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Swimming Upstream

Here’s a little duckling I finished painting this morning. The duckling itself wasn’t difficult, but the water certainly was. Ironic that I began this year with a commission piece where water was also the hardest part of that painting. There will always be room for improvement in any artistic pursuit, so I welcome these unexpected challenges. The work might become boring without them.

When I first began creating digital art more than 20 years ago, there was a common misconception that if you used a computer, then the computer was doing all the work. Press a few buttons, apply a filter or two and anybody can do it. There was also a ‘look’ to a lot of digital art. It was far too smooth, with a blurry airbrushed look, and it all looked the same. Plenty of amateur artists still make this mistake when they get started. After hearing more than enough of this (anything but constructive) criticism, I worked hard to make my work look more like traditional acrylic or oil textures. That effort paid off because I developed a textured brush style evident in all of my work today. People are still surprised to find out my medium of choice and will often say that it doesn’t look digital.

For the water in this painting, however, I had to go backwards, and paint with that smooth, airbrushed look I have deliberately avoided for so many years. Texture in the water would not only have looked wrong, it would have distracted from the subject of the piece. It’s the contrast between the detailed hair-like feathers of our little friend and the water in which he’s swimming that makes the duck stand out.

This is the final cropped composition for this painting, but I painted more water than you see here. As most of my paintings end up on licensed products, I painted more of the background to allow for different Pacific Music and Art templates. On some of my older pieces, I’ve had to repaint entire sections to accommodate items like coffee mugs and different-sized aluminum prints.

These days, I keep that in mind while painting a piece. It means more work that most people won’t see but less of a headache when I format the painting for more than a dozen different items in their catalogue. Art (and artists) must be flexible when the work is destined for commercial products.
I took the reference for this painting four years ago from the boardwalk that winds through the Policeman’s Creek wetlands here in Canmore. Easily accessible for people of all fitness levels, it’s located in the middle of town and might as well be an urban park. It’s a pretty walk, a nice shortcut from where we live to downtown Canmore, and preferable to walking on the sidewalk of a busy street.

You might think I’d be happier taking photos of bears, wolves, eagles or other more exciting animals, but I’m just as content to spend an hour chasing around a family of ducks with my camera. You never know what critter might end up in a painting.

Only a couple of days ago, I realized just how few paintings I’ve completed this year. I painted the commission of Santé in February and finished my elephant painting in March. In addition, I’ve painted a couple of burrowing owls that are part of a larger piece, but this duckling is only the third finished painting, and the year is almost half over.

Considering I usually produce 10 to 15 pieces each year, I’m well behind where I’d like to be. Of course, one could argue quality vs. quantity, but as this work is a big part of how I make my living, I try to balance them.
The reason for fewer paintings is no mystery. Despite the dramatic decline in the newspaper industry, it’s still a big chunk of my income, and I’m unable to put off or set aside my daily editorial cartoon deadlines. As a result, those take priority every day and painting time is often sacrificed for the cartoons.

On the animal art side of things, I’ve been more occupied this year creating new products, filling and delivering print orders, planning and attending Expo and more local markets, all things that have been on hold the past couple of years. I’m not complaining that I have more sales and increased opportunities to put more work into the world, but it illustrates that art for a living is an illusion.

I don’t spend as much time creating the work as I do promoting and selling the work.

We all struggle with finding enough time to get it all done, whatever ‘it’ is, and most often fail in the attempt. Unfortunately, knowing the solution is simple doesn’t make it any easier.

Saying ‘No’ a lot more often than ‘Yes’ to requests and demands goes against most of our instincts to be friendly, help people out, and put others’ needs ahead of ours. But when it means sacrificing what is most important to us, whether time with our family, the pursuit of hobbies, recharging and relaxing, or time to paint more funny-looking animals, nobody else will make that time for us.

