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The Bear Berry Buffet


Late last month, Shonna and I drove up to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail for one more regular season visit. With kids back in school, waning light and cooler temperatures, it gets quieter as Thanksgiving approaches, their last weekend before closing until May.

They still do their shows as advertised, though. As we were told, everybody paid their admission, so they’re entitled to the same experience whether it’s busy or not.

The bear presentation is a bit of a head fake, because even though you get to see the bears show off their training, it’s primarily an opportunity for keepers to educate a captive audience about conservation and safety. They talk about the differences between black bears and grizzlies and what to do should you encounter either while out in the woods. I’ve seen the bear show a few times, but as it was a small group and we’ve gotten to know the keepers, we figured we’d sit in again just to be polite.

Of course, the moment you get cocky and think you know a lot, that’s when you learn something new and get taken down a peg.

While Serena was talking about Charley and Angel, two of their black bears, she told us about hyperphagia. I’m pretty well read, have lived in bear country for more than twenty years, but I honestly can’t recall hearing that word before, or at least not so it registered. From being bear aware and years of local warnings every fall, I know that bears are eating a lot this time of year to prepare for hibernation, but I had never looked into the science.

From the North American Bear Center website, “Experimental studies with captive bears revealed the following: …Hyperphagia is a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten for hibernation. Black bears with unlimited food and water ate 15,000 to 20,000 kcal per day and drank several gallons.”

According to Serena, it’s a chemical process that happens this time of year, making them eat anything and everything they can get. The Park provides plenty of extra healthy food for them during this stage to prepare them for hibernation. On this particular day, we were told that their black bears had just finished this stage and were starting to slow down.

In the wild, it can be a dangerous time of year to run into bears, because they’re so focused on eating and not so much on their surroundings. So if hikers aren’t making enough noise, they might surprise a feasting bear, which can have less than desirable consequences.

Bears in captivity still hibernate and Discovery Wildlife Park makes them as comfortable as possible in their enclosures while they sleep. Some make use of the large culverts provided, a manmade cave, while others dig their own dens in their enclosures. What many don’t know, however, is that bears still do wake up in the winter. This happens even in the wild, especially on nice sunny days, but they won’t stay up for long.

There is one bear, however, who won’t go to ground this winter at Discovery Wildlife Park, and that’s Berkley, their Kodiak Cub. She’s not even a year old yet, has plenty of energy and is still marveling at the world around her. She’s seen snow a few times and appears to enjoy it quite a bit. Serena has said that Berkley likely won’t hibernate for a few years, but she might slow down a little during the winter months.

That being said, Berkley still appeared to be under the influence of hyperphagia. Shonna and I had the pleasure of going for a walk with her in the woods that evening. On a previous excursion, Berkley seemed to want nothing more than to explore, climb trees and play. On this visit, however, she just wanted to eat.




Like a kid in a candy store, she stopped at every berry bush she could find and proceeded to chow down. It was fascinating and fun to watch. Then when she discovered Serena had peanuts, she whined like a little baby until she was given some.

Of course, when they find the treat that each bear likes best, that becomes a golden opportunity to use it for positive reinforcement and enrichment. Berkley has proven herself to be a smart bear and learns new behaviours quickly, especially when peanuts are involved.
Another black bear at the park named Reno has a thing for guacamole. I met this gentle giant in early 2016 and he’s a wonderful bear. Reno is 22 years old and has been raised at the park his whole life. He weighed one pound when they got him.

He had some issues with his lungs last month and is still recovering, but he was on the mend when we saw him, turning a corner thanks to the antibiotics. They had managed to get him to drink enough fluids without having to put him on an IV and we got to see some of his extra special TLC when we were there.
At one point, while Serena and Mari were in the enclosure with him, he started to urinate and they excitedly grabbed a specimen bottle to collect it before he was finished. They were positively giddy. You know you love your bear when his peeing makes your day. It was a good sign for his recovery and here’s hoping Reno continues to improve.

Vet bills for a bear aren’t cheap, but they do everything they can for their orphans and rescues at this place. It’s a big job, keeping all of these critters housed, fed, and healthy, both physically and mentally. I continue to be impressed with their dedication to these animals and am forever grateful they’ve allowed me to be a part of it. From sketch paintings to finished prints, I’ve painted most of their bears at Discovery Wildlife Park. I hope to keep doing so for many years to come.

Cheers,
Patrick

Here’s a video of our evening with Berkley last month. I suggest you watch it in HD on YouTube.

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A Walk in the Park

When you’re self-employed, you’re always working. If it’s not a planned vacation or camping trip, I do some work every day. But I also make my own schedule, which allows me to take an afternoon hike and to visit popular places like Discovery Wildlife Park or the Calgary Zoo on quieter days.

My wife, Shonna, has a full-time and part-time job, a workaholic for as long as I’ve known her. As a result, scheduling time off together is usually a dance requiring some difficult choreography.

