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Another Expo in the Rearview Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few stand-out highlights.

Need a Break?

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

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

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

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

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

Have You Got an Elephant Yet?

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

What a Wookiee!

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

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

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

There Once Was a Bear and a Rat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Calgary Expo 2014 – The Wrap Up!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really liked that.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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