Despite a few last-minute details, I’ve finished most of my prep for the Calgary Expo, including some stranger preparations most people don’t think about, like spraying my tablecloths and grid wall fabric with a fresh treatment of fire retardant. It’s like any other kind of insurance or safety requirement; it seems unnecessary until somebody checks or something bad happens.
They forewarn vendors about the regulations and that the Fire Marshal is on scene at this event, so better safe than sorry. Last year they stopped at my booth and asked if my lights were halogen. Thankfully, I was using LED bulbs.
At several shows, I’ve often heard some vendors express relief at getting just enough sales to cover their booth cost. But that’s only a small part of the expense of an event like this.
The Calgary Expo sees 90,000 people over four days; it’s a big show with over 800 exhibitors. My corner retail booth costs over $1200. Electrical power is $135.00, parking for five days is $66, and my hotel for four nights is over $600.00.
Liability and booth insurance for this one event is $88. I write my mileage off over the year, so I don’t consider gas in my show expenses, but depending on whether you bring your food or eat at restaurants, that can add up.
My equipment and display hardware are multiple-year expenses, so I don’t calculate that per show. But even before I stock the booth with stickers, magnets, coasters, prints, puzzles, aluminum, canvas and metal prints, my corner retail booth in the Exhibition Hall at the Calgary Expo costs over $2100. I don’t make any money at this show until I’ve sold that much.
Even then, every item I sell has a cost. Professional printing, cellophane sleeves, backer boards, artist bios and shipping are deducted from each print sale before there is a profit—the same for other products.
But a show like this one is well worth the investment.
“What’s new this year?” is something I hear a lot at Expo.
I’m always painting new images, so I invite people to scan the walls and flip through the bins because that’s the best way to discover the latest pieces, and sometimes they’ll find one they didn’t see last time.
But with quite a few new poster prints this year, here they are. They’re each hand-signed, and 11”X14” which includes the white border. It’s an easy to find size at most stores that sell frames. The title, website and signature stamp are not on the actual print. The following paintings were not available at last year’s Expo.
While the Tarantula and Angry Bear might not appeal to everybody, I ordered those prints specifically for this event. If there’s an audience for these paintings, it will be at The Calgary Expo. I’m looking forward to the reaction, as I like both pieces.
For many of my paintings, it takes some settling time after I complete them before I know if I really like them. Of these most recent paintings, I realized that Bugle Boy, my painting of a bull elk, might be a personal favourite. I don’t know if it’s the texture I painted in his rack, the personality or the colour, but I loved seeing this piece in print, and I hadn’t expected that.
It’ll be interesting to see if it resonates with anybody else.
I’ve only got a few canvas prints this year, but a couple of dozen matte metal in 12”X16” and 18”X24”. Because I already had a nice selection of those in my inventory, I only ordered five new ones on 12”X16” metal. I can, however, custom order any of my paintings on metal or canvas at any time, in a variety of sizes.
I’m a much better painter than photographer, so the print colour, clarity and detail are always much better in person than in photos. Here are the new 12″X16″ metal prints, ready to hang.
Many people buy four-day passes for this show, but others come for only one day. Saturday is the leader when it comes to crowd volume and sales. All four days are usually good, but I’m trying out some daily specials for the other three this year.
DAILY SPECIALS Thursday: A free high-quality vinyl sticker with every print purchase. Friday: $20 OFF any matte metal or canvas print. Sunday: A free gift with purchase of $25 or more.
Of course, if you’re a repeat customer, you can mention any of these specials on any day of the show, and I’ll happily reward your loyalty.
If you’ve been in my booth before, there’s an excellent chance I’ll remember you. I’m great with faces but not so much with names. So please stop by and say Hello, and (re)introduce yourself, especially if you’re a subscriber to A Wilder View and we’ve never met. I always love to say Thank You in person.
If you’ve followed my work for a long time (hey, thank you!), you’ll know how much I look forward to the Calgary Expo each year. This year, it’s happening from April 27th to 30th. With the Wednesday setup day, that’s a five day event for me.
Like everything else, the pandemic knocked the event on its ass, but they’ve recovered well. Last year’s Expo had some hiccups, but once it got started, I had a great time. People were thrilled to be out and about again.
It was also my best year of sales, which certainly didn’t hurt.
I received my booth assignment last week. For my eighth year as a Calgary Expo vendor, I’ll be in Hall C, Booth 522. While still in the Retail section, it’ll be my first year outside of the main hall.
