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Suck it up, Princess.

My wife, Shonna is a wonderful woman who has encouraged me in all of this cartoon and illustration stuff from day one. But supporting both of us on one income was never a realistic consideration, especially in a town like Canmore. So about six years ago, after a number of years of my working long evenings and weekends building my business, I had come to a point where my business could not grow anymore unless I quit my full-time job. But I still had to be able to pay my half of the bills and mortgage.

Looking back, it was easily the most frightened I have ever been in my life.

While it hasn’t always been a smooth ride, it is the best decision (aside from asking Shonna to marry me) that I have ever made, since every year of self-employment has been better than the one before.

I realized something this morning, though. What was once very exciting and frightening has, in the past couple of years, become routine. Day to day editorial cartoons, regular illustration gigs, a few projects here and there, but all within an acceptable margin of safety. While I’ve been busy and making a good living, I haven’t really taken any new risks. All that has changed recently.

The past month has been a whirlwind of activity, some of it brought on by winning the two Guru Awards at Photoshop World, other stuff that had been in the works already, but it’s all coming at once and I’ve been freaking out a little. OK, more than a little.

All of a sudden, I’m working on a training DVD to teach people how to do cartoon illustration for a very well known mover and shaker in the world of Photoshop. Somehow, I’m now good enough to teach? When the hell did that happen? I’ve had to buy new recording software, learn to use it, and figure out how to narrate drawing and painting techniques that I consider instinctual.

In the course of less than a year, I’ve gone from painting one funny little grizzly bear to having bought an inventory of many canvas prints of 6 more animal paintings to supply three galleries, and have been shocked that people are actually starting to buy these things. Thankful for that last part, because the financial output has not been insignificant. I’ve started muttering a new mantra over and over again as I gnaw on my fingernails, “you have to spend money to make money.”

I’ve now got writing assignments for two companies that I’ve long admired, and one of them may become a regular gig. Add to that pending character sketches for another possible dream opportunity, an overdue website redesign for a client and myself, the illustration gigs I’m barely managing to keep up with and 7 editorial cartoons each week, and it’s a full slate.

We’ve all heard the phrase, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. I haven’t been this nervous of all of the things I’ve committed to since those first months working from home full-time. While I may be a complete stress case at the moment, I realized this morning that it’s the best thing that could have happened to me, because I am no longer in a routine.

Personal growth involves risk and fear, and often the more the better. While the challenges will be different for everyone, the scenario is the same. If you just put a little on the line, then you get just a little back. If, however, you try to fly farther and faster than you’ve ever gone, it’s true that you could end up in a spectacular fireball of failure that people will see for miles, but with a little faith and luck, you just might push envelopes and break barriers.

Either way, it should scare the hell out of you.

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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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Back To Photoshop World

As anyone who runs their own business knows, there is a lot of work before and after any ‘time off’, so I found myself having to draw double the cartoons this week and warn all of my newspapers that they won’t be receiving any next week. Month end invoicing today will be the last thing I have to do before I can forget about editorial cartoons until September 5th.

Having been a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals for the past 6 years, last year was my first trip to the Photoshop World conference, an event that NAPP puts on twice a year. In recent years, they’ve hosted it in Boston or Orlando in the Spring, and Las Vegas in the Fall.

A friend of mine jokingly calls Photoshop World, Geek Fest, and I can’t really blame him. From the name alone, it’s easy to see why that would be the interpretation. You might imagine that attendees are a bunch of shut-ins and social misfits still living in their parents’ basements getting together to discuss the ins and outs of a computer program while ironing their pocket protectors. I assure you, that isn’t the case.

Photoshop World is attended by around 4000 people twice each year. A week of classes and training, new techniques in photography, illustration, design, photo restoration, lighting, production…it’s a big list. Basically, anybody who uses images in their profession is likely using Photoshop these days, so there’s something for everyone.

With pre-con classes, expo classes, and the regular schedule, there are over 100 classes to choose from in a four day period. It’s like going back to your busiest week of school, and it’s exhausting.

The instructors are the best in the business, and all are very approachable and knowledgeable, as were all of the NAPP staff. These people work harder than anybody I’ve seen. All of the people staffing the info booths or directing people in the halls, moderating classes and organizing the details are actually the people who run the day to day operations at NAPP headquarters in Florida.

The Tech Expo features many of the companies that support those of us who work with Photoshop and other software and hardware for our creative professions. Adobe, Epson, Mpix, Sitegrinder, Kelby Training, Peachpit Press, Wacom, Corel, and a whole host of other companies. The Expo also features more classes and product demos.

