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Licensing and Diamond Art Club

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

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

This is licensing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick

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Building and Stocking a Booth

The reason I’m sharing info about my Calgary Expo preparation is two-fold. First, I find the behind-the-scenes of other people’s professions interesting, so maybe some of you will, too. But more importantly, when I first began doing this show, I had generous help from practiced vendors, so if my experience can help somebody else, I’m happy to share it.

In my last post about the Expo, I talked about the costs of a booth at this show. You can read it here.

While later than I’m used to, and after an initial mistake on their part, I have my booth assignment for this year’s event. I’m pleased with the location. Booth #603 is on a main thoroughfare at the front of the show, between two sets of main doors and next to the bathrooms, which means I can expect a lot of traffic.
In addition to this floor plan, there is a second building for Artist Alley which looks to have a couple hundred more vendor tables.

Last time, I had an open concept booth. I would greet people, welcome them into the booth, then step aside so they could flip through the print bins, look at the table displays and browse the pieces on the grid walls.

I’ve changed things up this year, primarily because of the pandemic. While many of us are excited to be out and about again, it’s been a rough two years. There might be no more mask mandates or vaccine requirements in Alberta, but I’m still seeing plenty of masks in the grocery stores and people keeping their distance. Each of us has our own comfort level.

Masks have always been common at this event, but only because many arrive in various levels of costume. It’s also one of the most accepting and tolerant events you’ll ever find, where people of all walks of life can be themselves. Because of this live-and-let-live atmosphere, I don’t anticipate anyone coming to this event intent on a political disagreement over face masks. I plan to wear one, but I won’t be making an issue of it.

At the Mountain Made Markets here in the fall, people seemed more comfortable at my booth with a table between us. I know that I was. So, I’ve redesigned my booth to allow me some personal space while still offering plenty of access for people to peruse the prints and other items.

I store my extra stock under two skirted tables and on a shelving unit in a hidden corner. That’s not a lot of real estate. Last year, I had to wait or politely ask somebody to move so that I could retrieve that stock and replenish the tables. It wasn’t easy when it was busy. This time, I can do it from behind the table without disturbing anyone looking through the prints.

I’ve often done partial setups of the booth in my garage to work out any display and layout issues. This year, I made a scale layout in Photoshop instead. It took a lot less time and allowed me to shuffle the pieces without having to physically move tables and grid wall. I know my equipment well and no longer need to set it up in advance.
Because I’ve painted over 100 of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and so many of the early ones are still popular, it’s tough to know which to keep in stock and which to retire.

Writers often get too attached to characters or scenes and fail to see how eliminating them will strengthen the overall story. More experienced writers know that you need to ‘kill your darlings.’

It’s the same with retiring paintings. I’ve spent many hours on each one, and I get attached to them. Eventually, I must accept that some paintings don’t resonate with my audience or those who do like a piece have already bought it. As I’m painting new ones all the time, I need to make room for them.
I have only a few prints left of my first Grizzly painting. It has been a consistent seller for years and continues to do well in licensing. But I’m always painting more grizzlies. So it’s tough to admit that it’s time to retire the painting that started it all.

Remember that expense and inventory Excel spreadsheet I wrote about in the last post? That also tells me how much of each print, magnet, coaster, aluminum, calendar, canvas, and other items I’ve sold at previous Expos.

A detailed sales report from 2019 helped me order for 2022.

I’ve currently got prints in stock for 43 paintings. Just five of each adds up to over 200 prints if you think about it. It’s a rare year I don’t sell at least one of every print, but to bring 20 of each would not only be overkill, but I don’t have the room in the car or the booth.
Some years, I’ll sell in the double digits of a few proven pieces. But what’s popular one year might be crickets the next. For several years, my Otter has been a consistent bestseller, thriving on every retail item on which it appears. Yet, at Expo 2019, I sold only two prints of that one. But I sold nine Ostrich. Go figure.

A challenge for this year is that I’ve painted more than two dozen new pieces since the last Expo. So I had to decide what to bring based on subscriber feedback, online sales, orders from retailers and best guess.

