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Instagram? But you said…!

Late last month, I attended the Calgary Tattoo Show to support my friends at Electric Grizzly Tattoo, the shop I frequent here in Canmore.

I spend most of my working life alone, which can be unhealthy at times, so to have somewhere I can go to hang out with other working artists, commiserate on the bullshit inherent in this business of self-promotion, to decompress and share a few laughs, it’s a wonderful thing. Shonna still jokingly refers to it as my artist support group.

Add to that the constant flow of inspiration watching these people work, these past two years getting to know these artists has been all positive. One of the side benefits from hanging out at the shop is that I get to meet many of their clients as well. These folks are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, from different places, who’ve had myriad experiences, with unique perspectives.

More than a few of them have become my clients, since my work is hanging in the shop as well.

The group discussions in that place have not only been enjoyable, but enlightening. Just recently, one client on one table used to work for CN Rail while another on the next table currently does oil pipeline maintenance. In the midst of a political maelstrom of promises, disinformation and the online outrage of the election, that was one of the most informative (and civil) discussions I’ve had about media spin and partisan politics vs. the reality of natural resource safety, economics and transportation.

It gave me a new perspective and further reinforced that the world isn’t black and white, and the truth in most things is only revealed in the subtle shades of grey.

I’ve met more open-minded and tolerant people at Electric Grizzly Tattoo than I have almost anywhere else in my life. Organized religion and the political party faithful could learn a lot from tattoo culture.

Back to the tattoo show…

I had considered getting a booth at this show to sell my work, with the encouragement of my friends in the business, but I’m glad it didn’t work out. With the pressure of the election, getting cartoons drawn and sent, what it would have involved with stock ordering, prep and prints, the expense of it all, it was too much. I still went to check it out to decide if I might do it next year.

It was a good plan. While I enjoyed the experience, it really wasn’t the right place to sell my stuff, despite all of the talented artists in attendance. It just wasn’t my audience and it was a much smaller show than the Calgary Expo.

One side benefit, however, is that I got to hang out with an incredibly talented landscape photographer I’ve met through the shop. Wes isn’t a photographer for a living, but his landscape photos are some of the best I’ve seen. Wes heads out to the mountains and takes road trips on a whim, regardless of weather, and captures incredibly beautiful scenes.

They’re surreal, moving, ethereal…basically just choose an adjective that says, “this guy’s work is unique.”

While standing in front of a stage for a good half hour, waiting for one of the many contest events at the show, Wes and I caught up. I showed him my latest stuff and he showed me his latest work and I realized how much I missed seeing it.

I left social media quite some time ago because it felt like I was spending more time promoting my paintings than creating them, without having much to show for the time invested. I got sucked into the culture that says you have to be constantly posting CONTENT, even when you have nothing to post, just so that the people who follow you will see you pop up in their feed every day, because the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm says so.

The likes were never enough, the shares were never enough, and it just made me miserable. When you see some kid posting his lunch every day and he gets a million followers, you kind of wonder if you’re even in Kansas anymore.

I also dislike being on my phone.

But in my hiatus, I’ve realized a couple of things. One, the likes and shares will NEVER be enough. If I get 10,000, I’ll soon be shooting for 20,000, then 100,000, then…well, you get the idea.

The second thing I learned, which is more of a reminder, is that there is no rulebook for being an artist for a living, or for life in general. You just do your best, try to be a decent person, make your choices and see what happens. And you can change your mind.

While I’m confident that I’ve closed the book on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been mulling over the idea of giving Instagram another shot because of something I didn’t anticipate when I left it in February.

Basically, I miss seeing the work of many artists I admire and that’s how they choose to share it. I’m missing out on seeing work that inspires me. As for my own posts, I’m simply going to share stuff when I have stuff to share, just like on this blog or in my newsletter. I won’t be creating content just to have stuff to post, nor will I be paying to promote anything, because that requires a business account and a Facebook profile in order to pay for it. I might post a painting, then nothing else for two weeks until the next one.

This will mean less people will see my posts, I’ll get fewer likes and shares, but honestly, that kind of thing rarely generated any revenue for me in the first place. When I left Instagram the first time, only a handful of those followers signed up for my newsletter as a result, which speaks volumes about how invested many of those nameless, faceless followers were really interested in seeing what came next.

