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Winter Raven

Before it debuted in 2010, nobody was asking for an iPad. Even after it launched, people made fun of it. There were plenty of articles criticizing it for not having a keyboard or a stylus. Even the name was fodder for ridicule. Who would want this when they could have a laptop or a home computer?

Years later, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody with a tablet device who doesn’t see the value.

While I’m not creating technical marvels or something the masses line up for, whenever I’m deciding on a new painting, I have to fight the urge to try to figure out what people want. Most of the time, we don’t even know.

When I painted my first funny looking Grizzly Bear in 2009, nobody was asking me for animal paintings. Like a lot of art, it was an experiment, borne out of boredom with the work I’d been doing.

There are times I will paint something purely for commercial reasons, to satisfy demand.  Most of my pet portraits are client commissions, I’ve painted pandas for the Calgary Zoo, and my Sasquatch and recent T-Rex painting were market suggestions from a licensing client.

It’s a nice thought to believe that you can create art for a living, and people will throw money at you, but the real world doesn’t work that way.

If I thought too hard about each piece’s outcome and marketability before I painted it, I would have never created some of my most popular pieces.

I’ve painted more bears than any other animal, and I’ll continue to paint more because I enjoy them so much. I’ve also painted multiple wolves, lions, tigers and owls. This is my third or fourth raven.

I paint some animals more than once because there will always be room for improvement and new approaches to try. You never know when the same animal, painted differently, will suddenly resonate with people the way a previous version didn’t.

My Smiling Tiger painting is one of my best-selling pieces. Had I failed to paint it simply because I had painted tigers twice before, I would have missed out on an image that many people love, including me.
In September of this year, I gave my wife a photo of a raven for her birthday, printed on aluminum with a clear coating. It’s easily one of the best gifts I’ve given her because she loves it. Shonna hung it opposite the kitchen entry so that when you walk in, it never fails to catch your eye.

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with the image as well. Because of the print medium, the different light throughout the day changes the photo. Sometimes it’s devoid of colour; other times, it’s shades of gold, and on an overcast, gloomy day, it has hints of blue. Both Shonna and I often stop to look at it.

My friend Darrel and I remain fans of the 90s television show Northern Exposure. The fictitious tales from Cecily, Alaska, often incorporated First Nations beliefs and symbolism. On one holiday episode, the radio DJ, Chris Stevens said, “You know, twinkling coloured lights are nice, and so are plastic Santas and reindeers and manger scenes, but I’ll tell you something, friends… nothing like the sight of a beautiful black-as-pitch raven to get you in the Christmas spirit.”

I doubt there’s a December since that Darrel and I haven’t recited the last part of that quote to each other.
So it’s no wonder I’ve had ravens on my mind. It’s also likely why I chose such stark contrasts in this painting, inspired by the same quality in that photo.

I’ve had to remind myself often of the lesson I learned a long time ago. If I paint what I think people want to see, the image rarely captures the attention I expect. It’s likely those paintings won’t be ones I enjoy much either. It’s the ones I paint without any expectations that end up being the most fun and often become surprising hits.

So here’s another raven, whether you wanted one or not. And here’s to the next one I’ll no doubt paint somewhere down the road, whenever the mood strikes me.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© 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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Winter Wolf

When beginning a new painting, it’s tempting to scour my photo archives for an animal I haven’t painted before. Sometimes that intent works, but often I end up sacrificing my enjoyment of the work because I chose the animal for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.

My photo reference files are well cataloged, a folder for each animal. With thousands of photos to choose from, having them all in a big pile makes life a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

I try to steer myself away from painting too many bears. I could happily paint ten of those in a row, but not everybody has the same affinity for my favourite creature, though I have no idea why.

I’ve painted three wolf images, four if you count that one of those paintings has two wolves in it. So, it came as a surprise to me that I chose to paint another one. Often I’ll decide to paint an animal because it feels right at the time.

My friend Serena, the head keeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, gave me a folder of wolf images a few years ago, a large collection of shots she’d taken over the years. These orphaned and rescued wolves had all died of old age long before my first visit to the park.

I came across one image from 2010 that inspired the above painting and asked Serena who it was. She said it was “Smith. He was a sweet wolf.”

