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Peaks and Valleys

Last month, I finished what could easily be called my favourite commission piece to date. For those who’ve hired me for commissions in the past, don’t take that personally. I’ve enjoyed almost all the pet portraits I’ve painted. But this last one represented some notable artistic growth, which has become a rare thing.

When I first started drawing and painting, it was easy to take large leaps. Looking back on my earlier work, I can see considerable improvement over time as short as six months. Because I wasn’t very good at it, was hungry for new skills, and had no shortage of exceptional artists to learn from, I couldn’t help but get better if I kept putting in the hours.

Over time, however, my skills became more and more refined, as any creative should expect, and my work, especially in my style, reached a plateau. I had found the look that identifies my art, something most artists chase. People who know my work can easily spot it, even if they don’t see my name, just as I can spot the work of artists I follow.

I’m still always seeking to get better, but any improvement is often most noticeable to me. I get better at light and shadow, the way fur and hair flows, subtle shaping of features to reinforce the balance between whimsy and realism without straying too far into that phenomenon known as the uncanny valley.

People often say that my work looks “cartoony, but real.”

I’ve heard it said so often that I’ll occasionally use it myself when somebody tries to describe it but can’t find the right words.

I’m always trying to push the realism, mostly to challenge myself, without going so far that it becomes creepy and unappealing.

So, it isn’t just about painting better hair, fur, skin textures and personality in my funny-looking animals, but knowing when to stop. I suspect I’ll find that out the hard way one day and need to dial it back. I’m confident that Shonna will let me know.

This recent commission taught me I (thankfully) still have plenty of room for improvement. As I wrote about in that post, the client requested a full-body action pose because that’s how she wanted to remember her dog, Santé.

She didn’t insist on it, but it was her preference. And the last thing I want is for a client to be mostly happy with a finished painting but still think, “it’s good, but not what I really wanted.”

It was something I wanted to try but was afraid of because I didn’t think I was good enough to pull it off.

In every painting, there are peaks and valleys. The spark of the idea, taking and choosing reference photos, and imagining different options are always high points. But once the first brush strokes hit the digital canvas, so begins a slow decline. I find that the first half of a painting is simply putting in the hours, and there isn’t a lot of enjoyment there.

But somewhere in the middle, the fun starts when it starts to reveal what it might become. Sometimes it peaks again and then crashes when something doesn’t work, which can take hours to repair. The more time it takes to get through that valley, the more I think the whole piece sucks, I’ve lost it, and there’s no saving it.

But a brush stroke here, some light and shadow there, I solve the issue and again find the joy in it.

The best part of any painting is the last two hours. I have a playlist on Spotify reserved just for this period in a painting. It’s called ‘Pick Me Up,’ With that playing in the earbuds, drinking hot black coffee, often in the early morning hours, I’ll finish the piece and feel good about it.

That euphoria lasts a few hours, but I’m heading back down to the next valley by that evening, wondering what to paint next. Or I’ve shifted back into editorial cartoon mode and following the news, which can be like dark clouds ruining a sunny day.

Of course, there are other peaks for most paintings. The feedback I get from readers and subscribers is gratifying; those who follow my work and are kind enough to post a comment or send an email telling me how much they like the new piece. And if a new painting isn’t one they especially like, they’re usually kind enough to keep that to themselves.

I’m under no illusion that every painting is a winner.

Another peak is the first time I get a print because it never feels real or complete until I see it in real life. Most of the time, it’s when the first poster print proof arrives from Art Ink Print. Proofing with that company has become just a formality. I know how to prepare an image for their press, and they know what my work is supposed to look like, so I can’t remember the last time I had to reproof an image because the first one didn’t look right, but it’s been several years.

When the 18”x24” matte aluminum print of the latest commission arrived, it was a very good day. I checked it for flaws and couldn’t find any. However, I discovered that while the white background was smooth, the painted area was slightly raised with a noticeable texture. This was an unexpected but welcome happy accident that added even more to the print.

And there is the valley of apprehension of packaging and shipping the piece, waiting for it to arrive, or driving to deliver the work to the client. Finally, after more than two months of back and forth, sourcing the photos, discussing the approach, many hours of painting, sending periodic progress updates, her financial investment in the piece, it all comes down to the delivery and reveal.

No pressure.