Everybody talks a good game online.

An art career is constantly changing and when the wind shifts, you adjust your sails and try to hold course, waiting for it to inevitably shift again. Sometimes you seek safe harbour from the storm for a while, other times you stand on the deck shaking your fist, hands tied to the helm, daring the tempest to sink you.

Why do I like nautical metaphors so much? I don’t even sail!

If I find in six months that my first instincts about leaving Instagram were correct, well then I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

I remain, as always, a work in progress.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Who Ya Gonna Blame?

Follow politicians for a living for as many years as I have and you’ll realize that they’re all playing the same games, telling the same lies, manipulating the same polls, crying the same crocodile tears, all in an effort to fool us into thinking they’re in it for us, when too many of them are in it for themselves. No matter which party you love or loathe, they’re all guilty of playing politics with your money.
We are reactionary, emotional, instinctual animals operating under the false belief that because we walk upright and know how to work a remote control, it somehow elevates us to the height of wisdom and intellect. And yet, we all fall for basic marketing manipulations every day. It’s the reason we buy all of the food, clothing and trappings of modernity that we think will fulfill us. It’s all sales, and politicians are just elite-level salespeople.

They’re hedging their bets, shoveling promise after promise, just hoping that one of their pretend commitments resonates enough with you so that you will believe that they’ve got your best interests at heart.

Which brings me to social media.
You know it’s gotten pretty bad when the vitriol and rhetoric being passed around by regular folks online makes the politicians look like rank amateurs. The shit people say to each other on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments sections of news sites is the reason I killed all of my social media feeds some time ago.

The next time you’re tempted to go on a political rant, or engage in an online argument, consider the following points.

You’re never going to change somebody’s mind about anything by calling them stupid.

If everybody who talks a big game online actually went out and voted, the high turnout would be unprecedented.

The people we associate with on social media generally share our perspectives, so most of the time, you’re preaching to the choir. You’re not convincing anybody of anything except that you both share the same bias.

There are a lot of damaged people out there and some of them, for one reason or another, get pleasure from pissing off as many people as they can. They might not even disagree with your point of view, but they’ll happily fight with you in the CBC Comments Section, usually under a fake name.

On the other side of the previous point, just because somebody agrees with you online, doesn’t mean you’re right. Wisdom comes from realizing that you don’t know everything, and humbly admitting that you could be wrong, as we all are, a lot more often than we think.

Sharing news story after news story on social media, without thinking about where it came from, just means you’re working without getting paid, failing to ask if the story you’re sharing is even from a legitimate news source. You’re now a volunteer propaganda distributor and they’re making money off of you.

If the most interaction you have with somebody these days is online and you’re constantly complaining about politics and raging about it, it will change how somebody views you in real life. They aren’t separate things. Make no mistake, if somebody knows you in real life, they see through your online bullshit.

Ask yourself how likely it is that the person who is arguing against you will change their mind or position based on the fact that you make up cutesy names for politicians (Trudope, Trumpty-Dumpty, etc.) and insult their entire perspective. How likely would you be to change your position?

You have a limited amount of time on this planet. Arguing with strangers about politics is not the best way to spend it. If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, or a family member, or your best friend, would it really matter if a political candidate said something foolish? If this is your one shot at living a fulfilling life, finding meaning, making a difference, how well do those means serve these ends?

The politician or party you’re voting out this time because you hate him so much? That’s the politician or party who replaced the last guy you voted out because you hated him so much. If one was so much better than the other, we wouldn’t keep swapping them.

We compare our own best traits to the worst traits in others, convinced we’re better. We pretend to be virtuous and empathetic online, but race to beat somebody to a parking spot at the mall. We say things to people online that we would never say in real life to another’s face because then you would have to look them in the eye and see the damage you’ve done.

Most people end up voting against somebody they dislike, rather than for somebody they like, the lesser of evils. You leave the ballot box with a heavy sigh, thinking, “well, I did my duty,” but you don’t feel that good about it.

I’m not going to try to fan the flames of democracy here, inspire you to make a difference, or pile on the platitudes about people dying in other countries for the right to vote, or telling you that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

Lots of people don’t vote, and they still complain.

