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Eggs, Butter, Milk, Coffee Mug

While I knew it was coming eventually, it was still a surprise to walk into my local Save-On-Foods grocery store here in Canmore on Friday to see an entire endcap display of my artwork.

I had kept an eye open for it each time I went shopping, but it was still a bit of a thrill to finally see it in place, especially right by the front doors.

Pacific Music & Art has licensed my work for many different products since late 2018. Those items include art cards, magnets, aluminum art prints, coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, water bottles, notepads, notebooks, and calendars. And of course, face masks, the product we all suddenly needed, but nobody wanted.

This display in the Canmore Save-On-Foods features coasters, trivets, and mugs. Featured art pieces include the Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sasquatch, Blue-Beak Raven, Two Wolves, Bald Eagle and Bear Wonder. My 2022 calendar and various notebook designs are in a rack beside it.
When I first moved to Banff in 1994, Shonna and I had a nice little apartment above a grocery store in a brand-new building, a real luxury in an unaffordable tourist town. I worked as a stock clerk and delivery driver in that grocery store that summer before moving on to work at a hotel. But Shonna and I both had part-time jobs at adjacent convenience and liquor stores for several years after, until we moved to Canmore in 2001.

While looking at the different products in the display, I found myself ‘facing’ the shelves to tidy them up. Then, without even realizing I was doing it, I turned some of the mugs, so the art faced outwards and straightened up some of the calendars and coasters.

I guess old habits die hard. Unfortunately, everybody is short-staffed around here, so if I can help make my own display a little more presentable, I’m happy to do it.

These displays are in many other Save-On-Foods stores in Western Canada, but I share those shelves with other artists from the Pacific Music & Art catalogue. Considering the skills and talents of those other creators, it’s an honour to be counted among them. One of my followers on Instagram was kind enough to tag me when she posted a photo of a mug she bought in the Sherwood Park Save-On.

When I first considered signing with Pacific, a testament to the company’s credibility was not only that a former consignment gallery owner recommended us to each other, but that one of their artists is Sue Coleman. I’ve admired her work for many years, long before I had painted my first animal.

I had planned to stop in to visit her last fall on a scheduled business trip to Vancouver Island, but I need not explain why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with the wonderfully weird feeling of my art sharing shelf and rack space with hers.

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A Wild Calendar Offer

Thanks to everyone who entered the calendar giveaway by commenting on the post. As I said in yesterday’s reminder email, all the kind and supportive things you had to say were greatly appreciated.

Hey, you weren’t just sucking up to get a calendar, were you?

No, I’m gonna choose to believe each was genuine and sincere, because you’re all such nice people.

I wish I could give away a calendar to everyone, but the grocery store and utility companies are still insisting I pay them in actual currency. I know, right?!

Without further delay, the two winners (already notified) of two calendars each are…

Jason from Fort St. John, BC

Lisa from Houston, Texas

For those who didn’t win this time, I’m working on some more downloadable goodies for subscribers to A Wilder View, so stay tuned. And If you haven’t yet signed up, here’s the link.

In the meantime, my 2022 calendars are now available for purchase at a special price! Regularly $12.99, I’m offering them for $12.00 each or 2 for $20. Shipping is a flat rate of $5.00 for Canada, $11.00 for US. If you live in Canmore, I’ll happily deliver free of charge.

OR, if you’re looking to get some of my 11”X14” prints in the store, I’ll throw in a FREE calendar with every order of TWO or more prints. You don’t even need to tell me, I’ll just add it automatically.

HOW TO ORDER:

As this is a special promotion, send me an email (patrick@nulllamontagneart.com) with your order and address. I’ll let you know the total with tax. Folks in Canada can pay by e-transfer (no password required), and I’ll be happy to send a PayPal invoice to anybody in the U.S. and elsewhere on the planet.

THE CATCH:

This offer expires at 4:00 MTN time tomorrow (Wednesday, July 21).

Any questions, feel free to ask. AND please share this with anybody you like.

Thanks again to all the contest entrants and congratulations to the winners.

Cheers,
Patrick

NOTE: This offer has expired. Thanks to all who ordered. Cheers!

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Bias and Bighorns

Driving back to Canmore from visiting a friend in Exshaw, I came around the bend to a massive herd of bighorn sheep. There were 40-50 of them on both sides of the secondary highway and a handful crossing from one side to the other. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to slow down and navigate the obstacle course of rams, ewes, lambs, and the four or five tourist vehicles stopped to take pictures.

Watching for wildlife on highways around here is routine. Rarely have I made that ten-minute drive without seeing one or two sheep.

When I got home, I sent my buddy a text about the largest herd I had ever come across, and he was unimpressed. Like many Exshaw residents who work in Canmore, he’s made that commute for years, so bighorn sheep along the highway are more annoying than enjoyable, especially when winter renders that road more treacherous.

Along with that stretch of highway, you can often find these critters around the junction of Kananaskis and Smith Dorrien Trails on Highway 40 and on the Lake Minnewanka loop outside of Banff. But they can pop up anywhere.

