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Bear Hug

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on a whimsical wildlife painting. For those who follow my work specifically to see those, thank you for your patience.

Wacom hired me to create a video for them connected with a promotion they’re doing right now called “Find Your Gift.”

As many of you know, Wacom creates the tablets and displays on which I’ve created my work for more than twenty years. I’ve been their guest on webinars, created new product demo videos for them, represented them at an event in Calgary, presented at their booth at Photoshop World, and they generously allowed me to donate tablets to a local school.

My work wouldn’t be possible without Wacom.

So when my friend Pam asked me to create another video for them, there was only one answer.

What I like best about our relationship is that Pam lets me do my own thing. Of course, we have some back and forth to make sure my vision matches hers, but she knows what to expect from me, and I do my best to deliver.

In this case, I had the freedom to interpret the word gift and paint and write what I wanted, which allowed me to create my best work.

I spent the last three or four days chained to my desk, creating this painting, recording with the camera and screen capture, writing and recording the narration, and editing it all together a la Dr. Frankenstein. It was a lot of work, but I’m quite pleased with the result.

I realized that the three recent paintings I like best are ones I did for Wacom videos. Those include the Amur Tiger, the Ring-tailed Lemur and this one.

The model for this painting is one of the most handsome residents of Discovery Wildlife Park. Gruff was an orphaned black bear cub who had a rough start in life, but thanks to Serena and her staff’s tireless efforts, he has grown into a beautiful, gentle bear with a wonderful personality. The keepers try not to pick favourites, but they each have a special place in their heart for Gruff, as do I.

I’ve often written about how much I value my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. They allow me incredible access to the animals, for which I’m immeasurably grateful. On my most recent visit in September, I was able to sit inside the enclosure while they did their bear education presentation, where they teach people about bear safety, behaviour and conservation.

I took hundreds of reference shots and didn’t realize I’d be using ones from that session so soon.

One of the keepers, Jacob, was in Canmore last week, and I had a brief visit with him. I told him what I was painting, inspired by the poses I shot. He told me that Gruff almost always has a ball with him. It doesn’t need to be the same ball, but it’s kind of like his security blanket. He even takes a ball with him into his den when he hibernates.

On one visit to the park a couple of years ago, Serena sent me a text asking where I was. I said that I was watching a silly bear play with a ball. She responded, “Gruff.”

Gruff taught himself how to pose with the ball and because it was so endearing, the keepers used positive reinforcement to encourage that behaviour. It was this pose that inspired the painting. As the light wasn’t great in this shot, the sun beside and behind him, I had to use other reference photos for the details. Thankfully, I have hundreds of pictures of Gruff.

Even though I was pressed for time on this, more self-inflicted than not, this painting was a joy to create. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun painting one of my whimsical wildlife portraits. Considering the kind of year it’s been for all of us, that’s no small thing.

If you’ve got five minutes, you can see a high-speed time-lapse below of how I painted Gruff and hear some of my thoughts about the importance of finding and sharing your own gifts.

Take care of yourselves,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Odds and Ends

As the title suggests, here’s a collection of smaller updates in one post.

Pacific Music and Art

The funny-looking face masks continue to be popular, now sold in many retail stores in Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and everywhere else via their online store. The masks have gone through a recent design evolution. The image now covers the entire mask, the straps are more elastic, with a flexible nose bridge inside the upper seam. They still come with rubber grommets to make the straps more adjustable.
In addition to the masks, there are now face scarves available, fun because they’re so versatile. They can be used as a neck scarf, beanie, head band, head scarf and they can be doubled up over your face to serve as a mask.
Once again, the masks and face scarves are not for medical use and are not intended as a replacement for N95 masks or medical grade PPE.

If you’d like to see the available designs for both masks and scarves, follow this link. There are also some new face mask designs that previously weren’t available, so be sure to look through all three pages. Use the promo code Patrick5OFF, and you get 5% off everything on the site. The code expires at the end of December.

Limited Print Run

While a few of you told me that the Pennywise clown painting was not your cup of tea, and one of you even thanked me for not including it in the newsletter, one long-time supporter, and fellow Stephen King fan, wanted a print. Since I’m having it done anyway, I figured I’d see if anybody else wants one. Please let me know this week as I’ll be ordering them quickly.
And since I’m doing that one, I’m going to offer the recent Ripley painting as a print as well. These are 11″X14″ poster prints, so it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame wherever those are sold.
The price is $24.95 each, plus tax & shipping. Since these aren’t in the store, drop me a line to patrick@nulllamontagneart.com if you’re interested. I’m accepting e-transfer for Canadian orders and Paypal for the US (I’ll send you an invoice).