These paintings are a lot of work, but it’s work that I love a great deal, so it makes sense that I’d want to spend more time doing it. I’ll try to remember that for the second half of this year.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Last Minute Mountain Made Market

Last week’s Mountain Made Christmas Market was fun. Saturday was steady all day, but it was quiet on Sunday, likely a consequence of the Grey Cup and a big dump of snow Saturday night. However, I did pretty well with sales for the whole weekend, and I enjoyed introducing new people to my work.

Between the market in November and the one last weekend, I’ve got a lot of new subscribers to A Wilder View, so welcome to all of you. The calendar/sticker raffle winner was Karen from right here in Canmore.

I dropped the prize off on her doorstep, and here’s an excerpt from the email I received later that evening….”I had a 12 hour day at (omitted), and to come home to such a delightful surprise just absolutely made all the frustrations go away!  Thank you so much for the beautiful calendar and stickers!   You do such amazing work, and I will have a smile on my face every time I look at the pictures/stickers!”

It may come as a surprise to many of you that this here traditional Grinch has been spreading Christmas cheer. I hope this doesn’t become a habit.

I would especially like to thank those of you who drove out from Calgary and Cochrane to say Hello and add to your collections. I only wish I’d had more time to chat with you, considering both of you have been following my work for years, and I was genuinely pleased to finally meet you in person.

There’s one more kick at the can this coming Saturday. This Last Minute Mountain Made Christmas Market is only one day from 10-4 at The Civic Centre downtown Canmore. I’ve got coasters, magnets, aluminum art, canvas, poster prints and calendars available, and there will be plenty of other vendors there for your last-minute shopping.

So if you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by and see me and my funny-looking animals.

Cheers,
Patrick

 

 

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Another Mountain Made Christmas Market

With the well-publicized shipping and supply chain delays made worse by the roads damaged by floods in B.C., I’ve had my fingers crossed for a resupply order from Pacific Music & Art. Having sold out of calendars at the last Mountain Made Christmas Market, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get more in time for this weekend.

Thankfully, the order has arrived. I’ve got a bunch of new coasters, aluminum art and magnets for this event, in addition to 2022 calendars. To see the new designs or just to say Hi, drop by the Civic Centre in Canmore on Saturday or Sunday from 10-4. I’ll be set up in the front lobby.
Here’s a pic from the  one last month, taken by the organizer Julian, who does a fantastic job putting all of this together. The whole venue looks a lot brighter than this pic. Phones always try to overcompensate for ambient light, and I suspect my lighting on the art is to blame. No excuse for the funny looking guy in the mask, though. That’s how I look in real life.

BTW, I’ve run into three people in the past couple of months who’ve asked me why I blocked them on Instagram. Short answer, I’m currently not on any social media platforms. I could go off on a rant about why, but you probably don’t want to read it anymore than I want to write it. The short answer is that I’m putting my time and energy into my site, blog and A Wilder View.

So if you want to follow my work, with my sincere appreciation, this is the best place to find me.

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Made in the Mountains

I signed up late for The Mountain Made Christmas Market at the Canmore Civic Centre, but since I had the stock, the time, and it was close to home, I couldn’t think of a reason not to give it a try.

As it was a six-foot table space rather than a 10 x 10 booth, and I haven’t used any of my hardware and displays since April of 2019, I set it up in my garage last week to figure out how I wanted it to look. With setup time limited on-site, you don’t want to experiment and solve problems in the final moments before the doors open.

Usually, these events have vendors packed tightly together, but with distancing rules, there were 2m between booths and a building capacity limit, including those behind the tables. So while it meant fewer vendors could attend, it didn’t feel crowded, and we had breathing room. Behind masks, of course.

If you’ve followed my work for a while, you know I’m most comfortable working on editorial cartoons or paintings in my office. I know a lot of artist introverts, seems to go with the profession. We’re good with one or two other people, but crowds sap our energy.

And yet, I didn’t realize how much I missed the interaction at these things.

