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Got Cow?

At the Banff Christmas Market late last year, I received several requests for a Highland Cow painting.

Many artists have drawn and painted this noble Scottish bovine breed, but I had never considered it. I don’t know what about Highland cattle excites people, but who am I to argue?

But of course, having never seen a Highland cow or Heilan coo, as they say in Scotland, I had to buy some stock photo reference to get it right. As I’m fond of saying, I can’t exaggerate reality without knowing what it looks like.

At the cabin my friends and I rent in the central Alberta foothills, there are often cows just over the fence in two large pastures. I have a lot of cow photos, some with their tongues up their noses. It’s a ridiculous look I thought I might use for a future cow painting, so why wait? I decided to make it more of an exaggerated lip-licking rather than a full-on nostril excavation.

I wasn’t excited about this painting, and had it not been for all the requests, I likely wouldn’t have done it. But since a hairy Highlander was in demand, I wanted it finished for The Calgary Expo. Once I got into the work, though, I really enjoyed this piece, so much that I didn’t want to finish it. I like obsessing about details, and hair is one of my favourite things to paint, so this was fun.
And still, every painting comes with challenges and choices.

Initially, it had a full background, the horns weren’t as big as they are now, and the canvas dimensions would have made the final piece 30×40. But at one point, thinking I was nearly finished, I asked Shonna’s opinion.

While she liked the face and hair, she said the horns looked “too spindly.”

Artists have fragile egos, so criticism of my work is uncomfortable, even when I ask for it. I spent countless hours alone, painting every little feature and hair, and I’ve solved a lot of the problems myself, so just tell me it’s pretty, dammit!

But I also want to grow as an artist; the only way to do that is to ask for and accept constructive criticism. Shonna has a good eye and can often spot something that isn’t working.

Just like you can read a letter three times and still miss a typo, it’s easy to stare at a painting for hours on end, over days and weeks, and still miss a problem. Once it’s pointed out, however, it seems like it should have been obvious.

So, to create my best work, I grit my teeth and ask for Shonna’s critical eye, knowing she will almost always see something. And while we have disagreed a few times, her suggestions usually improve the painting. The changes can often be so minor that most people wouldn’t notice either way, but once she points it out, I can’t unsee it.

To make the horns bigger and less spindly (?!), I had to change the composition, or else I’d be cutting off so much of the horns that one of the defining features of a Highland cow would be gone. Now, the focal point of all my paintings is the face, so cutting off the horns isn’t necessarily a wrong choice, as plenty of painters have done the same thing, and their paintings look great. But I wanted them there for the original piece, even though I’d still have to crop some for the poster prints. Here’s what that will look like.

For consistency and practicality, I size my poster prints to 11×14. It’s annoying to buy a print for $30 or $40, then spend another $100 plus on a custom frame because it’s a weird shape. One of the bestselling features of my prints is that I can tell people that 11×14 is a standard size, and it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame at stores that sell them.

You wouldn’t believe how often that’s the clincher on making the sale.

I sized the blank canvas to poster-print dimensions when I started this piece. Had this been a traditional piece on canvas, you couldn’t change sizing when the painting was almost finished. However, working digitally offers welcome flexibility.

I made the canvas wider and upsized the horns. I could have made them even more prominent, but that would make for a very wide painting, even more challenging to offer a poster print later. What you see here is the compromise.

I also chose to crop the background down to a smaller rectangle, which makes the horns look even more prominent and the features pop.

These changes added a few more hours of work to what was essentially a finished painting, but I’m much happier with the result. So, once again, asking for help made for a better piece.

Regarding criticism, nasty comments from the cheap seats are easy to come by, and that’s usually more about them than you. The trick is to ask advice from people you trust who genuinely want to help you become a better artist. But then you must resist the urge to bite when they point out areas for improvement.

When it comes to my painted work, I have Shonna and my buddy Derek, an excellent painter and tattoo artist. His critiques have always been good, and he has asked for and accepted my opinion on his work more than once. For editorial cartoons, I’ve often run ideas by my friend Darrel. If he doesn’t think one works, I either tweak it or toss it out. 

I still have to remind myself to let a painting rest before calling it done. Yesterday morning, I thought this one was finished. But I kept nitpicking it until I eventually started to feel the whole thing was garbage.

This clearly showed that I had been obsessing about it for far too long. I wasn’t seeing the image accurately anymore and couldn’t trust my judgment. So, I let it sit for 24 hours. I spent the rest of the day working on my month-end invoicing, sketching a couple of editorial cartoons and writing this post you’re reading now.

When I woke up this morning, this cow looked much better to me. I spent another couple of hours correcting errant brush strokes I hadn’t noticed and painted more stray hairs here and there, which adds to the realism of a piece. When all the hair is perfectly smooth, running in the same direction, it can look fake. For detailed work, you must introduce flaws. That’s what makes it look natural.
I could have worked on this painting for another week, and nobody would know the difference but me. Eventually you just have to call it done, let it go, and start on another one.

I’ll have prints of this piece for the Calgary Expo, but I’ll also order a 24×16 metal print for the wider composition to show the uncropped horns.

Given all the requests for this painting, perhaps I should bring two.

Cheers,
Patrick

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That’s a Wrap for Expo ’23

It’s been a busy week of post-show inventory, filling custom orders, drawing editorial cartoons and stowing my stock and booth hardware, but that’s normal after my biggest event of the year.

The Calgary Expo was phenomenal! Despite one OCD episode that kept me up late Thursday night worrying about something in my booth, it was an almost perfect event. Perhaps it’s plenty of experience or a recent shift in my overall perspective, but compared to other years, the stress I usually feel around the prep and execution of this event was dramatically reduced. Hard work and long days on my feet, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was excited to be there.