It can present problems with traffic jams and often-shocking displays of poor judgment, but tourists love to see wildlife, and it’s a big part of the allure of the Canadian Rockies.

While I have lived in one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet for almost thirty years, wildlife is a big draw in many parts of the world. Each has its hierarchy of popular species.

Everybody wants to see a lion or elephant on an African safari, but few have shelled out the big bucks just for a wildebeest or zebra.

Shonna and I are frequent visitors to Vancouver Island, and the big-ticket item there is whales, preferably humpbacks and orcas. Our friends own a wildlife tour company in Ucluelet, and while they usually see plenty of animals on their cruises, they’ve had to be specific that they can’t promise whale sightings. Any company that does, it comes with a caveat; the guarantee usually means you can come on the tour again for free.

Guides know where they’re most likely to find the animals, but luck and timing play a big part. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock.

Eagles, otters and black bears are a welcome sight out there — sea lions, seals and seagulls, not so much. Large fat sea lions congregate on docks causing costly damage for fishing boat operators and municipalities, requiring inventive countermeasures to keep them away. Sea lions are lazy, noisy and they smell nasty.

However, as a tourist, I’ll happily snap photos each time I see them, and I’ve painted more than one. Not surprising that they weren’t popular prints.

Back here in the mountains, the big sighting for tourists is bears, preferably a grizzly. And if she’s got cubs, well, that might as well be a lottery win. Conservation Officers and Park Wardens spend a great deal of time shooing tourists away from these situations. Summer ‘bear jams’ are common around here, sometimes leading to confrontation.

When a tourist and a stressed bear have a bad encounter, they don’t shoot the tourist.

Wolves and moose are high on the list, followed by pikas, marmots, pine martens, and other elusive smaller critters. But somewhere in there, you’ll find elk, bighorn sheep and deer, animals that aren’t difficult to find. While still exciting for tourists, locals are used to them, and they’re often the reason for traffic delays, or worse, injuries and fatalities from collisions on highways.

For many locals, these animals are a prime example of familiarity breeding contempt. I would imagine the feeling is mutual.
I’ll still take pictures of elk, bighorn sheep and deer, but it’s not nearly as much a thrill as it used to be. I didn’t stop when I came across that herd the other day, despite a safe pullout parking lot close by, but I have before. The reference for this painting was a photo I took at Lake Minnewanka a few years ago when I had explicitly gone searching for bighorn sheep.

While browsing my reference archive the other day, looking for something to paint, I opened that folder with low expectations. An image caught my eye, though, and I thought, “why not?”

Sure, he’s grinning, but the expression isn’t genial like many of my other whimsical wildlife pieces, and that’s by design. He’s untrustworthy and up to something. I wouldn’t turn my back on him. When I asked Shonna for a critique, she complimented the artwork but was less enthusiastic than usual about the subject. When pressed, she simply said, “I don’t like bighorn sheep.”

Clearly, she’s not alone.

But he was fun to paint.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Close Encounters of the Bear Cub Kind

DISCLAIMER: Don’t EVER approach bears, bear cubs or animals in the wild.

Earlier this week, Shonna and I were thrilled to be invited to Discovery Wildlife Park to meet their latest adoptees.

Bos and Piper are two Kodiak cubs from the US who needed a new home. While they’re not siblings, they are the same age, three months old today. The amount of paperwork and regulatory hurdles required to rescue these cubs from an unsustainable situation, especially during this unprecedented time of COVID, was monumental.

Our friend, Serena, the head keeper at DWP, has been around animals her whole life. With her staff’s help, she has raised quite a few bears, wolves, and other animals in need of rescue, ones that couldn’t be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

Discovery Wildlife Park, the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre and the Calgary Zoo, are places I support and the Alberta Institute of Wildlife Conservation, which rescues, rehabs, and releases animals back into the wild. I have no real interaction with the last one, aside from a monthly donation. To be released back into the wild, the animals need as little human contact as possible.

We would like to believe that this could be a world where no animal would ever need to live in captivity, but that would require sacrifices most of us aren’t willing to make. Our addiction to excess is one of the main reasons for disappearing wildlife habitats around the world.

With almost 8 billion people on the planet, each with our own opinions, vices, and levels of acceptable compromise, nothing is ever as black and white as we would like to believe.

Co-existing with wildlife is a never-ending discussion. There are strong opinions on both sides of the argument, from the average person on the street to nature and conservation experts, each speaking from their own experience and perspective. And those experts rarely agree. Unfortunately, there’s often more talking than listening, and the middle ground is mainly unpopulated and devoid of footprints.

I’ve personally wrestled with the issue for many years and will continue to do so. I’ve asked the hard questions from the dedicated people who work in these places. While the answers aren’t always the ones I’d like to hear, I believe they’re doing the best for these animals in their care and that their intentions and motivations are honourable.

