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Wild Animals All Year Long

It’s hard to describe the good feeling when a new product shows up in the mail or lands on my doorstep.

Sometimes it’s proofs from Art Ink Print in Victoria, the first time I see a new painting in print. Or it might be a sample from a new licensing contract, like the big box that arrived from Spilsbury Puzzles last year. More fun than receiving them was giving them away to friends, family and subscribers to A Wilder View.

Spilsbury gave me 12 puzzles, and I didn’t keep one. Giving them away was much more fun than any enjoyment I would have had putting one together. Of course, I could have held a couple, had them collect dust in the closet, but where’s the fun in that?

Pacific Music & Art has a calendar rack in the Canmore Save-On-Foods store, right near the front door. I shop there often, so I’m used to seeing my calendars on display. I’ll confess that each time I go in, I glance at the rack.
However, the other day, I knew they had received their first shipment of my Wild Animals 2022 calendar, and I wanted to see it. Even though I selected the images, approved the digital proofs, and knew what it would look like, there’s just something about holding the finished product.

This morning, my own first order of calendars showed up. I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, yet a box of calendars on my front step is still incredibly validating. So pulling the first one from the box made me smile.

Each year, more of my work ends up on licensed products, many of which were a surprise. T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics, phone cases and decals from DecalGirl, puzzles, fabric samples, and other products I’ve approved on paper but have never seen in real life.

Pacific Music & Art, however, has the most variety of any company that licenses my work. Magnets, coasters, trivets, art cards, notepads, coffee mugs, face masks and more. It’s an extensive list, one that is ever-changing and evolving. Sold in stores all over Western Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, new locations and venues are added all the time.

Though the Calgary Zoo has sold my prints for many years, it’s often the first place I’ll see and hold a new design from Pacific.
Mike sent me a picture of this display last week from the Save-On store in Duncan, BC, featuring artists from the Pacific catalogue. I’m told I’ll be able to share an even better display photo very soon from the Save-On here in Canmore.

Wild Animals 2022 is my third calendar from Pacific Music & Art. A friend recently expressed surprise that printed calendars were still popular. Even though we all have access to a digital calendar on our phones and devices, I explained that people still like to have a printed calendar in their offices or kitchen at home to mark down appointments or family events.

Some of these people choose one featuring my funny-looking animals, and it’s flattering that they want to look at my grinning critters all year long.

Next week, I’ll offer up the Wild Animals 2022 calendar for sale to my subscribers. So if you haven’t yet signed up for A Wilder View, perhaps now is the time.

In the meantime, I’m giving away two calendars each to two different winners so that each winner can keep one for themselves and give one away.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post below. Do you have any of my funny-looking animals in your home, either on a print or product and which one(s)? Or tell me what kind of product or item might look good with one of my whimsical wildlife paintings on it.

Anyone may enter; I’m happy to ship these prizes worldwide.

I’ll let the winners know on Tuesday, July 20th, giving you a week to enter. Good luck to all!

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne

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T-Rex


One of the things I’ve learned about licensing is that I need to be open to suggestions, especially from my licensing partners. Mike from Pacific Music & Art has more than once asked that I paint a dinosaur, but I didn’t want to.

The first time I considered it, earlier this year, my biggest concern was that the only available reference  is scientific illustration based on the fossil record for an extinct animal. That means I would need to reference the work of other artists. Having been a victim of it myself, I’m hyper-sensitive to artistic theft. To use another artist’s work feels wrong.

Since the obvious subject choice was the Tyrannosaurus Rex, I thought perhaps if I got the reference from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, I could ease my conscience a little, even though the animatronic dinosaurs are still the collective work of artists. I’ve used scene references for all of my portraits of movie characters.

I watched Jurassic Park, realized that all the closeup shots were in darkness and while raining. Since I didn’t want to paint my dinosaur like that, that was the first problem. Recent discoveries have shown that the T-Rex likely had feathers, some theorizing they had brighter colouring rather than that of a giant lizard. I couldn’t decide whether to paint the classic T-Rex we all know and love or go with a more up-to-date scientific version.

