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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. 

___

© 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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Face Masks: To Wear Or Not To Wear

The second order of whimsical wildlife face masks arrived this week and in less than two days, I was able to get them all out the door. Banff and Canmore local deliveries are done and all of the Canadian and US orders have shipped.

Compared to the first order, this one was a breeze.

As these are being sold to retailers and other venues, they need to look attractive on the shelf, so Pacific Music and Art added snazzy new packaging. While the quality and printing of the masks was already there the first go ‘round, the new packaging makes them look even better. That’s a large and small mask shown here. If you are an interested retailer, please contact Mike at Pacific Music and Art and he’ll be happy to set you up.
Plenty of people have told me that they’ve received positive comments when wearing the masks. So far, I’ve only worn the Lion Face and the Amur Tiger, but I got a few more for myself on this order, too.

The Sasquatch looks ridiculously funny on the pictures I’ve seen, so I wanted to have one of my own.

As a lifelong wearer of eyeglasses, the most annoying part of wearing a mask is that they fog up. I tried doing the dish soap method, it just doesn’t work. But I found a great solution online from an optometrist. He explains it well in this video.

I’ve made one modification myself to his method, by rolling two strips of medical tape on the inside of the top of the mask.
The inexpensive hypo-allergenic paper tape can be found at any drugstore. I prep the mask before I leave the house so I don’t have to mess with it (or wear it) in the car. When I get to the grocery store or post office, I put the mask on, press the taped areas in place and my glasses no longer fog up.

When I got a haircut the other day, for the first time in four months, I was required to wear a mask. But I anticipated that wearing the ear loops would make it a challenge to cut around my ears, so I taped the sides of the mask to my face so that the ear loops didn’t need to be secured. Worked like a charm and the tape doesn’t irritate the skin.
Here’s the before and after haircut pic. Someone used the word nefarious to describe my expression in the after picture. I won’t argue that. I’m fortunate to still have thick healthy hair at my age, and for that I’m grateful. I was, however, very happy to get rid of it all.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Here in Canmore and Banff, I’m surprised that few people are wearing face masks. I don’t mean on the street or in places where you can keep the 6ft. distance, but in grocery stores, post offices and other places where close proximity is not only possible, but probable.

This isn’t a question about whether or not the virus is as serious as they say, whether the precautions taken were too much or too little, or how much the masks help or don’t help. I’ve seen the arguments online and the uncertainty of it all isn’t what disturbs me most, but how people are speaking to one another in the discussions.

Whether an expression of their own fear or frustration with this new normal, I don’t know, but people are being downright nasty to each other, and it’s completely unnecessary. The discussion can be had without the vitriol.

My wife Shonna works full-time at a law firm, but has also worked part-time at Safeway for more than a decade. There are two senior women who work at the law firm, and at the beginning of the isolation, they had expressed concern about her coming in to work every day while still working at Safeway.

So she sacrificed that part-time income for the past few months so she didn’t potentially introduce the virus to the law office staff.

With no local cases, things opening up again, and safety measures in place at Safeway for the workers, she went back to work at the grocery store on Monday and has already worked a couple of shifts. Suddenly, she’s aware of how many people are wearing masks, or rather aren’t wearing them.

There are Plexiglas barriers at grocery stores now, but people forget themselves. They look around them, put their hands on the sides, and aren’t keeping the distance they should. Shonna has said she feels a little more relaxed and safer when a customer is wearing a mask, because she can’t wear one herself for her entire shift.

The messaging has been clear. A reusable non-medical mask is unlikely to protect the wearer from a virus, but it might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing it on to somebody else.

People need to be reminded that you aren’t wearing the mask for yourself.

Wearing a mask tells people that whether they believe in the threat or not, whether there are local cases or not, whether it’s all a deep-state, Illuminati, government conspiracy or not, you’re wearing one to make the people around you feel a little safer.

It’s an act of community.