I’ve seen how the animals interact with the park staff for years now, their evident trust and affection. I wouldn’t support any facility that didn’t treat its animals with respect and kindness or contradicted my wildlife protection values.
It’s with no small amount of gratitude that I enjoy such a close relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. Their allowing me close contact with the animals over the past several years is a profound trust I don’t take lightly.

I’ve taken thousands of reference photos at the park, which has allowed me to create some of my best work. But I’ve also learned an incredible amount about wildlife, their behaviour, medical and dietary challenges and their profound intelligence.

Discovery Wildlife Park sits on 91 acres, fenced and double-fenced in places. There is a forested shallow ravine on the western edge of the property, complete with a flowing creek. As this area is inappropriate for any structures, it’s largely untouched and remains natural. This is one of my favourite photos of Berkley from one of our excursions in this little forest a few years ago.

When they’re small, many of the animals spend plenty of time in these woods, where they can run, explore, climb trees, eat berries, and play.

On the day that Shonna and I visited, the cubs were teething, as traumatic for animals as humans. Along with the physiological problems that accompany teething, there’s not much that can be done for the pain and discomfort.

We watched Piper have a full-on meltdown for about a half-hour, bellowing and bawling her way through the woods. She was cranky and having a bad day, reminding me of a child throwing a temper tantrum in a supermarket. It was just as uncomfortable to watch, but Serena wasn’t concerned, as it’s all part of being a baby. Piper eventually exhausted herself and went about exploring, playing and climbing trees.
The following morning, I sent Serena a text asking how Piper was doing.

“She is a happy girl today.”
Bos was much more subdued, a little lazier, but curious and seemed to be enjoying himself as he chewed on trees, dug in the dirt, and wrestled with his adopted sibling.

Just like people, they have their own unique personalities. As my only other experience with a brown bear cub is Berkley, the differences are remarkable. Berkley rarely vocalized, whereas these two are talking all the time. Piper was so named because she’s got a real set of pipes on her.


Though she’s always had an overall genial way about her, Berkley went through a bit of a rebellious teenage phase where she would push Serena’s buttons to test her boundaries. It’ll be interesting to see how these cubs grow into their personalities.

Presently, they require constant care, familiar territory for Serena and the staff. It will be some months before the cubs can spend any significant time alone. There’s little time off for those who care for animals, but I’ve never heard them complain. It’s a demanding but rewarding lifestyle.
In the hour and a half we were out in the woods with the cubs, I took just under 1500 photos. With bright sunshine and dark shadows, the lighting wasn’t ideal. The bears were often between me and the sun, so I didn’t get as much light on their faces as I would generally like. Hard to complain, though, since I was watching bear cubs play in the woods. I wanted to take some video, but it was too much to handle and would have ruined the experience.



As I don’t like hoarding photos, I’ve already gone through them all and kept just over 100. Most are shots I simply liked, the ones you see here. But I did get about a dozen that I think will be the seeds for future work; there are two paintings in there for sure.

We didn’t get to visit Berkley this time around for a couple of reasons. Her large enclosure is on the far side of the park, and they’re doing a lot of work right now getting ready for their season-opening. Most importantly, the animals thrive on routine, and right now, visitors aren’t part of that, so there’s no need to confuse her.

I’ll have to return often this spring and summer to spend some time with her.

If you’d like to watch the cubs grow up, you can follow Discovery Wildlife Park on Facebook and Instagram, where they regularly post photos and videos. They can only care for these critters thanks to the generosity of donors and visitors during the summer season, so if you’re in the Innisfail area, consider stopping in to check it out. It’s easy to keep your distance from others with plenty of outdoor space while still enjoying all that the park has to offer. They open May 1st, and annual memberships are available.

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Winter Raven

Before it debuted in 2010, nobody was asking for an iPad. Even after it launched, people made fun of it. There were plenty of articles criticizing it for not having a keyboard or a stylus. Even the name was fodder for ridicule. Who would want this when they could have a laptop or a home computer?

Years later, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody with a tablet device who doesn’t see the value.

While I’m not creating technical marvels or something the masses line up for, whenever I’m deciding on a new painting, I have to fight the urge to try to figure out what people want. Most of the time, we don’t even know.

When I painted my first funny looking Grizzly Bear in 2009, nobody was asking me for animal paintings. Like a lot of art, it was an experiment, borne out of boredom with the work I’d been doing.

There are times I will paint something purely for commercial reasons, to satisfy demand.  Most of my pet portraits are client commissions, I’ve painted pandas for the Calgary Zoo, and my Sasquatch and recent T-Rex painting were market suggestions from a licensing client.

It’s a nice thought to believe that you can create art for a living, and people will throw money at you, but the real world doesn’t work that way.

If I thought too hard about each piece’s outcome and marketability before I painted it, I would have never created some of my most popular pieces.

I’ve painted more bears than any other animal, and I’ll continue to paint more because I enjoy them so much. I’ve also painted multiple wolves, lions, tigers and owls. This is my third or fourth raven.

