind me that my happy-looking critters matter to so many of you, which means more to me than you know.

Until next time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Stocking Stuffer Sticker Sale!

For a limited time, I’m offering two four-packs of my high-quality vinyl stickers. Each sticker measures approximately 4”x5”, and is water resistant, which means you can put them on a water bottle, coffee mug, or vehicle. These popular stickers usually retail for $7.99 each, but in each of these packs, you get FOUR STICKERS for $19.99, which includes FREE SHIPPING in Canada.

In the Brown Bear 4-pack, you’ll find Waving Bear, Kodiak Cub, Happy Baby and Grizzly on Grass. Click here
The Variety 4-pack includes Bear Hug, Wolf, Sasquatch and my brand new T-Rex sticker. Click here
This offer is only good until the end of Sunday, December 10th, or while supplies last. All orders will be mailed Monday morning, December 11th. Check out all of the available stickers in the store.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Diamond Art Club New Releases

When Diamond Art Club approached me a couple of years ago to license my work, I only had a passing acquaintance with diamond art kits. I soon realized, however, that they were the leading company in the world for this exciting and popular creative hobby that’s similar to cross-stitch or paint by numbers.

They’ve previously released my Otter, Smiling Tiger and T-Rex paintings as diamond art kits, and all three sold out quickly upon launch. As these are intricate kits and each requires manufacture, assembly and transport before they’re available to purchase, it takes time to restock them. But over the last year, they’ve done so more than once and they’ve sold out again. As I write this , the Otter is currently available. You can sign up for an email notification on their site when the Smiling Tiger and T-Rex are back in stock.

I’ve heard from several Diamond Art Club customers who’ve told me how much they enjoyed putting the kits together and they’ve asked when more of my work will be available.

As with many licenses, I often know months before launch that a new design is on the horizon. It’s an exercise in patience, because I can’t talk about it until Diamond Art Club makes an official announcement.

I was thrilled to get an email this week from their Licensing Director letting me know I can post that two new paintings are launching for Black Friday. They’re releasing a lot of art this week on their social media pages, so while I don’t know when the second announcement is coming, and can’t spoil their surprise, the first has been revealed.

From their Instagram page…

The Countdown is on! You’ve been eagerly awaiting the scoop, and the wait is finally over—Black Friday is going to be epic with 100 DISCOUNTED NEW DESIGNS just for you!

Circle the date: November 24th, 7:00 am PT | 10:00 am ET.

Diamond Members, you’ve got the VIP pass! Early Access kicks off November 23rd at 9:00 pm PT | 12:00 am ET. Sorry, Ruby Members, this one’s just for the Diamonds.

See your way through a wintry storm with clear blue vision and an inner sense of strength. A thick, shimmering coat of fur notices every twitch in the wind and keeps you warm no matter the temperature.
“Snow Queen” by Patrick LaMontagne available in 19.5″ x 25.8″ (49.6cm x 65.5cm) | Square with 28 Colors including 2 ABs and 1 Fairy Dust Diamond

Also available in 22″ x 29″ (55.8cm x 73.7cm) | Round with 28 Colors including 2 ABs and 1 Fairy Dust Diamond

Keep your eyes on Facebook and Instagram! Every hour from 8 am to 5 pm PT, we’ll unveil a different sneak peek on each platform.

When it’s go-time, head over to www.diamondartclub.com. These beauties are ready to fly into your cart—catch them before they vanish!

Both of this week’s launches are two of my personal favourite paintings, and already bestsellers. If you want to find out more about their Diamond Insider Rewards program, click here.

For my second image they’re releasing this week, you’ll need to follow Diamond Art Club on Facebook and Instagram.

Cheers,
Patrick

EDIT: Here’s the second one, released a couple of days after this initial post.

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The Banff Christmas Market – Part 1

Trade shows and gift markets share similarities, but each is unique. Many vendors travel from one to the next each season. They know each other as coworkers and are on familiar terms with the organizers in different towns and venues. I always learn a lot from talking with these more experienced vendors, and I haven’t met one yet who wasn’t willing to share helpful information.