It’s impossible to describe Expo to somebody. Some might dismiss it as a large gathering of nerds dressing up in costumes and geeking out over comics, movies and gaming. Of course, that’s a big part of it, but it’s so much more. People of all ages, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, education levels, colours, shapes and sizes fill this event. Couples and families come to this show together, and I don’t know who’s having more fun, the parents or the kids. Big bikers to little old ladies, a world of diversity visited my booth this weekend.

You want inclusive? That’s Expo.

Best of all, everybody was there to have a good time. It’s simply a great vibe. And that’s coming from a guy who generally avoids more than two people at a time.

It still pushes the childhood buttons when a fully functional R2-D2 glides by my booth. With a rotating head, lights, whistles and sound effects, panels that open and close, and full mobility, it looks and behaves like the real thing. I even know the guy who manufactured it; I used to work for him years ago in Canmore. So I know he’s running it by remote control from about ten feet away, that it’s all mechanical gears, parts, and wires. But the illusion that it’s the beloved movie character is strong.

May the 4th be with you. 😉

The Calgary Expo is an escape from the world, just like a carnival or a trip to Disneyland. It must be experienced.

On Saturday evening, having texted back and forth each day, my buddy Darrel sent me this text.

All the time! It’s overwhelming sometimes.

A big burly intimidating guy excitedly told me he was thrilled to finally meet me as he and his wife have bought several of my prints at the Calgary Zoo, and they love the art. I don’t even know what to do with that, mainly because it happens a lot at this event. It’s incredibly flattering and validating. That my menagerie of funny-looking animals connects with so many different people is a wonder, a gift for which I’m incredibly grateful.

One young woman came by the booth and showed me a screenshot on her phone from a recent issue of A Wilder View. Her mother is a subscriber and wanted her to buy the Bugle Boy print.
Several folks stopped by to tell me that their friend or family member couldn’t make it to Expo this year, but they wanted them to say Hello for them.

Connecting with people through my silly little animal paintings is a feeling I can’t quantify.

Working at home alone all day and spending too much time in the darker corners of my head, I don’t get much feedback that my work means anything to anyone. The Calgary Expo is like an overwhelming overcorrection. I’d love to bottle the energy I get from this event and save it for, oh, I don’t know, a bitter cold snap in deepest darkest January.

Other gift shows give me some feedback and reward for the long days painting skin texture on a bear’s nose or feathers on an eagle, but not like Expo.

Each year, more and more people tell me they discover my work in places I’ve never been, primarily because of licensing. I often see someone trying to make the connection that they’re talking to the person who painted the Otter on their Pacific Music & Art coffee mug they bought in Nanaimo.
People walk by the booth, their eyes scan the art walls, and they smile. Then they nudge whoever they’re with and point, and the smile infects that person, too. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s like a drug. I can’t get enough of it.

I recognized plenty of people, but if I didn’t know their names, I apologized and asked. Of course, they were OK with my not remembering, but I’m not. These people spend their money on my work year after year; I’d like to greet each of them by name to show my appreciation for their support.

Each day, I thought I must have seen most of the familiar faces, subscribers, and collectors by now, but another steady stream of welcome reunions kept coming right up until the end of the day on Sunday. I even got an unexpected welcome visit from a good photographer friend from my NAPP and Photoshop World days. Gudrun managed to time it for a slow spell on Sunday afternoon, so we had a nice catchup.

I am fortunate to have super collectors of my work. I’ve talked about them before, and you know who you are. I can’t adequately express my appreciation that you keep coming back each year for more, especially since you introduce others to my work, too.

While I sell a little of everything, some bestsellers consistently do well at Expo, like Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sire, Sea Turtle and Grizzly on Grass. Some new ones like Snow Queen, Sloth and Grump also did well. I sold out of several prints, so some still haven’t made it into the store. I’ll get those stocked as soon as I can.

The big surprise, however, was the Tarantula. I sold six of them before Saturday. Who knew?
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Expo without a well-meaning follower reminding me that I am long overdue on my promise of a book. Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, I don’t know what my problem is there. My failure to launch bothers me more than anybody else. But the push is well deserved, Kim! Thank you for that.

Regular readers know how much I love movies. While I’ve encountered many celebrities over the years, especially at this event, I don’t get star-struck. I could see quite a few guests on the main stage from my booth over the weekend, but it was a bit weird Sunday morning when actor Danny Trejo walked into my booth. He said, “These are cool,” and flipped through some prints.

As he was attracting attention and his handlers looked like they wanted him to keep moving, he said something like, “I might come back,” and gave me a fist bump. I wasn’t about to bother him for a photo, but I thanked him for coming to Calgary. I knew I wouldn’t see him again, as he had a busy day ahead of him, but it was a fun encounter.

Anything can happen at Expo.

Here’s a cartoon I drew that appeared in The Calgary Herald last Tuesday. Nobody comes to this event to talk politics.

The weather was perfect, a real gift after a late start to spring. Expo had a capacity crowd of 100,000 people over four days. Sixteen thousand attended the Parade of Wonders in downtown Calgary on Friday! I’ve never seen it so busy in my eight years as a vendor. While attendees took a long time to get anywhere, I was happy to remain in my booth and watch it all go by. The only downside is that I never get over to Artist Alley to check out all the incredible creations, but I’m there to work. Can’t do it all.

I brought a cooler and healthy food from home to make my lunches each morning at the hotel. Trying to survive five days on deep-fried carnival food is a bad idea, and it’s unlikely I could have made it to those vendors even if I wanted to. I was sore and tired when I got home, as I barely sat down while in my booth, and those were very long days. My throat is still a little raw from so much conversation, but I feel really good. I couldn’t have asked for a better show.

Best of all, the creative tank has been refilled. This is like coming home from Photoshop World years ago, where I feel inspired and want to work. The only frustrating part of this week is that I haven’t yet had time to return to my current giraffe painting—hopefully, tomorrow.

