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Another Painting Demo in Banff

The Bow Valley is usually quite busy this time of year. Whether it’s folks visiting for skiing or other winter activities, shopping for the holidays, or just taking a break from the city and coming out to see the fresh snow on the mountains, there are plenty of people milling about Banff and Canmore on the weekends.

With that in mind, I’m going to be doing a couple more painting demos before the year closes out. This Saturday, December 11th, I’ll be at Editions Gallery in The Cascade Plaza in Banff from 12-2, 3-5, and 6-8, working on the Bighorn Sheep and Great Horned Owl paintings that I currently have on the go.

If you’re in the area, stop by and watch a little digital painting, ask a few questions, or just say Hello.

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Bighorn Sheep – Work In Progress

This is a sneak peek progress shot of the Bighorn Sheep painting I’m working on. After the success I’ve had with the Moose and Wolf paintings, I feel a certain amount of pressure that my next paintings have to be better than anything I’ve done before. While that’s always the goal anyway, it’s different right now in that I’m very aware of it, so I’ll likely obsess about the details on the current paintings quite a bit more. I’m also enjoying working on two pieces at the same time. Hoping to spend a few hours next week on the Great Horned Owl piece.

Lately I’ve been feeling the itch to get back into doing some paintings of people. Aside from some editorial cartoon caricatures, I haven’t painted a likeness of a person since the Bert Monroy caricature I did five months ago. The next one will likely be an actor or musician, but not anybody on the A-list. There are a number of character actors I’ve wanted to paint over the years and I think it’ll be time to finally tackle one of those in the new year.

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No photos were harmed…

Had a painting demo this weekend at Two Wolves Trading Co. here in Canmore. Many people have never seen digital painting before and it’s fun to show them how it’s done. A few brave souls even gave it a try when offered the chance, although most were nervous that they were going to break the tablet. I assured them that Wacom makes a sturdy product.

Something I’m hearing more and more of, is questions asking what I’m doing to photos to get them to look like paintings. I’ve almost drawn blood from biting my tongue when this comes up. I know that I’m not alone in my frustration when faced with this, as I’ve talked to other digital painters who deal with the same false assumption.

I will admit that it’s unfair for me to judge anyone too harshly, because as I said, many people don’t know how digital painting is done. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that whenever somebody sees a computer, they automatically think that anything produced on it has been done by some sort of trick, as in a filter or a piece of software doing all the work.

While I do use photos for reference, just as any portrait, wildlife, or landscape artist might, no photo has ever been part of the image that results in one of my animal paintings. I don’t even use photos for textures in these paintings. It’s all brush work, and it starts from a blank white ‘canvas.’ Each one of these takes around 20 hours of work to complete, sometimes more.

The animal paintings are caricatures of real animals, so I need to know what the anatomy of a real animal looks like, just as you would when doing a caricature of a person. Even though the finished paintings are different from the photos I use for reference, all of the photos are used either with permission (I have some very generous friends) or are paid for, either in trade of a print or cash.

Photoshop is a wonderful piece of software, but despite the name, it’s not just about editing or manipulating photos. Much of the illustration work you see in magazines, on the net, or in ads has been drawn or painted in Photoshop. It’s an incredible illustration tool and I love working with it, but there are many days that I wish Adobe had called it something else.

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Painting Demo

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be doing another painting demo at Two Wolves Trading Co., as mentioned in a post earlier this week.

The images you see here are what I’ll be starting with. At this point both of them are still at 72 ppi, which is only web quality. I still consider these both quite rough. I usually don’t blow an image up to 300 ppi until I’ve got ‘the bones’ of the image done, which I’m pretty sure I’ve got for the bighorn sheep, but not quite for the great horned owl. There are still some structural issues I’m not quite happy with, but that will come with a little more time.

The reason I start at 72ppi is that I even though I have a fast computer, Photoshop doesn’t always do well with really quick sweeping brush strokes when it comes to a large size image with a high resolution. With painting at a lower resolution, I can move the pen/brush as fast as I want without any lag. Lately I’ve found a lot of good results with painting very fast in the beginning at low resolution. It gets to a point where I’m not thinking too much while I’m doing it, and if you ask anybody that knows me well, they’ll tell you I almost always think too much. At this size, I’m just throwing colour and brush strokes around, figuring out what’s going to work and what’s not.