I gave up on the whole idea because it pushed all of my ‘this isn’t right for me’ buttons.

I started to think about it again in recent months and went on a deeper dive for reference.

While talking to a friend recently, I mentioned I was painting a T-Rex. I joked that taking the photo reference involved a DeLorean and a lot of running.

I watched all of the Jurassic Park movies on Netflix, found a couple with some potential reference scenes, and bought two of the films so that I could get some screen capture shots.

The best reference was still in darker scenes, again with rain, but I managed to find some useful scenes. That still didn’t get me everything I needed, so I went scouring the internet to see what others had done. I found 3d models, photos of dinosaur sculptures from zoos and parks, and scientific illustrations.

And I made peace with the idea that I’d be painting the traditional lizard looking T-Rex.

While preparing for this painting, I found an interview where Steven Spielberg revealed that he knew that some of his dinosaurs, including the T-Rex, weren’t accurate. He said that he was making an adventure movie, not a documentary and wanted to go with scary.

That convinced me to go with what felt right for my art style, and if some took exception to the scientific inaccuracies, then clearly it’s not for them.

I once had somebody angrily comment about my painting that “a fox’s eyes don’t look like that!” I invited him to look at my other art. None of my animals look precisely like the real thing.

Cartoonist Gary Larson, of The Far Side fame, once had a reader take issue that one of his cartoons had a penguin and a polar bear in it. He had pointed out to Larson that penguins and polar bears do not live in the same climate. Larson responded, “But it’s OK that they’re talking, right?”

Because I used so many different reference images and it would be impossible to say which one was the most significant contributor to the finished piece, I felt comfortable that I have not ripped anyone off in my depiction of the T-Rex.

I wanted to go big on the exaggerated mouth, a toothy grin with an equal mix of menace and fun. I think I achieved that.
I was prepared for this to be a difficult piece, and it was. The skin texture proved incredibly challenging because I wanted to convey the reptilian skin, but I didn’t want to go in and map it so that it was hyper-accurate. The overall feel of the painting was more important to me.

I did create a couple of new brushes for this, something I haven’t done in some time. I’d forgotten how much fun that can be. The background is not the focus of the piece, but it took a long time to paint, though it’s mainly out of focus to suggest depth of field. I deliberately didn’t include the little arms for which the T-Rex is well known because I wanted the face to be the focus, and it would have required a different composition.

Earlier this year, I had to replace my computer. When the motherboard failed, at least I think that’s what failed; I knew it was time for a whole new machine, rather than replacing parts. My computers are custom built and not inexpensive, so it’s money I didn’t want to spend this year, but on the other side of it, I’m glad I did.

This piece really put it through its paces. The final image size was 30”x40” at 300ppi, and the working file size was 1.4GB. This new computer had no perceptible lag or hiccups, and I’m confident the old computer would have struggled. I would have had to have babied it at the end of the piece, careful not to crash it.

I’m glad that I revisited this idea and am pleased with the finished piece. I learned a few new tricks and techniques out of necessity, and that’s always well worth my time.

Best of all, Shonna really likes this one, and she’s my harshest critic. She had some excellent advice when I asked her opinion, most notably to tone down the saliva. I had initially painted several strands between the teeth, and her critique was accurate; less was more. Whenever she likes a painting, that’s a nice bonus.

When I released my last two paintings, Bear Hug and Winter Wolf, I immediately had newsletter followers asking to buy prints. While I would have liked to have had them available right away, I won’t be having those proofed until the new year, along with this one. I’ll be sure to announce it when they’re all available.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Puzzling

A box of Spilsbury puzzles arrived at our door today. I knew these were coming sometime this year, but had no idea when.

Over the years, my images have found their way onto many different products, through licensing deals I’ve signed. I’ve written about licensing before, but the short version is that when a company wants to use an artist’s work on a product, they pay the artist a royalty. It’s usually for a set amount of time, two or three years, an agreed upon percentage, for a specific region, and stipulations regarding exclusivity. The contracts have a lot more details in them, but the general idea is pretty simple.

