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Selling Out Selling Art


A student from the Alberta College of Art and Design recently asked to interview me for an assignment. I was happy to oblige. While in Calgary to drop off prints at the zoo and take some photos, I made time to meet her for coffee last week.

It got me thinking about the road traveled.

My first paying gig as an artist was as the editorial cartoonist for the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper. I drew my first cartoon in May of ’98, so it’s been just over twenty years. I’ve been a full-time artist since 2006.

Over my career, it has always been easy to find resources in order to become a better artist. While I started with books and magazines, no matter what style of art you want to learn today, there are talented teachers on the internet willing to share their skills, often for a very reasonable price.

Google: “How do I learn to draw?”

While you can peruse countless lessons, videos, books, articles, buy all of the best materials, tools and hardware, unless you practice, you will never become good at anything.

People want the skills, but a relative few are willing to invest the countless lonely hours drawing and the years of bad artwork, most of which will be incredibly unsatisfying and unpaid. I have a hard time looking at my earlier work, but all of that led to all of this.

Creating art for fun can be a great hobby and escape. I’ve encountered many skilled artists with no designs on becoming pros. They are content to draw, paint, sculpt, or play simply for the joy of it, with no illusions.

As for me, I am a commercial artist. It’s how I make my living.

I’ve encountered plenty of artists over the years who’ve told me that I was selling out by selling art, that they wouldn’t dare sully their creative process by putting a dollar amount on it, that real art is made for creativity’s sake alone and not for financial compensation.

That’s bullshit.

I enjoy being an artist, but it’s my job, and just like any other. There are many necessary parts of my job that I do not enjoy.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to reformat paintings to conform to multiple templates for a new licensing contract. Sixteen images had to be resized, cropped, and uploaded in eleven different formats each, many of which were uncomfortable compromises. Over two days, it took about fifteen hours, during which I still had to meet my daily editorial cartoon deadlines for my clients across Canada.

Prior to that, I was in contract negotiation with that company, back and forth, making changes to the wording, all amicable and professional, but time consuming.

On Sunday, I drew three cartoons to send out Monday because I spent that day reconciling my books for the past three months so that I could file my GST remittance with the government. The day after that was month end invoicing for all of my editorial cartoon clients across Canada.

And still, editorial cartoon deadlines had to be met.

Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting with the owner of the aforementioned company as he will be driving through town. If I’m sending mixed signals, let me clarify. The setup work and contract stuff was tedious, but the license itself is exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing the details very soon.

My point is that I have spent as much time this week on the administration and promotion of my art as I have creating art, and that art was all cartoons.

I’ve only squeezed in a couple of hours of painting in this week. That’s it. But I’m hoping to find time for it this weekend, which is why I still get up at 5am on Saturdays even though I don’t have a cartoon deadline that day.

I painted my first funny looking animal in 2009 as an experiment, to try something different that might end up being a more marketable print than the caricature portrait commissions I was doing. Ironic that it was looking to sell more art that led me to the work I enjoy most and a whole new product that changed my whole direction. Commercial art led me to photography as I knew I could paint better images if I took my own reference. It is unlikely I would have found either of those if I wasn’t trying to grow my business.

None of this is complaining, I assure you. Everybody has parts of their job they dislike. That’s why it’s called work.

Quite often over the years, I’ll get emails or questions from young artists asking me for advice on how to create art for a living, which I’m happy to answer.

They become less enthusiastic when I tell them the single most important thing they can do is learn the business of art. Bookkeeping, contracts, licensing, customer service, meet deadlines, keep regular hours, pay your taxes, stop wasting time on social media, be polite to your customers, under-promise and over-deliver. Be accountable and professional.

It’s tedious and you’ll spend all of that time wishing you were drawing or painting instead. You’ll make so many mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and be better for the lessons. Whenever I work with somebody new, especially when it comes to licensing, a voice in the back of my head is always asking, “How is this person trying to screw me?”

Cynical? Yes.

Appropriate? Absolutely.