From the perspective of justifying the worth of the training alone, it’s a no-brainer, but there is another reason I attend this conference, one that can’t be measured in dollars and time.

As anyone who works at home can tell you, it’s an undesirable situation from a social perspective. While you can still communicate with other creative professionals online, there is something to be said for spending real time with somebody else who understands the same challenges and situations that come up on a daily basis.

You can have the most supportive friends and family, but unless they do what you do, they’ll never really get it, nor should they be expected to. Love ’em or hate ’em sometimes, there are real benefits to having coworkers. Coworkers understand your job.

One of the things I found most surprising about last year’s conference was that I rarely heard anybody bitching or complaining about their work. People wanted to be there and were eager to discuss their ‘jobs.’ Not a lot of wallflowers at this conference.

Had it not been for Photoshop World, I would not have created my animal paintings this past year. This conference helped me realize that there were a lot more avenues open to me than cartoons and caricatures. Additionally, the quality of the paintings is better because of lighting and painting techniques I learned at the conference.

Some of the business practices I’ve incorporated this year, that have moved me forward, are ones I learned from talking to other creatives. Many of the photos I used for reference in paintings this year came from photographers I met at the conference, people I now consider friends. It’s the very best of networking.

For creative professionals, especially those who work with ever changing mediums, it takes no time at all for your skills to become stagnant, or worse yet, obsolete. Constant education and training is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. And while there are online courses, DVD’s and books available all year round, in my experience, it’s not enough.

When you get together with other passionate artists, there is a lot of positive energy to tap into. That probably sounds corny to some, I’m sure, but I rode that wave for months after last year’s event. I was inspired by too many people to count, and that’s a lot harder to come by than it sounds. I’m looking forward to an even better conference this year.

See you in a week.

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Photoshop World Classes

One of the best things about Photoshop World is the wealth of classes that are available, more than a few options in every time slot. Whether you’re a photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, photo retoucher or restorer, there is something for everyone, and it’s not just Photoshop. Lightroom, Illustrator, Painter, InDesign, Dreamweaver and a number of other programs are taught at this conference as well. There are professional photo shoots (complete with location tours and live models), design classes, business classes, and a whole host of other opportunities to learn from some of the best instructors in their respective fields.

One of the great things about last year is that I attended some of the classes that were probably designed for photographers, but with the logical approach that whether photo or illustration, an image is an image, and any tips on improving one should apply to the other. I wasn’t disappointed. One of Scott Kelby‘s classes in particular, about post-production for portraits, dramatically changed how I approach caricature and my animal paintings.

While prior class selection is not required, it’s always a good idea to have a rough idea of what you’re going to take. The great thing about the classes is that NAPP encourages attendees to get up and leave, and go to another class if they find that their first selection wasn’t what they were after. I did that a couple of times last year.

There are a few options to choosing classes prior to arrival at Photoshop World. Anybody considering attending this event, now or in the future, might want to go take a look to see all that it has to offer. The first resource is on the Photoshop World Schedule Page, the second is an interactive pdf that Dave Cross creates for each conference. I used this last year and it helped a lot.

This year, I’m pleased to be able to use the iPhone/iPad app created by Shawn Welch specifically for Photoshop World. It has the ability to create a detailed class schedule, maps of the conference centre to find your next class, and is very easy to use and change.

As of today, I think I’ve finalized my class schedule, but there is nothing to say that I won’t change any of them right up until the last minute. For the curious, here’s my current list.

Painting with PhotoshopBert Monroy
Photoshop and Illustrator: The Perfect MatchCorey Barker
Photoshop and IllustratorBert Monroy
Critter Tails: Bear With MeMoose Peterson (wildlife photography)
The Copyright ZoneJack Reznicki and Ed Greenberg (US copyright law)
Tweeting with AuthorityRod Harlan
Blogging for PhotographersScott Kelby
Why Should I Be On FacebookTerry White
The Many Uses of White Seamless BackgroundZack Arias
The Third DimensionBert Monroy
Hollywood Lighting on a Laptop and Bokeh: The Science of Focus and The Art of BlurVincent Versace
Illuminating CreativityJohn Paul Caponigro

As you can see, only a third of these classes are actually about Photoshop. The others are about networking, business, and image techniques. There are other classes available on the Expo Floor as well, and no shortage of other opportunities to learn new techniques.

Later in the week, I’ll have a little more on why I chose to attend this conference again this year.

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My Best Work

Quite often, I’ll hear somebody say something like, “I wish I could draw,” or “I can’t even draw a stick man.”