I have licenses for T-shirts and apparel through Harlequin Nature Graphics and decals/cases for phones and devices through DecalGirl. Pacific Music and Art has licenses for a wide variety of products, some of which are coffee mugs, art cards, magnets, aluminum art, coasters, trivets and as a consequence of our current situation, face masks and scarves/neck gaiters.

My interactions with these companies are quite simple. I’m almost always talking directly with the owner and I enjoy that one on one relationship.
Art Licensing, an agency based in New England makes my library of funny looking animals available to their extensive client list around the world. They act as my agent in negotiating those deals, for which they take a percentage. When a company is interested, Art Licensing sends me details of the arrangement and I approve or decline the offer. Because they’re professionals at what they do, they’re aware that I have other licenses and what those are, in order to avoid any conflicts between competing companies selling the same things.

I research the company, decide if I like the deal or not, and reply with yay or nay. Because Art Licensing knows their business, I usually approve, but I have declined a couple in recent years. When I’ve done so, they accept my decision without argument and we move on. Occasionally I’ll request a change to an offer and they’ll go back to the company with the request. If they accept it, the change is made, if they don’t, then I decide if I can live with the original terms.

For licenses obtained through Art Licensing, I don’t have any interaction with the companies making the products. From time to time, somebody following my work will send me a link to my art on a site somewhere and ask me if it’s legitimate. I do appreciate these emails, grateful that many of you are looking out for me and my work, but also because I do occasionally get ripped off and have to deal with that.

Most of the time, the links I’m sent are on the up-and-up. If I don’t know the company name selling my work, a little digging will often reveal that they have a parent company with whom I do have a license through Art Licensing. A customer recently told me he had seen my work for sale on a print in Macy’s in Texas. Sure enough, the company that put that art in Macy’s had a license to do so.

There are some artists who balk at giving up a percentage to wholesalers, galleries and retailers, but without those businesses, mine wouldn’t exist. Licensing is a desirable business model for many artists. I would never have the time, energy, capital or connections to manufacture all of these products and get them into stores all over the world. Licensing allows an artist to receive income from their work while continuing to create more, generating revenue year after year from the same images.
Spilsbury is a company that licensed four of my images at the beginning of this year. They optioned my Smiling Tiger, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle and Wolf paintings. While many of my licenses offer samples to the artist in the contract, this is the first time I’ve actually requested them. I really don’t want a warehouse of licensed items, especially as I get more of them. I’m not sure why, since I can’t recall Shonna and I ever putting a puzzle together, but I wanted to see these in person.

I did not expect to receive 12 of them, but I enjoyed opening that box. The puzzles come in 300 and 500 piece versions, so they sent me three of each of two of the designs, the Smiling Tiger and Happy Horned Owl. Looking on their website, they renamed the other two as the Earnest Eagle and Winsome Wolf. I have no issue with that at all, that’s just marketing. They sell them individually, or in bundles of two on their website, you can check them out here.
While I intend to keep one of each for myself, I’m going to give away the others via my newsletter. I don’t know how that will work yet, but I’ll give it some thought. I’d like to have fun with this, as we can all use some of that this year.

I’ll admit that I’m curious if putting together a 500 piece puzzle of my own painting will be easier, since I know those brushstrokes better than anyone. I’m going to save finding out the answer to that for an afternoon this winter, a hot chocolate and cookies next to me, with a snowstorm raging outside.

Cheers,
Patrick

EDIT:
It has come to my attention that Spilsbury does not ship to Canada. I tried it myself and the only shipping options they have is for the United States. That’s annoying, especially for those of you who have already told me they wanted to order some puzzles.

Apparently that’s the downside of not dealing directly with the company, in that I didn’t know that. It’s still a great license for me personally, but not for all of you. For that, my apologies.