Suzanne had already seen the image via email, but as I said, it’s not quite real until you see it in print.

Thankfully, she was pleased with it. We had earlier discussed some of her other artwork, and she generously showed me other pieces in her collection, including the first piece she bought of mine online from Wayfair. While I’ve had this license for some time, I’ve never actually seen one of the canvases in person, and I was pleased with the quality.
It’s always flattering to see my work in somebody’s home, especially a canvas of one of my personal favourites, my Berkley painting called “Peanuts.”

Even before I got home to Canmore, Suzanne had hung the print and sent me photos she generously allowed me to share.

As much as I love meeting clients in person, especially one who was such a pleasure to work with, and while delivering the painting is the pinnacle of all those peaks and valleys, there was an unexpected bonus to the day that can’t be minimized.
I got to meet Suzanne’s new little wonder, River, a black lab puppy, who is in that lovable, awkward, too small for her big paws stage.

From the dark valley of having to say goodbye to her best friend, Suzanne now gets the peak experience of providing a home to a new dog and introducing her to adventures around every corner.

Under Santé’s watchful eye.
_____

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Painting a Dog’s Best Life


Late last year, one of my subscribers inquired about a commission of her dog, Santé. Sadly, Suzanne lost her much-loved pup to osteosarcoma at the end of November, and she wanted a painting to remember her.

The initial back and forth conversation is an essential part of every commission. It allows me to get to know both the person and the subject, and it helps me decide if I’m the right artist for the job, especially for a memorial piece.

While I can paint both in portrait style and my signature whimsical style, I’ll admit to preferring the latter, but most people who hire me for memorials choose the portrait style.

Suzanne, however, wanted to remember Santé at her best, and as she’s followed my work for some time, she requested the whimsical style.

Initially, Suzanne sent me a photo of Santé running through the water with a stick in her mouth and asked if I could paint her like that. I was reluctant for a couple of reasons.

My style is about the face and expression, best revealed by a large headshot painting, like much of my work.
Also, I haven’t painted many full-body action poses, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Fear of failure is a powerful demotivator.

As part of her grieving process, Suzanne wrote a long essay about her life with her dog and shared that with me so I could get to know her as well. So I made a cup of tea one afternoon and sat down in the kitchen to read it.

I don’t mind admitting that it got me right in the heartstrings, and I had to wipe away tears. But, sad ending aside, it was a good story, and Suzanne is an excellent writer.

She is an outdoor enthusiast, frequently mountain biking and hiking, with Santé by her side. After reading about Santé’s adventurous nature, her boundless energy and obsessive love of sticks, I couldn’t imagine painting her any other way. That dog lived her best life.

Suzanne provided plenty of photos, but the first was the best, Santé running in the water with a stick in her mouth.

But I don’t just want to copy an image, especially in the whimsical style. I want to make it my own. So, I exaggerated her expression and gave her a big grin. You can’t see Santé’s teeth in the reference photo, so I found additional reference for that, as it helped a lot with the smile around that stick. I also exaggerated the size of the stick and changed its shape for a better overall composition.
The water spray from her feet was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in any painting I’ve done to date. It took many hours to get it right, not to mention all the tiny droplets to add action to the scene.

Instead of filling the entire background, I created a graphic shape of the water and painted Santé so that she was running out of it, adding to the illusion of action.

This painting took a long time, but it was well worth the effort. Not only did it stretch my skills, but necessity forced me to learn a few new techniques to bring this to life. It was overcoming the challenge that made the final piece so satisfying.

I’m a frequent proponent of printing my work on canvas. It brings out the textures and richness in many paintings, especially the detail I paint in my work. But I gave Suzanne another option, and after providing her with more information, she’s chosen an 18″ X 24″ matte aluminum. Given the dynamic nature of this painting, I think it was the best choice, and I’m looking forward to seeing it once it arrives.

When I shared the final image with her Saturday morning, less than an hour after I finished it, Suzanne told me that it was the 11th anniversary of the day she brought Santé home at eight weeks old and shared a pic with me. That puppy didn’t yet know she had won the lottery and was about to have a grand adventure.

Of the painting, Suzanne wrote, “I love it. It’s perfect. You added the whimsy and didn’t lose an ounce of “her” in the process. Thank you so much for making the effort to know her to paint her.”