To everyone who contributed to this being my best year of sales to date, those who told me how much they like seeing A Wilder View in their inbox, and everyone who stopped by to visit and reconnect, THANK YOU! Painting these funny-looking animals wouldn’t be as much fun without you. And to all of you new subscribers, thanks for being here. I hope you find it worth your while.

I’ve already booked for next year and was so pleased with my new location that I requested the same booth. Hopefully, they can accommodate, but floor plans change, so I’ll take what I get and hope for the best.

It was undoubtedly a winning strategy this year.

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Whose Art Is It Anyway?

In 2008, I hosted the Canadian Editorial Cartoonists Conference in Banff. Several industry veterans who attended came up in a culture where busy unionized daily newspapers hired editorial cartoonists for impressive salaries, benefits, and pensions. I began my career at the end of all that.

I put a lot of work into the conference and preparing a Photoshop drawing class, trying to impress and curry favour with the more established cartoonists in this exclusive club. But, unfortunately, I realized too late that nobody cared. They were simply looking for an excuse to visit Banff, hang out and talk shop. It was about nostalgia, politics, and competitors fishing for information.

I wanted to improve my skills and artwork and learn how to adapt to a struggling industry, but many of them were focused on avoiding having to change. In fact, in the wrap-up, one of the more senior cartoonists loudly promised there wouldn’t be any Photoshop drawing classes at the next conference.

Clearly, I didn’t belong in this group.

In 2009, I attended another conference, the National Association of Photoshop Professionals in Las Vegas. I had been a member of this supportive online community for several years. Critiques were constructive, questions were answered with enthusiasm, and I learned more from that association than any before or since.

Fresh off that first Photoshop World conference,  inspired to try something new, I painted a funny looking grizzly bear, my first whimsical wildlife portrait.

I went to that conference five times between 2009 and 2014. In 2010 and 2014, I won multiple Guru Awards for my animal paintings, including two Best in Show awards. The classes and instructors, the community of friends and colleagues, it was time and money well spent.

At Photoshop World, I made valuable business connections. For a long time after, I had a welcome working relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the drawing tablets and displays I’ve used for the past 25 years. I recorded two training DVDs for PhotoshopCAFE, and NAPP helped me form a strong foundation for my creative skills.

Eventually, social media killed the forum, and the organization rebranded. As a result, NAPP no longer exists, and the Photoshop World conference is a ghost of its former self.

Time spent pining for the way things used to be is a waste. Adaptation is the most useful skill a self-employed artist can have.

While licensing and retailers are essential for my business, those customers each have their own ideas of what they want from my work. One retailer wants more bears; another wants more wolves. One agency wants me to follow seasonal trends; another client wants more realistic animals. Some products sell better with brighter, more colourful elements, and some without a background. Some items work better with a vertical layout, others horizontal.

Most artists have heard they should find their niche, the work that makes them unique and different from everybody else. It’s the key to survival in a crowd where a lot of art looks the same. But if you work hard and are lucky enough to discover the work that defines you, the next piece of advice you hear is that you need to make it appeal to everyone all the time.

Well, which is it?

How do you create work you enjoy enough to keep doing it year after year and continue to make it pay? How do you serve your customers and clients and allow their input and direction without changing your work so much that it’s no longer yours? Is it artwork or factory work?

When it becomes a grind or just about pumping out more images, it can take all the joy out of it. Lately, finishing some paintings has brought the same sense of accomplishment I get from cleaning the house. That’s a telltale sign of burnout. I’ve been here before, more than once. It’s a common experience with anyone who creates anything, especially if it’s their job, a warning that something’s got to give.

I know how to paint a single animal. I’ve put almost fifteen years into it. Each takes hours to paint, and the work I’m doing now is better than I’ve ever done, but it’s still the same style and (shudder) formula. It’s not as challenging or fulfilling as it used to be.

I’ve taken a new approach with the trio of giraffes, already titled “Long Neck Buds.” I don’t know if it will work the way I imagine it, but if it does, it will be the first of several I plan to paint this way.

This latest individual giraffe isn’t quite a finished piece, but it’s close. It will also be the middle giraffe in the painting based on the group sketch above. With the simple background, it’s a solid painting on its own. I’ll paint the other two individually, like this first one, with my usual high detail, then I’ll place them all together. Finally, I’ll paint the sky, clouds and leaves around them.

I’m a commercial artist, it’s how I make my living. I don’t pretend otherwise. But this is also supposed to be fun. I want to paint more detailed and elaborate images I’ll enjoy while also leaving options open for clients and licenses with different needs.

I want to create more paintings this way—a troop of meerkats, several burrowing owls, and a waddle of penguins. I could paint different species in an image. However, with each critter as detailed as my usual work, these will take longer than a single painting, requiring a more substantial investment in each piece.

I get nervous when spending too much time on one painting, likely due to many years of drawing editorial cartoons. Twenty years ago, when almost nobody was publishing my work, I would spend many hours nitpicking a cartoon, trying to get a caricature right or fussing with perspective. Shonna and I referred to these as Sistine Chapel cartoons. I had to train myself to say, “good enough.”

Most political cartoons have a short shelf life, so speed is essential. Get it done, get it out, and get started on the next one. My cartoon work pays monthly bills.

With a painting, however, the income can come anywhere from next week to next year. Pieces I painted ten years ago are still paying today. Paintings are an investment in future prints, products and licensing, income that often comes later.

This year, I’m making time to play and experiment.

I’ll share works in progress, sketches, and thoughts along the way, but fewer finished pieces. The ones I do complete will be bigger and hopefully worth waiting for. Of course, I expect I’ll still paint a single animal here and there if the mood strikes me.