People take advantage of artists because we not only allow it, we encourage it. Artists are the biggest pushovers around. We not only want you to like our work, we want you to like us, too. Here, just take it for free.

These days, I have enough experience that the warning signs are easier to spot, but I don’t imagine myself immune to more lessons down the road.

I have been screwed more than once in this business. I will get screwed again, but hopefully not in the same ways, because then I won’t have learned anything.

Most of the time, however, the person on the other end of a negotiation is fair, professional, accommodating and a pleasure to work with. But most of the people in your neighbourhood are probably nice, too, and yet you still lock your doors at night.

This business of art is always challenging and the learning is never over. It’s hard work, all the time, and it’s not for everybody.

Creating art is easy. Selling art? That’s the hard part.

Cheers,
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!

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The Black Bear Totem


Right up until the end of 2009, my art focus had primarily been on syndicated editorial cartoons and caricatures of people. Along the way, I’d also done illustration for businesses and board games, had tried my hand at some editorial Flash animation, and experimented here and there with creative off-shoots I thought might eventually yield some fruit.

Keeping a somewhat regular blog for the past nine years has served to become a business diary of sorts. It’s interesting to look back and read about my best laid plans. With the benefit of hindsight, some now make me cringe, knowing that had I gone further down some of those roads, I would have been disappointed. I’m also surprised at the blind optimism and enthusiasm in some of the posts, an elixir I wish I’d been able to bottle for mid-life.

The time I spent working on caricatures was excellent practice. I’m much better at drawing likenesses in my editorial cartoons today than I was then and it takes less time to get there. As I wasn’t interested in going that route, I never developed the skill to draw caricatures live. But people used to hire me to create them for birthday presents, wedding invitations, and other occasions. I can’t imagine I’d enjoy still doing that now, but it was all grist for the mill.

I was also getting pretty good at detailed caricature paintings of celebrities, but navigating the legal minefield of likeness rights, the large number of artists already doing that kind of work, and the awareness that my heart wasn’t going to be in it for long, I was a little lost.

This brings me to November 2009, right after my first trip to Photoshop World in Vegas. That summer, I had painted a caricature of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with her holding one of the Aliens on a leash. The whole reason I painted it was to try to win a Guru Award and I didn’t get nominated. I didn’t enjoy the work, the finished piece felt wrong and I wished I’d never done it.

While disappointed at the time, it was a turning point in my career. I learned not to create something just to win awards and it lit a fire under me to find something new.

Upon returning home with the realization that caricatures of people was no longer where I wanted to focus, I painted a grizzly bear. Although it didn’t start out to be a caricature, it definitely ended up as one.
By February, I had a gallery in Banff willing to hang canvas prints of the Grizzly and subsequent Raven and Elk Totems on consignment. And then people started to buy them. I’ll never forget something the gallery manager told me about my whimsical style of painting. He said that no matter how well I painted, if I’d brought him realistic wildlife, he wouldn’t have been interested, because that’s what everybody else was doing. I’ve heard that a lot over the years.

On my next trip to Photoshop World later that summer, my Moose Totem won the Guru Award for the Illustration category and my Wolf Totem took Best in Show. While I didn’t paint them to try and win awards, it was that event and those chunks of plastic that introduced me to some great people at Wacom, and helped open some other doors that might have remained closed.

Since then, these whimsical wildlife portraits have become a defining part of my life. There are now over thirty paintings in the Totem series, several other whimsical prints, dozens of pet portrait commissions, and hundreds of sketch paintings.

There are now three kinds of prints sold in the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, About Canada Gallery in Banff, and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. The images are currently internationally licensed on T-shirts through two different companies, and on decals and cases. I’ve written articles for magazines, have recorded a couple of training DVDs, taught webinars and run an event booth for Wacom, and am coming up on my fifth successful year with a booth at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

I’ve also discovered a love of photography as a result of this work. While I’ve often relied on generous photographer friends for reference photos, I now take my own reference photos whenever possible. This has led me to new friends and experiences that have helped me get up close and personal with these critters I enjoy so much, sometimes face to face.
It is my belief that the next chapter in this work is calling me to get more involved with conservation, to give back to the wildlife that has given me so much. It might have taken me most of my life to find it, but I believe there’s work for me there, although I don’t yet know how it will manifest. I’ve already been looking for and taking advantage of those opportunities.

