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Another Expo in the Rearview Mirror

I’ve had some great Calgary Expo experiences over the years, but this one is certainly at the top. I didn’t realize how much I missed people, especially these people. When I mentioned that to my buddy Darrel in a recent text, he replied, “you’re alone too much.”

No argument there. It’s not good for the psyche, as many of us have discovered these past two years.

From the first afternoon on Thursday to the last on Sunday, reconnecting with familiar faces, repeat customers and introducing my work to new people was terrific. I had forgotten how much fun it was, and I get a kick out of the reactions when some people see my work for the first time.
As I’ve written before, it is human nature to smile in response to a smile, so when people run into a couple of walls and tables full of smiling animals, those people smile, laugh, and say things like “ohmygawd, they’re so cuuuuuuuuute!”

I heard that a lot this weekend. It was like a drug.

The compliments are nice, and I say Thank You. Of course, the sales are important, that’s why I’m there. But making people smile, seeing them light up at the unusual nature of my work, I wish I could bottle that. It would come in handy on far too many days when I am working alone in my office, convinced the world has gone to hell in a handcart.

There have been a lot of those days recently for all of us.

I went into this event with realistic expectations. I wasn’t sure if people would buy much or what the mood would be, but it surprised me that it felt like a regular Expo. People were happy to be out and having a good time, and it was very busy, which I’ll admit was a little uncomfortable at times, considering what we’ve all been through.
I had a fantastic location, and because I was next to a pillar, with no booth beside me, I could stretch out a little, which made the layout even better. I had good neighbours, which always makes the show better, but I don’t remember ever having bad ones at this event. Best of all, not a political or contentious discussion or experience all weekend long, which was incredibly refreshing.

I’m bad with names, but I’m excellent with faces, likely a consequence of this visual profession. I recognized a lot of former customers two and three years later, which surprised many of them.

2019 had been my best year, but I exceeded that year’s sales on every day except for Sunday, and that one was close. But for the whole show, this is now my best year, and I’m thrilled.

Talking with people in person, seeing their reactions, and what they buy gives me a better idea of which paintings are popular. I brought a lot of the Smiling Tiger and Otter, but they sold out. That’s always welcome, of course, but not a surprise.

Of the newer paintings, I can now consider Winter Wolf, Sea Turtle and Grizzly on Grass to be bestsellers. Though I brought plenty with me, I also sold out of those at the show, and I’ll know to bring more next time. I still have some of each here at home, but I can only carry so many.

Here are a few stand-out highlights.

Need a Break?

A big THANK YOU to two couples who were incredibly generous. They’re some of my biggest collectors and supporters for several years now, both at this show and throughout the year, and I enjoy visiting with them. They each had four-day passes, so I saw them all weekend long.

While I thought that having my booth next to the bathrooms would be convenient, the map didn’t specify that both of those bathrooms were for women. The men’s bathrooms were both five aisles away in opposite directions. Who designed this place?!

So Will and Jaime volunteered to watch my booth a few times during the weekend, they brought me soft drinks from their hotel one day, and Will even tried to act like a carnival barker to boost sales, which was damn funny.
Sheldon and Tracy are the folks I spent the afternoon with at the zoo and wrote about in a recent post. They watched my booth a few times, chatted with me when it was slow, and stopped by often to check if I needed anything. At one point, Sheldon flipped through my bin of prints and said he felt like he was going through hockey cards. “got it, got it, got it, need it, got it, got it,…”

These customers have become friends, and I was grateful for their kind consideration and help.

I could recite a list of names of all of the people I’ve come to know at this event over the years, but I would likely forget and offend somebody. So, if some of you are reading this, hopefully I let you know in person how much I enjoyed seeing you again.

Have You Got an Elephant Yet?

Remember the guy who comes back every year and asks if I have an elephant painting? You can read about that in a previous post. I was worried he might not be there this year, but Aric was my first customer on Thursday! He asked the question, and I was able to answer, “Why yes! Yes, I do!” and showed him the elephant hanging behind me.
That was the perfect start to the event because not only did he love the painting, he bought the 12”X16” metal print for his wife’s birthday. He assured me I could talk about it here, and I wouldn’t likely ruin the surprise. I had brought two of those metal prints with me this weekend, just in case he bought one, so I’d still have another for the wall.

What a Wookiee!

Before I became a full-time artist in 2006, my last job was as an Admin Assistant for a physiotherapist here in Canmore. These days, Ascent Physical Therapy is bigger and in a new location, with multiple therapists and clinicians. At the time, however, it was a small clinic, just two of us working there with an occasional massage therapist using one of the rooms.

I often describe Shane as the ‘best last boss to have.’ He knew that I wanted to work for myself and was very supportive. When I realized I couldn’t take my business to the next level without leaving, I gave him plenty of notice, but he suggested I job share with somebody else so that I could go part-time to make it easier and train the new person at the same time. That worked great for several months, but eventually, I gave notice again, as did the other part-timer who found a full-time job elsewhere. Shane hired somebody to replace us, and she stayed with him for several years. It was about as smooth and painless a transition as we could have wanted.
Several years ago, Shane created this Chewbacca costume from scratch. It is truly a masterpiece and looks movie-quality. It has an electronic voice box for the growls, stilts for the height and is a highlight of the show for many people, especially kids. Every year, he comes to Expo with this outfit and has even added a C3PO backpiece from the Empire Strikes Back.

Now he’s part of the charitable fan organization, the 501st Legion, and Shane makes a circuit several times during the show with security escorts so that people can take pictures with him. He walked by my booth multiple times but obviously couldn’t stay long as he was mobbed for photos. However, Shane returned one morning without the costume to visit, and it’s always great to see him there.

There Once Was a Bear and a Rat.

Finally, I’d like to share a couple of gifts I received that I’m happy to display in my office.

At the 2019 show, Matthew Overbeck came by the booth and asked if we could collaborate on an art project. He wanted to create some 3D printed lamps and use a couple of my paintings for the lampshade panels. Matthew and his wife Maria have bought my prints before, so it wasn’t a cold call.

I thought it would be a fun project and agreed to let him use my work. He kept me up to date with progress shots and said he would give me a lamp when finished. I was looking forward to it, but the pandemic suddenly arrived, and everybody’s plans slid into the ditch.