Cheers,
Patrick

Please visit this page if you’d like to know more about my pet portrait commissions.

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Paintings, Projects and Possibilities

Here’s a secret that likely won’t shock you.

Whenever I write a post, there’s a good chance that there was a first draft that descended into a rant about social media. Then I re-read it, realize (again) that nobody wants to read that crap, delete it and start over.

I had about 1000 words written this time before I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and began again.

You know that person who constantly rages about how much they hate Justin Trudeau (or Trump, or Jason Kenney, or Erin O’Toole, or insert name here), and you think, “Ugh, we get it, you don’t like the guy. Move on!”

I don’t want to be that guy when it comes to social media. Sure, I’ll still do cartoons about it from time to time because the exodus is growing, it’s in the news, and that’s my job, but I’ve already left those platforms.

So, I’m moving on.

But I don’t regret the time spent writing that rant because it’s like journaling. Sometimes you just need to purge that bad energy, and I’m glad I kept it to myself.

Now for some good news. This year is starting quite well, despite the last one ending on a down note.

First, I’ve started a new commission of a beautiful dog. Sadly, she passed away late last year, which usually means the client wants a traditional portrait as a memorial. But this client has been following my work for quite some time, and she wants to remember her dog as happy and full of life, so I get to paint her in my signature whimsical style. This dog was an energetic outdoor pup, always up for mountain bike trips, hiking, chasing sticks, and high-energy activities, so the client kept steering me toward a full-body action pose, with great photos to back it up.

I’ll admit that the request made me nervous. My work is all about the face and expression, and a full-body can often mean some of that gets lost because the head and face will be smaller. But after some back and forth and reviewing the photos, I soon came around to her way of thinking.

I’ve started the piece, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I talked about this with my buddy, Derek, on a recent visit to Electric Grizzly Tattoo. Derek’s an incredible painter, and it’s great to have another artist I can talk to about this stuff. When I told him about this commission, that it scared me a little, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, I qualified it with, “but, you know what happens when you challenge yourself.”

Derek put his hand out flat in front of him for a second, then raised it about a foot.

He gets it.

Facing the scary stuff is the only way you take your skills to the next level.

Speaking of Derek, he recently introduced me to a whole new project he was exploring and suggested I join him in the endeavour. Each of us will be promoting our own work, so we’re not partnering on it, simply going down the same road. He made some introductions on my behalf, and we navigated it together. It’s an opportunity that might go nowhere but could also change our careers for the better.

From initial tire-kicking less than two weeks ago to serious discussions with the parties involved, Derek and I have signed agreements and are excited about the possibilities. But, having been down this kind of road before, we’re tempering our enthusiasm with a liberal dose of reality.

As in all things speculative, you hope for the best outcome but allow for the worst. What I like about the project is that there was a short deadline to get involved, with no room for procrastination. We had to get our shit together inside of a small window to make the launch dates. So, rather than talk it to death, we did our due diligence, got to work, and climbed aboard.

I realize this is vague, but until it launches, revealing specifics would be premature. I only mention it because it’s nice to focus on something with positive potential, given all we’ve dealt with the past two years.

At a time when so many people are tearing each other down, it’s gratifying that a fellow artist and friend discovered an opportunity and invited me along. He didn’t have to.  

I’m also working on two other painting projects. First, I’ve finally started the elephant as I want it done for Expo, which isn’t that far away. And it won’t be long before Mike at Pacific Music & Art needs another selection of paintings to consider for the 2023 calendar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the elephant in there?
There is also a much larger project I’m doing, involving several paintings of Burrowing Owls. So you can expect to see plenty of these characters pop up in posts over the next few months, each with different poses and expressions.

Between the commission, the elephant, the burrowing owls, the painting course, editorial cartoons and the daily support stuff I do for my business, I have an overflowing plate. But I’m not complaining. I’m at my best when I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m just happy to look to the horizon and see many more positive possibilities than negative realities.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Collars and Colours on Canvas

A couple of months ago, I shared a finished commission piece of Bomber. Here’s the link to that post.

This was a unique experience for a few reasons. The person who hired me was not the person with whom I had worked or who received the painting— it was a gift commission. As I mentioned in that post, the experience was ideal. The gift giver and the recipient were terrific to work with, and I have nothing but fond memories of that commission.