Obviously the latter is an exaggeration. I’ve yet to meet ANYONE who can’t draw a stick man. But the statement about wanting to draw is usually made by somebody who hasn’t tried. I don’t mean, playing a game of Pictionary and not being able to get their idea across, I mean REALLY tried.

I’m still on the fence regarding the ‘talent’ vs. ‘skill’ debate. A lot of people will fall back on the crutch that they don’t have talent when most of the time, I’ve found that it’s just that they don’t have the interest. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

My wife is an excellent cook. She enjoys trying new recipes, experimenting with ingredients. I don’t cook well at all. I can BBQ a steak, make a pot of Kraft Dinner or throw something in the oven. Sure, it’d be nice to be able to cook, but I just have no interest in it. Who knows, I could become good at it, but I’m just unwilling to put in the time.

I never went to art school, and I used to be a very poor artist. I would draw from time to time, but I wasn’t good at it. It wasn’t until an opportunity showed up a little over 10 years ago that I figured I had nothing to lose by putting in a little more effort, and it became a fun hobby.

One thing led to another and I found myself becoming quite passionate about wanting to become a better artist. I read magazines, watched instructional videos, took a couple of online courses, studied the work of other artists, and worked very hard to improve my skills. In the meantime, I was building my business, getting more newspapers and clients, and about 5 years ago, I was able to quit my job, work full-time at home, and make a nice living at it. Not bad, for somebody who, for most of my life, wasn’t good at drawing.

In the interest of proving this point, here are some pieces of work that I did a relatively short while ago. At the time, each of these was my best work. I look at them now, and I honestly do not want to show them and find it hard to believe that anyone every hired me. But it’s important to see that all it takes to become better is time and effort. I was proud of each of these pieces when I created them. I spent HOURS on them.

Click on any of these to see them a bit larger.

I often wonder what I’d be missing out on if I had never pursued this course, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that led me here. Often I’ll run into somebody who hasn’t seen me in 20 years and when they hear what I do for a living, their response is, “I didn’t know you could draw.”

That’s because at the time, I couldn’t.

There is no magic formula to being an artist. It’s a simple matter of working at it. It’s a cliche, but as in all things, you get out of it what you put into it.

It will take time to become good at anything, and whether you do it or not, that time will pass anyway. Who do you want to be on the other side of it? If you want to draw, paint, sculpt, play music, dance, sing, or follow any other passion, it’s a simple matter of starting and following through, especially when it isn’t going well.

There are a few simple truths that anyone wanting to be an artist has to learn to make peace with, whether it’s a hobby or a profession.

1) There will always be somebody better than you are. Get comfortable with that or you won’t find any joy in it. The only person you are REALLY competing against is yourself. Seek out the work of better artists to inspire you, but don’t waste your time comparing yourself to them. Everyone has different circumstances, so nobody’s work should look the same.

2) If your work from this year is no better than your work from last year, than you are being lazy. Try harder.

3) Your best work should always be work you haven’t done yet.

For the record, the following two pieces are what I would call my best work of THIS year. I shudder to think what my impression will be of them five years from now, and am a little excited to speculate what my best work will look like then.

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The Life Cycle of a Mosquito Cartoon

I’ve done this sort of thing before, but for those who haven’t seen it, and because people have asked, I thought I’d post the different steps I take while creating the artwork for a cartoon, editorial or otherwise.

The Sketch: I still like to sketch on paper even though I’m very comfortable with digital drawing and painting. I just like the feel of sketching on paper. I then take a digital photo with my SLR camera. I used to scan the sketch, but frankly, my scanner has become temperamental in its old age and I find that it takes a fraction of the time to take a photo, put the camera card in my card reader and drop and drag it into Photoshop. Less than 30 seconds.

Ink: This part is completely digital. I put the sketch on one layer, drop the opacity, and then trace over the pencil on an ‘ink’ layer in Photoshop. I set that layer’s blend mode to Multiply and delete the sketch layer.

Flat Colour: Below the Ink layer, I create different layers for the different major areas and colours. For example, there would likely have been about 5 colour layers for this one. I then create a merged colour layer from all of them to paint on, but leave the separate colour layers below to use for selections. For example, I can Ctrl-Click on the Wings layer, and I’ll only be able to paint on the wings, even on the merged layer. Keeps things nice and clean and easy to work with.

Texture, Light and Shadow: This is where the painting comes in. By using different brushes, I add in detail. I then add the text and talk bubble on a separate layer, and often a simple background just for more depth and contrast.

There are many other little technical details involved in the process, but this is basically how every editorial cartoon is done.