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Cartooning COVID

As this year has been like no other, I decided not to do a ‘Best of’ editorial cartoon selection for 2020. Instead, I’ve created a video essay.

The idea came to me just this morning. Rather than wait, I decided to power through. Selecting the cartoons from the more than 360 I’ve drawn this year, choosing the music, writing the narrative, recording and editing it all, this took about 8 hours. But it was cathartic. Whether it resonates with anyone else is beyond my control. I just wanted to do it.

It’s about a five minute watch. Let me know what you think.

Take care,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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No Small Thing

In the winter of 1998, my wife Shonna and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

It was the early days of the internet, so we booked through a travel agent, which is why we ended up at the Treasure Island hotel. A pirate ship battle in the lagoon multiple times every night? What’s not to love?

My friend Bruno took care of our cats, and I asked him if there was anything he wanted from Vegas. He said a friend of his had brought back a glass skull beer mug from the same hotel, and he wanted one of those. I was happy to oblige.

In 2010, I began going back to Vegas on my own each year for the Photoshop World Conference. After hearing my stories about great food, whining that I was always too busy to do anything while I was there, we decided to return to Vegas for a vacation in 2013.

We stayed in a suite at Mandalay Bay, I introduced my foodie wife to some restaurants, and we had a great time. We went to the shooting range, took an open cockpit biplane flight over the Hoover Dam, and went skydiving for the first time, the highlight of our trip.

One day, we took the bus to the other end of the strip and made a day of walking back to our hotel, stopping in at restaurants and attractions along the way. When I saw Treasure Island, I thought about that mug and wondered if they had skull shot glasses.

I’m not a big drinker, but my spirit of choice is amber rum. In keeping with the whole pirate-rum thing, I’d long wanted a skull shot glass, a silly but harmless indulgence.

They didn’t have them, and I was a little disappointed.

Fast forward a year or two, and we were in a gift shop on Main Street here in Canmore, with a visiting friend. While wandering the shelves, I laughed when I came across a set of four skull-shaped shot glasses, right in my hometown. I bought them on the spot.

These days, if I wanted them, I’d probably go to Amazon and yep…set of 4, less than $25.

I like my story better.

Dumpster fire, steaming pile of…er…manure, train wreck, these are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard to describe 2020. The pandemic has changed the planet.

An optimist might suggest looking for the silver lining, appreciate the little things, realize what’s truly important and learn to live with less. But it’s hard to make that shift when you’ve had your salary cut in half, your kids’ education hobbled, all plans cancelled, and the dark cloud of uncertainty steals the colour from every sunrise.

That’s even if you still have a job.

The thought of a trip to Vegas right now makes me shudder. No thanks.

Putting aside the politics and rhetoric, the armchair epidemiology summit that convenes online every day, and the pervasive rage surrounding any discussion about viruses and vaccines, we’re all hurting and miserable.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone’s story of how this has affected their business, usually in a way I hadn’t considered.

The sandwich shop owner in downtown Calgary who relied on the busy lunch hour crowd that no longer exists. The event auditorium manager, one eye on the empty seats and the other on his bank account. The clothing store owner who was already competing hard with online shopping, now wonders why she opens her doors.

And the gift shop in a tourist town.

These people have families to support, mortgages, rent, debts and face the same uncertain futures as everybody else.

When one business fails, and another and another, then communities fail. For want of a nail and all that.

As a self-employed artist, a profession that has traditionally been synonymous with financial failure, this year has been the same kick in the crotch for me like everyone else. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to pay the bills, but it’s a good thing we can’t go anywhere because luxuries are not in the budget.

Every time I send out a newsletter or marketing post this year, it feels a little like panhandling. I know that many other business owners, both home occupation and brick-and-mortar, feel the same way. It’s hard to make the ask when you know money is tight.

I’m fortunate to have what I consider a large following of supporters, many of whom have been cheering me on for years. I appreciate those folks now more than ever, not just the ones who buy my artwork, but all of them. Some days, they simply give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep trying. That’s no small thing.

Most business owners feel the same way about their loyal customers, clients and supporters.

I get that Amazon is cheaper, has free shipping and easy returns. I know that Costco, Walmart and similar behemoths offer a convenience you can’t find anywhere else.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I shop at these places, and I will continue to do so. They employ people in the community, too, but they’re not in danger of going under anytime soon. Amazon doesn’t need your money.

Small businesses and the self-employed are struggling. This year will be the last for some of them. Many of those businesses employ others, and when the closed sign goes up on the door for the last time, those people will be looking for work, where there’s no work to be found.

Communities are an intricate web of connection. When you start cutting threads, it falls apart.

Small businesses support local events, community initiatives, school programs, sports teams and a whole lot more. They are continually asked for donations of product, time and money. While Amazon does give generously to charities, they’re not going to supply the coffee or hot dog buns for your kid’s hockey tournament.

So here’s today’s pitch.

Support small business.

It’s trite, cliché; we hear it all the time. I know.

Support small business.