I paint some animals more than once because there will always be room for improvement and new approaches to try. You never know when the same animal, painted differently, will suddenly resonate with people the way a previous version didn’t.

My Smiling Tiger painting is one of my best-selling pieces. Had I failed to paint it simply because I had painted tigers twice before, I would have missed out on an image that many people love, including me.
In September of this year, I gave my wife a photo of a raven for her birthday, printed on aluminum with a clear coating. It’s easily one of the best gifts I’ve given her because she loves it. Shonna hung it opposite the kitchen entry so that when you walk in, it never fails to catch your eye.

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with the image as well. Because of the print medium, the different light throughout the day changes the photo. Sometimes it’s devoid of colour; other times, it’s shades of gold, and on an overcast, gloomy day, it has hints of blue. Both Shonna and I often stop to look at it.

My friend Darrel and I remain fans of the 90s television show Northern Exposure. The fictitious tales from Cecily, Alaska, often incorporated First Nations beliefs and symbolism. On one holiday episode, the radio DJ, Chris Stevens said, “You know, twinkling coloured lights are nice, and so are plastic Santas and reindeers and manger scenes, but I’ll tell you something, friends… nothing like the sight of a beautiful black-as-pitch raven to get you in the Christmas spirit.”

I doubt there’s a December since that Darrel and I haven’t recited the last part of that quote to each other.
So it’s no wonder I’ve had ravens on my mind. It’s also likely why I chose such stark contrasts in this painting, inspired by the same quality in that photo.

I’ve had to remind myself often of the lesson I learned a long time ago. If I paint what I think people want to see, the image rarely captures the attention I expect. It’s likely those paintings won’t be ones I enjoy much either. It’s the ones I paint without any expectations that end up being the most fun and often become surprising hits.

So here’s another raven, whether you wanted one or not. And here’s to the next one I’ll no doubt paint somewhere down the road, whenever the mood strikes me.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Bear Hug

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on a whimsical wildlife painting. For those who follow my work specifically to see those, thank you for your patience.

Wacom hired me to create a video for them connected with a promotion they’re doing right now called “Find Your Gift.”

As many of you know, Wacom creates the tablets and displays on which I’ve created my work for more than twenty years. I’ve been their guest on webinars, created new product demo videos for them, represented them at an event in Calgary, presented at their booth at Photoshop World, and they generously allowed me to donate tablets to a local school.

My work wouldn’t be possible without Wacom.

So when my friend Pam asked me to create another video for them, there was only one answer.

What I like best about our relationship is that Pam lets me do my own thing. Of course, we have some back and forth to make sure my vision matches hers, but she knows what to expect from me, and I do my best to deliver.

In this case, I had the freedom to interpret the word gift and paint and write what I wanted, which allowed me to create my best work.

I spent the last three or four days chained to my desk, creating this painting, recording with the camera and screen capture, writing and recording the narration, and editing it all together a la Dr. Frankenstein. It was a lot of work, but I’m quite pleased with the result.

I realized that the three recent paintings I like best are ones I did for Wacom videos. Those include the Amur Tiger, the Ring-tailed Lemur and this one.

The model for this painting is one of the most handsome residents of Discovery Wildlife Park. Gruff was an orphaned black bear cub who had a rough start in life, but thanks to Serena and her staff’s tireless efforts, he has grown into a beautiful, gentle bear with a wonderful personality. The keepers try not to pick favourites, but they each have a special place in their heart for Gruff, as do I.

I’ve often written about how much I value my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. They allow me incredible access to the animals, for which I’m immeasurably grateful. On my most recent visit in September, I was able to sit inside the enclosure while they did their bear education presentation, where they teach people about bear safety, behaviour and conservation.

I took hundreds of reference shots and didn’t realize I’d be using ones from that session so soon.

One of the keepers, Jacob, was in Canmore last week, and I had a brief visit with him. I told him what I was painting, inspired by the poses I shot. He told me that Gruff almost always has a ball with him. It doesn’t need to be the same ball, but it’s kind of like his security blanket. He even takes a ball with him into his den when he hibernates.

On one visit to the park a couple of years ago, Serena sent me a text asking where I was. I said that I was watching a silly bear play with a ball. She responded, “Gruff.”

Gruff taught himself how to pose with the ball and because it was so endearing, the keepers used positive reinforcement to encourage that behaviour. It was this pose that inspired the painting. As the light wasn’t great in this shot, the sun beside and behind him, I had to use other reference photos for the details. Thankfully, I have hundreds of pictures of Gruff.

Even though I was pressed for time on this, more self-inflicted than not, this painting was a joy to create. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun painting one of my whimsical wildlife portraits. Considering the kind of year it’s been for all of us, that’s no small thing.

If you’ve got five minutes, you can see a high-speed time-lapse below of how I painted Gruff and hear some of my thoughts about the importance of finding and sharing your own gifts.

Take care of yourselves,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Odds and Ends

As the title suggests, here’s a collection of smaller updates in one post.