I’ve thought about Matthew and this project a few times over the past two years, but I didn’t want to reach out to him about it. When we’re all struggling, the last thing I wanted to do was pressure him to complete his art project or imply that I was waiting for a lamp.
I was thrilled when he showed up at my booth on Thursday and revealed the finished piece. It looks even better than I expected and features two of my favourite paintings. This will be a fond keepsake and Expo memory, as will the second smaller bonus rat lamp he gave me.
While he said he’s not in a super creative mode right now, I know that the right inspiration can turn that around on a dime.

So, feel free to reach out to Matthew if this work is of interest to you. He’s a talented artist working in a unique medium, and I wish him nothing but success with these pieces. I’m pleased that my work could be a small part of it.

To wrap up this wrap-up, I’ve come away from Expo inspired to create more work, which is no small thing. As a result, I have rebooked a corner booth for next year. While I would love the same location, I know that’s not always feasible with changing floor plans, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

To all of you who came to see me and add my artwork to your homes, please accept my sincere thanks for supporting not only this painter of whimsical wildlife but local art in general. It means a lot to all who make our living creating stuff.

And finally, to all of you who signed up for A Wilder View at the Calgary Expo, I know I already sent you a welcome message a couple of days ago, but thanks again for being here. I will do my best to make it worth your while.

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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The People That You Meet

I woke Tuesday in a foul mood.

Though tired, I’d gone to bed with a lot on my mind and couldn’t sleep, an ongoing problem over the past two years for obvious reasons. My worrying usually revolves around black-and-white, all-or-nothing, perfectionist ruminating, catastrophizing, and other cognitive biases that frequently plague overthinkers like myself.

Logically I know that every setback is just a setback, but my subconscious mind turns it into the end of all things, despite any evidence to the contrary.

I’m not going down this road again, simply explaining that a familiar dark cloud was hanging over my head when I got up at my usual 5AM.

I spent the next few hours drawing and sending an editorial cartoon before prepping my camera gear for a trip to the Calgary Zoo. I didn’t much feel like taking photos, but with a welcome print order to deliver, I’d be there already.

Although zoo attendance continues to pick up since the removal of restrictions, I happened to choose a quiet day.

From a business perspective, I want the zoo to be busy. But I’ll admit that I prefer it quiet when I’m taking pictures. I don’t have the patience for screaming children running around my feet and bumping into me while trying to hold the camera steady.

Sorry, I’m not a fan of kids. Bring on the cancel culture.

When I arrived at the Gift Shop, I asked if Kathryn, the Retail Manager was in, fully expecting them to say she wasn’t. Unfortunately, my visits earlier in the week often conflict with her days off, so most of our communication is via email. I think the last time I saw her in person might have been in 2019.

It’s a shame because Kathryn has been buying and selling my work for the past ten years. I enjoy seeing her, she always has good advice to share, and I learn a lot from her marketing experience.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to catch up in person, and we had a productive meeting. We talked about the year ahead, which paintings I’m going to retire and which ones I might consider painting soon. The first batch of stickers I had delivered a couple of months ago have almost sold out, so upon returning home, I packed up another order and dropped them in the mail yesterday.

Kathryn mentioned that Mike from Pacific Music & Art would be there the following day, so I texted him, kidding him that he was avoiding me. He said he’d be in Canmore later in the week, and he took me to lunch Thursday.

Pacific is my favourite license because I’m regularly involved in setting up my work for the various retail items, and I’m kept in the loop on upcoming plans, which is uncommon with licensing agreements. Mike’s also fun to work with, even though he regularly takes jabs at my being the stereotypical temperamental artist.

In the words of Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man 2…“Agreed.”

I left my meeting with Kathryn in better spirits. I had another large sticker order, some positive feedback and information to consider, and an upcoming meeting with Mike to look forward to.

And the zoo was still quiet.
I spent a couple of hours taking photos, but nothing was grabbing me. I’m writing this after I’ve gone through all the shots, and while I got a few I might paint from, most were unremarkable. Some days you feast, others you go hungry. But there are worse ways to spend a cool spring day than walking around with a camera.

Eventually reaching the end of the zoo, I started back the way I came and soon recognized a familiar face, my zookeeper friend, Kayla. We had a good catchup a couple of months ago at the zoo when I delivered a canvas she ordered. I didn’t want to interrupt her work again, so I hadn’t told her I was coming. I figured if I ran into her, great. If not, I’d see her at The Calgary Expo in a couple of weeks.

Kayla and I met years ago after I painted my Smiling Tiger. She had walked by my Expo booth and asked me if the painting was based on a real animal. I told her it was and that I had taken the reference at the zoo. She said the tiger’s name was Katya, that she looked after her all the time and recognized her in the painting.

Considering my style is whimsical, and I take significant liberties in exaggerating the expressions, it was an incredible compliment that she could recognize the tiger she knew in my painting.

Since then, I’ve seen Kayla at Expo and on multiple visits to the zoo. Along with the Smiling Tiger, she has bought other pieces, and I’ve learned a lot about the different animals she cares for. As Serena at Discovery Wildlife Park and Colin at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre can undoubtedly attest, if you spend your life looking after animals, I’m going to annoy you with questions.

Now, running into Kathryn and Kayla at the zoo is not much of a coincidence. They both work there. And Kathryn telling me that Mike was coming in this week is also not too unexpected since he has family in Calgary and is out in Canmore three or four times a year to see clients. So we usually meet up if our schedules allow.

But the most bizarre turn of events happened after I let Kayla go back to work. I walked twenty feet to the red panda exhibit and started taking pictures.

Then I heard my name.

Although they follow A Wilder View, and we exchange emails occasionally, I only ever see Sheldon and Tracy at the Calgary Expo, so it took a couple of seconds for it to click.
They’re two of my favourite people to show up at my booth, not just because they’ve been great supporters of my work for several years. Here’s their collection.

I was already looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks, but to run into them at the zoo, on a quiet random weekday in a city of 1.3 million people, was truly strange. I don’t know how long we stood there catching up, but it was getting a little chilly, so we walked around the zoo together. I realized that what had started as a bad day had suddenly become a very good one.

It was a real treat to spend the better part of the afternoon wandering the zoo with them. I always want to, but it’s hard to visit with people at Expo while looking after others who want to talk about and buy my work. So to have that time to walk and talk with no other obligation or timeline was a privilege, and I was delighted to send them a Thank-You email when I got home. It really made my day.
One of the best parts of making art for a living, art that makes people happy, is that I’ve been able to build relationships over the years. And while I’m grateful that Tracy and Sheldon, and so many others have liked my work enough to buy it, it’s a lot more than that.