I’m not saying do all of your shopping locally. Paying $50 for something at a local store that you can get online for $20 when you’re already financially strapped, that’s a hard sell.

But how about one or two things, especially for this year’s holiday season? Buy a gift with a story behind it, include a note about the excellent service at the little store where you bought it. Buy a gift card from the locally-owned coffee shop, the one where the owners have greeted you by name for decades, ask about your kids, and how you’re holding up.

And not to be too obvious, but how about buying from an independent creative type? We’re all over the place.

Give a gift as you’d want to receive one, with some thought and effort. Spread some good feelings in a time when we could all use it.

To quote from Bon Jovi’s latest offering, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”

Living in Alberta, I hear many angry people talking about how Canada has turned its back on Canadian oil, buying from other countries. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than a Facebook meme (it always is), I understand that sentiment.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when Canadians choose not to support Canadians.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Face Masks: To Wear Or Not To Wear

The second order of whimsical wildlife face masks arrived this week and in less than two days, I was able to get them all out the door. Banff and Canmore local deliveries are done and all of the Canadian and US orders have shipped.

Compared to the first order, this one was a breeze.

As these are being sold to retailers and other venues, they need to look attractive on the shelf, so Pacific Music and Art added snazzy new packaging. While the quality and printing of the masks was already there the first go ‘round, the new packaging makes them look even better. That’s a large and small mask shown here. If you are an interested retailer, please contact Mike at Pacific Music and Art and he’ll be happy to set you up.
Plenty of people have told me that they’ve received positive comments when wearing the masks. So far, I’ve only worn the Lion Face and the Amur Tiger, but I got a few more for myself on this order, too.

The Sasquatch looks ridiculously funny on the pictures I’ve seen, so I wanted to have one of my own.

As a lifelong wearer of eyeglasses, the most annoying part of wearing a mask is that they fog up. I tried doing the dish soap method, it just doesn’t work. But I found a great solution online from an optometrist. He explains it well in this video.

I’ve made one modification myself to his method, by rolling two strips of medical tape on the inside of the top of the mask.
The inexpensive hypo-allergenic paper tape can be found at any drugstore. I prep the mask before I leave the house so I don’t have to mess with it (or wear it) in the car. When I get to the grocery store or post office, I put the mask on, press the taped areas in place and my glasses no longer fog up.

When I got a haircut the other day, for the first time in four months, I was required to wear a mask. But I anticipated that wearing the ear loops would make it a challenge to cut around my ears, so I taped the sides of the mask to my face so that the ear loops didn’t need to be secured. Worked like a charm and the tape doesn’t irritate the skin.
Here’s the before and after haircut pic. Someone used the word nefarious to describe my expression in the after picture. I won’t argue that. I’m fortunate to still have thick healthy hair at my age, and for that I’m grateful. I was, however, very happy to get rid of it all.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question.

Here in Canmore and Banff, I’m surprised that few people are wearing face masks. I don’t mean on the street or in places where you can keep the 6ft. distance, but in grocery stores, post offices and other places where close proximity is not only possible, but probable.

This isn’t a question about whether or not the virus is as serious as they say, whether the precautions taken were too much or too little, or how much the masks help or don’t help. I’ve seen the arguments online and the uncertainty of it all isn’t what disturbs me most, but how people are speaking to one another in the discussions.

Whether an expression of their own fear or frustration with this new normal, I don’t know, but people are being downright nasty to each other, and it’s completely unnecessary. The discussion can be had without the vitriol.

My wife Shonna works full-time at a law firm, but has also worked part-time at Safeway for more than a decade. There are two senior women who work at the law firm, and at the beginning of the isolation, they had expressed concern about her coming in to work every day while still working at Safeway.

So she sacrificed that part-time income for the past few months so she didn’t potentially introduce the virus to the law office staff.

With no local cases, things opening up again, and safety measures in place at Safeway for the workers, she went back to work at the grocery store on Monday and has already worked a couple of shifts. Suddenly, she’s aware of how many people are wearing masks, or rather aren’t wearing them.

There are Plexiglas barriers at grocery stores now, but people forget themselves. They look around them, put their hands on the sides, and aren’t keeping the distance they should. Shonna has said she feels a little more relaxed and safer when a customer is wearing a mask, because she can’t wear one herself for her entire shift.

The messaging has been clear. A reusable non-medical mask is unlikely to protect the wearer from a virus, but it might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing it on to somebody else.

People need to be reminded that you aren’t wearing the mask for yourself.

Wearing a mask tells people that whether they believe in the threat or not, whether there are local cases or not, whether it’s all a deep-state, Illuminati, government conspiracy or not, you’re wearing one to make the people around you feel a little safer.

It’s an act of community.

People talk a really good game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments section about how other people should behave and how people don’t care as much as they used to and how things used to be better in the world. They use words like ‘hero’ for front line workers and grocery store clerks (Shonna does not), failing to understand that those people shop for groceries, too. They go to the post office, the bank, and the coffee shop. You can’t clutch your hands to your chest, get all weepy-eyed, and share memes on Facebook supporting them, then dismiss them as a kook in a mask behind you in the checkout line.

