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A Local Cartoonist

Although I have syndicated clients across Canada and produce cartoons each day for them, I also draw one local cartoon each week for The Rocky Mountain Outlook, the paper of record for Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and area.

I’ve been their cartoonist since they opened their doors in 2001 and I’ve never missed an issue. In the early days of The Rocky Mountain Outlook, one of the owners, also the Editor, encouraged me to self-syndicate, which meant draw my own cartoons and send them out to other papers in the hopes they publish them. At the time, I’d only drawn one cartoon each week for the Banff Crag & Canyon for a few years and was very new to the Outlook.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was destined to fail. The cheap seats were full of people who said so.

I was thirty years old, and I had never envisioned a career as an artist. Not even a little. Carol Picard changed my life and it’s hard not to say Thank You every time I see her around town.

For the next five years, I drew cartoons on the side while working a full-time job to pay the bills. Early mornings before work, evenings after work and weekends, with very little money to show for it. I almost quit half a dozen times in those five years. Sometimes I drew five cartoons in a week and made $10 from the one weekly paper that ran one. That kind of thing went on for a couple of years, but it was great practice. I was finally able to become a full-time artist in 2006.

With a lot of experiments in between, eventually the editorial cartooning led to the other half of my business painting funny looking animals, which are licensed and sold in zoos, parks, retail stores and other venues across Canada and internationally. Having been a full-time professional artist for the past 13 years, I’m pretty sure I’m now unemployable in a real job.

Without The Rocky Mountain Outlook, none of that would have happened.

My editor, Tanya Foubert, delighted in calling me today to tell me that the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards were announced for 2019 and I won 1st and 2nd for Best Local Cartoon in our class. While we all know it’s not about the awards, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feels pretty good. It’s the first win for me, although I think I got third one year.

I’ve never submitted to the National Newspaper Awards. Maybe once in the early 2000s. The Outlook submits to the CCNAs on my behalf. Since I have many clients for my cartoons, it’s always been more important to me to keep my editors and publishers supplied, happy (and paying me!) than it was to win an award.

But this one is different, because it’s the Outlook. It’s my local paper. I’ve known these people for almost twenty years. I know what the original owners went through to keep it afloat, against all odds. I know how hard the current staff and leadership work to hold to that original vision.

Once again, I am reminded of Roosevelt and The Man in the Arena.

From the official announcement of the awards on News Media Canada’s site, the first highlight was, “The Rocky Mountain Outlook from Canmore/Kananaskis/Banff/Lake Louise in Alberta picked up the most wins (five), including first place for General Excellence.”

How could I not be happy to be a part of that?

Thanks, Carol.

Cheers,
Patrick

Here are the cartoons that won. The first was about the contentious issue of Calgary’s failed bid for the 2026 Olympics. While not an official tally, half the community seemed to want it more than anything, the other half were opposed.

Second was our ongoing issue with parking in this area. My first cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon in 1998 was on paid parking. Everybody’s got an opinion and a solution, but nobody wants to pay for it, or stop driving whenever they want.

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An Opportunity to Give

TalkToonA couple of weeks ago, I was asked by the Banff Community High School to speak to their digital media and art classes about the type of work I do.

In the past, these presentations have been more about editorial cartooning, especially when students are studying politics and current events. It provides a window into the difference between journalism and opinion, satire and commentary. There is value there, and I think those talks are important, too, but my passion lies with the other artwork I do, so I was really looking forward to this one, as it was about the art, not the politics.  To paraphrase the teacher who contacted me, it was basically an opportunity for students to be exposed to yet another creative medium of expression, one they might not have considered.

I’ve had plenty of folks give me a leg up in my relatively short career as an artist and whenever an opportunity like this comes up, I realize it’s my responsibility to pay that forward.  So, if I’ve got the time, I’m happy to help if I can.

I was scheduled to do two presentations to two different age groups. A slide show of my work, a little background on how I got into it, the type of work I do, plus a glimpse into how the actual drawing and painting is done.

In the back and forth emails leading up to the presentations, I became aware that the Banff Community High School didn’t yet have any drawing tablets. School budgets being what they are, students often don’t get all that we would like them to have. I thought that showing them how to draw and paint digitally and then denying them the means to do so would be a little cruel on my part. Hey, look at this delicious candy I’m eating…you can’t have any.