The photo has low light, grainy, and taken on a foggy winter day. Serena is a skilled photographer, and many of the images in the folder were much better. But still, I kept returning to this one.

Rather than fight it, I decided to go with it and paint another wolf.

The finished piece looks nothing like Smith. It has a more feminine feel, and I’ve taken liberty with the eyes, expression and everything else. I used five other reference shots for the detail I needed. A couple were Serena’s photos, the others my own.

There are two or three hours of work painting fur detail that I later covered up with snow, which was the most challenging part of this piece. I had to decide between too much or too little snow and where to put it.

Leaving the background white felt uncomfortable, as I often use colour and texture to make the foreground image pop or establish more mood. I added some blue flecks to the background to take the edge off the sharp contrast and accent the eyes, but it’s still a predominantly nondescript backdrop. I did add a subtle light blue to make it softer and mute the contrast a little more at the end. From a commercial perspective, it will make it easier to adapt this painting to various licensed products.

While I enjoyed working on this piece and its challenges, I’m not sure how I feel about the finished painting. I’ll need to let it rest awhile. Still my style, not as whimsical as my other pieces and a departure from the usual composition, but the same could be said for my Roar and Sire paintings, both of which have become popular.

I can control the work, the choices I make, and the art I send out into the world. After that, it’s out of my hands.
I’m starting a new painting right away on Monday, something completely different, Mike’s suggestion at Pacific Music and Art. I’ve said no to him on this critter before, for reasons I’ll explain later. I’m a little nervous about it as it will be tough. The detail alone will double my usual painting time. But if I can manage to bring it to life, it might be a fun piece with a lot of personality.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Another Funny Looking Animal

In the waning days of the self-isolation portion of our COVID program, I bought new glasses to replace the ones I’d broken near the end of March. I took a selfie and posted it on Instagram, complete with a goofy expression. Someone said, “you look like a caricature of yourself,” to which I replied, “I AM a caricature of myself.”

That planted the seed for this painting, although it became more of a self-portrait than caricature, with little exaggeration. My face just looks like that when I ham it up.

Isn’t Shonna a lucky lady?

Why do artists create self-portraits? That occurred to me while painting this.

Is it narcissism? Sure, that’s part of it. Though artists are notorious for self-criticism, we wouldn’t bother to put our creations out into the world without at least a little conceit.

Self-portraits are also about process and practice. I’ve painted caricatures and portraits of myself a few times over the past twenty years, mostly for promotional reasons.

It’s also a way to see the evolution of art skills, an exercise in progress, and an opportunity to poke a little fun at myself. And I’m a model who works cheap.

I paint portraits of people for my enjoyment, primarily characters from movies, though I have done one professional portrait commission of Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen for Canadian Geographic Magazine.  I only accepted that one because the editor’s proposed vision was clear, and he hired me because he liked all of my other portraits. I’m not actively seeking other such opportunities but never say never.

I know some excellent portrait photographers whose editing abilities are one of their most laudable skills.

It’s a common photography practice to augment reality by taking portraits using excellent lighting, backdrops, great gear and the all-important artistic eye. If a blemish can easily be removed, have at it. Nobody wants a head-shot, especially for business, that shows a pimple, stray hair, red eyes or deep shadows in undesirable places.

When it stops looking like the person, however, that’s a clear indication you’ve gone too far. A skilled portrait photographer knows just how far to take it without it becoming surreal. Unless of course, that’s what the artist is going for, which is a whole other realm of artistic expression.

It’s easy to spot those social media selfies where the result is more filters than photo because nobody looks like that in real life. The lines in our faces are part of who we are. We age, we weather, we’re asymmetrical and imperfect.

Even though we pretend to go along with the ruse, to obtain that perfect selfie, some take two dozen shots, fix their hair many times, change their shirt, apply makeup, filters, suck in their belly, adjusted the lighting, primp and preen, all to make it look like the photo was spontaneous.

The next time you see one of those serene-looking yoga poses, that meditative scene with bright sun rim lighting, in the mountains, by a river, or any other idyllic setting, take a moment to consider that they had to set up the camera and position themselves into the pose. Using either a timer or remote, they took the shot, went back to the camera or phone, checked the result, then repeated the process until they got the one that looked most like they had achieved nirvana and oneness with the universe.