I don’t get that connection with people with the other half of my business. In fact, editorial cartooning is more likely to foster and reinforce division in our culture. But that’s a post for another time.

To all of you who’ve found some joy in my funny-looking animals, whether you’ve bought any or not, it is sincerely my pleasure, and I don’t take your support for granted.

Shonna and my close friends would likely agree that I’ve become a cynical grumpy old man before my time because I take a lot of the stuff going on in the world far too personally. It bothers me a great deal how people talk to each other, leading with outrage at the expense of empathy.

I’m a heart on my sleeve guy, so letting things go is not one of my strengths.

But if there is an antidote to this poison, personally and professionally, I find it in these paintings and how they make some people happier, if only for a short time. Meeting some of these people and hanging out with them once in a while has been an unexpected bonus.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Different View on The Calgary Expo

Although it was a miniature version of the usual event, I spent Sunday at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. I have no regrets about passing on a booth this year as I still think it would have been more expense than revenue, but a day at the Expo made me realize how much I miss it.

When I’m a vendor, there’s little opportunity to walk around to meet and talk with other artists, aside from my immediate neighbours.

The best I could hope for in previous years is showing up a little early to take a quick tour, but it’s tough to chat with other vendors while they’re trying to set up for the day. Shonna has occasionally worked my booth with me on the busier days, and she’s a big help, but people want to talk to the person who created the artwork, so I stay close to my own customers.

This time, free to wander, I met some talented artists, asked questions about their setup and advice on products they sold, and enjoyed talking shop without having to rush back to my booth. But, of course, when potential customers stepped up, I quickly moved aside and let the vendor go to work.

In my experience, fellow vendors are always willing to share information. At my first show in 2014, I didn’t know anything, so I was grateful for the constructive criticism and advice that came my way. Now that I’ve gained my own experience, I try to help newbies when they show up at my own booth with questions.

I spoke with quite a few vendors who sell vinyl stickers along with their prints and other products. When I showed them my first sticker pack and asked their advice/opinions, all agreed that I was selling them for too little. For the size of my stickers, the vinyl and design quality, a four-pack for $15.95 is a lot less than the current market price.

So, after careful research and consideration, I’ll soon be increasing the price of those stickers in the store to $20.95. As I learn more about the sticker market, I’m optimistic and excited about the possibilities. They’ll undoubtedly be prominent products in my Expo booth in April.

It was also great to reconnect with Alexander Finbow, the owner of Renegade Arts Entertainment, a growing publishing house right here in Canmore. Alex has published several award-winning graphic novels, comic and children’s books by international authors and artists. It seems they’re well known in the industry but still a well-kept secret here in the Bow Valley.

Having arrived on Sunday at 9:30 that morning, I had plenty of time to accomplish my own goals before my buddy Derek arrived with his daughter and her friend around 1:00. The owner of Electric Grizzly Tattoo here in Canmore, he’s an accomplished tattoo artist and skilled painter, so it was nice to walk around with somebody who’s as much into the art as I am. Also, even though I’m not a ‘kid person,’ I will admit that seeing a couple of nine-year-olds excited about comic and cartoon characters I didn’t know or recognize was fun.

And if it weren’t for the kids’ excitement about a booth full of snakes and lizards, I might have missed the opportunity to face up to one of my phobias.

Hairy spiders have always given me the creeps, but I don’t like being afraid of them since they’re such fascinating creatures. So when I realized that I could hold one, courtesy of Calgary Reptile Parties, I had a quick argument in my head. I knew that if I chickened out, I’d beat myself up all the way home and likely wake up the next morning regretting it.
So, I stepped up and let a hairy tarantula crawl around my hands and arms. She was delicate, fragile, light and gentle, and after a few seconds, I was more afraid of flinching and maybe hurting her. While not quite the same as close contact with a bear cub, a wolf, or an owl, it was an exciting critter experience, and I’m glad I did it.

The fear in our heads is usually so much worse than reality.

I also bought some art, something I rarely do at this event, since I never have the time to look.
Edmonton artist Sabrina O’Donnell does more than 25 shows a year (pre-Covid) and gave me some of the best advice on selling stickers. She based this little Canuck Crow piece on a news story she read about a Vancouver crow who stole a knife from a crime scene. I liked her rendering and that the work tells a story.
I bought a couple of books from Toronto cartoonist Scott Chantler. Both are graphic novels/stories about real people and histories. I’m not big on comics or graphic novels, but I like his art and the subject matter and found his work inspiring. Always worth it to explore another’s approach.
Finally, I bought a piece of art to hang in my office, something I’ve not done for a long time. Regular readers know that I’m a movie fan and will paint character portraits from time to time. I enjoyed the 2019 Joker movie, especially Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, so when I saw this piece by Alberta artist Sheldon Bueckert, I wanted it.

Even still, I waited a couple of hours before pulling the trigger to ward off any buyer’s remorse from an impulsive purchase. But right before I left the Expo, I went back for it. Whether it’s Sheldon’s choice of pose, colour, or his style of brushwork that drew me in, there’s just something about the piece I like.

That’s art for you. When it speaks to you, go with it.

I had an enjoyable day, better than expected. It was nice to be a bit of a fan again, rather than working the whole event. I’ve confirmed with the organizers that my booth is good for April, and I can expect to have the same spot I had in 2019. It’s a placement I worked hard to get over several years, earned through seniority.

To all of you I used to see at the event, I’ve missed you, and I’m already looking forward to seeing you again in 2022.

In the meantime, a day with all that inspiring art has filled the creative tank, and I’m anxious to paint. Anybody up for a cute and cuddly painting of a tarantula? ?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Playing the Hand I’m Dealt

Rounders, Molly’s Game, 21. I’ve always loved movies about card games and gambling, even though the limit of my experience has been playing low stakes Blackjack at the Photoshop World conference. The most I’ve ever lost is $300 over five days, which is nothing for Vegas. I had budgeted to lose that money from the start, since I’ve got no delusions about my skills.

With about a half dozen obvious tells, likely more, I’ve often said that I would be the worst poker player, so I’ve never bothered. I’m a bad actor; I wear my heart on my sleeve.