I still think it’s important to vote, what really amounts to the bare minimum of participation in the democratic process, but it gets harder and harder to see any benefit as the years go on. With a stage full of disingenuous bad actors, the whole thing feels rather futile, but then again, it always has.
What makes it harder, however, is the false outrage online, the manipulation of some facts, the complete fabrication of others, and how people treat each other, especially when this electoral exercise is in progress.

What’s worse is that people are sharing false information and fake news stories and they don’t even seem to care that they’re being duped, because the fantasy they share supports what they want to believe. But we’ll call out a politician for even the tiniest of lies or indiscretions.

Pot, meet kettle.

You are free to champion one candidate while reviling another. But it is important to understand that your preferences are not shared by everyone else. We all have a bias, we all have different life experience, and we all see the world through a different lens. A person who is trying to make a living in downtown Toronto has different challenges than a person trying to make a living in rural Saskatchewan.

But they probably still have a spouse, children, aging parents, failing health, car payments, a mortgage, a job they tolerate, debts they struggle to pay, and lives that didn’t turn out as well as they’d hoped, or were promised.

We are more alike than different.

This is why social media is so dangerous, because we gravitate toward those with like-minded opinions; we cluster with those people and then go looking for an enemy, which is the cluster of those other people whose opinions and ideals differ from our own. We insulate ourselves from diversity and extinguish our own empathy.

Then we grow to hate each other, a little more every day.

You can’t blame that on politicians.

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Berkley and the Bug

For more than twenty years, I’ve lived and camped in bear country. I’ve made it a point to be well educated about them, I carry bear spray and make noise while hiking, I know what to do should I see a grizzly or black bear and I keep a clean site when out camping in the mountains. I have never had a negative encounter with a bear and it bothers me a great deal when I hear of one being fed by tourists, hunted for a trophy, or killed on the highway or train tracks.

While bears have long been one of my favorite animals, I’ve also been afraid of them. When camping, I’ll most often end up lying awake in my tent for an hour or two before falling asleep, and if I wake up in the middle of the night to answer nature’s call, I’m in and out of that tent pretty fast, and might lie awake for another hour listening to every little noise outside. Even though I’m well aware that if something wants to get me, a thin layer of nylon isn’t going to make much of a difference, but I’ve been operating under the, “if I can’t see it, it can’t see me,” perspective. Anxiety is rarely rational. Statistically speaking, I’m more likely to be injured by a distracted driver on the highway than I am by wildlife.

Despite this bear phobia, which is an amusing annoyance to my fellow campers, I still go out and enjoy the woods often.

This past May, on an annual first camping trip of the season at a favorite secluded lake in B.C., I slept soundly in my tent for three nights without worrying about bears at all, an unexpected surprise. Oh, they were out there, I’m sure, but my common sense seems to have finally overridden my bearanoia, and I credit that largely to my recent experiences at Discovery Wildlife Park.

I don’t like phobias. We’ve all got them, but I try to challenge mine whenever possible. So, over the past couple of years, I’ve paid for two behind-the-scenes bear encounters with their black bears and they were two of the best experiences of my life. These aren’t wild bears, they’re orphans who’ve been raised at this sanctuary. But they’re still bears, and to be inside the enclosures with them, to learn about them, to touch one of them, and even to feed one from a spoon and then a piece of apple from my mouth was exhilarating. My fascination displaced my fear.
As my prints are sold at Discovery Wildlife Park and I’ve gotten to know a number of keepers and staff over successive visits, I’ve developed a nice relationship with the park, one that I hope continues to grow for many years to come.

Earlier this spring, when their new Kodiak cub arrived, I was kidding/complaining over text messaging with the head keeper that with my schedule so busy at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to come up and take pictures of Berkley for at least a month or more after they opened a couple of weeks later. Much to my surprise and delight, I was invited to come up the next day so that I could take some photos of her, for a donation I was more than willing to pay. I wasn’t about to pass that up.
I’ve talked about that encounter in another blog post, so I won’t rehash it here, but it was wonderful. Even though Berkley crawled over me and played in the woods while I snapped photos, I know that it was a rare opportunity I won’t get again. She’s grown so much already that now only the keepers can interact directly with her, both for her safety and that of the guests of the park.
I wanted to paint her the way I got to see her that day, curious about everything, wide-eyed and playful, checking out all of the little wonders this new world has to offer her. There really wasn’t a ladybug there, of course, but I already take a lot of artistic license with my whimsical wildlife paintings, and it just seemed to fit this little bear cub.
Because the park has been so kind to me, granting me access to take photos so that I may paint many of their critters in my own style, I’m going to take this opportunity to give something back to them. This will be the first of what I hope will be many conservation donations in the future, to them and to other animal sanctuaries and facilities I’d like to support.