The show hours were 10-4, and I had a prime corner in the main lobby. With a couple of hours setup on Saturday before opening, restocking on Sunday morning, and an hour of tear-down at the end, it was just a couple of eight-hour days. I even got some painting time in at home in the morning before heading to the venue. Some of these shows have long hours without a break, all day, every day. So I come home exhausted after five days at The Calgary Expo.

Getting to know the other vendors is usually enjoyable. Sometimes you can have a conflict, especially if a neighbour starts pushing into your space, but it’s most often a cooperative, friendly environment. When possible, we help each other out with forgotten supplies, keeping an eye on tables for bathroom breaks, taking orders for coffee runs, chatting during the slow periods, and learning about what each of us does.

Before the pandemic, I only did one or two shows a year. The daily editorial cartoon deadlines prohibit a lot of travelling. Some of these vendors make their entire living doing the gift, craft, and trade show circuit, and they’re pros at it. They’ve got setup and travel down to a science. When it comes to farmer’s markets, some of them go four or five days a week in different locations, a lot of time spent on the road.

While I only had a five-minute drive back to my house on Sunday after tear-down, one of my neighbours was still packing up before her four-hour drive back to Fernie, BC.

Halfway through Saturday, I realized I was having a good time. I’ve written about this before, but I love it when people are surprised by my wall of funny-looking animals. Even behind masks, the positive reaction is obvious.

It’s a good feeling to make people smile, especially since the past year and a half has seen so little of that.

I’ll often have to invite people to come closer, telling them it’s OK, my critters don’t bite. Their hands come up as they point out different ones to their companions. Because I had over 45 different images at the show, with no way to put them all on canvas on the wall behind me, I invite people to flip through the bin of poster prints, assuring them they’re all different.

I get the same questions all the time, and I’m happy to answer them.

“Are you the artist?”

“Did you paint all of these?

“How do you do this?”

And I hear the same comments, without complaint.

“They’ve got such personality!”

“They look cartoony…but real.”

“I love these.”

Yeah, that last one never gets old. Even if people don’t buy anything, it’s comforting that my work helped distract them from their troubles for at least a moment or two. Not a bad way to measure success.

Sales far exceeded expectations, and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. What people buy in different places and times of year never fails to surprise me. While prints like the Otter and Smiling Tiger always sell well, people have their favourite animals or a friend who loves owls, cows, or moose. So one person buys a rat, the next person a hippo, and the one after that a Ring-tailed Lemur who’s not quite all there.

But two popular standouts at this show were the Winter Wolf and the Sea Turtle, both newer paintings.

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8X10 aluminum prints and ceramic coasters were big sellers at this show, and I sold out of calendars. Those are all made by Pacific Music & Art, and I’ve already placed a resupply order. I’m adding the Sea Turtle, Winter Wolf and a few others to aluminum art for the next time around.

There will be another two-day Mountain Made Christmas Market at the Civic Centre on December 11th and 12th and a one-day Last Minute Market on December 18th. As this was such a positive experience, I’ve registered for both. This was an enjoyable event because the organizer, Julian, set the right tone and did a fine job of putting everything together. In addition, the Town of Canmore’s building monitor, Maurice, was ridiculously helpful and courteous, and we let him know how appreciated that was.

We’re often quick to point out when others fall short but fail to tell them when they’ve done a great job. People need to hear it, to let them know that it matters.

Now, please don’t get excited and think I’ve found my long-lost Christmas spirit or anything.

Having just endured two back-to-back elections in Alberta, plus the last year and a half of uncertainty and stress, it was nice to talk with people without the whole conversation revolving around politics, the pandemic, and polarized opinions.

Thanks to all of you who signed up for A Wilder View at the show. Chris S. won the calendar and sticker draw, and I’ve already delivered it to him. I enjoyed chatting with all of you, and I welcome your feedback, so don’t be shy about leaving a comment on a blog post or sending me an email from time to time.