The recipient often works for periods of time in one province but lives in another, and not the next one over, either.

So when it came time to ship the canvas, Bomber’s Mom asked me to send it to her work address, so when she was missing being home with her dog, she’d have the art to keep her company. I kind of liked that.
I finished this painting in February and shipped it shortly after. While Sharon has seen the image and was happy with it, she didn’t get to see the 12”X16” canvas until last week.

I’m proud of the quality of my poster prints; otherwise, I wouldn’t sell them. The quality available today versus what was possible and affordable twenty years ago is night and day. Art Ink Print in Victoria does my poster prints, and it has gotten to the point where I rarely need to proof them because they do such a great job. They know my work and how it’s supposed to look. I can rely on them to make it look the way I want it to, and I never have to apologize to my customers, as the prints they order consistently exceed their expectations.

I sent an additional poster print of this commission to the person who hired me, a little bonus and keepsake.

Despite how much I like my poster prints, I’ve been telling people for years that my work looks best on canvas. There’s just something about the added texture of the fibres and the giclée print quality from ABL Imaging in Calgary. It makes the image pop, the colours look richer, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see the first canvas printing of a piece.

A little unsolicited advice to artists; if you’re going to print your work, don’t go for the cheapest you can find. People will pay for quality. You want to look at your own prints and think, “yeah, I’m happy to put my signature on that!”

I took photos of the Bomber canvas before I shipped it but didn’t want to share it until after Sharon had seen it. The photos still don’t do it justice, because iPhones have a tendency to wash out the lighter areas, which you can see in the top image and closeup. Even still, why would I want to dilute her moment of seeing the painting at its best?

She sent a message last week with this…

“I wanted to send you a note to let you know I finally made it back to ___ and just opened the package. You were right, it does hit different in person! It’s even more perfect than the picture. It’s up hanging in my office now and will remind me every day of home.”

There are few things I like better than happy clients.

If you’d like more information about commissions, you can read about them on my site, either in the post I linked to at the beginning of this piece, or on my Commissions page.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting Pet Portraits

Meet Wellington Bomber, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and my latest commission. Having shown it to the happy client this morning, I can now share it with you. I’ll let it sit for a day, give it one last critical eye, then send it for printing tomorrow morning. I hope to ship it later next week.

It was a privilege to paint Bomber, and I quite enjoyed this one.

This particular painting was an unusual circumstance as the commission was a gift purchase, so I only talked with the recipient after the fact. I usually don’t accept these commissions because they have created problems if the recipient isn’t familiar with my work. Assured that Bomber’s owner knew and liked my work, I took the gamble.

I need not have worried. Both the giver and recipient of the gift were ideal clients. From start to finish, this was a perfect commission experience.

Painting pet portraits is a challenging undertaking. I know plenty of artists who don’t take commissions because they can be a minefield of unwanted surprises.

When the experience is good, however, it’s usually great. I’ve had some fantastic clients, and it’s those paintings that keep me doing this work. More than one client over the years has said that I made them cry, including this one. Let me tell ya; there’s no better compliment.

For other artists, clients and the merely curious, here are some of the hurdles involved with pet portrait commissions.

Photo Reference
Given a choice, I would always take my reference photos, but since most clients aren’t local, that’s rarely possible.

It can take some time to find the right images, which means back-and-forth emails with clients. Most of the pet portraits I’ve painted have been memorials. When the animal has passed on, my only choices are what they have. I’ve turned down commissions for lack of good reference.

Are we On the Same Page?
Clients hire me for one of two styles, and I require a clear understanding of which before I begin. Do they want a portrait style or my whimsical wildlife style?

When it’s a memorial commission, the client most often wants a traditional portrait.

Sometimes the client will say they want my whimsical style, but then they attach conditions and limitations. One client had a big slobbery dog I was excited to paint because I was going to put some long stringy drool and goofy personality into that face.

The client asked that I paint my style, but make him look more dignified with no slobber at all, which are conflicting instructions. To this day, I wish I could have done my version.

When I have the freedom to paint the way I see it, the painting could end up goofy or with slightly less caricatured expression, depending on how it comes together. Clients who agree to allow me that freedom usually get something pretty special.

Price
Some bristle at the price tag, and I think it’s because we’ve become accustomed to online mass-market gimmick art, especially when it comes to pets.