In my first few years, I had a Small Press table. That’s when Artist Alley and retailers were all in the same area. But the show kept getting bigger. So they eventually eliminated Small Press and moved Artist Alley to a different building. That year, I upgraded to a full-size booth to remain in the Retail section.
People have often asked me why I’m not in Artist Alley. It’s a section at most Comic-Cons where new artists can afford to book a table at a big event to sell their prints and other items. But that section hosts many established artists and comic art guests, too.
Despite the higher cost, I stayed in the retail section for several reasons.
First, I wanted lights in my booth; power was not an option in Artist Alley. I don’t know if that has changed, but you can’t rely on any venue to have consistent and bright overhead lighting. I put a lot of work into my art’s detail, colour and printing, and I want direct lighting to showcase that. Power is an added fee, but well worth it.
The second reason I wanted to stay in the retail section was that the booth space and aisles are bigger. Artist Alley is packed tight with vendor tables, not booths. I like having an open area in my booth where people can step out of the crowded aisles. They can look at the art, flip through the prints, and ask questions without being bumped and jostled.
I redesigned my booth last year and it worked so well for me, that I’m making no changes, except that I have invested in new lighting this year. As there was a pillar behind me, rather than another booth, I was able to expand a couple of feet. But I’ve got vendors right up against me on both sides this year, so I’ll have to stick to my 10’x10’ footprint.
I was initially disappointed that I’m not in the main hall this year, but to be fair, I don’t yet know if it matters. I booked a single corner booth and with this year’s new layout, it seems the main room only has six available. Every other corner is either a double or quadruple booth. It does say on the rebooking application that Single corner booths are not guaranteed.
Last year, there were noticeable gaps where more retail booths could have fit. This year, there are more retailers in the main hall, many with double booths.
Hall C was an open area Community and Family zone in 2022. This year, the same area houses 73 new retail booths, including mine.
It’s a much bigger show.
If I weren’t selling my artwork there, I’d still attend the Calgary Expo because it’s a lot of fun. People from all walks of life can be themselves in this festival atmosphere. Families attend this event together, and I honestly don’t know who enjoys it more, the adults or the kids.
Aside from the much smaller version I attended in 2021, it’s been ten years since I’ve been able to walk the show or enjoy the events, talks, and displays. I might get a half hour each day before the show opens to quickly wander the booths, but it’s not enough. I didn’t even make it to the Big Four building last year to check out Artist Alley.
So, when I got my booth assignment, I emailed people I know who come to the Expo every year and are more familiar with the different areas. These two couples are among my favourite supporters and collectors, the people I love seeing each year at this event. They’ve also become friends and generously stop by the booth several times to chat and watch my booth if I need a quick bathroom break.
I asked them what they thought of my new location. Both replied that the Main Stage in that hall is busy all day with panels and talks, and there’s likely to be plenty of regular traffic with the new addition of so many booths.
I went into last year’s event with low expectations. With the pandemic winding down but still active, I didn’t know if people would even attend a crowded indoor venue. But they did, some in masks, most without, though I know several people who tested positive for COVID immediately after Expo.
I had considered emailing the organizers asking for a booth in the main hall should anybody cancel, but I decided not to give in to fear. The bottom line is that I have no idea if it will be better or worse than my previous spots. It might be a prime location. Each year, I’m fortunate to know more people familiar with my work. Rather than rely on their stumbling across my booth, they actively seek me out. So I can always count on seeing my regular customers.
As for the prep, this has been my easiest year. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of sales records from each event. I know which prints, magnets, coasters, and stickers sell best and how many I need to order each year. Of course, I bring extra in case I have an exceptional year, and any new prints are always a gamble as I don’t yet know which will be popular. The Calgary Expo is a great proving ground for the latest paintings.
Everything I’ve ordered has arrived, and I’ve been busy signing and packaging prints, but I have a lot of experience with this show, so it’s low-stress this year.
Many of my subscribers are Expo veterans, and I look forward to seeing you all again. Even if you don’t add to your collections this year, please stop by and say Hello. You’re the main reason I enjoy this show.
I’ll have another update soon, including a feature on the brand-new prints I’m launching at this year’s Expo.
In 2008, I hosted the Canadian Editorial Cartoonists Conference in Banff. Several industry veterans who attended came up in a culture where busy unionized daily newspapers hired editorial cartoonists for impressive salaries, benefits, and pensions. I began my career at the end of all that.