Coming up next week, I’ll have a new desktop/device wallpaper download for all subscribers. I think you’ll really like this one. It’s one of my favourite paintings, and I hope it will put a smile on your face, even if I don’t get to see it in person.

Until next time, thanks for being here.

Cheers,
Patrick.

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Mountain Made Christmas Market

I haven’t done this event in a few years, but when I saw it advertised last week, it got me thinking. It’s a small local market, which makes it easy to do last minute. I have plenty of prints, coasters, calendars, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and magnets in stock. It’s a six foot table, rather than a 10 x 10 booth, so setup will be rather simple; much like my first setup years ago at the Calgary Expo, with the benefit of a lot more experience. With the new location at The Civic Centre, it will be right downtown, inviting for walk-in traffic. As they still had space for me, I think it will be well worth my time.

And it gets me out of the house.

Late last year, with no shows on the horizon, I surrendered my credit/debit machine back to Moneris to save on the monthly rental fee. With the worldwide tech shortage and shipping delays, I wondered if I’d be able to get a terminal in time. But I ordered it on Friday and it arrived on Monday. It’s incredible that not long ago, cash was king at this kind of market. But today, with plenty of companies in the mix, it’s easy for anyone to take credit cards, debit, chip-insert, tap, Apple and Google Pay, all through a separate terminal connected via Bluetooth to an app on your phone, with funds deposited directly into your bank account.

As that was the only minor hurdle, I’m back in business and looking forward to spending the weekend meeting new people and introducing them to my work.

If you’re out and about in Canmore this weekend, stop by to take a look, or to just say Hello.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Fit to Print


This week, I put myself in a cartoon for the 20th anniversary of The Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper. Since the beginning, I’ve been the cartoonist for my local paper with a cartoon in every issue, so it’s also my 20th anniversary.

In August of 2001, Shonna and I bought our townhouse in Canmore and moved here from Banff. At the same time, I left the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper, where I’d been the cartoonist for three years, drawing one cartoon a week for what amounted to beer money.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was launching, the brainchild of Bob Schott, Larry Marshall and Carol Picard. As editor, Carol offered me the cartoonist position. Then, a short time later, she asked me why I wasn’t syndicated.

Syndication sends the same cartoon to several publications. They pay a fee to run it, substantially less than an original. It’s the reason you used to see the same comic strip page in many daily newspapers or the same Dave Barry humour column across the United States.

At the time, my limited understanding was that an artist had to sign with a syndicate, a company that would act as an agent, send out the work, collect the fees and pay the artist a royalty.

Carol set me straight. When she told me I could do it myself, it was a light through the clouds moment.

She gets tired of me thanking her, but tough noogies. Without her advice, support and mentorship, it’s unlikely that I would be a full-time artist today.

I’ll skip the details of the steep learning curve and logistics, but the short version is that I began creating syndicated cartoons and cold-calling newspapers across Canada. One or two cartoons a week soon became six, plus the local cartoon for the Outlook. In black and white for the first few years, then colour as newspapers made that transition on their editorial pages.

For four and a half years, I worked mornings, evenings and weekends drawing cartoons while working a full-time day job to pay the bills.

In January of 2006, I became a full-time artist, and I’ve been unemployable ever since.

At launch, the other valley papers mocked their audacity. Still, Bob, Larry and Carol soon made The Outlook the paper of record for the Bow Valley, including Stoney Nakoda, Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. After her partners and close friends both passed on before their time, Carol eventually sold the newspaper. 

Ownership, publishers, editors, and staff have come and gone over twenty years. The only people there for the first issue who are still here today are reporter Cathy Ellis, accountant Donna Brown, and this here cartoonist.

I’ve never actually been staff with my name on the masthead, simply a regular weekly contributor. But I still consider myself part of the paper, as do many readers.

While some believe the newspaper industry is dying or dead, I would argue that it’s experiencing a difficult transition and struggling for footing like many in the internet age. Formerly large daily newspapers compete with Facebook and Twitter, stories shared by people who don’t care if they’re true, just that they support what they already believe.