My initial plan was to do a limited edition print run and no others, but as I’ve already received interest about this painting from my retailers and licensees, I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I didn’t offer this painting as a regular print and licensed image. To be blunt, the more money I make as an artist, the more I can support the wildlife causes that matter to me.

With that in mind, this Berkley painting has gone for proofing and I’ll be ordering the first prints next week. From the first order, I’ll be offering TWENTY (20), 11″X14″ matted giclée prints at a special price with the lion’s share (bear’s share?) of the sales going to Discovery Wildlife Park.

And because I couldn’t support these causes without the people who support me, my newsletter subscribers will get the details first and an opportunity next week to place their orders. You can subscribe via this link.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see more of Berkley’s antics (and why wouldn’t you?!), you can follow Discovery Wildlife Park on Facebook where they’re posting regular videos and photos as she grows. If you’re in the Innisfail area or plan to be, you can visit the park and see Berkley in person, along with all of their other critters. She’s still young and sleeps a lot, but she appears at the bear show each day, where the head keeper Serena and her staff offer some valuable education about their bears and bears you might encounter in the wild. It’s also a great opportunity to see all of their bears up close.

Thanks for being here.

Patrick

EDIT: All twenty prints mentioned in this post have been sold.

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Politics, Rage and Social Media


When people find out that I’m an editorial cartoonist, I often hear that I must be having a lot of fun going after Trump, or Trudeau, or Harper, or whomever people love to hate at that given moment. I usually just agree with them and change the subject, because most of the time, I don’t want to talk about it.

It’s just part of my job. It’s not who I am.

A lot of editorial cartoonists I know are political junkies, they love this shit. The theatrics and maneuvering, the players and the games they play, following elections and campaigns…many of my colleagues and competitors get off on it.

I got into this profession from the other side of things. Almost twenty years ago, I just wanted to draw and colour all day and at the time, editorial cartooning was the opportunity that presented itself. Before that, I really didn’t care about politics at all.

As a consequence, I had to learn to follow politics and current events. I was young(ish), opinionated, thought I knew more than I did, so I attacked it with relish. I also had a chip on my shoulder about starting into it a lot later than my competitors and felt I had something to prove. This meant that my mouth/keyboard got me into trouble sometimes, but I learned quite some time ago that sharing my political opinions on forums, comment sections and social media are a waste of my life.

As I’ve gotten older, this job has taken quite a toll on my perspective. When you follow negative news all day, every day for decades, it does damage to one’s psyche. Constant bombardment of bleeding leads and the worst examples of human behaviour taking center stage on the news, are only eclipsed by the relatively recent fashion of everybody sharing and arguing their own point of view with extra vitriol and a side of rage. Finding the good in people is a daily struggle, but I’ve not yet given up. I am both a conflicted idealist and a reluctant misanthrope.

I often equate the online world of this profession to getting up each day, having a shower, getting dressed, then turning on my computer and wading into raw sewage.

Basically, if I got terminal cancer tomorrow, would having an online argument with a perfect stranger about Conservatives and Liberals really be a good use of the time I’ve got left? That question should be given just as much weight even without the terminal diagnosis. I don’t even argue politics on my own editorial cartoon Facebook page. I post the toon and move on to the next one.

When I see people arguing about how bad the Liberals are, I remember the Conservatives, who seemed really bad when they were in power, but not as bad as the Liberals in power before them or the Conservatives before them. You see, follow this stuff long enough and you see the same repeating patterns, regardless of the parties or individual players. Political spin has been around since the first caveman stood up, pointed a finger at the other guy for overcooking the mastodon, and promised the group that he could cook it better. All they had to do was give him the best cut of meat.

So while Donald Trump seems like the extreme example lately, I just see another politician, without the polish of a life in politics. It’s the same mindset; he’s just less practiced at hiding his motivations.