Pacific Music and Art

The funny-looking face masks continue to be popular, now sold in many retail stores in Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and everywhere else via their online store. The masks have gone through a recent design evolution. The image now covers the entire mask, the straps are more elastic, with a flexible nose bridge inside the upper seam. They still come with rubber grommets to make the straps more adjustable.
In addition to the masks, there are now face scarves available, fun because they’re so versatile. They can be used as a neck scarf, beanie, head band, head scarf and they can be doubled up over your face to serve as a mask.
Once again, the masks and face scarves are not for medical use and are not intended as a replacement for N95 masks or medical grade PPE.

If you’d like to see the available designs for both masks and scarves, follow this link. There are also some new face mask designs that previously weren’t available, so be sure to look through all three pages. Use the promo code Patrick5OFF, and you get 5% off everything on the site. The code expires at the end of December.

Limited Print Run

While a few of you told me that the Pennywise clown painting was not your cup of tea, and one of you even thanked me for not including it in the newsletter, one long-time supporter, and fellow Stephen King fan, wanted a print. Since I’m having it done anyway, I figured I’d see if anybody else wants one. Please let me know this week as I’ll be ordering them quickly.
And since I’m doing that one, I’m going to offer the recent Ripley painting as a print as well. These are 11″X14″ poster prints, so it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame wherever those are sold.
The price is $24.95 each, plus tax & shipping. Since these aren’t in the store, drop me a line to patrick@nulllamontagneart.com if you’re interested. I’m accepting e-transfer for Canadian orders and Paypal for the US (I’ll send you an invoice).

I won’t be keeping these images in stock, so this will be a pre-order. Please allow extra time for delivery.

Wacom

I’m recording another video for Wacom over the next couple of weeks. These are always challenging, but I usually end up having a lot of fun with them. For anyone new to my work, Wacom is the company that makes the digital displays on which I create my art. I’ve been using their tools for more than twenty years and welcome any opportunity to work with them.

A couple of videos I did this past year for Wacom resulted in two of my favourite paintings, the Ring-tailed Lemur and the Amur Tiger, shown below. I’m excited about the image I’m painting in this new video as well.

Sharing

I have been ripped off quite a bit throughout my career. People have used my images illegally for promotion, have altered my cartoons and paintings for their own agendas, and have claimed my images as their own work. One woman on Vancouver Island even used my Otter painting as her business logo and had large images on her store’s windows for two or three years. Then she had the nerve to get mad at me when I sent her a cease-and-desist. She argued that she found it on Google, so she thought it was free. Try that with Mickey Mouse and let me know how it turns out for you.

Sadly, it’s part of the online world. Once your work gets good enough to sell, then it’s good enough to steal. Every artist I know who makes their living from their creations deals with this problem.

But from time to time, people ask if they can share the paintings, cartoons, newsletters, and blog posts I send. While I appreciate that consideration, you don’t need permission. If I share it with you, then you can share it with anyone you like. In fact, I’m always grateful when people introduce my work to others.

As long as it’s not altered, my site name or signature remains on the image, and you aren’t making money from it, then share away, with my thanks.

Take care of yourselves. I’ll have something new to share in a couple of weeks.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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If It’s Broke, Fix It

Taking the summer off from promoting my business was an uncomfortable decision.

Covid-19 was the catalyst, but this period of reflection was overdue. I’ve been uninspired, bored with my own art and writing, unable to maintain the pace.

In 2005, I had been working as an Office Admin for a small physiotherapy clinic here in Canmore, spending early mornings, evenings and weekends drawing editorial cartoons. Eventually, that part-time side hustle allowed me to quit my job and become a full-time artist.

It seemed like a big risk, but not massive. We decided that if I couldn’t pay my half of the bills, I’d just get a part-time job. There were plenty of them available.

I’ve had a pretty good run as an editorial cartoonist for the past two decades. It afforded me the ability to try other art-related avenues, one of which became the evolution of my career, painting my funny looking animals.

I’ve never lost sight of the fact, however, that the foundation of my profession for the past twenty years has been an industry afflicted by a slow and terminal cancer. To expect that I will be drawing editorial cartoons in ten years is almost fantasy.

Then again, I said the same thing in 2001, so what do I know?

We pretend to be masters of our own fates, but we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future. Who had Global Pandemic on their schedule for 2020?

As one might expect, those first years were a struggle. I often went into overdraft on my business account and couldn’t afford many luxuries. I did get a part-time job working at a local DVD rental place (remember those?) but not because of the money. I needed to get out of the house and one of the perks was free movie rentals. This was in the dark ages, kids, before streaming video.

I enjoyed the experience for a year, but working until 11:30 some nights, then getting up at 5:00 to draw quickly lost its appeal.

There were some in my profession who figured the next evolution in the craft would be animated editorial cartoons.  I invested in Flash software, training courses, royalty free music, learned how to record audio, and spent countless unpaid hours creating those things. During a federal election one year, all of the big Canadian media outlets wanted to run my animations on their websites, but in a sign of things to come, almost none were willing to pay for them.

