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Thank You Notes

One of the more interesting highlights of my art career happened in 2013 when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. I’ve told this story more than once, but if it’s new to you, here’s the link.

While it did generate some media publicity for me, and was personally exciting, it did little for my career. Painting portraits of people is something I do for my own enjoyment and with the exception of one commission I did for Canadian Geographic and the occasional editorial cartoon portrait (usually when somebody dies), I’m not hired for this sort of work and that suits me fine. The editorial cartoons and funny looking animals keep me plenty busy.

I do enjoy telling the story about that experience when it comes up, especially about how genuine and kind both actors were in our communication. Not only did they sign a print for me that hangs in my office, they gave me a signed copy of the book they co-wrote as well, as I’d mentioned in our correspondence that I’d given my copy to my father.
Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the movie The Way, which inspired my painting, it’s one of my favorites. Few films have moved me the way that one still does.

A short time ago, I came across a note card that Estevez included when he returned the signed prints. Or it came with the book, I don’t remember. It was an unnecessary nicety that might not seem like much, but it struck me as a classy gesture.
I remember thinking at the time that I should get little note cards like this. It added more value to the experience, and I thought it might be nice to pass the same feeling on to my clients. Obviously it’s something on which I failed to follow through.

Whenever I send a print out to someone who has purchased from my online store, I usually include a little note on the invoice or on a post-it, just a little thank you in my own handwriting, which is atrocious, by the way.

But on the invoice or post-it, it always feels a little cheap to me. It’s a personal note, sure, but it’s still the bare minimum.

This year, my painted work is being seen in more places than ever before. Thanks to my licenses with Pacific Music and Art, Harlequin Nature Graphics and Art Licensing International, it’s very easy to buy my work online. You can now order a canvas print of my funny looking animals from Wal-Mart, Amazon and other sites in the U.S. through one of my licenses.

But when people order from MY store, they’re getting it from me. I hand-sign the print, I package it, I put the art bio in the sleeve and I’m the one who personally takes it to the post office to ship it. Sure, I’ve included an extra art card or another small goodie when I can, but every once in a while, I’ve thought about that note card from Emilio Estevez.

A couple of weeks ago, I designed and ordered new business cards to reflect the changeover from Cartoon Ink to LaMontagne Art. Those arrived yesterday, along with my new note cards. It’s just a small thing and it adds to the print cost on my end, but I think it’s worth it.

At a time when you can order anything and everything online from an impersonal shopping cart, every so often I like to remind my customers that their purchase is appreciated, that it was bought from a real person. We all work hard for our money, so when somebody thinks one of my prints is worth parting with some of theirs, that’s pretty cool.

It deserves better than a post-it note.

I can’t do anything about the bad handwriting.


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The Highlights of 2013

All things considered, I’m pretty happy with the work I accomplished in 2013.  I wanted to focus more on painting, so I turned down more illustration gigs than I accepted this year and about that, I have no regrets.  Along with the daily editorial cartoons, I worked on a number of pet portrait commissions, added more Totem paintings to my portfolio and managed to squeeze in a couple of portraits of people, too.  Regardless of subject, each painting was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and as soon as I finished one, I was itching to start another.

If I were to choose the top three personal highlights of this year, they would be two portraits and one Totem.

MartinSheenAt the very end of 2012, my painting of Martin Sheen as Tom from the movie, The Way, had come to the attention of his son, Emilio Estevez, who wrote and directed the movie.  I had tagged him on Twitter, but didn’t really expect anything from it.  Much to my surprise, he contacted me the same morning asking about buying a print, then the original.   He said, “…the image is gorgeous and you have captured my father in a way that few have.”

Over the next few weeks of back and forth and having the canvas produced, it was delivered to Estevez at the beginning of February and he gave it to his father as a gift.   I had asked them both to sign a paper print for me as well, which I’ve now framed and have hanging in my office.   I was pleasantly surprised to later receive a copy of their co-written book ‘Along the Way,’ personally signed by both of them and a ‘Thank You’ note from Estevez.  The card is still tacked to my bulletin board.  What can I say, I’m a fan.