In addition to print inventory, I had to decide which coasters, magnets and 8X10 aluminum pieces to order from Pacific Music & Art. I based that on the last Expo and the Mountain Made Markets I did here in Canmore before Christmas.

Canvas prints have a heftier price tag, so while they sell at Expo, I don’t move a lot of them. But they look great displayed on the grid wall, and it’s these well-lit pieces that bring people into the booth.

Since I’ve already got a bunch of canvas, I chose to top up those display walls with metal prints, as they’re impressive, and I’ve had positive feedback on them. So, I’ll have an equal number of those, including three large 18″ X24″ pieces.

The nice thing about all this stock is that it doesn’t expire or go bad, and I have other regular customers for this inventory. The prints are sold to the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park and in my online store. The stickers are now sold in retail stores, and I’m actively looking for more of those clients. I’ll also have another booth at the May 21st Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.

Ordering this stuff is still a significant financial commitment and a calculated risk. But, unfortunately, it’s the nature of self-employment, and life in general for that matter. All you can do is base decisions on available evidence, weigh the odds, take a leap, and hope for the best in our current uncertain economic climate.

My next post will be the wrap-up after the event when I let you know if the show measured up to expectations or hopefully exceeded them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Setting the Table for Expo

The Calgary Expo is a monster event, beginning on a Thursday afternoon and ending Sunday evening. Pre-pandemic, close to 100,000 people came and went through the doors for four days. It was once the 6th biggest Comic-Con in North America, still growing before the world swerved drunkenly into traffic.

Attendees include comic, toy, art, and pop culture collectors. Movie and television fans pay additional fees to line up for signatures, photo ops, panel discussions and talks from invited celebrities. Calgary attracts some very big names, which draws in more people.

One year, the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation attended, resulting in absolute chaos. The Fire Marshal eventually shut it down with so many people inside that you couldn’t move. Thankfully I wasn’t a vendor that year. Organizers rewrote their rule book the following year.

In 2014, the cast of Aliens was a big draw, resulting in one of my favourite memories, when the late Bill Paxton ended the show by intentionally overacting his most famous movie lines on the intercom. Exhausted vendors suddenly woke up from packing our booths, cheering and applauding the gesture.

Cosplayers spend countless hours creating incredible outfits, from elaborate body paint to 3D printed helmets and armour of pop culture, movie, TV, animation and comic book characters. For example, my former employer spent weeks creating the most realistic Chewbacca costume you’ll ever see, complete with stilt extensions and an electronic voice box. He was a big hit at the show.
Truly an all-ages, family-friendly event, it has consistently been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had each year. The people-watching alone is worth attending, and the whole event has a circus feel.

In fact, they even have a signature parade in downtown Calgary called POW! Parade of Wonders on the Friday (although Expo is open Thursday evening) to kick it off. I’ve never seen it live because I’m always prepping my booth for the day. But it sure looks like people are having fun. This was from 2019.

Retailers include comic book stores, T-shirt vendors, book publishers, and every kind of nerdy pop culture collectible under the sun. Then there is the art. There’s so much quality art that it would take more time than I’ve got to catalogue it all.

Artist Alley is a section unto itself, with more affordable booths for creatives to sell their prints and other items. Many are hobbyists building an audience, though some have built a large fan base and do quite well.

The large halls of the main building are divided into 10 x 10 booths, with some larger companies occupying several. Naturally, these Retailer booths cost more, but increased space and traffic translates to more sales.

Having worked my way up from my first booth, more of a table really, in the now-retired Small Press section, I’ve been in the Retailer section for several years. In my last year in 2019, I had a corner booth on a main thoroughfare, a prime location that I had earned through seniority. I have no idea where I’ll be this year as the floor plan is likely to change and they haven’t released any information yet.

No matter how many times I prepare for this event, it’s a logistical gauntlet. For best pricing, booths are usually booked a year in advance on the last day of the previous Expo. I booked my 2020 booth in April of 2019, so they’ve had my money for three years. Even though they responsibly offered refunds several times during the pandemic, I wanted to keep my booking and priority.

