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Thank You Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It deserves better than a post-it note.

I can’t do anything about the bad handwriting.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Jingles

In January  of last year, my buddy Darrel and I rented a cabin in central Alberta and were instantly taken with the place and the area around it. A couple of months later, my friend Jim and I went out there and he fell for the place, too. Since then, he’s gone there on his own, introduced another friend to it, and we’ve all had more than a few repeat visits over the course of a year. I’ve been there five times.

The owners of KB Trails have been welcoming, friendly and we’ve all enjoyed getting to know them. We’ve invited them over for drinks while we’ve been on their property, they’ve returned the favour, and Jim and I were even invited for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods.

We wondered if they thought we were a couple.

As always, I’ve often got the camera at the ready, because you never know when an unexpected critter will show up and capture my eye. On those multiple visits to the cabin, I’ve taken plenty of photos of their horses and will shortly be working on my first painting from some of those. I’ll often hang on to reference for quite some time before I get to it. I take a lot of pictures out there.

One of my favorite things about the cabin visits is Jingles. She’s a great ranch/farm dog, friendly to all, likes to be around people, but definitely not a pampered princess. She’s happiest outdoors and Bob and Karen have told us that she’s only interested in sleeping in the house on the coldest of nights. I expect this past February saw her inside more than usual.

But most of the time, Jingles is content to be by Bob or Karen’s side, or out holding court over her 320 acres. She’s always happy to see people, but she tires of it quickly. Squirrels to chase, property to patrol, a dog with things to do.

I remember on one of Bob’s visits, we’d been sitting on the back deck and once the chill set in, the three of us went inside to warm up by the fire. I called Jingles to come in and she did. But it wasn’t long before she was looking expectantly at the door and Bob said she was getting antsy to go back outside. So I opened the door and without hesitation, Jingles was out into the snow.

When Bob was ready to leave, she showed up to jump in the truck and off they went.

Like most dogs I’ve encountered, Jingles doesn’t like having her picture taken, but despite that, I’ve managed to get plenty of shots on our past visits and knew that I’d eventually find the time to paint her. I began this last month and while a slow start, the past few sessions on this have been quite enjoyable and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I do plan to paint her again in the other style, but this was the right choice for this painting. Here’s a closeup.

Before I started writing this post, I wondered on which visit I took the reference pic. I figured it was either in January or March. Turns out I finished this painting exactly one year from when I took the reference. March 11th, when Jim and I were there. Quite the coincidence, and completely unplanned.

We’ll be at the cabin again later this month for the first visit of the year, with more to follow, no doubt.

Cheers,
Patrick

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John Malkovich – a Portrait

Whenever I’ve painted portraits of actors, it’s been a character I like from a movie, rather than a portrait of the person playing the part. This one is an exception.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the movie Bird Box, mostly because the media reported that some were mimicking the characters and doing silly things while blindfolded. Despite hearing some negative reviews, I guess the gimmick worked well on me, because I gave it a chance while drawing one evening.

I didn’t find the movie terrible, but it’s not one I’d rush to watch again. It struck me as a poor man’s copy of A Quiet Place, but it was certainly watchable and I didn’t count it a waste of my time. A shame that the characters were forgettable, however, since it featured accomplished actors.

One of those, in a supporting role, was John Malkovich, an actor I’ve always liked and admired.

As often happens when I paint movie characters, it wasn’t something I had planned in advance. There was a scene where Malkovich turned and it struck me that I wanted to paint him from that moment. The light, the composition, his expression, who knows?


Aside from one commission last year from Canadian Geographic Magazine, where I was tasked with painting Rick Hansen, I paint portraits of people for my own enjoyment, to challenge and improve my skills. A couple have attracted attention after I posted them on Twitter years ago, most notably Martin Sheen and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, but I don’t ever expect the subject will see the portraits I paint of them.

Now that I’m off social media entirely, there’s no incentive to tag them or add a dozen hashtags, which I think is a good thing. It takes away the pressure for likes and shares and leaves me free to paint how I like without wondering how it will be received.
I started this on the iPad Pro in the procreate app, then brought it to my desktop and painted the second half in Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. The brushwork was initially a lot smoother while I nitpicked the details to get the likeness right, but in the final couple hours, I added layers of texture and grunge to rough it up. Seems to better fit the character and feel of the movie.