I put a lot of work into the conference and preparing a Photoshop drawing class, trying to impress and curry favour with the more established cartoonists in this exclusive club. But, unfortunately, I realized too late that nobody cared. They were simply looking for an excuse to visit Banff, hang out and talk shop. It was about nostalgia, politics, and competitors fishing for information.
I wanted to improve my skills and artwork and learn how to adapt to a struggling industry, but many of them were focused on avoiding having to change. In fact, in the wrap-up, one of the more senior cartoonists loudly promised there wouldn’t be any Photoshop drawing classes at the next conference.
Clearly, I didn’t belong in this group.
In 2009, I attended another conference, the National Association of Photoshop Professionals in Las Vegas. I had been a member of this supportive online community for several years. Critiques were constructive, questions were answered with enthusiasm, and I learned more from that association than any before or since.
Fresh off that first Photoshop World conference, inspired to try something new, I painted a funny looking grizzly bear, my first whimsical wildlife portrait.
I went to that conference five times between 2009 and 2014. In 2010 and 2014, I won multiple Guru Awards for my animal paintings, including two Best in Show awards. The classes and instructors, the community of friends and colleagues, it was time and money well spent.
At Photoshop World, I made valuable business connections. For a long time after, I had a welcome working relationship with Wacom, the company that makes the drawing tablets and displays I’ve used for the past 25 years. I recorded two training DVDs for PhotoshopCAFE, and NAPP helped me form a strong foundation for my creative skills.
Eventually, social media killed the forum, and the organization rebranded. As a result, NAPP no longer exists, and the Photoshop World conference is a ghost of its former self.
Time spent pining for the way things used to be is a waste. Adaptation is the most useful skill a self-employed artist can have.
While licensing and retailers are essential for my business, those customers each have their own ideas of what they want from my work. One retailer wants more bears; another wants more wolves. One agency wants me to follow seasonal trends; another client wants more realistic animals. Some products sell better with brighter, more colourful elements, and some without a background. Some items work better with a vertical layout, others horizontal.
Most artists have heard they should find their niche, the work that makes them unique and different from everybody else. It’s the key to survival in a crowd where a lot of art looks the same. But if you work hard and are lucky enough to discover the work that defines you, the next piece of advice you hear is that you need to make it appeal to everyone all the time.
Well, which is it?
How do you create work you enjoy enough to keep doing it year after year and continue to make it pay? How do you serve your customers and clients and allow their input and direction without changing your work so much that it’s no longer yours? Is it artwork or factory work?
When it becomes a grind or just about pumping out more images, it can take all the joy out of it. Lately, finishing some paintings has brought the same sense of accomplishment I get from cleaning the house. That’s a telltale sign of burnout. I’ve been here before, more than once. It’s a common experience with anyone who creates anything, especially if it’s their job, a warning that something’s got to give.
I know how to paint a single animal. I’ve put almost fifteen years into it. Each takes hours to paint, and the work I’m doing now is better than I’ve ever done, but it’s still the same style and (shudder) formula. It’s not as challenging or fulfilling as it used to be.
I’ve taken a new approach with the trio of giraffes, already titled “Long Neck Buds.” I don’t know if it will work the way I imagine it, but if it does, it will be the first of several I plan to paint this way.
This latest individual giraffe isn’t quite a finished piece, but it’s close. It will also be the middle giraffe in the painting based on the group sketch above. With the simple background, it’s a solid painting on its own. I’ll paint the other two individually, like this first one, with my usual high detail, then I’ll place them all together. Finally, I’ll paint the sky, clouds and leaves around them.
I’m a commercial artist, it’s how I make my living. I don’t pretend otherwise. But this is also supposed to be fun. I want to paint more detailed and elaborate images I’ll enjoy while also leaving options open for clients and licenses with different needs.
I want to create more paintings this way—a troop of meerkats, several burrowing owls, and a waddle of penguins. I could paint different species in an image. However, with each critter as detailed as my usual work, these will take longer than a single painting, requiring a more substantial investment in each piece.
I get nervous when spending too much time on one painting, likely due to many years of drawing editorial cartoons. Twenty years ago, when almost nobody was publishing my work, I would spend many hours nitpicking a cartoon, trying to get a caricature right or fussing with perspective. Shonna and I referred to these as Sistine Chapel cartoons. I had to train myself to say, “good enough.”
Most political cartoons have a short shelf life, so speed is essential. Get it done, get it out, and get started on the next one. My cartoon work pays monthly bills.
With a painting, however, the income can come anywhere from next week to next year. Pieces I painted ten years ago are still paying today. Paintings are an investment in future prints, products and licensing, income that often comes later.
