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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!

 

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Lessons, Light, and Joe McNally

Joe McNally is an incredible photographer whose work I’ve enjoyed for awhile.  Visit his website at joemcnally.com, look through his portfolio, and it’ll tell you all you need to know about him.

Sure, I like taking snapshots like anyone else, but I don’t want to be a photographer.  The mechanics of photography reminds me of my struggles with high school math, and even though the calculations involved with ISOs, shutterspeeds, and aperture settings eventually become somewhat instinctual to an experienced shooter, I really haven’t the interest in doing the work it would require to become proficient with a camera.  My time is already maxed out learning to be a better painter.

So why did I bother attending Joe’s ‘One Light, Two Light’ seminar in Calgary yesterday?  Well, there were a couple of reasons.  One, Joe is a master of light.  There is something in the quality of the portraits he takes that seems a little ethereal.  There is a life in his images that evokes an emotional response.  To me, that’s the definition of art.

The other reason is that Joe has a reputation for enjoying his work.  Anyone who underestimates the value of passion is completely missing the point of an artistic pursuit.  Joe will be 60 in a few weeks and has been working behind a camera for more than 30 years.  Not only does he still seem to be enjoying himself, but he has an infectious sense of humour and a charismatic way of teaching that is incredibly inspiring.

This wasn’t a Photoshop seminar.  All of the work Joe was doing, in fact, was ‘in camera.’  I also found out that when he works for National Geographic, something he has done many times, they require that none of the files ever sees a photo-editing program.

Joe’s ‘no B.S.’ tone when he talks about gear, technique, and ‘the rules’ was refreshing.  I hang around a lot of photographers and some of the arguments these folks have when it comes to gear, settings, and quoting the ‘experts’ can be downright combative.  Joe doesn’t seem to bother himself with that nonsense.  At one point, he even held up his camera and said, “This is just an expensive blender.”

It might seem obvious to say that you can learn a lot from the work of other artists.  Too often, however, a painter will only look at other painters, a sculptor at other sculptors, and a photographer…you get my point.

I know of many talented artists who are doing very well and have a great many devoted followers.  While I appreciate their expertise, their work may not move me.  I’m absolutely certain that many would say the same when referring to my artwork.  Hey, different strokes for different folks.  So, when you find work of another artist that does excite you, ask yourself why, especially if they don’t work in your medium.  Obviously there’s something there that’s worth exploring.  Joe’s work speaks to me, and I don’t say that lightly.

When I mentioned on Facebook that I was attending this event, my photographer friend Susan joked, “What do you need with flash anyway?” referring to the fact that the workshop was all about flash photography and the different techniques to get the best results.

Another photographer friend, Gudrun, who was sitting with me at the seminar, posted on her page after the event, “Joe McNally’s seminar today was good, but my favourite part was watching how excited Patrick got seeing some of the lighting results!”

They were both right.  While the technical aspects were interesting to watch, most of it was entirely lost on me as a painter.  I worked on sketches whenever Joe was talking about the gear.  It was the results that made me sit up and take notice, and yes, I found it exciting.  Great light just does it for me.

I found myself looking at some of the portraits and techniques, asking myself, how would I paint that light?  What would I do differently? How could I replicate that photography technique in a painting?

Art is supposed to be about expanding your horizons, not limiting them.  While there are other art forms I do want to try, sculpting being one of them, I’ve never been bitten by the photography bug, which is probably a good thing, considering how much money they spend on gear.  Hanging around with photographers for a number of years, however, has taught me just as much about my own medium as it has about theirs.

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Going back to Photoshop World

Last year, after returning from Photoshop World in Las Vegas, I wrote a blog entry about the experience and expressed some disappointment about the shortage of learning opportunities for me personally.  I also said that it was unlikely that I’d be returning in 2012.  The passage of time lends perspective, however, and I’m pleased to say that I will once again be heading back to Mandalay Bay in September.