But it isn’t just the elected folks. The people who like to blame everything on the government and tell them to stay out of their lives are often the same people who blame the government for not doing enough when their lives don’t meet the sitcom ideal.

Fix my roads, but don’t make me wear a seat belt or tell me how much to drink before driving. Photo radar is a scam, but I’m not going to slow down. On a Facebook article about a family dying in a car crash due to distracted driving, be sure to click the sad face emoticon on your phone while you’re doing fifty in a school zone.

We expect the government to repair the economy, create more jobs and make sure we can retire early with more money than we currently earn, but don’t make us sacrifice the latest iPhone or SUV in order to pay off our increasing credit card debt. Don’t tell me to eat healthy and exercise, just make sure the health care doesn’t cost me anything, and there had better not be any waiting.

We’re a privileged populace who can’t even tolerate the inconvenience of voting, but we’ll bitch about it online for years afterward. If everybody who says they voted actually voted, we’d have more than a 90% turnout every time.

True story, at the last federal election advance polls here in Canmore, there was a long lineup moving slowly. Poor organization, unexpected volume, who knows the reason? Frustrating, yes, but definitely a first world problem. People fight wars for this privilege.

A man not far behind me in line, finally blurted out something along the lines of, “screw this, if you can’t get your shit together, you don’t get my vote,” and he stormed off, no doubt convinced he was right. I wonder if he had time to watch TV later or share a nasty political meme on Twitter.

We’re all so angry all the time, that we’re not realizing how little it makes sense or how much choice we actually have in the matter. And before I get feedback about the pot calling the kettle black, I hear you. I’ve been angry for a long time and it took a recent frightening personal crisis to realize it.

It’s exhausting. It’s ridiculous. Worst of all, the solution is obvious.

The next time you see something online that gets your blood boiling and presses all of your rage buttons, delay that share, comment or angry emoticon. Take a breath. Take another.

Ask yourself if what you’re reading was designed to make you mad. Ask yourself who has what to gain by your getting angry at it. Was it written by a stranger? By a troll? By a paid lobbyist? By a person whose opinion you even value? Are you being manipulated to feel this way in order to serve somebody else’s agenda? Is this worth getting upset about? Will your engaging with this argument change anything in your life for the better or will it just make you stay angry for longer?

By sharing the instigating post, are you improving the world around you by inflicting the same rage on the people you actually do care about?

Sometimes anger is warranted, especially if it’s a cause or subject that affects you personally or genuinely has an impact on your life and your values. In those cases, your voice matters. One voice can change the world, for better or worse. But you will make your point better after thoughtful consideration, followed by a measured response. If it takes you a day or two to get your thoughts together, so be it. If it’s not worth that day or two, then it isn’t worth it at all.

Most importantly, people are going to disagree with you. Family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and strangers, are as entitled to their opinions as you are to yours. When they disagree with respect, hear them out. You might learn something. Listening to another’s point of view has become a lost art.

If somebody resorts to insults, name-calling and childish behaviour, let it go. They’re not worth your time.

They’re not worth your life.

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Saturday Morning Email

My friend Kristina in California sent me a short email last week, asking me if I thought the work on my book might be responsible for the creative block I talked about in my latest newsletter. While it took me almost a week to respond, I realized when I did that I wanted to post it on the blog. I was going to edit it, but thought it was more honest to just post it verbatim.

“Hola! Sorry, I was remiss in responding to this. A little discombobulated as of late.

I honestly don’t know what the issue is this summer. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like I’m on cruise control or stuck in traffic. Still moving, but feeling like I’m not. The funny thing is that financially, I’m having a great year. Usually there’s been a little growth each year, nothing exponential but creeping progress. 5-7%, that sort of thing, which in business is apparently pretty good. 2015 over 2014, however, there was a small drop for the first time. About 2% down. This year, however, I’m up 15% so far! Now it’s not all about money, of course, but you’d think that would feel like progress, but it doesn’t.