This year, I’m making time to play and experiment.
I’ll share works in progress, sketches, and thoughts along the way, but fewer finished pieces. The ones I do complete will be bigger and hopefully worth waiting for. Of course, I expect I’ll still paint a single animal here and there if the mood strikes me.
11” X14” poster prints will come out only a couple of times a year rather than as I complete them. With higher shipping costs, I imagine that it won’t be a problem for collectors of my work to be able to order two or three new pieces at a time with one shipping cost.But I’ll still welcome custom metal and canvas special order prints. You can order those by email anytime. The above 18”x24” sloth on canvas and 20″x20” Blue Beak Raven on metal below are two custom orders that arrived this week.The puzzles I launched this year felt like a considerable risk, but I sold a lot of them and have received requests for more. I’m suddenly motivated to plan paintings that will work as prints, puzzles, stickers and more. I’m also exploring puzzle licensing opportunities.
In the meantime, my collection of more than 100 paintings will continue to pay the bills with prints and licensing, as will drawing daily editorial cartoons, for as long as newspapers hang on.
It’s that time again, another long weekend Mountain Made Market this Saturday at the Civic Centre, downtown Canmore. There will be 25 vendors inside and out, specialty foods, arts & crafts and live music. The Canmore Folk Fest also returns this weekend, so downtown will be a hopping place. With Main Street closed for the summer to motor vehicles, there’s plenty of room to move about, see the sights and enjoy the atmosphere.
As I don’t do the regular market circuit, I haven’t got a big tent, so you’ll find me just inside The Civic Centre in the main foyer. I’ll have plenty of prints, including the latest releases, 2023 calendars, coasters, magnets, aluminum art, canvas, stickers and more. So come on down and support local art and artists!
I’ve painted over 100 animals since 2009, and I can’t keep them all in stock. Even five of each is a lot of inventory. So whenever I bring in new ones, I’ve got to retire some. Some paintings seem to be perpetual best sellers, while others have their day in the sun for a few years and then wane in popularity.
To ensure a reasonable price from my supplier, I have to order prints in volume. So when a print plays out its best days, it’s no longer worth ordering a large amount. That’s a good indication it’s time to let it go and give a new one a chance.
Today, I’m retiring three prints. The Bald Eagle, Black Bear and Grizzly have been removed from the store. They’re still popular on other items through my various licenses, but not as much as prints in my online store. I get attached to these paintings as each has a story and takes many hours to paint. This round of retirees is especially bittersweet as this Grizzly was the first animal I painted in my whimsical wildlife style, the bear that started it all. But I’m always painting new grizzly bears and black bears, so there’s no shortage of that subject.
As much as I like my Bald Eagle painting, I’ve taken many excellent references at The Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta in recent years, and I’m looking to paint a new one.
With a new print order just arrived, the Beaver and Two Wolves are back in stock, so if you’ve been waiting for those, thanks for your patience. Of course, no new order would be complete without some first-issue prints. My latest paintings, Snow Queen and Duckling, are now available in the store! I love seeing the first prints of a new painting; these were no exception. There’s just something about a print that makes the work complete. .
All prints are 11″ x14″ with a white border, and it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame as it’s a standard size. In addition, each is hand-signed and comes with a backer board and artist bio in a cellophane sleeve.
If you have any questions about the available prints or vinyl stickers, feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to answer. Otherwise, take a browse through the available paintings and see if there’s one that catches your eye. And a reminder that all images (even the retired ones) are available via custom order, as canvas or metal prints.
Art for a living is a lot more than the general assumption that I’m just drawing and colouring all day. Like any business, there is a balance between creating or producing something and selling or marketing that something.
After Expo cleaned me out of stock, an excellent problem to have, I had to re-order prints and the packaging that goes with it. In addition, I needed to fill orders for my retail clients and have stock to sell at an upcoming market and on my online store.
Even though I work with excellent vendors who deliver outstanding service, we’re all familiar with the supply chain challenges that still create delays. But over the past couple of weeks, all orders have finally arrived. I’ve spent many hours signing and packaging each print and the past week delivering them. Now I’m preparing for this Saturday’s Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.
Last week, I drove to Innisfail to Discovery Wildlife Park for the first time this year to deliver the largest print order they’ve ever placed and their first order of my high-quality vinyl stickers.
I had recently updated their park map and flyer for them, and It’s already printed and available for guests. In addition to financial contributions, there are always other ways to help your favourite causes and organizations, especially if you have the marketable skills they need.