As all of this started with a grinning funny looking bear, it seems appropriate to reflect and bookend this chapter with another bear, eight and a half years later. The Black Bear Totem, modeled from a wonderful gentle bear named Gruff who lives at Discovery Wildlife Park, although that’s Reno in the photo above. I admire Gruff from a little farther away.

In writing this and checking my facts, I found the following in my blog post from November 2009 when I revealed the Grizzly Bear Totem, which incidentally is still one of my best selling prints.

“I recently found myself inspired to do a series of wildlife paintings, but I wanted them to have personality and life to them. Something different, something fun…I really think I’ll enjoy working on this series.”

I had no idea.

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A Tale of Two Paintings

My usual routine is to write a little blog post after each painting I do, to provide a close-up and maybe share a little bit of relevant info. Given the fact that I’ve been working on two commissions at the same time recently and finished them quite close together, I thought I’d share them both in the same post. It gives me an opportunity to show the difference between the two styles of commission paintings I do.

Loki

The first painting I recently finished was Loki, a beautiful old boy who passed away a little while ago. This is the second memorial painting I’ve done for this client; the first was Odin a couple of years ago. The client is very familiar with my work and chose a portrait style, which is quite often the case with memorial paintings I’m commissioned to do. With plenty of photos to choose from, I had the freedom to go with whichever pose I wanted to use. As usual, one photo spoke to me clearly and I got to work.

LokiCloseI usually only have a rough idea of what a painting will look like before I get started, but it’s usually enough. The background colour might change in the middle of a painting, but this one was orange and yellow from the beginning. The reference pic was taken in the fall and I knew those colours would just bring out his eyes. For me, it’s all about the eyes. If I get the eyes right, the rest of the painting will always come together. And if they’re wrong, nothing looks right.

Having lost a pet of my own this summer, there was a little more gravitas for me with this one. This old boy was loved a lot and I thought of that often while working on it. What a privilege.

SaxonThe next painting was in my Totem style, which is a whimsical caricature look, the same way I paint my wildlife paintings. The clients saw my paintings for sale in About Canada Gallery in Banff while on vacation and looked me up to see if I did commissions.

Saxon was described as a “beautiful drooling mastiff” and when I saw the photos, I was inclined to agree. His personality was evident in many of the pics and again, I found one that I thought would best represent what the client wanted him to look like.

SaxonCloseAs is the case in many of my whimsical paintings, I found myself smiling a lot while painting this big fella, and even laughed out loud a few times. I really wanted to paint in long strings of drool coming from those jowls, but the client didn’t want that. A commission is a significant investment, and while most of my clients give me carte blanche to paint what I want, I’m willing to take direction if it makes for a happier client.

Case in point, when this piece was finished yesterday, I had intentionally made the body a little narrow to draw attention to his big head, but the client thought I made him too skinny and wanted me to bulk up the body a bit. I spent another hour on the painting last night and delivered a final that pleased everybody, including me.

No matter what style my clients choose for their paintings, portrait or whimsical, memorial or just because, it’s such an honour to be trusted with the task. I enjoy these a great deal and each one challenges and teaches me something new. These two were no exception.

These will both be sent for proofing tomorrow and I intend to have them printed, framed and shipped in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for stopping by,

Patrick

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Delighted with DecalGirl

I spend a lot of time trying to get the details right, painting in all of the little hairs and textures. So when I have that work printed, it needs to look great, too. Whether it’s the poster prints sold at the Calgary Zoo, or the giclée matted prints and canvas in the galleries in Banff and on Vancouver Island, if it doesn’t look good, I don’t want my name on it. I’m also a big believer in working with professionals. Rather than stumble through learning to print my own work, I hire people who are already experts at printing. By paying them to do what they do best, I get to continue doing what I do best, which is painting funny looking animals.