No doubt you’ve seen those ads where they stick your dog’s head on the body of royalty or a military general in a renaissance-style portrait for under $100.

You choose from a handful of template options and backgrounds, upload the photo of your pet, they cut, paste, apply filters, and voila, Fido looking cute in a faux classic oil painting. Anybody with Photoshop experience can easily create that sort of image.

For a fun, inexpensive novelty item, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll get what you paid for, and I’m sure many people find it amusing and enjoyable. It’s also the same thing that thousands of other people got.

Hiring an artist to paint a custom painting of your pet is a whole other animal; pardon the pun. You’re buying an original piece of art that’s personal to you.

There’s a significant amount of time involved in a pet portrait, from the initial consultation to delivery of the finished painting. My price includes a ready-to-hang medium-sized canvas print and shipping, but the cost for that is more than it seems.

I have my canvases printed professionally in Calgary by ABL Imaging. Their quality standards are high, which means I never have to apologize for cracked seams, inferior quality wood on the stretcher bars, or the wrong colour. If I wouldn’t hang it in my home, I won’t expect a client to hang it in theirs.

But quality costs.

For a one-off 12″ X16″ print, it costs me around $150. Then there’s the 2.5-hour drive round trip to Calgary to get it. If I’m running other errands or going to the zoo to take photos, it’s a detour and worth it. If not, I’ll have a courier pick it up. That’s another $35.

If I’m shipping the canvas, that’s more time and materials, plus $30-$50 depending on where it’s going.

That’s just the cost of production and time, and we haven’t even got to the creative part, which is where the real value exists.

Time
Whether it’s art for a living or any other service provided by a self-employed professional, pricing needs to factor in time. You can’t create two things at once, at least not well.

There is time spent talking with the client, checking reference photos, explaining why one works and another doesn’t, having email conversations to ensure expectations are reasonable and that there’s a shared vision. That consultation time adds up.

Most importantly, when I’m working on a commission, that’s time I’m not working on editorial cartoons or paintings for prints and licensing.

Then there’s the actual painting time. A commission will usually require a minimum of fifteen hours, but most likely more, spread out over a few weeks, depending on my other deadlines. I treat the likeness and personality as I would that of a portrait of a person. It has taken me decades of training, practice and experience to create my signature style of artwork.

Just as a skilled trades-person commands a professional rate, so do creative professionals. People often think that because an artist enjoys his or her work, that they will (and should) gladly do it for free.

The work we choose to create is the work we enjoy most. The work somebody else wants us to do, that comes at a price. You are buying not just my art skills that took a lifetime to master, but also my work time, which I never get back.

This latest commission was a real challenge. I had a hard time with the personality, mainly because the dog is a senior. Goofy didn’t seem to be the right direction, so most of the character had to be more subtle, and I spent hours trying to get it right.

It was only when I stopped trying to force it that the personality showed up. I’m happy with the result, and my standards are so much higher than that of my clients.

Friends and Family
In my experience, artists are notorious people pleasers and pushovers, most often to our own detriment.

Friends, family and even total strangers often strongly suggest that they expect a discount or free painting, or they outright request one.

Most people mean well and don’t consider it a big deal, nor do they realize that they’re the 100th person who has asked you to paint their pet “in your spare time.”

Like most people, I don’t have spare time. Ever.

Live long enough, and you accumulate many friends and acquaintances, most of whom are genuinely lovely people, all of whom you want to give a discount.

But sooner or later, you’re going to lose your business because you wanted to be a nice guy.

The hardest thing people pleasers need to learn is how to say No. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. The worst part of it is when people get used to you saying Yes all the time, they’ll resent you when you say No.

Suddenly you’re not the nice person who has always been agreeable to their requests; you’re the rude person who has gotten too big for his britches.

Sometimes, it’s personal.
From time to time, I may want to paint somebody’s dog, for the same reasons I want to paint a wild animal. I see something I like, or I have a connection with the dog or cat, or I want to give a gift that only I can give.

I’ve painted my parents’ dog, who passed away last year, and I will undoubtedly paint their new dog.

Our next-door neighbours have a wonderful dog that Shonna and I adore. Running into her in the driveway never fails to brighten our day, and she gets offended if we don’t visit for even just a minute. I’ve already taken reference of her when she was still a big puppy, and I’m going to paint her eventually.