You don’t reveal yourself by the things you say, you reveal yourself by the things you do.

I get it, I’ve been the only one in an aisle at the grocery store wearing one. I’m very healthy, have no immunity issues, and I’m not worried about getting sick. It feels a little silly or unnecessary to wear one sometimes, but ultimately it costs me nothing but a few minutes to put it on and take it off, and wash it when I get home. And if people think I’m a sheep, or a dork, or paranoid for wearing one, that’s fine. The issue is theirs, not mine.

One of my best friends has asthma, two others have high blood pressure, and more than I like to think about are entering their senior years. That puts them in the vulnerable category. I’m not wearing the mask for me, I’m wearing it for them and people like them. That doesn’t make me noble, or better than anybody else, it just makes me part of a community.

Just as we’re all supposed to wear our seat belts, stop at traffic lights, drive the speed limit (or close to it), and stop behind a school bus to keep children safe, wearing a mask in close quarters is a simple act of telling your neighbours, “I’ll look after you, you look after me, and we’ll all look silly together.”

They had to make those other things a law because people didn’t get it. They shouldn’t have to make this mandatory, too.

You might think I’m just trying to sell you more masks, but I don’t care which one you wear. There are plenty of designs out there or you can make your own. I’m also not going to tell you what to do, because there are too many people doing that already. But give it some thought, especially the next time you’re at the grocery store and see a senior citizen, somebody with mobility issues, or just the looks of worry on the faces of your fellow shoppers. Do you really want to risk getting them sick, even if that risk is small, simply because you couldn’t be bothered?

This is all so new, we’re all frustrated, and hopefully it’s temporary. It’s not that big a sacrifice.

I thought this was going to be the last pre-order I did for a while. With warmer weather, people able to socialize outside and keep their distance, the demand seemed to be waning. But now with talk of a second wave, whether that’s a real threat or not, and that more people are seeing my masks out in the world, I’m getting more inquiries. Nobody wants to be trying to find them in the fall if there’s a sudden spike in demand.

As such, SUNDAY (the 21st) I’ll send out another newsletter, with an opportunity to order more. The new 2021 calendars will be available in that one as well. So stay tuned.

If you have any friends or family interested in the masks, have them sign up for my newsletter. It has proven to be the most efficient method of getting the word out.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Are We There Yet?

End of another week.

Shonna and I had a trip to Vancouver Island booked for the end of August for our 25th anniversary, a glamping kayak trip, hoping to see orcas and other wildlife. The company let us know this week that their season has been scuttled. They can’t implement safety restrictions and still run the tour that we booked. It’s another gut punch, and we are disappointed.

As a friend recently said, “2020…the year of cancelled plans.”

Weddings, vacations, graduations, sabbaticals, reunions, the disruption to all of our plans and the ever-present uncertainty is weighing heavy.

I could vent, rant and rave, but there’s far too much of that online already and it just makes things worse for everybody, since none of us are having a good time.

Just because we have the right to an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to beat each other over the head with it post after post after post after post. People won’t remember whether you were right or wrong, they will remember how you made them feel when they were having a hard time.

I’ve got a friend with six inches of water in his basement because of a high snow pack and water table, three sump pumps going, thinking he might have to evacuate his home for the second time in less than ten years. Most of his neighbours are in the same boat, and there’s rain in the forecast.

I’ve got another friend who’s usually upbeat and positive, but his business has been deep in the red for months. It could take him years to recover. The last time I saw him, he admitted he wasn’t doing well, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do and he’s had enough.

Another colleague has been going through radiation treatment for cancer while trying to keep his business going through all of this.

These are just three stories of woe, and everybody you meet right now will have one, to varying degrees, including you. None is more important than the other, because to the person living it, it’s a darkness unique to them. And telling somebody, “hey, suck it up, because it could be worse,” will only make them feel guilty for having emotions, and surprise, that will only make them feel worse.

Given the choice of a nasty word or a kind one, choose the latter or nothing at all. I’ll admit to struggling with that, because I’m a reluctant misanthrope, which is just a big word for not liking humanity much. And yet, I know a lot of good people, so it’s both a paradox and hypocrisy.

You don’t have to be a super-positive, look-on-the-bright-side, we’re-all-in-this-together, it-could-be-worse, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow cheerleader. I’m certainly not. Just try not to make things worse for other people. Pause before you share every tragic news story, or your version of ‘truth’ story, passive-aggressive meme, or post designed to tell somebody else that they’re stupid because they don’t think like you do.

When’s the last time you changed your mind about something because somebody told you that you were an idiot for believing it?

There’s a well known internet axiom attributed to actor Wil Wheaton. It originated as a plea for sportsmanship and civility in the gaming community, but over the years it has been applied to any online interaction. It’s known as Wheaton’s Law and simply states, “Don’t be a dick.”

Consider that you likely don’t know what someone else is going through, assume they’re struggling and go from there. If you alienate people online, you’re alienating them in real life. Most people will not make the distinction, and you’ll wonder why friends have started to avoid you.