I won’t be keeping these images in stock, so this will be a pre-order. Please allow extra time for delivery.

Wacom

I’m recording another video for Wacom over the next couple of weeks. These are always challenging, but I usually end up having a lot of fun with them. For anyone new to my work, Wacom is the company that makes the digital displays on which I create my art. I’ve been using their tools for more than twenty years and welcome any opportunity to work with them.

A couple of videos I did this past year for Wacom resulted in two of my favourite paintings, the Ring-tailed Lemur and the Amur Tiger, shown below. I’m excited about the image I’m painting in this new video as well.

Sharing

I have been ripped off quite a bit throughout my career. People have used my images illegally for promotion, have altered my cartoons and paintings for their own agendas, and have claimed my images as their own work. One woman on Vancouver Island even used my Otter painting as her business logo and had large images on her store’s windows for two or three years. Then she had the nerve to get mad at me when I sent her a cease-and-desist. She argued that she found it on Google, so she thought it was free. Try that with Mickey Mouse and let me know how it turns out for you.

Sadly, it’s part of the online world. Once your work gets good enough to sell, then it’s good enough to steal. Every artist I know who makes their living from their creations deals with this problem.

But from time to time, people ask if they can share the paintings, cartoons, newsletters, and blog posts I send. While I appreciate that consideration, you don’t need permission. If I share it with you, then you can share it with anyone you like. In fact, I’m always grateful when people introduce my work to others.

As long as it’s not altered, my site name or signature remains on the image, and you aren’t making money from it, then share away, with my thanks.

Take care of yourselves. I’ll have something new to share in a couple of weeks.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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New from DecalGirl

One of my favorite licenses is DecalGirl. They make custom cases, skins and wraps for a wide range of phones, tablets and other devices. Several of my paintings have been available for quite awhile and I’ve been impressed with the quality and look of them since the beginning of our relationship. I’ve got a Shark decal on my laptop, Smiling Tiger on my iPad, Berkley’s face on my phone case and various other sleeves and cases.
As of this week, there are now 17 of my paintings available on their site. No matter which electronic device you’ve got, there’s a good chance DecalGirl has a case or decal that will fit. They’re all pre-cut with the holes for the buttons, speakers, microphones. The vinyl is easy to apply, long-lasting and colourfast. My laptop is a pretty specific model, but I simply entered the dimensions online and when it arrived, it fit perfectly.

Here are four new designs they’ve added this week. There’s a good chance I’ll be getting that lion on a phone case for myself. Click on an image below to see it on their site, or follow this link to see the whole collection of my available work. For a limited time, use the promo code FALLSAVINGS for 25% OFF.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Face Mask Update

Last weekend, I launched a pre-order for face masks, available to my newsletter subscribers. The response was overwhelming and I spent long hours on multiple days processing the orders. This update was sent to my newsletter followers this morning.

Over the past month, things have changed to a degree we’d have thought ridiculous had somebody predicted it at the beginning of the year. People, businesses, and governments are all trying to adapt to information that changes every day.

There’s a video circulating right now with a woman standing in her kitchen in front of microphones talking about the inconsistent messages we’re getting. You may have already seen it because it has gone viral, but here’s the link if you haven’t. It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

The list of things we’ve been taking for granted grows larger every day. Never thought I’d miss a teeth cleaning and haircut so much.

This week, the Calgary Stampede was cancelled along with every other summer gathering. I haven’t been to Stampede in years, not my thing. But Stampede is part of Calgary’s identity, and cancelling an event for the first time in 97 years speaks volumes.

If you’re playing the ‘every time somebody says unprecedented’ drinking game, take a shot.

It’s hard to follow what each Provincial Premier and State Governor is saying concerning starting up the economy again. While the messages are conflicting, it seems clear that large gatherings, sports events, festivals, and concerts won’t be possible this summer. That’s right, the whole summer.

That just sucks.

When we do go out, we’ll have to continue to keep a distance of 6ft/2m, in gatherings of less than fifteen? Or is it ten? Five?

I’ve been going to the grocery store on Fridays, just once a week. There were noticeably more people wearing face masks yesterday than last week. They were almost all homemade.Masks are going to be a part of our culture for the foreseeable future.