When I signed on with The Mountain , it was only because I’d seen their quality and attention to detail and knew that my paintings would look great on their shirts, and I wasn’t disappointed. My reputation is only as good as the people I choose to work with. I didn’t want shirts that were good enough, I wanted the best shirts.

OtterCaseSo, when I got the opportunity to sign on with DecalGirl, it didn’t take long for me see that this company was a perfect fit for me and my whimsical critters. DecalGirl has been in business since 2003. They were the first-to-market, the original skin company to produce full color skins in the United States. They support over 500(!) unique devices, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, MP3 players, eReaders, and gaming devices. Sounds like they’re the best to me.

Whenever possible, I’ve tried to work with companies where the owners are still involved with the day to day. While you can always hire good people to work for you, it’s the people at the helm who chart the course. When those are the people who have built it from the ground up or who’ve bet their own future on it, they just care more. You can build relationships with these people.

Here are some other positives that really stand out for me with DecalGirl.

– Their products are 100% Made in the USA. Yes, I’m Canadian, but I have a lot of great friends and customers in the U.S. and I find it a lot easier to stand behind a product if I don’t have to hide where it’s made. DecalGirl is a one stop shop. Their customer service staff is right on site, so if you’ve got questions, you’re going to be talking to the right people in the right place.

– I already knew from their website that they paid attention to detail, but seeing is believing. I received my samples last week and I was WOWED. The print quality is as good as that of the work I sell in the galleries. I couldn’t wait to put my Shark Totem on my laptop and kept squinting and looking at the fine detail, couldn’t believe how good the print was.
Packaging– These decals don’t just arrive loose in an envelope, the packaging is well designed, colorful, and professional. From an artist’s perspective, I was very pleased to see that included in the details was my name, the name of the painting and my signature. That not only makes me feel valued as a partner, it’s going to make my customers feel valued that they’re not just buying some generic catalog stock photo. This is a piece of artwork.

– I worked in a sign shop years ago and I learned a lot about vinyl and the different weights and qualities. I’ve printed and applied vinyl to many vehicles and signs, but it’s been well over a decade and I’m out of practice. I needn’t have worried, because not only do the decals come with easy to follow instructions, the vinyl is of such excellent quality that I was able to apply it quickly and easily, using only my fingers to smoothly stick it in place. No fuss, no bubbles, and it looks great! Follow the instructions, you’ll have no trouble.
Otters

– The great prices they’re offering for their products, the incredibly large number of available devices, and the attention to detail is very impressive. I’m really not going to have to sell their work, it pretty much sells itself.

– When I bought my laptop, I wanted one that could replace my desktop in a pinch. It had to be powerful and robust, so that if my main computer went on the fritz and needed repair, I’d still be able to work. So my laptop is rather unique and uncommon in the market in that it’s a high end gaming laptop, perfect for the demands of detailed digital art. As such, it’s not listed in their available devices. A nice feature DecalGirl offers is that they’ll custom fit one to your specs. I gave them the measurements of my laptop and the print that arrived fit perfectly in the space I’d intended for it!
Shark– Getting tired of my mentioning attention to detail? On my iPad Mini, for instance, all of the little holes for the volume and power buttons, the speakers and microphones, they’re already cut out of the decal. It helps with getting a perfect fit if you start on an edge with those holes and then apply from there. It almost fell into place on its own. They’ve also got a downloadable wallpaper for your devices, which was a simple process. The decal on the front of my iPad lines up perfectly with the wallpaper on the screen. Looks very cool! This image also completely covers the back and sides of the device, too!
GiraffeiPad– These decals will in no way harm your devices. They’re easily removed without any leftover residue.

At present, the Totems available from DecalGirl are my Great Horned Owl, Ostrich, Giraffe, Otter and Shark. For those who’ve been asking for some of the others, fingers crossed that these sell so well that eventually all of your favorites will be available. Take a look and see some previews of what these look like on your devices.