Some of you might be reading this thinking, “hold on, I know you in real life and you can be a bitter, cynical, depressed, neurotic, fist-clenched, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn sourpuss grump.”

Agreed. I’m well aware of my own shortcomings.

But I’m working on it.

Have a good weekend,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Enough


There is no doubt that this coronavirus experience has been difficult on everyone. Statistically speaking, those who’ve become sick or have died have been few, compared to the 7.6 billion people on the planet.

And yet, as reasonable voices have tried to explain, the victims of this virus have still been important loved ones to other people. It’s easy to say that a few should be sacrificed for the many, for the good of the economy, but I’ve yet to hear of somebody volunteering their own parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones for the COVID-19 gas chamber.

It’s indeed a struggle, to continue to do the right thing, sitting at home, while losing your job, business, savings and other assets, simply waiting for it all to end.

What makes it even harder is that everyone has their own expert opinion on how much isolation is too much, too little, whether or not to wear a mask, if these distance measures are necessary, if the virus has been around for longer than we thought, or is even here at all.

Suddenly, everybody is an armchair epidemiologist, following every news and fake news story, able to give you death by the numbers from every corner of the globe, and freely offering unsolicited advice on what everybody else should do, even though nobody asked.

If I had a nickel for how many people have told me that they’re certain they’ve had COVID-19 already, simply because they had a bad cold or flu this winter, I wouldn’t be worried about my finances right now.

Yes, you might have had it. Many people have. Whose life are you willing to risk to prove it?
Then there are the conspiracy theorists, intent on making this situation even worse for everybody else by spreading sensationalist videos and articles, accusing the government, deep state, corporations or individuals of having orchestrated this whole thing. Meanwhile, even a cursory examination of the propaganda reveals that the originators of these messages have their own axes to grind, including books, programs and supplements they’re selling.

We’ve heard certain friends and family members tell us over and over again not to believe the party line and to think for ourselves. Of course, that’s only as long as the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’ don’t disagree with theirs.

And even if there were some truth to any of the ‘it’s all a hoax’ theories, sharing post after post after post (after post after post after post) isn’t going to change any of it. All it will do is piss everybody off, so that when we are allowed to see other people, you’re not going to be at the top of anybody’s list.

Before hitting share on any of this stuff, ask yourself who you’re helping, what you’re accomplishing and why it’s necessary.

As someone who ordinarily spends way too much time in my head, my struggle in all of this has been mental and emotional. My level of optimism is minimal at the best of times, a consequence of whatever amalgam of nature, nurture and personal experiences have coalesced in my middle age to create this current perspective. Don’t forget the secret toxic ingredient of following the news for a living.

When I haven’t been as Pollyanna about this as some would prefer, especially if I’m having a bad day and they just happen to be having a good one (their bad day was yesterday), I’ve been told to ‘Cheer up,’ ‘take a happy pill,’ or ‘it could be worse.’

None of that helps the situation, largely because making somebody feel guilty for having a difficult time will have the opposite effect.

Regardless of COVID-19, somebody will always have it worse. The person who couldn’t make ends meet before all of this doesn’t care that your retirement savings are down. They never had any. The unemployed worker with no access to relief funding doesn’t care that you’ve been down to part-time hours for the past couple of months. The person trying to home school three children and hold down a job, doesn’t care that you had to cancel your vacation or that you’re bored because there’s nothing new on Netflix.

And the person who has been homeless for the past thirty years thinks we should all stop whining.

There’s a meme I’ll see now and then that goes something like, “Yes, they’re First World problems. But I live in the First World!”

Everybody has problems and we all react differently to them. Comparing your grief to somebody else’s and judging them inadequate for not measuring up to your standards is unfair. Just as you feel hurt when somebody doesn’t understand you, so does everyone else.

Each January, because a certain corporation decided to make it trendy, plenty of people in Canada change their social media profile pics and share passive aggressive ‘Let’s Talk’ memes. It’s supposed to be about mental health, but it’s really a marketing campaign, free advertising for a media company.

Right now, when mental health challenges are at their peak, at a time when people are struggling the most, there’s more judgment, finger-pointing, and picking sides than in a federal election. The damage this does to our collective consciousness is far worse than the virus, and we’re all to blame for it.

People are hurting, each in a way that’s uniquely personal to them. Don’t make them feel worse by giving them shit for it.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Face Masks: The First Order

In addition to the usual daily editorial cartoons, this business of face masks has occupied the majority of my last few weeks. The response from my newsletter subscribers was overwhelming and far exceeded my expectations. While there were delays for various reasons, and I sent regular updates to those who ordered, it all came together this past week.

With two shipments from Pacific Music and Art, three evening visits to Shonna’s work to use the postage meter, four visits to the post office, and one trip to Bow Valley Basics when I ran out of large bubble mailers, not to mention the hours of sorting, checking and double-checking the list, it’s been a challenge.
I made two trips around Canmore delivering masks, one trip to Banff yesterday morning, and by the end of day yesterday, the bulk of this adventure has been completed.

(I did come home from Banff with home-baked cookies. Thanks, Helen!)