While it’s great that Pacific Music and Art jumped on this so fast, ahead of many others, my masks are the first order of a brand new product, and that means there have been issues requiring adjustments and tweaks.

Before I go further, yes, there is a delay on the masks, but I still expect (hope) I should get them later this week.

True, it’s only been five days since I submitted the order, and even that behemoth Amazon can’t meet their pre-COVID shipping guarantees right now, but I know you’re anxious to get these. I am, too.

Canada Post issued a statement this week that they’re experiencing Christmas level volume right now, but without the staff to handle it.  Postal workers can’t be within six feet of each other, and every transaction takes longer to deal with because of masks, handwashing, and the COVID shuffle.

Here’s why the delay…

When I took the pre-order, the blank masks had arrived in Vancouver. Pacific Music and Art is a ferry ride away in Victoria. Because of new dock safety protocols and shipping delays, it took more than two days for the order to make it to Pacific Music and Art.
When they started test printing, it quickly became evident that the designs were off.

Usually, with licensing, I supply the image, and then the company that licenses the image has designers that fit it to their products. With Pacific Music and Art, I create all of my own designs. They’re my most significant licensee, with the most products, and I’m a control freak. So I want them to look as close to perfect (impossible) as I can get them.

For every painting I do, I create more than a dozen different designs for things like magnets, coffee cups, trivets, coasters, art cards…it’s a long list.

Because the masks hadn’t arrived yet, I based my templates on photos and measurements. 16 designs, both small and large masks, for a total of 32 images. It took quite a few hours, and one sleepless night to get them all done.

Then the company that provided the blanks also provided a template, different enough from mine that I had to redesign them all again, requiring many more hours of work.

Whenever an image is printed on a product, there is a bleed. That means the image has to be larger than the printable area so that if it’s off by a millimetre here or there, it won’t show an edge. With something like an aluminum magnet, the bleed is small because the blanks are all uniform.

When the actual masks arrived in Victoria, there was another problem. Masks are fabric, with straps, and unlike aluminum, there is more variability between each. So I worked late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, redesigning all 32 images for a THIRD time with a much larger bleed.

I had to paint more fur, hair and features on the edges of many of the paintings to accommodate the bleed, work that nobody will ever see.

It was incredibly frustrating. I still had my daily editorial cartoon deadlines, and I haven’t worked on my new painting in over a week.

That’s just my side of it. Pacific Music and Art were working hard in dealing with their own problems.

Heads are different sizes. It’s the reason hat sizes have such small increments between them. Faces are long or short, wide or narrow. With one small mask and one large mask, finding a perfect fit for everybody is impossible, and you go with as close as you can get.

The elastic isn’t super stretchy, because then it would bite into the backs of your ears. They discovered that the ear loops need to be shorter for some people to have a good fit.

As more people wear masks, it’s now easy to find online solutions for a better fit, because so many don’t fit well. Some are fastening the ear loops behind their heads with additional clips and fasteners. Others are tying them over their heads. Front line workers and first responders who must wear them all day are developing sores on their ears and faces from masks that are too tight and elastics that are too thin.

The owner of Pacific Music and Art didn’t want to send out the masks without a solution because you wouldn’t be happy, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Between him and the company that supplies the blanks, they discovered that an addition of a grommet seems to work.
But now we’re waiting on the grommets.

He’s looking for a local solution for my order so that he can ship them to me, and then I can ship them to you.
The good news is, the masks for my order are all in Victoria, being printed right now. Despite this delay, you’ll all receive what you ordered. If the delay goes longer, I will update you again and will issue refunds for those unwilling to wait.

The bad news is, I’ve been hearing from people all week who missed the first opportunity and want to order, and I have no idea when that can happen. Because of the global demand now for any kind of mask, shipping delays on everything, it’s probably going to be a few weeks before Pacific Music and Art can get any more, and that’s only if there aren’t any further delays. My order was first priority this time, but it won’t be next time. They have other retail customers waiting.

It would be irresponsible and unfair of me to take another order with no idea when I can deliver. Masks are going to be hard to come by for everybody for a little while until supply meets the demand. Just like the toilet paper aisle in your grocery store, it needs to catch up.