Why the change of heart?  Simply put, I’ve adjusted my expectations and have realized that for the most part, Photoshop World hasn’t changed over the years so much that I have.  While I stand by my assessment that there isn’t nearly enough of a focus on design and illustration, I also know that complaining about it on a soapbox isn’t likely to change that.  I sent an email to the powers that be last year about that part of it, it was well received and I’m confident that the views I expressed were weighed and considered.   I’m content to leave it at that.

This year, weighing the event solely on what it is instead of what I’d like it to be, I believe it still has a lot to offer to me.

As far as the classes go, I won’t even have close to a full schedule, but there are a number of them that I want to take this year, especially regarding the new features in Photoshop CS6.  With the new schedule recently revealed on the website, I’ve had an opportunity to go through and see what will interest me most.  One obvious choice is Corey Barker‘s 3D classes.  The Photoshop CS6 Extended 3D features are apparently greatly improved, and judging by his recent work and positive things he’s said, I’m anxious to learn a little of how he’s accomplishing some of his very impressive imagery.  While I have no desire to become a 3D artist, I do plan to incorporate some 3D elements into editorial cartoons on a regular basis.  Having done so in the past, it can be a real time saver, which is important when faced with tight deadlines.

There are some social media and business classes I’d like to audit for any new information, and a surprising number of photography classes that will no doubt benefit my painted work.  Classes on portraiture, lighting and composition all have the potential to teach me how to improve my paintings, as the goal for both photography and illustration is to end up with a stunning final image.

While the classes are an important  part of Photoshop World, especially if you’re new to the game, the official learning opportunities alone wouldn’t be enough to entice me back.  There just isn’t enough specific to my discipline.  But notice that I said, ‘official learning opportunities.’

Something I’ve been realizing this past year is that there is a lot I can learn from simply being at this event.  Over the years, I’ve met some incredibly talented and knowledgeable people, leaders in their own respective fields and niches, and many of them aren’t even teaching at the event, but they’re still there.  Simply being connected to these people and talking with them candidly has great value.

Over the past year, I have been fortunate to work with the great folks at Wacom on webinars and other projects, have worked on illustration commissions for renowned wildlife photographer Moose Peterson and Photoshop Instructor Dave Cross, have written for Photoshop User magazine and have  contributed to two books written by colleagues.  I have realized significant exposure and growth of my painted work and have taken advantage of other opportunities I can’t yet discuss.  Much of this has been a result of my time spent, and the people I’ve met, at Photoshop World.   If you’ve been following my work for awhile, you’re well aware of the two Guru Awards I won in 2010.  Although arguably insular in scope, those wins opened a number of doors for me, and I do believe that without them, I might not be as far advanced in my career as I am today.

As an aside, and because a number of people have asked me, I won’t be entering the Guru Awards again.  Were I fortunate to enough to win, the experience would clearly pale in comparison to that first year.  I’d rather see somebody else realize their own opportunities.

Furthering the relationships I’ve built with experts and practitioners in the many niches of this media industry is alone worth my time.  While many of these connections are genuine friendships, it’s also just good business.  Networking is a buzzword that’s thrown around by many without real understanding of what it means.  Simply put, it’s forging bonds and connections with other professionals and building relationships that have the potential to be mutually beneficial to everyone involved.  While these connections can be made online, it isn’t the same as sitting down with somebody over lunch or sharing a drink exchanging information.  I can point to two very specific chats I had last year, revealing very valuable information that ended up directly impacting my career.  Both of them were completely casual run-ins in the halls with acquaintances between classes.

This year, I plan to spend some more time with the folks at Wacom and it’s the one time of year I actually get to chat with Colin Smith at PhotoshopCAFE in person.  Considering he publishes my DVDs, probably important to talk face to face once in awhile.  Since I’ve painted him, but haven’t yet met him, I plan to finally talk with Russell Brown from Adobe, and catch up with a number of others that I talk to online regularly but only get to see once a year.