This social media experiment is very interesting. Clearly an addiction, and deleting the apps from my phone and iPad was the right move. It has become a knee jerk reaction to be checking it all the time. I was at the bank yesterday over the noon hour, so a bit of a line, and I would normally be checking the social media feeds. Yesterday, however, I was reading a book on my phone. I’ve been complaining for quite a while now, that I no longer have time to read. Obviously, that’s a choice I made. I also feel less keyed up this week than I normally do and I think that’s a benefit of not feeding the social media monkey. We had a cool thunderstorm here the other day, a real boomer with lightning and a great sky. That doesn’t happen here often as the mountains create unstable systems. Storms don’t gather steam until they roll out onto the foothills headed for Calgary. I was going to record it to get some stills and then thought, “what am I going to do with it?”

The whole reason I’d do that was to share it on social media. Instead, we just watched it. The constant sharing of everything has become insidious. And it sucks up a LOT of time. I get into a conversation and before I know it an hour has passed and that painting time I covet so much has gone away.

Then there’s the other side of it. I miss seeing what my friends are up to and talking to them. I’ve let the assholes control my habits. To avoid the politics, nasty comments and hate speech, I’ve limited my own interaction with friends and family. To promote my own work, I need to post stuff on my pages, but social media isn’t supposed to be one sided. It’s supposed to be give and take, back and forth, otherwise, it’s just one person talking in the conversation. So where’s the line? Where’s the balance? How do I use it effectively to promote my business without sucking up all of my time and still interact with my followers so they don’t feel it’s so one sided on my part?

I’m painting this morning, but actually thinking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Behance, worried that I’m doing it all wrong. In reality, however, ask 100 people how to do it right, and you’ll get 100 different answers. It feels like we’re all being conned.

So this hiatus is giving me plenty of food for thought. I’ve toyed with the idea of just posting less and not worrying about the likes and shares. Or starting up another personal profile and simply not accepting friend requests from toxic people and ignoring the more controversial posts.

But honestly, it feels like I’m a drug addict saying, “well, maybe just a little heroin.”

Funny, this response to you just became a blog post. ;)”

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A Couple of Great Deals!

FreeShipping

First Offer: FREE SHIPPING!
This applies to everything in my online store, including the 8″X10″ prints I just added. They’ve only been available once before via my newsletter, social media, and at The Calgary Expo. For those 8″X10″ prints, postcard sets, poster prints, matted and canvas giclée prints, there are no shipping fees for orders to Canada and the Continental United States, only while inventory lasts. If you live close to me, I’ll even deliver and can take payment in person via cash or credit card. Check out the store here.

Second Offer: 30% OFF COMMISSIONS
The regular rate for pet portrait commissions is $900 (+GST). For the first THREE people that book a commission following this deal, the cost is $630 (+GST). That includes a canvas giclée print (up to 18″X24″), shadow box frame, and shipping. We’re talking friends and family rates here. This sort of thing makes a very unique Christmas gift and something you’ll want to think about sooner, rather than later, to have it done on time. For more information and to see some of my commission pieces, please visit that page on my site.

Any questions, drop me a line via the contact page.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Conservation, Conviction, and Commerce

It came to my attention last week that the Calgary Zoo has allowed the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International to book their annual fundraiser at the zoo facilities next year. In the wake of the recent shooting death of Cecil the Lion, there has been a lot of focus on the trophy hunting of animals both at home and abroad. Unfortunately with our rapidly changing news cycle and our thirty-second attention spans, we as a society are prone to outrage one moment, apathy the next. Online, it has often been referred to as slacktivism.

For most, it costs nothing to rage against the Calgary Zoo on Facebook and Twitter, and then move on with our lives having raised our voices with righteous indignation but ultimately that’s the end of it. We rage on one bandwagon, wait for another to come alongside and climb aboard.

Unfortunately this issue has been literally keeping me up nights. Glancing at the clock on my computer, it is presently 12:53 AM as I write this sentence. I’m normally up at 5 AM to get my editorial cartoons done, so tomorrow will no doubt be a very long day.

The dilemma I’m having with the Calgary Zoo is that I spend a fair bit of time there, taking reference photos for paintings and enjoying the animals. When people have challenged me on supporting the zoo, I’ve long defended their conservation record and have explained the societal value of a well-run humane zoo, that it educates the public about the plight of at-risk and endangered animals world-wide.

A couple of years ago, the zoo started selling prints of my whimsical wildlife paintings and I’ve been proud to announce on social media whenever I’ve delivered another large batch of my poster prints or when I’ve visited the zoo to take reference photos.

