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Happy With the Happy Color App

This week saw the launch of ten of my images on an app called Happy Color by X-Flow Games. A couple of days ago, a collector sent me a message about it, concerned about the legality of the usage.

That’s understandable and appreciated, considering my recent post. My friend, Christine, in Montana, found two other breaches on Etsy earlier this week. A cease-and-desist message took care of both of those. Again, just because you can find images online doesn’t mean they’re free to use without permission, especially for commercial use. Share them, sure, but let people know who created them. Spreading the word about art you like helps keep the artist employed, which means they can make more art.

But back to the Happy Color app! Several people emailed me in the last couple of days to ensure I was aware of the Charmers’ Club on the app, where they’re releasing one of my whimsical wildlife paintings daily.

Happy Color is a free paint-by-numbers colouring book app that seems to be very popular. Like many free apps, there are ads within, but that’s how they earn enough to bring their audience top-notch artwork and pay those artists for their creations. Then, they must convert the paintings into a paint-by-numbers format. I’m impressed with how well they did that with my work.

For the record, Happy Color’s usage of my work is 100% legitimate. A very nice rep from X-Flow Games contacted me over a year ago about using a selection of my work for the app. We negotiated the contract and agreed on fees, and they paid me some time ago for this use. It was a textbook professional and friendly process, and I would welcome the chance to work with X-Flow again.
As often happens with licensing, I have no idea when the company will use the images, and most of the time, I can’t talk about it until they do. Since companies don’t always keep me in the release-date loop, your emails brought the launch to my attention.

If you see my critters out there in the wild and you’re unsure if it’s legit, please don’t hesitate to email me. Sometimes, I have to deal with a breach, but most of the time, it’s on the level. But I still love to see where people find my work, as licensed products often end up in places I’ve never been.

Try out the Happy Color app! You can download it from Google Play or the Apple App Store. You can also follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Happy Colouring!


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22nd World Press Freedom Cartoon Competition

Today is World Press Freedom Day. As part of the observance of this reminder of the importance of journalistic freedom around the world, World Press Freedom Canada holds an International Editorial Cartoon Competition.

Taken from their site, “(the competition) receives hundreds of entries every year, often from countries where press freedom is not a reality but a distant dream.”

Even though I’ve been a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for more than 20 years, drawing more than 325 cartoons a year, I don’t often enter competitions. Although my newspaper clients will often enter their editorial pages, or my local paper, The Rocky Mountain Outlook, will submit cartoons on my behalf. So, my cartoons have won, placed or have been an ingredient of several Canadian Community Newspapers Association awards over the years.

I don’t enter the annual National Newspaper Awards, as I am a freelance cartoonist, and consideration for those awards requires sponsorship from a daily newspaper. While several dailies run my cartoons each week, I’m not in any of their employ. So that technicality means I can’t submit for the NNAs.

But then the following call for entries arrived in February for the 22nd Annual World Press Freedom cartoon competition.
Silence is Golden
Cancel culture has become a source of our newest cultural cleavage.

Whether it be on social media or at live events, ‘cancelling’ someone has become a modern-day version of excommunication and is being used as a weapon by political partisans both left and right to discourage civil discourse and media freedom.

In opposing systemic racism, misogyny and xenophobia, progressives feel the need to resort to extreme tactics in an attempt to be heard.

Fearing that history is being re-written, traditionalists, for their part, use cancel culture to silence critics and whitewash history’s wrongs.

It reminded me of a cartoon I had drawn featuring a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister. So, I formatted it according to the criteria and submitted it. With entries from all over the world, I surrendered any expectations and didn’t give it any further thought.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was informed that I was a finalist. But I didn’t know if that meant I was in consideration for the top three or the additional ten that traditionally receive honourable mention. So once again, I set aside any high expectations.

I was pleasantly surprised today to find out that my cartoon received second place in the competition, between the winner, Marilena Nardi of Italy and Toso Borkovic of Serbia in third.
I enjoyed drawing this cartoon, though I learned long ago that what I think is clever and what other people like can be very different things. It’s a running gag between my wife and me that if I think a cartoon is particularly good, it won’t get printed anywhere. But if I send out one that meets the strict quality control metric of “good enough to meet my daily deadline,” that’s the one that gets printed and complimented the most.