As of yesterday, all of the Canadian orders have been delivered or shipped. There are a couple more minor deliveries I need to make, and the U.S. orders will go out Tuesday morning. Monday is a holiday here in Canada so the post office will be closed. The US orders are a little more work with Customs forms and the fact that they have to go as small parcels, rather than regular large letter mail like the Canadian shipments.

The masks just didn’t arrive in time for me to get all of that done by the cut-off yesterday.
I sent a bunch of masks to Discovery Wildlife Park and The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation yesterday, both places I’m anxious to visit as soon as I’m allowed. My friend Serena said they can’t wear masks around the animals as it freaks them out, but I donated them for the keepers to use in their regular day to day lives wherever it might be required.

The first orders were sent Wednesday morning and some in Calgary already got them. People have been kind enough to send me photos, which was fun to see. I’m sharing them here with permission.

I’ve been getting many requests for a second order, but making no promises, as this situation seems to change every five minutes. Right now, the demand is incredibly high but I don’t know if that will continue. It seems some are switching gears from extremely diligent to, “screw it, who cares?”

For example, Alberta was still advising caution on Thursday, and then yesterday announced, “Hey, it’s the long weekend, have at ‘er!”

I’m not sure how a large group of people having a backyard BBQ are expected to keep a 6 ft. distance outside, but then all go into the house to use the same bathroom and hand towels. Not to mention that it’s well established that alcohol and impaired judgment go hand in hand. Hopefully, in hindsight, this won’t be referred to as the Victoria Day Petri Dish Debacle.

Guess we’ll see what happens.

All of the masks contained an additional method of ensuring a good fit.

Some received a little packet inside containing a couple of rubber grommets. Since the actual grommets are still on back-order, the owner of Pacific Music and Art tried a number of different solutions and came up with surgical tubing. He then cut it into little pieces, and included instructions on how to attach them. Because I wanted to make sure I had all of the masks for the orders, I only took one mask out for myself this week; to wear into the post office and other confined spaces. The grommet solution worked very well. They stayed in place and allowed me to put the mask on and take it off without touching the front of it, which is what ‘they’ advise.
While that first shipment arrived with the grommets, the second shipment included plastic pieces that go behind your head. The ear loops attach to different prongs and make it adjustable. Some have been calling these ear savers, as thin elastic ear loops are irritating the wearer. In the limited time I wore my mask, I found the grommets worked well and didn’t find the loops to be a problem.

Some orders will receive a mix of grommets and those plastic fasteners.
Production costs were higher than expected and prices have been adjusted accordingly. If you did get the plastic piece, count yourself fortunate. On future mask orders, those will be an add-on with additional cost of $3.00. The masks themselves have gone up in price. $15.99 for the large, $14.99 for the small.

So while my newsletter customers had to be patient through delays on the first order, they got the masks at a much better price, with additional fasteners at no extra cost.

I’ve had three people this week tell me to send them a text when the next order is available. That’s not realistic. For any future offers, sign up for my newsletter, as that’s where I’ll announce it.

Since I haven’t had any time to do so lately, I wanted to get up and start a new painting this morning, but that didn’t happen. I still have plenty of work to do today, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the creative stuff. I’ve been hearing a lot about idle time and boredom during this isolation and how people are trying to occupy themselves. I haven’t experienced any of that. I’m worn out.

Thanks to all who ordered the masks and were so patient throughout the process.

Cheers,
Patrick
___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Cartoons, Masks and a Canvas Print

Cartooning Corona

Whenever he’s frustrated or facing a difficult choice for which there is no clear answer, my buddy Jim has a saying.

“Heavy sigh, mixed emotion.”

Such is life under the umbrella of COVID-19.

Every cartoon I’ve done for quite some time has revolved around one topic, so I went back and counted them. I drew my first coronavirus cartoon on January 25th. Other topics on which I was doodling that week included the Australia fires, the weather, Ontario teachers’ strike, and the Conservative Party leadership race.

From then on, the frequency of cartoons on the virus has increased so that now, every other topic orbits around it. The only deviation in the past month has been the two cartoons I did on the Nova Scotia shooting, definitely not a welcome diversion.

How many cartoons have I drawn on this wonderful little virus that changed the world forever?

Seventy-One.

And counting.

At the best of times, I keep a running list of ideas for cartoons. When I come up with a Thanksgiving cartoon idea in May, I simply write it down for later. I’ve kept that list for many years on Dropbox, able to access it from all of my devices.

That Word file is currently nine pages long, with over two hundred ideas on it. About forty of them are for the coronavirus. Scanning the others, they now seem like they belong in a parallel world in which we no longer live.

Cartoons about summer vacations, Halloween, Christmas, politics, they don’t make sense anymore because when I wrote them down, there was no allowance for today’s Coronaclimate. Many of the ideas can be re-written to allow for the ever present shadow of the virus, but some about life as we used to know it will just be discarded.

They no longer apply.

About the masks

This mask situation has been incredibly frustrating.