Over the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to have made some valuable contacts in this industry, and some even better friends. While I’ve used their products since 1997, it wasn’t until 2010 that I started getting to know a few people at Wacom quite well. Over the past four years, I’ve done webinars, tutorials and hangouts with them; written blog posts, recorded videos, done demos at their booth at Photoshop World, and even ran a booth on my own for them in Calgary at a Kelby Training Seminar. I’d hardly want to give the impression that this relationship is one-sided , however, so without getting into specifics, let’s just say that Wacom has been very good to me in return. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

Needless to say, I’m lucky to call a few of them friends. With that in mind, without shame, I requested a discount on a couple of tablets, so that I could give them to the school. I figured I could afford it and two tablets are much better than none.

TabletsMuch to my delight, my friend (who is choosing to remain anonymous, dammit!) donated five Intuos 5 Medium tablets to the school, free of charge. For those unfamiliar with these devices, I could do all of the work I do on one of these tablets. These kids aren’t being asked to settle for inferior hardware, mostly because in my experience, Wacom doesn’t make inferior hardware. While I’m currently using their 13HD and 24HD displays (seen on screen in photo below), I have had an Intuos 5 Medium tablet for quite a while and if you went to my portfolio, a lot of it has been done with that device.

I was pretty thrilled at the donation, and it would have been more than enough.

But then I realized that because they don’t yet have the Adobe CC software, the students had something to draw and paint on, now they needed a program to do it with. Lately, I’ve been using Autodesk Sketchbook quite a bit and thoroughly enjoying it. Their app for iPhone and iPad are the best I’ve seen for mobile art and those are only outshone by their desktop version. I’ve been doing a lot of sketching for my editorial cartoons with that lately, so I knew the students would benefit from it.

Even though I haven’t had a long relationship with Autodesk, Wacom works closely with them and had recently introduced me to some of the folks in charge, a direct result of the work I’ve been doing with their software. Since I was already on a roll, I sent an email to their Product Marketing Manager, told him about Wacom’s generosity with the tablets and asked if I could get some licenses for software to go with them. He simply asked how many I needed, and then made it happen.

Then, while mentioning all of this privately to an industry author friend of mine, (who also wants to remain anonymous), he asked if they could use any books. I told him they couldn’t be software specific as they’d be wasted if the students didn’t have those tools. So he asked his publisher Peachpit what they could do and sure enough they donated half a dozen books on design and photography, titles that the students will benefit from no matter what software they’re using.

While bragging about this on my Facebook page, a few people made references to these being great Christmas presents and ironic that this here often-Scrooge gets to play Santa. In truth, it really is just a coincidence of timing that I was asked to speak to the students this close to Christmas. I’ve no doubt that had I asked these wonderful folks for their assistance in September, they would have come through in the same fashion. I’ve made a point of thanking all of these people individually, and I know the school has as well.

CintiqBut, I wanted to write about it for a couple of reasons. One, these companies and people deserve a little positive PR for helping out, even though that isn’t why any of them did it. Trust me on that.

Secondly, I would encourage you to consider how easy it is to give of your time and resources, no matter what it is that you do. You can’t always say yes to these requests, and over the years, I’ve had to decline these presentations almost as often as I’ve accepted them. Everybody has obligations and responsibilities, we’re all busy, we can’t give as often as we’d like. But it sure feels good when you can.

I would also encourage you to realize that when you need somebody’s help, especially to benefit someone else, don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be surprised how often people will say Yes when you need them to give a little, especially when it involves kids and education. If they say No, that’s OK, too, and don’t hold it against them.

It’s true that I was the one who got to stand up at the front of the room to reveal all of these great gifts from perfect strangers on Tuesday, and I got to do it twice.  I wanted you to know that I was just the messenger. The real thanks go to my friends and colleagues, the ones who said Yes when they were granted an opportunity to give to complete strangers.

Thanks again, folks. You know who you are.

 

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Totems, Tourists, and Taking Chances

OtterTotemGallery owners know their business. If you check your ego at the door and are willing to listen and learn, you’ll find out there’s a lot of middle ground between artist expectations and the reality of the business of art.

In recent years, my prints have sold primarily at About Canada Gallery in Banff and at the Calgary Zoo, in addition to my online and trade show sales. The owners at About Canada have been wonderful to work with and I told them early on that they didn’t have to spare my feelings when it came to what they were willing to stock. Thankfully, they took me at my word, give me honest feedback and are receptive when I reciprocate.