Freelancing and working from home is a great life and I wouldn’t change it.  But it’s often a lonely day-to-day when the majority of your communication is done through email and social media.  Connecting with other industry professionals who  deal with the same challenges I do, whether it has to do with software, technique, or business has become very important to me and I’ve realized that Photoshop World provides the right venue for me to do that well.  I also find that each year I come home inspired and motivated to do my best work, a byproduct from simply being around other creatives who enjoy what they’re doing.  That kind of energy is contagious and that battery can always use a recharge.

All that aside, I really like Vegas and it’s a good excuse to get out of the office for a week.

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Wacom Intuos5: The Radial Menu

Here’s the third post about the new Wacom Intuos5 tablet.

I tried to show how to customize the tablet in one video, but it ended up being over 30 minutes long.  Since most of us have trouble sitting still for that long these days, I figured I’d break them up.  The previous one was on the Express Keys and the Touch Ring, while this one is about the Radial Menu.  The third one will be all about the new Touch features on the Intuos5, saving the best for last.

So here’s the second video, hope you like it.  It’s all technical stuff, but if you’re using Photoshop and a tablet in your work, this might give you a couple of tips and tricks to customize your tablet and get the most out of it.  Probably best to watch it at full screen, too.

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Wacom Intuos5: Express Keys and Touch Ring

Here’s the second post about the new Wacom Intuos5 tablet.  While my original intent was for these videos to just be reviews, I figured I’d make them more of a tutorial style.  If you’re looking for a review of the new features, I’ll just be up front and tell you that there’s really nothing I don’t like.  In my opinion, Wacom hit it out of the park with this tablet.  I’m really pleased with it.

I tried to show how to customize the tablet in one video, but it ended up being over 30 minutes long.  Since most of us have trouble sitting still for that long these days, I figured I’d break them up.  This one is on the Express Keys and the Touch Ring, while the next one will be on the Radial Menu.  The third one will be all about the new Touch features on the Intuos5, saving the best for last.

So here’s the first video, hope you like it.  It’s all technical stuff, but if you’re using Photoshop and a tablet in your work, this might give you a couple of tips and tricks to customize your tablet and get the most out of it.  Probably best to watch it at full screen, too.

Cheers!

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Brush Design in Photoshop User Magazine

The March issue of Photoshop User magazine has now been released.  If you’re a subscriber, it went out in the mail today or you can download it on the Zinio reader right now.  In the ‘Down and Dirty Tricks’ sections, I’ve got a four page step-by-step on Designing Dynamic Hair and Fur Brushes with some tips on how to use them.  This article was a challenge to write, as I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything crucial, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  While brush design in Photoshop is an art form in and of itself, this should get you started.  The rest you get from putting in a lot of time and practice.

For more on how to paint fur and hair in Photoshop, check out my DVD, “PhotoshopCAFE Masterclass: Animal Painting in Photoshop.

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The upside of 2011

Bighorn Sheep TotemAll things considered, 2011 was a great year.  While every year will have it’s challenges, I’ve been fortunate that I’m honestly able to see each year of the past decade as having continual forward momentum.  The work I’m doing is far beyond what I had hoped for when I first started in this profession and I’m very grateful for it.

I became nationally syndicated in September of 2001, sending cartoons out across Canada each week, and got very few bites.  For two years, I had no more than three newspapers, paying the bare minimum rate, and I will admit to almost giving up on it more than a few times.  With a full-time job to pay the bills, I had to get up at 5:00am each morning to get a cartoon out before I went to work.  When I came home, I had to sketch in the evening and work on the weekends in order to manage it all.  Finally I started making progress, got a few more papers, took advantage of other opportunities, and about six years ago, I was able to leave my job and play this game full-time.