People talk a really good game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments section about how other people should behave and how people don’t care as much as they used to and how things used to be better in the world. They use words like ‘hero’ for front line workers and grocery store clerks (Shonna does not), failing to understand that those people shop for groceries, too. They go to the post office, the bank, and the coffee shop. You can’t clutch your hands to your chest, get all weepy-eyed, and share memes on Facebook supporting them, then dismiss them as a kook in a mask behind you in the checkout line.

You don’t reveal yourself by the things you say, you reveal yourself by the things you do.

I get it, I’ve been the only one in an aisle at the grocery store wearing one. I’m very healthy, have no immunity issues, and I’m not worried about getting sick. It feels a little silly or unnecessary to wear one sometimes, but ultimately it costs me nothing but a few minutes to put it on and take it off, and wash it when I get home. And if people think I’m a sheep, or a dork, or paranoid for wearing one, that’s fine. The issue is theirs, not mine.

One of my best friends has asthma, two others have high blood pressure, and more than I like to think about are entering their senior years. That puts them in the vulnerable category. I’m not wearing the mask for me, I’m wearing it for them and people like them. That doesn’t make me noble, or better than anybody else, it just makes me part of a community.

Just as we’re all supposed to wear our seat belts, stop at traffic lights, drive the speed limit (or close to it), and stop behind a school bus to keep children safe, wearing a mask in close quarters is a simple act of telling your neighbours, “I’ll look after you, you look after me, and we’ll all look silly together.”

They had to make those other things a law because people didn’t get it. They shouldn’t have to make this mandatory, too.

You might think I’m just trying to sell you more masks, but I don’t care which one you wear. There are plenty of designs out there or you can make your own. I’m also not going to tell you what to do, because there are too many people doing that already. But give it some thought, especially the next time you’re at the grocery store and see a senior citizen, somebody with mobility issues, or just the looks of worry on the faces of your fellow shoppers. Do you really want to risk getting them sick, even if that risk is small, simply because you couldn’t be bothered?

This is all so new, we’re all frustrated, and hopefully it’s temporary. It’s not that big a sacrifice.

I thought this was going to be the last pre-order I did for a while. With warmer weather, people able to socialize outside and keep their distance, the demand seemed to be waning. But now with talk of a second wave, whether that’s a real threat or not, and that more people are seeing my masks out in the world, I’m getting more inquiries. Nobody wants to be trying to find them in the fall if there’s a sudden spike in demand.

As such, SUNDAY (the 21st) I’ll send out another newsletter, with an opportunity to order more. The new 2021 calendars will be available in that one as well. So stay tuned.

If you have any friends or family interested in the masks, have them sign up for my newsletter. It has proven to be the most efficient method of getting the word out.

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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Working with Wacom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because now I know what I can do with it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Selling Out Selling Art


A student from the Alberta College of Art and Design recently asked to interview me for an assignment. I was happy to oblige. While in Calgary to drop off prints at the zoo and take some photos, I made time to meet her for coffee last week.

It got me thinking about the road traveled.

My first paying gig as an artist was as the editorial cartoonist for the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper. I drew my first cartoon in May of ’98, so it’s been just over twenty years. I’ve been a full-time artist since 2006.

Over my career, it has always been easy to find resources in order to become a better artist. While I started with books and magazines, no matter what style of art you want to learn today, there are talented teachers on the internet willing to share their skills, often for a very reasonable price.

Google: “How do I learn to draw?”

While you can peruse countless lessons, videos, books, articles, buy all of the best materials, tools and hardware, unless you practice, you will never become good at anything.

People want the skills, but a relative few are willing to invest the countless lonely hours drawing and the years of bad artwork, most of which will be incredibly unsatisfying and unpaid. I have a hard time looking at my earlier work, but all of that led to all of this.

Creating art for fun can be a great hobby and escape. I’ve encountered many skilled artists with no designs on becoming pros. They are content to draw, paint, sculpt, or play simply for the joy of it, with no illusions.

As for me, I am a commercial artist. It’s how I make my living.