11” X14” poster prints will come out only a couple of times a year rather than as I complete them. With higher shipping costs, I imagine that it won’t be a problem for collectors of my work to be able to order two or three new pieces at a time with one shipping cost.But I’ll still welcome custom metal and canvas special order prints. You can order those by email anytime. The above 18”x24” sloth on canvas and 20″x20” Blue Beak Raven on metal below are two custom orders that arrived this week.The puzzles I launched this year felt like a considerable risk, but I sold a lot of them and have received requests for more. I’m suddenly motivated to plan paintings that will work as prints, puzzles, stickers and more. I’m also exploring puzzle licensing opportunities.

In the meantime, my collection of more than 100 paintings will continue to pay the bills with prints and licensing, as will drawing daily editorial cartoons, for as long as newspapers hang on.

I’m not having any fun. That needs to change.

Cheers,
Patrick

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License and Destination

When I started drawing editorial cartoons in the late 90s, I drew one a week for the Banff Crag & Canyon. A little later, I tried to expand my horizons with illustrations, caricatures and other creative work. The publisher, however, figured that $30/week bought the newspaper an editorial cartoon and the right to control work I did for anyone else.

In 2001, I removed those shackles and joined a new publication launching in Canmore, and I’ve been drawing cartoons for the Rocky Mountain Outlook ever since.

In stark contrast, my new editor encouraged me to draw more cartoons and self-syndicate. At the time, many Canadian dailies had a staff cartoonist, and I wondered if one of those gigs might be in my future.

Those daily papers often had open freelance spots a couple of days a week, and I was happy to get those whenever I could, hoping a foot in the door might help me later should an in-house cartoonist retire.

A very nice former editor of the Calgary Herald, who helped me whenever he could, told me their staff cartoonist thought I was trying to steal his job because somebody had tried it before. I’m not that ruthless, but I soon learned the newspaper business and editorial cartooning profession was adversarial, paranoid, and often nasty.

As Canada’s daily newspapers were bought and sold repeatedly by larger companies, the old-guard cartoonists were laid off or forced to retire, and their positions eliminated. Today, only a handful of cartoonists are attached to daily newspapers, and their days are numbered.

I have always been a self-syndicated freelancer, keeping me working and paying the bills while many salaried cartoonists were shown the door. And since most of them never had to learn to be self-employed, that job loss ended their careers. So I am grateful I never got a staff job.

Years later, it’s no secret the newspaper industry has not recovered. While several community weeklies are still doing well, including the Rocky Mountain Outlook and many other clients, daily newspapers are struggling. I’d need a second job if I had to rely solely on my editorial cartoon revenue today.

But editorial cartooning allowed me to quit my office job in 2005 and become a full-time artist. I explored opportunities, tried new things, and improved my art and business skills while the freelance cartoons paid the bills. I increased my cartoon revenue year after year, and it didn’t seem like it would ever decline, though all industry signs pointed that way.

Though editorial cartooning was going well, I prepared for when it disappears. I tried Flash animation, but I didn’t like the work and couldn’t make it pay. I painted caricatures of people for hire. People liked the art but wanted it cheap, and I couldn’t justify the hours. I took online art courses to become a better painter and learned valuable techniques I still use today.

In 2009, I painted a grizzly bear which led me to the work I enjoy most and launched the next phase of my career.

Becoming a good artist is the easy part. Learn from other artists, create art daily, and repeat for many years.

The hard part is learning the business. There are as many roadmaps to success as there are artists trying to do it. What worked for one won’t work for another because everybody wants something different from the deal. It’s not just about making money but finding the work you love and people to pay you for it. You must love it enough to give up mornings, evenings and weekends to devote to the work and the business. When stuff inevitably gets hard, the only thing that will keep you going is loving the work.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in this business of art. Customers, editors and licensees have screwed me over. I’ve lost time and money from bad decisions made from poor preparation. I’ve followed bad advice and put trust in the wrong people.

I’ve also made decisions that were right at the time but still went south through no fault of my own. Supportive editors retired, and their replacements chose another cartoonist or eliminated the cartoon altogether. Newspapers, art galleries, retail stores and licensing clients have closed or lost their businesses.

No matter what you do for a living, shit will happen.

As a self-employed artist, however, it’s almost routine. When one revenue source disappears, you scramble to find another. Losing one customer isn’t usually the end; it just means things get a little uncomfortable while you adjust course. Adaptation is as much a required business skill as bookkeeping.

For quite some time, my business was half editorial cartooning and half wildlife art, but in recent years, the latter has kept increasing while the former continues to decline.

I learn more about licensing my work and finding new clients each year. A company makes and markets the product and pays the artist a royalty of 4% to 15%, usually in the middle of that range, for using the images. That small percentage can become a healthy income depending on the product, the company, and reach.

I’ve acquired most of my licenses on my own. I’ve learned about contracts, red-flag clauses, and how to translate legalese. I retain copyright of all my work and never sign it away.

In 2017, I signed up with Art Licensing International in New England. A reputable agency with global reach, they represent hundreds of artists, many of them well-known. An agency typically takes 50% of royalties. However, their connection with big companies makes that sacrifice worth it, as they can often get artists’ licenses they wouldn’t usually find on their own.

I had final approval on every license they acquired for me, and their quarterly cheques arrived four times a year without fail. Amounts were never significant, but I was willing to be patient as a license can take a few years before it pays off. But last year, I considered ending the relationship. I’ve had much more success finding my own licenses, but I also wanted to explore opportunities with other agencies.

Art licensing is a tricky business. While there is plenty of advice on best practices and what to avoid, each company has their methods and focus, and you never know which business relationships will work until you’re well into them.

If I’m tied up with too many smaller licenses that don’t bear fruit, those can prevent me from signing with companies that better fit my artwork. If one company licenses my work for a product, a competing company might not want to, and that second company might have been the better choice.

In the past couple of years, it has become clear that ALI is not the right agency for me. Some artists tailor their art to follow trends each year, and the agency’s messaging supports that tack. It’s a solid business practice for many artists and companies, especially graphic designers, so I can’t fault them for it. But I am not an artist who chases trends.