We go out to dinner or lunch once in a while, go on vacations, and still spend a lot of our time off together, but we don’t do date nights, rarely observe birthdays or anniversaries, and we loathe Hallmark holidays. I think we might have gone out for Valentine’s Day once before we were married and we haven’t exchanged Christmas gifts in well over a decade. Might seem odd to some, but it has worked well for us for the past twenty-seven years.

Of all the times I’ve gone to Discovery Wildlife Park over the last couple of years, Shonna has only been there once, and she never got to see any animals. Up visiting family, we stopped in to drop off prints while the park was still closed for the season. So she met the head zookeeper Serena and one of the other keepers I know, but that was it.

And yet, while she enjoys the stories and fun photos I come home with after these visits to the park, Shonna hadn’t been able to experience it.
Berkley is growing up fast, so I told Shonna that I really wanted her to come to the park and see her before she was no longer a cub. We both looked at our schedules, figured out a day to visit the park, and she took a rare midweek day off.

I’ve already been given more opportunities with Berkley than I could have ever hoped for, and I suspected she might be too big now to risk being up close and personal with strangers. But I’ve gotten to be friends with Serena and we both know each other well enough to be candid without hurt feelings. An example is that I can ask difficult questions about animals in captivity without her being offended, because she knows I just want to learn and abandon any misconceptions.

So when I asked Serena if Shonna and I could join her on an evening walk with Berkley, I made it clear that I fully expected the answer to be No and that I was fine with that.

I was thrilled when she said, “Yes.”

Serena already knows I won’t do anything to endanger Berkley or myself. She knows what Berkley will do; it’s always people who are the unknown variable. I assured her that I married somebody more intelligent than myself, and Shonna would be completely respectful of Berkley’s space. Serena has also wanted to spend some time with Shonna because of how often I’ve talked about her.

We arrived about 7:30PM and Serena was waiting for us. We got out of the car, and Berkley went right to Shonna, which doesn’t surprise me. Animals like me, but they all seem to like her better. Even my parents’ dog, who gets excited when she sees me, will pass me up for Shonna. It’s humbling.

Shonna simply stood where she was and let Berkley sniff around her feet. When Berkley stood up on her hind legs and put her paws up on Shonna, she didn’t flinch. Serena came over, told Berkley No, and put her back to the ground. Berkley seemed to think, “whatever” and just walked away.

Serena later told me that Shonna’s easy going reaction told her all she needed to know when it came to trusting her with Berkley.

Over the next hour or so, we walked in and out of the forest on the property. We didn’t make Berkley do anything. The whole point of her evening walks is to let her be a bear. She’d take off into the woods, climb a tree, disappear into the bushes and then burst back onto the trail.
She has recently decided that Mom isn’t busy enough working long hours seven days a week, so Berkley finds burrs to collect, which Serena must then pick out of her fur.

We chatted the whole time, about this and that, just three people having a regular walk in the woods, except for the little bear running around us. Most of the time, she didn’t care where we were. She just did her own thing. When she got close, I’d take some pictures and then she’d head off again.
At one point, Shonna was sitting on a large rock when Berkley decided to really check her out. She put her paws on her leg, then snuffled her ear and apparently licked it which was funny, but also kind of gross. A wet-willy from a bear tongue.

Berkley decided she wanted some of Shonna’s water. Serena apologized and said it was the same kind of bottle she often brought for Berkley so she thought it was hers. Shonna was happy to share, bear slobber and all.

We took her up to the main park area, walking past large enclosures where black bears Charley, Gruff, Angel and others lounged in the grass in the setting sun. We walked between the lion and jaguar cages, the big cats VERY interested in the little morsel scurrying past them. Berkley wasn’t phased.
For the first time, I got to see Berkley’s night-time enclosure. Up until now, since they first got her earlier this year, she has lived at Serena’s house with her husband and kids. Berkley has gone home with her every night and comes to work with her every morning.

I had asked before when she’d be making the transition to staying at the park, and the answer has always been, “when she’s ready.”

Serena has raised many orphaned and rescued animals from babies and a number of them have lived at her house until they were big enough to be comfortable alone at night. She has managed this transition many times before with bears, lions, and other critters.

That week Berkley had just started her park overnights and that night was going to be her third alone in her pen, half of a large sea container complete with bedding, hay, water, food and whatever else she needed to feel comfortable.

Just as a dog takes comfort in a kennel or crate, these animals feel safer in their own space at night and they all have somewhere protected to go when it gets dark. What I found most comforting was that when we approached the kennel, Berkley went right inside, took a drink and then came back out. Clearly, she was comfortable with the space.

Just a couple of days ago, I asked Serena how the transition was going and she said she was adjusting well.
We took Berkley back into the woods where she could play in the creek, climb some trees, dig in the dirt and tire herself out. She checked us out from time to time, but we weren’t nearly as interesting as all of the other sights and smells of the forest.