I’m grateful to be counted in the top three and for the prize that comes with it, especially considering the many talented and skilled cartoonists worldwide whose work is no doubt worthy of the same recognition.

But I won’t let it go to my head. After all, the cartoon I sent this morning was about our wacky Canadian weather. So, what do I know?


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Wilder Stickers

With the growing interest in my large vinyl stickers, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve released seven more designs into the wild.

Based on feedback at the recent gift shows and online, people wanted the option of buying them individually, so the four-pack of brown bear stickers has been discontinued. Instead, all designs are now offered individually in the shop. Adaptation is a cornerstone of self-employment.

When I first moved to Canmore in 2001, I worked for a sign shop for a few years. Every place I’ve worked taught me skills I’ve applied to my own business. From that job, I learned design techniques, colour theory and how to create vector art. I still use vector paths and Bezier curves for clean ink lines in my editorial cartoons, a skill I learned at Canmore Sign Co.

With many different jobs done for multiple repeat clients, their computer filing system was simple, efficient, and well-organized, especially when searching for reprints or creating variations of older designs. As a result, I adopted the same system for my own files and still use it 20 years later.  

While it’s not something I often need in my current work, I also learned about vinyl printing, cutting and application.

So, when designing and producing these stickers, I was unwilling to compromise on quality.
These are larger die-cut stickers than you will generally find, each around 4” X 5”. I didn’t want to shrink them down and lose the personality for which my whimsical critters are known. I also wanted people to have the option of putting them on vehicle windows, so they’re made from long-lasting, weather-resistant, high-quality vinyl. Finally, I chose a matte finish over glossy for better visibility in changing light.

Stonewaters here in downtown Canmore is a great store with a unique quality inventory of furniture, décor and artwork. They placed their first order for the four bear stickers at the end of September, and they did so well that they placed a second order not long after. After dropping off samples this week, they placed a third order that has already been delivered, so all the current designs are available there as well.

But if you’re not visiting Canmore anytime soon, you can get all these designs in my online store. They’re $8 each, with free shipping in Canada, regardless of how many you order. Unfortunately, shipping to the US is $9, and nothing I can do about that, so maybe add them to an order for prints or my 2022 calendar, while supplies last.

Too subtle? 😉


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Creating a Remembrance Day Cartoon

Each year, I struggle to come up with a Remembrance Day cartoon, assigning it more weight than almost any other theme. It’s a challenge to create images and text that evoke the appropriate reverence without being trite.

Many of my newspaper clients are weekly publications. While Remembrance Day is November 11th, many papers will run the cartoon this week, depending on which day their paper comes out. It always needs to be done early to accommodate everyone.

Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for cenotaphs and memorials in different towns and cities. I take reference photos from which I can paint, and then, I try to write something original to accompany the art. As there is very little about this year that’s normal, I went in a different direction.

This is the first year I’ve included the words Lest We Forget in a cartoon to the best of my knowledge. I’ve avoided it because of its overuse. But for the image I drew this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

With many parades and ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, most will stay home this year. Services and observance will be virtual and live-streamed. Traditionally busy venues on Remembrance Day, especially for veterans and seniors, Royal Canadian Legion branches will be closed in most places. The safety of members and their families will take precedence over fellowship. I’m sure that it will be difficult for many veterans.

This year, I recorded a short high-speed video of my cartoon, with accompanying music. Feel free to share it.


© Patrick LaMontagne
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Working with Wacom

In the late nineties, when I first started to create art professionally, I had primarily drawn in pencil or pen on paper. Up until my first editorial cartoons for a local newspaper, I had never considered art as anything more than a hobby.

I had played around with some art on a computer from time to time, but only using a mouse. If you’ve never done that, it can be a rather frustrating experience, especially when you try to include any detail.

Digital drawing tablets were in their infancy, but I knew I wanted one. My ever-supportive parents bought me my first one as a gift. It was the first generation Wacom Intuos tablet, quite small, with a working surface of just 4 X 5 inches.

