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Sleepy Bear

It was tough to call this one finished as I was really enjoying it, especially over the last few days. I started it in the middle of October, but with editorial cartoons, a commission on deadline, and all of the other obligations of art for a living, it was tough finding the time to sit down and get lost in this piece.

The model for this painting was Manuka, a seven year old “white” black bear who lives at The Calgary Zoo. She’s a beautiful bear, a favorite of mine.

Manuka was a rescue from Elkford, BC in 2014 where she had become a nuisance bear, too familiar with people. It’s sadly a common tale; we see it in Canmore and Banff all the time. People leave food out on their decks, fail to keep clean campsites or tourists will actually feed bears on the side of the road, despite the many warnings from conservation officials or locals.

When a bear becomes habituated, associating people with food, there are usually only a few options. The bear can be relocated, which doesn’t have a high success rate, or it will be destroyed as it becomes a danger to people. Sadly, there are usually no consequences for the people who are responsible for the bear becoming habituated in the first place.

In rare cases, the bear might find a home at a rescue facility, like The Calgary Zoo or Discovery Wildlife Park, where their dependence on humans isn’t a problem. The bears then provide an opportunity for folks who work in conservation to educate the public on why we need to protect these animals, and be responsible while enjoying the great outdoors.

Manuka lives with two other black bears and they seem to get along quite well. They’ll often be seen chasing each other and playing in their large enclosure, which includes water and rock features, logs, trees and dens.

There is a massive prominent tree in that enclosure, and while all of the bears like climbing on it, often scaling it incredibly fast with ease, there is a large green platform about 30 feet up. Manuka can often be found up there napping, which is the reference I used for this painting. She looked right at the lens, slowly opening and closing her eyes, and I was thrilled when I got home and saw the photos I knew would inspire a painting.

I took the reference pics for this piece in August of last year, but when I started working on it last month, we were surrounded by fall colours. With the sleepy nature of the pose, the fact that the bears around here were getting ready to bed down for the winter, it seemed an appropriate palette and theme. I also expected to have it done before the season turned, but for reasons I mentioned above, it just didn’t happen.
Above is a practice piece I did of Manuka a couple of years ago, in the spring when she and her roommates were just waking up, but I hadn’t done a fully rendered painting of her until now. I’m glad I waited because I’m quite pleased with the results. Painting that fur while looking at that happy sleep face, I was reminded how fortunate I am to do this for a living.

This was painted in Adobe Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. As always, photos are never part of my paintings, only used for reference. The finished file is 30″X40″. Prints should be available sometime in the New Year, both in my online store and at The Calgary Zoo.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Snow Leopard Totem

SnowLeopardTotemWith each animal I paint, there’s something unique about the experience. Sometimes it will be an especially challenging feature or the pose might not work the way I had imagined. While I find a way to overcome it and always learn something new, some of these paintings end up being a lot more fun than others. Lemme tell ya, a few have felt like downright work. Tough life, I know.

The challenge on this Snow Leopard was finishing it, primarily because it’s some of the most enjoyment I’ve ever had from a painting. I don’t even know why, but it was just fun, especially when the personality showed up. That experience is often as subtle as a sigh, but this time, it practically announced itself, as if throwing open a door. It was cool. I stopped painting when it happened and enjoyed the moment. That’s happened before, but I don’t remember the last time, so it’s a rare occurrence.

One of the reasons this painting hit home with me is that I hadn’t planned it. With some of the other animals I’ve done, I’ve thought about it and deliberately gone looking for reference, either from shots I’ve taken, requests to photographer friends, or stock photos. I may hang on to some of those pics for a while, but in the back of my mind, I still know I’m eventually going to paint that animal.

To my best recollection, I’ve never once had the forethought that I’d be painting a snow leopard.
KareshThis past September, I had an exceptional day at The Calgary Zoo. In addition to getting more meerkat photos, which are always fun, the hippos were out of the pool and seemed to be having a good time while one of the keepers sprayed water at them. They were opening their mouths, had bright eyes and after three years of trying, I finally got the reference photos I needed for my upcoming Hippo Totem. That would have been enough to qualify as a good day. I would have walked to my car and drove back to Canmore with a feeling of accomplishment.