For those of you in the US, that doesn’t change anything. Sadly, for my Canadian followers, these aren’t currently available. Should that change in the future, I will let you know.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you were looking to get a puzzle.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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New from DecalGirl

One of my favorite licenses is DecalGirl. They make custom cases, skins and wraps for a wide range of phones, tablets and other devices. Several of my paintings have been available for quite awhile and I’ve been impressed with the quality and look of them since the beginning of our relationship. I’ve got a Shark decal on my laptop, Smiling Tiger on my iPad, Berkley’s face on my phone case and various other sleeves and cases.
As of this week, there are now 17 of my paintings available on their site. No matter which electronic device you’ve got, there’s a good chance DecalGirl has a case or decal that will fit. They’re all pre-cut with the holes for the buttons, speakers, microphones. The vinyl is easy to apply, long-lasting and colourfast. My laptop is a pretty specific model, but I simply entered the dimensions online and when it arrived, it fit perfectly.

Here are four new designs they’ve added this week. There’s a good chance I’ll be getting that lion on a phone case for myself. Click on an image below to see it on their site, or follow this link to see the whole collection of my available work. For a limited time, use the promo code FALLSAVINGS for 25% OFF.

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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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Bird Watching

One of the wonderfully strange things I’ve never quite gotten used to over the years of licensed work is how my animals show up in the oddest places.

With the Pacific Music and Art license, that seems to be accelerating, because they’re in many more places than I could ever reach on my own, which is the whole point.

Earlier this week, my buddy Al sent me a text that made me laugh out loud, because it included the following photo. It had been shared on The Chive under a headline “Sports Moments Caught Out of Context…”
That ostrich T-shirt certainly does get around.

Years ago, my first T-shirt license was with a company called The Mountain. The relationship was a good one, they treated me well, cheques showed up monthly, but after five years, the owner chose not to renew the license. While I thought sales were right for me, they weren’t enough for The Mountain. The large volume of sales they were after from each design, my funny looking animals weren’t making the mark.

I was disappointed but didn’t take it personally, and we parted on good terms. The owner was a good guy, and when the company shut down its licensing division for anything but shirts, he recommended me to Art Licensing International, an agency that represents me today.

Some Canadian customers wanted to sell my shirts in their stores or gift shops but found the prices from The Mountain to be prohibitive, mainly because of the exchange rate. So, I was pleased to sign on with a Canadian company after that, Harlequin Nature Graphics on Vancouver Island.

Sometime later, however, The Mountain wanted to continue selling the Ostrich shirt, mainly because of one client. Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch and Petting Zoo is a family-owned facility in Arizona, frequented year-round, and it’s my understanding that this one client is responsible for the majority of sales for my Ostrich Tshirt.

With licensing, the main thing is not to step on other clients’ toes, so I checked with Harlequin, as they’ve got exclusivity and first rights of refusal on my designs. They were fine with me continuing that one design license with The Mountain, as they haven’t optioned that painting.

I painted it quite a few years ago on my iPad. It was a sketch painting, a fun experiment, never designed for print. But when Shonna saw it, she said she really liked it and told me I had to finish it.

I know a lot of creative art type people, and there’s something most of us have in common; our spouses aren’t impressed with our work. I’ve heard the same stories in interviews and on podcasts from many people. Actors, musicians, painters, writers, it seems that many of our partners aren’t fans, which in moments of clarity, I know that’s a good thing.

So, when Shonna likes a painting, I get a little excited, because she’s so hard to impress. As much as it pisses me off, she’s usually the last critical eye on a painting. When I ask her opinion, I bite my tongue and brace myself, because she almost always sees something that’s off. I grumble about it, make the change, and reluctantly admit she was right.
 
Man, I hate that.

In recent years, I’ve had people send me images of this ostrich shirt from some unusual places. The first was a screenshot from TSN showing a New York Islanders hockey game. A guy behind the bench was wearing it, making it look like he was giving the coach the evil eye.

A character was wearing it on a Netflix show called Disjointed, a sitcom about a pot shop. Then on the A&E series, “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour,” Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne visited the ranch mentioned above and were both wearing the shirts in the scene following their departure.
This latest image of the announcer holding up the shirt, I’m sure was from the ranch as well, because I can see a name drop on the sleeve. Though I can’t read it, it looks the same as the one Ozzy is wearing. Interesting post-script to the announcer picture…when I sent this post to my newsletter followers, a friend in San Diego wrote me to say that he knows the guy holding the shirt, even told me his name. He’s going to ask him about it next time they meet. This bizarre small world in which we live.