First, thanks to so many of you who replied to last Saturday’s newsletter update about the delay. Your support and patience is appreciated. It seems I’m holding myself more responsible for this than most of you are.

They’re not shipping this week, but hoping for next week.  I could write another long post about why, but it’s simply different shades of the same problem. Shipping delays and the logistics of doing business in the time of COVID.

I have a customer in Illinois still waiting on coasters I shipped at the beginning of the month. Tracking shows they’re ‘in transit’, two weeks after the expected delivery date. Thankfully he’s willing to wait.

Uncertainty? Check!

Expediency? Not a chance.

I’m seeing plenty of online stores and retail outlets switching their focus to masks in the past week and it compounded my own frustration at not having my own yet, until I looked closer at those other offers. Almost all of the ones I saw were pre-orders or listed as back-ordered. Nobody else seems to have them ready to ship, either.

It seems like the only masks you’re guaranteed to get quickly right now are the ones you make yourself. From what I’ve read, even those ambitious creatives with sewing skills are overwhelmed by orders they can’t fill for their friends and neighbours.

Costco announced yesterday that everybody entering their stores must wear masks. Wal-Mart had already done that for many of their locations and it would appear that we’re going to be wearing these for a long time while we try to re-emerge into a reasonable facsimile of our former economy.

So all I can ask (again) is for your patience. As soon as I have them, I will let you know and I will get them in the mail or deliver them to you as quickly as I can.

A Very Big Print

I am still working on a new painting, hoping to have it completed this weekend. I’ll look forward to sharing it with you when it’s done. Hint, it’s a large African cat, one I haven’t painted before.

Speaking of big cats, a customer ordered a print from me last week, a 32”X32” canvas of my recent ‘Sire’ painting.

That big painting of a lion has become of one of my favorites, so I was pleased with the order. I came very close to grabbing one for myself at the same time, but with an uncertain financial future, I’m deferring my own purchase until later.

ABL Imaging in Calgary prints my canvas and thankfully they’re still open and working. Even though it wasn’t required, they did a quick turnaround of this piece. Usually, I’d drive into Calgary to get these orders and combine the trip with other errands, but it should be obvious why I didn’t. A courier delivered it yesterday and I was thrilled with how it turned out.

Sometime down the road, I will definitely be getting one of these for my office.

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of a new canvas is signing it. Paint pens are great most of the time, but early in my career, I ruined a couple of canvases when the paint either spurted from the pen or simply decided to stop, then start, then stop…mid-signature.

These days, I do a bunch of test signings, cross my fingers, hold my breath and sign as quickly as possible. A 32”X32” canvas, the largest I’ve ever printed, is expensive. Had I ruined it while signing it, I guess that would have been the one for my office.

The client will meet me on the highway near Cochrane in a couple of weeks, a clandestine exchange of art, which will look very much like a drug deal, I’m sure.

I’m hoping it’s not a windy day when I throw it at him from six feet away.

Fingers crossed that my next post will include a photo of a big pile of masks, telling you they’re on the way.

Thanks,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Face Mask Update

Last weekend, I launched a pre-order for face masks, available to my newsletter subscribers. The response was overwhelming and I spent long hours on multiple days processing the orders. This update was sent to my newsletter followers this morning.

Over the past month, things have changed to a degree we’d have thought ridiculous had somebody predicted it at the beginning of the year. People, businesses, and governments are all trying to adapt to information that changes every day.

There’s a video circulating right now with a woman standing in her kitchen in front of microphones talking about the inconsistent messages we’re getting. You may have already seen it because it has gone viral, but here’s the link if you haven’t. It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

The list of things we’ve been taking for granted grows larger every day. Never thought I’d miss a teeth cleaning and haircut so much.

This week, the Calgary Stampede was cancelled along with every other summer gathering. I haven’t been to Stampede in years, not my thing. But Stampede is part of Calgary’s identity, and cancelling an event for the first time in 97 years speaks volumes.

If you’re playing the ‘every time somebody says unprecedented’ drinking game, take a shot.

It’s hard to follow what each Provincial Premier and State Governor is saying concerning starting up the economy again. While the messages are conflicting, it seems clear that large gatherings, sports events, festivals, and concerts won’t be possible this summer. That’s right, the whole summer.

That just sucks.

When we do go out, we’ll have to continue to keep a distance of 6ft/2m, in gatherings of less than fifteen? Or is it ten? Five?

I’ve been going to the grocery store on Fridays, just once a week. There were noticeably more people wearing face masks yesterday than last week. They were almost all homemade.Masks are going to be a part of our culture for the foreseeable future.

While it’s great that Pacific Music and Art jumped on this so fast, ahead of many others, my masks are the first order of a brand new product, and that means there have been issues requiring adjustments and tweaks.

Before I go further, yes, there is a delay on the masks, but I still expect (hope) I should get them later this week.

True, it’s only been five days since I submitted the order, and even that behemoth Amazon can’t meet their pre-COVID shipping guarantees right now, but I know you’re anxious to get these. I am, too.

