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The Musing Meerkat

Many artists I know have multiple shelves full of art books. I only have about a dozen of this type of book. Any more than that and some would probably never get opened more than once. As it is now, the ones I have only leave the shelves about once a year. But I’m still tempted to buy every time I see a new one.

Some notables include The Art of Tangled, a favourite animated movie, Drew Struzan’s Oeuvre, and Sebastian Kruger’s Stones. And I’m not even a Rolling Stones fan, I just enjoy Kruger’s study of them.

One of the things I love is the sketches and smaller illustrations peppered throughout these books. They’re usually unfinished doodles, sometimes chicken scratches, often looking like last-minute additions to fill up too much white space. But this accent art is deliberately and carefully chosen to compliment an illustration or story.

I enjoy seeing the bones of an illustration, the gestures, the rough idea, where the artist might have begun and what changed between the concept and finished piece. You can learn quite a bit from what the artist discarded.

I’ve long wanted to do an art book, but it’s always over the next hill.  You readers that have been with me for years (thank you!) will recall my mentioning this once or twice (probably more). I could make any number of excuses, but it’s a pretty easy truth to admit — I haven’t made it a priority. There are plenty of stories in my more than a decade of blogging about my art, and I’ve got much more finished work than I need to fill a book. Hell, I even have a publisher who wants to make it happen.

So the failure to launch is all mine, a victim of fear, perfectionism and procrastination. I have visions of boxes of books in my garage, gathering dust for years.

However, even if I conquer the imposter syndrome, one ingredient that is still missing is all of those little sketches and rough illustrations that I enjoy so much in other art books. I barely have any.

Even though sketching for fun, drawing from life and for practice has long been proven to make an artist’s skills better, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so for many years.

Almost all my work ends up being a finished painting. I spend a lot of time beforehand planning it out and choosing the correct reference. I experiment while I’m painting, but all of it leads to having a fully rendered piece done at the end of each beginning.

One of the reasons I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil was that I wanted to do more digital sketching. The procreate app is an incredible bit of software. It’s better for digital drawing and painting than Photoshop was for most of my early career. Plenty of artists are doing finished work on it, some impressive stuff.

But I haven’t been using it as often as I thought I would, at least not for drawing.

I recently went through my photo archives and grabbed a bunch of reference I liked, but not enough to contribute to a finished production print. I uploaded many of these to the iPad and promised myself that I would make more time for sketching, drawing and painting that I may or may not show to people, but eventually, they might be good accent pieces for an art book.

I started on this meerkat earlier this week. I got it to a point where it was a decent sketch, and I could have put it away and started something else. But I was having so much fun with it (dammit!), I didn’t want to stop.

Before I knew it, I was painting in little hairs around the ears and muzzle, adding finer detail work,  and experimenting with a different brush style. While not quite as refined as some of my other work, this could be a production piece.

And because procreate has a great feature where you can record every brushstroke, I could export that, edit it, add some music and voila — a high-speed short video with some fun music to go along with the brush strokes.

Once again, I have failed at creating some rough sketches but succeeded in having some more fun rendering a funny-looking animal painting. I’ll call that a win.

As for sketching, I’m probably going to have to set a time limit — 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and I have to stop when the buzzer goes off.

Otherwise, I’m just going to keep painting.

Cheers,
Patrick
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Meerkat Painting Sketch

MeerkatSketchFB002One of my favorite stops when I visit The Calgary Zoo is the meerkat enclosure.  A colony will always have one meerkat standing guard, which puts him or her at the highest point in the area, keeping a lookout for predators.  It’s an instinctual trait as it occurs even with meerkats who are born in captivity.  They just take turns.  While they have nothing to fear from predators at the zoo, this behaviour is fantastic for taking reference photos.  You couldn’t ask for a better subject as one will turn this way and that, remaining as still and posed as a fashion model in a photo shoot.

This painting is still pretty rough but it was a lot of fun.  I will probably be painting more of these little critters in the near future.

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Another Day at the Calgary Zoo

Meerkat2Had to pick up some prints in Calgary again yesterday which gave me another excuse to go to the zoo.  The forecast was pretty dismal, so I was prepared for rain, expecting I would just hang out in the indoor enclosures.  As usual, however, the forecast was less than accurate and the sun came out for a few hours.  It ended up being quite warm and enjoyable and with the couple of hours I’d budgeted to take reference shots, I managed to cover quite a bit of ground.