I thought it was one of the coolest things I ever owned. I’ve been drawing and painting on a computer ever since.

The technology was so new then, that you had to explain it to people. The worst part was that as soon as you said you worked on the computer, people figured that the computer was doing all of the work. It certainly didn’t help that one of the most popular and widespread pieces of art software on the planet was (and still is) Adobe Photoshop.

So not only was the computer doing all of the work, but all a digital artist was doing was changing a photo. I can’t count how many times I heard that stated with authority.

I’ve spent over half of my career explaining to people that digital drawing and painting is just as much of an art medium as oil, acrylic or watercolour. These days, the stigma surrounding digital art is largely gone and people realize that it’s more than just pushing a button or applying a filter. There are countless skilled artists around the world now creating digitally, each an ambassador for the medium.

One of the pillars of my two decade career has been that I’ve always worked on a Wacom tablet or display. They were the only name in digital art tools when I first started and they’ve remained the industry standard for quality and innovation. Whenever I’ve replaced one, it has been to take advantage of something new they’ve come up with that would make my work more enjoyable or efficient, never because it broke or stopped working.

 I still have a backup Intuos 5 tablet in my closet; ready as a substitute should my Cintiq 24HD display ever stop working. It’s like an insurance policy, but one I never really expect to use. I would never want to be without a Wacom device.

Even today, with advances in mobile drawing technology, I only use my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for practice pieces and sketches. All of my finished work is done on my Wacom Cintiq.

In 2010 at the Photoshop World Conference, my funny looking animal paintings were still pretty new and I was thrilled to win the Guru Award for the Illustration category AND the Best in Show Award. In a strange twist of fate that would change the course of my career, the emcee of the event, Larry Becker, misspoke and said that the top prize was a Wacom Cintiq 12wx display.

I was pretty excited about that since it was Wacom’s first crack at a portable drawing display on an actual screen.

When I went to the Wacom booth at the Expo to claim my prizes, I was told that the 12WX wasn’t actually one of them. I was disappointed but I understood that mistakes happen and wasn’t going to hold them to it. But Wacom being who they are and Larry Becker being a class act, they made good on the slip and sent me the display shortly after the conference.

As great as that was, however, the best part was that I met Pam Park.

In every career, there are people who show up to mentor, encourage and give you the right push or connections when you need it. I’ve been fortunate to have some great support over the years from some special people, without whom I believe my work and life would be significantly diminished.

I loathe the phrase, “it’s not personal, it’s just business,” because it’s most often a cop-out people use for bad behaviour.

We don’t really have relationships with companies; we have them with people, so it’s always personal.

From that first meeting with Pam at Photoshop World in 2010, I then became acquainted with two others at Wacom, Joe and Wes. Over the next five years, the three of them hired me to do webinars for them, inspirational videos for new products, blog posts and I even represented the company at a training seminar in Calgary in 2011.For one demo I did for them, the subject of the painting was Pam’s dog, Brisby, seen above.

On one visit to the Banff High School in 2014, to talk about and demonstrate digital art, Wacom generously donated a number of tablets to their new media program that I was thrilled to deliver personally.
At Photoshop World, I would give presentations at their booth; one of those rare cases where doing it for the exposure was well worth my time. Being associated with Wacom has always been good for my career and professional credibility.
As the saying goes, however, all good things must come to an end. At one point, they had wanted to hire me to come down to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and work at their booth. Being Canadian, I realized I couldn’t go without a work visa and there just wasn’t time to get one. A few years ago, as my friends at Wacom moved to other positions and one left the company, the opportunities for me to work with them fell off.

A new person in marketing took things in a different direction and I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d had a great experience for quite a few years with Wacom, but that it had run its course with no hard feelings. It sure was fun while it lasted. The only regret was that I lost touch with those people who made it happen and who had such a positive impact on my career.

Then out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I got a personal email from Pam, checking in to say Hi. It was great to hear from her and in the course of catching up, she mentioned that she was back in a marketing and promotional position with Wacom and if I ever wanted to work with them again, they’d be happy to have me.

I had to give that some serious thought, for about a millisecond.