Because of my daily editorial cartoon deadlines, I can’t be away all the time going from market to market selling my prints, stickers and other licensed products. That’s not an issue for me, as I don’t want a life on the road.

I’m content working at home alone, getting up early each day, drawing cartoons, painting my whimsical wildlife, and doing all the other stuff that supports my self-employed artist lifestyle. But the occasional market weekend is good for me and my business.

As I wrote recently, I applied for the Banff Christmas Market at Warner Stables and was accepted for two of the three weekends. The first was this past weekend; I’ve got another December 1-3. Not having the middle weekend meant tearing everything down Sunday evening so I can set it all up again in two weeks, but it’s good experience and an opportunity to tweak my setup. I’m putting a positive spin on it, dammit!

Without boring you with a play-by-play, this first weekend was a good market. The event is well organized, I was happy with my booth placement, and it’s a venue with a lot of warm seasonal character. Of the several tents and buildings with vendors, mine was in Evergreen Hall, which is normally a horse barn/stable, so my own lighting was a necessity. Thankfully, I now have a good mix of lights and was able to feature my work well, though I had to add an upright LED lamp to shine on my print flip bins. It was effective.
You’ll have to forgive the blown-out sections of these photos where my phone camera overcompensated for the low light/spotlights.

Though a strong Chinook wind blew through the valley all four days, the weather was ideal for this time of year. I don’t miss living in Banff as Canmore is better suited to our lifestyle, but I enjoyed the old neighbourhood scenery for a few days.

The vendors around me were friendly and fun to talk with, and since my booth for the next weekend is right beside the one I just vacated, I look forward to seeing these folks again soon.

The crowd was a good mix of tourists and locals alike, and it was fun introducing them to my funny-looking animals. Quite a few subscribed to A Wilder View, and several others told me they already follow my work and like getting my emails.

Several people recognized the art from other places, having either seen or purchased it from The Calgary Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, Stonewaters, Art Country Canada and Branches Marketplace. Others have bought my licensed products elsewhere.

One of the things I love about this valley is how friendly and accommodating it is to dogs. I’m a sucker for a four-legged fuzzy face, and many brought their furry family members with them. I was happy to meet them all, including this wide-eyed pup.
Of course, my whole reason for attending the market was to sell my work, and sales were very good. Over three days, more than 7000 people came through the venue. Though it came and went in waves, it was a steady stream of people, likely because they admit 100 an hour via timed ticket sales. Once you’re in, however, you can stay as long as you like.

Every event has hiccups, but the organizers were friendly and approachable and handled any minor issues I encountered or heard about well. I’ll apply for this event again next year and hope to get all three weekends.

For now, I’ve counted and reorganized my stock and hardware, ready to set up again next Thursday for the third and final weekend of the market. I sold out of a couple of prints and one coaster design, but I still have plenty of stock and a large variety of available images. I know Saturday sold out quickly for this past weekend, so if you plan to attend, get your tickets early.

I hope to see you there.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Banff Christmas Market

This will be my first year as a vendor at the Banff Christmas Market at the Warner Stables, and I’m busy getting everything ready. Shonna and I checked out this event last year, and it quickly became clear it would be a good fit for me and my whimsical wildlife.

When they opened applications in February, I applied for all three weekends. It’s a popular market, and they’re selective, but I’ve been living in this valley for nearly 30 years, over 20 as a cartoonist and whimsical wildlife painter, so I didn’t have to sell the local artist angle. However, that only gets me so far, as this area is filled with skilled and talented creative types.

With only one building offering power for lighting, it limited my placement options. For these reasons, I tempered my expectations but was delighted to be accepted for the first and third weekends. It means tearing my booth down after the first weekend and setting up again two weeks later, but I’m happy to pay my dues this first year and hope for all three weekends next year.
So even though the market is three weekends, the dates you see above, I won’t be there for the middle one.