Giraffe

As I want to spend more time on sketches and practice work, instead of every effort needing to be a fully detailed painting, I’m finding a lot more useful reference than I used to.  While I did finally get some decent reference shots of the meerkat for a Totem painting, everything else will end up being reference for less finished work.  Should I find that a sketch or practice painting has potential for something more later, I know where to go for more reference.  For now, however, sketching from some of these pics will serve as resources to help me improve my skills.

GreatGreyOwl

SnowyOwl

I took hundreds of photos yesterday, but ended up keeping about fifty, which is still a lot.  Roughly thirty or forty of those were of one meerkat.  He (or she) just kept posing for me and I’ve got plenty of reference to do a nice study of the little critter sometime in the near future.  He was just fun to watch.  With many school children at the zoo yesterday, there just wasn’t any room to sit and sketch for an hour, nor would I have enjoyed it with the constantly moving (and shrieking) crowd.  It’s likely that I will wait until September or October for another trip to the zoo, when it’s a little quieter.  Until then, I have plenty to keep me busy.

RedPanda

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Sketch Paintings

Meerkat

One of the things I noticed at the recent Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is that many of the artists were selling books.  Some were elaborately done with high production values (and costs, I’m sure) while others were smaller and  produced on a budget, but still looked great.  I’ve mentioned before that the Expo was a great learning experience and I’m still processing all of it.  In addition to drawing and painting, I also enjoy writing a great deal.  I’ve even got a couple of novels on the shelf I wrote years ago that I wouldn’t mind taking down and doing a rewrite with fresh eyes and a little more experience.  One of them, anyway.

Sailing and fishing my personal creative ocean day to day, the idea of publishing a book that combines my artwork and writing is something that is never far below the surface of the water.  As time passes, the idea keeps growing larger, is circling more often, and it’s clear that I need to haul this in pretty soon or I’m going to need a bigger boat.

While this future publication is still just in the idea stage, I do know that it will likely focus on my animal artwork.  What I like most about the books I’ve bought by other artists is seeing the sketches and work that isn’t as polished and detailed.  Since the goal for the majority of my animal paintings has always been to produce finished pieces for clients or galleries, I don’t actually have a lot animal sketches and paintings that weren’t destined for print.  I figured I’d better make time to do more of that work since I don’t want a book that is devoid of variety.

Had I gone to art school or started drawing animals when I was younger, I might have stacks of sketchbooks of this stuff in storage, but before the late 90’s, all I ever did was doodle.  After that, it was mostly editorial cartoon work and nothing I’d want to share now.  This painting obsession didn’t really take hold until sometime in the last ten years, well into my 30’s.  What I’d like you to take from that is that it’s never too late to learn new things and do what you love.

Grouper

In an effort to create these additional sketches and paintings, there are some great side effects.  One, of course, is that it’s wonderful practice.  With no client to please, I can spend a half hour, an hour, two hours and just stop whenever I want.  For somebody as obsessive as I am, just being able to stop and leave it alone, knowing there is plenty of room for improvement is an accomplishment by itself.  Secondly, it’s like a palate cleanser, a reset button in between larger projects, very much like getting up and having a stretch.  Having just finished two cat portraits for clients and moving on to another Totem piece, the meerkat sketch I did yesterday afternoon was a way of leaving one painting behind and starting fresh on another.

Finally, these are a lot of fun.  Pouring rain that turned to snow yesterday, which can happen any time of year in the Canadian Rockies, gave me no motivation to go on my afternoon walk in the woods.  Bored of training videos after about an hour, I just decided to make some fresh coffee (unusual in the afternoon), crank the tunes in the headphones, find a reference photo from a recent trip to the zoo and start drawing.  Before I knew it, it was coming to life and I was really enjoying myself.  Yes, I have deadlines right now, a long list of work I need to get done that will take me well past the summer, but making the time to do sketches like these on a regular basis is proving to be very good for me, almost like I’m taking a mini-vacation.

Expect more of these whimsical, cartoony characters in the coming months.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even turn one or two of them into a Totem painting later.

Giraffe