The next day, we returned to the park as regular guests, bringing donuts and muffins for the keepers and staff as a thank-you. We watched the wolf and bear shows which are always informative and entertaining. All of the animals are trained using positive reinforcement and the loving relationship between the keepers and animals is obvious.
Education is a big part of these shows. Folks get valuable lessons in how to hike and camp safely, and what to do should they encounter a black bear or grizzly in the wild. They’re told about why it’s a bad idea to stop on the highway to take pictures of wildlife, and how a fed bear becomes a dead bear. It’s a better way to teach than to simply hand out a brochure. These orphaned and rescued animals provide an education to prevent future orphan and rescue situations.

They call it a show, but it’s much more than that. This isn’t a circus where the animals are trained to entertain. Training is a part of their enrichment. By using food, praise, and generous shows of affection, their minds are kept active solving problems.

What might look like a simple trick to you and me is what keeps them mentally and physically healthy. We watched Charley the black bear figure out a new trick he just learned that week, which was putting a ball in his toy box. He kept missing the box, would look to Serena for his reward and when he didn’t get it, she’d pick up the ball, throw it a short distance and she’d encourage him to try again.

After the third try, he got it in the box and received his reward. Granted, he destroyed the box in the process, but he learned something new and worked it out. Serena has told me in the past that they have to keep coming up with new tricks because they’ll soon get bored of the old ones.

I noticed recently on their Facebook page, somebody expressed concern over making the lions jump from platform to platform. Serena diplomatically pointed out that it keeps their muscles and minds active. All reinforcement is positive and in this situation, they weren’t even in the enclosure with the animals, so if the lions didn’t want to do it, they just wouldn’t do it.

The best part about my visits to the park is how much I take away from each visit. I’m always learning something new and this day was no exception.

Best of all, a couple of days later, Shonna told me it was one of the best gifts I’d ever given her.

And it wasn’t even a Hallmark holiday.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Berkley the Bear

 
It has been my great pleasure to spend time at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alberta over the past few years. While you might think it has simply been for the opportunity to take reference photos for paintings and another venue for selling my poster prints, the benefits have been so much more.

Last Thursday, I dropped off a large batch of poster prints for their upcoming season. I’ve gotten to know these good folks and it was great to catch up with a few of them. Noticeably absent, however, was Serena Bos, the head keeper. I was told that she was on a road trip.

“Good road trip or bad road trip,” I asked.

“Good road trip. You’re going to love this,” Mari told me. She’s one of the other keepers whose company I enjoy when I’m at the park.

That’s all she’d say and despite my annoying questions (fine, I was almost begging), she wouldn’t tell me anything.

As a result, I’ve been keeping a close eye on their Facebook page, waiting for the announcement. On Thursday, I saw the first photos of Berkley, a Kodiak bear cub..

I sent Serena a text…

As the conversation progressed, I joked that I wasn’t going to be able to see her until late May. They don’t open until May 1st, I have the Calgary Expo that weekend, will be away the week after that and the month of May is quite busy. She’ll have grown so much.

Serena generously offered me a private visit with Berkley if I could come up the following day, an opportunity I wasn’t about to pass up. While my relationship with the park has afforded me behind-the-scenes experiences like this before, it’s a special circumstance I never take for granted.

Luckily, Discovery Wildlife Park is just a little over two hours away and the roads were good. The looming last gasp of winter weather didn’t hit that area until that evening when I was already back in Canmore.

Berkley is a recent immigrant from the U.S., but all of her paperwork is in order. She comes from a facility where her mother’s pregnancy was unexpected and the father was still present. Sadly, he killed the second cub. While it doesn’t happen often, it does happen. Here’s an explanation of why from a Q&A on the National Park Service website

Many people on the Discovery Wildlife Park Facebook page are asking why she was taken from her mother so young. The simplest reason was that her life was in danger and the mother wasn’t caring for her in a manner that would have prevented it. Nature is often harsh. An uncomfortable reality, but reality nonetheless.

Serena has always encouraged me to ask a lot of questions and while I have been respectful, I’ve asked some that might have been taken for antagonism. Thankfully, we know each other well enough now that she understands I just want to learn and she’s as frank with her answers as I am with the questions.

We took Berkley into a wooded area on the park property and let her run around. Careful to keep her away from a nearby small stream, we both snapped pictures and Serena answered plenty of my questions.

Here’s some of what I learned…

Berkley will be with Serena or another caregiver 24 hours a day likely until midsummer when she will slowly get used to spending the night alone in her own enclosure. This will be done gradually and eventually she will be happiest on her own, as most brown bears are.

As Berkley could never be a wild bear, there is no danger of her seeing too many people. While she will have a strictly regulated diet for the rest of her life, people smells and our environment means she will always associate us with food, a situation that results in too many euthanized bears in the wild.

While she only weighs just over ten pounds now, Berkley will eventually grow to be an 800-1000 pound big beautiful bear over the next 5-8 years. I am grateful I got to interact with her now, because it’ll never happen again when she’s an adult. That being said, the keepers will have a daily relationship with her for the rest of her life and she will most likely view them as we would a family member we’ve known and trusted for years. Watching the staff interact with the adult bears they’ve raised from cubs never fails to make me smile.