But with time to kill and space still on the camera cards, I wandered around to the other enclosures, looking for opportunities. It had been raining, so the zoo wasn’t very busy. The red pandas weren’t around, but they just had a kid, so they were probably up all night. The wild boars were out, but they were covered in mud and I just couldn’t get any decent shots, and I was about to call it a day.
KareshStareOn my walk back, I saw that Karesh, the resident snow leopard had just been fed and he was lively. Bounding around his enclosure, playing in the wet grass, suddenly I was snapping shot after shot, ones I wouldn’t normally expect to get. He was practically posing, often within feet of the glass wall separating us. Then he’d look right at me and I could see in his face the Totem I wanted to paint. I might have giggled. I’m not proud.

I usually go through my photos the same day I take them, weeding out the bad ones quickly so I don’t procrastinate and end up with thousands of photos I’ll never use. Even after being really picky with the shots, I still ended up with a few dozen good ones and at least twenty I could paint from. The hardest part of this painting was choosing which ones not to use.
KareshProfileGiven the choice, I would have started painting this one right away, but we were in the midst of a federal election with plenty of editorial cartoons to draw, I had three commissions pending, a Gorilla Totem half-finished and a Panda Totem that had to be done before the end of the year as I had promised it to The Toronto Zoo. The Snow Leopard had to wait, but it was worth it. I’m glad this was my first painting of 2016, as it starts my artistic year off on a high.

This truly was a joy to paint and I kept nitpicking it, convinced I could make it just a little better if I only spent another hour on it, which would no doubt stretch out to two, then three, then four hours. I recently heard somebody say something quite fitting regarding creative pursuits, a lesson I’ve been forcing myself to learn. Better done than perfect. So, I had to call it.

I’m pleased with this painting and grateful for the experience. From start to finish, it reminded me that right here, right now, this is the work I want to do more than anything else, and while I’ve hit my stride, my best work is still yet to come.

And very soon, I still get to paint that Hippo.

Cheers,
Patrick
SnowLeopardClose

This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD display. Photos were only used for reference. If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!

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Panda Totem

PandaTotemHere’s one that I’ve wanted to paint for quite some time. There have been times where I’ve had galleries and others asking me to add a Totem to the series for marketing reasons and it hasn’t always worked out the way I’ve wanted it to. On a couple of occasions, the painting ended up feeling forced and I didn’t have much fun with it, because it seemed like I was painting it at the wrong time.

At other times, however, the request coincides nicely with the desire to paint that animal and I’ve been pleased with the result. This is one of those times.

The Toronto Zoo has a couple of pandas on a five year loan from China and they are proving to be very popular. This year, they were successfully bred and two panda cubs are currently being well cared for. Panda cubs are delicate and they won’t be available to the public for some time, although the zoo has been posting some pretty adorable photos.

I approached the Toronto Zoo to add my Totem prints to their retail program this year and they are eager to place a large order in January, which will include animals in my current portfolio and a few I’ve yet to paint. The Panda Totem was one they requested.
PandaCloseupI’m pleased with how this one turned out, especially since it was one of the easier paintings I’ve done. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to take my own reference photos on this one, so I relied on stock footage. My friend Scott had some credits that were about to expire and he graciously offered them to me, for this painting and a few others I’ll paint in the future.

With those new photos and some of the others I’d already bought, I used about four different head-shots for this one and three different bodies, each offering me detail and anatomy that wasn’t available in the others.

Some paintings I’ve done have been arduous, where I had great difficulty getting the anatomy right, or the expression, personality, lighting. My Bighorn Sheep Totem is especially memorable for being a real slog. But this painting flowed nicely, was quite fun and didn’t take nearly as long as many of the others. It was nice to have such a smooth painting experience this time.