So this week, I’m not even going to pretend to have it all together. I haven’t got the bandwidth, and I’m confident most of you can relate. The pandemic has been going on for longer than any of us expected, and regardless of where you stand on the whole thing, I’m sure you’re as tired as I am.

I’m struggling.

My motivation is deep in the red, I’m easily distracted, I don’t want to talk to people, and I’ve got a short fuse. If one more person tells me to hold on just a little while longer, especially a politician, well, I’m just gonna…

…well, I’m just gonna hold on a little while longer.

Because what else is there?

In keeping with my current short attention span, and complete lack of inspiration to write anything motivational or upbeat, here are simply some updates.

Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo

Despite that they moved it from the usual April date to the August long weekend this year, Expo has once again been cancelled.

I know they made the right call, but it’s still one more gut punch in a long series of them.

It wouldn’t have been a good year even if they had gone ahead. With the U.S. border likely to remain closed, or perhaps just opening by then, the big celebrity guests they need to draw people in won’t be showing up.

Expo boasts close to 100,000 people over four days on a good year, moving between multiple convention halls. A few years ago, it was the sixth biggest Comic-Con in North America. But it is mainly an indoor event, and I don’t think people are ready for that yet.

Shonna and I are three weeks past our first vaccine shots and likely will have our second by then, but like many others, I’m pretty shell-shocked by this whole experience. After running my booth all day, I’d probably spend the first hour back at my hotel room having a Silkwood shower.

It would be a significant investment of time and funds in a year when both are in short supply. I wouldn’t expect to recoup my costs, let alone make a profit. Now, that’s not always the goal because I enjoy seeing many of you each year. While I’ve talked to quite a few of my favourite Expo people over email during this lock-down, it’s hardly a substitute for seeing them in person.

And I also love introducing new people to my funny-looking animals. So I will miss not being there again this year.

Fingers crossed for next year.

Continuing Education

I’ve been taking a marketing course over the past couple of months, which has been pretty damn impressive. I’ll be happy to tell you about it soon, but it has been hands-down one of the best investments of my time in a lot of years. It granted me a new perspective on promoting my work and a new appreciation for those of you who’ve come along for the ride.

Continuing education is always a good investment, and when you’re self-employed, it’s an absolute necessity. Technology changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up, but it’s worth the effort.

I gave a video presentation to a Grade 7 class here in Canmore this week. They’re doing a module on editorial cartooning, and I was asked to talk to them about that side of my work. I’ve done several of these in person at local schools over the years, but this was a new experience. While many people are having regular meetings over Zoom and Google Meet, I haven’t. I enjoyed becoming familiar with the technology, and it went smoothly.

After my twenty-minute presentation, sharing some cartoons and talking about the work, there was one question about drawing and digital art. I explained to the students that they were fortunate to live in one of the greatest times in history for learning to do anything they want. It’s all out there on the internet waiting to be discovered.

But they have to be willing to put in the work, always the most essential ingredient. There are no cheats or shortcuts around it.

What’cha working on?

Of course, I’m always drawing daily editorial cartoons.

But I’m also working on a new painting of a Bighorn Sheep, something I hadn’t planned. It began from a frantic rough sketch when I just needed to put something (anything!) onto a blank page to keep the demons at bay. This Bighorn has attitude and a little sarcasm, might have a screw or two loose, but sometimes those are the most fun. My Ring-tailed Lemur comes to mind. He’s not all there, is he?I’ve also started a character portrait from a streaming series and have gathered references for another character portrait from a movie. Many of you already know that when I’m feeling lost and overwhelmed, I’ll paint portraits of people to try and reset things. Those don’t contribute to my bottom line, but they usually do help my mental health. Usually, I paint one of these in late fall or winter, but there is nothing usual about this time in which we’re living.

Here’s one I did in November 2019 of Quint from the movie Jaws.
I’m trying something new, writing the story behind one of my favourite paintings. It’ll be a small e-book, a free downloadable pdf for followers of A Wilder View. It’ll feel like a chapter of the art book I’ve always wanted to write. I figure if it works out, and I write a few more, I’ll have enough of them to actually populate a book and won’t have any more excuses for not publishing one.

Sometimes I have to trick myself.

Housekeeping

I’m planning to design a new website, but in the meantime, I’m making improvements to the existing one.

I’ve added some new payment options to the online store to make it easier for you to add one of my whimsical wildlife prints to that bare section of wall you’ve got. You really should put some artwork there, y’know, maybe a Smiling Tiger or a family of Owls. I’ll let you choose.

In addition to the existing credit card payments and Paypal, I’ve added Stripe and Apple Pay as additional payment options. That’s right; if you’re an Apple user, you can buy with a thumbprint.

And if you live in Canmore, I’m always happy to take payment by e-transfer, and I’ll deliver free of charge. Just send me an email for those orders instead of going through the store.

Wrap it up, LaMontagne!

Live video presentations, streaming TV, buying stuff from our phones, we’re living in a sci-fi movie. We should be saying “Wow” a whole lot more often, instead of complaining when the Wi-fi gets slow. A lesson we’ve all learned this year is how much we’ve been taking for granted.

I got nothing else.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Fear, Panic and Calgary Expo


In the wake of the rapidly changing (over)reaction to the Covid-19 virus, I’ve been thinking about the Calgary Expo next month.

It’s the only show I do, but it’s a big one. Close to 100,000 people attend each year. With the Alberta economy doing so poorly, my expectations for this year are already low. People don’t have a lot of money for luxuries, of which art is undoubtedly one.

But I was optimistic it would still be worth my time to connect with my regular customers, hold my booth space until things improve and hopefully make some money.

In recent days, however, with conferences and events being cancelled all around the world as people shy away from crowds, it’s now looking like the Calgary Expo could be twice cursed.

The Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle was postponed yesterday until sometime in the summer, a week away from their event, about the same size as Calgary’s. Leading up to it, the list of cancelled guests was huge. The organizers offered refunds to advance ticket holders nervous about attending because of the virus, and 10,000 people took them up on it. That’s a significant number.

The SXSW (South by Southwest) event in Austin, Texas, which draws 400,000 people, was cancelled yesterday.

So I find myself facing a dilemma. If I cancel, I lose my booth fees, $1200 in a year where my revenues are already taking a hit because of the economy.