Considering the wealth of talent they have representing their products these days, it was a real honour to be asked once again to add my voice to the chorus.

After some back and forth catching up, Pam told me she was sending me the new Wacom Cintiq 16. I’ll be putting it through its paces, doing some painting on it and recording some videos for Wacom, the first of who knows how many in the near future. It’ll be a nice replacement for my Cintiq 13HD, which for the record, still works just fine.

The Cintiq 16 arrived by UPS before I was finished writing this post, and I realized that the feeling of receiving a new piece of Wacom tech, it just never gets old. In fact, I’m probably more excited about this display than I was at receiving my very first tablet twenty years ago.

Because now I know what I can do with it.


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Rust and Bones

Car, Painting, Art, Story

All of my reference photos for the animals I paint are neatly organized into folders and sub-folders. But there’s another folder on my desktop labelled ‘Possibles.’ From time to time, I’ll stash images there that might make good paintings. They usually become practice pieces and if I like the beginnings, they’ll eventually get the fully rendered time and energy.

It isn’t just animals in that folder, however. Sometimes it’s people, other times it’s things I’ve seen in nature, and occasionally man-made stuff, too. There are some photos I took from inside a small barn, some island formations from out in Barkley sound, a few trees and rocks, and some old cars.

Last month, on my most recent visit to the cabin near Caroline, my buddy Darrel and I were out for a walk along back roads and trails, exploring the area. We ended up in a junk lot owned by our hosts. It’s the kind of place you’ll find in many rural locations. Homeless windows leaning up against a weathered shed, coils of rusted wire, a phalanx of water heaters, a pile of tires, a couple of old campers, and some cars and trucks.

While it might seem a junk pile to some, I recently read that this sort of thing used to be, and still is for some, a necessity of rural life. People out in the boonies have to fend for themselves and fix what breaks, often without a nearby hardware store. Little gets thrown away because you never know when you might need it, and lots like this are where you store the possible solutions to unknown future problems.

Bust a bolt on the lawn-mower? Well there’s probably one on that old snow blower. A section of fence broken during a storm? There’s a length of wire that might do the trick.

We peered through windows, poked around the neatly organized piles and explored the forgotten treasures, mindful that this was still somebody’s property. With our good relationship with the owners, we were sure they wouldn’t mind.

A couple of old vehicles caught my eye. We wondered how long they’d been there, and what hope had there been for their future. Possible dreams of restoration, before life got in the way? Waiting for a picker to come by and make an offer?

Darrel pointed out that through the frame of the old 1950s pickup truck, missing its bed, a number of trees had grown up. One of them was a medium size, well established and quite tall.

The next car was older still and in much worse shape, just the rusted out body and frame, but it tugged at me. At some time, especially when it was new, somebody probably loved this car. They might have saved for years and spent all they had on her. It might have been the first family car when it was new and someone else’s first car when it was used.

Where had it gone? What roads had it traveled? What milestones in what person’s life were arrived at in this car? How many kids learned to drive in it? Maybe somebody got proposed to in it. Perhaps somebody was even conceived in the back seat.

Who knew this car and was sad to let it go?

Whatever life that car had lived, we were likely visiting its final resting place. I’m reminded of a line in the song ‘Silver Thunderbird,’ by Marc Cohn.

“The secrets that old car would know.”

I thought of these things while snapping pictures and thought, I want to paint that.

As I am not a fan of the holidays, I had planned earlier in the year that rather than go to my mother-in-law’s gathering in Red Deer this year, I wanted to stay home. Shonna was fine with it and even though she’s not a fan of Christmas, either, she went home on the 24th for a couple of nights and I had the house to myself. I promised myself I wouldn’t do any work. I was going to read, watch movies, nap and do nothing.

I get up at 5:00am most days and have for many years. While I could have slept in Christmas morning, I decided not to waste the day and rose early as usual. I could always nap later.

There is a long list of paintings to get to on the board in my office, about a dozen animals for which I have reference that I will start in the coming year. But those are work. This Christmas morning was kind of a gift to myself, and since I still felt like painting, I went to the ‘Possibles’ folder and found this car.