There are some other portraits I expect to paint this year, but for now, it’s back to the funny looking animals.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Boston


From time to time, my buddy Jim and I will visit our friends Babe and Sue at their place in Golden, BC. In the early nineties, while still living in Banff, Babe and friends had built a small cabin high up on the property. A little later, he built his studio on the main landing and when he and Sue retired from Banff, they built a new house across from that.

In the old days (did I just write that?), the cabin was a quiet getaway. Most of the time, as they were still working, Babe and Sue wouldn’t even be there, but they’ve always been generous folks and the cabin has had a long-standing open door policy for their close friends.

No water, no power, haul the gear up the hill on a winding trail. In winter, with infrequent use, the trail had to be broken with snowshoes, first to the cabin, then to the outhouse. We had to pull the gear up by sled.

The not-so-airtight Franklin stove would smoke us out from time to time, but we had to have something to bitch about, usually while we were chopping wood to fill it.

You really earned that first beer. OK, second beer.
In recent years, however, as they’ve moved away from Banff and transitioned to retired life, the reason we visit isn’t for the seclusion, but to see our good friends. Today, it’s hardly roughing it, with fresh coffee waiting for us at the house each morning, a big breakfast in their modern kitchen and a daily shower. They’re wonderful hosts.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve been out there in the past 23 years.

In all that time, they’ve made plenty of new friends in that area, good people we’ve come to know as well. Birthdays, holidays, or just Friday afternoon in the sun on their deck ‘hey, come on over,‘ visits.

As it’s a rural area on the mountain side, bordering the Blaeberry, all of the homes are acreages of varying size, with plenty of trees providing natural privacy. Close enough to be friendly with your neighbours, far enough to often feel like you’re alone.

Wade and his family live across the road and he’s a big fan of a certain hockey team, which is why he named his dog, Boston.
Shonna and I don’t have the lifestyle for a dog, but if we ever did, I’d want one just like him. I’ve never met a Golden Retriever I didn’t like and I imagine most people feel the same way. In the right environment with plenty of exercise, it’s such an affable breed.

On our last visit in October, the weather was still nice enough to sit outside most of the time. Boston doesn’t always visit, but on that weekend, he was there often, likely because he was getting plenty of attention.

It wasn’t long before I got the camera out of the truck and started snapping photos, something I’ve inflicted on him before. In my experience, most dogs aren’t fans of having their picture taken, and Boston is no exception. He tolerated the snapping fingers to draw his eyes, the kissing noises, the endless calling of his name, but only for so long.

Eventually, he just lay down and looked anywhere but the camera, which was still in his face as I lay down in the driveway in front of him.

If I recall correctly, the reference for this photo was him pleading to Susan, “Please, make him stop.”

Eventually I gave in and went back to throwing the stick for him.

Like most people who take photos of wildlife (or dogs), I shoot on rapid fire. That weekend, I probably took a couple hundred photos of Boston. As is often the case when I select a reference shot from which to paint, it’s not what I had initially planned.

If you’d asked me what I was looking for, before I took any photos, I would have talked about getting him to look at the camera, mouth open panting so it looked like a smile, with nice lighting, of course. Kind of like this.
When I paint a commission, that’s what the client is usually after, so that’s what I tell them to look for in the photos they send me.

As this wasn’t for a client, I had the freedom to paint what I wanted. While going through the reference, it was the “make him stop” pose that I kept considering, and I like how it turned out.

Susan sent me a text the day after I got home from the last visit and said that Boston had come back that morning looking for us. I’ll have to bring him some treats or a new toy next time, payment for being such a tolerant model.

Cheers,
Patrick

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John C. McGinley – A Portrait

mcginleyfinalIf somebody had asked me a few months ago what I remembered about the television show ‘Scrubs,’ I would have likely said that it was good, a funny show. I was a regular watcher during its initial run and had fond, albeit non-specific memories of it.

In recent months, I have rediscovered the show on Netflix. As each episode is just over twenty minutes, it’s something I’ve been able to watch while having breakfast or lunch, and I found myself enjoying it even more the second time around. I’d forgotten how much heart it had. It could take you from laughing out loud at over-the-top ridiculous story lines to breaking your heart in the final two or three minutes.

The story arc featuring Brendan Fraser as a guest star just killed me, as one example. Another wonderful rediscovery was the music. I bought a few albums in the last couple of months, just because I heard songs on that show that I’d forgotten; Jeremy Kay, Colin Hay and Fountains of Wayne, if you’re curious.