I’m reminding myself of the sunk cost fallacy, which makes people do something against their best interest because of money already spent. We’re emotional, irrational creatures and will often tend to double down on a bad bet because of money or time we’ve already lost.

If I continue on this present course, I will spend more money on three nights in a hotel, electrical fees, parking, insurance, ordering more stock, only to potentially have a large corner booth in the middle of a ghost town for four days.

If the guests and celebrities don’t show up, people don’t show up. With the economy down and folks staying away out of fear, the odds of making enough sales to make a profit this year goes beyond optimism. It’s naïve wishful thinking, bordering on delusion.

If I cancel, I lose the booth cost and my preferred booth space, which is based on seniority. There’s a good chance I’d no longer do this event.

I’m not worried about getting sick. I have a healthy immune system and most people who get this particular coronavirus have mild symptoms and recover well. Seniors with existing medical conditions are the most vulnerable to this illness, and the Calgary Expo is just not their scene.

It’s not a question of fear or pessimism, but surveying the land and deciding if there’s a reasonable expectation of growing any crops there. I still want to do the Expo, but it’s a LOT of work, before, during and afterward. It seems foolish to invest that time and money only to be standing there for four days, stinking of desperation.

Ideally, it would be great if the Calgary Expo cancelled the event and issued refunds, but if that happens, I don’t see it coming for another month. They’d have a hard time postponing the event until the summer as Emerald City Con did because that would require a vacancy at the BMO Centre for a five day event, and that’s unlikely. If they cancelled the event this year and bumped everybody’s booth and fees to next year, I’d be okay with that, too.

A lot of people will be affected by cancelling Expo. This event is a big moneymaker for many, including me. For some, it’s part of the foundation of their annual income, especially those putting the con together. People have booked flights, rental cars, ordered stock and planned their big book, art, and product launches around this event. The local economy counts on this event, the largest in Calgary each year, second only to Stampede.

To lose it will hurt a lot of people.

To go ahead with it could be just as bad.

I’m an obsessive worrier by nature, and even I’m not worried about getting sick. Since the symptoms of coronavirus are mild for MOST people, I expect there are thousands worldwide who’ve had it, recovered from it, and nobody even knows. How often does the average person go to the hospital for the flu? Most will assume that’s just what they had.

But if one person dies or catches it at Calgary Expo and infects somebody else who dies, that could likely be the end of the whole event. The mass hysteria, finger-pointing and unreasonable fear that’s currently infecting the world are far worse than the virus itself. The court of public opinion, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else would descend en masse on the organizers.

When we become gripped by unreasonable fear, we start looking for an enemy to blame.

The SARS outbreak in 2003 would have been far worse for the world and economy if we’d had social media. Daily updates on where the virus has shown up are incredibly bad for your mental health. What’s worse is that people aren’t only absorbing the panic; they’re spreading it on their own social media feeds.

This is new. We’re freaking out, and losing all perspective. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average, 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. In the United States alone, 37,000 people DIE in car crashes each year.

Could you imagine being updated EVERY TIME somebody dies in a car accident, let alone gets hurt in one? We’d never get in our cars.

But we’re so used to it; we ignore it to the point where we have to be told not to use our phones while we drive.

Despite the assertions of everyone and anyone on Facebook, Twitter and the News Comments sections who have suddenly become virology experts in the past five minutes, there are no easy answers. There rarely are for complicated issues.

At present, I will wait on a decision, evaluate the situation as it unfolds, expect the worst, but hope for the best. Eventually, I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to go ahead or pull the pin, take the loss and accept the consequences.

In the meantime, I won’t be buying any masks, hoarding toilet paper or running and screaming every time I see an Asian person. It’s stupid, dangerous, and if it goes unchecked, it won’t be long before we’re turning on each other. Because when things get scary, that’s what people do.

To illustrate that point, I’ll leave you with this short scene from the movie, The Mist.

Take a breath,
Patrick

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Calgary Expo – The Wrap-Up 2019

The Calgary Expo wrapped up on Sunday and it was one of the most unique and unexpected results in the six years I’ve done this show.

At the beginning of the weekend, I was thinking this might be my last one and said as much in my previous blog post. While I stand by all I said in the most recent post, and there is a lot of room for improvement on the part of the organizers, I had great sales. With just a couple more prints out the door, I would have beaten 2017, which was my best year.

So, on that front, I’m very pleased with the results.

Let’s start with what I didn’t like about this year’s event.

Informa, the company that now owns the Calgary Expo cast out the soul of this show, in my opinion. Plenty of people I spoke with, both vendors and attendees had choice words to describe the shortcomings. The attendees weren’t happy with the guests this year. Sure, they had Michael J. Fox and the Back to the Future cast, but they had them last year, too, except Fox had to cancel, so it was almost a repeat. Other than that, only one or two I spoke with were excited to see some of the other guests.

Communication in the run-up to the show was poor, especially compared to their predecessors. I could elaborate at length, but it would be boring. Let’s just say they’ve got nowhere to go but up. Clearly efforts to slash costs, a lot of little corners were cut.

There were quite a few empty booths at the show this year, so much so that I know quite a few vendors who got to expand their own space into the empty areas beside them. That’s unheard of for this show, but since I was one of those who got to add two feet to my booth and have some storage beside it, I was happy to take advantage. A number of vendors told me that this was their last year. Some attendees said the same.

The weather. This one is just bad luck, nobody’s fault, springtime in Alberta, what are you going to do? Saturday is traditionally the busiest day and we got walloped by a BIG snowstorm. Shonna usually drives in from Canmore for the day to help me out on Saturday, but since the weather was accurately forecast, I called her that morning from the hotel and told her not to come. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

It was a good call.

She would have been driving home right around the time that buses, semis and cars were careening into the ditch on the Trans-Canada. They closed the highway as a result. Walking the six blocks back to my hotel that evening was an adventure, horizontal snow and stinging wind, right in the face. I took a cab back the next day as I couldn’t roll my little suitcase through the snow and the sidewalks were skating rinks.

With people heading home to beat the storm, it got real quiet the last couple of hours on Saturday. That no doubt hurt sales, but they were still quite good.

The upside? There was plenty of that, too.

My booth location was the best I’ve had. I was right by a main entrance to the other building, a perimeter thoroughfare close to the exit from the Corral where the events were held. I really couldn’t have picked a better spot. No doubt that contributed to my great sales. Last year, some of my regular customers had a hard time finding me. This year, quite a few said I was one of the first booths they saw.

