Despite a few last-minute details, I’ve finished most of my prep for the Calgary Expo, including some stranger preparations most people don’t think about, like spraying my tablecloths and grid wall fabric with a fresh treatment of fire retardant. It’s like any other kind of insurance or safety requirement; it seems unnecessary until somebody checks or something bad happens.
They forewarn vendors about the regulations and that the Fire Marshal is on scene at this event, so better safe than sorry. Last year they stopped at my booth and asked if my lights were halogen. Thankfully, I was using LED bulbs.
At several shows, I’ve often heard some vendors express relief at getting just enough sales to cover their booth cost. But that’s only a small part of the expense of an event like this.
The Calgary Expo sees 90,000 people over four days; it’s a big show with over 800 exhibitors. My corner retail booth costs over $1200. Electrical power is $135.00, parking for five days is $66, and my hotel for four nights is over $600.00.
Liability and booth insurance for this one event is $88. I write my mileage off over the year, so I don’t consider gas in my show expenses, but depending on whether you bring your food or eat at restaurants, that can add up.
My equipment and display hardware are multiple-year expenses, so I don’t calculate that per show. But even before I stock the booth with stickers, magnets, coasters, prints, puzzles, aluminum, canvas and metal prints, my corner retail booth in the Exhibition Hall at the Calgary Expo costs over $2100. I don’t make any money at this show until I’ve sold that much.
Even then, every item I sell has a cost. Professional printing, cellophane sleeves, backer boards, artist bios and shipping are deducted from each print sale before there is a profit—the same for other products.
But a show like this one is well worth the investment.
“What’s new this year?” is something I hear a lot at Expo.
I’m always painting new images, so I invite people to scan the walls and flip through the bins because that’s the best way to discover the latest pieces, and sometimes they’ll find one they didn’t see last time.
But with quite a few new poster prints this year, here they are. They’re each hand-signed, and 11”X14” which includes the white border. It’s an easy to find size at most stores that sell frames. The title, website and signature stamp are not on the actual print. The following paintings were not available at last year’s Expo.
While the Tarantula and Angry Bear might not appeal to everybody, I ordered those prints specifically for this event. If there’s an audience for these paintings, it will be at The Calgary Expo. I’m looking forward to the reaction, as I like both pieces.
For many of my paintings, it takes some settling time after I complete them before I know if I really like them. Of these most recent paintings, I realized that Bugle Boy, my painting of a bull elk, might be a personal favourite. I don’t know if it’s the texture I painted in his rack, the personality or the colour, but I loved seeing this piece in print, and I hadn’t expected that.
It’ll be interesting to see if it resonates with anybody else.
I’ve only got a few canvas prints this year, but a couple of dozen matte metal in 12”X16” and 18”X24”. Because I already had a nice selection of those in my inventory, I only ordered five new ones on 12”X16” metal. I can, however, custom order any of my paintings on metal or canvas at any time, in a variety of sizes.
I’m a much better painter than photographer, so the print colour, clarity and detail are always much better in person than in photos. Here are the new 12″X16″ metal prints, ready to hang.
Many people buy four-day passes for this show, but others come for only one day. Saturday is the leader when it comes to crowd volume and sales. All four days are usually good, but I’m trying out some daily specials for the other three this year.
DAILY SPECIALS Thursday: A free high-quality vinyl sticker with every print purchase. Friday: $20 OFF any matte metal or canvas print. Sunday: A free gift with purchase of $25 or more.
Of course, if you’re a repeat customer, you can mention any of these specials on any day of the show, and I’ll happily reward your loyalty.
If you’ve been in my booth before, there’s an excellent chance I’ll remember you. I’m great with faces but not so much with names. So please stop by and say Hello, and (re)introduce yourself, especially if you’re a subscriber to A Wilder View and we’ve never met. I always love to say Thank You in person.
If you’ve followed my work for a long time (hey, thank you!), you’ll know how much I look forward to the Calgary Expo each year. This year, it’s happening from April 27th to 30th. With the Wednesday setup day, that’s a five day event for me.
Like everything else, the pandemic knocked the event on its ass, but they’ve recovered well. Last year’s Expo had some hiccups, but once it got started, I had a great time. People were thrilled to be out and about again.