I wrote an email to the Calgary Zoo expressing my disapproval of their decision to allow Safari Club International to use their facilities in an official capacity for an event. SCI will actually be auctioning off opportunities for their members to hunt some of the very animals that are featured at the zoo.

As an aside, I should be clear that I do not object to subsistence hunting or those who choose to feed their families with wild game rather than the meat available at the supermarket. I’m a meat eater and we are part of the food chain. Hunting for food is something every species does with the tools they have available.

My objection is to trophy hunting.

Zoo
In the zoo’s official response to the negative publicity (seen above) and no doubt plenty of emails and letters from their own members, the zoo says that they have no relationship with Safari Club International. They then go on to talk about all of the businesses that book their venues and say that they won’t discriminate against anyone wishing to book their facilities.

I would agree that it is unreasonable to expect that an ethical panel be convened anytime a company or individual is presented as a potential client. Nobody has that kind of time or money to conduct such an investigation. I don’t do background checks on everyone who buys a print, nor have I done extensive investigations into every newspaper I work for or gallery that sells my work.

But in the case of Safari Club International, the Calgary Zoo fails to make a credible argument with their response.

From the zoo’s own website, one finds the following, “Your support will connect the community to the natural world and inspire visitors to care for it, all while giving hope to endangered species.”

Additionally, “Education at the zoo builds a legacy for future generations – a love of nature and a commitment to conservation. Your support provides visitors and students of all ages with engaging experiences that connect them with the natural world. You can inspire the next generation of environmental caretakers. Help put our future in caring hands.”

And finally, “The future of your zoo is centered on animal welfare and a proud history of saving species. Inspiring Change, the zoo’s 20 year master plan, will set a new standard for exhibit design, connect the community with nature and continue important endangered species work locally and globally. Help us inspire change and join us on the journey to a brighter future for wildlife and wild places.”

Safari Club International’s mandate is to kill animals. Their argument that they aid in conservation is window dressing, a pretty frame for the dead carcass or disembodied head they take as a trophy. Anyone truly interested in conservation wouldn’t feel the need to kill the animal they claim to protect.

Most venues with facilities for rent should and do have a line in their application for use that reads something like, ‘we reserve the right to refuse bookings at our discretion.’

When a client’s image is so diametrically opposed to the mandate of the Calgary Zoo, it isn’t discrimination to politely refuse the booking and to suggest that perhaps another venue might be more appropriate, especially since there is no grey area or hidden agenda with regard to Safari Club International’s purpose as an organization. The zoo doesn’t need to do any digging to find out that SCI exists so that members can kill animals.

So I’ve been wrestling with this moral dilemma. Do I simply wag a finger at the zoo for allowing this event, but continue to use my annual membership to take pictures? Can I criticize them for doing business with this organization I find so despicable, but still happily deliver prints to their retail outlets to be sold there? Or would that make me as big a hypocrite as I’m accusing them of being?

I’ve been having a hard time with this. I had a long discussion with a friend about it while camping this weekend. My wife and I went back and forth about it this evening before I started writing this post. In all honesty, I’ve been looking for a way to keep selling my prints there while still occupying the moral high ground. I’m a self-employed artist. Removing my prints will be voluntarily cutting a portion of my income. Conviction comes at a price.

I’m just getting started on this journey of painting animals and I enjoy it a great deal. I plan to be doing this for many more years to come and if I start compromising my integrity at their expense in order to make a few more dollars, I’m as bad as the people who go out and shoot them under a bloody flag of conservation. When you get comfortable compromising your values, it will become a habit.

I am hopeful that their many other clients, patrons and regular guests will apply pressure to the Calgary Zoo, to urge them to deny Safari Club International the venue next year. I am hopeful that the outrage I saw online when this story broke wasn’t just hollow talk without action. I would like to give the board at the zoo time to realize their error in judgement and I will be happy to continue to support the zoo if they come around to the right decision.

If not, I will no longer supply any more of my prints to the Calgary Zoo and will cut up my membership. I have to sleep at night.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.

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Photo Reference and Painting Comparison

It was suggested this morning on social media that it would be interesting to compare the reference photo I used for my Parrot Totem with the finished painting.  Since some digital painters trace over photos, I thought it would also be a good opportunity to show that I don’t, so it kills two birds with one stone.  OK, that’s probably a really bad metaphor, especially considering the subject of the painting.