Years ago, I remember a gallery owner telling me that he was glad I wasn’t painting realistic-looking wildlife because had I done so, no matter how good it was, he wouldn’t have been interested.

“Everybody’s trying to be Robert Bateman.”

I have a unique signature style, look and an established niche, so my work will never be for everybody. When I hear suggestions that I should change my work to fit somebody else’s agenda, I think of all the licenses, customers and subscribers who connect with and enjoy my art and support it year after year. So many artists struggle to find their niche, a pinnacle achievement in any art career. There is no question I have found mine.

As Seth Godin often says, “if you don’t like it, it’s not for you.”

That’s not argumentative or defensive; it’s a simple truth. I’m not fond of Celine Dion’s music. But I’m confident she doesn’t care. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for misery in life and art because you will never succeed.

I decided to end my relationship with Art Licensing International this week with no hard feelings. The owners and staff have always been professional and friendly. But after six years with little to modest income to show for it, I’ve realized that the wrong business relationship is just as bad as none at all.

There are several licenses I’ve signed with them, however, that will continue until the end of their term, a few that won’t expire until the end of next year. But I’m free to look elsewhere for better representation for my artwork. My art has been removed from their site.

When so many artists struggle to find agency representation, leaving such an arrangement voluntarily is uncomfortable. And even though it’s a little scary and always uncertain, making these choices is one of the best parts of self-employment.

One course correction, coming right up.

 

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Some Assembly Required

A couple of years ago, through an art licensing agency, Spilsbury licensed four of my paintings on puzzles. But they’re a US company that doesn’t ship to Canada, which annoyed several subscribers.

When a company buys limited rights to put my art on a product, they decide which images they want, how many to create, and when they want to produce them.

I’ve received so many requests for puzzles, however, that I’ve decided to create some of my own. Of course, that means investing in production up front, but then I control which images and quantity to make.

I wanted to source them from a company specializing in puzzles rather than one printing many different products. I wanted sturdy, uniquely shaped puzzle pieces with excellent printing and packaging.

Based in Victoria, I liked what I saw and read on the Puzzles Unlimited site. I talked about pricing and production with a sales rep, uploaded an image and paid for a sample 504-piece puzzle. It arrived between Christmas and New Year’s Day. While the sample box is basic, the company will design a branded box featuring my name, website, and any other details I want to add.

Shonna and I were supposed to spend Christmas up north with her family, but the nasty roads and weather that weekend made that a bad idea, so we stayed home. Shonna was off the whole week, and my workload was light, a perfect window for product testing.
We laughed at our own arrogance, thinking this would be an afternoon diversion for a few hours. Instead, it took us several hours each day for three days to assemble it. Neither of us remembers the last time we put a puzzle together, so it’s unlikely we’ve done one as adults.

I sent snapshots to a couple of friends, and both asked the same question. “Is it easier to put together since you painted the image?”

NOPE! Not even a little.

More than once, while trying to find a piece, I complained to Shonna about the artist.

“What kind of psychopath puts so much detailed fur and grass in one painting?!”
It became an obsession for both of us. After dinner last Thursday night, I asked Shonna what she wanted to watch on TV. She said she’d much rather work on the puzzle, and I agreed. I was pleased with the whole experience, though we were disappointed when it was over. We did, however, learn a valuable lesson on this one. Don’t assemble a puzzle with a lot of brown and beige texture on a surface with a lot of brown and beige texture. Newbie mistake.

We finished it on New Year’s Eve. Clearly, our neighbours will never have to complain about the noise from our wild partying lifestyle.

This is a quality puzzle with sturdy pieces and clean printing. I want to have four designs available in the spring so that I have them for the Calgary Expo.

These are specialty items rather than generic mass market products, so they’ll retail between $35 and $39 each. From what I’ve seen at markets, plus information from the supplier and others, that’s about right for a niche product purchased directly from the artist.
This puzzle is 16″ X20″ with 504 pieces, which will be the dimensions and count for the first orders. For casual puzzlers like us, it’s the perfect size and difficulty. However, it wasn’t too easy, and we could get it done and still enjoy it.

I know that hardcore puzzle enthusiasts prefer 1000 pieces or more, but I don’t know if that’s who’ll buy these. Will it be diehard puzzlers or those looking for an entertaining pastime a couple or family can do together?

Now I must decide on the first four images. Spilsbury has the exclusive puzzle license for my Smiling Tiger, Bald Eagle, Wolf and Great Horned Owl. So those are out of consideration.

The most popular prints won’t necessarily be the best puzzles. The image must be one people like but also fun and challenging to put together without too much frustration.

Grizzly on Grass is one of my most popular paintings, and it was a fun puzzle, so that’s one of the four. The Otter is one of my best-selling prints but has a big blue background, which might be a problem in a puzzle.

So for all of the images you see here, I reimagined them as puzzles rather than prints and cropped and sized them accordingly. If I chose four right now, I’d go with Grizzly on Grass, Otter, Sea Turtle and T-Rex.
I’m also considering these cropped versions of the Flamingo, Parrot, Squirrel, Ring-tailed Lemur, and Snow Day.

But I’d love to hear your opinion.

  1. Would you want to buy one of these puzzles?
  2. In order of preference, which four would be your favourites on a puzzle?

Please let me know in the comments, and feel free to add any other thoughts you’d like to share.

Thanks!
Patrick

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Grump

We’ve had fantastic fall weather this year in the mountains. The leaves took a long time to change, and there are still plenty on the trees. It’s been almost like summer, right up until last week, with our first snowfall. A warming climate is a growing concern, but it has been hard to see that big picture lately while still biking in shorts in the middle of October.

And yet, despite the excellent weather, I’ve been depressed and angry. I’m not the type to put my fist through a wall or throw things; instead, I hold it all in and ruminate. One could argue the latter does more damage in the long run.