It was also my best year of sales, which certainly didn’t hurt.
I received my booth assignment last week. For my eighth year as a Calgary Expo vendor, I’ll be in Hall C, Booth 522. While still in the Retail section, it’ll be my first year outside of the main hall.
In my first few years, I had a Small Press table. That’s when Artist Alley and retailers were all in the same area. But the show kept getting bigger. So they eventually eliminated Small Press and moved Artist Alley to a different building. That year, I upgraded to a full-size booth to remain in the Retail section.
People have often asked me why I’m not in Artist Alley. It’s a section at most Comic-Cons where new artists can afford to book a table at a big event to sell their prints and other items. But that section hosts many established artists and comic art guests, too.
Despite the higher cost, I stayed in the retail section for several reasons.
First, I wanted lights in my booth; power was not an option in Artist Alley. I don’t know if that has changed, but you can’t rely on any venue to have consistent and bright overhead lighting. I put a lot of work into my art’s detail, colour and printing, and I want direct lighting to showcase that. Power is an added fee, but well worth it.
The second reason I wanted to stay in the retail section was that the booth space and aisles are bigger. Artist Alley is packed tight with vendor tables, not booths. I like having an open area in my booth where people can step out of the crowded aisles. They can look at the art, flip through the prints, and ask questions without being bumped and jostled.
I redesigned my booth last year and it worked so well for me, that I’m making no changes, except that I have invested in new lighting this year. As there was a pillar behind me, rather than another booth, I was able to expand a couple of feet. But I’ve got vendors right up against me on both sides this year, so I’ll have to stick to my 10’x10’ footprint.
I was initially disappointed that I’m not in the main hall this year, but to be fair, I don’t yet know if it matters. I booked a single corner booth and with this year’s new layout, it seems the main room only has six available. Every other corner is either a double or quadruple booth. It does say on the rebooking application that Single corner booths are not guaranteed.
Last year, there were noticeable gaps where more retail booths could have fit. This year, there are more retailers in the main hall, many with double booths.
Hall C was an open area Community and Family zone in 2022. This year, the same area houses 73 new retail booths, including mine.
It’s a much bigger show.
If I weren’t selling my artwork there, I’d still attend the Calgary Expo because it’s a lot of fun. People from all walks of life can be themselves in this festival atmosphere. Families attend this event together, and I honestly don’t know who enjoys it more, the adults or the kids.
Aside from the much smaller version I attended in 2021, it’s been ten years since I’ve been able to walk the show or enjoy the events, talks, and displays. I might get a half hour each day before the show opens to quickly wander the booths, but it’s not enough. I didn’t even make it to the Big Four building last year to check out Artist Alley.
So, when I got my booth assignment, I emailed people I know who come to the Expo every year and are more familiar with the different areas. These two couples are among my favourite supporters and collectors, the people I love seeing each year at this event. They’ve also become friends and generously stop by the booth several times to chat and watch my booth if I need a quick bathroom break.
I asked them what they thought of my new location. Both replied that the Main Stage in that hall is busy all day with panels and talks, and there’s likely to be plenty of regular traffic with the new addition of so many booths.
I went into last year’s event with low expectations. With the pandemic winding down but still active, I didn’t know if people would even attend a crowded indoor venue. But they did, some in masks, most without, though I know several people who tested positive for COVID immediately after Expo.
I had considered emailing the organizers asking for a booth in the main hall should anybody cancel, but I decided not to give in to fear. The bottom line is that I have no idea if it will be better or worse than my previous spots. It might be a prime location. Each year, I’m fortunate to know more people familiar with my work. Rather than rely on their stumbling across my booth, they actively seek me out. So I can always count on seeing my regular customers.
As for the prep, this has been my easiest year. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of sales records from each event. I know which prints, magnets, coasters, and stickers sell best and how many I need to order each year. Of course, I bring extra in case I have an exceptional year, and any new prints are always a gamble as I don’t yet know which will be popular. The Calgary Expo is a great proving ground for the latest paintings.
Everything I’ve ordered has arrived, and I’ve been busy signing and packaging prints, but I have a lot of experience with this show, so it’s low-stress this year.