Pete Collins is one of the Photoshop Guys with the KelbyOne organization and I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with him at Photoshop World in Las Vegas a couple of times.  Pete’s a great guy, loves to encourage creative types and is a very talented illustrator and photographer himself.  One year, he sent me a folder full of pics he’d taken at the zoo and told me I could use any of them for reference, which was incredibly generous of him, but anybody who knows Pete wouldn’t be surprised by the gesture.  He’s good people.

Click on the images to see them larger.

Photocomp01 I’ve used a few of them for painting sketches and now two of them for finished paintings.  Pete also supplied me with the main reference for my Ostrich Totem.  While I usually end up using more than one reference, this one was pretty good and was my main reference for the finished painting.  I bought a couple more from iStock for the close detail reference, as Pete’s wasn’t a large photo so the anatomy for some of the fine detail wasn’t visible here.

As you can see, it’s obvious this is the reference I used, but with my style of painting, especially with the Totem paintings, I take a lot of liberties with painting the anatomy, especially in the face and proportions.  It is a caricature of the animal, rather than a copy of the photo.  Zooming in on the detail, the photo doesn’t provide a lot because it wasn’t large, so you can see where I took more liberties with the details.  My painting is very large, so I could still zoom in quite a bit further.  I rely on reference photos because I can’t exaggerate an animal’s features or paint the relationships in the anatomy accurately if I don’t know what the animal looks like.  Most artists will either paint from life (in a perfect world) or will use photo reference when available.  When I’m painting commission portraits of pets, I need VERY good reference pics in order to get the likeness as close to reality as possible.  When I’m painting my Totems, however, I can get away with a little bit less because I’m going to be distorting reality anyway.

Photocomp02

 

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Chris Hadfield Portrait – “Here Comes Home.”

ChrisHadfield

If you don’t know who Chris Hadfield is by now, especially if you’re Canadian, then you’ve probably been studying in a monastery somewhere, cut off from the rest of the world.  Currently aboard the International Space Station on his third mission in space, Hadfield has become the face and voice of the Canadian Space Program.  With his multiple daily tweets and photos from orbit, his now frequent Q&A communications to schools and media, and his high profile life high above the Earth, Hadfield has Canadians and people around the world excited about space travel again.  I’m 42 and often kind of cynical about our species, largely due to the editorial cartoon portion of my career, but when I see the images and video being sent back from the I.S.S. each day, I feel like a 10 year old kid again, excited about the possibilities, if we can only keep moving forward.

Hadfield seems to have that charismatic personality that so few possess, able to speak to world leaders and grade school children in a way that puts both at ease and allows them to understand what he’s saying, while still being the same guy with both audiences.  Because of his obvious passion for his work, his willingness to share so much of his rare experience with the world, and his ability to be a scientist, engineer, artist and humanist all at the same time, I couldn’t help but be inspired to paint his portrait, especially after seeing the video of the musical event featuring Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies, and the Wexford Gleeks.  The reference and title for this painting came from that video and song.

There is no better legacy than to inspire those around you and the next generation to believe in the possibilities before them.  I can’t imagine how many children are now considering futures in the space program because of Hadfield’s example.  Whether they’ll remain on the ground as part of the team that sends us further into space or actually get to be one of the few who go, will be up to them.

If all goes to plan, Chris Hadfield will take command of the International Space Station on March 13th, the first Canadian to do so.  Just recently, the Canadian Space Agency posted a video where Hadfield demonstrated how he controlled the Canadarm2 from the cupola.  In it he said, “Canada built the Canadarm2.  And Canadarm2 built this space station.  Everybody should be proud of that.”

We are, indeed.

CloseupFor the artists who are always interested in the tech specs.  This was painted in Photoshop CS6 Extended with a Wacom Cintiq 24HD.  Final file dimensions are 32″X24″ at 300ppi.  It’s a big file!  Reference was a screen capture from the YouTube video mentioned above, which meant the quality wasn’t great, but I muddled through.  Photos are never used as part of the painting, all was painted from scratch.  I wanted desperately to put stars in those windows, but they just wouldn’t be visible in real life, so I kept that urge in check.