I’ve encountered plenty of artists over the years who’ve told me that I was selling out by selling art, that they wouldn’t dare sully their creative process by putting a dollar amount on it, that real art is made for creativity’s sake alone and not for financial compensation.

That’s bullshit.

I enjoy being an artist, but it’s my job, and just like any other. There are many necessary parts of my job that I do not enjoy.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to reformat paintings to conform to multiple templates for a new licensing contract. Sixteen images had to be resized, cropped, and uploaded in eleven different formats each, many of which were uncomfortable compromises. Over two days, it took about fifteen hours, during which I still had to meet my daily editorial cartoon deadlines for my clients across Canada.

Prior to that, I was in contract negotiation with that company, back and forth, making changes to the wording, all amicable and professional, but time consuming.

On Sunday, I drew three cartoons to send out Monday because I spent that day reconciling my books for the past three months so that I could file my GST remittance with the government. The day after that was month end invoicing for all of my editorial cartoon clients across Canada.

And still, editorial cartoon deadlines had to be met.

Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting with the owner of the aforementioned company as he will be driving through town. If I’m sending mixed signals, let me clarify. The setup work and contract stuff was tedious, but the license itself is exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing the details very soon.

My point is that I have spent as much time this week on the administration and promotion of my art as I have creating art, and that art was all cartoons.

I’ve only squeezed in a couple of hours of painting in this week. That’s it. But I’m hoping to find time for it this weekend, which is why I still get up at 5am on Saturdays even though I don’t have a cartoon deadline that day.

I painted my first funny looking animal in 2009 as an experiment, to try something different that might end up being a more marketable print than the caricature portrait commissions I was doing. Ironic that it was looking to sell more art that led me to the work I enjoy most and a whole new product that changed my whole direction. Commercial art led me to photography as I knew I could paint better images if I took my own reference. It is unlikely I would have found either of those if I wasn’t trying to grow my business.

None of this is complaining, I assure you. Everybody has parts of their job they dislike. That’s why it’s called work.

Quite often over the years, I’ll get emails or questions from young artists asking me for advice on how to create art for a living, which I’m happy to answer.

They become less enthusiastic when I tell them the single most important thing they can do is learn the business of art. Bookkeeping, contracts, licensing, customer service, meet deadlines, keep regular hours, pay your taxes, stop wasting time on social media, be polite to your customers, under-promise and over-deliver. Be accountable and professional.

It’s tedious and you’ll spend all of that time wishing you were drawing or painting instead. You’ll make so many mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and be better for the lessons. Whenever I work with somebody new, especially when it comes to licensing, a voice in the back of my head is always asking, “How is this person trying to screw me?”

Cynical? Yes.

Appropriate? Absolutely.

People take advantage of artists because we not only allow it, we encourage it. Artists are the biggest pushovers around. We not only want you to like our work, we want you to like us, too. Here, just take it for free.

These days, I have enough experience that the warning signs are easier to spot, but I don’t imagine myself immune to more lessons down the road.

I have been screwed more than once in this business. I will get screwed again, but hopefully not in the same ways, because then I won’t have learned anything.

Most of the time, however, the person on the other end of a negotiation is fair, professional, accommodating and a pleasure to work with. But most of the people in your neighbourhood are probably nice, too, and yet you still lock your doors at night.

This business of art is always challenging and the learning is never over. It’s hard work, all the time, and it’s not for everybody.

Creating art is easy. Selling art? That’s the hard part.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Fine Tooning

WynneToonI spent most of Sunday (and a bit more of Monday) working on the cartoon you see above, featuring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a comment on this week’s provincial budget. From an efficiency perspective, it wasn’t the best use of my time. I could have easily done two or possibly three cartoons in the same span. But I love to paint and it’s been quite some time since I’ve poured everything into a caricature.

From an hourly perspective, I doubt I made minimum wage on this one, but it was fun and good practice, so it can’t really be seen as time misspent. I would love to be able to create this kind of detail in editorial cartoons on a regular basis, but in the quest to find the middle ground between best art and making a living, sacrifices must be made.