Many of my subscribers are Expo veterans, and I look forward to seeing you all again. Even if you don’t add to your collections this year, please stop by and say Hello. You’re the main reason I enjoy this show.
I’ll have another update soon, including a feature on the brand-new prints I’m launching at this year’s Expo.
One evening when Shonna and I were first dating, we watched the fun comedy horror movie Arachnophobia with her mom and stepfather. The movie over, I sat in front of the TV to rewind and remove the rented VHS tape. Yes, it was a long, long time ago.
With my back to the room, I didn’t notice Shonna’s cat, Princess, walking up behind me, looking for attention. After two hours of spiders on the brain, I jumped when her whiskers touched my bare arm. To this day, Shonna swears I levitated. Her late stepfather Ivar was crying from laughing so hard, and the cat looked at me as if to say, “what’s your problem?”
Spiders. They certainly push the phobia button for many people, including me.
Multiple legs propel them at seemingly impossible speeds as they find their way under shirt collars or up pant legs. They lie in wait, between sheets and sleeping bags, hiding in dark corners and crevices, waiting to sink their dagger-like fangs into our flesh and inject their killer poison. Or worse, they can’t wait to lay their eggs in our ears.
At least, that’s the nightmare we imagine.
Reality is a lot less frightening, though not for them. Many households have a designated spider killer. But, like most natural creatures, they have much more to fear from us than we from them.
Spiders are fascinating creatures. They keep more invasive insect species in check, including aphids and caterpillars that can decimate crops. They help control the populations of other insects that spread disease.
According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, “It is estimated that less than three deaths per year occur from spider bites. However, most victims are children. Most of the 20,000 species of spiders found in the United States are poisonous, but their fangs are too short or too fragile to break through human skin. The bites of most spiders cause only minor, local reactions.”
Mosquitoes kill a million people each year. While they’re annoying, we hardly fear them to the extent we do spiders. The bite from a tarantula is comparable to a bee sting in both pain and repercussions. If you’re not allergic, it’s unlikely even to make you sick.
The other day, Shonna came home from work and mentioned she’d seen a little spider on the wall inside our front door and wondered what had happened to it. I had seen the same spider earlier in the day and told her it was too cold to put it outside, so I left it alone. It was likely still in the house somewhere. Yet, miraculously, we both keep waking up each morning. Surely we should be dead by now.
For many of us, our first reaction is revulsion and shivers. But, just like with every other animal that scares me (BEARS!), knowledge rarely cancels out irrational fear.
In the fall of 2021, the Calgary Expo had a much smaller mid-pandemic version of the event. Like it was for many people, it had been a financially challenging year, and I didn’t think paying for a booth would be worth the investment, given the reduced attendance.
As a vendor, I usually only have a limited time to look around if I arrive early each day before the doors open. So, it was fun to buy a ticket and attend the event with my buddy, Derek, who brought along his daughter and her friend.
For a small fee, I had the opportunity to hold a tarantula. Of course, I had visions of this hairy little beast running up my arm and sinking its fangs into my neck (why my neck?!) or crawling across my face (OK, that one comes from Aliens), but I knew that in the real world, I had little to fear.
Once in my hands, I was amazed at how light she was. They’re quite fragile, so I knew the spider would die if I dropped it. Suddenly, my biggest concern was not to hurt this delicate creature, and I loved the experience, one I would repeat without hesitation.
Derek took some photos for me, and I’ve wanted to paint this tarantula ever since, though I doubt it will be a popular print. I just wanted to try it.
But how would I make this hairy little nightmare appealing? I know it’s possible because animator Joshua Slice did it several years ago when he created Lucas the Spider, a character based on a Jumping Spider.
As an aside, those two words together are terrifying for anybody with even a little arachnophobia.
Lucas the Spider is adorable and became a series of animated shorts and eventually a show on the Cartoon Network. However, a large part of his appeal was his movements, toddler’s voice and that he blinks. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to achieve any connection with a painting.
A tarantula’s mouth is on the underside of its body, so I couldn’t very well have it smiling. The character had to be in the eyes. But with no eyelids or bone structure to help with expression, I wasn’t sure if any personality would appear.