The photo I used for reference for this painting had less than ideal lighting, my eyes were a little redder, I hadn’t shaved that day, and the background was my kitchen. But in the painting, I was careful to alter or improve only the things that I could do naturally in real life. Had I taken the shot following a better night’s sleep and after I’d put a razor to my face, it would look more like what you see here.

Naturally, it’s still a promotional painting and done in the same style I paint my animals and other portraits. It’s not supposed to look just like the photo, but it still needs to look like me.

Had I removed the grey or stray hairs from my beard, the lines in my face, or painted a perfectly coiffed hairstyle, I’d only be fooling myself, but not really.
While painting this portrait, I often forgot that it was me. It was just about getting the likeness right, the shape of the features, the values in the shadows and highlights.

Shonna is always my harshest critic. She can spot the flaws in my paintings, and it used to drive me nuts. I now brace myself before asking her opinion because she’s going to be honest. While it’s always frustrating, the nits she picks will usually result in a better-finished piece.

When I asked her about this portrait, her only critique was a structural problem with the bridge of my nose, easily fixed once I could see it. Other than that, I’m confident it’s me, or at least how she sees me.

While she liked this painting, she has suggested I should do another, one that shows my dark side, a glimpse of the inner demons with which we all wrestle. I told her I find that idea frightening, which she said was probably a good thing, kind of like art therapy.

Yet, one more reason for this artist to paint a self-portrait.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Midnight Blue


Another horse painting, finished earlier this month.

I took the reference for this at the cabin a couple of years ago, the same weekend as the previous horse painting. While my recent Gold painting was a warm colour palette, this one is colder, a black horse in a winter scene. Each presented its challenges, though I find warm tones easier to paint.

Black fur is difficult. Using pure black or pure white in a painting will rob it of any life. For the darkest shadow areas, I’m careful not to use absolute black because it will appear as a flat spot in the image, especially when printed. There’s always a little colour in it. Even Sire, my black and white lion painting, is just shades of de-saturated blue. If it were pure black, white, and grey, it would appear lifeless, at least it would to me.
The lighter areas on black fur are often warmer or cooler tones, reflections of the environment and ambient light. The same goes for white animals, the shades and shadows made up of whatever light is present.

Since my artwork isn’t supposed to be an accurate representation of the animal, I push the features to get a whimsical expression. Not quite caricature, but not real, either. I often do the same thing with the colours, which is why this horse looks very blue.

I’m confident I’ll paint more horses in the future, but having painted two in the past couple of months, I’m ready to move on to something else. Thankfully, I have a massive archive of reference photos, so no shortage of potential subjects.

Cheers,
Patrick

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Where Does the Time Go?

It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I took a break from the blog, newsletter and Instagram. I realized this week, however, that it’s just a few days shy of two months, which feels like long enough. I’ve got a longer post coming shortly about the break, but I figured I’d ease into it today with a few updates.

New Paintings
I’ve completed two new paintings over the break, with a third that I’ll finish in a day or two. Here’s the first one…Gold.
I took the reference for this painting over two years ago, while up at the cabin that friends and I rent near Caroline. As with many of my paintings, there’s often quite a bit of time between taking the reference photos and using them. I found this painting a little intimidating as I find horses especially challenging, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This was completed about a month ago.

As always, if you’d like to share my work, please do, with my thanks.

Here’s a closer look.

Masks
In recent weeks, many communities have made it mandatory to wear a mask. A month ago, I often felt like a conspicuous minority when wearing mine in the grocery store, but now it seems like anyone not wearing one is the outlier.

I’m at home most of the time, but Shonna has seen quite a few people wearing the masks featuring my artwork. I’ve had friends, family members, and newsletter followers send me pictures, too. From displays at stores to family outings in full mask regalia, I’ve enjoyed seeing those.

Many have said they get compliments on the masks (I have as well), and people are asking them where they can buy some.
The initial pre-orders went well, the first two resulting in substantial orders, the third one quite a bit smaller, but a clear indication that those who follow my work got what they needed. Lately, I’m receiving more inquiries.