While the story received some attention in a number of media outlets, that sort of thing is fleeting and in the long run, just another blip in a rapidly changing entertainment news cycle.  But, what I enjoy most about the experience is that each time I come up the stairs into my office, the first thing I see is the signed painting and it frequently makes me smile.  It is still one of my favorite pieces both for the enjoyment I had painting it and the story that goes with it.  And I still love that movie.

ChrisHadfieldIn the Spring of this year, astronaut Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.  With his daily tweets and seemingly endless supply of jaw dropping photos taken from a place few have ever been, he captured the imagination and excitement of the world, including me.  I was inspired to paint his portrait and was thrilled when I received a complimentary tweet from space from Hadfield himself.  If that weren’t enough, I drew an editorial cartoon about his taking command and in the toon, I mentioned Flin Flon, Manitoba.  This prompted an interview from that town’s local paper which again caught the attention of Hadfield and I received a second short message from the I.S.S..  Apparently all it takes to make a 43 year old man feel like a ten year old kid again is getting messages from an astronaut in space.  That was just cool.

CoyoteTotemFinally my favorite painting from this year was the Coyote Totem, because it’s one that’s been waiting to be painted for 20 years, even before I knew how to paint.  For reasons I don’t wish to share publicly, and couldn’t even explain if I did, this is the most personal of all of the Totems I’ve painted and the only one I’ve had printed on canvas and framed for myself.  It hangs in my office on the wall to my right, where I can easily see it.  I look at it often and it reminds me how fortunate I am and how I got from there to here.

I just wasn’t skilled enough to do it justice until this year, but of any image I’ve created, it’s the painting I love most.  And I’m grateful that the personality showed up.


I would like to give honourable mention to my most recent portrait of Anthony Hopkins as Bill Parrish from ‘Meet Joe Black.’  This was another personal painting because I did it just for me.  I started the year focused on a painting of a character and actor I admire, an image that got a lot of attention and ended the year with a painting of a character and actor I admire, an image that got very little.  And yet, I loved working on both portraits equally, the work itself brought me the most joy.

That’s the lesson I learned this year and the one I’m taking into the next.

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Martin, Emilio, and Tom’s Road.

PromoSheenFinalSometime around the middle of December, I finished painting a portrait of Martin Sheen.  More accurately, the portrait was of his character, Tom, from the movie The Way, written for the screen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez.  While the painting was done purely for my own enjoyment, sometimes a seemingly innocent pursuit will take on a life of its own.  Since the movie inspired me to paint the portrait, as did their father/son memoir ‘Along the Way,’ I wrote about that when I posted the painting.  Click here, if you’d like to read it.

As is my practice, I posted the link on social media and also tagged Estevez’s account on Twitter, especially since he has used that vehicle to promote the film.  I thought that if he saw it, he might like what I wrote and painted, but didn’t actually expect anything to come of it.  Twitter is a busy place and it’s impossible to keep up, so a lot more gets missed than noticed.

Imagine my surprise when just a couple of hours later on that same Saturday, an email arrived from Estevez via my website.  He thanked me for my support of the film and then asked about buying a print, with the intent of giving it to his father for Christmas.  With just five business days remaining, I had to tell him that even a rush job would have been impossible by the 25th, especially considering that I’d want to be meticulous about the proofing, given the recipient.   I told him I’d be happy to set things in motion in January, if he was willing to wait.  He was very gracious, completely understood, and we began talking about it again after the holidays.

In the meantime, his mother had seen the painting and wanted him to inquire about buying the original.  Here’s the technology hiccup when you start talking originals and digital painting.  A digital painting exists only on a hard drive and screen until it’s printed, so there really is no original in the traditional sense.  One solution is to supply documentation that certifies a specific print to be the original.  Mine are always printed on canvas and I gave Emilio the option of choosing the size.  After a month of proofing, printing, signing, and packaging, the original 18″X24″ stretched canvas shipped last Friday.  I also certified the canvas itself by writing the title of the piece and an additional signature on the back.  Incidentally, until all of this occurred, I hadn’t titled this painting, but decided it needed one before it shipped.  Yesterday, “Tom’s Road”  arrived at Martin’s home.