In the wild, a Kodiak bear’s life expectancy is around 8 years. If all goes well with the circumstances they can control, Berkley can expect to live 25 or more at Discovery Wildlife Park.

Little Berkley has very sharp teeth and nails. In most of the pictures I got with her, you’ll notice I keep my hands closed, although I did get to pet her when she was distracted and Serena said it was OK. I’m not familiar enough to her that I can trust that she wouldn’t bite or scratch me.

At one point Berkley fell off a log and made a squealing noise on the way down and as she hit. My instinct was to grab her but I kept my hands to myself. Serena said that was the right call, because with Berkley flailing about, she very likely could have seriously hurt me. And bears are tougher than we are. The noise she was making wasn’t because she was hurt, it was just because she was scared. She was back on her feet and running around right away.

Berkley is going to be a teacher, in more ways than one. She will be trained to perform tasks and tricks (for lack of a better word) for a couple of reasons. One, it will keep her mind active and is a form of enrichment. In the wild, a bear will always be looking for food and that keeps their brain going. In captivity, where food is provided, it’s the job of her caretakers to provide her with things to think about and problems to solve.

But it will also mean she will get used to being trained, so that when it comes time to present her paw for a blood sample or to urinate on command for testing, she will view it as routine without any stress. These tasks will not only contribute to her overall health, but will provide a valuable scientific resource.

Just like some of the other bears in the Park, Berkley will provide baseline health data of a bear living a low stress life, a consequence of having a regular diet, enrichment and veterinary care. This information will be of great use to select post-secondary schools and research institutions that study bears in different environments. If you know what the data for a low-stress bear looks like, you know how to measure against data for a high stress bear. This will directly aid in wildlife conservation and research, for regions where bears might be living in less than ideal conditions in the wild.

You might wonder, as I did, how Berkley will fare since she won’t have her bear Mom to teach her how to be a bear. Serena assured me that there is a lot of instinct involved in bear behaviour. In the time we were out in the wooded area, that became evident as Berkley climbed over logs, scratched at trees, and scurried around sniffing at everything. She looked like a bear to me.

Her development will be fast. In just the three days since I’d seen a video of Berkley wobbling around on unsteady feet, I saw a completely different bear when I got there. While playing with her, I broke into a bit of a run and her being a bear, she gave chase. I had to run faster, almost up to my own full speed as this tiny little bear kept gaining on me.

Unsteady? Not for long.
I could go on at great length about all that I learned yesterday, but I would encourage you to go see Berkley in person, along with all of the other critters who live at Discovery Wildlife Park when they open May 1st. Go with an open mind, leave your conclusions at the gate and if you have any questions, please ask any of the helpful staff you’ll encounter.

Take part in the different talks they do and consider some of the other programs available. For a small fee, you can even get your picture taken with GusGus the beaver. Tell him I sent you and ignore him if he says he doesn’t know who I am. Trust me, we’re old friends.

Like all of my experiences at the park, my time with Berkley was special and it’s a day I won’t soon forget. I’m already planning a painting of this little diva, but by the time it’s done, she’ll have grown a fair bit, so maybe I’ll just have to keep painting her to keep pace.

Hey, there’s an idea.

Big thanks to Serena Bos and all of the other dedicated staff at Discovery Wildlife Park. You all make me want to be a better human. Any photos seen here with me in the picture, Serena took the shot.

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Dabbling in Something New

Before I became self-employed full-time, I was the admin assistant for a physical therapy office here in Canmore. For a lot of the time, it was just my boss Shane (the physiotherapist) and occasionally a massage therapist working there in the small clinic. If I recall, Shane and I are close to the same age, both into technology, and he was well aware of my eventual plans to work for myself, as my business was thriving part-time on the side. I only worked for him for a little over two years, I think, and I often tell people that it was the best last job to have. That was more than ten years ago. I left on good terms and when I run into Shane on the street once in a while, I’m always happy to see him.

Because we talked about our mutual interests a fair bit when it was slow, he knew that I had been looking into 3D modeling. I had no designs on getting into it hard-core, but just enough so that I could occasionally add some 3D to my editorial cartoon work. At the time, I wasn’t painting more than the occasional caricature for a client and definitely no animals. I was still exploring my options, however, dabbling in Flash animation, trying new things to see where my career might take me.
boardgameMy first year working for Shane, he ended up buying me one of the earlier versions of Carrara by Daz3D as a Christmas bonus. He and I had talked about the software earlier and I remember thinking that was quite thoughtful. Instead of just a cash bonus, he bought me something I wanted but really couldn’t prioritize as a valid expense as I was still very much a struggling artist and it wasn’t cheap.

Shane now has a much larger clinic in another location, with a number of physiotherapists, massage therapists and staff working for him and I’m glad his business is such a success. Both Shonna and I have gone there for physiotherapy since.