This melancholy happens to me this time of year, but usually a little later. I suspect it’s a combination of several things.

I’m weary from the last three years. But, unfortunately, rather than getting easier, this difficult period in our collective history seems to keep compounding. As if we all haven’t had enough, inflation is up, spending is down, and even more financial stress is on the horizon.

Then there is the constant deluge of negative news. Editorial cartooning, the other half of my business, requires I turn my daily focus to bad actors with nefarious agendas, lying and cheating their way into powerful positions. Around the world, people dissatisfied with their current leaders seem content to vote for any alternative, even when a second’s reflection quickly reveals that the new boss is far worse than the old one. Most of these button-pushing zealots’ plans stop at ‘get the power.’

I’m not sleeping well, I have no appetite, and under all of it is a growing sense of futility, especially as a self-employed artist. More than once in recent days, I’ve considered chucking it all and going back to a real job. Last month, a complete medical checkup revealed I’ve no physical health issues. All numbers are in the green, with no red flags.

Mentally, however, I’m struggling.

This is not a ploy for sympathy because, seriously, who among us hasn’t got reasons to feel blue and lost lately? Another local business closed last week. A friend had two close family members die this year, one after another. So everybody is struggling in one way or another.

What weighs most heavily on me is how so many are taking it out on each other. Thankfully, I don’t have to see it on social media anymore. Killing those platforms was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But people are becoming bolder and more abrasive in real-world interactions, and I find it profoundly disturbing.

Anyone who takes out their frustration over a long lineup, on the grocery store clerk who actually showed up for work, should have to return to the back of the line.

Ironic that so many of us hated the lockdowns, being told we couldn’t go anywhere or socialize. Now that everything has opened again, I’ve found I prefer to stay home and avoid people by choice.

No, I’m not special. Neither are you. We’re all going through some tough shit.

I’m just explaining the source of this latest painting.
I have been working on another cute, happy painting of a grizzly bear for the past couple of months. I’m recording the process and writing a narrative to go with it. These videos take a lot more time than a regular piece. Recording the painting, writing the text, recording the voice-over, selecting the music, and editing it all add hours to the work.

I don’t want to rush it, but I didn’t want to go too long without a new painting to share and add to my licensing. While perusing my extensive library of reference images, looking for a subject to paint, the happy, genial photos weren’t resonating with me.

Then I came across a series of photos I’d taken of Griffin, a lion at Discovery Wildlife Park. In a couple of shots, he looked a little annoyed. Considering my present dark cloud perspective and frustration, it felt right.

Naturally, I exaggerated the expression to make him look downright grumpy, hence the title. The more I painted, the more it felt like a self-portrait.

I know that people who buy and license my work are looking for happy, whimsical wildlife paintings to make them feel good. I also know my role in this relationship, and I’m delighted to play it most of the time. I get a lot of satisfaction and joy from my work, and I’m glad many of you enjoy it, too.

But art is often cathartic and a means of expressing our emotions, whether for the person creating it or those it touches.

Though this lion’s expression isn’t happy, I can still see some comedy in it. But make no doubt about it. He’s pissed off, unimpressed, and wants to be left alone.

As with every painting, once released into the wild, I have no control over how people feel about it or whether this grump will connect. But I have a couple of other paintings that aren’t so happy and cheery, and they’ve found their audience, so who knows?

When I’m at the Calgary Expo or a Mountain Made Market, people often repeat the same lines I’ve heard dozens of times. So I’ll confess to having a few stock responses at the ready. It’s impossible to avoid once you have phrases you know connect with people.

While standing at the booth or table, gazing at the wall of paintings before them, some will say, “they’re all so happy!”

I’ll agree with them but offer, “Well, maybe not the Ostrich. He’s got a bit of an attitude problem.”

Or I might advise caution around the Ring-tailed Lemur. “He’s not quite all there.”

Sometime down the road, I’ll undoubtedly have some more advice if I stock prints of this latest painting. “Careful around that grumpy lion. He’s having a bad day.”

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Licensing and Diamond Art Club

When a company needs artwork for a product, they’ll often contract an artist to use their work in exchange for a future royalty percentage on sales.

Depending on the product, percentages can be small. But if the company sells a lot of that product, it can add up to a significant portion of an artist’s income.

This is licensing.

Some artists don’t like licensing because they think they’ll lose control of their art and it will be stolen. That has happened to me more than once, and to every professional artist I know. Sometimes you don’t even know about it until long after the fact, and most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it except tell them to stop.

Most of the licensing companies I’ve worked with are professionals. They use the art how they say they will, pay me regularly, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

They don’t always use the images I want them to, or as many of my paintings as I’d like, but that’s not my call. They’re running their own businesses, and my art is often a tiny part. Once they license the work, it’s theirs to market how they see fit if they keep to the spirit of the agreement.

Harlequin Nature Graphics licenses a handful of my images on T-shirts. DecalGirl offers several of my paintings on cases and decals for electronic devices. A dozen other companies around the world have licensed my art through an agency for cross-stitch, fabrics, canvas art, and other products.
My most significant license, of course, is Pacific Music & Art out of Victoria, BC. Thanks to Mike and his staff, my work is on coffee mugs, water bottles, calendars, art cards, magnets, coasters, trivets, notebooks, and more. During the first year of the pandemic, his foresight to put my work on face masks was a welcome flotation device when other parts of my business were under water.

I regularly encounter people who tell me they’ve bought some of my art at stores I didn’t know existed in towns I’ve never visited. One local friend recently returned from a trip to Vancouver Island and told Shonna, “Pat’s art is everywhere!”

At the Calgary Expo this year, a very nice woman came into my booth and loudly proclaimed, “That’s my otter!”

I laughed and replied, “I beg to differ, Ma’am. That’s MY otter!”