I worked on it for a few hours and then went for a hike. Came home, read for a couple of hours, napped, watched a movie and really did enjoy the solitary day off. When I woke Boxing Day, I had to get an editorial cartoon done and sent, but then I spent the rest of the day working on this car.

I didn’t want to finish it. Even this morning, I was still picking at it.

I took liberties with the proportions, as I do with my animal paintings. It’s not really a caricature, but it’s not accurate either. It’s a little cartoony, but hey, that’s me. It was the feel of the scene that I was after, the character of the bones, the textures in the rust, and a little of the melancholy I felt while standing beside it.

This old dead car, whose stories I still want to hear.

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My Muse

MusePostAnyone who loves and makes a pet part of their family knows that right there in the fine print of the unwritten agreement are the words, “sometime in the future, there will come a very bad day.”

This morning we said goodbye to our cat, Muse. Many of you reading this have been where we are, as we’ve been as well. We got Maya and Muse 18 years ago as 12 week old kittens from the
Humane Society in Calgary and since we never had kids, these cats were spoiled rotten. We lost Maya four years ago when she developed some serious neurological issues, likely a tumour or cancer.

While we could have adopted another cat, we realized that Muse was happier on her own (her sister was a bit of a bully) so we decided she would get all of our attention for herself during her senior years.

She was diagnosed with thyroid issues a few years ago. After she turned out to be allergic to the medication, a change to a specialized diet thankfully saved her and she was still able to enjoy a pampered quality of life. We realized she had gone deaf earlier this year, and that too is something she adapted to easily. In recent months, however, she has been losing weight and it’s been tough to get her to eat. I’ve been bringing her food wherever she’ll eat it, heating it up, and doing whatever it takes to keep her interested and her weight stable. Because she was restricted to the thyroid food, I couldn’t use any other foods to entice her, so it was a challenge. At one point not too long ago while discussing her senior health issues, Muse was rolling around beside me, playing and being cute. Shonna pointed out, “you know she’s happy, right?”
MusePlayingStill playful, demanding, energetic and a little diva, she has indeed been a happy elderly cat.

In recent weeks, though, her appetite has waned even more; she has lost more weight, and despite the vet saying she was doing pretty well a month ago, I’ve had a feeling something was off and that this was coming. The vet had scheduled her for another visit a few weeks from now to check on her weight, some concern about possible kidney issues if she kept losing pounds.

This weekend, it became clear that we weren’t going to make it that long. The light in her eyes had vanished, she became lethargic, had begun to stumble and fall, and was clearly distraught. She wasn’t eating, couldn’t get her to purr, and she just didn’t seem to be able to get comfortable.

In all of the reading I’ve done online the last time we went through this and this weekend, they say most often it’s the owners who know when it’s time, and both Shonna and I agreed. After a very difficult weekend, we euthanized Muse at the vet this morning. We had decided that any extraordinary measures at her age would be selfishly prolonging her life for us, not for her. In human years, she was in her nineties and we weren’t willing to put her through tests and treatments that would likely only buy us weeks or months, but would most definitely make her miserable.

As we did with Maya, we stayed with her ‘til the very end. I held her in my arms as she died.

While we will both miss her, Muse and I had a special bond, likely because I’ve been home with her all day for the past ten years. Tortoise shell cats often take to one person, all part of their quirky personality. She sat with me while I worked each day, would follow me down to the kitchen when I got another cup of coffee, and she let me know when it was time to take a break and play with her. I would always oblige. Although never a lap cat, it was me she wanted to be next to on the couch in the evenings, within petting range, of course. She was my first priority in the morning and I brushed her every day. Half a dozen blankets, cat beds and fabricated hiding places around the house made sure she always had a comfortable place to sleep.

Maya was Shonna’s cat. Muse was mine. But we both felt their loss equally.
MuseandMayaThere is going to be a very large hole in my life for a while, just as there is for everyone who loses a pet. For 18 years our home has always had a cat in it. It will again someday, but not for quite a while. This grief will be raw for quite some time. If you imagine me with dry eyes while I write this, you are mistaken.