Of course, there’s no point driving those couple of hours without taking reference photos and spending time with the staff and animals. Timing and luck delivered a beautiful warm day.
At Expo this year, my friend Kayla, a zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo, said that she wanted to come up and see Discovery Wildlife Park and meet their head keeper, Serena. So I told her I’d be going up soon, and we timed it for her days off. I arranged it with Serena to make sure it was convenient, gave Kayla directions, and met there on Thursday morning.
Here’s Serena on Thursday, feeding last year’s fast growing rescue cubs, Bos and Piper.
The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park have a great relationship. Staff from one will often visit the other, participate in educational and training days, and learn from each other’s procedures and policies.
So, I was happy to introduce Serena and Kayla and connect them for what ended up being a partial professional development day. Of course, I was delighted to tag along and eavesdrop while snapping photos.
We got to meet their new wolf pups, though only the keepers who feed them are allowed to touch them. The vet has prohibited any other contact until the pups have their vaccinations next month. But I got plenty of photos, and there will most definitely be a painting coming this year.
On Monday, I was again on the road to deliver another print order to the Calgary Zoo. In the almost ten years they’ve been selling my prints, this was their largest order, a good sign for what we’re all hoping is an economic recovery year.
I had a good visit catching up with their retail manager, Kathryn, and spent some time meeting the new staff, talking about my work, and answering their questions. Since they’re the ones presenting my art to the public and I frequently talk to people who have seen and bought my work there, I’m happy to give the staff any help they need.
Of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without wandering and taking photos and I was granted yet another beautiful day for it.
No matter how well I plan, some animals prove to be elusive when it comes to reference photos. From poor lighting, posing, vantage point, or timing, it can be frustrating when I can’t get the photos I want. I keep trying, however, as eventually fortune does smile, and it’s always unexpected.
After years of failure, I might have finally got the reference I needed to paint an African porcupine. They had just been given food for which they had to work a little, which is a form of enrichment. The lighting was good, I could get down to eye level, and the little critter kept looking right at me. I was shooting through glass, but if there isn’t much glare and I can cup my hand around the lens hood, that often works just fine. I must have taken 300 shots. I discarded most of them on the first pass, but there are painting reference potentials in those I kept.
From the two visits, I got good reference for wolf pups, a lion, a grizzly, and that African porcupine.
Once this Saturday’s market is behind me, I’ll have a lot more time to devote to painting, and I expect to share a new one with you, already half done, by the end of next week. I have plenty of recent reference stored up and am anxious to work from them.
Just in time for this Saturday’s market, my order from Pacific Music & Art arrived on my doorstep on Monday. I’m grateful to Mike for such a quick turnaround to restock me with magnets, coasters and aluminum art for this weekend’s market. But the best surprise in the box was my first order of the 2023 “Wild Animals” calendar! That’s one of my favourite paintings on the cover, Grizzly on Grass.
The shipment arrived while I was at the zoo, so I sent a text to our next-door neighbours asking them to grab it for me off the step for the third time in recent weeks. For a guy who is home most of the time, all my recent orders have arrived while I’ve been away. My neighbours got the first calendar as a Thank-You, but you can get yours at The Mountain Made Market this weekend at the Canmore Civic Centre.
Next week, I will have the calendars available in the online store; I need to work on the calculations to keep the shipping costs as low as possible. I will let you know when you can order them.
The reason I’m sharing info about my Calgary Expo preparation is two-fold. First, I find the behind-the-scenes of other people’s professions interesting, so maybe some of you will, too. But more importantly, when I first began doing this show, I had generous help from practiced vendors, so if my experience can help somebody else, I’m happy to share it.
In my last post about the Expo, I talked about the costs of a booth at this show. You can read it here.
While later than I’m used to, and after an initial mistake on their part, I have my booth assignment for this year’s event. I’m pleased with the location. Booth #603 is on a main thoroughfare at the front of the show, between two sets of main doors and next to the bathrooms, which means I can expect a lot of traffic.
In addition to this floor plan, there is a second building for Artist Alley which looks to have a couple hundred more vendor tables.
Last time, I had an open concept booth. I would greet people, welcome them into the booth, then step aside so they could flip through the print bins, look at the table displays and browse the pieces on the grid walls.
I’ve changed things up this year, primarily because of the pandemic. While many of us are excited to be out and about again, it’s been a rough two years. There might be no more mask mandates or vaccine requirements in Alberta, but I’m still seeing plenty of masks in the grocery stores and people keeping their distance. Each of us has our own comfort level.