I’ll also be re-evaluating orders to the US on the next go ’round. Because of stricter customs regulations on anything that isn’t paper, shipping is now more expensive and more involved, even for small packets. I’ll absorb the added fees on this order, so masks heading to the US this time will go ahead as planned, at no additional cost.

The best I can offer is to stay tuned. If you have friends and family who want to order, they can sign up for the newsletter, and I’ll announce the next order opportunity here, whenever that might be. But please don’t promise them anything.

All I can do is ask for your patience and to trust me that as soon as I can get these shipped, I will.

Cheers,
Patrick

Now go watch that video.

And here’s an article from CBC talking about the Canada Post delays, but also why businesses are having a hard time meeting their orders right now. One more thing we must get used to.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Trudeau Update – A Cartoon Video

I recorded a high speed video of a cartoon I sent out this morning, some bonus content for my newspaper clients.

The type of cartoon in this video would normally take me about three or four hours since detailed caricatures are a lot more work. Add in camera setup, periodic recording throughout the process, sourcing and buying music, and editing, and I spent about nine hours on this yesterday, which is why I can’t do these as often as I’d like.

Because of the way I’ve set up my office, having a camera on a tripod over my left shoulder while recording is kind of clumsy. I can’t have it on the right, where there is a lot more room, because my hand would obscure the drawing. With a tripod leg right behind me, I have to be careful not to move my chair back and bump it. So there’s really no way to get into the groove of drawing while recording, at least not one that I’ve found.

I’ve tried recording with my phone or iPad on a goose-neck, since that setup is much more user friendly, but the problem is that even if you manually adjust the brightness, the cameras on portable devices just aren’t designed for recording the backlit display of another screen. I’ve even tried a GoPro camera, but none of them have worked as well as the DSLR camera you see here.

In the photo, you can see my second monitor, where I’ll often put the images I’m using for reference.

The display I’m drawing on is a Wacom Cintiq 24HD and the software is Photoshop, which is the most widely used professional illustration and digital drawing/painting software on the planet. There have been plenty of times I’ve wished it were called something else, because for many years, people assumed that if you were using Photoshop, you must simply be manipulating photos.

Thankfully, anybody younger than me has grown up with this technology, so I don’t have to explain it as often as I used to.

If you like the video below, feel free to share it from YouTube.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Wacom One Inspiration

One of the unexpected benefits of having been a digital artist since the late 1990s is that I’ve been able to see all of the advances in the medium. My first Wacom tablet was an original Intuos with only a 4”X5” drawing surface.

It seemed so futuristic.  I could move the stylus on this tablet, which would be mirrored on the screen by the cursor, and then DRAW. To some, it seemed complicated, but to me, it seemed like a prosthetic limb I’d been missing.

I don’t know how to paint with oils, acrylics, or watercolours. My sketching skills with a pencil are adequate; my pen and ink skills less so. I’ve tried charcoal, woodcarving, sculpture, but just barely, and all of it felt clumsy.

This is obviously a personal problem, given the centuries of incredible artwork created with those tools.

But digital tools always felt right to me. It has been my medium for more than twenty years.

When it came to software, there was Photoshop, Painter, and a few others. I tried them all. But for the hardware, if I wanted to work digitally, a Wacom tablet wasn’t an option. It was a requirement.

Since then, I can only guess how many Wacom devices I’ve owned, upgrading when I felt the need and could scrape together the funds. For the first half of my professional career, I used tablets rather than displays. That’s where you look at the screen but draw on the device sitting on your desk. It’s not difficult to get used to since we all use a mouse the same way. We look at the cursor, not the device in our hand, and our brain figures it out pretty fast.

Drawing with a Wacom tablet was easy for me.

But in 2011, I got my first Wacom Cintiq display, a 12WX, where I could draw right on the screen. These days, that seems unremarkable, considering how many screens and mobile devices we have at our fingertips. But at the time, it was a huge deal for me.

The 12WX was pretty thrilling, even though it could be a bit clunky at times. Marketed as a portable model,  being the first one that didn’t take up your whole desk, it was more like the prototype for what would come next.
When I got my Cintiq 24HD in 2012, everything changed for me. Not only was I now using their most professional display model, but I also had a working relationship with Wacom.

That display is still the one I use every day, and while there are newer models available, I have a sentimental attachment to this display, and I never feel it’s lacking. Yes, it’s a piece of technology, but like a reliable car, years out of the showroom, my 24HD is like an old friend. I’ve created many of my favourite paintings on this display.