MartinSheenThe reason for this piece in the first place was to take a small break from the commercial work, as every image I’ve created lately has been a product.  The whole point was to get away from everything being about money and marketing, if only for a moment.  I wanted to paint my best portrait work, for no other reason than that.  I am a commercial artist, no doubt about it, and I make a good living at it.   This is my business, my livelihood, and my career.  But this piece was special, inspired by a movie I loved, which was, in a way, a light at the end of a tunnel.  My gut instinct told me that to try and make money from this would have tainted the whole experience, something that was worth much more to me than a paycheque.  So, when Emilio asked to buy the original, I chose not to put a price on the work, but still offered the painting, charging only my printing and shipping costs.

Sometime in the near future, I’ll be receiving a paper print that I’ve asked them to sign.  I’ll have it framed for my office, a souvenir of the experience, and a constant reminder that I must make time for personal work.  I’ve also asked Emilio to have Martin sign one more print, something I can reserve for a charity auction sometime in the future.  He was happy to oblige, and you can bet that I’m going to be very picky about which cause benefits from this unique item.

There is no doubt in my mind that had I attempted to orchestrate any of this, had I painted the portrait with the intention of bringing about these events, none of it would have happened.  I created this portrait for me, to remind myself why I paint, and since I truly enjoyed working on it, that was enough.   But to have it appreciated by his family, was a wonderful and unexpected bonus, not to mention a validation of my recent choices.

If all that weren’t enough, the greatest compliment I received was something offered by Estevez in one of his e-mails this past month.  He said, “…the image is gorgeous and you have captured my father in a way that few have.”

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

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Martin Sheen – The Details

Martin Sheen - PortraitYesterday, I wrote about why I painted this portrait of Martin Sheen’s character, Tom, from the movie ‘The Way.’  Click on this link, if you’d like to read it.  Today, I figured I’d write a little bit about the how, as there are always artists out there who want to know the technical details, and I’m happy to oblige.

This painting was done entirely in Photoshop CS6 Extended using a Wacom Cintiq 24″HD display.  No photos were used in the painting, aside from reference.  I didn’t keep track of how long it took me to complete it because I wasn’t on deadline or in a rush, so while I could easily say 20 hours, it was probably more, over a few weeks.  Without a deadline, I was able to nitpick it and get it as close to perfect as my current skills will allow.  At some point, however, I just have to call it done, because any changes become so minute that nobody will see them but me.

With all of my previous work, it has become my practice to start a painting at low resolution, usually around 9″X12″ at 72ppi.  Then, as the painting progresses, I will keep bumping up the size and resolution.  I teach this method in my PhotoshopCAFE DVD, “Animal Painting in Adobe Photoshop” and it’s the same practice I use for painting portraits of people.  There used to be two reasons for doing this.  First, when you’re working at low-res, you can’t get distracted by putting in too much detail because the size just won’t allow any.  This forces me to well establish ‘the bones’ of a likeness before working on wrinkles, skin texture, and hair.  The other reason for starting at low-res was that my computer had reached the end of it’s efficient life for this type of work and at full-size and full-res, the brushes just wouldn’t move well enough to make broad strokes across the digital canvas.  A completed painting was never more than 18″X24″ at 300ppi, because at that size, I could only work on the fine details without experiencing some lag.

Recently I had a new computer built and I’m back to working on a very current, high end machine.  Running 64bit Windows 7 with 64bit Photoshop, 16GB of RAM and a 4GB video card, everything is running incredibly smooth.  I could have started and finished this painting at full-res, without any problems at all.  BUT, I’m going to continue using my low-res to high-res workflow for the first reason I mentioned.  It forces me to get the likeness right and it works well for me.  That being said, I decided to push this painting to see if I could make it larger, which also allows more attention to detail.  This final painting is 32″X24″ at 300ppi.  At that size, the brushes were working just fine, and I could have bumped it up even more, with no issues in performance.

I’m still using the regular brushes in Photoshop and haven’t used any of the Mixer or Bristle brushes in my paintings.  Those brushes are designed to simulate traditional media and I honestly don’t feel the need to do that.  Digital painting is a medium all on its own, and I don’t try to make it into something it’s not.  I do intend to give those other brushes a try in the coming year, however, simply to see if they’ll offer me some choices to make my work better.  While I’m pleased with the quality of this painting and very much enjoyed working on it, there will always be room to improve.

Thanks for stopping by.