One of the characters I most identified with was Dr. Perry Cox, played by the incredibly talented (and underrated) actor, John C. McGinley. His portrayal of the character could make you hate and love him in the same episode. Without a detailed dissection, I’ll just say that Cox was damaged, protecting himself by putting up walls and keeping everybody at a distance. But every so often, you’d get a look inside at a caring individual who just wanted to make a difference, despite knowing he was fighting a losing battle.

No more was that evident than in the 5th season episode, “My Lunch.”

McGinley’s performance in that episode was profound. Without shame, I’ll admit that it moved me to tears. Not just a single tear down the cheek, but hitching my breath crying. I bought it completely and was at a bit of a low point in my own life at the time. It was cathartic.

I just felt the urge to paint that moment, the moment Cox shattered. When he finally reaches his broken and beaten mentor in the following episode, J.D. tells Cox how proud he is of him that “after twenty years of being a doctor, when things go badly, you still take it this hard.”

While I’m not a doctor, I get that, for so many reasons. It hit me deep. That’s what happens when you combine exceptional creators, writers, and performers, all delivering at the top of their game. Magic.

I worked on this in between the deadlines, so it was painted here and there when I had time. When it wasn’t working, when I didn’t feel it, I went back and watched that scene again and it refilled the tank, reminding me why I’d started it in the first place. I just watched it again before writing this and as I do, the painting is still not done. But it’s close. I could nitpick it for another week, I’m sure, and while it’s not as polished as other portraits I’ve done, that’s probably a good thing. It’s time to let it go.

Just as with every other portrait of a person that I’ve painted, this was a personal project. No deadline, no pressure, not something I’ll have to sell. I painted it for me, and it was well worth my time. I hope others like it, but if not, that’s OK, because I improved my own skills, took a break from the paying gigs, enjoyed myself and am now ready to move on to something else.

And I’m feeling pretty good.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Mila Kunis – A Portrait

SolaraFBThis is a portrait of Solara, a character from the movie ‘The Book of Eli.’ While the movie received mediocre reviews from critics and audiences alike, I’ve always liked it.

A dramatic thriller set in post-apocalyptic America, it feels a lot like a Western. What the movie might lack in originality or depth, it makes up for with a talented cast of actors. Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis carry the movie well. I bought it on DVD and have watched it a number of times, as I often do with movies I enjoy. I’ve never really liked film critics, so I won’t pretend to be one here by over analyzing it or trying to convince you to give it a try. There is a clever twist at the end, however, which makes watching it the second time even more interesting.

EliPosterI’ve always been taken with the lighting in this movie. It has a definite sepia quality appropriate to the desperate tone of the setting. In one particular scene, near the end of a gun fight in the street, Solara peers out from where she’s hiding and I found it to be a powerful moment. Without saying a word, her face reveals her thoughts and I instantly wanted to paint Kunis in the role.

That was easily about two years ago, but I never quite forgot it. When I was looking to do another portrait, simply for my own enjoyment, I had a number of candidates in mind from films I’ve enjoyed, but I kept coming back to Solara. Part of the reason was that my portfolio has an abundance of male actors in it and I want to add more women, but also because I’ve thought about this painting often.

I started this in February, but with the preparation for the Calgary Expo, other deadlines and commissions, I had to put it aside so nothing got done on it for a couple of months. I finally made the time for it recently and I think I’m happy with the result.

SolaraCloseup
There’s no denying that Mila Kunis is an attractive woman, but in this role, she was living in a desolate world, barely surviving. Her character lived in what passed for civilization and she was as close to privileged in the role as one could be in those circumstances. But, one of the biggest challenges for this piece was trying not to make it look too clean to preserve that tone, but also not to use too many rough textured brush strokes so that it was overdone. I didn’t want to ‘grunge it up,’ just because I could.

It was an interesting challenge and I experimented with new brushes quite a bit while painting, which made the effort of working on this piece well worth my time.

This was painted in Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. Movie stills were used only for reference.

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Anthony Hopkins – Portrait

BillParrishMy latest painting of the character William ‘Bill’ Parrish, played so brilliantly by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the film, ‘Meet Joe Black.’