In the past six months, Wacom has sent me a couple of their newer portable models to evaluate and work with, recording videos with them. The Cintiq 16 I received last summer is a welcome addition to my digital toolset.  I use it while working on my laptop, often on the couch in the evenings while watching TV. You can see a recording I did with that one in a blog post from late last year.
Just recently, I was asked if I would take their new Wacom One display for a spin. Pitched as an affordable solution for artists looking to make the jump to digital or for those just starting, it’s an entry-level display.

After using it to paint my latest Ring-tailed Lemur, however, I find that notion rather amusing. This display is better than all of the tablets and displays I used for most of my professional career.

Without getting too technical, it’s a comfortable experience. From the feel of the stylus on the screen, the pressure sensitivity, the image quality of the display and the simple setup and installation, this is a display I would have been thrilled to have worked with early in my career.

I know many people these days draw on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, and I’ve seen some incredible work done with those tools. I have an iPad Pro, I use it every day, and when I bought it, I expected I’d be doing a lot of drawing with it. There’s even a professional level painting app called procreate that’s pretty incredible.

But no matter how often I work with the iPad, it never feels quite right to me.

Whether it’s the stylus on the screen, the display itself, or the size, I can’t seem to get comfortable with it. To be fair, the iPad is a standalone device, where a Wacom display has to plug into a computer, whether a PC, Mac, Notebook or Laptop. But most people have those already.

I’ve often said that the best tools are the ones you don’t have to think about. When I’m in the zone, painting fur, feathers or details, I don’t want to have to stop because the tools aren’t doing what I want them to do. I’ve invested quite a bit of time on the iPad Pro, and it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as a Wacom display.

I’m well aware that we resist change, so I’ve tried other devices and displays. But I keep coming back to Wacom time after time. Part of me knows that being sent the display, tasked with doing a video, it’s my job to pump it up and promote it.

But honestly, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t. And I know my friend Pam at Wacom wouldn’t want me to. I was thankful I didn’t have to find a way to put a positive spin on this display. There is nothing about this display that I can criticize. For what was promised, it over-delivered.

The only thing I missed while using it was the Express Keys I have on my Cintiq 24HD. I use those all the time. Those are buttons and dials that you can program to access features you use often. Those features are now automatic to me. Thankfully, in recent years, Wacom introduced a device called the Express Key Remote. It’s a standalone device, and it worked flawlessly with the Wacom One.

A beginner might find Express Keys too intimidating at first, and I understand why they left out of this entry-level display, both for price and function. But it’s nice to know that if a user wants to try them, there’s an affordable add-on option.

As for the video above, called ‘Voices,’ my task was to offer a message to new artists, something to inspire them to give their creativity the chance it deserves. I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I would have wanted to hear when I was new at this artist’s life, trying to gather the courage to stick my neck out.

Ultimately, I ended up speaking to myself two decades ago, that twenty-something kid who was scared to death of being a fraud, having never gone to art school. I’d have wanted to let him know that it isn’t easy for anybody. The only way to navigate this world is through experience. Decades later, it’s still scary to do this for a living, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’d like to think the message I recorded would have given him hope.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Ring-Tailed Ringleader

Here’s a new painting, a Ring-tailed Lemur just finished this morning.

Wacom sent me their new Wacom One display to take for a test drive and to record a video for them. The video has an inspirational theme, rather than a technical one. I’ve written the script, recorded the video, but now I need a few days to edit all of the footage and record the audio, especially since I have my cartoon deadlines as well. It’s a lot of work to take a painting that took about 15 hours and compress it into a 3 or 4 minute video so people won’t get bored.

Seriously, I love painting hair and fur, but it would be effective torture to make me watch many hours of somebody else doing it.

Initially supposed to be more of a cartoony creation, I wanted to see what kind of advances Wacom had made in their display technology, so I painted with it instead. The Wacom One is being marketed as an entry-level display, but I enjoyed working with it and didn’t feel hobbled at all.

I’ll have a more technical evaluation post a little later, but for those of you who just like looking at my funny looking animal paintings, I’ll save those details.

The Ring-tailed Lemurs at the Calgary Zoo are fun to watch, and the Land of Lemurs is an immersive experience. Their enclosure allows them to freely roam where they like and it’s the people who are restricted in the center, but with no barrier. With zoo staff on hand to make sure people follow the rules, the open-air concept allows for some great photo opportunities.