The booth space shown here was bigger than I was used to as the vendor next to me no-showed. So I was able to spread out a little bit, as did the guy on the other side. It’s usually more compact.
Neighbouring vendors form temporary communities at these shows. We watch each other’s booths for bathroom breaks, might do a coffee run if one of us is going, and we talk during set-up and slow periods. I hear a common question: “How did you do today?”

A frequently heard answer, especially from people who don’t do this for a living, is, “I’ve covered my booth costs.”

If that’s your only goal, and you’re doing this for fun or a side hustle, that’s important. The booth fee is usually the most significant expense, but it’s certainly not the only one.

My corner booth costs $1228.50. Despite overall bright lighting in this venue, having my lights on my artwork and banners makes it pop and attracts more attention. So, I rent power for my booth, another $134. Parking for the five days (including Wednesday set-up day) is $65, and my car stays in that lot from Thursday to Sunday.

If I were doing regular shows, I’d get a blanket policy through my insurance provider to cover all of them. All it takes is one person to bump the wrong thing and fall in your booth, or if something from your display falls into an aisle and somebody trips over it, the vendor could be liable. Of course, nobody thinks it will happen to them, but it’s not worth the risk in our litigious society. So, I get vendor insurance for this show through the venue, which costs $64.

Canmore is only an hour away from downtown Calgary when there’s no traffic, but getting in and out of the grounds with everybody else adds a lot of time. I wouldn’t get home until 10 PM at the earliest Friday night and would have to leave by 7 AM the following day to make it back. Add in the potential for a spring snowstorm, which has happened more than once on this weekend, and commuting would be a gamble.

So from Thursday to Sunday, I stay in a hotel. It’s six or seven blocks away from the venue, and I walk back and forth each day. That’s $470 all in, with the Expo rate.

I don’t have a big appetite these days, and I stay away from the high-fat food trucks. Instead, I eat breakfast at the hotel, pick up a healthy lunch at Sunterra market on the way to the grounds each morning, bring trail mix snacks, fruit and cheese from home, and then grab a late takeout light dinner on the walk home to eat in my room. I used to attend the odd networking event at this show, organized by Calgary artist collectives. They were fun, but I prefer winding down in a quiet hotel room. These are long, loud days with many people, and that always takes it out of me.

My food expense for the weekend is usually around $100.

In the late 90s, I worked at a hotel in Banff. For a couple of those years, I was an accounting clerk. Later, I worked as an office admin for a physiotherapist here in Canmore. Through these jobs, I became proficient with Microsoft Excel.

Shonna is an Excel wizard and loves putting data into a spreadsheet. It might sound boring, but it’s a great skill. We each keep our own finances, but there are no mysteries in our household budget for the joint expenses. She’ll spend hours tweaking those numbers to make sure everything gets paid, money is set aside for savings, and ensure that we still get to live a life.

So for Expo a few years ago, we sat down and built a spreadsheet to find out exactly how much it cost to do the show.

My booth might cost $1228.50, but before I sell anything, the initial costs add up to almost twice that, and I haven’t even mentioned creating a booth and filling it with stock.

The most considerable expense of building a booth is in the first year. I didn’t make any money the first two years I did this show, and the second year I barely broke even. I’ll buy one or two new display items to improve things each year, but if you take care of your equipment, almost all of it is reusable.

Here is a list of some of the display materials and equipment. Grid walls, corner braces, wall coverings, hangers, lights, lightbulbs, power bars, banner stands, banners, two folding tables, tablecloths, table riser, magnet boards, coaster/sticker display risers, print display bins, print storage bins, storage rack, canvas/metal cases, floor mats, office supplies, toolbox/tools, cargo dolly, business card holders, display easels, and a bunch of other minor stuff.

In the beginning, this whole show was cash transactions. The rule was to bring lots of small bills for your float. Very few sales are cash these days, and everybody wants to use TAP. My handheld terminal costs $20/month to rent, but it’s well worth it. But like any other retailer in the world, the banks and credit card companies take a small percentage of every transaction.