We’ve become familiar with the term fake news because we must frequently ask ourselves if what we’re reading comes from that deep and polluted well.

Many of these newspaper chains slash and burn their newsrooms to stay profitable or solvent, cutting costs wherever they can. But people pick up the paper for what they can’t get on Google News, National Newswatch or the T.V. News channels and sites.

They pick up their hometown paper for local news and views, the stories that make their community theirs.

People in Ottawa don’t care about a rural town in B.C. unless it’s burning and feeds their addiction to tragedy. Just as somebody in Mayerthorpe, Alberta doesn’t care about the new rec centre in Guelph, Ontario.

But the people who report those stories to the people who care about them are local reporters in local communities. So, when a tiny little paper in rural Saskatchewan only prints stories from the national news wire, it’s no wonder no local businesses want to advertise in it because nobody’s reading it.

Advertisers pay for newspapers. It’s the reason your local community paper is often free. However, when the content within is suddenly uninteresting or irrelevant to the people who live there, it’s hard to convince a business that their customers will see their ad. They might as well be advertising in the Yellow Pages.

COVID has been tough on many businesses, and newspapers are no exception. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I lost syndicated newspaper clients at the beginning of the pandemic. While they all said it would be temporary, only one of those has since hired me back, over a year and a half later.

I’ve seen reporters and editors lose their jobs sacrificed to the balance sheet, and many local papers have become shells of their former publications. One newspaper chain sacrificed all freelance content, then gave the cartoonist spot to one of my competitors for supplying them all with free cartoons for months on end.

Apparently, that cartoonist has never heard that nobody wins a race to the bottom.

A few other papers are now running bargain bin priced syndicated cartoons from the United States. Why would anybody in rural Manitoba want to see cartoons about Biden, Trump and the U.S. Congress each week in their small-town community paper?

Carol, Bob, and Larry started the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create a newspaper that the Valley could be proud of. It has won many awards in several categories, setting the standard for community journalism.

I hope that when this pandemic finally ends –and it will end—that our community and several others once again realize the value and benefit of local journalism and news.

When nobody is left to tell the stories, vet sources, check facts, present both sides of an argument, and provide ongoing investigations into complicated issues, the information we rely on won’t be worth repeating.

We’ll simply be sharing more ranting and raving on Facebook and Twitter by the loudest and angriest among us.

And that ain’t news.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Eggs, Butter, Milk, Coffee Mug

While I knew it was coming eventually, it was still a surprise to walk into my local Save-On-Foods grocery store here in Canmore on Friday to see an entire endcap display of my artwork.

I had kept an eye open for it each time I went shopping, but it was still a bit of a thrill to finally see it in place, especially right by the front doors.

Pacific Music & Art has licensed my work for many different products since late 2018. Those items include art cards, magnets, aluminum art prints, coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, water bottles, notepads, notebooks, and calendars. And of course, face masks, the product we all suddenly needed, but nobody wanted.

This display in the Canmore Save-On-Foods features coasters, trivets, and mugs. Featured art pieces include the Smiling Tiger, Otter, Sasquatch, Blue-Beak Raven, Two Wolves, Bald Eagle and Bear Wonder. My 2022 calendar and various notebook designs are in a rack beside it.
When I first moved to Banff in 1994, Shonna and I had a nice little apartment above a grocery store in a brand-new building, a real luxury in an unaffordable tourist town. I worked as a stock clerk and delivery driver in that grocery store that summer before moving on to work at a hotel. But Shonna and I both had part-time jobs at adjacent convenience and liquor stores for several years after, until we moved to Canmore in 2001.

While looking at the different products in the display, I found myself ‘facing’ the shelves to tidy them up. Then, without even realizing I was doing it, I turned some of the mugs, so the art faced outwards and straightened up some of the calendars and coasters.