I loved working with Carrara and bought a supplement for it called Hexagon, which was a basic modeller. Stuff I created in those programs ended up being part of a number of editorial cartoons. Rather than search for reference or work out difficult perspective on some things, I just built basic models of what I was envisioning, brought them into Photoshop, traced over the bones and moved on from there.

Sometimes, I just built the whole cartoon in 3D, like the chess pieces below. It was a real time saver. It also allowed me to move models around to get better angles, more interesting perspectives and revealed possibilities I might not have considered. Four of those cartoons you can see in this post, all built in 3D, with some drawing in Photoshop after the fact. A few of these were way more complicated than they needed to be, but I was also experimenting.
checkmateThis Checkmate cartoon was for the Alberta PC Leadership race. Not knowing the outcome, I was able to create three different versions, with the names changed to reflect all three possible winners. When the result was in, I just sent out the correct one you see here.

Over time, I stopped using 3D because I wasn’t interested in doing more than I was doing with it, every new release of the software involved learning new things I didn’t need, and a simple process I enjoyed became a complicated mess as they often fixed software that wasn’t broken. Eventually, the software wasn’t being supported anymore and I just let it go. I had also moved on to doing a lot of painting and the animal work that is now such a big part of my life.

Every so often, however, I’ll start drawing an editorial cartoon and think, “this would be so much easier if I just built a 3D model first.”

That’s been popping up in my head more often the last couple of years. I’ve also thought that it might be fun to build some 3D caricatures of both people and animals. To be honest, it’s been some time since I’ve yearned to learn something new, even though this would actually be revisiting an old interest with new tools and a new perspective.

I’ve investigated other 3D software here and there and it’s often too expensive to justify and too complicated for my needs. It would be like learning to fly a Boeing 747 when all I need is to drive to the grocery store. I have limited time to learn new things and keep up with everything else I do. I also knew that I would lose interest in it fast if I had to essentially follow stereo instructions just to create a flower pot.
blocksOne of the best programs out there, however, is one called ZBrush. A lot of professionals use it in conjunction with other software and some of the results I’ve seen are incredibly impressive. But for the cost and learning curve, it looked like the same story. Too big.

In recent months, however, I’ve been hearing a lot about the recently released ZBrushCore, which is a trimmed down version of ZBrush. I’ve watched a number of videos and it reminds me a great deal of Hexagon and Carrara, those early pieces of software I enjoyed so much. The difference is that it’s more sophisticated, streamlined and offers more functionality without being a complicated mess. Few artists are programmers and when it goes so far toward the tech that it no longer feels like creating, then I’m lost.

After watching a number of tutorials the past couple of days, I bought ZBrushCore this morning for $200 Canadian, which I consider very affordable.

I’m a little excited about this, and while the challenge will still be to make the time to learn it, use it, and have fun with it, I’m optimistic. Learning something new this winter might also be a partial antidote to my usual seasonal doldrums. So, it’s likely I’ll be adding some 3D elements to my editorial cartoons in the coming year, and might even try out a funny looking animal or two. If nothing else, I hope to have a little fun sculpting.

My animal Totems started as an experiment, painting a funny looking grizzly bear. Who knows where this might lead?
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All About The Jags

One of the unexpected, but welcome consequences of painting my whimsical wildlife images is my growing interest in learning more about the animals I paint.

Initially, my first concern was finding enough reference. For that I relied on generous photographer friends and stock photos. As time has worn on, I’ve found that I quite enjoy taking my own photos as it makes me feel more connected to the painting from start to finish.

In keeping with that theme, I’ve been spending more time on wildlife excursions, at the Calgary Zoo and at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail.

Last year, I went on two behind-the-scenes…well, I’m just going to call them adventures…with their lion cubs Griffen and Zendaya. I’ve painted Zendaya, but have yet to paint Griffen and might wait until his full mane comes in. Right now, he looks a little like a teenager with awkward hair issues.

This year, the focus of my park visits has been on black bears and I’ve had two memorable behind-the-scenes visits. I’m saving that part of this story for another post.

I’ve been getting to know the keepers pretty well and I am obviously not making too much of a nuisance of myself or doing the wrong things, because after my time with the bears, I’ve twice been invited behind the scenes with their jaguars. It was great to get closer than usual to take pictures and to learn more about their care. Who’s going to say No to an offer like that?
smmiapose

smmagnumposeDiscovery Wildlife Park is home to two jaguars, Mia and Magnum, brothers born and raised at the Park. Magnum is black, Mia has the stereotypical spotted pattern, and both are beautiful animals.

In July, I got to see how the jags are trained and witnessed their claws being trimmed. Training any animal with positive reinforcement requires plenty of patience and skill. With auditory signals and clickers, verbal commands, repetition and reward, I watched as each jaguar ran over to a specific spot by the fence, and put his paw through a small opening for inspection. When the behaviour was performed correctly, he’d be given a reward of a piece of meat on the end of a stick.

smmagnumclawsThe keepers can go into the enclosures with many of the animals, including the lions and bears, but nobody goes in with the jaguars. All of the training is done through a chain link fence, which I find even more impressive.