That’s to build a temporary store for those four days. Then, after that, I need to have items to sell.

Before I sell a print, I pay a printer to produce it, order a backer board to protect and make it presentable, order art bio labels for the backer board, and a cellophane sleeve. Every print comes with an initial cost. It’s the same for the large metal prints, canvas and stickers. For the coasters, magnets, calendars, small aluminum prints and anything else I get from Pacific Music & Art, I buy those from Mike. I get them at less than wholesale because he doesn’t have to pay me a royalty on products I buy for myself.

Every item breaks down on that Excel spreadsheet. From what it cost to buy it to what I sold it for, and in the final column is the profit from that one item. I track everything I sell during the show, writing each transaction in a notebook. Then, I enter it into a spreadsheet on my iPad in my hotel room at the end of each day. Finally, I enter each day into the more extensive spreadsheet at the show’s end.

From the total profit of each item sold, I deduct the hotel, parking, electrical, insurance, and food costs. Only then do I know if I made any money.
That explains the hard costs, but what about my time?

Coming up with an hourly wage for self-employment is almost like mixing math and philosophy. Building my art skills took decades; painting each piece took many hours, and the whole collection of whimsical wildlife paintings has taken 13 years so far. There wouldn’t be any prints, coasters, magnets, calendars, and other items to sell without all of that. So, how could I come up with a value for that time?

I recently spent an hour redesigning my booth in Photoshop, creating scale pieces of the different items and moving them around for greater efficiency. Does that count against time spent?

What about the intangible benefits from the show that can’t be quantified?

Each year, I meet new people and introduce them to my work. If they don’t buy something the first year, they might buy something next time. I’ll get new subscribers to A Wilder View, so maybe they will buy something later or share my work with their friends. I reconnect with people who already like my work and come back to see me year after year.

How do I enter those benefits on an Excel spreadsheet? The simple answer is I can’t, but they’re still valuable.

But for the costs that can be recorded, it’s essential to know what you’re getting out of it and to be honest with yourself if it’s worth doing.

This show has been financially well worth my time and effort for years. But, I’ll admit that significant changes to the show before 2019 had me rethinking whether I would do it again. When the ‘little Expo that could’ sold to the multi-national Fan Expo, now a subsidiary of Informa, it lost the local community feel and it has become a colder corporate event. As a vendor, I used to feel like a valuable participant, friendly with the organizers and happy to see them each year during setup. Now, I just feel like a number on a sheet, easily replaced.

But that turned out to be my most profitable year, and I was pleased with the return on my investment. While I’ve lost any connection with the organization, I still had a great time with my customers and fellow vendors. So, I booked again, unaware that the next two years would change everything for everybody.

I have no idea what to expect this year. As I post this, there’s still no floor plan published, I don’t know my booth number or move-in details. Eight days out, that’s concerning as far as confidence in the overall organization. It could be a great show, with record attendance and people buying a lot of my art. Or it could be quiet, folks reluctant to gather in groups, still financially shell-shocked from the last two years, and just browsing. It will likely be somewhere in between, but that’s still a big range.

I won’t know until Monday, April 25th when I run the numbers.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Flight or Fancy

When you create art for a hobby, it doesn’t matter how you spend your time. It’s an escape, a leisurely pursuit. You can read about art, sketch, watch videos, take courses, visit galleries, or attend workshops or clubs devoted to the same goals. You can doodle for an hour, then throw it in the recycling.

But when art is your work, how you spend your time and energy is directly related to your income. If you’re not making art that sells, you’re risking your financial security. Bill collectors don’t take good intentions as payment, nor do they accept the absence of a creative spark as an excuse.

Anyone who has ever held any job knows what it’s like to have a horrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling unmotivated to do anything. But you haul your ass out of bed and go to work anyway. Because your boss is unlikely to accept “I’m just not feeling inspired today” as a valid reason for not showing up.

Talk to anyone in a creative field who does it for a living, and they’ll tell you that waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals get to work, even when they don’t feel like it. Art for a living is no different. You stick to a schedule, show up every day, and you do the work, even when you don’t want to.