The other reason I start with images at this stage when I do painting demos is that people don’t want to see the first blobs of paint and then be told that eventually it will look like a bighorn sheep or an owl. They want to be able to see the animal I’m working on.

A little different method this time around. I’ll be using my new Cintiq tablet, which means I’ll be painting right on the screen. Another great use I’ve found for my iPad is using it to store my photo reference. Great screen quality, and I can flip through the different images I’m using quite easily.

If you’re around Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore today (across the parking lot from Safeway beside Starbucks) between 2-4 or tomorrow between 12-2, stop in, ask questions or just watch. I’m able to talk and paint at the same time.

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Photoshop User Magazine

Got a nice smile this month when I opened the December issue of Photoshop User magazine. While NAPP had asked me last month for permission to use my images, I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big spread, so it was a very nice surprise. While this image of the Wolf Totem is the first page of the article, all of the Guru Award winners from Photoshop World in Las Vegas AND Orlando earlier in the year are featured on the subsequent pages, so my Moose Totem is in the article as well. A great spread of images. They even quoted my Photoshop World blog entry.

The above photo doesn’t do the image quality justice. I switched to the Zinio reader and the digital version of Photoshop User when I bought my iPad, so this is a photo of the screen, which never quite works out. The magazine was already great quality, but I prefer being able to zoom in on the images to check out the detail. And it takes up a lot less space on my bookshelf. The actual iPad image of this page looks incredible.

Photoshop User is available on newsstands, but it’s included if you’re a NAPP member, just one of the many perks. Usually it’s 8 issues a year, but just recently NAPP announced that they’re increasing it to 10 issues. For regular readers, that’s a big bonus, as it’s one of the few magazines I read religiously.

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Another Painting Demo

Another painting demo is scheduled for this weekend in Canmore!

Two Wolves Trading Co.

Saturday, November 13th, 2:00PM – 4:00PM.
Sunday, November 14th, 12:00PM-2:00PM.

Of course, if there is enough interest on either day, I’m happy to stick around longer than the times listed above. In addition to the giclee canvas prints, Two Wolves now has two sizes of matted paper prints available for the Grizzly, Ground Squirrel, Moose and Wolf paintings.

For this painting demo, I’ll be working on the next two paintings in my Totem series, a Bighorn Sheep and a Great Horned Owl. If you’re in the area, and are curious about digital painting, come on by and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Here’s a sneak peek at the Bighorn Sheep in progress. This is still pretty rough. I begin these paintings at a resolution of 72ppi, so that I can move as fast as I want with any brush, and there won’t be any lag whatsoever. After I get the basic image worked out, I’ll increase the resolution to print quality before painting in the detail.

I anticipate that the horns are going to be the big challenge on this one. There are many ridges, with lots of texture, and to get the detail that I want, I would imagine this one may be the toughest one to date. Then again, wait ’til you see the feathers on the Great Horned Owl.

If you’re in the Bow Valley, hope to see you at Two Wolves on the weekend!

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Business As Usual

While I normally try to have a blog entry done every week, lately I have been remiss, simply because of my heavy workload. Because of the projects I’ve agreed to, and the fact that I want to put my best effort into them, I have decided not to take any new commission work until the new year.

Here is a brief update of the various items I’m working on, in addition to the daily editorial cartoons.

Cartoon Illustration DVD
This has been a big learning experience so far and I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about PhotoshopCAFE. I’ve had a ton of great support while I learn the ropes. In a perfect world, I’d like to put everything else aside just to pour all of my energy into this, but the bills have to be paid, so it’s a juggling act.

There have been a few hiccups, but nothing insurmountable. The first install of Photoshop CS5 Extended didn’t take, and it was freezing up daily. A reinstall thankfully solved that issue and it’s been working well ever since. Camtasia Studio 7 is the video screen capture software that I’m using, and so far, it’s working smoothly. For any Mac users out there, I’ve been told it doesn’t work well on that platform, so fair warning, but I’m on Windows and the only issue I experienced was a conflict with my Wacom tablet. A download of the latest tablet drivers solved that problem.