I’ve talked about the cabin north of here that friends and I have gone to in recent years. I drive by the owners’ place on the way to the cabin, and even if I know they’re not home, I stop to visit their dog, Jingles. I painted her in a portrait style simply because that’s what felt right at the time. I was happy to give them a framed print as a thank-you for always being such great hosts.
Whenever I finish these personal pieces, however, I always get messages and comments from people ‘offering’ to let me paint their dog, assuring me that their dog is adorable, cute, and has a great personality.

Almost every dog I’ve ever met matches that description, especially to their family.

But despite what most people think, art is a business, one that requires thick skin. Art for a living is finding a balance between producing work that pays the bills and making time for the work I want to do.

When I choose to paint a pet for my enjoyment, much like the portraits of people I paint, there is little to no market for that painting after the fact. People rarely want paintings of someone else’s dog to hang on their wall; they want a painting of their own dog.

Conclusion
When a client hires me to paint their pet, I take it seriously. Someone is choosing to spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on a personal piece of my artwork. Depending on where they hang it, they might look at it every day for many years to come.

I owe every client my best work.

Whether you’re an artist thinking of offering pet portrait commissions as part of your menu of services or a client thinking of hiring me or someone else to create a piece of art personal to you, hopefully this has provided a little insight.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to create art for a living for many years. The artistic skills have been challenging to earn, often frustrating, featuring many course corrections and more than a few dead ends.

But by far, the hardest lessons I continue to learn have been about the business of art. People want art in their lives, but they often forget to view it the same way they do other services and products. What’s worse, artists themselves are often the worst failures at running their own businesses for the same reason.

And to those artists, I will leave you with three critical thoughts.

Creating art is easy. Selling art is hard.

If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will, either.

Trying to please everybody is a recipe for misery, in art and life.

Cheers,
Patrick

A Final Word on Commissions
From recent market consultation and after careful consideration of my work’s value, I have increased my commission rate to starting at $1900.00, which includes the ready-to-hang canvas print and shipping. That rate is effective immediately, but my newsletter subscribers can still lock in the current rate of $1100.00 by booking a commission with a non-refundable deposit by March 31st.
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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Rocky


My latest commission, this is Rocky.

This is the second piece for the same client as my most recent commission post, my painting of Sammy, the Golden Retriever.

Rocky’s portrait is a memorial piece, as he passed away some time ago. The very image of a firefighting dog, Rocky was the fire mascot in the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver in 2009.  He even participated in the parade and opening ceremony.

I’ve never painted a Dalmatian before and this was a fun piece. It was a challenge to make sure I got all of the markings in the right place, even as I exaggerated his features in my whimsical style.

When it comes to getting it right, it’s not only about the features themselves, but also the relationships between the features, affecting how believable the likeness will be. This is especially important when painting people.

Black and white fur is tricky because I couldn’t paint pure black or pure white. The blackest black or whitest white in a colour piece will create flat dead spots that will rob the image of its life. It’s all about degrees of shading and how the light reflects in the dark and light areas. Black will often be a very dark blue, white the brightest yellow or pink.

There isn’t much fur detail in a short-haired black and white dog, so it requires restraint. Too much detail and it wouldn’t look right, especially if I painted the fur too sharp. It became about manipulating the depth of field, blurring out some areas and sharpening others. The personality and overall image were the focus and it was important not to have any one detail distract from that. He really does have that heart shaped feature above his nose, however, and I wanted to make sure it was evident.

This client was a joy to work with, for purely selfish reasons. Aside from some minor direction I was happy to accept, I had the freedom to paint these beautiful dogs my own way. For this painting, I asked if they wanted me to include the collar or not. I didn’t include one for their other dog because he had long, luxurious hair, but I was hoping they would want it for this one. They did and said they preferred it to be red.

Considering that Rocky was a firefighter dog, it added a lot, balancing out the black and white with a splash of colour. Had they given me no direction at all, I would have made the same choices.

Because I don’t know how the clients are planning to hang the canvases, I wanted them to look good on their own or together, so I made both of the backdrops blue, with Rocky’s a little darker because I liked the way it looked against the subject.
After painting whimsical wildlife and pet portrait commissions for more than ten years, I’m confident in my abilities and the skills I’ve developed. But each painting still presents unique challenges, and I would be disappointed if it were otherwise. Overcoming those obstacles makes for improved skills and better prepares me for the next piece, no matter what that may be.