I keep extensive inventory and sales records for each event, which helps me order for the next time. I did several Mountain Made Markets in Canmore for the past couple of years, which were worth it. Unfortunately, this year, the Town of Canmore limited the indoor space for vendors to the point that it seemed like an afterthought to the outdoor portion of the markets.

As I’ve mentioned before, my commitments to daily editorial cartooning and other work make it not worth investing in a tent and materials for the limited number of outdoor markets I can consider. I would have loved to be a part of an upcoming Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Rec Centre, but it conflicts with one of the Banff Christmas Market weekends.

So far this year, the only show I’ve done has been the Calgary Expo in April. As this upcoming event is new to me, I don’t know what to expect for sales, so I must play the speculation game. I’ve ordered what I think I’ll need, hoping I don’t run out while trying to avoid ordering too much, as the next opportunity to sell the stock won’t be until the Calgary Expo in April. Incidentally, early bird pricing for next year’s Expo is available until November 9th. You can buy those tickets here.

Banff and Canmore are different towns but part of the same Bow Valley community. With just a twenty-minute drive between them, many people live in one town and work in the other, and some city commutes are much longer than that.

It’ll be nice to come home each night rather than stay in a hotel, as I do for the Expo. It also means I can replenish my stock each day rather than stuff a whole three-day weekend’s worth of product into my booth at the beginning. They also have a setup day on Thursday, so there is no early morning time crunch for setup on the first day, and I can take extra time to nitpick the details.

The show has a rustic and cozy Christmas feel, with over 100 vendors. On both weekends, my booth will be in the main stable, Evergreen Hall. They also have the North Pole Pavilion and Candy Cane Lane vendor tents. There are photos with Santa, pony rides, live music, and some outdoor vendors.

You can even enjoy a fireside holiday drink at the Fire Lounge and bar. While it’s hard to find a bad view in Banff, the scenery surrounding Warner Stables is stunning, so here’s hoping for clear skies and pleasant weather.

My assigned space is a little smaller than Expo but larger than what I’ve had at the Canmore Markets. I’ve mapped out my booth setup in advance, but surprises always require on-site adjustments. I’m in a different space for the two weekends, which means some minor layout alterations but nothing complicated. I’m pleased with where they put me for both weekends.

Like Expo, this is a paid admission show, so if you plan on checking it out, you’ll have to buy tickets online in advance and choose an arrival time slot. They admit 100 guests every 20 minutes. Once you’re there, you can stay until closing, of course, but staggering the arrival times helps ensure it doesn’t get overcrowded and maintains a comfortable feel.
I’m looking forward to introducing my work to a new audience, especially since it’s been months since my last event. I’ll have my usual variety of products, including stickers, magnets, coasters, puzzles, and calendars, along with poster, canvas, and metal prints in various sizes, provided everything I’ve ordered arrives on time. Fingers crossed.

For more information, scheduling, and to buy tickets, check out the Banff Christmas Market website. I’ll be there next week from opening on Friday, November 17th to Sunday, November 19th, and again two weeks later from Friday, December 1st to Sunday, December 3rd.

Hope to see you there!

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A Long Line of Local Cartoons

I’ve been a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for more than two decades, and my work appears in daily and weekly newspapers across Canada.  But longer than that, I’ve also been the local cartoonist for the Rocky Mountain Outlook since it first launched in 2001. The Outlook is the weekly community newspaper for Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore, Exshaw, the MD of Bighorn and Stoney Nakoda.

So, in addition to the five or six syndicated cartoons I send to several publications each week, I draw one local cartoon.

I’m unable to enter the National Newspaper Awards because I don’t work for a daily newspaper, and therefore can’t be sponsored by one. In an age where very few newspapers have their own cartoonist, it’s a rule that doesn’t make much sense anymore, if it ever did. But, each year, the Outlook submits my cartoons to the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. My work recently won First and Third place in the Local Cartoon category in the Outlook’s publication class. In order, here are those cartoons.