Masks have always been common at this event, but only because many arrive in various levels of costume. It’s also one of the most accepting and tolerant events you’ll ever find, where people of all walks of life can be themselves. Because of this live-and-let-live atmosphere, I don’t anticipate anyone coming to this event intent on a political disagreement over face masks. I plan to wear one, but I won’t be making an issue of it.
At the Mountain Made Markets here in the fall, people seemed more comfortable at my booth with a table between us. I know that I was. So, I’ve redesigned my booth to allow me some personal space while still offering plenty of access for people to peruse the prints and other items.
I store my extra stock under two skirted tables and on a shelving unit in a hidden corner. That’s not a lot of real estate. Last year, I had to wait or politely ask somebody to move so that I could retrieve that stock and replenish the tables. It wasn’t easy when it was busy. This time, I can do it from behind the table without disturbing anyone looking through the prints.
I’ve often done partial setups of the booth in my garage to work out any display and layout issues. This year, I made a scale layout in Photoshop instead. It took a lot less time and allowed me to shuffle the pieces without having to physically move tables and grid wall. I know my equipment well and no longer need to set it up in advance.
Because I’ve painted over 100 of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and so many of the early ones are still popular, it’s tough to know which to keep in stock and which to retire.
Writers often get too attached to characters or scenes and fail to see how eliminating them will strengthen the overall story. More experienced writers know that you need to ‘kill your darlings.’
It’s the same with retiring paintings. I’ve spent many hours on each one, and I get attached to them. Eventually, I must accept that some paintings don’t resonate with my audience or those who do like a piece have already bought it. As I’m painting new ones all the time, I need to make room for them. I have only a few prints left of my first Grizzly painting. It has been a consistent seller for years and continues to do well in licensing. But I’m always painting more grizzlies. So it’s tough to admit that it’s time to retire the painting that started it all.
Remember that expense and inventory Excel spreadsheet I wrote about in the last post? That also tells me how much of each print, magnet, coaster, aluminum, calendar, canvas, and other items I’ve sold at previous Expos.
A detailed sales report from 2019 helped me order for 2022.
I’ve currently got prints in stock for 43 paintings. Just five of each adds up to over 200 prints if you think about it. It’s a rare year I don’t sell at least one of every print, but to bring 20 of each would not only be overkill, but I don’t have the room in the car or the booth. Some years, I’ll sell in the double digits of a few proven pieces. But what’s popular one year might be crickets the next. For several years, my Otter has been a consistent bestseller, thriving on every retail item on which it appears. Yet, at Expo 2019, I sold only two prints of that one. But I sold nine Ostrich. Go figure.
A challenge for this year is that I’ve painted more than two dozen new pieces since the last Expo. So I had to decide what to bring based on subscriber feedback, online sales, orders from retailers and best guess.
In addition to print inventory, I had to decide which coasters, magnets and 8X10 aluminum pieces to order from Pacific Music & Art. I based that on the last Expo and the Mountain Made Markets I did here in Canmore before Christmas.
Canvas prints have a heftier price tag, so while they sell at Expo, I don’t move a lot of them. But they look great displayed on the grid wall, and it’s these well-lit pieces that bring people into the booth.
Since I’ve already got a bunch of canvas, I chose to top up those display walls with metal prints, as they’re impressive, and I’ve had positive feedback on them. So, I’ll have an equal number of those, including three large 18″ X24″ pieces.
The nice thing about all this stock is that it doesn’t expire or go bad, and I have other regular customers for this inventory. The prints are sold to the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, Discovery Wildlife Park and in my online store. The stickers are now sold in retail stores, and I’m actively looking for more of those clients. I’ll also have another booth at the May 21st Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre.
Ordering this stuff is still a significant financial commitment and a calculated risk. But, unfortunately, it’s the nature of self-employment, and life in general for that matter. All you can do is base decisions on available evidence, weigh the odds, take a leap, and hope for the best in our current uncertain economic climate.
My next post will be the wrap-up after the event when I let you know if the show measured up to expectations or hopefully exceeded them.
The Calgary Expo is a monster event, beginning on a Thursday afternoon and ending Sunday evening. Pre-pandemic, close to 100,000 people came and went through the doors for four days. It was once the 6th biggest Comic-Con in North America, still growing before the world swerved drunkenly into traffic.
Attendees include comic, toy, art, and pop culture collectors. Movie and television fans pay additional fees to line up for signatures, photo ops, panel discussions and talks from invited celebrities. Calgary attracts some very big names, which draws in more people.