The emptiness in the house will be tangible, no doubt. When I go to the kitchen first thing in the morning, have breakfast later on, come back from my usual hike in the afternoon, I’ll be expecting Muse to greet me with a purr and her demanding meow. The silence is going to be tough.

Everybody deals with these things differently; grief is a very personal thing. If you’re reading this via social media, please don’t feel obligated to write a comment or say anything. I never know what to say, either. Shonna and I view death in a very practical light, so I would ask that you NOT tell me about the rainbow bridge or say that I’ll meet my cat again. While I respect your beliefs, I don’t share them. I believe this experience is a limited time offer and when it’s over, it’s over.

Right now, I’m very sad, as can be expected. This will pass and eventually I will only focus on the happy memories. That’s how we remember Maya these days, our chatty little goofball who made us laugh and enriched our lives.

Muse had 18 good years. She was loved and I’m grateful for the time we shared. I will miss this face.

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A Change of Place


It’s easy to become so accustomed to your surroundings that you fail to see the forest for the trees.  Living in Canmore, we often forget to look around and realize that we are so incredibly fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  You can get used to anything, no matter how idyllic.

Sure, I go on my hikes, sketch and take photos and appreciate the beauty, but when you’ve lived in a place for a long time, you never quite recover the feeling of seeing it anew.  It’s only when we happen to hear a visitor exclaim with awe and wonder how majestic and beautiful our mountains are, that many of us stop, look around and think, “yeah, they’re pretty spectacular, aren’t they?”

I found this sense of wonder this morning in Ucluelet.  Wandering the small craft harbour, socked in by fog and low hanging cloud.  With a camera ’round my neck, a sketchbook in my backpack and my first cup of coffee of the day in hand, I marveled at the sights, sounds and smells, experiencing my first morning in this place.

At 6 AM on a Monday, there are low conversations and murmurs from the boats, as men get ready to head out for a day of fishing.  Some of these are surely tourist charters, but clearly there are those that aren’t.  Having been a local in a tourist town for many years, it’s easy to spot the difference.

In a broad sense, these locals are no different than any others.  Just another morning at work, they’re likely oblivious to the little nuances that are making me smile, take in a scene, or breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to work this morning.  Anyone who has been in fog knows the sound is different, and I quite like it.  Seagulls and ravens criss-cross the harbour, some with little morsels in their mouths, others bitching at the ones who got some when they didn’t.

At home, ravens calling and squawking outside my window is annoying, and I often wish that they’d just shut the hell up.  But here, they add to the scene, the immersion in the experience and the change of place has me welcoming their racket.

Sitting at the small table in my cabin as I write, I just looked up and saw a bald eagle fly by in the distance, the details hazy in the lifting fog, but unmistakable with his white crown and tail feathers. It’s a little exciting, because I don’t get to see them often, they show up so rarely at home.


This is how the tourists in Banff and Canmore feel when they see an elk, or if they’re fortunate, a whole herd of them. For locals, the elk are easily viewed as a hazard to avoid while walking or driving. We have our little condescending smiles when the tourists go gaga over them and start snapping pics like crazy. I imagine a local here might have felt the same had they spied me on a dock yesterday, where I spent twenty minutes happily taking photos of a bald eagle high in a tree, silly tourist that I am.

This is clearly why I’m here and why a trip like this is necessary. While calling it an artist retreat sounds haughty and pretentious, it’s really just a change of place to adjust my focus. I’ve no doubt that I’ll return home with a renewed sense of inspiration to paint, write, and sketch. It happens after every vacation, so it’ll no doubt be doubly so after this one.

Finally, it strikes me that I am incredibly blessed. Not only to have the means to take a trip like this, a purely selfish excursion, even politely telling a couple of friends that they could not come with me, but that I have the support of my wife, and those same friends who said, “Go. Have fun. Do what you gotta do.”

Someone once said, “They’re always making more money, but nobody has figured out a way to make more time.”

It’s the fear of squandering my own time, even though I’ve no idea how much of it I’ve got, that had me seeking a temporary change of place. I’m not often at peace, it’s just not in my nature.  But this is close.