While this is still very new, the folks I’ve been talking with at DecalGirl have been friendly and welcoming, offering me any and all assistance to make sure I’m happy with how they’re putting my paintings on their products. In point of fact, I’m thrilled. I’m looking forward to a long relationship with these folks.

Cheers,
Patrick.

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Letter to my Editor

I’ve been following Renegade Arts Entertainment for some time now as the company is a local success story. A Canadian publisher of comic books and graphic novels featuring internationally known writers and artists, Renegade’s reach appears to be ever expanding. Based right here in Canmore, their commitment to quality artwork, storytelling, and printing has earned my respect.

Earlier this year, I asked Editor and Publisher (and writer!) Alexander Finbow if he wouldn’t mind meeting me for lunch. I was looking to pick his brain about publishing and asked for any advice he could give me. Alex and I didn’t really know each other, though we’d met, but I needed help and figured I had nothing to lose by asking.

He was gracious and generous with his time and information, we talked about Renegade possibly publishing my book (something I didn’t expect), but with the many submissions he gets each week and the fact that my book will be very different from anything they’ve published before, it was just tire kicking on both of our parts. I thanked him for his time and willingness to share what he knew and I went away with a lot more to think about.

Alex and I ran into each other a few times at the Calgary Expo, talked while walking to the BMO Centre one day during the event, and he invited my wife and I to a networking event that weekend as well, which was a lot of fun.
Alex01FBThis past Sunday, I went downtown to Café Books here in Canmore to buy Renegade’s latest book, The Loxleys and Confederation, and Alex and I chatted more about my project. Before I knew it, we had agreed to work together on it, and Renegade will be publishing my book in early 2017. If that seems like a lot of lead time, it’s because there are a thousand things to do if you want to publish and market a book well. Creating the content is step 1. I’m looking forward to a lot of work and a lot of education over the next year. The artwork and writing of the book needs to be done by Canada Day, 2016.

So now I have a deadline. I’m good with deadlines.

With some suggestions for the narrative from Alex and my own thoughts rattling around my head, he tasked me with laying down a foundation for the book. What do I want to say? What story do I want to tell?

Yesterday, I sent Alex the following email and I thought it might be something you’d like to read, with his permission and approval, of course. He even came up with the title for this post.

So here it is. The beginning of my first book of artwork…

Hi Alex:

Having had some time to think about the direction of the narrative in the book, I wanted to write down what I think would give you my best work to go along with the images. Most people I know who’ve run their own business or charted their own course for any length of time, have experienced the rewards of following their gut instinct. Sometimes it’s soft spoken, other times it’s a deafening roar. We’ve all been the victims of ignoring that instinct as well, and the ones still working have learned from it. I’m sure you can say the same of your own experience.

With that in mind, I don’t want to include any fictional stories in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I like writing fiction. I’ve written two novels that have been sitting on a shelf for the past fifteen years because I was focusing on my artwork instead. Truth be told, I chickened out on trying to get either published, although I did recently start editing the first one again to give it another go.

But for the animal work, fiction just feels wrong to me. What I had intended from the beginning, and what still feels true to me, is to use the writing in the book to talk about the road from there to here. How I stumbled upon drawing animals and the success of that work at this point in time is a weird meandering story and that’s the one I want to tell.

I’ve never gone to art school, so I don’t like talking or teaching art in that way because I don’t feel qualified to do so. I’m also not an animal expert by any means so talking about habitats and biology would be boring for me to write, not to mention for someone to read. As for telling a story that goes with each painting or image, there really isn’t one for every animal. Some of them, like my Bactrian Camel image, was just because I saw one at the Calgary Zoo and thought, “I want to paint him!”

BactrianCamel
That’s often the case with most of my images and there will be plenty of sketches and works-in-progress I’d like to include in the book that won’t require captions or accompanying text.