Through it all was my ever supportive wife, Shonna, and I’m incredibly grateful that she never told me not to do any of this.  The only caveat given when I went full-time was that if I couldn’t pay my half of the mortgage and bills, I had to go back to work.  Canmore is an expensive place to live and we couldn’t do it on one income.  Fortunately, it never came to that, and each year has been better than the one before.  At the time, it was an incredible struggle, but in retrospect, I’m glad I had to go through it because it makes the present all that much sweeter.

If my 2001 self could see the work I’m doing now, he’d be pleasantly surprised, and I try to think about that when I’m having a bad day or feeling sorry for myself because of a heavy workload or when money is tight.  So far, I’ve not only gotten what I wanted, I’ve gotten much more.  Best of all, I discovered that I loved getting up at 5:00am to work, I still sketch in the evenings, and being self-employed means you often work weekends anyway, so I was already used to the routine.  Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Here’s a recap of my professional highlights of this past year, some of which I’d forgotten about until I went back through the blog entries month by month.

iPad Painting: Started playing around with this in January, and damn if it hasn’t been a lot of fun figuring it all out.  Ended up trying four different styli and half a dozen apps.  It would seem that I’ve finally settled on the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, the Nomad minibrush, and the procreate app.  The combination of those three gives me the best results, and while I don’t consider anything I paint on the iPad to be finished work, I would go so far as to call it advanced sketching, and I plan to keep doing it.

PhotoshopCAFE DVDs:  In March, I finished my first DVD, called Cartoon Illustration Techniques in Photoshop.  Easily one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever worked on.  Having only done a little bit of sound and video editing for a failed Flash animation project a few years back, it was a struggle.  But I finished it, it went into production, and is selling well.  I’ve heard from many who bought the DVD that have learned a lot from it and complimented me on my instruction, so I’m guessing I didn’t do so bad a job.

The second DVD, Animal Painting in Adobe Photoshop, was a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable as I wasn’t teaching raw Photoshop beginners.  It was more about the painting than the software and while it was a challenge, the difficulty I went through with the first DVD paid off while recording the second as there were few problems I hadn’t already solved.  Recording one DVD this year would have been enough of a milestone, but I never expected to record two, and to be very pleased with both of them.

Cartoon Ink: While my old website was ‘fine,’ it had become difficult to use and it was no longer the image I wanted to project.  While I had always done my own website in the past, this time I realized one of the most important business practices that so many have learned before me.  Hire professionals to do their job, so you can focus on doing yours.  With that in mind, I hired Erik Bernskiold of XLD Studios in Sweden to create a new website for me.  I knew Erik’s work and know him personally, so I was confident he would deliver much more than I could create myself.  With the help of Elizabeth Gast at Design by Firgs, another colleague and good friend who consulted on the site, and created an improved evolution of my logo, I was very pleased with the final logo and website and would highly recommend both of their work.  The time I saved was well worth the money spent and reduced stress.

Wacom: I began to form a relationship with the great folks at Wacom at Photoshop World in 2010 after I won the Guru Awards for two of my Totem paintings and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Having used their tablets since the late 90’s, you won’t find a bigger fan, so I’m very pleased to be working with them from time to time.

Over the course of the year, I’ve been featured in the Wacom eNews, have represented the company and demonstrated their products at one of Scott Kelby’s seminars in Calgary, and have been a featured guest on two of their one-hour Wacom webinars.  The people I’ve worked with at Wacom have been incredibly supportive and are absolute pros at what they do and I look forward to a continuing relationship with them.

The photo shown here is Joe Sliger demonstrating the new Wacom Inkling for me at Photoshop World this year.  He is also one of the moderators of the webinars.

Island Art Publishers: In July of this year, I began a licensing deal for some of my Totem paintings to be produced on art cards.  These are distributed throughout Western Canada and the northwestern U.S. and time will tell whether this arrangement bears any fruit.  An artist friend once told me that art cards are often your best advertising, because not only does the person buying it see your work, but so does the person receiving it.  You may not make much money early on, but it’s enough to get your work out there to a market that otherwise might not see it.  And the cards look really good.