But just as people in many fields go away for conferences, take additional training in the latest techniques, or keep up to date on industry literature to remain competitive, artists also need to make time for the unquantifiable.

The only way to improve on skills is to invest in them, even when it feels like you’re not getting any work done.

Whenever I start a new painting, my intent is most often to create a production piece. If it’s a painting of an animal, I want the result to be a print or an image for licensing, something that goes into the inventory to generate future income.

On occasion, I’ll make room for a character portrait for my own enjoyment (I’m working on one right now), but when it comes to the whimsical wildlife, I don’t often make time for sketching, or experiments, or ‘let’s try something and see what happens.’

But I should.

Even though I never went to art school, I know enough from talking to artists who have, that sketching and playing around is essential. It’s where you find your happy accidents, those unexpected gems that pop up simply from drawing for fun or practice.

My Grizzly, the very first whimsical wildlife painting in 2009, was an experiment. I was trying something new to see what might happen, and it eventually changed my entire career, leading me to the work I enjoy most.

It’s an easy bad habit to get into, judging the art I create to be only as valuable as its revenue. But, unfortunately, that’s a short-sighted view of what has been a long career and will hopefully continue to be.This eagle-in-flight could have become a production piece, but I got to a point where I realized that even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like taking it any further. It was good practice; I recorded it, so I get to show another time-lapse, but this is as far as I’m taking it. It’s more than a sketch but less than my usual hyper-detailed renderings. Click here or on the image to see the full sized piece and the 2-minute video.

I’m going to accept that it was a practice piece and creative time well spent.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Thanks for Your Support

The podcasts I listen to change from time to time. I’ll add new ones, delete old ones, depending on what I get out of each and where I’m at in my work life.

The one that prompted me to write this post was recommended to me by my friend Crystal, a Calgary-based graphic designer. While skilled in her chosen profession, one of Crystal’s most outstanding qualities is that she is a cheerleader for other creatives.

Since I’ve known and liked Crystal for years, I take her advice seriously. While it was my licensing agent in Vermont that got me the deal, and I had little to do with it, Crystal has been bugging me for years to get my work on puzzles.  When I got the box of my artist samples from Spilsbury, Crystal was first on the list to receive two of them.

So when she suggested I listen to David duChemin’s podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, and said she thought I would connect with it, I didn’t hesitate.

David is a Canadian photographer and author, but his impressive skills far exceed his current professional pursuits. His podcast is not an interview format, but more of a ‘lessons learned and thoughts he’s thinking’ structure about pursuing a creative life. I could write a lengthy description, but David speaks better for himself than I could. I invite you to listen to see if it resonates with you as it does with me. There’s a link at the end.

When we’re allowed to travel again, one of the first places I’ll go is back to Vancouver Island. I cancelled two planned trips there this year, one for business, another a kayaking trip for Shonna’s and my 25th anniversary. As we’ve had some back-and-forth emails in recent months, I look forward to adding ‘meeting David in person’ to my next Island itinerary.

While beginning a new painting this morning, I listened to David’s latest, Episode 51: No One Needs a Juggler. In it, David talks about the feedback he received from another episode about his leaving social media.

In the current episode, he talks about the marketing challenges faced by self-employed creatives and some of the methods he used for reaching people before social media existed. It’s something on which I currently spend a great deal of mental energy. With so much content out there, it’s more challenging to get noticed in today’s world, but not impossible. It involves a great deal of work, not merely to create the art, but to get people to see it. While I am no expert at this and have made mistakes from which I’ve learned valuable lessons, I’ve also done many things right.

For most of my career, I’ve had a website that gets redesigned and improved every so often. I have it professionally done, try to keep it simple, and have always given serious consideration to feedback. I’ve kept a blog since 2008 and a newsletter since 2014, which has helped me become a much better writer. While blogs may seem antiquated to some, I regularly receive positive feedback on mine.  I’ve shared the details behind the work, milestones and setbacks, incredibly personal stories, both good and bad, frustrations, motivations, and highlights.