One year, the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation attended, resulting in absolute chaos. The Fire Marshal eventually shut it down with so many people inside that you couldn’t move. Thankfully I wasn’t a vendor that year. Organizers rewrote their rule book the following year.
In 2014, the cast of Aliens was a big draw, resulting in one of my favourite memories, when the late Bill Paxton ended the show by intentionally overacting his most famous movie lines on the intercom. Exhausted vendors suddenly woke up from packing our booths, cheering and applauding the gesture.
Cosplayers spend countless hours creating incredible outfits, from elaborate body paint to 3D printed helmets and armour of pop culture, movie, TV, animation and comic book characters. For example, my former employer spent weeks creating the most realistic Chewbacca costume you’ll ever see, complete with stilt extensions and an electronic voice box. He was a big hit at the show.
Truly an all-ages, family-friendly event, it has consistently been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had each year. The people-watching alone is worth attending, and the whole event has a circus feel.
In fact, they even have a signature parade in downtown Calgary called POW! Parade of Wonders on the Friday (although Expo is open Thursday evening) to kick it off. I’ve never seen it live because I’m always prepping my booth for the day. But it sure looks like people are having fun. This was from 2019.
Retailers include comic book stores, T-shirt vendors, book publishers, and every kind of nerdy pop culture collectible under the sun. Then there is the art. There’s so much quality art that it would take more time than I’ve got to catalogue it all.
Artist Alley is a section unto itself, with more affordable booths for creatives to sell their prints and other items. Many are hobbyists building an audience, though some have built a large fan base and do quite well.
The large halls of the main building are divided into 10 x 10 booths, with some larger companies occupying several. Naturally, these Retailer booths cost more, but increased space and traffic translates to more sales.
Having worked my way up from my first booth, more of a table really, in the now-retired Small Press section, I’ve been in the Retailer section for several years. In my last year in 2019, I had a corner booth on a main thoroughfare, a prime location that I had earned through seniority. I have no idea where I’ll be this year as the floor plan is likely to change and they haven’t released any information yet.
No matter how many times I prepare for this event, it’s a logistical gauntlet. For best pricing, booths are usually booked a year in advance on the last day of the previous Expo. I booked my 2020 booth in April of 2019, so they’ve had my money for three years. Even though they responsibly offered refunds several times during the pandemic, I wanted to keep my booking and priority.
The booth space shown here was bigger than I was used to as the vendor next to me no-showed. So I was able to spread out a little bit, as did the guy on the other side. It’s usually more compact.
Neighbouring vendors form temporary communities at these shows. We watch each other’s booths for bathroom breaks, might do a coffee run if one of us is going, and we talk during set-up and slow periods. I hear a common question: “How did you do today?”
A frequently heard answer, especially from people who don’t do this for a living, is, “I’ve covered my booth costs.”
If that’s your only goal, and you’re doing this for fun or a side hustle, that’s important. The booth fee is usually the most significant expense, but it’s certainly not the only one.
My corner booth costs $1228.50. Despite overall bright lighting in this venue, having my lights on my artwork and banners makes it pop and attracts more attention. So, I rent power for my booth, another $134. Parking for the five days (including Wednesday set-up day) is $65, and my car stays in that lot from Thursday to Sunday.
If I were doing regular shows, I’d get a blanket policy through my insurance provider to cover all of them. All it takes is one person to bump the wrong thing and fall in your booth, or if something from your display falls into an aisle and somebody trips over it, the vendor could be liable. Of course, nobody thinks it will happen to them, but it’s not worth the risk in our litigious society. So, I get vendor insurance for this show through the venue, which costs $64.
Canmore is only an hour away from downtown Calgary when there’s no traffic, but getting in and out of the grounds with everybody else adds a lot of time. I wouldn’t get home until 10 PM at the earliest Friday night and would have to leave by 7 AM the following day to make it back. Add in the potential for a spring snowstorm, which has happened more than once on this weekend, and commuting would be a gamble.
So from Thursday to Sunday, I stay in a hotel. It’s six or seven blocks away from the venue, and I walk back and forth each day. That’s $470 all in, with the Expo rate.
I don’t have a big appetite these days, and I stay away from the high-fat food trucks. Instead, I eat breakfast at the hotel, pick up a healthy lunch at Sunterra market on the way to the grounds each morning, bring trail mix snacks, fruit and cheese from home, and then grab a late takeout light dinner on the walk home to eat in my room. I used to attend the odd networking event at this show, organized by Calgary artist collectives. They were fun, but I prefer winding down in a quiet hotel room. These are long, loud days with many people, and that always takes it out of me.