While I could do another order, I don’t think it’s necessary. You’d order masks from me; I’d place an order with Pacific Music and Art, they’d ship them to me, then I’d send them to you. At the beginning of this adventure, the printing and delivery pipeline was shaky, there were bugs to work out, and we were all still learning the ropes. In that climate, the pre-ordering worked well.

Now, Pacific Music and Art has a streamlined system for efficient ordering and delivery, both for individuals and retailers, and I’m advising people to buy directly from them. You’re still supporting my artwork because I get a royalty from each sale.

Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canmore has a nice selection of my masks, and I’d encourage Bow Valley residents to support that local business.

Shonna’s Mom and her husband came down for the day on the weekend. When they came over for dinner, they said they saw my masks in some stores in Banff.

A friend of mine (thanks, Fred!) sent me this photo of one of the large mask displays at the Calgary Zoo. They’ve got a few new designs, too.
With all that in mind, I’d encourage you to support these and other retailers currently selling my work, rather than do another order myself right now.

If you’d like to order from Pacific Music and Art directly, here’s the link.


Cartoons

Even though many of my newspapers still haven’t hired me back, I’ve been drawing the same number of cartoons each week. My clients are used to having a wide selection to choose from, so it didn’t seem fair to deprive them of that, especially since they’ve kept me in groceries this summer. While I draw them every day, cartoons are posted weekly on my site, either on Wednesdays, Fridays or both.

You can see them all on the Cartoons page.

Instagram

As you read this, I’ll have re-installed the Instagram app on my phone and iPad to start posting images again and see what’s been going on with my friends and fellow creatives. I’m not looking forward to being back on social media, but promotion is part of the business, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post, possibly in the next few days.

You can follow me there at @lamontagneart

I hope you’ve all been well, as we adapt to…whatever this is becoming. With the US election powered up, the Canadian Parliament prorogued, the ongoing debate about masks, COVID cases up and down, and whatever other steaming piles of excrement 2020 has yet to serve up for our consumption, I’d ask that you ponder the following.

This is tough for everybody. Each of us is dealing with our unique challenges. Before sharing passive-aggressive memes, angry political rants, and self-righteous nastiness, please reconsider. Given how social media works, chances are you’re only sharing that stuff with people who agree with you anyway, preaching to the choir as it were.

Speaking from experience, you won’t make yourself less angry by feeding that insatiable beast. Consuming and sharing bad news every day will make you miserable.

Play nice, would ya?

Cheers,
Patrick

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Still Not Painting

I’m writing this on a Saturday morning when I had intended to start a new painting.

I’ve chosen the reference. But instead of opening a new file and putting brush strokes on a blank page, I’ve been surfing around the internet, pretending that I’m working.

At first, I checked the daily Postmedia papers to see if I was published today in any of those half dozen dailies. The Edmonton Journal printed my cartoon about a recall of the whole year of 2020.

I read a couple of articles before a little voice in my head asked, “Shouldn’t you be painting?”

“Give me a minute, OK?”

Somewhere along the line, at the bottom of something I was reading, there were suggestions for other articles. A couple of well-written headlines caught my attention, clearly based on an algorithm’s evaluation of what I’d be most likely to click.

Somewhat effective, because I right-clicked on half a dozen, opened them in new tabs and began reading.

Still not painting.

I read part of four articles. One was about celebrities pandering to issues like Black Lives Matter and social injustice. After a few paragraphs, I was no longer interested. I already know celebrities do that to boost their own profiles.

Another article asked why civilizations collapse and addressed the misconceptions surrounding that. I’ve long been interested in South American cultures, specifically the Mayan and Incan civilizations, so I went down that road for a while. It wasn’t very interesting, so I closed it halfway through.

I forget what the others were about, but the last one was called A Splash of Red, by author Gabriel Cohen. It’s about how he found a cheap apartment in New York, only to discover it had been the scene of a grisly murder. I quite enjoyed the article, and you can read it here.