While having coffee with my editor last week, he pointed out something I hadn’t considered. The accountant, Donna, had been there since day one but retired earlier this year. One of the reporters, Cathy Ellis, has also been there since the very beginning, but she once took a year off.

I’m in no way responsible for assembling the Outlook each week. I don’t put in the long investigative journalism hours that make it a consistent award-winning community newspaper. I don’t sell the ads or design the layout. I don’t do any of the back-end that keeps it going in an increasingly challenging industry. I only spend a few hours each week drawing one cartoon for the editorial page.

And yet, it appears that I’m the only person who has been a part of every issue of the Rocky Mountain Outlook for the past 22 years, having never missed a week. While my name and work might be familiar to many locals, most don’t know who I am.

Wait, am I the phantom of the Outlook? Damn, that could have been a good cartoon for the 20th anniversary, too. But here’s the one I drew for that a couple of years ago. The signature comment refers to one of the founders and first editor of the Outlook, without whom I might never have become a full-time artist. She encouraged me to self-syndicate at a time when I didn’t even know what that meant.

I enjoy the Outlook cartoon because it’s almost always about local issues, which often means you must live here to understand them.

A former Canmore mayor once joked he was disappointed I hadn’t drawn a cartoon of him. I told him that was probably a good thing, but if it had been that important to him, he should have embezzled some money or participated in some other scandal. On the other side of that, a reporter once told me that a former Banff mayor was thoroughly irritated when I drew a caricature of him in a cartoon. So, be careful what you wish for.

I’ve drawn more than a few controversial cartoons over the years, more than one prompting angry calls or emails to my editor or publisher. But contrary to what many think, the cartoon spot is not my private domain, and I can’t draw whatever I want. No cartoon appears on the page without my editor’s approval.

Each week, usually on a Monday, I email or call and ask what they’re working on. The Outlook publishes on Thursdays, so I’ve got to have my contribution in by Wednesday morning at the latest.


Ideally, the cartoon goes with the editorial beneath it, but when that doesn’t work, it often comments on a prominent story in that issue. Sometimes, it’s general or seasonal, on holidays like Halloween or Christmas, or a recurring reminder about bear and elk safety in the spring and fall. Annual local events like Melissa’s Road Race in Banff or the Canmore Folk Fest are always good topics.

This week, my editor is on vacation, so the interim editor told me the editorial would be about the large number of Canadian Community Newspaper Awards and Alberta Weekly Newspaper Awards the Outlook won recently. My initial response was that I couldn’t very well draw a cartoon about awards I won. Talk about self-serving.

But on reconsideration, I decided to have fun with it, and took a shot at myself. And I’ll find any excuse to draw a bear. Here’s this week’s Rocky Mountain Outlook cartoon.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Another Calgary Expo

If you’ve followed my work for a long time (hey, thank you!), you’ll know how much I look forward to the Calgary Expo each year. This year, it’s happening from April 27th to 30th. With the Wednesday setup day, that’s a five day event for me.

Like everything else, the pandemic knocked the event on its ass, but they’ve recovered well. Last year’s Expo had some hiccups, but once it got started, I had a great time. People were thrilled to be out and about again.

It was also my best year of sales, which certainly didn’t hurt.

I received my booth assignment last week. For my eighth year as a Calgary Expo vendor, I’ll be in Hall C, Booth 522. While still in the Retail section, it’ll be my first year outside of the main hall.

In my first few years, I had a Small Press table. That’s when Artist Alley and retailers were all in the same area. But the show kept getting bigger. So they eventually eliminated Small Press and moved Artist Alley to a different building. That year, I upgraded to a full-size booth to remain in the Retail section.

People have often asked me why I’m not in Artist Alley. It’s a section at most Comic-Cons where new artists can afford to book a table at a big event to sell their prints and other items. But that section hosts many established artists and comic art guests, too.

Despite the higher cost, I stayed in the retail section for several reasons.