As always, the most crucial part of any commission is the client’s approval and I’m happy to report that they were pleased with both finished pieces. Next up, I’ll be sending these off for printing, then shipping them to their new home in B.C.

For you tech and art people, I painted this image in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. Photos are only for reference, not used in my paintings. It’s all digital brushwork.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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.

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Sammy

Near the end of last year, I was contacted by a woman in BC who had seen my artwork at the ferry terminal in Victoria, on merchandise licensed through Pacific Music & Art.

Christina was complimentary of my work, which is always nice to hear, and when she saw that I did commissions, she inquired about my painting her Golden Retriever as a gift for her husband. She included a photo of the two of them.

Before taking on a commission, I usually like a little back and forth to ensure I understand the client’s expectations, and I want to see reference photos. If the images aren’t good, I can’t do a good job, and I’ll decline the opportunity. Christina supplied me with plenty of great shots and suggested I Google the pair, just in case there was press reference I might like.

You see, Sammy is a working dog, and Larry Watkinson is the Chief of the Penticton Fire Department.

Photo Credit: Mike Biden

Before long, I was reading with fascination, articles from different BC newspapers. In September of 2019, Larry and Sam were deployed to the Bahamas to help with the rescue efforts following Hurricane Dorian.

As part of a team of Burnaby Fire Fighters and their rescue dogs, they searched for cadavers in the wreckage. The USAR team must be self-sufficient in their operation, and while the goal is to get there as quickly as possible to find survivors, it’s often too late, despite their best efforts. The team had previously deployed to Nepal in 2015.

They spent eight days in 40-degree heat in the Bahamas, having to source their own accommodation, water, food and resources. These dedicated professionals are volunteers, using their own vacation time to help others in need, leaving their supportive families back home.

Following the deployment, Larry was quoted in the Penticton Western News as saying, “We have to recognize that we live in a great place and a beautiful city and to remember to look after each other. That’s something I’ve come home with and have been reflecting on every day.”

I asked Christina if she wanted Sammy painted in his rescue vest, and she declined, saying, “He is first a family pet.”

When people hire me for commissions, they either want a traditional portrait or my whimsical signature style, the same way I paint my wildlife portraits. While I’m happy to paint both, I do prefer the ones where I get to add more personality, and was thrilled when Christina said she wanted my style. They’re just so much more fun to paint.

Later in our correspondence, she wanted to make sure Larry liked the idea, and thankfully he did. No longer a surprise, I didn’t have a firm deadline on this, and they hired me to paint another family dog since passed away, which I’m working on now. Rocky was a traditional firefighter’s dog, a beautiful Dalmatian and I’m also painting him in the whimsical style.
Sammy was a joy to paint, and I had so many great reference pics to work from, which allowed me to create the likeness from more than one source. While Sammy’s nose has lightened with age, Larry had requested I paint it dark, as it was when he was younger, which I was happy to do, while still reflecting the light. My work is all about artistic license, especially the whimsical style.

Christina and Larry were both pleased with the result, which is always the nail-biting part of any commission, waiting to hear if the client is happy with the work I deliver.

Once I finish the second painting, I’ll have them both printed and stretched on 12”X16” canvas, ready to hang, and shipped to Penticton.

I get to meet and talk with a lot of great people in my work, but this is one of the stories and commissions I’ve enjoyed most.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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Sonora

This past weekend, I finished another memorial commission for a little dog named Sonora. She passed away at the end of May this year.
Not the first time I’ve been commissioned by Donna, a freelance photographer in Connecticut. You can check out her work here. I painted her horse Mocha five years ago in my more whimsical style. It’s one of my favorite commission pieces and I’d love to paint more horses. She also made some horse reference available to me and I painted another of her horses, but not as detailed.
Donna was on vacation in Texas thirteen years ago and found this little pup at a rest stop in Sonora, nearly lifeless. She was only 4 or 5 weeks old. They couldn’t leave her and were going to find a rescue organization to take her.