I guess old habits die hard. Unfortunately, everybody is short-staffed around here, so if I can help make my own display a little more presentable, I’m happy to do it.

These displays are in many other Save-On-Foods stores in Western Canada, but I share those shelves with other artists from the Pacific Music & Art catalogue. Considering the skills and talents of those other creators, it’s an honour to be counted among them. One of my followers on Instagram was kind enough to tag me when she posted a photo of a mug she bought in the Sherwood Park Save-On.

When I first considered signing with Pacific, a testament to the company’s credibility was not only that a former consignment gallery owner recommended us to each other, but that one of their artists is Sue Coleman. I’ve admired her work for many years, long before I had painted my first animal.

I had planned to stop in to visit her last fall on a scheduled business trip to Vancouver Island, but I need not explain why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year. Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with the wonderfully weird feeling of my art sharing shelf and rack space with hers.

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The Grassi Lakes Owls

For the past five years, I’ve enjoyed hiking up to Grassi Lakes here in Canmore to watch the owls.

High up on an ancient coral seabed, a popular climbing wall with locals and visitors alike, there is a cave, where each year in the spring, a mated pair of Great Horned Owls raises a couple of owlets. If you’ve got a good pair of binoculars or long zoom lens, and you get there at the right time of day, you can catch a great view of an owl family in the wild. Most of the time, it’s only one adult looking after the young while the other is out hunting, or maybe taking some me time.  Because Grassi Lakes is in a provincial park, conservation offices hang a little red sign far below the cave, warning climbers to avoid that route while the owls are nesting. Since they have no reason to hide, the owls are usually right out in the open, enjoying their view of the tourists below.

It has been my experience that anybody with a dog, large or small, attracts their attention and I’ve captured some nice expressions as a result.

Earlier this year, I hiked up there a couple of times and saw no sign of them. Great Horned Owls will typically live about 13 years in the wild, much longer in captivity. Their fertile years are shorter than that, so I always expect that each year I see them, could possibly be the last.
Last week, with only time for a short exercise hike, I went up the trail to Grassi Lakes and was delighted to see one of the adults and an owlet. This week, on a return trip, I saw a second owlet. They’re quite large, so I missed them when they were little puffballs, but I’ve taken plenty of photos of that stage of development in recent years.

I’m assuming it’s the same adults each year, but it could very well be a different pair, possibly one of the young from previous years. Regardless, it’s nice that the cave provides a recurring safe space for new owls to be born.
My painting, One in Every Family,  (shown above) was done the first year I noticed these owls and it’s not only a favorite creation, but a popular print. At Photoshop World in 2014, the image won Best in Show.

Even though I’ve already painted these critters, I still enjoy seeing them each year and taking more photos, all of the ones seen here taken this week. Who knows, maybe I’ll paint them again one day.

Cheers,
Patrick

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A Local Cartoonist

Although I have syndicated clients across Canada and produce cartoons each day for them, I also draw one local cartoon each week for The Rocky Mountain Outlook, the paper of record for Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and area.

I’ve been their cartoonist since they opened their doors in 2001 and I’ve never missed an issue. In the early days of The Rocky Mountain Outlook, one of the owners, also the Editor, encouraged me to self-syndicate, which meant draw my own cartoons and send them out to other papers in the hopes they publish them. At the time, I’d only drawn one cartoon each week for the Banff Crag & Canyon for a few years and was very new to the Outlook.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook was destined to fail. The cheap seats were full of people who said so.

I was thirty years old, and I had never envisioned a career as an artist. Not even a little. Carol Picard changed my life and it’s hard not to say Thank You every time I see her around town.

For the next five years, I drew cartoons on the side while working a full-time job to pay the bills. Early mornings before work, evenings after work and weekends, with very little money to show for it. I almost quit half a dozen times in those five years. Sometimes I drew five cartoons in a week and made $10 from the one weekly paper that ran one. That kind of thing went on for a couple of years, but it was great practice. I was finally able to become a full-time artist in 2006.