It would be easy to focus on the losses this year, and I’m not going to give you yet another positive ‘we’re all in this together’ message because we get those every day, and we’re all a little tired of them.

David’s podcast this morning reminded me of the one precious thing I have that I never want to take for granted, and that’s all of you.

Many of you have followed my work for a long time, some for almost two decades. Seriously, I could list a bunch of your names who have been supporting my work for well over ten years. Many of you remember the days when the extent of my work was editorial cartoons and celebrities’ caricatures. And a lot of that work was terrible!

Over time, the list has grown, and more of you have signed up for the ride. When I left Facebook and Twitter, many of you signed up for my newsletter. I know many of your names but have never met you in person, and I may never will. Some have never bought a print, calendar, mask or product, yet you send me regular emails telling me how much you like something I’ve created. That encouragement is just as valuable to me as a sale, and I mean that.

Some of you have commissioned paintings of your pets, a few more than once. I know which of you like big cat paintings, the ones who love bears more than any other animal, some of you name your prints when you get them, and some have even shared your personal struggles with me. I know that a couple of you buy prints to send to your grandkids overseas, more than a few of you have whole walls of my images in your homes, and I’m well aware which of you are patiently waiting for me to paint your favourite animal one of these days.

Though I do include links to the online store in each newsletter, hopefully you don’t feel like I’m always trying to sell you something. On the other side of that, however, I hope you understand when I have new prints or products to advertise or let you know about a pre-order or sale.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year like no other. While it’s personally been a challenging year, I’m surprised to find that I’m actually in a better frame of mind in December of this year than I have been in many others. I think it’s because I’m beginning to realize what I could be discovering if I wasn’t so desperately trying to hold on to what I’ve got.

2020 has taught many of us that the things we always thought we could count on are illusory.

I’ve got some new things on which to focus in 2021, stuff that I have been reluctant to try for fear that it might not work. I bought a webcam, and I want to try doing some painting demos on my YouTube channel. Not formal, scripted lessons, or start-to-finish paintings, but talking about what I’m doing while I’m painting. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, videos that answer common art questions. Who knows where it might lead?

Thanks for being here, for following along, for your encouragement, for the emails you send after I publish a newsletter or release a new painting. Thanks for so many thoughtful responses to the Cartooning COVID video essay I posted this week. I didn’t expect such a positive response, and I’m glad it connected with so many of you. Many of my newspapers either published it on their sites and social media or are doing so this week. One even called for an interview about it.

And finally, I will take some more advice from David duChemin’s podcast and do something incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to ask for your help.

It always strikes me funny when one of you sends me an email asking if you can share something I’ve sent. I not only love it when you think enough of one of my creations to share it with your friends and family; I want you to. Word of mouth is an absolute requirement for the success of my business and career.

When somebody buys a print from me, I always include a personally hand-written card in a little envelope, along with two business cards. One is for you to keep, and the other so you have one to give away. The best compliment you can ever pay me is to refer my work to somebody else.

So here’s the ask.

In the coming year, if I share a new painting, a video, a written post, a cartoon or anything else that connects or resonates with you, the best thing you can do to help me keep doing what I love to do is to share it. Please send it in an email to one friend, share it on your sites, on social media, private messages, or post a link to my site with my sincere gratitude.

If you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or simply want to say hello, please drop me a line. I try to respond to every email I get, and I love hearing from you.

Finally, as this will be the last post before Christmas, I know it’s going to be a tough one for many. Long-time followers know that I’ve never been a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to diminish anyone else’s holiday. However different things look for you this year, I hope you can find some joy and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Cheers,
Patrick

As promised, here’s the link to David’s podcast and to my friend Crystals’ site.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Puzzling

A box of Spilsbury puzzles arrived at our door today. I knew these were coming sometime this year, but had no idea when.

Over the years, my images have found their way onto many different products, through licensing deals I’ve signed. I’ve written about licensing before, but the short version is that when a company wants to use an artist’s work on a product, they pay the artist a royalty. It’s usually for a set amount of time, two or three years, an agreed upon percentage, for a specific region, and stipulations regarding exclusivity. The contracts have a lot more details in them, but the general idea is pretty simple.