She had bought the image as a framed art card in a BC store more than a year ago, and it hangs in her kitchen.
I get my licenses in three ways. The first is through an agency. They will contact me and propose a contract with a client. I have first right of refusal on every deal, and I have politely declined the opportunity a couple of times. They represent many artists, so it’s not a very personal relationship.

I look up every company in every proposed agreement. Sometimes it conflicts with an existing license; other times, their site looks unprofessional, I don’t like the product, or it’s just not a good fit. But most of the deals they send me are worth a try, and I give them the go-ahead.

Sometimes I look for a license because I think my work will fit a product or I like a specific company.

The third way is that a company will reach out to me. They’ve seen my work somewhere, looked around my website, saw images they liked and want to talk about a license.

About a year ago, Diamond Art Club contacted me to discuss access to my catalogue. The contact was professional, sent me a great information package for prospective licenses, and they were upfront about their royalties and payment schedule—no red flags.

I looked through their professional site and was impressed with how many high-end brands and artists they have under license. There’s no credibility question when a company has the official DC Comics and Harry Potter licenses.

I had heard a little about diamond painting kits but didn’t know much about the hobby, nor how massive it is. The simplest explanation is that it seems to be a blend of paint-by-numbers, cross-stitch and a little bit of the classic lite-bright toy. So rather than butcher the explanation, I’ll refer you to their site’s excellent description. Click here or on the image below.
After a couple of weeks back and forth with contracts and questions, I uploaded my art to their servers and tried to put it out of my mind. They were clear that nothing would likely be available until the end of the year. Licensing is often a long game, depending on the product, and each company’s lead time is different.

The production pipeline on these kits is extensive. First, there’s research with customers and retailers to determine which images to produce, then assigning an image to a designer who will turn a piece of art into a kit. Following that, the kit must be manufactured in large quantities and shipped. It’s more involved than most products I’ve encountered.

I don’t know the timeline for when the world is normal, but I was forewarned that it is much longer under the shadow of the pandemic.

It has been a year since I signed the contract with Diamond Art Club. I checked in with them every couple of months, and they were friendly and accommodating as they explained the different stages of delay. And I’m just one new artist. They no doubt have hundreds of other pieces in the pipeline, all affected by the same delays every company in the world has faced these past couple of years.

The first image Diamond Art Club put into production was no surprise. My Otter is one of my top two bestsellers everywhere, a close tie with the Smiling Tiger.

I’m glad they started with that one because if it does well, there will no doubt be more of my images on these kits in the future. Given the popularity and quality of these kits, I certainly hope so.
My sample arrived this week, and I was eager to open it. The first thing I noticed was the fantastic design of the packaging, both outside and in. The tools and pieces are well organized and labelled. The quality of the otter image on the canvas is superb, and there’s nothing about this kit that looks cheap and thrown together. At 23″X17″, it’s a fairly large image.

If I were into this hobby and bought one from Diamond Art Club, I would feel like a valued customer. As a licensed artist, I feel my work is represented well, and I’m pleased to be involved with this company. I hope it’s for a long time.

I’ve learned about licensing, however, that I have no clue what will do well or for how long. Certain paintings may be incredibly popular with the people who like them, but will a new product find a new audience? I have no idea.

So, while I wait and see, I let these companies do what they do best, and I’ll keep painting new portraits of whimsical wildlife for their future consideration.

Because that’s what I do best.
If you’d like to learn more about Diamond Art Club, head to their site and check it out. Right now, you can get 20% off your first order with the code SUMMER20. While they have a large assortment of fantastic art, might I suggest a certain Otter as your first piece?

Cheers,
Patrick

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An African Elephant

After more than two years of procrastinating, I finally finished this painting of an African elephant.

At the beginning of 2020, our friend Serena, her husband, and their son went on a long-awaited safari to Africa. Little did they know that it would be only a couple of months later that recreational travel would be all but cancelled for more than a year.

Serena takes almost no time off. As the head zookeeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, often raising and caring for orphaned baby bears, cougars, lions, and other rescues, her work requires many long days, seven days each week. So, this safari trip was many years in the planning for her family.

Before she left, she asked me if I wanted any reference pictures. Even though Serena is an excellent photographer, I said there was no way I would impose on her family trip with a laundry list of animal photos.

There are very few elephants in captivity anymore in the western world. Because of their intelligence, family dynamic, social structure, and other requirements zoos can’t meet, elephants don’t do well in isolation, so most reputable zoos don’t keep them anymore, a policy I fully support. Instead, many former zoo elephants have been surrendered to sanctuaries to live out their lives in a herd and in peace.

As it’s unlikely I’ll be going on safari anytime soon, there’s very little chance I’ll be able to take my own elephant reference photos soon.

Since Serena pressed me on it, I confessed that I really needed that specific reference. I told her I’d take whatever she gave me, but she asked for my ideal photo, just in case she had the opportunity.

In a perfect world, I wanted a ¾ view; trunk held up to reveal an open mouth, all so that I had the best chance of painting a happy smiling face.
Serena sent me dozens of photos when she returned, including exactly what I asked for. I was grateful, filed the photos, backed them up online and on portable hard drives, and spent two years painting other animals.

This happens a lot. On rare occasions, I’ll paint from reference right away, but most of the time, that animal gets added to the list, and I wait until the time feels right. I’ll admit that sometimes, however, it’s more about imposter syndrome.

I knew that the details in the skin texture would be complicated, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to paint what I saw in my head. This is familiar ground. Regardless of how many years I’ve been doing this, the thousands of editorial cartoons I’ve drawn and more than a hundred whimsical wildlife and commission pieces, I still get nervous before every painting. It just never goes away.

Eventually, I push through it, and about halfway through a piece, I realize I’m enjoying myself.