At the bottom of the piece, however, it reads,

“Gabriel Cohen is the author of six books; has written for the New York Times and many other publications; teaches writing at Pratt Institute; and is about to teach a course in writing crime fiction at the Center for Fiction’s Crime Fiction Academy in NYC”

SIX books?

Son of a bitch.

My green-eyed monster leaned over my shoulder to see what woke him up and murmured, “That guy’s a real writer.”

I’ve long wanted to write more. It’s an ache, a daily itch in my psyche, complete with a ticking-clock sound effect that grows louder all the time.

The silly part is that I’m actually a prolific writer. I’ve kept an active blog since 2008. Before I was a cartoonist and long before I painted funny looking animals, I wrote two novels. But I chickened out on sending them, and twenty years later, I’m convinced they’re crap.

I’ve started another novel; I’ve got extensive notes, good ideas, plenty of inspiration and life experience to put it all onto the page. But my energy is spent finding any excuse not to write. I thought 2020 was the year I’d finally put up or shut up.

2020 had other plans.

Hey look, I found another excuse. There’s rarely a supply shortage.

I Googled “fear of writing” and came up with a couple of encouraging articles, telling me things I already know. I’ve done this search before, many times. This is a well-travelled road.

A sponsored writing course pops up, and I click on it. It tells me all of the right things, has all the right testimonials, and I think, “That’s what I need.”

I already know that it is NOT what I need. You become a better writer by writing. I tell this to students about art all the time. You want to draw or paint; you have to put your ass in the chair and do it.

Still not painting.

I’ve got a dozen books on writing on the Kindle app on my iPad, one on how to write good characters, another on language for rural settings, another for writing good dialogue, all of them as of yet, unread.

An hour and a half after I sat down this morning, before diving headfirst down this rabbit hole, I have not painted one brush stroke. Instead, I have beaten myself up about my lack of a disciplined writing routine, am now frustrated that I’ve wasted a good chunk of my morning with unproductive time on the internet, wishing that I’d got up this morning and started a new painting as planned.

Still not painting.

Procrastinating to avoid starting a new painting, I ended up writing about not painting.  Even though I create art for a living, I still begin each piece convinced that it will suck, even though the evidence of past work doesn’t support that insecurity.

Still not painting.

Still not writing.

At least not the writing I want to be doing.

___

© Patrick LaMontagne
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A Cheetah Painting and Photoshop Friends

For many years, I was a member of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I don’t remember when I joined, but I think it was sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I remained a member until 2014 when it rebranded.

Owned and operated by Scott Kelby, the organization contained a wealth of online tutorials, a magazine called Photoshop User, and the Photoshop World conference. There was extensive training from internationally well-known instructors, each with their own areas of expertise.

Before social media ruined it all (yeah, I said it!), when like-minded individuals wanted to learn from each other, share their work for critique, answer each other’s questions and simply offer support, there were online forums where artists could gather.

I learned a lot from the NAPP forum and made some terrific friends there. Quite a few of them, I never got to meet in person, but when I finally got to Photoshop World Las Vegas for the first time in 2009, that was the best part of the whole experience, meeting this community in real life.

Over the next five years, I enjoyed seeing them each year, attending classes together all day, parties at night, hanging out at different venues. It was a fun event.

My involvement with NAPP was in a large way responsible for my now expert level skills in Photoshop. The networking opportunities introduced me to people and companies that advanced my career in many ways. I recorded a couple of training DVDs for Photoshop CAFE, wrote some articles for Photoshop User magazine, and won a few prestigious awards. It was due to a weird comedy of errors at my first conference that led me to a long and productive relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the digital tablets and displays on which I create my artwork.

I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been a member of that organization, with the opportunities and insights it afforded, I wouldn’t be painting my whimsical animals today. There’s a direct line between those people and experiences and the work I enjoy most.

Sadly, nothing lasts forever. The organization changed focus, became the Kelby Media Group, they retired the forum,  and most of my friends stopped attending Photoshop World. It doesn’t hold the same value that it used to.

I still talk to some of them now and then, but not nearly as often as I’d like. To this day, there are still a few people who call me Monty, my username from that forum.