The vendors around me contribute a lot to the experience. When setting up, tearing down, when it’s slow, or you just need someone to talk to, the people around you can make it very dull or really fun. This year, it was most definitely the latter. My neighbours were all talented artists, each with their own unique styles. More than a few times, we were crying from making each other laugh.

It’s always great to see vendors I’ve known for years as well. When they found out I was alone, one couple came by a few times on Saturday and Sunday to watch my booth so I could take quick bathroom breaks. I had brought plenty of good food and could steal quick bites at the booth, but getting away was tough. So that thoughtful courtesy was greatly appreciated.

Patrick, Dani, Jamie, Marvin, Sebastian, Brock, April, if you’re reading this, thanks for making a tiring weekend a lot more fun.

The new product was well received and it was great to have such a variety to share. In addition to the usual prints and canvas, quite a few magnets, coasters, calendars and aluminum art pieces went home with customers and many remarked on the great quality of the goods from Pacific Music and Art. Quite a few people mentioned they’re seeing my stuff in different places, too, a result of that new license. One man said he recently saw a display of my work in The Banff Springs Hotel. I’m looking forward to checking that out.

Last, but certainly not least, I enjoy the people who come to see my funny looking animals.

There are so many return customers who buy my prints year after year, some who rival my parents in how many prints they have and they keep coming back. Many of them follow my newsletter and gave me positive feedback about videos I’ve recorded, stuff I’ve written about, told me animals they’d like me to paint, and were just great to talk with, often more than once over the weekend. More than a few of them greeted me with warm handshakes, hugs and big smiles.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that I’m so good at remembering faces, but not names, even though they all forgive me for it every year. As they’re fresh in my mind right now, I could run down a list of people I was happy to see again, but that might invade their privacy and I would invariably leave some out.

If any of you are reading this, hopefully I adequately conveyed my great appreciation for your continued support when I saw you in person. And even when you run out of wall space, as some of you have and many are close, please continue to come by and say Hello. A purchase is not required.

You are the best part of my Calgary Expo experience.

As the price of booth rental only went up a little, and I was guaranteed my same booth space if I renewed at the show, I put down the deposit for next year with hopeful, but realistic expectations.

My neighbour Jamie put it well when he said that our current Expo grievances, while well founded, might also be a simple case of resistance to change. Nothing stays the same and even though there’s plenty with which we’re not happy, there’s still good reason to hang on a little longer and see how it turns out, give Informa and Fan Expo the opportunity to listen to the complaints and try to make things right.

I’m willing to take that chance, at least one more time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Start of Calgary Expo 2019

If you’ve followed my work for any length of time, you already know that the Calgary Expo has been my biggest undertaking of the year for the past six years. For people who do trade or gift shows on a regular basis, this sort of thing is routine, so the big deal I make about it each year seems like nothing to them. If I did these sort of shows a lot, I would easily see it from their perspective, but it’s not just the show that’s a challenge, it’s getting away FOR the show.

As half of my business is editorial cartooning, which requires following the news for  a living and producing satirical illustrated commentary almost every day, taking five days away to focus on this show is more difficult than getting away for a vacation. My newspapers still have to be covered and when I get home exhausted late Sunday night, I’ll still be up at 5am on Monday morning drawing cartoons.

Managing the logistics to prep for this show is a lot of work because I also have to keep my papers supplied with cartoons while I’m away, which means drawing more in the week before and hoping no news of great importance breaks while I’m gone, because I can’t just abandon my booth or drive back to Canmore to get a cartoon done in between the show hours.

I’m also an introvert who spends most of time working alone in the comfort of my home, so this event takes a lot out of me, having to be ON for five days, surrounded by a lot of people.

That being said, it’s usually a fun show. Once I’m there, I really do enjoy it, even though Sunday will be a very long slog of a day. I rarely encounter somebody at this show who doesn’t want to be there and few who aren’t having a good time. Each year, my booth gets better, I learn something new for the next go ’round and streamline the process.

I recorded a video this past weekend which showed the booth set up in my garage, offered some thoughts on why I set things up the way I do, and shared it with my newsletter audience. You can watch it here if you like.

Here are some images of the prep this week. Beginning with the two sides of the booth set up in the garage, this is something I do every year to make things easier when I’m on site. With no time pressure, I’m free to leave it set up for a couple of days, nitpicking print placement and trying different things. Then I take photos of the setup and refer to it when I’m on site.


Once I’m happy with it, I pack it all up, go over the checklist and have it all together in one pile, ready to load. The snowshoes stay home.

My trusty Pontiac Vibe may not be the most flashy or cool car around, but you can sure put a lot into it. The cargo capacity on this thing is impressive. There are two six foot tables in here, four 2′ X 6′ pieces of gridwall, two 1′ X 6′ pieces of gridwall and everything you see above. That being said, there is no room for anything else.

“Is there a problem, Officer?”

Once on site Wednesday, I set it all up, made everything nice and tidy, ensured the lights were working, in order to leave as little work for myself as possible when I returned on Thursday.

All that remained was to hang the canvas and aluminum, put the prints in the bins, the magnets on the board, the floor down and turn on the lights. It took about an hour yesterday to finish getting it show ready, the result below.

As I’m writing this in my hotel room Friday morning after the first evening, I was pleased with the first day’s sales, all things considered.

On the positive side of things, quite a few of my repeat customers I’ve gotten to know over the years came by to add to their collections and just to chat and catch up. That really is my favorite part of this show. Some of these people have been buying my work since my first year and I’m always grateful for their support. When more than a few customers greet you with a hug, you’re doing something right.

That being said, there is initially a different feel this year, confirmed by my fellow vendors and some attendees I know pretty well. It doesn’t appear that they sold out of exhibitor space this year which is a bad sign. Usually this show is FULL early on. There used to be a long waiting list.

This year, there’s actual empty space between some booths, you can see that in my above photo. When I arrived on Thursday, my neighbour on the right side of the pic had moved closer to me and said I could take advantage of it as well. I moved my far wall another two feet.

Having extra space at Expo is bizarre. We’re usually fighting for every inch. I know a couple of other vendors in the hall who had the same luxury.

Fan Expo bought the Calgary Expo a couple of years back and while changes were evident last year, the old familiar faces were still around and on the team. I haven’t seen anyone in administration that I recognize this year, so clearly they were obligated to be part of last year’s transition. In my opinion, it was those hardworking folks who made this con what it is and set the tone for the culture.