There are two reasons I finally got off my ass to paint this elephant. First, Mike from Pacific Music & Art is putting together my 2023 calendar, and in the most supportive and encouraging way, he pushed me to get the elephant done. While I’m paraphrasing, he said something like, “stop talking about it, and just paint it, already.”
Secondly, the full-size four-day Calgary Expo will return at the end of next month. I’ve had my booth booked and purchased for three years. While I’ve painted many new pieces since the last Expo, I want that elephant in my booth.

Every year, the same guy asks if I’ve painted the elephant, and I sheepishly tell him, “Not yet, but maybe next year.”

I don’t know if he’ll be at Expo this year. I don’t know if he’ll even like the elephant I’ve painted. But if he asks if I’ve got one, I can finally say, “Yes!”

While it took many hours to get the skin texture and anatomy right, it turns out that it wasn’t especially difficult. I just had to put my ass in the chair, paint a lot of brushstrokes, and enjoy the ride. When I completed it, I was happy with the result.

Right up until I sent it to Serena.

I’ve painted several of the Discovery Wildlife Park critters over the years, so I often give Serena an early look at those, a sneak peek for allowing me so much access to the animals in her care. Since she provided the reference, I extended the same courtesy for this one.

When I sent the finished painting in a text yesterday morning, she said, “I love that you did the injured one.”

Say what now?!

I called her for clarification.

As the reference she took was at an African reserve and sanctuary, Serena pointed out that this particular elephant, the one I used for my primary reference, had the end of his trunk amputated from an injury and that it was shorter than regular length.

She thought she had told me that, and I conceded that she very well might have, but it was two years ago, and it didn’t make it into my long-term memory files. So, I honestly thought it was simply the reference angle that didn’t show the tip of the trunk, and I was okay with it. I didn’t know that the elephant itself had that part of the trunk removed. And for some reason, I just didn’t see it.

So, as much as she liked the injured elephant because she looks after orphans and rescues, I explained that I had to paint a fully intact animal for a production piece, even in my whimsical style. So, I looked through the other elephant pictures she sent, found some ‘end of trunk’ reference, and got to work repairing the mistake.
I sent a couple of changes to Serena, and she helped me get it right. She felt bad for having to tell me about it after I’d finished the painting, but I told her better than after I had bought dozens of prints, and coasters, trivets, magnets, and other licensed merchandise had gone into production.

Correcting the mistake added more than an hour of extra painting to the piece, but I’m much happier with the finished result.

I can’t wait to see it in print.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Continuing Education

Since I didn’t start seriously drawing until my mid-twenties and never went to art school, I have often felt that I have spent most of my career playing catch-up.

I’m a workaholic perfectionist, which can be good or bad, depending on your metric. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t work, even for a couple of hours. This is not a complaint, nor should it be interpreted as humble-bragging.

It’s just my wiring.

On self-employment, Seth Godin once wrote, “You would never work for somebody who treats you the way you treat yourself.”

See? It’s not just me.

I heard recently on an art podcast that most people who go to art school don’t end up as artists for a living. The talent and art skills aren’t enough; you have to be driven.

The fact that I started late in the game means I’ve always been hungry, which has contributed to my longevity in this profession that’s synonymous with failure. An unhealthy dose of fear plays a big part as well. Grabbing the brass ring is easy but keeping a white-knuckle grip on it for decades, therein lies the struggle.

When people find out that I didn’t go to art school, they’ll often ask, “oh, so you’re self-taught?”

Self-Taught sounds like I just conjured it out of thin air, a claim that would be incredibly arrogant and false. I prefer the term self-directed.

I’ve learned from plenty of teachers, most of whom don’t even know it. While the internet has its fair share of toxicity and bile, it’s also a treasure trove of knowledge we often take for granted. While at Red Deer College, I remember having to drive down to the University of Calgary library to research a Psychology paper because the information wasn’t available in the college or city library where I lived.

Today that sounds positively archaic.

In books, webinars, podcasts, conference classes and online courses, there’s always a new bit of wisdom or technique waiting to be absorbed.

If you can’t find it, you aren’t looking.

Whether it’s how to make an image better or insight into the business of art, there is no excuse for failing to acquire or improve any skill you might have or desire.

That’s why the thought of retirement seems so foreign to me. I may slow my pace and become more selective of the work I do, but I’ll create art for as long as I’m able; however that looks.

I recently bought an online course on Character Design from Aaron Blaise, a fantastic artist with impressive credentials. Although I learned long ago to never say never, I don’t currently want to be a character designer.

But I’ve always felt that the principles of character design and animation, putting more action, life and dynamics into my cartoons and paintings, that’s where my skills are weakest. I’ve taken a couple of other courses on this theme over the years, but they never seemed to take.

This one, however, is fantastic. Even Shonna has noticed an improvement in my cartoons lately, and I’m only halfway through the course. It’s so good that I intend to watch it again, to reinforce some of the techniques. When finished, I’ll take another of Blaise’s courses.

I plan to talk about this course again, likely an accompanying narrative with a painting video, but for now, I’ll say that it has been time and money well spent.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I still feel like I’m playing catch-up when it comes to my art, even though the only person I should be comparing myself to is the artist I was yesterday. Funny how often I fail to remember that, especially while scrolling through Instagram.

Most of the time, everything I draw, whether cartoon or painting, is designed to be a finished piece. However, this course has got me drawing for practice again, investing in the skills that will allow me to make even better finished pieces later.

This weekend, I spent most of Saturday morning working on a new commission and Sunday morning on editorial cartoons. But in the afternoons, I played with this funny looking Mandrill. It’s much more developed than I had originally intended because I enjoyed it so much and didn’t want to abandon it.

A lot more caricatured than my usual animals; some might say too much, so it doesn’t fit with the rest of the portfolio. But I have no doubt that the techniques I’m learning to allow me to draw something like this will still inform my future painted work and make it better.

It also provides me with an escape from the work, to draw and paint just for the fun of it, which is why I wanted to do this for a living in the first place.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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