I even had a weekly series called Big Plans, where a cartoon beaver in a suit and tie, talked about the week’s political events, complete with cutaway scenes. It was an animated version of the Daily Show or Rick Mercer Report, without interviews and not nearly as funny.

It took about twenty hours a week to create each one, and I only got paid a small amount for a handful of them.

I didn’t like the work much and wasn’t a very good animator. I was more relieved than distraught when it came to an end. But I took the risk, and invested the time, on the off chance that it might pay off.

There have been a few ventures like that, but I’ve learned something from each, lessons for the next idea. Eventually, one of those tries became my whimsical wildlife paintings, changing the course of my life and career. As Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots in hindsight.

When COVID-19 landed on us, a lot changed for most people in a short amount of time. All in the same week, several of my newspapers told me they could no longer afford to pay any freelancers. A temporary layoff, but nobody could say for how long. That was at the end of March. Only one of those papers has hired me back.

This year was supposed to be a big one for my painted work, building on the momentum of my newest license with Pacific Music and Art. I was beginning to see (and hear about) my work being sold in stores all over the place. With multiple re-orders, more retailers signing on and word getting out, 2020 should have been a leap forward.

I don’t need to explain why it wasn’t.

Thankfully, Mike at Pacific Music and Art had the foresight to see the coming demand for face masks and that my paintings would work well on them. I put in late nights, even earlier mornings, and long days preparing the images while still drawing the same number of cartoons for about half the clients.

Promoting, packaging and shipping the masks, plus the paperwork and bookkeeping, it was exhausting. Add in the uncertainty of the pandemic, both the health and financial repercussions, and burn-out was inevitable.

Thanks to my newsletter followers, I filled two large mask orders, and a third smaller one, the revenue helping to shore up my other losses. Pacific Music and Art is now selling the masks wholesale to retailers and individual customers can order directly from their site. I’ve received photos from people who’ve bought my masks at The Calgary Zoo. They’re also available at Shopper’s Drug Mart here in Canmore, stores in Banff, plus a bunch of other places in Western Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.

Those sales now will mean revenue later this year.

I did a couple of successful print promotions, launched my 2021 calendar, and have gotten used to this new reality. You thought I was going to say normal, didn’t you? I think we can all agree, that ship has sunk. We need to build a new one.
This frenzy of activity, adapting daily to more potholes than road, I had no gas left in the tank. I was still meeting my cartoon deadlines, but painting was a slog, and it felt like anything I’d write would be crap, even before I put my fingers to the keys. My past work seemed like garbage and I was circling the drain.

When you spend year after year creating art, promoting it, trying to sell it and come up with something better every day, taking time off from promoting it feels irresponsible.

I like to work. I don’t do well with too much time off. I’ve got a friend who has been talking about his retirement for years and finally managed to do it before he was 60. Unless something radical changes in me in the next ten years, the thought of not working does not appeal to me.

At this stage in my life, looking down the road, retirement to me would mean the freedom to only do the work I want to do. But I still want to work.

My biggest fear is that something will happen that will prevent me from being able to create, paint, and write. I dread the thought of an injury, an illness, a cognitive deficiency, something that will rob me of my abilities or mental faculties.

On report cards when I was a kid, common teacher comments were “doesn’t pay attention in class” and “not living up to his potential.”

It’s ironic that I’m now wary of not having enough time to reach that full potential.

Last year, my friend Jim and I were sitting on a deck of a cabin we rent, looking out at the pasture. In front of us, there were two windows in the covered section, but to the immediate left, the deck is wide open. A wasp was repeatedly bouncing off the glass, trying to get through.

I don’t recall if I said it or if Jim did, but we both connected with the message. “Boy, if that’s not a metaphor for life.”

All that wasp had to do was back off, turn left and fly six inches to freedom. Instead, it just kept bouncing off the glass.

Jim credits that moment with his decision to finally retire.

I took it as a message to rethink where I’m putting my energy.

There are many ways to reach your goals but beating your head against an immovable object isn’t one of them.

I’m already getting up early every day, working hard. I rarely take a day off and when I do, I still somehow manage to squeeze in something related to my business. It might be taking photos, doing some writing, reading trade articles, but that’s only because I enjoy my work and the creative pursuit. I don’t know how to separate the two, so I don’t try.

That also means there is no extra time to do more. It’s such a cliché, to work smarter, not harder, but clichés have longevity because they contain simple wisdom.

Maybe it’s because he was younger, with seemingly more time ahead of him than I’ve got. But, there’s a lot of water under the bridge between me and the guy who said, “well, if I don’t make enough money, I’ll just get a part-time job.”

I feel like I have a lot more to lose than he did.

He didn’t know that editorial cartooning would provide him with a good living for the next fifteen years. I know for a fact that it won’t provide me with another fifteen. Failing to course correct for that reality would be short-sighted.

I remember somebody telling me once to cup my hands together as if I were holding some water within them, then to squeeze my hands into fists and asked, “what happened to the water?”