I’ve taken many shots of these critters and plan to paint a group of them together as they like to huddle in a ball. All of the expressive faces peeking out is quite comical.
While going through my photo reference, however, I came across the image above. She’s a female, as are all of the ring-tailed lemurs at the zoo (or were at the time of this photo), and I liked what I saw. I even loved the blue sky background, and saw no need to change it. I don’t know if she really has a bad attitude, but part of the reason I paint the personalities I do is that I actually see that in the photo reference I take. The painting definitely looks male, however.

This was a lot of fun. I know I say that about many of my paintings, but I’d put this painting experience in the Top 3. Many of my paintings could be labelled cute, but this one borders on psychotic, which is probably why I liked it so much. Those crazy eyes suggest a critter that isn’t quite all there.

As my friend Pam at Wacom said this morning on Instagram, “He looks like an evil ringleader.”

So while I don’t know if it’s the kind of image that will be popular on a print or licensed product, some of my best images were ones I did for myself. I never expected my cantankerous Ostrich image to be popular and that one has developed a strange cult following I don’t fully understand.

I worked a very long day on Sunday drawing three editorial cartoons so that I could spend all day yesterday putting the final hours in on this piece. I could have finished it last night, but I erred on the side of patience and decided to sleep on it. When I opened the image this morning, I laughed out loud. It’s such a ridiculous expression.
Another hour on the fine hairs, tweaks here and there, tunes cranked in the earbuds, and I’m glad I waited. It was a great way to start my day.

I’m looking forward to sharing the video soon.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Where’s the Camera?

When I was in my early twenties, at the end of my five years in the Reserves, I had the opportunity to work as a paid extra on the movie Legends of the Fall.

It was a fantastic experience, full of great stories. I’ve written about this before, here’s the link if you’re interested.

If the story is moving and you’re captivated, a good movie should allow you to suspend your disbelief. Sure, there might be continuity errors from time to time, and we all know that the science behind a lot of movies is pretty loose. But a good story should keep you interested, a willing participant in the fantasy delivered on screen.

Even movies based in reality will stretch and squash the truth to tell a better story. We welcome the lie because even with amazing real-life stories, the movie version will be better.

People will say they want to know how the magician performs his illusions, but it’s almost always disappointing when you do. The fun lives in the fantasy and when that’s gone, it’s just a trick.

When filming began on Legends of the Fall, there were about 1000 extras. It might have been 600-700, but it was a lot. As it was a First World War epic drama, we were all young men, each in period uniform. We filmed each night, all night long, and while there was plenty of downtime on set, it was exciting when the cameras were rolling.

After the first few days, the main army was sent home, and there were 60 of us left for the next two weeks, all of whom required military experience. The reason was that we fired authentic Lee Enfield rifles in successive scenes and even blank rounds can kill if used irresponsibly.

The main battlefield looked as you would imagine. Mud everywhere, large craters, uneven terrain, burnt trees, and rows of barbed wire fence, with meandering trenches along either side. For the first few nights, all we did was run back and forth across the field, an army whose only enemy was time and money.

We did quite a few rehearsal runs, choosing our routes to minimize collisions, or tripping on obstacles in the way. Before each run, an Assistant Director would walk down the line, pointing to every second, third or fourth man and say, “Dead.”

This meant that at some point during your run, from one side of the field to the other, you were to fall and stay still. No theatrics, no crying out, drop and don’t move. If you weren’t supposed to die, but you tripped and fell, or an explosion went off near you, you were to consider yourself dead, resurrected only when the director yelled, “Cut!”

A few from the larger group were kicked off the set for goofing around. One guy ran across the front of the camera, looked right into the lens and gave a big smile. They dismissed him.

There were huge stadium-style lights on stands, pointed toward the field. We filmed all night long but it was almost like daylight. When you see a night scene in a movie, it’s quite bright so that the camera can see everything. Sometimes they’ll add a deep blue filter to the camera so that a scene filmed during the day looks like night. One of the giveaways for that trick is a landscape scene where you can see shadows or light details in the distance.

In those battlefield scenes, with the cameras on a hill, facing east, all the viewer would see is an army running across a field. There’s smoke, explosions, yelling, screaming, and it looks like chaos.

But that’s not what we saw.