If something isn’t selling well in Banff, I replace it with something that might do better, without any ill feelings. One person’s favorite painting might not be that of others and when it comes to limited space, majority rules.

Limited edition canvas prints are at a higher price point so they don’t sell as quickly or as often as matted prints do, but they’re well worth having. They look great on the wall and attract a lot of attention, but it’s the 11”X14” matted prints that sell best and consistently, simply because they’re still great quality, but at $44, they’re priced well for an impulse buy and are small enough to fit in a suitcase. The 16”X20” matted prints will eventually be discontinued because they’re a pain for tourists to carry home or ship. These are the things you learn along the way.

Initially, About Canada only wanted animals that were found in this area, many of which are my most popular, including the Grizzly, Wolf, Moose, Raven, and Great Horned Owl Totems. But with the Otter selling well online, I suggested they give it a try. It didn’t take long for my little sea otter to become a best-seller in Banff, joined shortly by a few other non-mountain animals, including the Giraffe, Parrot, and Cows.

While the matted prints do very well in Banff, they weren’t flying off the shelves at The Calgary Zoo , despite a lot of interest. The retail manager and I figured that the $44 price tag might be a little steep for a souvenir of a day at the zoo. With that in mind, I swapped out all of the matted prints and introduced a line of Poster Prints I have done at Maranda Reprographics and Printing in Calgary. Printed on a satin finish paper, resembling a high quality magazine print, they look great and are popular sellers at the Calgary Expo. As they’re not archival giclée prints like my others, I’m able to offer a lower price. At $25 with backer board, artist bio and in a plastic sleeve, it didn’t take long to realize that our assumption was correct and they now sell very well at the zoo, even prints of the animals they don’t have in residence.

While on Vancouver Island last month, I figured it was a good opportunity to scout galleries in the Ucluelet and Tofino area. Knowing the area I was going to, I packed 11”X14” matted prints of the Totems I thought would best get me in the door, including the Bald Eagle, Otter, Wolf, and Humpback Whale.

HumpbackTotemAfter making inquiries of my hosts aboard the Raincoast Maiden on my wildlife tours and others around town, it became clear that the best venue to approach would be Reflecting Spirit Gallery. With locations in both Ucluelet and Tofino, it would be an ideal arrangement to work with one owner in both communities. I also remembered that my wife and I enjoyed our visit to that gallery on our last trip to the area.

It’s a daunting exercise to cold call a business. With nothing to lose, I went in with a positive attitude, but ready for rejection. The owner wasn’t in, so I talked to one of her staff about the gallery and showed her my work. An artist with work in the gallery herself, she was very nice, encouraged me to come back the next day and I left with a little more information, better prepared for a second visit.

It’s important to keep in mind when cold calling a business, especially one that’s owner operated, to treat everyone you encounter with respect. You could be talking to a member of the owner’s family or one of their closest friends.

The next day, I returned and spoke to the owner. A talented artist herself, she looked thoughtfully at the work I brought and gave me honest feedback. I opened my portfolio to show her the rest of my Totem series and she pointed out others that she thought would do well there. The Raven is significant for the native people of that area and there are plenty of cougars in and around Tofino and Ucluelet. Again, gallery owners know their market.

We discussed price points, consignment rates, and numbers. Before too long, she agreed to take my prints for both of her galleries. Needless to say, this Albertan was thrilled, especially since Reflecting Spirit primarily sells the work of Vancouver Island artists. Rather than order specific numbers of each, she left it up to me to give her more of the best-sellers and less of the others, based on my experience with my own work.

By Canada Day, a large order of matted prints had arrived safely, are on display and for sale in both of the Reflecting Spirit Galleries. It won’t be long before I find out how the prints will do in this new market, but it was well worth the investment of my time and money to give it a shot.

Many artists spend years waiting to be discovered, figuring that if they produce good work, supporters and customers will simply show up. “If you build it, they will come,” was a wonderful premise in ‘Field of Dreams,’ but in real life, success requires that you stick your neck out and do so often. As unpalatable as it is for many creative types, especially those who think it beneath them to sully their creative passion with talk of money, art is a business and it requires sales skills. You not only have to sell your work, but yourself as well.

CougarTotem
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