Like every other creative I know, chief among the questions I’m asked about editorial cartooning is, “where do you get your ideas?”

The short answer is that I follow the news closely, pretty much all the time. Newspapers, television, Google, websites like CBC, CTV, Global, National Newswatch and social media if you want specifics. While I won’t have the cartoon idea right away, I’ll be able to see from a headline and summary that there is likely one to be found within. That just comes with experience.

I’m what you call a self-syndicated editorial cartoonist. This means that I create one or two cartoons each weekday on regional, provincial, national and international topics, which I then send off to newspapers across Canada. Some clients only run my work; otherwise I am competing for space with other editorial cartoonists.

There are some daily newspapers that have a staff cartoonist, which is an endangered position, especially when layoffs seem to be the quickest way to cut expenses. I’ve often said that I’m glad I never got a job with a daily newspaper, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t still have it today.

From 2001 to 2006, I was self-syndicating to newspapers across Canada while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills. I would get up at 5:00am each day to draw and send a cartoon before heading off to work. I would also draw evenings and weekends. When I finally became busy enough to quit the ‘real job’ and still pay my half of the bills, I continued to get up at the same time simply because I’m a morning person. While most think it’s nuts, I truly do enjoy getting up that early. A lot of other artists work late at night into the wee hours, but that’s just not me. I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 most nights.
WynneCloseI work almost every day, though on weekends I have a little more flexibility. Saturdays I try to paint in the morning, but my wife and I will usually go do something the rest of the day. Sundays, I’m working on editorial cartoons. I squeeze in painted work and writing whenever and wherever I can.

The big challenge with freelance editorial cartooning is the speed at which cartoons need to be done. Someone who draws for a daily newspaper has the luxury of taking time to come up with the right idea and then enjoying the whole day to draw it. Nobody is going to take that spot on the editorial page from them as it’s reserved for their work.

For freelancers, however, it’s all about getting a good idea, drawing it fast, and sending it out to as many papers as possible before they go to print. For some weekly papers, that’s before noon on certain days and if there’s a time change in the wrong direction between here and there, that window of opportunity closes fast. This is where the early mornings help.

Not only do I have to make sure I deliver on time, but I’m also competing with other freelancers, not to mention a syndicate that resells cartoons from the few cartoonists who still work for the major dailies or the ones who’ve been laid off.

While I’m comfortable spending my days working alone, the isolation does have its stresses. For example, when big shifts happen in the world of newspapers, like last month’s round of Postmedia layoffs, things change quickly. Those Postmedia daily papers that used to run me quite often, well there’s been a sudden drop this month as editorial page editors have lost/left their jobs and new ones have started in. When there’s a shift like that, I often have to figure it out on my own and adapt quickly. Freelancers don’t get invited to meetings.

There’s also been a noticeable lurch to the right in much of the commentary on some of those daily pages, so any cartoon I draw that doesn’t paint the Conservatives in anything but a positive or persecuted light, well lately they don’t see the light of day. I’ve got no love for the Liberals or NDP, but I can’t bash them every single day ‘just because.’ That’s the Opposition’s shtick.

There is no doubt that the winds have changed. While I don’t expect any sympathy for having to adjust my sails to compensate, especially when so many have been outright laid off from their jobs, it has got me a little concerned. With an overactive OCD fueled imagination and a lot of time alone to think bad thoughts, the stress multiplies.

Thankfully, I have my painted work and print sales to reinforce the hull where it shows potential signs of leaking, but in a down economy, art isn’t a priority for a lot of people, either.

So what does one do? Well, the only thing I can do, I guess. Keep working, scramble a little harder, draw a little faster, look for new revenue streams, try to keep my current customers happy and borrow from a famous prayer. Accept what I can’t change, change what I can and figure out the difference.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.

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Be careful what you wish for.