These are the incidents in my work I can’t ever predict, but I’m delighted when they happen. It’s not like any of these people know who I am, but they’re wearing my art, and that’s enough for me.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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The Infinite Game

The following was part of this week’s newsletter, sent Wednesday 11/13/19. While I write blog posts and newsletters on a fairly regular basis, a lot of what I write in the newsletter is only seen by subscribers, along with some photos, sketches and works in progress. If you’d like to sign up, here’s the link. Enjoy!

In addition to listening to podcasts and music while I work, I’ve always got an audio book on the go.

The one I’m listening to right now is quite fascinating. I told Shonna this morning that it might be one of the best books I’ve ever read (listened to) on why we do the things we do, even when it is against our own best interests.

This book focuses on business, but not the ‘rock me to sleep’ boring facts and figures type stuff. Anybody who has ever wondered why things aren’t working out the way they thought or hoped, would benefit from this book. It’s replete with examples of corporate executives, politicians and world leaders who have consistently failed in their roles due to finite thinking. Conversely, there are some surprising examples of leaders who went against the grain, defied convention, and made positive changes while everybody was telling them that they were crazy.

The book is called ‘The Infinite Game’ by Simon Sinek.

One of the things he has been quoted as saying in the past is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Now at first glance that might seem like one of those pithy little sayings that somebody slaps on a meme and shares on Twitter, but in the week or so since I’ve heard the phrase, it’s been occupying a lot of my thoughts. I even went so far as to write it on a post-it note and stuck it to the bottom corner of my Cintiq display.

It feels like a mystery to be solved, because I can’t really say why I do what I do, but I feel I should know.

There are plenty of professions that are much easier and pay more than being a self-employed artist. If it was just about the money, I’d be foolish not to do something else.

Editorial cartooning, if I’m being honest, I just do that for the money. Sure, I still get to draw and be creative with it, I’m engaged in daily critical thinking, practicing and improving my art skills, but as I’ve talked about (far too often) in the past, following politics and bleeding-leads every day for twenty years begins to do long-term damage to a person’s soul.

I show up for that work every morning, put my ass in the chair, draw a cartoon or two and make sure my clients are supplied with what I’ve promised. Editorial cartooning is my day job.

It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling and have seen their best days so the fact that this profession still manages to pay a large chunk of my bills is surprising, but I’m under no illusion that it will still be doing so in ten years. Then again, I said the same thing ten years ago, so what do I know?

Each year prior to this has financially been better than the year before. That is, until this year.

At the risk of breaking the unwritten rule of self-employment, to always shout that everything is peachy and amazing and frickin fantastic (!!!), I’m experiencing my first down year, enough to make me more than a little nervous.

Why would I share this? My editors might read this, not to mention my competitors. Why would I point out the blood in the water?

Because I get really tired of the bullshit we feed each other, pretending we’ve got it all figured out when almost none of us do. I know you’re lying about your picture perfect curated Facebook life, you know I’m lying about mine and we’re all just pretending to go along with each other’s fabrications.

I’ve talked to a LOT of people who are having a tough time this year, business owner friends who are freaking out about the red in their books, but that’s only shared in whispered one-on-one conversations lest anybody finds out. The economy is down, people are scared and when that happens, they spend less money, which affects everybody.

As one of my editors said in a candid conversation yesterday, expecting to have nothing but good years, in business and in life, is incredibly naïve. Shit’s gonna happen and if you can step back and take a long look at it, it might be the required catalyst for positive change that wouldn’t have happened if everything stayed the same.

I began painting my whimsical wildlife portraits ten years ago, not knowing at the time that it would be the next transition in my career. It’s the work I love doing most and if there’s an answer to the question, “Why do I do what I do?”, it’s hidden in those brushstrokes.