For the first part of my career, while I’d been drawing editorial cartoons, I would also paint detailed caricatures of celebrities, and people would hire me to paint them for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and the like. But I didn’t see a future in it. The first funny looking animal in 2009 was an experiment, inspired by some personal reflection following my first Photoshop World that year.

Without good reference photos, I can’t paint the detail I enjoy, so in the beginning, I had to buy stock photos and relied on the generosity of photographer friends I knew through NAPP.

In 2014, I had already been taking my own photos with a decent camera I’d bought, but it was essentially a point-and-shoot with a good zoom lens. That spring, I painted a family of owls from the reference I’d taken myself here at Grassi Lakes above Canmore.
At Photoshop World that year, I won the Best of Show Guru award for that painting. At the last minute, they announced that part of the grand prize would be a Canon 5D Mark III camera. The oohs and aahs from an audience of mostly photographers indicated that it was something special. I had no clue.

When I won, I remember somebody laughing and saying, “Of course, the illustrator won the camera!”

When I returned to my seat, the friends I’d been sitting with told me just how good it was and that it was worth thousands of dollars. I remember calling Shonna to tell her I’d won, and we mused that I should probably sell it on eBay as such a professional camera would be wasted on me.

When I mentioned that idea to my buddy Jeff from Boston, he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my career. He told me to keep it and learn to use it.

Since then, I’ve discovered a love of taking reference photos, and it has become as much a part of the creative process for me as the painting itself. While I don’t make a habit of calling myself a photographer and have no designs on going pro, I enjoy it a great deal.

I’ve taken good care of that camera, been using it for six years, and it still does the job I need it to do. If something happens to it, or when it comes to the end of its life, I’ll buy another professional camera, because it’s now such a big part of my work.
Still, now and then, I find myself unable to take my own reference pics. This is especially true of commissions, where I rely on clients to provide me with the photos I’ll use to paint their furry family members.

Or it’s merely a case of access and travel being prohibitive. I’ve been searching for the right reference for an elephant painting for years. My friend Serena from Discovery Wildlife Park went to Africa earlier this year and brought back the perfect photos for me.

One of the people I knew well from my years in the NAPP organization and Photoshop World was Susan Koppel. It’s not enough that she was a flight instructor at 18 and then became an aeronautical engineer, but she’s also an incredible photographer and supporter of animals.

Now retired from the aviation industry, Susan’s photography business is her primary focus, pun intended.  She volunteers for the Nevada Humane Society taking pictures of the animals to make them look their best for their adoption photos. She also donates her skills to a wildlife sanctuary and nature center in Reno called Animal Ark.

The facility has adopted several cheetahs, and one of their regular events is to have cheetah runs. This gives the animals much-needed exercise opportunities to run full out, as they would in the wild, but also provides photographers with a chance to take pictures they can’t get outside of Africa. These photography events give the sanctuary added funds to continue the work they do.

Years ago, Susan provided me with the reference for my Raccoon and Fox paintings. I’ve seen her cheetah photos before and recently asked her if she’d be willing to share some. I’ve wanted to paint a full body cheetah in a running pose, mostly inspired by the photos Susan has posted over the years.

Susan generously opened up her online archive to me and told me I could use what I’d like. I ended up grabbing a dozen or so and expect to do three cheetah paintings in the near future. The reference was just so good that I couldn’t decide.
This is the first of those cheetah paintings, and I obsessed over the details. I expect I could have spent another 10 hours on this one, just nitpicking every little hair. But as every creative knows, eventually you just have to abandon one piece so that you can start on the next.

I miss all of those great people in the NAPP organization and at Photoshop World conferences. Each of them, in one way or another, inspired and contributed to my creating the work I love most, and I believe I’m a better artist and a better person for having known them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Cartoons, Masks and a Canvas Print

Cartooning Corona

Whenever he’s frustrated or facing a difficult choice for which there is no clear answer, my buddy Jim has a saying.

“Heavy sigh, mixed emotion.”

Such is life under the umbrella of COVID-19.

Every cartoon I’ve done for quite some time has revolved around one topic, so I went back and counted them. I drew my first coronavirus cartoon on January 25th. Other topics on which I was doodling that week included the Australia fires, the weather, Ontario teachers’ strike, and the Conservative Party leadership race.