I’ll be printing this one in January and it will be available in the online store by the end of next month. The Calgary Zoo has already expressed interest in it as well, as the pandas at The Toronto Zoo will be moving there in 2018. Early speculation is that the cubs will be joining them.

This was painted on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD display in Photoshop CC, photos were only used for reference.

Cheers,Patrick

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Gorilla Totem

GorillaTotemFinalHere’s my latest painting and newest addition to the Totem series.

I started this at the end of October but didn’t get far on it, as I had pet portrait commissions and editorial cartoons taking priority. The bulk of that logjam was cleared last week and I was happy to get back to working on one of my own paintings. As much as I welcome and enjoy commission work, my own work has a lot more freedom to it, as there are no client instructions or details to keep in mind.

If I had nothing else to do, I’m pretty sure I could get one of these done in a couple of days. In fact, I’d love to have a year with nothing to do but paint the animals I enjoy most. But, I guess that’s everybody’s dream, isn’t it? No obligations but the bills still paid would certainly be the ideal. That’s likely why so many hope for retirement one day.

On that front, I often think of one of my favorite artists, Drew Struzan, who has painted some of the most iconic movie art of our time. If memory serves, he has tried to retire a few times, but he keeps doing work when his favorite clients come to call, if he feels like it. I like that. I don’t run well on idle and likely won’t ever retire. I’ll just paint what I like.

GorillaTotemCloseI took a lot of reference photos this year, some in the wild, but most at The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park. Some of the shots were sought out for upcoming paintings, others were happy accidents where an opportunity presented itself and I got the photos I needed. This Gorilla Totem is the result of the latter.

Had I planned ahead for this painting, I might have chosen the classic Silverback to paint. An imposing figure with great presence, I’ve no doubt I would have been pleased with the result. But this lady was looking at me through the glass one day and when I brought the camera up, she appeared even more interested. Whether it was her own reflection in the lens or mere curiosity, I happily snapped away until she moved on. The glass was dirty and at an odd angle, the light was poor with annoying reflections, but I managed, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
GorillaTotem13HDI’ve said before that I might hang on to reference for some time before getting around to painting an animal, waiting for the moment to seem right. That’s why I chose the gorilla over others currently waiting in the wings. It was just the right time. This was painted on the Wacom Cintiq 13HD, 24HD in Adobe Photoshop CC, with photos only used for reference.

Starting another Totem today as there are a few I’d like to get done before the end of the year.

Thanks for stopping by.
Patrick.

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Summing Up Summer

Muse
The Bad

My cat died. Still miss her, still expect to see her, and still think about her a lot, though it doesn’t hurt as much as it did. No guilt, though. She got a ton of love her whole life and in the end, she just got old. It happens. It sucks.

HeraldThe fiasco with the Calgary Zoo and Safari Club International. To recap, I stated publicly that I could not support the zoo if they allowed SCI to hold their fundraising event there. That meant no more visits or selling my prints there, but it was contrary to my core values and I couldn’t get past it. The Calgary Herald read my blog post and asked to reprint it, which led to a lot of support, but plenty of nasty emails and comments as well. It was a jarring experience, one that I took personally and there were some pretty low days afterward. Who keeps feeding the trolls? Why aren’t they dead yet?

Art is a luxury and the Canadian economy has been taken out at the knees this year. When people are losing their jobs, the last thing they prioritize is paintings of funny looking animals. I get that and thankfully, editorial cartooning still pays a lot of the bills and we’re in a federal election. Make hay while the sun shines, even if it’s on the backs of lying, thieving, no good politicians. Hardly going to lose the house, but it’s been a bit of a down year. After so many good ones, I guess I was due.

Midlife crisis, existential angst, whatever you want to call it, this frickin’ thing never seems to end. Meaning of life stuff, what’s the point of it all, does all of this effort really matter in the end? I now know now why this ridiculous cliché exists, because it’s a harsh reality, too. A study out of the UK in 2008 reported that 44 is statistically the lowest year of a person’s life. I’m going to agree with that. Add that to my garden variety OCD and anxiety issues, which everybody says they understand, but really don’t. Trust me, nobody hates being around a downer more than the person who actually IS the downer. Shonna’s riding it out, clearly enduring some of the latter of the ‘better or worse’ contract. Haven’t caught her putting arsenic in my rum yet and I still have a couple of friends left…I think.