First, I wanted lights in my booth; power was not an option in Artist Alley. I don’t know if that has changed, but you can’t rely on any venue to have consistent and bright overhead lighting. I put a lot of work into my art’s detail, colour and printing, and I want direct lighting to showcase that. Power is an added fee, but well worth it.

The second reason I wanted to stay in the retail section was that the booth space and aisles are bigger. Artist Alley is packed tight with vendor tables, not booths. I like having an open area in my booth where people can step out of the crowded aisles. They can look at the art, flip through the prints, and ask questions without being bumped and jostled.
I redesigned my booth last year and it worked so well for me, that I’m making no changes, except that I have invested in new lighting this year. As there was a pillar behind me, rather than another booth, I was able to expand a couple of feet. But I’ve got vendors right up against me on both sides this year, so I’ll have to stick to my 10’x10’ footprint.

I was initially disappointed that I’m not in the main hall this year, but to be fair, I don’t yet know if it matters. I booked a single corner booth and with this year’s new layout, it seems the main room only has six available. Every other corner is either a double or quadruple booth. It does say on the rebooking application that Single corner booths are not guaranteed.

Last year, there were noticeable gaps where more retail booths could have fit. This year, there are more retailers in the main hall, many with double booths.

Hall C was an open area Community and Family zone in 2022. This year, the same area houses 73 new retail booths, including mine.

It’s a much bigger show.

If I weren’t selling my artwork there, I’d still attend the Calgary Expo because it’s a lot of fun. People from all walks of life can be themselves in this festival atmosphere. Families attend this event together, and I honestly don’t know who enjoys it more, the adults or the kids.

Aside from the much smaller version I attended in 2021, it’s been ten years since I’ve been able to walk the show or enjoy the events, talks, and displays. I might get a half hour each day before the show opens to quickly wander the booths, but it’s not enough. I didn’t even make it to the Big Four building last year to check out Artist Alley.

So, when I got my booth assignment, I emailed people I know who come to the Expo every year and are more familiar with the different areas. These two couples are among my favourite supporters and collectors, the people I love seeing each year at this event. They’ve also become friends and generously stop by the booth several times to chat and watch my booth if I need a quick bathroom break.

I asked them what they thought of my new location. Both replied that the Main Stage in that hall is busy all day with panels and talks, and there’s likely to be plenty of regular traffic with the new addition of so many booths.

I went into last year’s event with low expectations. With the pandemic winding down but still active, I didn’t know if people would even attend a crowded indoor venue. But they did, some in masks, most without, though I know several people who tested positive for COVID immediately after Expo.

I had considered emailing the organizers asking for a booth in the main hall should anybody cancel, but I decided not to give in to fear. The bottom line is that I have no idea if it will be better or worse than my previous spots. It might be a prime location. Each year, I’m fortunate to know more people familiar with my work. Rather than rely on their stumbling across my booth, they actively seek me out. So I can always count on seeing my regular customers.

As for the prep, this has been my easiest year. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of sales records from each event. I know which prints, magnets, coasters, and stickers sell best and how many I need to order each year. Of course, I bring extra in case I have an exceptional year, and any new prints are always a gamble as I don’t yet know which will be popular. The Calgary Expo is a great proving ground for the latest paintings.

Everything I’ve ordered has arrived, and I’ve been busy signing and packaging prints, but I have a lot of experience with this show, so it’s low-stress this year.

Many of my subscribers are Expo veterans, and I look forward to seeing you all again. Even if you don’t add to your collections this year, please stop by and say Hello. You’re the main reason I enjoy this show.

I’ll have another update soon, including a feature on the brand-new prints I’m launching at this year’s Expo.

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License and Destination

When I started drawing editorial cartoons in the late 90s, I drew one a week for the Banff Crag & Canyon. A little later, I tried to expand my horizons with illustrations, caricatures and other creative work. The publisher, however, figured that $30/week bought the newspaper an editorial cartoon and the right to control work I did for anyone else.