While clearly a commercial venture on all sides, there was always a feeling that we were all in this together, vendors and organizers. I’ve seen no evidence that exists any longer. Even the announcers sound bored.

Fan Expo (a subsidiary of Informa Exhibitions) doesn’t seem to be popular with the fans. At one time, I had considered doing the Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver Expos, but vendors talk with each other and there’s no incentive for me to give that any more thought. Many have become dissatisfied with those experiences and are abandoning them.

While my sales Thursday night were good, comparable with last year, I credit that to my great location on a main thoroughfare near an entrance, because there were noticeably fewer people in attendance. Thursday is usually quieter anyway, but this was the quietest I’ve ever seen.

Rumblings among the vendors is that the best days of the Calgary Expo might be behind us. One of my close friends, Michelle, a loyal Expo attendee, decided to skip this year. I’ve heard a couple of my neighbouring vendors say that this is their last year and depending on how the weekend goes, we’ll see how I feel about rebooking when Sunday comes.

If this good thing does come to an end and I bid farewell to the Calgary Expo, I’ll be disappointed, just as I was when I stopped attending Photoshop World for very similar reasons. But hanging on, expecting it to become what it used to be would be myopic, foolish and just bad business.

That being said, I still plan to have a good time this weekend, try my best to help others do the same, and I look forward to meeting and greeting my customers, both old and new.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Showing Up

eaglepat At this weekend’s Calgary Expo Holiday Market, a neighbouring vendor mentioned that it’s probably healthy for us to get out of our own orbits, to network with new people, actually talk face to face with customers. While my instinct is to shy away from that, I know she was right.

She added, “Besides, it’s nice to listen to people tell you how much they like your stuff for an entire weekend.”

Over the course of this weekend, I found myself questioning the value of trade shows, mostly because I’ve gone from doing only the one each year, adding another and am considering more.

So you don’t mistake the following mixed feelings with a misconception that this here hermit artist just doesn’t know how to talk with people, I’ve worked more years in customer service than I have as an artist. I know how to play the sales game.

I was in retail and hotels for years before I became self-employed. I managed a waterslide facility full of screaming children and worked a hotel front desk over multiple Christmas holidays and sold out summers in one of the busiest tourist towns in the world. I’ve smiled through a guest check-in while they’ve told me everything had better be perfect, and again during their check-out when it wasn’t.

I didn’t sit down while in my trade show booth, not once through the entire weekend. Sitting down tells people they’re bothering you and most will just move on. I wasn’t on my phone all the time, or sketching, or standing with my arms crossed. When somebody walked by the booth, I smiled, said Hello, engaged them in conversation, made small talk. If I noticed people looking, but they hadn’t approached, I invited them over to take a look. They most often did and often bought as a result. No sales pressure, just being friendly.

I tell you this not to sound like a martyr. Most people who work customer service know they must do the exact same thing, or at least the successful ones do.

As this Holiday show was put on by the same people who do the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring, they marketed it to their regular attendees. From this vendor’s perspective, that was great as I’ve gotten to know a number of customers over the four years I’ve been doing Expo. Many have purchased more than once and have become collectors of my work. I do look forward to Expo each year, because prior to being a vendor, I was an attendee. It’s an event I enjoy.

There were a number of familiar faces that approached me, asked what was new and bought some more prints. One gentleman, who owns a few of my prints already, bought his first canvas print. A couple of my Facebook followers came by to visit and both bought prints. Up until now, they’ve been names I recognize from likes/comments. It was a real pleasure to talk to them in person and I was flattered that they made the time to come down and see me.

I was able to chit chat with my neighbour in the next booth and as she’s a regular Expo vendor and sells at many other shows, her insight was valuable.

These are the benefits that are hard to quantify. There is no specific dollar value, nothing that can be put on a balance sheet, but the information and connections you gain from networking will most definitely contribute to the bottom line in the future.

As for the cons, those are more personal. I’m a results oriented person, which often isn’t associated with people in the arts. If I’m not using my time well, then I view that time as wasted.

When I go for a hike, it’s because I know that my senior years will be painful and difficult if I don’t stay fit. Most days, I’d rather just stay in and work, but I force myself to get out and walk those 6-10km, often with a 20 pound backpack which includes a couple of cameras. If I see a squirrel, bird, or something larger, I can take a photo that might end up being used for reference. I also come up with cartoon ideas on my walks. I’ll walk downtown on an errand, rather than drive, not because I’m being environmentally conscious, it’s just multi-tasking.

I don’t do idle well. So while I’m standing in the booth in a slow period, saying Hi to people that walk by, just looking ready to engage, I’m thinking that I could be writing on my iPad, or drawing a cartoon in my sketch book, or perusing the news on my phone. But that would make me look unapproachable and that’s bad for sales.

While some can relax for days on end while on vacation, lying on a beach doing nothing for longer than an hour is torture for me. Let’s go tour a ruin, learn something new or have a new experience. Thankfully, my wife has the same outlook.

boothThe trade show experience, as a result, feels like I’m wasting a lot of time that could be spent producing more work. It took me almost four hours to set up my booth on Friday and two hours to tear it down and pack the car Sunday evening. There was also the drive time to and from, which amounted to three hours total for Calgary.

I could have gotten a lot of painting done in that time, a blog post, or a few editorial cartoons.

The idea of doing multiple Christmas shows fills me with dread. I don’t set foot in a shopping mall between now and January to avoid the madness and festival frenzy. The idea of going on tour to different cities to experience that very thing seems horrific to me. Luckily the weather was great this weekend, but I thought about what it would be like doing this sort of thing when there’s a whiteout on icy roads in a packed car, sharing the road with aggressive Alberta drivers looking at their phones. Sugar plums dancing? More like animal prints littering the ditch.

We canceled our Thanksgiving plans this year because the roads were treacherous. Canceling a booth with all of the associated costs would be pricey.

A period of evaluation lies ahead of me. How much of this do I want to do? How much of my best energy (the stuff I rely on to create!) do I spend on this sort of thing, especially at a time of year when that energy is in shortest supply? Psychologically, winter is when I struggle most, when I am much closer to the bottom than the top, for months at a time.