But hey, if you believe the stats in that report, it’s an upward swing from here, which means it’s an uphill climb, too. Damn these deep dark holes.

The Good

What, you didn’t think it would be ALL whining, did you? This summer had plenty of bright spots, too.

BearCintiq
I’ve been doing a lot more painting this year, hoping to have twice the content I’ll need for the book deadline in July. Between the writing and artwork, I want it to be the best effort I can muster, so my funny looking animals have been the priority. Despite the economy, I’ve been turning down work that isn’t in line with that goal, focusing on the long game. I’ve wanted to do a book for years, and have no illusions of imaginary riches. With Renegade Arts Entertainment publishing it, it’s no longer a what-if or maybe-someday. It’s put-up-or-shut-up.

OtterCase
A few new shirts coming soon from The Mountain, a new licensing deal with DecalGirl, with more in the works, and I’m trying to get my prints into other venues in Canada. Best of all, just this week, Safari Club International pulled out of their event at the zoo and I received another print order that very day. I plan to go back on Monday to deliver the order and take plenty of pictures. Being able to take a stand and not have to suffer long for it, I feel like I got to have my cake and eat it, too.

Managed to squeeze in a few camping trips this year, which is three more than last year. Each had their high points and I’ll be making the same effort to get away from the desk and tech next year. The weather was all over the place this summer, so I didn’t hike as often as I would have liked, but I got out whenever I could, camera at the ready.

SerenaGriffin
Visiting Discovery Wildlife Park this year was wonderful, especially getting a behind the scenes experience with the lion cubs. The first visit was so enjoyable that I went back and did it again, taking plenty of photos on both visits and I’ve already used some as reference for paintings. I’m planning to go back one more time before they close around the middle of next month.

If you had told me ten years ago that many of my waking hours (and more than a few of my sleeping ones) would be spent preoccupied with wildlife, I would have been surprised. Whether it’s taking pictures, sketching, or painting, these funny looking animals seem to have taken up residence in every corner of my life. There is a feeling of momentum with this work, that rather than cruising, I’m still accelerating. Where it will take me, I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to it.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Conservation, Conviction, and Commerce

It came to my attention last week that the Calgary Zoo has allowed the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International to book their annual fundraiser at the zoo facilities next year. In the wake of the recent shooting death of Cecil the Lion, there has been a lot of focus on the trophy hunting of animals both at home and abroad. Unfortunately with our rapidly changing news cycle and our thirty-second attention spans, we as a society are prone to outrage one moment, apathy the next. Online, it has often been referred to as slacktivism.

For most, it costs nothing to rage against the Calgary Zoo on Facebook and Twitter, and then move on with our lives having raised our voices with righteous indignation but ultimately that’s the end of it. We rage on one bandwagon, wait for another to come alongside and climb aboard.

Unfortunately this issue has been literally keeping me up nights. Glancing at the clock on my computer, it is presently 12:53 AM as I write this sentence. I’m normally up at 5 AM to get my editorial cartoons done, so tomorrow will no doubt be a very long day.

The dilemma I’m having with the Calgary Zoo is that I spend a fair bit of time there, taking reference photos for paintings and enjoying the animals. When people have challenged me on supporting the zoo, I’ve long defended their conservation record and have explained the societal value of a well-run humane zoo, that it educates the public about the plight of at-risk and endangered animals world-wide.

A couple of years ago, the zoo started selling prints of my whimsical wildlife paintings and I’ve been proud to announce on social media whenever I’ve delivered another large batch of my poster prints or when I’ve visited the zoo to take reference photos.

I wrote an email to the Calgary Zoo expressing my disapproval of their decision to allow Safari Club International to use their facilities in an official capacity for an event. SCI will actually be auctioning off opportunities for their members to hunt some of the very animals that are featured at the zoo.