With a lot of experiments in between, eventually the editorial cartooning led to the other half of my business painting funny looking animals, which are licensed and sold in zoos, parks, retail stores and other venues across Canada and internationally. Having been a full-time professional artist for the past 13 years, I’m pretty sure I’m now unemployable in a real job.

Without The Rocky Mountain Outlook, none of that would have happened.

My editor, Tanya Foubert, delighted in calling me today to tell me that the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards were announced for 2019 and I won 1st and 2nd for Best Local Cartoon in our class. While we all know it’s not about the awards, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feels pretty good. It’s the first win for me, although I think I got third one year.

I’ve never submitted to the National Newspaper Awards. Maybe once in the early 2000s. The Outlook submits to the CCNAs on my behalf. Since I have many clients for my cartoons, it’s always been more important to me to keep my editors and publishers supplied, happy (and paying me!) than it was to win an award.

But this one is different, because it’s the Outlook. It’s my local paper. I’ve known these people for almost twenty years. I know what the original owners went through to keep it afloat, against all odds. I know how hard the current staff and leadership work to hold to that original vision.

Once again, I am reminded of Roosevelt and The Man in the Arena.

From the official announcement of the awards on News Media Canada’s site, the first highlight was, “The Rocky Mountain Outlook from Canmore/Kananaskis/Banff/Lake Louise in Alberta picked up the most wins (five), including first place for General Excellence.”

How could I not be happy to be a part of that?

Thanks, Carol.

Cheers,
Patrick

Here are the cartoons that won. The first was about the contentious issue of Calgary’s failed bid for the 2026 Olympics. While not an official tally, half the community seemed to want it more than anything, the other half were opposed.

Second was our ongoing issue with parking in this area. My first cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon in 1998 was on paid parking. Everybody’s got an opinion and a solution, but nobody wants to pay for it, or stop driving whenever they want.

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Connecting the Dot

About a week ago, I woke up with an idea to get a tattoo of a grizzly paw. I’ve long thought about getting a little ink and came close a while ago, but it never seemed quite right.

As a result, this was a little strange, to just wake up with this idea and rather than dismiss it as a fleeting crazy thought, it seemed completely logical. When Shonna woke up, I mentioned it to her and much to my surprise, she had no objections. In fact, when I mentioned getting it on my shoulder, she suggested I put it somewhere I could see it, like on my forearm.
Bears have been a part of my life since I moved to this valley in the mid-nineties. I’ve had an irrational fear of them for more than twenty years. But they’re also one of my favorite animals to paint, read about, and in recent years, spend time with. I’ve had many dreams about bears over the years. It’s been said that the thing we’re most afraid of can reveal the most profound parts of ourselves.

In the late-nineties, I used to hang out at a pub when we lived in Banff, called the Pump and Tap. I actually drank more diet coke there than alcohol, could smoke a cigarette and draw in my sketchbook. One of the other regulars one day showed me a black bear tooth he had. If I remember correctly, he said his grandfather had found it in Quebec with the skeleton of a bear many years ago and gave him a few of the teeth.

Out of the blue, he handed it to me and said, “I think you’re supposed to have it.”

I was taken completely off guard. Keep in mind, I didn’t paint my first Totem animal (a Grizzly bear) until November of 2009, more than ten years later.

I was grateful for the gift, this tooth yellowed by age, but polished and practically petrified.

For years I carried it with me in my pocket in a little leather pouch I picked up at one of the stores in Banff. But after a while, I worried about losing it, so I had a jeweler friend, Doug Bell, put a silver mount on it and I wear it around a chain to this day.

Like most people, my dreams are simply the reorganization of weekly experiences and events. The mind forms a narrative to connect random thoughts while it files them away in long-term memory. But around the same time I got the tooth, I was having a lot of animal dreams, many of them about bears. In fact, I was having so many of them that I began to keep a journal. While cleaning out my office recently, I came across it, along with some other books of writing.