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy painting characters from movies, rather than just the actors who play them.  The primary reason is that I believe I can know characters, but despite what the tabloids would have us believe, I don’t know the actors who play them.  When Anthony Hopkins was filming ‘The Edge’ here in Canmore, however, he had a reputation of treating everyone he met with kindness and sincerity and is remember fondly around here, so I must confess, this one was also about painting the actor, simply because I like him and his work.

Meet Joe Black is a loose remake of ‘Death Takes a Holiday.’  Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Bill Parrish, a very wealthy man of character and presence who finds himself reluctantly playing tour guide for Death, played by Brad Pitt.  Knowing he is about to die and not having any real idea of how long he has to make peace with it, Hopkins expertly runs the gamut of emotions, with the character sworn to secrecy but trying to say his goodbyes, nonetheless.

The movie received mixed reviews, with criticisms that it was too long (the run time is just under 3 hours) and that it dragged in places.  As it is one of my favorite films, and I frequently disagree with critics, I’ve watched this movie a few times and have never been disappointed.  I believe the story lends itself to the slower pace and the movie contains a wealth of well played characters brought to life by a very talented cast.

ParrishCloseFor this portrait, I watched the film again and made notes in different places where the emotion of the character touched me most and I settled on six different possible references.  In the end, it came down to two, the final scene with Parrish dressed in a tux at his birthday party, or the scene when he is finally committed to accept his fate and tells Death that he is ready.  I chose the latter.

I thoroughly enjoyed this painting, listened to the musical score a few times while working on it and I was sorry to see it end, knowing I could have spent another week nitpicking every little detail and still not wanting to put it away.  But to quote Bill Parrish in his final line of the film. “Well that’s life. What can I tell you?”

For those artists who always like to know the technical details, the final size for this image is 15″X20″ at 300ppi.  Painted on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD in PhotoshopCC.  Photos were only used for reference and the painting consists entirely of brush work.  No textures or photos were used in this image.  As for how long it took, I didn’t keep track, but I would guess about 10-15 hours.

 

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Chris Hadfield Portrait – “Here Comes Home.”

ChrisHadfield

If you don’t know who Chris Hadfield is by now, especially if you’re Canadian, then you’ve probably been studying in a monastery somewhere, cut off from the rest of the world.  Currently aboard the International Space Station on his third mission in space, Hadfield has become the face and voice of the Canadian Space Program.  With his multiple daily tweets and photos from orbit, his now frequent Q&A communications to schools and media, and his high profile life high above the Earth, Hadfield has Canadians and people around the world excited about space travel again.  I’m 42 and often kind of cynical about our species, largely due to the editorial cartoon portion of my career, but when I see the images and video being sent back from the I.S.S. each day, I feel like a 10 year old kid again, excited about the possibilities, if we can only keep moving forward.

Hadfield seems to have that charismatic personality that so few possess, able to speak to world leaders and grade school children in a way that puts both at ease and allows them to understand what he’s saying, while still being the same guy with both audiences.  Because of his obvious passion for his work, his willingness to share so much of his rare experience with the world, and his ability to be a scientist, engineer, artist and humanist all at the same time, I couldn’t help but be inspired to paint his portrait, especially after seeing the video of the musical event featuring Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies, and the Wexford Gleeks.  The reference and title for this painting came from that video and song.

There is no better legacy than to inspire those around you and the next generation to believe in the possibilities before them.  I can’t imagine how many children are now considering futures in the space program because of Hadfield’s example.  Whether they’ll remain on the ground as part of the team that sends us further into space or actually get to be one of the few who go, will be up to them.

If all goes to plan, Chris Hadfield will take command of the International Space Station on March 13th, the first Canadian to do so.  Just recently, the Canadian Space Agency posted a video where Hadfield demonstrated how he controlled the Canadarm2 from the cupola.  In it he said, “Canada built the Canadarm2.  And Canadarm2 built this space station.  Everybody should be proud of that.”

We are, indeed.

CloseupFor the artists who are always interested in the tech specs.  This was painted in Photoshop CS6 Extended with a Wacom Cintiq 24HD.  Final file dimensions are 32″X24″ at 300ppi.  It’s a big file!  Reference was a screen capture from the YouTube video mentioned above, which meant the quality wasn’t great, but I muddled through.  Photos are never used as part of the painting, all was painted from scratch.  I wanted desperately to put stars in those windows, but they just wouldn’t be visible in real life, so I kept that urge in check.

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Martin, Emilio, and Tom’s Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just doesn’t get much better than that.