Here’s a video gallery of the critters I painted this year, set to music.
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.”
Please visit this page if you’d like to know more about my pet portrait commissions.
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.
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
A friend posted a picture of her daughter’s dog on Instagram, and because she’s already kind of a caricature…the dog, not the friend, or her daughter…amazing how quickly this went off the rails. Anyway, I realized I wanted to paint her…the dog, not the…never mind. Before I knew it, we were exchanging emails with photos and I was painting a dorky little Corgi named Daisy.
As this wasn’t a commission, this will eventually end up as a print and I’ll be uploading it for licensing. There’s a market for Corgi images, right? I mean, other than Buckingham Palace?
Seems a lot of people are dealing with boredom right now in our self-isolation, but I’ve actually been working longer hours than before. Drawing editorial cartoons, communicating with clients, investigating and preparing images for new revenue streams, writing and painting, it’s all keeping me busy. I’m still getting up at 5 every day, trying to keep to the same routine.
I mentioned in a recent post that I was having a hard time finding my painting groove in all of this, but I seem to be over that hurdle. Finishing this painting was easier and more enjoyable than the middle part. I’m pleased with the result, and I’m already thinking about the next one.
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.
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.
My fuel gauge approaches empty when December rolls around, so I spend it in hermit mode, a little more than usual. We attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, but that’s about it because I don’t have the energy to play the festive role. Celebrating Christmas seems like one more obligation, so I opt out.
In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, I do get reflective in my seasonal melancholy. I spent some time last week going through the 2019 blog posts to remind myself of the year that was.
In February, I checked out of social media entirely but then went back to Instagram a couple of months ago. I missed seeing art from those whose work I admire, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.
On the promotion and sales front, there were two significant developments this year.
The first was watching my work spread to many new places, thanks to the license with Pacific Music and Art. Seems a regular thing now for somebody to say they saw my stuff in a store in Oregon, or Alaska, all over B.C. and Alberta, not to mention the calendars and notepads in so many Save-On stores. I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, visiting from Vancouver Island and she said it’s strange walking by the gift store on Mt. Washington where she works, seeing a whole floor to ceiling corner of my art. It’s looking like 2020 will see more of that migration, but it’s my nature to be cautious. Those chickens ain’t hatched yet.
Secondly, the revival of my relationship with Wacom was a welcome surprise. With so many talented digital artists in the world to choose from, I enjoy the ego boost that comes with being a Wacom influencer. I’ve already agreed to another project with them shortly, but there’s a reason they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement. Must keep secrets.
I painted 11 finished funny looking animal pieces this past year, the latest one above. I called it ‘Sitting Pretty,’ and she’s based on a black bear named Angel, who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park. I’d like to have painted more critters, but I’ll always say that. If I had painted 15, well, it should have been 20.
While there’s something about each painting that I enjoy, if I had to pick a favourite from this year, it would be Snow Day with the three cougar cubs. That was the best of both worlds, a real challenge and a lot of fun. I should have prints of this one available soon.
I painted a couple of dogs for fun, but no commission work this year until just recently. I’m not disappointed by that because I had plenty to do and wanted to focus on more images for licensing. The two dogs I’m currently painting in my whimsical style are for the same client, hoping to finish in a few weeks. They contacted me about the commissions after seeing my work in a BC Ferries terminal gift shop, a side bonus from my license with Pacific.
Two portraits of people this year, John Malkovich and Quint from Jaws, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. I’d always like to have more time for those, but wouldn’t we all like more time for the fun stuff?
Taking into account all of the syndicated cartoons I did this year, plus the custom local ones I draw each week for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, I drew 419 editorial cartoons in 2019. That might be an annual record for me. I have mixed feelings about that. I wonder how many paintings I could have done with all of those hours.
As for the coming year, I’m not big on resolutions. Well, maybe just one. I intend to write a lot more. There’s undiscovered country there and I need to explore it.
There are other things I want to accomplish, both personal and professional, growth I’d like to achieve, and skills I’d like to learn. Try to keep moving forward, best I can, just like everybody else.
Of course, none of this would be possible were it not for those of you who follow and support my work, read my ramblings, and tolerate my eccentricities. We all have limited time and attention in this life, and I appreciate that you spend some of yours with me.
Happy New Year,
In January of last year, my buddy Darrel and I rented a cabin in central Alberta and were instantly taken with the place and the area around it. A couple of months later, my friend Jim and I went out there and he fell for the place, too. Since then, he’s gone there on his own, introduced another friend to it, and we’ve all had more than a few repeat visits over the course of a year. I’ve been there five times.
The owners of KB Trails have been welcoming, friendly and we’ve all enjoyed getting to know them. We’ve invited them over for drinks while we’ve been on their property, they’ve returned the favour, and Jim and I were even invited for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods.
We wondered if they thought we were a couple.
As always, I’ve often got the camera at the ready, because you never know when an unexpected critter will show up and capture my eye. On those multiple visits to the cabin, I’ve taken plenty of photos of their horses and will shortly be working on my first painting from some of those. I’ll often hang on to reference for quite some time before I get to it. I take a lot of pictures out there.