Ucluelet, BC. June 2, 2014


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The Highlights of 2013

All things considered, I’m pretty happy with the work I accomplished in 2013.  I wanted to focus more on painting, so I turned down more illustration gigs than I accepted this year and about that, I have no regrets.  Along with the daily editorial cartoons, I worked on a number of pet portrait commissions, added more Totem paintings to my portfolio and managed to squeeze in a couple of portraits of people, too.  Regardless of subject, each painting was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and as soon as I finished one, I was itching to start another.

If I were to choose the top three personal highlights of this year, they would be two portraits and one Totem.

MartinSheenAt the very end of 2012, my painting of Martin Sheen as Tom from the movie, The Way, had come to the attention of his son, Emilio Estevez, who wrote and directed the movie.  I had tagged him on Twitter, but didn’t really expect anything from it.  Much to my surprise, he contacted me the same morning asking about buying a print, then the original.   He said, “…the image is gorgeous and you have captured my father in a way that few have.”

Over the next few weeks of back and forth and having the canvas produced, it was delivered to Estevez at the beginning of February and he gave it to his father as a gift.   I had asked them both to sign a paper print for me as well, which I’ve now framed and have hanging in my office.   I was pleasantly surprised to later receive a copy of their co-written book ‘Along the Way,’ personally signed by both of them and a ‘Thank You’ note from Estevez.  The card is still tacked to my bulletin board.  What can I say, I’m a fan.

While the story received some attention in a number of media outlets, that sort of thing is fleeting and in the long run, just another blip in a rapidly changing entertainment news cycle.  But, what I enjoy most about the experience is that each time I come up the stairs into my office, the first thing I see is the signed painting and it frequently makes me smile.  It is still one of my favorite pieces both for the enjoyment I had painting it and the story that goes with it.  And I still love that movie.

ChrisHadfieldIn the Spring of this year, astronaut Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.  With his daily tweets and seemingly endless supply of jaw dropping photos taken from a place few have ever been, he captured the imagination and excitement of the world, including me.  I was inspired to paint his portrait and was thrilled when I received a complimentary tweet from space from Hadfield himself.  If that weren’t enough, I drew an editorial cartoon about his taking command and in the toon, I mentioned Flin Flon, Manitoba.  This prompted an interview from that town’s local paper which again caught the attention of Hadfield and I received a second short message from the I.S.S..  Apparently all it takes to make a 43 year old man feel like a ten year old kid again is getting messages from an astronaut in space.  That was just cool.

CoyoteTotemFinally my favorite painting from this year was the Coyote Totem, because it’s one that’s been waiting to be painted for 20 years, even before I knew how to paint.  For reasons I don’t wish to share publicly, and couldn’t even explain if I did, this is the most personal of all of the Totems I’ve painted and the only one I’ve had printed on canvas and framed for myself.  It hangs in my office on the wall to my right, where I can easily see it.  I look at it often and it reminds me how fortunate I am and how I got from there to here.

I just wasn’t skilled enough to do it justice until this year, but of any image I’ve created, it’s the painting I love most.  And I’m grateful that the personality showed up.


I would like to give honourable mention to my most recent portrait of Anthony Hopkins as Bill Parrish from ‘Meet Joe Black.’  This was another personal painting because I did it just for me.  I started the year focused on a painting of a character and actor I admire, an image that got a lot of attention and ended the year with a painting of a character and actor I admire, an image that got very little.  And yet, I loved working on both portraits equally, the work itself brought me the most joy.

That’s the lesson I learned this year and the one I’m taking into the next.

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Out the Other Side

PatrickGrinIt’s ironic that I don’t celebrate calendar holidays, but the changing of the year always makes me reflective.  While I usually aim for one short blog entry for my year in review, it would appear I’m incapable of that, so this first one is less about the work and more about what’s been rattling around in my noggin this year.

It is difficult to find the separation between my personal and professional life.  Having been able to find that elusive state of doing what I love for a living, the majority of my business is work that I enjoy.  When your work and life become so interconnected, happiness in one depends on the same in the other.