I have licenses for T-shirts and apparel through Harlequin Nature Graphics and decals/cases for phones and devices through DecalGirl. Pacific Music and Art has licenses for a wide variety of products, some of which are coffee mugs, art cards, magnets, aluminum art, coasters, trivets and as a consequence of our current situation, face masks and scarves/neck gaiters.

My interactions with these companies are quite simple. I’m almost always talking directly with the owner and I enjoy that one on one relationship.
Art Licensing, an agency based in New England makes my library of funny looking animals available to their extensive client list around the world. They act as my agent in negotiating those deals, for which they take a percentage. When a company is interested, Art Licensing sends me details of the arrangement and I approve or decline the offer. Because they’re professionals at what they do, they’re aware that I have other licenses and what those are, in order to avoid any conflicts between competing companies selling the same things.

I research the company, decide if I like the deal or not, and reply with yay or nay. Because Art Licensing knows their business, I usually approve, but I have declined a couple in recent years. When I’ve done so, they accept my decision without argument and we move on. Occasionally I’ll request a change to an offer and they’ll go back to the company with the request. If they accept it, the change is made, if they don’t, then I decide if I can live with the original terms.

For licenses obtained through Art Licensing, I don’t have any interaction with the companies making the products. From time to time, somebody following my work will send me a link to my art on a site somewhere and ask me if it’s legitimate. I do appreciate these emails, grateful that many of you are looking out for me and my work, but also because I do occasionally get ripped off and have to deal with that.

Most of the time, the links I’m sent are on the up-and-up. If I don’t know the company name selling my work, a little digging will often reveal that they have a parent company with whom I do have a license through Art Licensing. A customer recently told me he had seen my work for sale on a print in Macy’s in Texas. Sure enough, the company that put that art in Macy’s had a license to do so.

There are some artists who balk at giving up a percentage to wholesalers, galleries and retailers, but without those businesses, mine wouldn’t exist. Licensing is a desirable business model for many artists. I would never have the time, energy, capital or connections to manufacture all of these products and get them into stores all over the world. Licensing allows an artist to receive income from their work while continuing to create more, generating revenue year after year from the same images.
Spilsbury is a company that licensed four of my images at the beginning of this year. They optioned my Smiling Tiger, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle and Wolf paintings. While many of my licenses offer samples to the artist in the contract, this is the first time I’ve actually requested them. I really don’t want a warehouse of licensed items, especially as I get more of them. I’m not sure why, since I can’t recall Shonna and I ever putting a puzzle together, but I wanted to see these in person.

I did not expect to receive 12 of them, but I enjoyed opening that box. The puzzles come in 300 and 500 piece versions, so they sent me three of each of two of the designs, the Smiling Tiger and Happy Horned Owl. Looking on their website, they renamed the other two as the Earnest Eagle and Winsome Wolf. I have no issue with that at all, that’s just marketing. They sell them individually, or in bundles of two on their website, you can check them out here.
While I intend to keep one of each for myself, I’m going to give away the others via my newsletter. I don’t know how that will work yet, but I’ll give it some thought. I’d like to have fun with this, as we can all use some of that this year.

I’ll admit that I’m curious if putting together a 500 piece puzzle of my own painting will be easier, since I know those brushstrokes better than anyone. I’m going to save finding out the answer to that for an afternoon this winter, a hot chocolate and cookies next to me, with a snowstorm raging outside.

Cheers,
Patrick

EDIT:
It has come to my attention that Spilsbury does not ship to Canada. I tried it myself and the only shipping options they have is for the United States. That’s annoying, especially for those of you who have already told me they wanted to order some puzzles.

Apparently that’s the downside of not dealing directly with the company, in that I didn’t know that. It’s still a great license for me personally, but not for all of you. For that, my apologies.

For those of you in the US, that doesn’t change anything. Sadly, for my Canadian followers, these aren’t currently available. Should that change in the future, I will let you know.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you were looking to get a puzzle.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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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

___

© 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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