While you might think the purpose of learning tricks is to entertain people, the real benefit of training is best seen when it comes to the health and well-being of the animals. Teaching them new tricks, hiding things for them to find, and changing up their environment is all part of their enrichment. This kind of stimulation keeps them mentally fit.

But it also makes caring for their physical well-being much more efficient. Rather than tranquilizing an animal on a regular basis for a health checkup, they’ve made showing up for inspection another learned behaviour, a routine they get used to. This leads to a long and healthy life because any problems can be caught early and remedied.
smmiaclawsWhile his claws were being trimmed on my first visit with them, I noticed that Mia had a broken tooth. The head zookeeper, Serena, has explained to me that the jaguars have to open their mouths for inspection twice a day just to make sure everything is OK. In early April, it was not. There were no indications that he was in any pain, but Mia was scheduled for a root canal in July.
smtoothproblemI had planned to write this post after that first experience, but got sidetracked and never got around to it. In hindsight, I’m glad I waited, because I get to share how it all turned out.

Last week, I had an exciting time taking more pictures for my upcoming Black Bear Totem but also got to go behind the scenes with the jaguars again!

I had forgotten about the broken tooth until Serena produced a toothbrush on the end of a stick while training Mia. He had been taken to The Calgary Zoo during the summer and that’s where the root canal had been performed. Everything went well, but now Mia must have the area around that tooth brushed three times each week in order to keep food, hair and other debris from causing any problems.
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smsurgery-1
The benefit of training is clearly evident in that Mia will open his mouth for Serena to get in there with the toothbrush and then another keeper will reward the behaviour with a piece of meat. From Mia’s perspective, he’s just learned another trick. As they had allowed me to get right up next to the fence, I was able to watch this procedure closer to a jaguar’s mouth than will ever be comfortable, but it was thrilling.
smmiateethclean
smmiarewardNo word on whether or not Mia will learn to floss anytime soon. I’ll keep you posted.

As anybody who has ever had a sick pet knows, you usually see a positive change in their demeanor once they’ve been treated. I asked Serena about this, and she said the vet had forecast that as well, but Mia hadn’t shown any initial behaviour changes, so they appear to have caught it before it had given him any real pain in the first place. All thanks to the training.

It’s true that my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park over the past year and a half has been out of the ordinary and you might think the best result of that would be all of the up close and personal reference photos I’ve been able to get for my paintings. Yes, that has been great.

But what I’ve enjoyed most about visiting the Park is all that I’ve learned. The keepers have been generous with their time and while I’ve been respectful, I’ve asked plenty of direct questions about animals in captivity, why the need for training, the meaning of different behaviours and their overall care. With every question I’ve asked, I’ve been given straightforward answers, ones that satisfy not only my curiosity, but also give me the confidence that I’m supporting a facility that has the best welfare in mind for the animals in their care.

If you haven’t been, I would recommend a visit. I plan to return often.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the individual zookeepers for generously sharing their time and knowledge with me. Serena, Mari, Denise, you’re aces. Thanks so much.
smmagnumfaceIf you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!

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Lizard Sketch in Painter 12

LizardSketchFBIn my ongoing efforts to incorporate Painter 12 into my workflow, this is another painted sketch.  As is my style, I’ve taken a lot of creative liberties with the anatomy of our lizard friend, here.

For this one, I used only the Chalk Brushes in Painter.  While I fully expect to incorporate a mixture of the available mediums in the future, restricting myself to only one at a time right now is forcing me to get used to and judge each on its own merits.  I really enjoyed working with chalk, especially since there are a number of different types to choose from.  One of the great features I found with Painter 12 is the availability of adding paper textures while painting.  In real life, the texture of the paper would be universal over the entire image, but not so in the digital realm, at least not in Painter.  I can change paper textures so it only affects the brush strokes I’m making at the time, and then change again without affecting the ones I’ve already made.  Adds a texture element when I need it but doesn’t restrict me when I don’t.  Great feature!

Something else I’m enjoying a great deal in is the Brush Tracking feature.  I’m painting on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD and even though my pen pressure is pretty consistent and I’ve got the Tip Feel set to how I like it in the Tablet Properties, different mediums in Painter require a lighter or softer touch.  Brush tracking on the fly allows me to change the pressure sensitivity as often as I’d like.  It’s really easy to do and takes very little time away from the canvas.

I’m really enjoying discovering all that Painter has to offer this Photoshop artist and I plan to keep at it.  I have a feeling I’ve just scratched the surface.

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Taming Painter 12

TigerSketch

In an effort to broaden my digital painting horizons, I recently bought Corel Painter 12 and am trying to get used to it.

Having been a digital painter with Photoshop for many years now, I’m very comfortable not only with the default tools, but with customizing and designing my own brushes so that I can paint the way I like.