When you hold onto something too tightly for fear of losing it, you lose it anyway.

During the past two months of promotional hiatus, I completed a few paintings, wrote quite a bit in a fiction novel I started this year, drew the usual editorial cartoons, listened to podcasts, read books and articles and I worked. My computer died suddenly one night, which I’ll talk about in another post, and I had to get a new one built. I got away to the cabin for a few days, took some pictures, and hid from the tourists who have flooded this valley all summer.

And I asked myself some hard questions.

“Where do I want to be in a couple of years? Five years? Ten?”

“On what am I wasting a lot of time and effort that doesn’t get me there?”

“What marketing opportunities am I missing out on?”

“If I stopped banging into the glass, backed up, took a breath, and looked around, what might I see?”

For the first couple of weeks, I felt like I’d forgotten something, that nagging feeling like I’d left the stove on. I’d become so used to posting on Instagram, sharing stories, scrolling through other people’s stuff. It ate up a lot of creative time.

When I finished a painting, it felt strange not to immediately size it for the blog, create a closeup, write a post about it, share it on Instagram with all of the hashtags, tell a story, write a newsletter, share that, then wait to see what kind of reaction I might get.

Promotion and marketing, it’s part of working for yourself. It’s necessary if you want to make a living with your art or whatever you create. You must sell it. But taking this break made me think about how I’m doing that.

Do I need to share it as soon as it’s done? Would it matter if I waited a day? Maybe two? Do I have to immediately write about it? Does it have to be immediately shared on Instagram?

The answer to these last questions is No.

One marketing opportunity I’ve decided to explore is to offer an audio version of some of my blog posts, starting with this one.

I’ve had several people tell me they like my writing, but some get the newsletter and realize they haven’t the time to read it, They put it aside for later and never get back to it.

I hear ya. Happens to me all the time. But if there’s an audio version, it can be downloaded and listened to at your leisure.

An audio version allows followers to consume the content the way they want to. From what I’ve read, it increases followers and site interaction, which directly translates to sales.

Will that kind of marketing work for me? I have no idea, but I’ll give it a try.

As for those other questions, they’ll require a longer view, some percolation in the old melon. Not quite as deep as “Why am I here?” but not so shallow as, “Peanut butter? Or jam, too?”

The break was worth it and I will do it again.

Whether you read this, or listened to it in the new format, thanks for making the time. One thing I’ve never forgotten in this roller coaster life of being creative for a living…it wouldn’t happen without you. 

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Good News Comes in Threes

Now that some businesses and services are opening up again, I’ve realized how many little things I take for granted.

My eye appointment last Monday for new glasses was a strange experience with all of the precautions, but I was grateful to have had it after I broke my frames weeks ago. Looking forward to the new ones, as a piece of duct tape is holding the current ones together.

The week everything shut down, I was supposed to have my teeth cleaned, something I do three times a year. Our hygienist has been looking after Shonna’s and my teeth for more than twenty years and has never seen me as happy about an appointment as I was yesterday.

Because of how busy they are at the best of times, I book my haircuts months in advance. Obviously, I have missed the last two, but I’ve got another booked for next Thursday. They’re not open yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Shonna and I went to Costco in Calgary for the first time in three months on Tuesday. We spent a lot more than we usually do, but we’re set for a while on the stuff we use most. They were well organized, and we went on a Tuesday morning, so it didn’t take long at all.

I noticed quite a few people wearing masks while we there. We were both wearing my Lion Face design and got quite a few appreciative looks. One woman asked where she could get one, so I suggested she follow my newsletter for when the next order would be available. She opened her purse on her cart, stepped back to maintain physical distancing and asked me to drop my card into it—what a strange new dance we’re all doing.

Here’s a selfie I took in Costco to send to a friend.
Which brings me to…

The Next Face Mask Order

The masks from the first order have all been delivered or shipped. I know many still haven’t received them with the mail moving a lot slower these days. But some of you have been sending me photos the last few days of you or your families wearing your newly received masks, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. Some of them have made me laugh out loud.

So if you want to send me a picture of yourself in your mask, please do! And if you’re OK with me sharing it on my Instagram profile, let me know if that’s OK, too.

I heard from several newsletter followers who were disappointed they missed out on the first pre-order. For one reason or another, as happens to all of us, they missed that email.

With that in mind, this is the TWO DAY warning that the next mask pre-order will be happening on Saturday, May 23. Just as I did with the last one, I will be announcing it Saturday morning, sending out the options, pricing, and when you can expect them.

Pacific Music and Art went through a gauntlet of challenges with the first order, but they’ve worked out the bugs, supplies are on hand, and we aren’t expecting any delays.

Sign up for the newsletter here. Please don’t send me any orders until after I send the next newsletter on Saturday. Because of the work involved taking the orders and that I still have other editorial cartoon deadlines on the weekend, there will be a 24-hour window to get your order in.