Clearly a midlife evaluation of priorities and direction, I’ve been on an emotional ride the last few years, one that has included dark lows and bright highs.  Most of my college years were spent studying psychology, so I’ve always been a believer in talk therapy.  Even the most supportive family member or friend can be too close to the source and a trained therapist will often present perspectives and open doors that had not been previously considered.  With that in mind, I spent some time talking with a professional therapist over the past year and it was incredibly helpful.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with OCD, and while sitcoms and movies like to use that as a punch line, it has a much broader meaning than fear of germs or lining up everything in the fridge, neither of those being components of my particular affliction.  I don’t mention this as a ploy to garner sympathy, just to point out that it’s a piece of the puzzle that makes me who I am.  As Michael J. Fox once said about his Parkinson’s disease, “Everybody has their own bag of hammers to carry around.  This is just mine.”

I mention it, because the ironic benefit of my particular OCD cocktail is that it makes me organized, driven and introspective.  As much as it can be likened to carrying around an annoying child in your head 24/7, one that never shuts up about shit you can’t control or change, it has also been one of the largest contributors to the success of my business and my work.

While some opt for medication to take the edge off of their anxiety disorder, and I certainly won’t judge anyone who has gone that route, I have chosen not to.  I have done well to rely on my gut instinct over the years and everything in me tells me that to chemically mess with the crazy, I risk damaging the creativity.  I am convinced that it all wells up from the same place.

I realize that calling it crazy isn’t politically correct, but I’ve lived with it long enough that I get to call it what I like.

Day in, day out I am worrying about things I can’t change and trying to control their outcome.  If I don’t have something to worry about, I will make something up.  Thankfully, I have a strong-willed wife who will apply the brakes when my mentally distracted driver starts veering all over the road.  When that annoying kid in my head attempts to draw her into a no-win pointless ‘what-if’ discussion, she is fond of sighing and saying “tell your little friend I’m not playing today.”

One particular quirk that comes with this genetic misfiring of chemicals in the grey matter is that I’m acutely aware of the passage of time.  While some may think they have all the time in the world, I’m under no such illusion.  I know it could all end in ten years, in twenty, or tomorrow.  That awareness factors into many decisions I make, especially in the past few years.  Funny how your early forties will do that to you.

WacoFBCoverOn our recent vacation to Vegas, it is this awareness that prompted Shonna and I to charter a biplane to take us on a tour over the Hoover Dam and to decide over lunch that we were going skydiving for the first time the very next day.  While I’m all too often guilty of having to plan everything and worrying about the future, it was worry about regret that allowed me to seize the moment, which made the experiences much more rewarding.  It also laid the foundation for the ones we’ll have tomorrow.

There is tremendous freedom in making choices, both personal and professional, if you imagine viewing them from the end of your life. If lying on my deathbed, would I look back on the choices I’m making today and wished I’d done them differently?  This is, however, a cautionary tale.  The choices we make for ourselves, when approached from that perspective, will undoubtedly alienate and disappoint some friends, family, mentors and others with whom we are connected.  But, those people see our lives from their perspective.  They don’t usually see that if we attempted to place the same restrictions or demands on them, they would resent it.

This is not an endorsement of shirking responsibility to your loved ones or those you care about.  But just as you choose to make yourself accountable to certain people, they are accountable to you as well.  Part of that accountability is allowing each other to make your own choices, good or bad, whether you agree with them or not.   One look at social media on any given day, and it’s easy to see that most people don’t walk that talk, your choices and opinions only valid if they happen to be the same ones they’re making.  Share or like if you agree.

Accounting for available evidence, we each only get one shot at life. While an unpopular view,  I don’t believe in heaven or hell.  If there is something after this life, I don’t think we can comprehend it in this existence and I certainly don’t believe we are meant to spend this life focused on it.  One person’s belief in their meaning and purpose may be entirely different than that of the person next to them, and both may be right.  I believe that you can live a good life and choose not to hurt other people without it being about a reward at the end.  If this timeline is all we get, it makes sense to get the most out of it.

If I have been going through a midlife crisis (evaluation, introspection, change of life, etc.), then I believe 2013 is the year I started coming out the other side, and not only was the whole difficult painful experience necessary for growth, it was incredibly freeing.  If the next year follows the same course, I am excited for what’s coming, and I’m looking forward to it.