The happy accident of all this, however, is that the revenue from licensing this work and selling prints has been increasing year after year, and this year, thanks to companies like Pacific Music and Art, Harlequin Nature Graphics and Art Licensing International, I’m seeing the largest year of growth in that part of my business. So the seeds I planted ten years ago are bearing more fruit.

But it’s hard to see that as all positive when the cartoon revenue that has sustained me well for so many years is experiencing a decline. That’s human nature, and generates all sorts of negative cognitive distortions. Change is always hard, but inevitable.

While working on my local cartoon for the Rocky Mountain Outlook, having already sent out today’s syndicated cartoon, looking forward to working on my current animal painting this morning, I got that familiar anxious feeling, worrying about income.

“Maybe I should get another cartoon done for today instead of painting, just to try and make a little more money. I can always paint tomorrow.”

But clearly Sinek’s book is sinking in, because I thought, “this is finite thinking, focusing on the quarterly profit numbers, at the expense of the long game.”

If I keep putting off painting, then no painting gets done. The work I enjoy most that is laying the foundation for the future of my career, is being set aside for the short term revenue that is unlikely to be paying the same portion of my bills a decade from now.
Focusing on the big picture, I decided to paint instead and made some nice progress. It took me about a half hour to really get into today’s session, to quiet the fearful voice in my head, but it was eventually drowned out by the music in the earbuds and the good feelings of painting three happy cougar cubs. Still a long way to go on this, but I can see the finished image in my mind.

Just as the sixty plus whimsical wildlife images I’ve painted during the past ten years are generating income for me now, this painting will do the same later. I just need to stay focused on playing the infinite game.

Cheers,
Patrick
@LaMontagneArt
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Artistic License and Creative Risk

In late 2009, right around this time, I began work on my first whimsical wildlife painting, a Grizzly bear.

By the time I walked into a gallery in Banff in Cascade Mall in January, I had three. The Grizzly, a Raven, and an Elk.

The manager treated me well, the owners did not, and on a tip, I barely got my stuff out of there before they shuttered the store overnight a couple of years later.

But it led me to a store in Canmore called Two Wolves, where the two women who owned it treated me very well. They ultimately closed up shop, but I learned a lot, they urged me to seek a license with The Mountain on T-shirts which turned into a nice four year deal and opened other doors.

In Banff, when the first gallery closed, I sought out another and that’s how I ended up at About Canada retail gallery. We’ve had a very nice relationship for the past 7 years. It’s all been consignment, which means that I supply the prints; they pay me when they sell, and the cheques arrived every month without fail.

Richard and Alison taught me a lot about the business, they offered helpful suggestions, delivered harsh truths, and were always willing to try something new. Initially, they just wanted mountain animals, but I convinced them to try some others. My Otter painting has been their bestseller for a number of years, followed closely by the Bald Eagle, neither of which is associated with these mountains.

Because they had treated me so well for so many years, About Canada had exclusive rights to sell my work in Banff. It’s also the only place that sells my matted prints and canvas with consistent sales. The other is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring.

Earlier this year, they decided to retire from About Canada and put it up for sale. They had a large number of my prints and canvas on hand, and I authorized putting my stuff on sale with everything else. After a busy summer, it’s almost all gone.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make a big change.

Many successful artists will stock up and hit the road, especially this time of year to do multiple gift shows and sell their wares. I know a few who make the bulk of their annual income at Christmas markets. If my funny looking animal paintings were my only income, I would likely be doing the same thing.

Because of my editorial cartoon deadlines, I have to produce at least one cartoon every day, some days more than one. Following the news keeps me here, but since I dislike driving long distances, especially in the winter, working at home suits me well.

Oh yeah, and I loathe Christmas. Bah, Humbug.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen the licensing model. The artist creates the art, then signs contracts with companies who sell it on prints and other products. They do all of the work and promotion it takes to get the items into retail stores, on websites, produce the goods, ship them, invoice, collect and the artist just collects a cheque. If the artist is smart, he/she will never give up copyright and a reputable licensee won’t ask for it. All of my current licenses are non-exclusive on paper, but I’m careful not to sign with direct competitors.