Photoshop World: While it’s true that I didn’t learn much about technique or improving my work at this year’s Photoshop World in Las Vegas, I still think it was worth attending because of the networking opportunities.  Having recorded two DVDs for PhotoshopCAFE, it was great to finally meet the owner of the company in person, and see their operation on the Expo Floor.  I was able to meet a few more of the Wacom folks in person, and talk with other industry professionals I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to talk to.  Online interaction is fine, but it doesn’t compare with face-to-face conversations.  So while I won’t be going back as an attendee, I still think this year’s trip was well worth it.

knmadventuresAt the time, I was doing some illustration work for wildlife photographer and instructor, Moose Peterson as well, and being able to go over sketches with him in person was a real treat, as most of the time this would have all been done online.  The other benefit of the Photoshop World conference is that I get to meet with so many talented photographers, many of whom I consider close friends.  For somebody who relies on great photo reference for my painted work, their skills and talent are often one of my most valuable resources, not to mention their generosity with their work, and the support they offer for mine.

Paintings: Saved the best for last.  I am so very pleased with the progress I’ve made on my painted work this year.  The first half of the year, I was so busy with the DVDs and other work that I only painted one animal in my Totem series, the Great Horned Owl.  When I realized this in the latter half of the summer, I was ticked off.  The work I love to do most, I had placed in last priority.  In retrospect, however, I’m glad it happened because when I realized it, I vowed it would never happen again and it stoked the fire.  The end result is that from September to December, I’ve painted a number of new images and I feel they are my best work to date.

I had been becoming bored with painted caricatures of people in the past couple of years, but recently, I’ve realized that it wasn’t people I was bored with painting, just caricatures of them.  Beginning with a couple of iPad paintings, I’ve discovered how very much I enjoy painting portraits, and I’ve done a couple of pieces recently that I’ve really enjoyed.  Inspired by the work of Drew Struzan and others, I think I’ll be painting a lot more portraits of people, if nothing more than for the sheer enjoyment of it.  While style is always evolving, I think my paintings now have a definitive look that is mine, whether it’s people or animals, and it’s one I want to continue to develop and refine.

I’m now getting commissions to paint pet portraits and caricature this year, and it’s really enjoyable work.  The painting of Don Diego that I did for my DVD, the memorial to Titus the cat, and to being able to finally create a real painting for my folks of their dog, Bailey, it’s looking like this could be a big part of my work in the coming years.  Working on another commission at the moment, and having fun with it.

My real passion, however, is still the Animal Totems.  Nothing I’ve ever done in my career has filled me with as much joy as that I get from painting these whimsical caricatures of wildlife.  Not only are they fun to work on, but they sell well in the galleries which means others like them, too.  I’ve been fortunate that a number of wildlife photographers I know have been willing to sell me the license rights to use their photos as reference, or have enjoyed my work enough to want to trade me the use of their images for canvas prints of the painting when it’s done, both of which I’m more than willing to do.

Humpback Whale TotemEach of them is my favorite for different reasons, but the one I was most happy with this year was the Humpback Whale Totem.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve wanted to paint it for so long or that it was such a challenge to paint an animal with no fur or hair, and the end result lived up to my expectations.  Either way, these paintings are the only work I’ve ever done that I still enjoy months and even a year after I’ve painted one.  That alone tells me this is the work I’m meant to do, at least for now.

As you can see, I’ve had a very good year, and I’m grateful for it.  For all of you that follow my work, your messages of support here on the blog, through social media, and email are all appreciated.  It’s a solitary existence, this freelance lifestyle, and it’s nice to know that others are getting enjoyment out of the work I do.  And if you’re struggling with your own creative endeavors, whether you’ve just begun or are just trying to keep going, I would urge you not to give up.  It may not seem like it in the moment, but I assure you, if it’s something you love to do, it’s worth the effort.