As an aside, I should be clear that I do not object to subsistence hunting or those who choose to feed their families with wild game rather than the meat available at the supermarket. I’m a meat eater and we are part of the food chain. Hunting for food is something every species does with the tools they have available.

My objection is to trophy hunting.

Zoo
In the zoo’s official response to the negative publicity (seen above) and no doubt plenty of emails and letters from their own members, the zoo says that they have no relationship with Safari Club International. They then go on to talk about all of the businesses that book their venues and say that they won’t discriminate against anyone wishing to book their facilities.

I would agree that it is unreasonable to expect that an ethical panel be convened anytime a company or individual is presented as a potential client. Nobody has that kind of time or money to conduct such an investigation. I don’t do background checks on everyone who buys a print, nor have I done extensive investigations into every newspaper I work for or gallery that sells my work.

But in the case of Safari Club International, the Calgary Zoo fails to make a credible argument with their response.

From the zoo’s own website, one finds the following, “Your support will connect the community to the natural world and inspire visitors to care for it, all while giving hope to endangered species.”

Additionally, “Education at the zoo builds a legacy for future generations – a love of nature and a commitment to conservation. Your support provides visitors and students of all ages with engaging experiences that connect them with the natural world. You can inspire the next generation of environmental caretakers. Help put our future in caring hands.”

And finally, “The future of your zoo is centered on animal welfare and a proud history of saving species. Inspiring Change, the zoo’s 20 year master plan, will set a new standard for exhibit design, connect the community with nature and continue important endangered species work locally and globally. Help us inspire change and join us on the journey to a brighter future for wildlife and wild places.”

Safari Club International’s mandate is to kill animals. Their argument that they aid in conservation is window dressing, a pretty frame for the dead carcass or disembodied head they take as a trophy. Anyone truly interested in conservation wouldn’t feel the need to kill the animal they claim to protect.

Most venues with facilities for rent should and do have a line in their application for use that reads something like, ‘we reserve the right to refuse bookings at our discretion.’

When a client’s image is so diametrically opposed to the mandate of the Calgary Zoo, it isn’t discrimination to politely refuse the booking and to suggest that perhaps another venue might be more appropriate, especially since there is no grey area or hidden agenda with regard to Safari Club International’s purpose as an organization. The zoo doesn’t need to do any digging to find out that SCI exists so that members can kill animals.

So I’ve been wrestling with this moral dilemma. Do I simply wag a finger at the zoo for allowing this event, but continue to use my annual membership to take pictures? Can I criticize them for doing business with this organization I find so despicable, but still happily deliver prints to their retail outlets to be sold there? Or would that make me as big a hypocrite as I’m accusing them of being?

I’ve been having a hard time with this. I had a long discussion with a friend about it while camping this weekend. My wife and I went back and forth about it this evening before I started writing this post. In all honesty, I’ve been looking for a way to keep selling my prints there while still occupying the moral high ground. I’m a self-employed artist. Removing my prints will be voluntarily cutting a portion of my income. Conviction comes at a price.

I’m just getting started on this journey of painting animals and I enjoy it a great deal. I plan to be doing this for many more years to come and if I start compromising my integrity at their expense in order to make a few more dollars, I’m as bad as the people who go out and shoot them under a bloody flag of conservation. When you get comfortable compromising your values, it will become a habit.

I am hopeful that their many other clients, patrons and regular guests will apply pressure to the Calgary Zoo, to urge them to deny Safari Club International the venue next year. I am hopeful that the outrage I saw online when this story broke wasn’t just hollow talk without action. I would like to give the board at the zoo time to realize their error in judgement and I will be happy to continue to support the zoo if they come around to the right decision.

If not, I will no longer supply any more of my prints to the Calgary Zoo and will cut up my membership. I have to sleep at night.

.