In 2001, I removed those shackles and joined a new publication launching in Canmore, and I’ve been drawing cartoons for the Rocky Mountain Outlook ever since.

In stark contrast, my new editor encouraged me to draw more cartoons and self-syndicate. At the time, many Canadian dailies had a staff cartoonist, and I wondered if one of those gigs might be in my future.

Those daily papers often had open freelance spots a couple of days a week, and I was happy to get those whenever I could, hoping a foot in the door might help me later should an in-house cartoonist retire.

A very nice former editor of the Calgary Herald, who helped me whenever he could, told me their staff cartoonist thought I was trying to steal his job because somebody had tried it before. I’m not that ruthless, but I soon learned the newspaper business and editorial cartooning profession was adversarial, paranoid, and often nasty.

As Canada’s daily newspapers were bought and sold repeatedly by larger companies, the old-guard cartoonists were laid off or forced to retire, and their positions eliminated. Today, only a handful of cartoonists are attached to daily newspapers, and their days are numbered.

I have always been a self-syndicated freelancer, keeping me working and paying the bills while many salaried cartoonists were shown the door. And since most of them never had to learn to be self-employed, that job loss ended their careers. So I am grateful I never got a staff job.

Years later, it’s no secret the newspaper industry has not recovered. While several community weeklies are still doing well, including the Rocky Mountain Outlook and many other clients, daily newspapers are struggling. I’d need a second job if I had to rely solely on my editorial cartoon revenue today.

But editorial cartooning allowed me to quit my office job in 2005 and become a full-time artist. I explored opportunities, tried new things, and improved my art and business skills while the freelance cartoons paid the bills. I increased my cartoon revenue year after year, and it didn’t seem like it would ever decline, though all industry signs pointed that way.

Though editorial cartooning was going well, I prepared for when it disappears. I tried Flash animation, but I didn’t like the work and couldn’t make it pay. I painted caricatures of people for hire. People liked the art but wanted it cheap, and I couldn’t justify the hours. I took online art courses to become a better painter and learned valuable techniques I still use today.

In 2009, I painted a grizzly bear which led me to the work I enjoy most and launched the next phase of my career.

Becoming a good artist is the easy part. Learn from other artists, create art daily, and repeat for many years.

The hard part is learning the business. There are as many roadmaps to success as there are artists trying to do it. What worked for one won’t work for another because everybody wants something different from the deal. It’s not just about making money but finding the work you love and people to pay you for it. You must love it enough to give up mornings, evenings and weekends to devote to the work and the business. When stuff inevitably gets hard, the only thing that will keep you going is loving the work.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in this business of art. Customers, editors and licensees have screwed me over. I’ve lost time and money from bad decisions made from poor preparation. I’ve followed bad advice and put trust in the wrong people.

I’ve also made decisions that were right at the time but still went south through no fault of my own. Supportive editors retired, and their replacements chose another cartoonist or eliminated the cartoon altogether. Newspapers, art galleries, retail stores and licensing clients have closed or lost their businesses.

No matter what you do for a living, shit will happen.

As a self-employed artist, however, it’s almost routine. When one revenue source disappears, you scramble to find another. Losing one customer isn’t usually the end; it just means things get a little uncomfortable while you adjust course. Adaptation is as much a required business skill as bookkeeping.

For quite some time, my business was half editorial cartooning and half wildlife art, but in recent years, the latter has kept increasing while the former continues to decline.

I learn more about licensing my work and finding new clients each year. A company makes and markets the product and pays the artist a royalty of 4% to 15%, usually in the middle of that range, for using the images. That small percentage can become a healthy income depending on the product, the company, and reach.

I’ve acquired most of my licenses on my own. I’ve learned about contracts, red-flag clauses, and how to translate legalese. I retain copyright of all my work and never sign it away.