Take another camera, position it on the eastern edge of the field and turn it west, and you’d see another army of production people, lights, tents, vehicles, cameras, and activity just behind the camera. You would also see several figures in bright orange jumpsuits, sitting in front of built-up mud mounds all over the battlefield. In front of them were control boards, their job to set off the pyrotechnics while we ran around them.

If the main actors were involved in any of the scenes, you would see a sawdust trail in the mud, the path they were supposed to run, and the rest of us were to avoid.

When I watch a movie today, if the pace is slow and my mind wanders away from the illusion, I’ll often think about how it was made and ask myself, “Where’s the Camera?”

They film quite a few movies around here in Canmore and Banff. A favourite is The Edge with Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins. I watched it again recently and there are many scenes where they’re supposed to be lost in the wilderness, far from civilization. But if you’re from around here, knowing the true locations is amusing.

One particular scene was filmed just around the corner from where we live, in an open field called Indian Flats. In the movie, they’d just killed a bear, were exhausted and wondering if they were going to make it back to civilization. The mountains loom high above them, and it looks like extreme wilderness.

If the camera were raised just ten feet higher or turned 45 degrees left, however, you would see Highway 1A right beside them, the TransCanada less than a kilometre away, the light industrial area of Canmore and no shortage of local infrastructure.

It’s not something we think about while watching the movie, because we’re invested in the lie. We want to be entertained.

A side effect of that long-ago experience is that I find myself asking the same question in other areas of life as well, where the lie is not so obvious or welcome.

Where’s the camera? What am I not seeing?

While we recently killed our cable because we found we were primarily watching streaming services, I hadn’t been a fan of reality TV for this very reason. When you see people arguing, a scary suspense-filled moment, or a near-death experience on one of these shows, it gives you a whole new perspective when you start thinking about the camera and crew filming the scene. Suddenly, it seems more like a bad performance, not scary at all, and nobody is even remotely close to injury or death. The insurance people would hate that.

These shows not only film conflict, but they try to instigate it. It’s entertainment, but not reality.

The same can be said for all of the selfies and carefully curated images and videos posted on social media.

One of the most visited locations around here is Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise. It gets so busy in the summer that they periodically close the road and limit traffic, because there are so many people up there, taking photos of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

It’s easy for one person to stand near the edge of the water, take a photo and have it look like they’ve just completed this arduous hike and are in this serene location all by themselves. But move the camera back thirty feet, and you’d see hundreds of other people taking the same photo, right beside a parking lot full of cars and buses.

You’re likely familiar with the beach feet photo, where someone takes a picture of their own feet stretched out before them on a towel or deck chair, the beach and ocean filling the rest of the scene. The caption usually reads, The Good Life or Lost in Paradise.

Meanwhile, move the camera back twenty feet, and they’re one of many people on a crowded beach, at an all-inclusive resort complete with loud music, gangs of drunken college kids and screaming children who’ve had too much sun.

Did you know that you can take a perfect picture of the Sphinx and pyramids while standing in front of a Pizza Hut in Cairo? It’s right across the street. It’s now become an online gag to take the photo from inside the Pizza Hut to capture the scene with the logo on the window. Google ‘pyramids Pizza Hut’ and you’ll see.

My favourite would have to be the one where somebody shows themselves at the gym, or in a contemplative moment looking out at the ocean, or sitting in a Zen-like lotus pose trying to convince you that they’re one with the universe. It becomes completely ridiculous when you consider that they had to set the camera/phone up, put it on a timer, rush back to pose to show you how Zen and peaceful they are before they check the photo, decide they look fat in that one and try it all over again.

Add in photo filters to change the weather or light, some feature manipulators, and a softening filter to make you look younger, which most of the time makes you look plastic.

These exercises in camera trickery happen for two reasons. One, to convince others that our best-laid plans are even better than they appear, and two, to make us feel a little better about our own lives that aren’t quite measuring up to unrealistic expectations.

And while we’re making ourselves feel better, we’re making others feel worse, and they do the same in return when they post their own staged photos. No wonder we’re all so miserable, angry and dissatisfied with life.

Whether it’s movies, reality TV, social media, the news, politics, or any other information we’re fed daily, realize that it’s all designed to sell you something. It could be a product, an experience, or an illusion, but simply put, it’s a manipulation.

A friend’s vacay pics making you jealous? Ask yourself how much time they spent snapping and uploading filtered photos instead of enjoying where they were. They were probably looking at their phone more on vacation than they do at home.