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Another Wacom Webinar: Cartooning Techniques!

Since the last one was so well received, the good folks at Wacom have invited me back for another webinar on November 22nd.  While the previous one touched on both cartooning and painting, turns out that some folks felt there was not enough on each, so this one will focus on some more techniques and methods I use in my everyday editorial and illustration cartooning.  A number of these techniques are included on my DVD from PhotoshopCAFE, but I’ve also added a few other things to this webinar that aren’t on the DVD.

I really enjoyed the last one and heard from a lot of people that did as well, so I’m looking forward to another opportunity to share a little of what I know about cartooning in Photoshop.  Hope you can join me in November.

Click HERE to register for the upcoming webinar (or on the image.)  If you’d like to take a look at the last one, here’s the link to Wacom’s YouTube channel.

 

 

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A dog and his painting.

Regular readers will know the story by now, but long story short, my friend Pat Wendt in Lincoln, Nebraska has this wonderful little dog named Don Diego.  When it came time to record my animal painting DVD for PhotoshopCAFE, I thought he’d be the perfect subject.  Since Pat is a talented photographer, I knew I’d get a great reference photo to work from, and I certainly did.  In exchange for the use of her photo (and her dog), I gave her some prints, copies of both of my DVD’s, my undying gratitude and the framed stretched canvas painting that you see here.

When it comes to digital painting, the finished piece ends up being a digital file, so when it comes to ‘the original’, it’s whatever the artist certifies as such.  As I included a certificate of authenticity with the painting, Pat now owns the original of this work.  It’s hanging in the bookstore, Bluestem Books, that she and her husband Scott own in Lincoln.  I asked Pat to take this photo for me so that I could see the painting with the subject.

Now there’s a dog with charisma!

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Catching my breath.

Looking back on my career so far, it would seem that I spend most of my time living through periods of deadline panic with large projects, followed by periods of lesser panic where I figure that NOW I can finally gain some control over my life and relax.  This delusion is then followed by the next period of deadline panic with a large project.  I’m a slow learner.

Last week, I finished another DVD for PhotoshopCAFE, which definitely falls under the ‘deadline panic with large project’ category.  While I know that it will be ready for Photoshop World in Las Vegas the first week of September, I would imagine it will be available sooner than that online.  This was a big one for me.  While my first DVD effort was on cartooning, I’m pretty comfortable with that process, so even though the actual recording was hell (why mince words?),  the subject matter was fairly routine, as I’ve been drawing cartoons in that fashion every day for a number of years.

This second DVD, the recording and painting were both challenging, but still very enjoyable.  The editing, however, was just challenging.  I enjoy painting more than any of the other creative work I do, so I wanted the painting in the DVD to be my best effort.  While I’m pleased to say that I think I achieved that, I’m relieved that it’s done.  I ended up taking an involuntary day off once all the files had been sent, because I was completely exhausted.

Finished a commission of a cat painting this week.  There’s a great back story to this one, but I can’t share it, or the full painting, until after the client gives it as a gift.  Keeping secrets is often part of the job.  But I’m happy with how it turned out.   Recording the painting DVD created a little pressure (self-induced, of course) to up my game, and I’m looking forward to my next wildlife painting.  I’ve been thinking about this one  for almost a year and I’m excited to get started on it.

This week, I intend to finish a painting of my parent’s dog, Bailey, a wonderful little shih tzu with a great personality.  Been wanting to paint her for awhile and pleased I finally get to give this gift to my Mom.

I’ve got one more large illustration gig to wrap up in August, but other than that, I’m almost caught up.  I still have my regular editorial cartoons to draw, and five or six extras to get done in advance for my week away at Photoshop World Las Vegas at the beginning of September.  But, all in all, I think I’m finally going to be able to find a few days of downtime soon, gain some control over my life and relax.

Did I mention that I’m a slow learner?