Calendars


My 2021 calendar from Pacific Music and Art has launched, and the first shipment is on its way to me right now. I expect to receive it any day, might even be today. I’ll be offering those for sale sometime next week. The theme for my second calendar is BEARS, which is appropriate, considering that it’s National Bear Awareness Week.

I received my first sample with the last order of masks and was quite pleased with it. It’s funny that six of these bear paintings are of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park, and two of the black bears live there as well.

Prints

I’ll be uploading half a dozen new prints to the online store next week, and spending a good part of today putting those together. There will be a promotional offer combined with a calendar that will go along with that, with more details to follow soon.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Walking with Wolf Pups

If you’d asked me how I was doing during the past couple of months, I might have answered that I’ve had OK days and not-so-OK days, for reasons I need not explain.

This past Sunday, however, was the first good day in a long while. And it was a really good day.

Discovery Wildlife Park is open as a drive-thru right now, an Alberta Health Services approved method for people to still come and see the animals, but they must stay in their vehicles. It’s proving very popular and they’ve been busy, with a steady stream of cars winding through the park on their well-manicured gravel pathways. The staff helps the animals be seen, they answer questions and do their best to make it an enjoyable experience for their guests, despite the distancing measures.

While I think it’s great they have this option, it’s not one I’d planned on experiencing. I’ll admit to being spoiled by my connection to the park, and the access they’ve given me. I just don’t want to see Berkley from my car, especially given the drive time to get there.

Shonna and I have been very good at following the isolation rules in all of this. She still goes to work at the law office each day, but it’s closed to the public and they have the appropriate safety measures in place. I’ve stayed home, only going out once a week for groceries, completing all of my errands in as few days a week as possible.

Alberta relaxed a number of restrictions on Friday, allowing people to get together in small groups. Some more businesses have been allowed to open and people are venturing out of their homes, though still being advised to wash their hands, keep their distance, and exercise caution.

Serena and I were texting Saturday night as we sometimes do, as I’m always curious to see how the animals are doing. She often sends behind-the-scenes pictures and videos for us. I made the off comment that it’s too bad I wouldn’t be able to see the wolves while they were pups, to which Serena replied, “Why not?”
As she did with their Brown bear Berkley when she was a cub, Serena takes 8-week-old Sassenach and Highlander for a walk each evening in the large fenced wooded area at the park. She lets them explore, play, and get into trouble, without having to worry that they’ll go anywhere.

We’ve had the privilege of many walks in the woods with Berkley. So it was exciting when Serena invited us to come up Sunday evening and meet the wolf pups in the same way.

Shonna later said she was impressed at how I jumped at the chance without overthinking it. Spontaneous is not my default setting.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. With warm temperatures, sunny and cloudy skies, very little traffic on the highways, we headed up that afternoon, a little over two hours’ drive one way.

I talk with my parents often enough on the phone and via FaceTime, but we hadn’t had an in-person visit since they left for Arizona in the fall. As they live ten minutes from the park, we made time for a short visit on their deck beforehand, keeping our distance, of course.

We met Serena at the park at 6, drove over to the wooded area and before long; the wolves were doing their thing while we took pictures.
Part of the reason we have such a good relationship with the park is that we’ve always given the animals their space. There’s no chasing, lunging, grabbing, yelling, basically any behaviour that’s going to freak them out. We were content to watch, let them get comfortable with our presence and it was up to them to come to us.



Thankfully, once they did, both pups did check us out, but their primary focus was on each other, exploring, playing and attacking.
As Serena said, “It’s Fight Club, every night.”

We spent about two hours with them, visiting and catching up with Serena and taking a lot of pictures. I had my camera, but also my phone. Shonna and Serena took pictures with their phones and I got copies of all of them. So most of these pictures are mine, but some are theirs, too. And we don’t really know which are which.
The funny thing is that like most young animals, they were just bundles of energy, until they weren’t. Once they crashed, they crashed hard. Serena then told us we could pick them up, because at that point, they didn’t care. Holding a snoozing wolf pup is a real treat.
As always, we are forever grateful for our connection with Discovery Wildlife Park. Their orphaned and rescued wildlife critters receive the best care, and you need only look to how the keepers and animals behave around each other to realize how much love there is between them.
We were happy to make another donation to the park while we were there, as they really need it right now. In a regular year, they’re only open from May to October, but they still need to feed and care for the animals the other six months of the year. Maintenance of the facilities, upkeep of the grounds and enclosures, veterinary bills and a long list of accessory expenses, not to mention the salaries of the dedicated staff, makes for an expensive undertaking.

I came home with about two thousand photos. After hours of weeding out the ones I can’t use, I still ended up with dozens of reference shots. I’m so glad to have taken photos while they were little, because they certainly won’t remain that way for long. Their eyes are already changing from blue to yellow. There’s no doubt I’ll eventually create paintings of both of them.

After more than two months of being locked down, that was the perfect break from isolation. And to top it all off, Shonna and I drove back into the mountains that night under a brilliant red sky, one of the prettiest sunsets we’ve seen this year.

Cheers,
Patrick
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.