YesNoGot this question on my Facebook page this morning.  After writing the response, I thought I’d share it here as well with a few added sentences I thought of after the fact, as I get this sort of question a lot…

Hey Patrick, is your illustrations your main income?? I’m rattling around so much with going full time with my gift of photography but afraid to take that jump.. I seem to have no time to create working a full time job and kids;)

Hi ________:

Between editorial cartooning, illustration, painting commissions, print sales and licensing…yes. I’ve made a good full-time living as an artist for the past seven years. But for nine years before that, it was a gig I did on the side while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills.

I built my business working mornings before work, evenings and weekends and finally got to a point where I couldn’t get any busier until I quit my job as an office manager for a physiotherapist. Living in Canmore (high cost of living in the Canadian Rockies) on one income is near to impossible, or at least was for us then, so the deal with my wife was that if I couldn’t pay my half of the mortgage, I had to at least get a part-time job to supplement the art income. Fortunately, my boss at the time was (and still is) a great guy, knew what I was planning from day one, and when I gave him two months notice, he suggested I go part-time first and he hired somebody else part-time to take up the slack. About six months later, I had to give notice again as I got a lot busier, but waited until he found the right person to fill my job, which took about a month. It was the best LAST job to have.

It was a real struggle for the first few years, a lot of waiting for money to come in, going into overdraft more times than I can count before I wasn’t relying on every invoice being paid in order to pay my half of the bills, but every year has been better than the one before. It hasn’t really been a struggle for about three or four years now.

I don’t want to discourage you, but your situation contains a big factor that mine doesn’t. We never chose to have kids, so the risk wasn’t nearly as much. My wife and I have often said that if we’d had children, I likely wouldn’t have been able to quit my job. I’m not saying it’s impossible, of course, lots of people do it, but it will be a lot more pressure on you. In those first few years, I had no time for anything else but working. Even now, I work almost every day.  I finally figured out awhile ago why they say ‘do what you love for a living.’ It’s not because you’ll be happy all the time. It’s because when everything is hitting the fan, you haven’t slept, eaten, and the bills are overdue, if you didn’t love it, you’d toss it all out the window and quit. Loving what you do is a survival requirement.

Without knowing anything more about your situation, I would advise that before you quit your job, make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Everything from bookkeeping, accounting, taxes and some money in the bank. Get as many gigs as you can part-time first and make your big mistakes while you still have a job. Those first few years, I was on edge and scared ALL the time, feeling like I was one gig away from losing my business.  You spend half of your time doing support work. In addition to bookkeeping and invoicing, you’ve got marketing, correspondence, portfolio and website maintenance, travel time, all of the little things that will take time away for your photography. So those billable hours have to cover that time, too.

I’m a big believer in doing what you love for a living, but it’s never easy. A lot of sleepless nights, chewed fingernails, and figuring things out as I went along, most often from doing a lot of things wrong.  The stress WILL take its toll in a number of different ways.  For however long it takes, vacations can no longer be a priority and you must go without luxuries.  When you do take time off, you’re not getting paid.  There is no such thing as a weekend anymore and if you don’t have a spouse whose job comes with health and dental benefits (fortunately I do), then you have to factor that into the equation.  I know a number of people who quit their jobs without having any idea of what running their own business required and it’s unfortunate, because often they’ll end up giving up their artwork altogether because of the failed business. So they took what they loved and killed it in an effort to make it their job.

Having a hobby you love is not justification for doing it for a living.  There are many days where the last thing I want to do is draw.  I’ve invested so much of myself into my business, and honestly there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Many people like the idea of being self-employed, but it isn’t for everybody.  You can also count on friends and family failing to understand your choice and telling you that you work too much and should take more time off.  They never stop doing that, by the way.

Whatever you decide, give it a lot of thought, but keep doing what you love. If it takes a little longer to do it for a living, and that’s what you really want, so be it, even though it’s frustrating to have to wait. I started very late to this art gig, didn’t even consider it until I was in my thirties and I know people who started even later than I did and are doing very well.

Anything’s possible, but as the old saying goes, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Best of luck,
Patrick