I’ve been using a CRT monitor as my main monitor for years as I’ve always preferred them to LCD screens, but due to aspect ratio limitations and the requirements for recording, I finally had to make the switch to the 24″ Samsung that I’ve been using for my painting demo display. I’ve used a dual monitor display for years, but the new size makes it feel like I’m using three. Whether it was the LCD or the larger size, the first couple of days I had a splitting headache and sore eyes. I’ll admit to being worried that this was going to be a major problem, but I’ve since gotten used to the new display and am quite enjoying the increased screen real estate.

Lesson plan and sketches have been approved, test recording has been done and submitted, so all that’s left is the actual recording, which I’ve started this week. I won’t lie, it’s been pretty intimidating, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be pleased with it when it’s done.

Totem Prints
The paintings are no longer available at Editions Gallery in Red Deer as I removed them earlier this month. After a number of months in the gallery, there wasn’t one sale and apparently not much interest in them. Whether it was because of the style or the subject, I don’t know, so I’m just going to accept that Central Alberta may not be the right market for these paintings, at least not now.

The paintings are selling well in Canmore and Banff, and I made a trip into Calgary yesterday to pick up another batch of prints. This is the first batch of framed canvas prints and I’m very pleased with how they look. The framed Wolf and Moose Totem paintings will be available in both Banff and Canmore today in the 18″X24″ size.

A line of matted paper prints will be available at Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore today as well. The Moose, Wolf, Grizzly, and Ground Squirrel in two sizes, 11″X14″ and 16″X20″. Each print is mounted with a black matte, open edition, ready for framing. I’ll eventually have all of the Totem series available in matted paper prints.

New Totem Paintings
Another live painting demo is scheduled for Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore on November 13th and 14th, working on a bighorn sheep as my next image. I’ve wanted to do this one for awhile. I already have the next four paintings planned out, and have secured the rights to the reference photos for three of them. As I haven’t done any new paintings since I finished the Wolf, I am very anxious to get started.

There are a couple of other projects I’m working on that I can’t talk about yet, but needless to say, I’m busy, and while there are days I’m hanging on by my fingernails to balance it all, I’m doing what I love for a living, and grateful for it.

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Photoshop World Guru Awards

Photo Courtesy of Doug Zeliff

Back from an exhausting week at Photoshop World in Las Vegas. Without going into every little detail of the week, I’ll just say that it was well worth the trip. Took some great classes, hung out with some incredibly talented people, and went with very little sleep. Just like last year.

As posted here before, I was fortunate to be up for the Illustration category and Best of Show for The Guru Awards. I was very pleased (and surprised) to win both categories. This really was the best part of the week, especially when you consider the wealth of talent I was competing with. I am very honoured to have won these awards.

Photo Link from

Big thanks to all of my friends and family who posted a LOT of comments on Facebook, Twitter and the NAPP forum, not to mention all of the emails I got after the win. It was very overwhelming and appreciated.

As much as the awards themselves are great, they came with a couple of very nice prizes. For the Illustration category, I won a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet, and for the Best Of Show, I won a Wacom Cintiq 12wx.

Photo Link from

To quote a friend this week, “Monty finally got his Cintiq.” While I brought the Intuos4 home with me, thankfully they’re shipping the Cintiq. Couldn’t imagine how I’d get all that through customs, otherwise.

Nothing quite compares with hanging out with other creatives for a week. Everybody I met wanted to be there, and there was no shortage of inspiring experiences. Would have liked to have seen a bit more of Vegas this time around, but that’s not why I was there, so it’ll have to wait for another time. Funny thing, I didn’t take any photos, so fortunately I have a few photographer friends who were willing to share.

Back to work tomorrow, but taking it easy today.

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Another in my Totem series, this wolf was difficult. Different types of fur and hair present different challenges and as in most of my paintings, I’m learning as I go, experimenting with different brushes and techniques.

I’ve got a few illustration projects on the go right now, one of which I want to put all my energy into, because it’s quite an exciting project if it works out the way I want it to. It’s a risk, but anything worthwhile usually is. Photoshop World is quickly approaching as well, and I’m beginning to get ready, but more on that in later post.

Why I mention all of this is that this will be my last painting in this series until mid-September. My next couple of months are booked solid and everything has to take priority over these paintings right now, even though I enjoy them so much. But, taking a break is usually a good thing creatively, because I’ll come back to it fresh and hungry, which has always ended up bringing out my best work.