But there are many paintings that do have fun and ridiculous stories associated with them. There are the owls up at Grassi Lakes, a rooster on a hobby farm outside of Bowden, a couple of goofy looking seagulls on a dock in Ucluelet, the lion cubs I photographed up close outside of Innisfail recently, and a Coyote that waited twenty years to be painted. Incidentally, that Coyote is my favorite painting and I’m willing to tell that story in the book. I’ve never written about it before.

CoyoteTotem
I’ve got plenty of stories to tell, but the common thread that will tie them all together is that they’re part of my story. So that’s what I want it to be, a collection of stories that contribute to the whole. The lessons I’ve learned from painting animals.

I want to talk about my philosophy on the business, anecdotes, learning to paint, following instinct, serendipity and happy accidents. I started in my mid-late twenties and somehow turned this into a career. What I’d like to share with people is the inspiration that it’s never too late to try something new and to point out the value of taking risks. Ask twenty artists how to become a success and you’ll get twenty answers. The ones who went to art school will say you have to go to art school. The ones who paint with oils and acrylics will say you have to paint with traditional materials. More and more in my career, I find that the rules others tell you that must be followed are often shackles, chains that prevent you from moving forward.

This is the type of narrative I want to write, the one I’m the most passionate about, and what will deliver my best work to the project. It’s these types of themes that have given me the greatest response in newsletters and blog posts over the years, the ones that strip away the glossy PR and marketing and talk to people like they’re real…well…people.

I’ve been keeping a pretty regular blog since February of 2008, although some months are leaner than others. Lately, more of my writing has gone into my newsletter, but there’s a lot of material there and more I can add that I think will make an interesting read to go with the paintings.

Everybody’s got a story to tell, and I’d like to start telling mine. I think there’s value in it. Plus, I really do enjoy writing and if I’m going to keep painting the images I want to paint, then I’d like the writing to follow the same guidelines.

That being said, I fully submit to your editing expertise when the writing is done. I mentioned to my wife the other day that it seems laughable when we were kids that our teachers would assign 1000 word essays in English class. I can write that much in an email even when I’m trying to keep it short. Clearly, I need an editor.

I’ve had a title in mind for a couple of years now. It best sums up the work and describes the whimsical nature of most of my paintings. I’d like to call it, “Funny Looking Animals.”

With that in mind, I’d welcome your thoughts and advice on this. I’m happy to send you links to any blog posts I’ve written that I think best illustrate the tone I’d like to set in the book. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Another great year, looking forward to the next.

Ukee02_05
Coming up on the end of another year and while it’s just a date on a calendar, having these periodic markers along the way does give a person a chance for reflection and to make plans for the next go round the sun.

I’ve been fortunate that every year in my art career has been better than the one that came before it. 2014 was no exception. Always learning and improving my skills, the challenge this year was to keep my eyes on where I’m going, despite the distractions that tempted me to lose focus. It’s easy to look at what other artists are doing and to wonder if they know something you don’t, but in my experience, we’re all just winging it, no matter what profession you’re in.

AmurTiger
This past year, I found myself doing a lot of sketch paintings, simply the term I use for what I consider unfinished work. Some of those went further to become finished paintings in my Totem collection, others ended up being practice pieces, and still others sold well as prints, even though that hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the year. I plan to do a lot more of that type of work in 2015, as I really enjoyed it.

BoothWEB
In the spring, my wife and I were once again working my booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, our second year at that event. As it was a big success for us, I’ve been signed up for the 2015 Expo almost since the last one ended. I’ll be trying a few new things with print sales this year and I look forward to participating in their tenth anniversary. We also plan to have a booth at a few other trade shows during the year.

ElephantRock
I painted my first landscape in 2014, an enjoyable personal project I did just to see if I could. I doubt that I’ll become a landscape artist anytime soon, but I’ve still got a few ideas I’d like to bring to light, so there will likely be one or two in the coming year, along with some experiments that may or may not involve animals.