I’ve had a number of licenses for my work over the years with a few different companies. T-shirts, decals, phone cases, online art sales from multiple companies, and Art Licensing International currently represents me, based out of the US. They currently have 54 of my images out for licensing.

Now you might be thinking “cha-ching!” but when I sell an item through a license, I get a very small percentage of that sale, anywhere between 5% and 15% at the high end. That’s also from the wholesale price, not the retail price.

My licensing agent also takes a cut for any licenses they procure for me, so the percentage gets lower still.

Why would I bother? Same reason I sell syndicated cartoons to weekly newspapers for a lower rate than I would a custom cartoon.

Volume.

The money isn’t made on one sale, it’s made on MANY sales of the same image. That first Grizzly is still one of my bestsellers nine years later.

My licensing agent gets me deals I can’t get on my own. They have the connections, the professional sales people, the legal expertise, and the means to deliver. Through my agent, I recently signed a two year license for one image to a company in Spain for a nice flat fee. How would I ever get that on my own?

I’ve seen one of my T-shirts on a Netflix show and Ozzy Osbourne was wearing one recently on TV. I have clients all over the world that I could not get on my own and best of all, it creates momentum. One license begets another and so on. Licensing is how artists get their work into Wal-Mart (and then retire!).

So licensing is proving to be the model that works best for me right now, allowing me to create more work, while somebody else sells it. It is a long game, and one license can take years to bring in decent revenue, but that time will pass anyway and all I did was provide the images.

As regular followers will know, I have two different printers who both deliver great products. My digital prints are produced in Victoria from Art Ink Print and are sold at The Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, the Calgary Expo and online. These aren’t on consignment. When I deliver to these places, it’s an immediate sale of product to the retailer. I’ll still be supplying prints directly to those customers.

My canvas, giclée matted prints and acrylics are produced in Calgary at ABL Imaging and those are sold at About Canada in Banff and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. Those are consignment sales, which I’ll no longer be doing.

I have over thirty paintings currently in stock, and that’s expensive. To get a good price on prints, I have to order more than I need, so I have multiples of those images, with the backer board, mats, bios, and cellophane sleeves to go with them. I don’t mind telling you that at present, I have hundreds of prints in stock.

They’re all neatly organized and inventoried, but they’re here, ready to deliver when there’s an order. They don’t expire and are well protected, so it’s an investment in future sales. Many of these prints won’t be sold until spring at Expo, especially now that I no longer have About Canada to sell the matted prints and canvas.

When Shonna and I were on Vancouver Island, it was a business trip as well as a little vacation. We visited licensees, my printer, I took a lot of reference pics for paintings and I was on the lookout for more ways to sell my work.

I saw my Otter T-shirt in a few stores in Victoria, which never gets old. I also saw lots of art from many talented artists. Art cards, magnets, trivets, coasters, and prints all with excellent printing quality, well packaged and presented.

There were two companies that stood out for me and I took pictures of the information on the back of the cards for reference when I got home.

The next time I stopped in to About Canada, I had a chat with Richard about the companies as he dealt with both of them. As he knew I was thinking of taking my prints in a new direction, he offered to send me their contact info, which I gratefully accepted.

In fact, he sent glowing introduction emails to the two people and cc’d me on them. See why I liked working with these folks?

Both companies contacted me and offered me contracts. Either would have been a good bet, I think, but after careful consideration and a long chat on the phone with the owner, I decided that Pacific Music and Art was going to be the best fit for my work.

From here on out, things will change on the printing front.

Pacific Music and Art will now be able to get my work into many more retailers in Canada and the US, with their sales reps doing the legwork to best represent my funny looking animals. For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, I just can’t create the work and meet my deadlines if I’m on the road going from store to store, building relationships with retailers, ordering and packaging the prints, shipping and delivering them, and doing all of the work that goes along with that.
Through Pacific Music & Art, my work will now be available to retailers on aluminum prints and magnets, art cards and other paper products, coasters, trivets, coffee mugs and more. It’ll be introduced to hundreds of retailers that I would never be able to reach and I’ll have more time to paint and have less stock to buy.