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A Trio of Ostriches

PaintingSomething about painting these animals of mine with the intention of printing and selling them is that I can become a little too focused on the end result and forget why I started creating them in the first place, which was for the simple joy of it. I’ll often go through my now very extensive, but neatly organized folders full of animal photos, looking for inspiration for the next piece. While there are plenty of animals I’ve got pics for and have yet to paint, it’s a matter of timing. Certain animal paintings just happen when the mood strikes me, when it’s just their time. I’ve had some pics for years before I’ve gotten around to using them for a painting.

Even though I’ve painted an ostrich before, part of my Totem series, and despite the fact that it’s one my best selling prints, I found myself looking at some recent ostrich pics I took at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail and others I’d taken at the Calgary Zoo. I just love the attitude of these animals. It’s completely unjustified, but they always seem two seconds away from bristling at whatever imagined indignity is confronting them. Kind of like a cross between, “how dare you?!” and “don’t you know who I am?”

At the Calgary Zoo, the ostriches and zebras share an enclosure. While I was taking photos one day, a zebra made his way toward me, clearly with the intent of eating some of the hay by the fence. To get there, he (or she, can’t remember) had to walk between two ostriches and their reaction made me laugh out loud. They quickly backed away, hissed at the zebra and their body language indicated that they were offended at this worst of possible slights and invasion of their personal space. The zebra seemed to be used to all of this and just ambled through without giving them a second glance. It was pretty amusing.
CloseupWhile looking at the reference pics, I realized that there were plenty of other animals I could have painted right now to add to my menagerie of marketable prints, but in the end, I just wanted to paint some more ostriches. I might have painted them all looking angry and indignant, but I just went with what I felt while working on them. There’s a trace of that attitude in there, especially in the one on the right, but to me, they just seem to be a trio of ridiculous looking goofs. Whatever you see in them is right for you, of course.

For some reason, it also reminds me of three awkward teenage kids being forced to pose together for a family portrait.

This was a lot of fun and while I doubt I’ll be painting more ostriches in the near future, you never can tell. I didn’t expect to be painting these three. This was painted in Photoshop CC 2015 on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD displays, with photos used only for reference.

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Lemur Totem

LemurFBMy first Totem painting of the year, this is a Mongoose Lemur.  While many people think of the Ring-tailed species when you mention Lemur, mostly due to the animated movie Madagascar, I painted this species because of all of the reference pics I’ve shot at the Calgary Zoo.  The resident lemurs are free-roaming with no cage or glass between them and the people wandering around inside the large rainforest enclosure.  They don’t move all that fast and are very cooperative models.

While this little guy (or gal) is very cute, you might wonder why I made the choice to put so much work into it and add it to my Totem series, since mongoose lemurs aren’t as universally popular as say, a wolf or grizzly bear.  From a marketing perspective, it might seem like this would have been a better sketch painting.  But, one thing I’ve learned from painting these animals is that I usually get the best results when I put the time and work into the ones that just feel right at the time.

In the past, I’ve forced specific animals, painted them solely because I thought they’d be good sellers.  One in particular, the Magpie Totem, I did for that reason.  These birds are in abundance in this area, they’re interesting in appearance, exhibit amusing behaviour, and the tourists seem to be fascinated by them.  An apt description by one of my former local editors is that, “they’re just crows with better fashion sense.”

The first gallery that sold my work in Banff, the manager suggested I paint a magpie because the tourists often asked him what that bird was they kept seeing.  So that’s exactly what I did, even did some of the painting at a live demo in the gallery.  Even though people do buy it, it is probably my least popular Totem painting and I learned a valuable lesson.  From then on, I decided to paint the animals I want to, when it feels right to do so.

LemurCloseCrop In the case of our little Lemur friend, I’ve had reference for this one for well over a year and it just felt like the right time.  I don’t know if it will sell well or not, but I had a great time painting it and the fur was a real challenge.  It’s made up of very short hairs packed tightly together, so I had to experiment with my hair and fur brushes to find the best way to go about it.  In the end, it simply required putting in the time to get it right.  Looking forward to seeing this one in print.

Here are a few images of this painting at different stages.  This was painted in Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  It’s all brush work and photos were only used for reference.
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Totems, Tourists, and Taking Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CougarTotem
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