The perfect family Christmas dinner photo? The credit cards are all maxed, the turkey’s overcooked, Grandpa’s drunk and being racist again, and the dog just threw up under the table.

The politician blaming everything on his opponent and promising you he’ll fix all that ails you? That always changes right after the election, no matter who is in power. The same middle-class family he posed with at that campaign rally now can’t make ends meet, because that same politician eliminated their jobs in his first budget.

Now with deep fake technology and other software, a photo or video is no more evidence of truth or fact than a nosy neighbour gossiping over the back fence.

Fake news works because we choose to believe it.  It’s designed to spread because it plays on our bias. When one person believes one of these lies, they share it with others, and as Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels once said, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”

With a new year upon us, I would make a simple suggestion. No matter what you read, see, hear, or experience, take a moment to consider that you do not see the whole picture, especially if it’s something you want to believe. That should be your first clue.

Ask yourself if the camera is showing you something real.

Ask yourself what it’s not showing you.

Then ask why.

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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A Christmas Reindeer

Yes, it’s a Christmas miracle. Even though I’m a confirmed Grinch, Scrooge and fan of Krampus, I decided to create a painting of a Christmas reindeer, complete with time lapse video and festive music to go along with it. Call it a temporary lapse in Bah Humbug, emphasis on the temporary.

This was painted in Photoshop on my trusty Wacom Cintiq 24HD. Feel free to share it, either from this post or from Youtube.

Cheers,
Patrick

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

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Season’s Greetings – A Video

 

Every so often, I like to record a high speed ‘how it’s made’ video for a cartoon or a painting. I’d love to do more of these, but they’re time consuming.

With the over-the-shoulder view, the kind most people want to see, I used my Canon DSLR on a tripod for the best result. The challenge is that it needs to be close enough to capture the pen on the display, but back far enough so that I don’t bump into it with my shoulder or chair.

I’ve been drawing on Wacom tablets and displays for almost twenty years, so a lot of it is muscle memory. I go through the motions without thinking about the technology. As any artist in any medium can attest, once you’ve been using them for any length of time, the tools become extensions of your hands and arms. You think about the image you’re creating, not about the tools you’re using.

When I record the process, however, the tools are front of mind, which means the cartoon or painting takes longer. There’s really no flow to it and the process feels clunky.

When I’m painting, I can go for an hour without thinking about much else. When recording, I have to stop the camera after about ten minutes. Software is hardly perfect and by recording multiple short segments, it wouldn’t matter too much if I lost one. If I recorded all of it at once, however, that one file becomes a lot more precious.

I don’t record every brush stroke because it would be incredibly boring. I record ten minutes, shut the camera off, draw or paint for ten or twenty more minutes, then record again. There needs to be a big enough change between segments to keep the viewer’s interest.

Once I have enough from the camera, then I’ll often record some screen capture.  It’s no longer the display itself, but software in my computer recording what is happening on the screen. This doesn’t work all that well for painting detailed hair and fur because the cursor, brush and detail is so small, that it’s barely discernible to the viewer.

And again, incredibly boring.

Once I have all of the files recorded, from the camera and computer, I’ll bring them into my video editing software.

How I decided on the length of the video was the music I used as accompaniment. That isn’t always the case, but usual for cartoon videos. I can shorten visual segments, change the playback speed, and more easily mess with the footage than I can with the audio. This Christmas tune is around two minutes, which is a good length for a Youtube video, since our attention spans keep getting shorter.

I didn’t record the whole sketching process because I knew I’d have to mess about with the poses to get all three characters in, plus the talk bubbles.  That’s why you can see my tracing over my own sketch. While that would no doubt be of interest to the beginner or student, not so much for the average viewer.

These videos, it’s all about compromise for content.

For those interested in the tech part, I draw almost exclusively in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. This recording, however, was done on a Wacom Cintiq 16 display, as they sent me one in August. I put it through its paces while painting my White/Amur Tiger video.

It’s a nice display and I enjoy drawing with it, so that’s why I chose it again for this video.

For recording and editing, I use Camtasia Studio 8. It’s a simple interface that gives me what I need without complicating things. I’ve been using this software for many years and it gets the job done.

While this video added an extra few unpaid work hours to my Sunday morning, I created it to give my newspaper clients some added bonus content for their websites and social media feeds. In any business, you’ll rarely go wrong by offering added value from time to time.

As always, feel free to share it, along with any of my other work.

Cheers,
Patrick

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