One of my favorite things about the cabin visits is Jingles. She’s a great ranch/farm dog, friendly to all, likes to be around people, but definitely not a pampered princess. She’s happiest outdoors and Bob and Karen have told us that she’s only interested in sleeping in the house on the coldest of nights. I expect this past February saw her inside more than usual.
But most of the time, Jingles is content to be by Bob or Karen’s side, or out holding court over her 320 acres. She’s always happy to see people, but she tires of it quickly. Squirrels to chase, property to patrol, a dog with things to do.
I remember on one of Bob’s visits, we’d been sitting on the back deck and once the chill set in, the three of us went inside to warm up by the fire. I called Jingles to come in and she did. But it wasn’t long before she was looking expectantly at the door and Bob said she was getting antsy to go back outside. So I opened the door and without hesitation, Jingles was out into the snow.
When Bob was ready to leave, she showed up to jump in the truck and off they went.
Like most dogs I’ve encountered, Jingles doesn’t like having her picture taken, but despite that, I’ve managed to get plenty of shots on our past visits and knew that I’d eventually find the time to paint her. I began this last month and while a slow start, the past few sessions on this have been quite enjoyable and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I do plan to paint her again in the other style, but this was the right choice for this painting. Here’s a closeup.
Before I started writing this post, I wondered on which visit I took the reference pic. I figured it was either in January or March. Turns out I finished this painting exactly one year from when I took the reference. March 11th, when Jim and I were there. Quite the coincidence, and completely unplanned.
We’ll be at the cabin again later this month for the first visit of the year, with more to follow, no doubt.
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From time to time, my buddy Jim and I will visit our friends Babe and Sue at their place in Golden, BC. In the early nineties, while still living in Banff, Babe and friends had built a small cabin high up on the property. A little later, he built his studio on the main landing and when he and Sue retired from Banff, they built a new house across from that.
In the old days (did I just write that?), the cabin was a quiet getaway. Most of the time, as they were still working, Babe and Sue wouldn’t even be there, but they’ve always been generous folks and the cabin has had a long-standing open door policy for their close friends.
No water, no power, haul the gear up the hill on a winding trail. In winter, with infrequent use, the trail had to be broken with snowshoes, first to the cabin, then to the outhouse. We had to pull the gear up by sled.
The not-so-airtight Franklin stove would smoke us out from time to time, but we had to have something to bitch about, usually while we were chopping wood to fill it.
You really earned that first beer. OK, second beer.
In recent years, however, as they’ve moved away from Banff and transitioned to retired life, the reason we visit isn’t for the seclusion, but to see our good friends. Today, it’s hardly roughing it, with fresh coffee waiting for us at the house each morning, a big breakfast in their modern kitchen and a daily shower. They’re wonderful hosts.
I can’t even guess how many times I’ve been out there in the past 23 years.
In all that time, they’ve made plenty of new friends in that area, good people we’ve come to know as well. Birthdays, holidays, or just Friday afternoon in the sun on their deck ‘hey, come on over,‘ visits.
As it’s a rural area on the mountain side, bordering the Blaeberry, all of the homes are acreages of varying size, with plenty of trees providing natural privacy. Close enough to be friendly with your neighbours, far enough to often feel like you’re alone.
Wade and his family live across the road and he’s a big fan of a certain hockey team, which is why he named his dog, Boston.
Shonna and I don’t have the lifestyle for a dog, but if we ever did, I’d want one just like him. I’ve never met a Golden Retriever I didn’t like and I imagine most people feel the same way. In the right environment with plenty of exercise, it’s such an affable breed.
On our last visit in October, the weather was still nice enough to sit outside most of the time. Boston doesn’t always visit, but on that weekend, he was there often, likely because he was getting plenty of attention.
It wasn’t long before I got the camera out of the truck and started snapping photos, something I’ve inflicted on him before. In my experience, most dogs aren’t fans of having their picture taken, and Boston is no exception. He tolerated the snapping fingers to draw his eyes, the kissing noises, the endless calling of his name, but only for so long.
Eventually, he just lay down and looked anywhere but the camera, which was still in his face as I lay down in the driveway in front of him.
If I recall correctly, the reference for this photo was him pleading to Susan, “Please, make him stop.”
Eventually I gave in and went back to throwing the stick for him.
Like most people who take photos of wildlife (or dogs), I shoot on rapid fire. That weekend, I probably took a couple hundred photos of Boston. As is often the case when I select a reference shot from which to paint, it’s not what I had initially planned.
If you’d asked me what I was looking for, before I took any photos, I would have talked about getting him to look at the camera, mouth open panting so it looked like a smile, with nice lighting, of course. Kind of like this.
When I paint a commission, that’s what the client is usually after, so that’s what I tell them to look for in the photos they send me.
As this wasn’t for a client, I had the freedom to paint what I wanted. While going through the reference, it was the “make him stop” pose that I kept considering, and I like how it turned out.
Susan sent me a text the day after I got home from the last visit and said that Boston had come back that morning looking for us. I’ll have to bring him some treats or a new toy next time, payment for being such a tolerant model.
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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,
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