By pairing and customizing Wacom’s hardware and Adobe’s Photoshop software, I’ve developed a very comfortable workflow and I know how to get the results I want with the tools at hand.  So if everything is working so well, you might wonder why I’m bothering with Painter.  The short version is that Photoshop and Painter are the industry standards when it comes to digital painting.  Some artists use only one of them, but many use both together, taking advantage of the strengths that each offers to produce the best results.  I would like to have that option.

I invested in some initial training with Lynda.com to try to learn the ropes, but it didn’t give me what I needed.    The class and instructor were fine, but when it comes to software, I seem to learn best by first doing something.  If I can’t figure it out by trial and error (usually a LOT of error), then I’ll go searching for articles, videos, and classes online.

The painted sketch you see above is my first attempt at painting in Corel Painter 12.  It took me a few hours as I tried a lot of the different available mediums, quickly realizing which ones I didn’t like and which ones had potential.

Painter 12 is designed to emulate traditional media.  If you’re a traditional artist, that’s probably great news.  But I’ve never painted with traditional tools.  I learned how to paint in Photoshop, so to use oil painting or watercolour in Painter was incredibly frustrating because I’ve never used them before and didn’t like the way they worked.  In all honestly, there were a few instances where I tried a brush and said, “Ugh!”, disgusted at the results.  When it came to the cloning tools, I abandoned them without even taking them for a spin.  I’ve never like painting or tracing over a photo and those tools are designed to do just that.  While some people enjoy working with that option, I’ve never done it in Photoshop and I don’t plan to start now.  Photos don’t belong in my work.

Now you might be wondering if this is just a blog entry to slam Painter.  Let me assure you that it’s not.  While half of my drawing and painting time was spent with a furrowed brow and clenched jaw when the tools were not working the way I wanted them to, the other half was spent with raised eyebrows in surprise and even a grin or two when I discovered a few things I really liked.  I might have even said, “hey, that’s cool” out loud a few times.

Once I realized that I didn’t have to use EVERY medium in Painter, I started to enjoy myself.  After all, I only use a small percentage of the features in Photoshop.  Painter is designed to emulate most traditional mediums so that it appeals to a wide range of artists.  But it doesn’t mean that a watercolour painter now has to learn oils and charcoal just because they’re suddenly available in the same place.

I found painting with the acrylic brushes really enjoyable.   They work the way I want them to and I plan to spend a lot of time painting with those.  The airbrush tool offers a LOT more options than the Photoshop airbrush does, so I’m really looking forward to incorporating that into some fine detail work.

I pride myself on having a really good handle on the Photoshop brush engine but the Painter brush engine is a whole new animal.  I’m bracing myself for when I tackle that monster.  Taming that beast is an absolute necessity because designing and using my own brushes is a big part of how I paint.

So what do I think of Painter 12 after only using it a short time?  I think it’s an impressive piece of software that I have no idea how to use.  Now, had you asked me the same thing about Photoshop ten years ago, I would have given you the same answer.  They do share many of the same shortcut keys and tool options, like zooming, panning, layers and other functions, but there are other operations that are completely different and therein lies the challenge.

When talking about this on my Facebook page, I said, “It’s as if somebody came into the kitchen while I was cooking and moved everything to different cupboards and drawers, changed labels, and translated the recipes into foreign languages.  I can still cook, but there won’t be any finesse to it until I get used to the new layout.”

Just like anything worth doing, it’s going to take me time to become good with Painter, just as it took years to become good with Photoshop.   When it comes to painting, neither one of them is a ‘press this button, press that button’ piece of software.  Digital painting is an art medium all on its own.  If I were learning how to paint with oils, acrylics, watercolour, charcoal or any other traditional medium, the learning curve would be just as steep, if not more so.

I’m off to a good start, but I’m under no illusion that I’ll be doing any commission or gallery work in Painter anytime soon.  Probably a lot more of the type of painted sketch you see above for the next little while.  But I plan to keep at it, work through the frustration and practice as often as I can.

When it comes down to it, that’s the only way to create better art no matter what medium you’re using.

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Wacom Cintiq 13HD

Cintiq13HD This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending an online briefing for the new Wacom Cintiq 13HD Pen Display.  For those familiar with the Wacom line of tablets and displays, the 13HD is the replacement for the Wacom Cintiq 12WX.  Let me tell you, this might just be the one you’ve been waiting for.

Let me preface this post by saying, if you’re expecting an unbiased critical ‘pros and cons’ review, you’re not going to find it here.  I’m a big fan of Wacom tablets for the simple reason that I make my living as a digital artist.  The computer is my medium, but only if a Wacom tablet or display is connected.  I would not be able to sketch, draw or paint with a mouse, and I’ve yet to meet a professional digital painter who is not using a Wacom device at some level.