I am no longer bound by exclusivity in Banff, but my work will still be available at About Canada, in addition to other local retailers in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of prep work getting the first sixteen images ready. While the artist normally wouldn’t have to do a lot of the formatting and sizing work for all of the different products, I volunteered and was provided the templates.
Sizing the paintings for the different products required cropping them, a little squeezing and squashing, and making sacrifices, especially when a square painting had to be put into a horizontal template. I would rather make those decisions than a designer unfamiliar with my work. I’m proficient with Photoshop, so it was time consuming, but not difficult. After a couple of very long days of prep, I uploaded over 165 images to their server.

The fall catalog went live this week and my Otter is on the cover. I’m thrilled to be included among these well-known artists including Andy Everson and Sue Coleman.
The owner, Mike, was driving through here on Friday, a combination business and personal trip. He was visiting local retailers and introducing my work to them, many of whom were already familiar with it as I’ve been in this valley for 24 years.

We met for coffee in Canmore late Friday and had an enjoyable chat for more than an hour. He’d brought samples to give to the retailers and his Alberta reps, and he told me to take what I wanted from quite a large selection. I had to restrain myself as I have more than enough of my own work in my house. I settled on a couple of magnets, a few coasters, a trivet and a small aluminum print, along with the catalog. The quality of these items exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to see them in stores around here, as he’s already got quite a few orders. One store on Vancouver Island took all 16 images.

I’ve been at this art business for quite some time now and I try to temper my enthusiasm with healthy doses of reality and even cynicism, but I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and will free up time and money to pursue new things and allow me to create more artwork.

While it’s sad to see my relationship end with the owners of About Canada, I am grateful for the opportunity to see my business grow in a new direction. Without risk, there can be no reward and I’d rather fail reaching for something better than worry about keeping what I’ve got.

Art Ink Print does my digital prints, Harlequin Nature Graphics is my T-shirt license and now Pacific Music and Art will be a major license for me, all of these companies are in and around Victoria, BC. Considering how much we love Vancouver Island, it’s amazing how many reasons we now have to go there.

As always, thanks for reading.

Patrick

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A Visit To Harlequin Nature Graphics

This trip to Vancouver Island has almost become an annual thing, and I always return home with plenty of reference photos and renewed inspiration for painting. Back at the desk, having gathered another collection of pics, but an added bonus on this trip was being able to pay a visit to Harlequin Nature Graphics Ltd. in Cobble Hill.

This is my first year working with Harlequin and they came highly recommended by current clients. While shopping around for a new licensee for my work on apparel, both the Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park spoke well of Harlequin’s quality and service. When I was first considering licensing my images with Harlequin last fall, the fact that they are Canadian, primarily focused on wildlife and that they support wildlife causes were all high on my list of pros.
As this trip is a working vacation, we included in our plans a drive down to Cobble Hill on Monday, from where we were staying near Qualicum Beach. Unless you’re moving from one end of the island to the other, we never seem to have to travel long distances to get where we need to go. Since we’ve always planned our visits for early June, before school is out and vacationing families pack the highways, we usually don’t have much in the way of heavy traffic.
Kevin and Gillian were very welcoming and spent more than an hour giving us a tour of the facility, showing us the shirts, their printing operation, talking about the history of the company and where their future plans might take them. They’re working on a new website at present that I’m looking forward to sharing.
I’d already had a good feeling about Harlequin from the beginning, which is why I signed with them. They initially took on a lot more of my images than I expected and time will tell which designs generate the most interest among their many clients across Canada.

It’s not always reasonable or economical to meet face to face when licensing is concerned. I’ve got licensees in the U.S. with whom I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to sit down and have a chat, but given the option, I’ll always choose to. The opportunity to meet with Kevin, Gillian and their staff was well worth the drive to Cobble Hill and we came away from the meeting with a better understanding of the operation and an even greater confidence in our shared vision for my whimsical wildlife paintings.
Of course, since we were there, I managed to beg a few more shirts in my size, too. Thanks, Kevin!