And yet, the natural features below his eyes suggested a moustache and maybe the illusion of a mouth. Humans are geared to see patterns. It’s called Pareidolia, just one of the weird ways our brains are wired. It’s why we see shapes in clouds, the man in the moon, or a religious figure in a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s suspected to be tied to survival and recognizing environmental threats.
I didn’t see the imagined face in this spider until the last few hours, but once I did, I couldn’t unsee it.
I showed the finished painting to Shonna yesterday morning, convinced she wouldn’t like it. But the first thing she said was, “he’s cute.”
Keeping a blog is handy when I write a year-end wrap-up because I don’t have to remember what happened. So here are some of the standouts from this year.
While on a cabin trip last year, my buddy Darrel suggested my work might lend itself well to vinyl stickers people put on vehicle windows. So, I designed a few, sourced a production company, and realized he was onto something.
The ten designs have done well with regular re-orders at the Calgary Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, and Stonewaters in Canmore. They were also popular at Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets. This week, I reordered a bunch and added two new designs. In the upcoming year, I’ll be working to get these into more stores.
The NFT boom goes bust
Earlier this year, I thought there might be a market selling NFTs of some of my paintings. I read a lot of information, entertained offers from online galleries, and eventually signed with one. They were professional and good to work with, but then the entire crypto art market fell apart.
Thankfully, I lost no money on the experiment. I never bought any cryptocurrency or paid for my own NFT minting. The time I lost was an educational experience, and I have no regrets. You will never have any success without risk. Kevin Kelly once said, “If you’re not falling down occasionally, you’re just coasting.”
Will NFTs come back into favour? I doubt it.
Cartoon Commendation I don’t usually enter editorial cartoon contests, but I made an exception this year for the World Press Freedom Competition. I’d already drawn the cartoon above that fit the theme, and the top three prizes included a financial award. Though I hadn’t expected much, I won 2nd place and the prize money paid for most of my new guitar.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook is our local weekly paper. I’ve been their cartoonist since it began in 2001, and I’ve never missed an issue. National awards matter to weekly papers as they lend credibility to the publication, especially when soliciting advertisers who pay for it. The Outlook enters my work into the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards each year.The CCNAs didn’t happen last year because of the pandemic, so they awarded two years at once this time. For Best Local Cartoon, I won First, Second and Third for 2020 and Second and Third for 2021 in their circulation category.
Given there are fewer local papers each year and even fewer local cartoonists, I wonder if the multiple awards say more about the lack of competition than the quality of my work. Regardless, the recognition is still welcome.The problem with local cartoons is that you kind of have to live here to understand most of them. So the ones I’ve shared here are a random selection of local and national topics. Between the five or six syndicated editorial cartoons I create each week, plus the local cartoon for The Outlook, I drew 313 editorial cartoons this year.Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets
I know artists who do the gift and market circuit all year long. For some, it’s their entire living, and they do well. Others try it for a few years, don’t make any money, and move on to something else. It can be a real grind.
More than once, I’ve considered getting a bigger vehicle, a tent and the display and booth hardware I would need to do the fair and market circuit in the warmer months and the holiday shows in November and December.
But with daily editorial cartoon deadlines, long days away and travelling each week are next to impossible. I enjoy working in my office every day and have no desire to spend a lot of my time driving and staying in hotels.
The one big show I look forward to each year is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April, five long days, including a full day for setup. So when the full event reemerged from its two-year pandemic hiatus, I was excited to return.
Not only was 2022 my best year of sales to date, but it was also great fun. I’m already looking forward to the 2023 event, though I’m tempering my expectations with a possible looming recession. Then again, I didn’t think this year would be good, and I was happily proven wrong.
There were several Mountain Made Markets this year, with weekend events every month from May to December. Held indoors at the Canmore Civic Centre, it’s an easy setup close to home, so it’s worth my time.
Each market was profitable, and I enjoyed introducing new people to my work, meeting subscribers in person and visiting with customers, vendors and friends. Significant changes are coming for that event this year. Whether good or bad remains to be seen, but I hope to do more of them in 2023.
If you’ve ever bought a face mask, magnet, coaster, or calendar from me, those come from Pacific Music & Art, just a handful of the many items they sell. I often hear from people who’ve bought a trivet in Banff, a coffee mug in Alaska, or an art card in Washington.