Over the past ten years, I’ve used all versions of the professional Intuos line of tablets, a few of the entry level Bamboo tablets, the Cintiq 12wx, and my current go-to display is the Cintiq 24HD.  Each has had unique features that distinguishes itself from the others and from the previous models.  For my daily work, I’m using the Cintiq 24HD.  It’s a joy to create with, and it excels in quality and performance.  Combine that with the fact that I can customize all of the features and I find it does everything I need it to.  Well, except for one thing.  It’s a monster and you can’t take it with you!  With the Cintiq 24HD, you find a place for it and you leave it there.  Since I work from home in my office at my desk everyday, it’s all I need most of the time.

But from time to time, I like to do painting demos in galleries, instructional presentations, or give lectures at schools.  The Intuos5 tablet works very well for that and I can still do all of my work with that tablet without a problem.  But let’s face it, I’m not only used to working on the screen now, but I really enjoy it.  The Cintiq 13HD paired with a laptop will now give me the portability and performance I need, not to mention the HD quality I’ve become used to and thrive on.

So in the briefing today, there were a few things that really caught my eye, features that made me sit up and take notice.  Or should that be, sit up and beg?

They’ve gotten rid of the connector box that came with the 12WX.   That box meant that every time you wanted to hook it up, you had to deal with plugging and unplugging what seemed like more cables than were really there.  To be honest, it was a pain to cart around and I didn’t like that very much.  Of course, the Cintiq 13HD still has cables, but they’re a lot neater.  In fact, it’s a 3-in-1 cable.  It also comes with an AC adapter to plug into the wall, as it’s unrealistic to expect a state of the art HD display to run on the power from a USB cable.  For those who want the VGA connector, you can easily find adapters at most electronics stores.

Power

Obviously, Wacom has tried to find the balance between portable and performance with this device, because the Pro Pen that comes with the Cintiq 13HD also comes with a handy carrying case, complete with the interchangeable nibs and other accessories that Wacom pen users have come to expect and appreciate.  One of the best features with the pen is that it is compatible with the Intuos 5 tablets and other Cintiq displays so you don’t have to keep switching pens if you’re using multiple Wacom devices.  I love that!  One pen to rule them all.

Pen

The display stand is ingenious.  With three different settings to allow you to adjust the height and angle, there will be a workable position for anyone.  But if you’re the type of artist that likes to work with it on your lap or flat on the table or desk, the entire stand is removable, leaving you with just the display.  Incidentally, the whole thing is less than 3 pounds!

Stand

One of the greatest features with any Wacom tablet or display is the ability to customize the Express Keys, Touch Ring and Radial Menu.  With the Cintiq 13HD, they’ve replaced the Touch Ring with a Rocker Ring, which now gives you four more programmable buttons.  As someone who usually has a hard time deciding which features win the coveted Express Key status, I’m pleased they gave me more options to choose from.  The ability to make my tablet or display my own is a very important feature for me and I use these features in every image I work on.

RockerRing

Until I get my hands on one of these little wonders, I’ll just have to drool from afar, but it has definitely made this year’s technology wish list and I’m looking forward to getting one.  The Wacom Cintiq 13HD will be shipping very soon, sometime in the middle of April.

 

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Another Wacom Webinar

Wacom has invited me back for another webinar, coming up soon on Thursday, November 8th.  Click here or on the image to go to the registration page.  Best of all, it’s free!

When I was in Las Vegas in September for Photoshop World, Wacom invited me to give a demonstration at their booth on the Expo Floor.  Yesterday, they posted the session online in two parts.  While this one shows you more of me talking about painting, next week’s webinar will show my screen and you’ll be able to see the work up close and personal, just as I get to while I’m creating it.

Here are the videos from Vegas.  Enjoy!

PART 1

PART 2

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Brisby

A little while ago,  I just happened to see the reference photo for this one on a friend’s Facebook page and asked her if I could paint it.  I was thinking sometime in the Fall.  It was clear to me from the beginning that this was not going to be a Totem style rendering.  I just loved the winter scene that was captured here.   Brisby is a 14 year old Australian Shepherd/Red Heeler cross and the photo not only showed her senior years, but just spoke to me.  I’ve never met her, but there’s a gentle soul behind those eyes.  I especially liked the reflections of her people in her eyes and even though I briefly experimented with painting her eyes without those reflections, it didn’t take me long to realize they belonged in the painting.  I enjoyed working on this one a great deal and for most of the time, it just seemed to paint itself.

Coincidentally (yes, I know, there are none), Brisby belongs to a friend who works for Wacom.  When they recently invited me to demonstrate my painting techniques at their Photoshop World booth, I realized I’d only do a good job of it if I painted something especially for that demo.  Since I already had the reference, I figured this was as good a time as any to paint this image.  As it wouldn’t be possible for me to create a painting from scratch and complete it in a 45 minute presentation, I saved this painting at multiple stages from beginning to end.  With each stage, I’ll show how I paint and talk about what I’m thinking and looking for at that particular point of the process.

If you’re going to be at Photoshop World, stop by the Wacom booth at any time during the conference when the Expo is open, but if you’d like to learn more about my process and this painting in particular, I’ll be presenting on Thursday, September 6th, from 3:00-3:45.  I’ll be available following the presentation to answer questions as well.  See you there!