In one dream, I was flying over a large field, very close to the ground and I came across a small pond where I stopped and hovered above it. While looking at the water, a symbol became visible under the surface. I knew that it had some significance, but I didn’t know what.

I’ve thought about it often over the years. I even drew it in ink on that little pouch in which I carried the bear tooth. While writing this, I wondered if I still have it. Sure enough, it’s in a little box on my bookshelf. While the symbol is faded, it’s still there.
When I had Doug make the bear tooth piece for me years ago, I also had him craft that symbol in silver. I alternate between wearing the two on a chain, depending on my plans for the day.
So what does it mean? I’ve searched for that symbol online and a reverse image search comes up with nothing. But in researching symbols, I’ve found that often you can decipher meaning from the different parts of a symbol.

The closest I could come up with is the circumpunct, which is a dot inside of a closed circle. It’s one of the most ancient symbols in the world, prevalent in many cultures. Depending on where you find it, it can mean the sun, God, Ra, the solar system, the universe and it’s the alchemical symbol for gold. It is the beginning of creation.

In scouting, it means ‘End of trail. Gone home.’ My buddy Darrel pointed out that it’s on Baden Powell’s tombstone, which is appropriate.

To the Australian Aborigines, it’s the symbol for waterhole. To the Ojibwa, it means spirit.

And just to throw some water on this wildfire of flighty speculation, it’s also the symbol of the Target Corporation.

But what does it mean with the line?

I found one site that quoted Manly P. Hall, from his book Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. While it didn’t show the image, it would appear he might be describing the symbol I saw.

“The dot, moving away from self, projects the line; the line becomes the radius of an imaginary circle, and this circle is the circumference of the powers of the central dot.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it over the years and ultimately, it comes down to what it means to me. If I had to sum it up in one word, what has always felt right, it would be ‘Connection.’

The individual connected to the greater whole. We are all connected to each other and the world around us, in some way or another. We each find ways to interpret that connection, to understand it, and hopefully to give strength to it. For some, it’s through religion, their faith, their relationship with their god, whatever that means to each person.

For others, it might be through science, their understanding of the universe, how the microscopic form of the atom is mirrored in the gigantic form of a solar system. Repeating patterns, order in the chaos.

I still live in the real world and am a deeply flawed human being, but in my artwork and in spending time with animals, that’s where I find my own connection.

Over the past year, I’ve experienced some of the lowest points of my life, but also some of the highest. The latter thanks to the wonderful folks at Discovery Wildlife Park who have allowed me a closer connection with their animals, especially a certain wonderful little bear. Best of all, I got to share the experience with my wife, too.
I’ll choose time with animals over an anti-depressant any day of the week.
While designing my own version of a grizzly paw tattoo, it suddenly occurred to me that the paw pad should be the symbol with which I’ve had a relationship for many years. I didn’t want any great detail; I didn’t want to over-complicate it. I just wanted what you see, the simplicity of my connection to bears and animals. Whether this belief is real or imaginary is irrelevant. It speaks to me and makes me want to be a better human.

As they’ve got a great reputation, as do their talented artists, I expected a long wait to get a sitting at Electric Grizzly Tattoo (yeah, I see it). But this was not a difficult tattoo that would take a long time, so Myles Mac managed to get me in just days after I inquired. I went with it and it was a great experience. It will take a few weeks to be fully healed and I’ll share another photo then.

When Shonna suggested I put it where I could see it, I decided on the inner forearm of my drawing arm, the claws pointing toward my hand. When shit gets a little too real, when I’m having a bad day/week/month, when I’ve let the news get to me, when my faith in people is non-existent, I’m hoping it reminds me of my connection to something greater than myself, to inspire me to make a difference where I can, to be the change I want to see in the world.

Once again, thanks for reading my ramblings.

Cheers,
Patrick