Licensing allows me to spend my time painting and still reach new markets and audiences. I signed a few new deals this year with Art Licensing International agency, a company that has represented my work for several years. Agencies might have many more contacts, but they take a big chunk of the royalties, so it’s a double-edged sword. I prefer to find most licenses on my own.
Sometimes companies cold call me. When Diamond Art Club contacted me about licensing my work, I had barely heard of diamond art kits.
Though there was a lead time of many months, the Otter kit finally launched this summer and sold out in days. Producing these kits involves more than simply printing the image on an item, so it took a few months for them to restock that first piece, but it’s again available on their site.
More diamond art kit designs are coming in 2023, but I’m not allowed to share which ones yet.
I signed a new contract last week for ten of my images with an overseas company for another product, but that, too, will be something I can’t share until the middle of next year. Licensing usually involves quite a bit of time between signing contracts and actual production, so it’s work now that pays later.
Come to think of it, that’s a good way of looking at commercial art in general. Every piece I paint is an investment in future revenue.
As I wrote about my latest commission earlier this week, here’s the link if you’d like to see and read about the pet portraits I painted this year.
Every year, I begin with great plans and expectations, but things go off the rails or new opportunities show up, and the whole year becomes a series of course corrections. All I can do for delayed projects important to me is try again.
I tend to slip into a fall melancholy or winter depression most years. When it happens, I often throw my efforts into a personal project, usually painting a portrait of a screen character. I’ve painted several portraits of people, and many result in great stories to go with them. Here’s the John Dutton character painting I did last year.I realized earlier this month that I wouldn’t get to one this year, even though I had already chosen someone to paint. While disappointed, not having the time was likely due to the work I put into the markets, something I hadn’t done in previous years. However, my latest commission of Luna almost felt like a personal piece because I so enjoyed that painting.
I still had down days this fall, especially with our brutally cold November and December. But September and October were beautiful and right before the weather turned, I had a great cabin trip with my buddy, Darrel.
So the seasonal depression wasn’t as dark as it has been in recent years, and for that, I’m grateful.
On a sunny June day in Calgary, a woman ran a red light and wrote off Shonna’s car. While we had no immediately apparent injuries, we’ve been sharing one vehicle ever since and likely will until sometime in the middle of next year. Unfortunately, everything we can find, used or new, is overpriced, and we’ve heard many stories of fraudulent car dealers adding extra fees and playing bait-and-switch games. As if the near criminal behaviour of our own insurance company wasn’t bad enough.
But we bought Pedego Element e-bikes and love them. Canmore is easier to get around by bike than car, and it has become a necessity since they brought in paid parking. So we were both disappointed when winter arrived with a vengeance in November, and we had to put them away. While we had planned to get studded tires and ride the bikes all winter, as many around here do, 20″ studded fat tires are just one more item on the long list of global supply problems.
We had a wonderful vacation in August, glamping and kayaking for a week off northern Vancouver Island, a 25th-anniversary trip we had postponed at the beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the best adventures we’ve ever had.
I bought a silent acoustic guitar this year and began to play music again. It’s always within arm’s reach of my desk, and I’ve been playing it almost every day, sometimes for ten minutes, but most often for an hour or more. With regular practice, I’m a better musician now than I’ve ever been, and it’s a lot of fun, especially bringing it on a couple of cabin trips.Best of all, there is no chance I will ever play guitar for a living. It’s a purely creative escape with no responsibility to pay my bills.
Including the two commissions, I completed nine full-resolution production pieces this year. I wanted to paint more.
Best I can figure, preparing for and attending the additional Mountain Made Markets this year ate up a lot of time and energy, especially on weekends when I do a lot of my painting. I still had to create the same number of editorial cartoons each week but sacrificed painting time. That’s valuable information to have when considering future markets and shows. While those might give me more opportunities to sell the work, they steal from time creating it.
I’ve put together another video to share this year’s painted work. Most of these are finished paintings, with a few works in progress.
Hundreds of new people subscribed to A Wilder View in 2022. My sincere thanks to you who’ve been with me for years and those who just joined the ride. Whatever challenges you face in the coming year, I hope the occasional funny-looking animal in your inbox gives you a smile and makes life a little bit easier, if only for a moment or two.
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.
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.
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.
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? ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.