Canada Post issued a statement this week that they’re experiencing Christmas level volume right now, but without the staff to handle it.  Postal workers can’t be within six feet of each other, and every transaction takes longer to deal with because of masks, handwashing, and the COVID shuffle.

Here’s why the delay…

When I took the pre-order, the blank masks had arrived in Vancouver. Pacific Music and Art is a ferry ride away in Victoria. Because of new dock safety protocols and shipping delays, it took more than two days for the order to make it to Pacific Music and Art.
When they started test printing, it quickly became evident that the designs were off.

Usually, with licensing, I supply the image, and then the company that licenses the image has designers that fit it to their products. With Pacific Music and Art, I create all of my own designs. They’re my most significant licensee, with the most products, and I’m a control freak. So I want them to look as close to perfect (impossible) as I can get them.

For every painting I do, I create more than a dozen different designs for things like magnets, coffee cups, trivets, coasters, art cards…it’s a long list.

Because the masks hadn’t arrived yet, I based my templates on photos and measurements. 16 designs, both small and large masks, for a total of 32 images. It took quite a few hours, and one sleepless night to get them all done.

Then the company that provided the blanks also provided a template, different enough from mine that I had to redesign them all again, requiring many more hours of work.

Whenever an image is printed on a product, there is a bleed. That means the image has to be larger than the printable area so that if it’s off by a millimetre here or there, it won’t show an edge. With something like an aluminum magnet, the bleed is small because the blanks are all uniform.

When the actual masks arrived in Victoria, there was another problem. Masks are fabric, with straps, and unlike aluminum, there is more variability between each. So I worked late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, redesigning all 32 images for a THIRD time with a much larger bleed.

I had to paint more fur, hair and features on the edges of many of the paintings to accommodate the bleed, work that nobody will ever see.

It was incredibly frustrating. I still had my daily editorial cartoon deadlines, and I haven’t worked on my new painting in over a week.

That’s just my side of it. Pacific Music and Art were working hard in dealing with their own problems.

Heads are different sizes. It’s the reason hat sizes have such small increments between them. Faces are long or short, wide or narrow. With one small mask and one large mask, finding a perfect fit for everybody is impossible, and you go with as close as you can get.

The elastic isn’t super stretchy, because then it would bite into the backs of your ears. They discovered that the ear loops need to be shorter for some people to have a good fit.

As more people wear masks, it’s now easy to find online solutions for a better fit, because so many don’t fit well. Some are fastening the ear loops behind their heads with additional clips and fasteners. Others are tying them over their heads. Front line workers and first responders who must wear them all day are developing sores on their ears and faces from masks that are too tight and elastics that are too thin.

The owner of Pacific Music and Art didn’t want to send out the masks without a solution because you wouldn’t be happy, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Between him and the company that supplies the blanks, they discovered that an addition of a grommet seems to work.
But now we’re waiting on the grommets.

He’s looking for a local solution for my order so that he can ship them to me, and then I can ship them to you.
The good news is, the masks for my order are all in Victoria, being printed right now. Despite this delay, you’ll all receive what you ordered. If the delay goes longer, I will update you again and will issue refunds for those unwilling to wait.

The bad news is, I’ve been hearing from people all week who missed the first opportunity and want to order, and I have no idea when that can happen. Because of the global demand now for any kind of mask, shipping delays on everything, it’s probably going to be a few weeks before Pacific Music and Art can get any more, and that’s only if there aren’t any further delays. My order was first priority this time, but it won’t be next time. They have other retail customers waiting.

It would be irresponsible and unfair of me to take another order with no idea when I can deliver. Masks are going to be hard to come by for everybody for a little while until supply meets the demand. Just like the toilet paper aisle in your grocery store, it needs to catch up.

I’ll also be re-evaluating orders to the US on the next go ’round. Because of stricter customs regulations on anything that isn’t paper, shipping is now more expensive and more involved, even for small packets. I’ll absorb the added fees on this order, so masks heading to the US this time will go ahead as planned, at no additional cost.

The best I can offer is to stay tuned. If you have friends and family who want to order, they can sign up for the newsletter, and I’ll announce the next order opportunity here, whenever that might be. But please don’t promise them anything.

All I can do is ask for your patience and to trust me that as soon as I can get these shipped, I will.

Cheers,
Patrick

Now go watch that video.

And here’s an article from CBC talking about the Canada Post delays, but also why businesses are having a hard time meeting their orders right now. One more thing we must get used to.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Do What You Can, With What You’ve Got

In every crisis, there comes the inevitable requests for financial help.

The situation in which we find ourselves right now is challenging in ways we’ve never seen, especially with so many affected. Homeless shelters, food banks, and aid organizations are the obvious ones, but now we have friends whose businesses are failing, neighbours with challenges they’re unable to meet, not to mention that many of us have lost our own jobs or businesses.

The need is overwhelming.

We’re now seeing the sprouting of GoFundMe pages and those are likely to increase as this pandemic wears on. Organizations, businesses, and neighbours who were barely going to make it if this thing wore on for a month, are now realizing that it’s going to drag on for much longer and are desperate to find solutions.