There is a certain amount of self-doubt about this where I think, “Am I just shying away from this because it’s different, out of my comfort zone, or a foreign experience?” But then there is also the confidence that comes with age where you also know who you are and that what works for one person might not work for you. I’m an atheist, but the serenity prayer comes to mind.

Living your life by somebody else’s playbook, especially in a profession where being unique is the ideal, doesn’t make any sense.

On the surface, sales were decent, but if I factor in everything from my print costs, hotel, food, parking, booth rental and power, then my end profit amounted to less than a minimum hourly wage for all of the prep, setup, time on site, tear down and post-work at home.  When I looked at that final number after calculating all of the expense, I thought, “That’s it? For all of that work?”

I don’t feel that way when I get my payments for editorial cartoons, licensing royalties, commissions from the galleries or payments from the zoos. Because when somebody else is selling my work, I’m producing more work.

I’ll be overthinking this for some time. It will factor into whether or not I add more shows or commit to a season of the Canmore Market next spring, summer and fall. I lost money on the first Expo I did and barely made any money on the second, but if not for those first two, I wouldn’t have made money on the next two and this past spring Expo was a really great year. But I also like doing that show, and that matters, too.

As with most decisions in self-employment, there are no easy answers. There’s no map. Most of the time, it’s just feeling around in a dark room looking for a light switch. And when you finally find one, it illuminates a very small area and you’re once again squinting into the dark, looking for the next light switch.
beaverpat

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Calgary Expo 2014 – The Wrap Up!

BoothWEB

This year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo has come and gone.  Much more than a ‘Comic-con,’ the event attracts some of the biggest names on the circuit and with attendance approaching 100,000 this year; it has become one of the largest of its kind in North America.

Many types of vendors flock to the Expo, including artists.  2013 was my first year with a booth and it was an incredible learning experience.  I spent a fair bit of money on display hardware, retail walls, print bins and other equipment you don’t think about until you have to, so the first year wasn’t a money maker.  I brought far too many prints with me, so with what I brought home, I just ended up with inventory that eventually sold throughout the year at About Canada in Banff, the Calgary Zoo, and my online store.

Armed with a little experience (a dangerous thing?), I started my 2014 prep early, bought fewer prints, added postcards to the mix (btw: VERY successful), and tweaked my plans to streamline things a little before setting up my booth for my second year.

Between the daily editorial cartoons, illustration gigs, and the paintings that I never seem to have enough time for, adding even one trade show to an already busy schedule is a frantic juggling act. Talking with other artists who do this sort of thing, seems we’re all just two seconds away from panic and padded rooms.

GollumWEBThe addition of a fourth day this year, really just four hours, was an unwelcome fly in the ointment.  While the Stampede grounds in Calgary are only an hour and half drive from Canmore, the odds this time of year that the weather could turn foul (especially this year) meant that commuting every morning and night was unwise.  Long days in the booth without a break were exhausting, which made falling asleep at the wheel a real possibility.  Adding a fourth day meant taking an extra day away from my office last week in order to set up, plus another night in a hotel, an expense that wasn’t justified by Thursday “just looking today” sales.

I figured I could handle Thursday and Friday by myself and it really wasn’t difficult.  The time went by fast and when I needed a bathroom break, my next door neighbours were happy to mind my booth for me. For the most part, there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie among the vendors.  We’re all in this together.

My wife, Shonna, arrived on Saturday.  Our friend Michelle was attending the event and graciously agreed to bring my lovely assistant to my aid.  On Saturday and Sunday, the two busiest days of Expo, I really did need help at the booth and I couldn’t have asked for better.  I wouldn’t have done so well had it not been for Shonna’s support, and that pretty much applies to my whole life in general.

While traffic ebbed and flowed, it was busy most of the time.  People wanted to talk, asked a lot of questions about the work and seemed genuinely interested.  Most artists want to stand out from the crowd, and many told me they’d never seen anything like my paintings, sweet music to my ears.   One woman said that they looked like, “cartoon animals who found a way to come into the real world.”

I really liked that.

It was a great feeling to recognize a common reaction to my paintings.  Folks would be walking down the aisle, scanning their surroundings, and when their eyes settled on my booth, they’d suddenly stop and smile.  It happened more times than I could count and most didn’t even know they were doing it.  It got so that Shonna started mentioning it to them.  They’d smile, give a nudge to whomever they were with and then they’d come over.

It made me think of Kermit the Frog in the Muppet Movie.  Dom Deluise’s character gets Kermit to consider leaving the swamp only when he tells him that he could ‘make millions of people happy.’  There are worse aspirations.

While there isn’t a lot of opportunity for networking when the event is in full swing, I did have some good conversations with nearby vendors.  I couldn’t really leave my booth to wander and look around, but one thing about staying in one spot, eventually everybody walks by, so I did get to see some of the great outfits.  Many enthusiastic people dress up (cosplay) as favorite characters from TV,film, comic books and video games, putting a lot of effort into their costumes.

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Costumes02WEBOne of the great surprises this year was repeat customers.  People who bought a print or two last year came back to buy more.  Best of all, we recognized many of them.  I had plenty of people who said they’d seen my work before but couldn’t figure out where.  When I mentioned the Calgary Zoo and About Canada in Banff, light would dawn in their eyes.  Many needed no prompting at all, they just told me where they’d seen it, and some had even bought my prints at those venues.

This face to face connection and recognition isn’t something I get while working alone at home or through interaction on social media.  It was very gratifying.

While I’m comfortable talking to people and public speaking doesn’t faze me, I’m a very private person and spend most of my time alone.  Being ‘on’ for four days in customer service mode was mentally and physically exhausting.  I was so drained on Monday that I managed to get one cartoon out and spent the rest of the day in a daze, interrupted by a few naps.

There is no doubt in my mind, however, that I want to repeat and improve upon the experience in 2015, especially since it will be a milestone 10th year for the show.  I’ve already booked my booth again and even asked for the same spot.  Each year teaches me something new and I learned a lot this time around.  I’ll be going into my third year with a more solid foundation and a better idea of how to streamline things, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and with some new ideas I’d like to try.

Even though I cut back from last year’s order and did very well, I still came home with more prints than I wanted, mostly from fear of not having enough for the whole weekend.  So once again, I’m having a big post-Expo print sale and everything in the store is up to 30% off.

One of these days I’ll figure the inventory right.  Until then, I’ll just keep trying.

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