In 2017, I signed up with Art Licensing International in New England. A reputable agency with global reach, they represent hundreds of artists, many of them well-known. An agency typically takes 50% of royalties. However, their connection with big companies makes that sacrifice worth it, as they can often get artists’ licenses they wouldn’t usually find on their own.

I had final approval on every license they acquired for me, and their quarterly cheques arrived four times a year without fail. Amounts were never significant, but I was willing to be patient as a license can take a few years before it pays off. But last year, I considered ending the relationship. I’ve had much more success finding my own licenses, but I also wanted to explore opportunities with other agencies.

Art licensing is a tricky business. While there is plenty of advice on best practices and what to avoid, each company has their methods and focus, and you never know which business relationships will work until you’re well into them.

If I’m tied up with too many smaller licenses that don’t bear fruit, those can prevent me from signing with companies that better fit my artwork. If one company licenses my work for a product, a competing company might not want to, and that second company might have been the better choice.

In the past couple of years, it has become clear that ALI is not the right agency for me. Some artists tailor their art to follow trends each year, and the agency’s messaging supports that tack. It’s a solid business practice for many artists and companies, especially graphic designers, so I can’t fault them for it. But I am not an artist who chases trends.

Years ago, I remember a gallery owner telling me that he was glad I wasn’t painting realistic-looking wildlife because had I done so, no matter how good it was, he wouldn’t have been interested.

“Everybody’s trying to be Robert Bateman.”

I have a unique signature style, look and an established niche, so my work will never be for everybody. When I hear suggestions that I should change my work to fit somebody else’s agenda, I think of all the licenses, customers and subscribers who connect with and enjoy my art and support it year after year. So many artists struggle to find their niche, a pinnacle achievement in any art career. There is no question I have found mine.

As Seth Godin often says, “if you don’t like it, it’s not for you.”

That’s not argumentative or defensive; it’s a simple truth. I’m not fond of Celine Dion’s music. But I’m confident she doesn’t care. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for misery in life and art because you will never succeed.

I decided to end my relationship with Art Licensing International this week with no hard feelings. The owners and staff have always been professional and friendly. But after six years with little to modest income to show for it, I’ve realized that the wrong business relationship is just as bad as none at all.

There are several licenses I’ve signed with them, however, that will continue until the end of their term, a few that won’t expire until the end of next year. But I’m free to look elsewhere for better representation for my artwork. My art has been removed from their site.

When so many artists struggle to find agency representation, leaving such an arrangement voluntarily is uncomfortable. And even though it’s a little scary and always uncertain, making these choices is one of the best parts of self-employment.

One course correction, coming right up.

 

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Blame the rider, not the e-bike

The following is an opinion piece I wrote for the local newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Outlook. I’ve been their cartoonist since its beginning in 2001 and I’ve never missed an issue. This busy tourist-town community is currently involved in a heated conversation surrounding transportation infrastructure. Many municipalities are dealing with these same growing pains, or soon will be.In June last year, my wife and I stopped at a Yield sign in Calgary. A woman ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, sending it over the curb into our car.

We walked away, but the car was written off with an unreasonably low settlement from our insurance company. With supply chain issues, ridiculous prices, and questionable auto dealership ethics, we haven’t yet found a replacement, opting to share one car until we do.

Having lived in the Bow Valley for thirty years, we bought electric bikes from a local business.

Biking home one afternoon with a fender cargo crate full of groceries and an equally loaded backpack, I rode up the hill beyond the Hwy 1 underpass, headed for the lower Cougar Creek bridge. Spread across the path were a half dozen pre-teen boys on their bikes.

I rang my bell several times and finally squeezed by on the left at about jogging speed. As I passed, one of the boys yelled at me, inches from my face, “CHEATER!”

Startled, I pulled left and caught the edge of the pavement, crashing hard to the ground.

Later, I could fix the bent brakes, light and fender. However, the wrenched shoulder, bruises and scrapes on my arms and legs took longer to heal. While I had loud, angry words for the kid, we’ve all made stupid choices at that age.