From then on, the frequency of cartoons on the virus has increased so that now, every other topic orbits around it. The only deviation in the past month has been the two cartoons I did on the Nova Scotia shooting, definitely not a welcome diversion.

How many cartoons have I drawn on this wonderful little virus that changed the world forever?

Seventy-One.

And counting.

At the best of times, I keep a running list of ideas for cartoons. When I come up with a Thanksgiving cartoon idea in May, I simply write it down for later. I’ve kept that list for many years on Dropbox, able to access it from all of my devices.

That Word file is currently nine pages long, with over two hundred ideas on it. About forty of them are for the coronavirus. Scanning the others, they now seem like they belong in a parallel world in which we no longer live.

Cartoons about summer vacations, Halloween, Christmas, politics, they don’t make sense anymore because when I wrote them down, there was no allowance for today’s Coronaclimate. Many of the ideas can be re-written to allow for the ever present shadow of the virus, but some about life as we used to know it will just be discarded.

They no longer apply.

About the masks

This mask situation has been incredibly frustrating.

First, thanks to so many of you who replied to last Saturday’s newsletter update about the delay. Your support and patience is appreciated. It seems I’m holding myself more responsible for this than most of you are.

They’re not shipping this week, but hoping for next week.  I could write another long post about why, but it’s simply different shades of the same problem. Shipping delays and the logistics of doing business in the time of COVID.

I have a customer in Illinois still waiting on coasters I shipped at the beginning of the month. Tracking shows they’re ‘in transit’, two weeks after the expected delivery date. Thankfully he’s willing to wait.

Uncertainty? Check!

Expediency? Not a chance.

I’m seeing plenty of online stores and retail outlets switching their focus to masks in the past week and it compounded my own frustration at not having my own yet, until I looked closer at those other offers. Almost all of the ones I saw were pre-orders or listed as back-ordered. Nobody else seems to have them ready to ship, either.

It seems like the only masks you’re guaranteed to get quickly right now are the ones you make yourself. From what I’ve read, even those ambitious creatives with sewing skills are overwhelmed by orders they can’t fill for their friends and neighbours.

Costco announced yesterday that everybody entering their stores must wear masks. Wal-Mart had already done that for many of their locations and it would appear that we’re going to be wearing these for a long time while we try to re-emerge into a reasonable facsimile of our former economy.

So all I can ask (again) is for your patience. As soon as I have them, I will let you know and I will get them in the mail or deliver them to you as quickly as I can.

A Very Big Print

I am still working on a new painting, hoping to have it completed this weekend. I’ll look forward to sharing it with you when it’s done. Hint, it’s a large African cat, one I haven’t painted before.

Speaking of big cats, a customer ordered a print from me last week, a 32”X32” canvas of my recent ‘Sire’ painting.

That big painting of a lion has become of one of my favorites, so I was pleased with the order. I came very close to grabbing one for myself at the same time, but with an uncertain financial future, I’m deferring my own purchase until later.

ABL Imaging in Calgary prints my canvas and thankfully they’re still open and working. Even though it wasn’t required, they did a quick turnaround of this piece. Usually, I’d drive into Calgary to get these orders and combine the trip with other errands, but it should be obvious why I didn’t. A courier delivered it yesterday and I was thrilled with how it turned out.

Sometime down the road, I will definitely be getting one of these for my office.

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of a new canvas is signing it. Paint pens are great most of the time, but early in my career, I ruined a couple of canvases when the paint either spurted from the pen or simply decided to stop, then start, then stop…mid-signature.

These days, I do a bunch of test signings, cross my fingers, hold my breath and sign as quickly as possible. A 32”X32” canvas, the largest I’ve ever printed, is expensive. Had I ruined it while signing it, I guess that would have been the one for my office.

The client will meet me on the highway near Cochrane in a couple of weeks, a clandestine exchange of art, which will look very much like a drug deal, I’m sure.

I’m hoping it’s not a windy day when I throw it at him from six feet away.

Fingers crossed that my next post will include a photo of a big pile of masks, telling you they’re on the way.

Thanks,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
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Daisy

Many of my paintings have an interesting back story, but not this one.

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.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© 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.