Ukee02_03
One of the reasons I chose that particular image to paint, a landmark called White Face Rock, was that I had fond memories of Ucluelet, British Columbia, somewhere my wife and I had vacationed a few years ago. I decided to go back this year on my own in June for sort of an artist’s retreat and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life so far. I rented a little cabin off the harbour for four days, took three days of wildlife cruises through Barkley Sound, brought home plenty of photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That trip also gave me the opportunity to get my work into two new galleries in Ucluelet and Tofino.  In the New Year, I plan to go back there and will stop in at some other places along the way. I still have reference photos I have yet to use from the last trip and I plan to get to some more of those soon.

SeagullsFINAL
One of the more valuable life lessons I’ve learned is to make time for personal projects. Seems each one ends up yielding unexpected benefits. One such project this year came from finding a nest of Great Horned Owls up at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore. After watching the family of owls for a couple of weeks, taking plenty of photos and doing some sketch paintings, I ended up with a painting that I called, ‘One in Every Family.’  It was a departure from my usual style of animal paintings.

GrassiOwls
At Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, that painting won me the Best in Show Guru Award, the second year I’ve received that honour. A nice surprise bonus of that award was winning a Canon 5D Mark III camera, a professional piece of hardware that I am enjoying learning how to use. I’ve discovered that photography as a hobby has opened new creative avenues for me, especially since it contributes directly to my work. I take the camera with me whenever I go hiking or for a drive and it has helped me get even better reference photos for paintings. Funny how things work out.

Wacom
While I’ve got plenty of fond memories of Photoshop World in Las Vegas, having attended five times, made plenty of friends and learned a lot, this year was a high note and I think a good ending for me for that particular event. I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, certainly not in 2015. I’ve learned never to say never, but there are plenty of other experiences and trips I’d like to take.  The world’s a big place.

Bruno
In August, I met a gentleman named Bruno, a vendor at one of the Canmore Market booths. I just liked his character and felt the urge to paint him, another personal project. He was willing to participate in the experience and I ended up doing a portrait piece that I was quite proud of.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know Bruno and he has been giving my wife and I a crash course in the community and inner workings of the artist trade show circuit in Western Canada. We’ve been learning a lot and planning to venture into that world a little more as a result. Serendipity once again. I will be doing more portraits in the coming year.

DenzilFlat
And finally, one of my favorite pieces this year was the commissioned painting of Denzil, one I consider to be my best work to date, at least when it comes to a realistic rendering. It raised the bar for what I will now consider a finished piece and it’s going to make me try harder. Many times I’ve finished a painting and thought, “that’s it, I can’t do better than that,” and I’m always wrong. With time and practice comes more skill and that applies to everyone and everything, no matter what you do.

I’ve no desire for time to move quicker than it already does, but I find myself excited to think about the paintings I’ll do five years from now.

For the next year, I’m playing the long game. I’ve met with and hired a local designer friend and neighbour who is going to help me bring a book of my artwork into reality, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Up until now, I didn’t feel I had enough pieces with which to populate the book I had in mind. I still don’t, but by the end of 2015, I will, so there will be a lot of painting this year.  Before I commit to anything else as the year goes on, that will be front of mind.

It’s with quiet confidence that I close out 2014, with great expectations for the coming year. I see no reason why the recent trend should not continue and I look forward to 2015 being better than the year that came before it.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a follower of my work. Perhaps you’ve purchased my prints at the galleries, online or at Expo, or you’ve been a client that hired me to paint one of your fuzzy faced loved ones. You might follow my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or subscribe to my newsletter. You might be one of my many editors across Canada who sees fit to publish my cartoons on your editorial page. Maybe you’re one of those friends or industry colleagues I’ve been fortunate to know and work with over the years. No matter where you fit in with your support of my daily work of drawing and colouring all day, please accept my sincere thanks.  I do appreciate it.

My very best to all of you in the coming year. Take chances, start checking items off those bucket lists, don’t wait to live the life you’ve imagined. It is well worth the risk.

Airborne

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The Highlights of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BillParrish

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

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

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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