Not hard to guess what actually happened, as often does in these cases. Sonora had already found her home.
When Donna commissioned me to paint her, she was having a hard time finding reference of her without the cataracts Sonora had developed in her senior years, but she wanted me to try and paint her with more youthful eyes. I agreed with her and we’re both pleased with the result. My goal is not to just recreate what I see in the reference, but to find the personality in these paintings, even when I’m not painting them with a caricature look like my whimsical wildlife paintings.
This painting will go to print soon, but it isn’t yet known on what surface. I had suggested the new acrylic print, but Donna said it doesn’t really go with her house, which is an important consideration when choosing the type of print. With plenty of options available, I’m sure we’ll come up with something that will be appropriate for Sonora’s portrait.

It’s always a privilege to be trusted with one of these memorial paintings, knowing that this will be part of how somebody remembers their furry family member for years to come.

Thanks for reading,
Patrick

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Commission – Cows

CowsFinalPostMy commission work to date has been dogs and cats (and one beautiful horse), but a friend of ours recently tasked me with painting this gift for his wife.  As she loves cows and is now pregnant with twins, he wanted a painting of a mother and two calves to hang in the nursery.  I cautioned him that comparing his pregnant wife to a cow at a time when most women’s sensibilities are heightened, might be a recipe for disaster, but he assured me more than once that it would be fine.  The canvas is still in the proofing stage, but he showed her the digital image of the piece this past weekend and she loved it.  Apparently there were happy tears.  So, with his permission, I’m able to share it now.

This was one of my most challenging paintings to date.  The hairs on a cow are very small and short and the features aren’t as malleable as I’d first imagined.  When painting one animal, I can usually find reference that will allow me to see all sides of the subject to decide which will lend itself best to my Totem style of painting.  First, I had to find multiple reference photos of the right breed of cow (Holstein Friesian), which was not an easy task.  I bought twice as many photos than I used as I couldn’t play around with the composition without the full resolution files.  There ended up being three different comps and thankfully my wife helped me decide which was best for the painting. With three subjects in the image, it became a juggling act to try and show the best sides of all of them, in the correct proportions with the right lighting.   Then I had to make them look cozy, cute and comfortable, but not crushed together.  Finally, I had to lay down all of the right conditions to allow all three personalities to show up after many hours of painting, something I’ve often said never seems to be quite my doing, or under my control.  When it comes to the life in these paintings, I’m often surprised (and grateful) when it arrives.

CowsClosePostWhile I don’t consider this part of my Totem series, it is definitely painted in that style.  Even though it was a commission piece, I will be offering prints of this image in the store in the coming weeks as well.  The commission piece will be printed at 18″ X 24″ as a giclée on canvas with a black shadowbox frame.  I’m hoping to be able to deliver it next week.

I honestly have no idea how long this took to paint as I worked on it during a very busy time, while juggling other deadlines.  There was at least one session where I worked through the night on it.  I’ll admit to being very frustrated with this piece at times when things weren’t going as well as I wanted them to, but to be honest, that happens a lot and it always turns around.  I learned a lot from this painting and had to experiment and adjust brushes and technique to get the look I needed in places.  So there was artistic growth here, too, which is always welcome.

Click on either image to see a larger version.  This piece was painted in Photoshop CC on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD.

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Commission – Duke

DukeMy latest commission, this is Duke, painted in my Totem style.  While I often like to post work-in-progress shots online with paintings I’m working on, the first look at this one is the final image.  As it was a birthday gift for the client’s wife, and the client is also a friend, there was a slim chance that she might see it online and recognize it as her dog.  Let’s face it, ruining a surprise is just bad for business.  This was completed at the end of last month then sent off to my printer in Calgary.  The final print was a giclée on canvas, 18″X24″ with a shadowbox frame.  Shipped to Dallas, it arrived yesterday and thanks to the magic of online video, I was able to see the reaction when it was opened.  That’s just icing on the cake.

I know I say this a lot about paintings, but this was  a lot of fun.  I had a number of reference photos to work from and the client chose my exaggerated caricature Totem style of painting over my portrait style and I really enjoyed painting Duke with his happy goof expression.  It’s true that I enjoy both painting styles in which I work and I allow clients to choose which one they prefer for their image, but the Totem style is my favorite.  I laughed out loud a few times while painting this image and am glad I finally get to share it.

For those who like the tech details, I painted this digitally in Photoshop CC using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.

DukeClose