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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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The Black Bear Totem


Right up until the end of 2009, my art focus had primarily been on syndicated editorial cartoons and caricatures of people. Along the way, I’d also done illustration for businesses and board games, had tried my hand at some editorial Flash animation, and experimented here and there with creative off-shoots I thought might eventually yield some fruit.

Keeping a somewhat regular blog for the past nine years has served to become a business diary of sorts. It’s interesting to look back and read about my best laid plans. With the benefit of hindsight, some now make me cringe, knowing that had I gone further down some of those roads, I would have been disappointed. I’m also surprised at the blind optimism and enthusiasm in some of the posts, an elixir I wish I’d been able to bottle for mid-life.

The time I spent working on caricatures was excellent practice. I’m much better at drawing likenesses in my editorial cartoons today than I was then and it takes less time to get there. As I wasn’t interested in going that route, I never developed the skill to draw caricatures live. But people used to hire me to create them for birthday presents, wedding invitations, and other occasions. I can’t imagine I’d enjoy still doing that now, but it was all grist for the mill.

I was also getting pretty good at detailed caricature paintings of celebrities, but navigating the legal minefield of likeness rights, the large number of artists already doing that kind of work, and the awareness that my heart wasn’t going to be in it for long, I was a little lost.

This brings me to November 2009, right after my first trip to Photoshop World in Vegas. That summer, I had painted a caricature of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with her holding one of the Aliens on a leash. The whole reason I painted it was to try to win a Guru Award and I didn’t get nominated. I didn’t enjoy the work, the finished piece felt wrong and I wished I’d never done it.

While disappointed at the time, it was a turning point in my career. I learned not to create something just to win awards and it lit a fire under me to find something new.

Upon returning home with the realization that caricatures of people was no longer where I wanted to focus, I painted a grizzly bear. Although it didn’t start out to be a caricature, it definitely ended up as one.
By February, I had a gallery in Banff willing to hang canvas prints of the Grizzly and subsequent Raven and Elk Totems on consignment. And then people started to buy them. I’ll never forget something the gallery manager told me about my whimsical style of painting. He said that no matter how well I painted, if I’d brought him realistic wildlife, he wouldn’t have been interested, because that’s what everybody else was doing. I’ve heard that a lot over the years.

On my next trip to Photoshop World later that summer, my Moose Totem won the Guru Award for the Illustration category and my Wolf Totem took Best in Show. While I didn’t paint them to try and win awards, it was that event and those chunks of plastic that introduced me to some great people at Wacom, and helped open some other doors that might have remained closed.

Since then, these whimsical wildlife portraits have become a defining part of my life. There are now over thirty paintings in the Totem series, several other whimsical prints, dozens of pet portrait commissions, and hundreds of sketch paintings.

There are now three kinds of prints sold in the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, About Canada Gallery in Banff, and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. The images are currently internationally licensed on T-shirts through two different companies, and on decals and cases. I’ve written articles for magazines, have recorded a couple of training DVDs, taught webinars and run an event booth for Wacom, and am coming up on my fifth successful year with a booth at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

I’ve also discovered a love of photography as a result of this work. While I’ve often relied on generous photographer friends for reference photos, I now take my own reference photos whenever possible. This has led me to new friends and experiences that have helped me get up close and personal with these critters I enjoy so much, sometimes face to face.
It is my belief that the next chapter in this work is calling me to get more involved with conservation, to give back to the wildlife that has given me so much. It might have taken me most of my life to find it, but I believe there’s work for me there, although I don’t yet know how it will manifest. I’ve already been looking for and taking advantage of those opportunities.

As all of this started with a grinning funny looking bear, it seems appropriate to reflect and bookend this chapter with another bear, eight and a half years later. The Black Bear Totem, modeled from a wonderful gentle bear named Gruff who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park, although that’s Reno in the photo above. I admire Gruff from a little farther away.

In writing this and checking my facts, I found the following in my blog post from November 2009 when I revealed the Grizzly Bear Totem, which incidentally is still one of my best selling prints.

“I recently found myself inspired to do a series of wildlife paintings, but I wanted them to have personality and life to them. Something different, something fun…I really think I’ll enjoy working on this series.”

I had no idea.

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Beaver Totem

BeaverTotemThere seems to be no predictable span between the time I gather reference photos and when I end up painting from them. A visit to the zoo might result in a sketch painting the very next day, but most often, I file away photos into folders and when I’m feeling the urge to paint something new, I’ll go browsing through my library until I see a critter that sparks my interest.

There are also many animals I decide to paint and for which I’ll deliberately gather specific reference, but it might be months or years until it feels right to get down to the work. Many of my Totem paintings have been planned one year and painted the next, often longer.

I’ve want to paint the Beaver Totem for a few years. I’ve had reference images for that long and had I been impatient and forced it, I probably wouldn’t have liked the result as much as I do this painting you see here. Most of what I had was stock photos I bought and in those pics, the beavers were all in the water or half submerged or in poses that might work, but none that really felt right.
BeaverTotemCloseup

Then last year, I visited Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alberta for the third or fourth time and arranged a little photo shoot with one of their resident beavers, Gusgus. He and his brother were orphans, brought to the park when they were just kits by Alberta Fish and Wildlife. Gusgus is the friendlier of the two and regularly comes out for photos with guests. He posed like a pro, while dining happily on crunchy fresh vegetables, with his constant chirps, grunts and murmuring.

My photo shoot lasted just fifteen minutes but I got more reference than I would ever need. In fact, it was hard to choose which pose to go with as there were so many good ones.

Of all of the Totems I’ve painted, this one ranks in the top three for how much I enjoyed the work. I didn’t want this painting to end. But there comes a time when you just have to call it finished and move on the next.

I will admit to some frustration in recent years, in that it never really felt like the right time to paint the Beaver Totem. Turns out, I was waiting for Gusgus.
PatrickGusGusIf you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!

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Snow Leopard Totem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick
SnowLeopardClose

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

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Panda Totem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,Patrick

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