Many ill feelings about e-bikes seem to revolve around what some think, but what that kid said. Some see e-bikes as cheating and resent that if they must strain to climb that hill on a bike, then everybody should.

Canmore and Banff want fewer vehicles on the road. While paid parking seems like a money grab, people will find other alternatives if it becomes more expensive and inconvenient to take your car.

For many locals, e-bikes aren’t luxuries. They’re transportation.

This isn’t Saskatchewan. We live in a community with significant elevation gain on either side of the valley. At the end of a long workday, perhaps after running errands, heading up to Three Sisters, Peaks of Grassi, Eagle Terrace, or Cougar Creek on a traditional bike is an ordeal. Add in the summer heat, torrential rain, or a chinook wind, and it becomes downright insulting.

If your bike commute to work is 15 minutes up a hill or with a headwind, it won’t be long before deodorant fails you. How much will a tourist enjoy their crisp cool green salad if delivered by a foul-smelling sweaty server?

I’m in my early fifties, physically fit, with no mobility or health issues. But I have friends with failing joints, arthritis, and other age-related ailments. E-bikes allow people who aren’t hardcore athletes to navigate our community without forcing them to buy a car, take the bus, or walk everywhere. People don’t have the time, not when many work long hours to afford to live here.

I’ve been an avid trail walker for years. I’ve been startled and grazed by fast-moving cyclists silently passing within inches. It is inappropriate to go fast on a busy trail on any kind of bike.

Canada has capped e-bike assist speeds at 32 km/h.

With a full backpack and rear cargo crate, you can bet I’m using full assist while biking up Benchlands Trail on my way home from the grocery store. That’s not about speed but help with weight and elevation.

When I need to share a road with vehicles, many riding my fender while I try to navigate the 1A roundabout or drive through Spring Creek, maintaining 30 km/h is essential for my safety.

We bought reflective vests, helmets, bright front and rear lights, and the loudest horn available on the market for when the bell isn’t enough.

Drivers don’t want e-bikes on the roads, pedestrians don’t want them on the trails, and both resent anybody who uses one.

On weekends, we’ve used them to tour around town. We slow down, give warnings, and yield to oncoming bikes and pedestrians. And still, we get flack. E-bikes are new, making them an easy target because some people don’t want to share.

Trail use requires compromise, and most people around here get that. We’re an active community; when we’re not walking, we’re biking or driving. Most often, when approaching another trail user, I thumb the bell, and the person moves to the side, saying thank you as I pass; at the same time, I’m offering my thanks for their courtesy. It’s not complicated.

Pedestrians routinely walk three abreast, forcing others into the rough to go around them, or they walk into a crosswalk without looking, comfortable in their right-of-way. Some wear earbuds, so they don’t even hear the bell of an approaching cyclist, but they still get angry when they’re surprised by one.

Many cyclists don’t wear helmets, have no lights or reflectors, fail to signal, and weave in and out of traffic, jumping from sidewalk to road and back without warning.

Vehicle drivers speed through school zones, fail to obey stop signs and traffic lights, cut people off, tailgate, and make other aggressive moves.

The modes of transportation aren’t the problem; it’s a lack of empathy for those sharing the route.

There are indeed inconsiderate e-bike riders on the trails. They’re the same people who text and drive, take two parking spots at the grocery store, talk in a movie theatre, fail to pick up after their off-leash dog and run a red light destroying somebody else’s car.

Bad apples will always draw the most attention, and it’s convenient to blame their e-bike if they happen to be riding one. There’s a guy with a loud aftermarket muffler who races down my street, his bass stereo cranked so loud I can hear it through my closed windows. Should I blame the truck?

Vehicle congestion is a problem, but you can’t simply remove cars from the roads and expect the people in them to disappear. They still need to commute, run errands, and recreate.

Our trails and roads are for all of us, and compromise is a skill that requires practice. Everybody wants problems solved, so long as they don’t have to change.
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©Patrick LaMontagne 2023