Donation fatigue is something we’re already used to around the holidays, and when schools, children’s groups and charitable organizations do their annual fundraising. It’s going to set in a lot quicker right now, as we all deal with having less to spread around.

Despite the guilt we might feel by having to say No to most of these requests, you’ll be doing nobody any favours to exhaust your own savings and resources trying to be everything to everybody.

If you have organizations you help throughout the year already, and I hope you do, the best thing you can do for them is to continue to focus on their needs, especially if you have much less to go around.

My wife donates to the local SPCA every month and she’s going to continue doing so. I give a monthly donation to the Alberta Institute of Wildlife Conservation and they can count on my continued support.

Discovery Wildlife Park has established a GoFundMe page to help them make it through this tough time as they have many mouths to feed and don’t know if they’ll be able to open this year. If you’ve followed my work for longer than five minutes, you know how important those people and animals are to me, so we were happy to donate to that yesterday.

While I haven’t yet made a donation to the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale this year, I hope to in the very near future.

When my whimsical wildlife face masks are available, I’ll be sending some to all four of those places, whatever I’m able to give.

But like everybody else, my own business has taken a significant hit and I expect those hits will keep coming, especially with no immediate end to this crisis in sight.

What that means is I’ll have to decline any other requests for help. It’s the only way I’ll be able to keep my own livelihood intact and also keep helping the organizations to which I feel a close connection and obligation.

Everyone’s situation is different, some are better and worse off than you think during this crisis, and it all depends on how well they hide it.

So, I’d like to make three requests.

First, if you can help any organization, give anything at all, please do. If a struggling neighbour or local business needs your help and you can give, do that, too. But if you can’t help right now because your own financial situation is stressed, then think about your favorite charities and organizations once you’re back on your feet. They need help now, but they’re going to need even more later on.

Second, if you’re one of those making the request for help, understand if people have to say No and have some empathy for how hard it is for them to do so. We’d all like to give to everyone, and to have to decline comes with no small amount of shame. It’s a double hit to our fragile egos, that we don’t have enough and thus don’t feel we are enough if we can’t help.

Finally, be careful about volunteering somebody else. It’s very easy to see a need, then tell a friend, “you know what you should do…” putting them in an awkward position from which it’s difficult to escape.

We’re all learning as we go as we navigate these uncharted waters. It’s going to get more difficult before it gets easier, in ways we haven’t yet begun to fathom.

Resist the urge to point fingers of blame at anyone you see making choices with which you don’t agree. That includes our elected officials at all levels who have the weight of so many lives resting on each decision they make. The information they get is changing day to day and the strain can’t be easy to bear. Despite any preparation they could have done, nobody saw this coming to this extent. This will be a significant landmark in modern human history, the full effects of which will only be known in hindsight.

Help where you can, and if you can’t right now, then cut yourself some slack. This will be a long game, and your time to play your part will come.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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MORE Face Masks

The response to the forthcoming non-medical masks has been a little overwhelming and I’m glad that there is such great interest.

Here are the other seven designs being produced. If you missed the first batch I shared, you can see them here.

People are asking the same questions, so here are the answers, based on the information I have. Like this situation in which we’re presently living, things may change, but hopefully not.

1) How much will they cost?

Based on what we know right now, they’ll be $12.99 for the large, $12.49 for the small, or 3 for $30, plus tax and shipping. As they are small and lightweight, shipping for 3 masks will be something like $2.25 for Canada, around $4.00 for the US.

2) When are they coming?

The masks are in transit to Pacific Music and Art right now. I won’t link to their website, because it’s under renovation this weekend. Once they arrive, they need to be printed and shipped. So when I have them, I can fill orders. They are expected to arrive sometime this week, might be shipped to me the following week.

Your patience is appreciated, and it’s likely we’ll be wearing masks for quite some time, even when they relax the isolation rules. I’d love to be able to ship these tomorrow, but everything moves a little slower right now as we’re all hobbled by our present circumstance.

3) How can I order?

I will be offering the first batch of these masks as an exclusive pre-order offer to my newsletter followers. I know that some people have shared the first post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and a common comment has been “let me know when they’re available.”

The only way to know is by signing up for my newsletter. These won’t be available on my site (at least not yet) and all orders will be done by e-transfer or Paypal invoice. If you’re local in Canmore, I expect to be able to deliver them in person; physical distancing rules apply of course. Or I can just mail them to you with the rest.

The reason I’m doing them by pre-order is because I only want to order what people want. Ordering large numbers of all 16 designs means I’ll undoubtedly end up with a stockpile of the least popular ones. While prints don’t go bad if I hang on to them for a couple of years, here’s hoping there won’t be any demand for masks a year from now.

As it can’t be repeated enough, these are non-medical masks and not a substitute for staying at home, hand-washing and keeping a distance of 6ft/2m or greater if you have to go out and run errands.

Feel free to share this post with anyone you like, but when the pre-order is released, only newsletter subscribers will be notified. Here’s the link to sign up.

Stay healthy,
Patrick

EDIT: Yes, these masks will be washable. 🙂

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.