My food expense for the weekend is usually around $100.
In the late 90s, I worked at a hotel in Banff. For a couple of those years, I was an accounting clerk. Later, I worked as an office admin for a physiotherapist here in Canmore. Through these jobs, I became proficient with Microsoft Excel.
Shonna is an Excel wizard and loves putting data into a spreadsheet. It might sound boring, but it’s a great skill. We each keep our own finances, but there are no mysteries in our household budget for the joint expenses. She’ll spend hours tweaking those numbers to make sure everything gets paid, money is set aside for savings, and ensure that we still get to live a life.
So for Expo a few years ago, we sat down and built a spreadsheet to find out exactly how much it cost to do the show.
My booth might cost $1228.50, but before I sell anything, the initial costs add up to almost twice that, and I haven’t even mentioned creating a booth and filling it with stock.
The most considerable expense of building a booth is in the first year. I didn’t make any money the first two years I did this show, and the second year I barely broke even. I’ll buy one or two new display items to improve things each year, but if you take care of your equipment, almost all of it is reusable.
Here is a list of some of the display materials and equipment. Grid walls, corner braces, wall coverings, hangers, lights, lightbulbs, power bars, banner stands, banners, two folding tables, tablecloths, table riser, magnet boards, coaster/sticker display risers, print display bins, print storage bins, storage rack, canvas/metal cases, floor mats, office supplies, toolbox/tools, cargo dolly, business card holders, display easels, and a bunch of other minor stuff.
In the beginning, this whole show was cash transactions. The rule was to bring lots of small bills for your float. Very few sales are cash these days, and everybody wants to use TAP. My handheld terminal costs $20/month to rent, but it’s well worth it. But like any other retailer in the world, the banks and credit card companies take a small percentage of every transaction.
That’s to build a temporary store for those four days. Then, after that, I need to have items to sell.
Before I sell a print, I pay a printer to produce it, order a backer board to protect and make it presentable, order art bio labels for the backer board, and a cellophane sleeve. Every print comes with an initial cost. It’s the same for the large metal prints, canvas and stickers. For the coasters, magnets, calendars, small aluminum prints and anything else I get from Pacific Music & Art, I buy those from Mike. I get them at less than wholesale because he doesn’t have to pay me a royalty on products I buy for myself.
Every item breaks down on that Excel spreadsheet. From what it cost to buy it to what I sold it for, and in the final column is the profit from that one item. I track everything I sell during the show, writing each transaction in a notebook. Then, I enter it into a spreadsheet on my iPad in my hotel room at the end of each day. Finally, I enter each day into the more extensive spreadsheet at the show’s end.
From the total profit of each item sold, I deduct the hotel, parking, electrical, insurance, and food costs. Only then do I know if I made any money.
That explains the hard costs, but what about my time?
Coming up with an hourly wage for self-employment is almost like mixing math and philosophy. Building my art skills took decades; painting each piece took many hours, and the whole collection of whimsical wildlife paintings has taken 13 years so far. There wouldn’t be any prints, coasters, magnets, calendars, and other items to sell without all of that. So, how could I come up with a value for that time?
I recently spent an hour redesigning my booth in Photoshop, creating scale pieces of the different items and moving them around for greater efficiency. Does that count against time spent?
What about the intangible benefits from the show that can’t be quantified?
Each year, I meet new people and introduce them to my work. If they don’t buy something the first year, they might buy something next time. I’ll get new subscribers to A Wilder View, so maybe they will buy something later or share my work with their friends. I reconnect with people who already like my work and come back to see me year after year.
How do I enter those benefits on an Excel spreadsheet? The simple answer is I can’t, but they’re still valuable.
But for the costs that can be recorded, it’s essential to know what you’re getting out of it and to be honest with yourself if it’s worth doing.
This show has been financially well worth my time and effort for years. But, I’ll admit that significant changes to the show before 2019 had me rethinking whether I would do it again. When the ‘little Expo that could’ sold to the multi-national Fan Expo, now a subsidiary of Informa, it lost the local community feel and it has become a colder corporate event. As a vendor, I used to feel like a valuable participant, friendly with the organizers and happy to see them each year during setup. Now, I just feel like a number on a sheet, easily replaced.
But that turned out to be my most profitable year, and I was pleased with the return on my investment. While I’ve lost any connection with the organization, I still had a great time with my customers and fellow vendors. So, I booked again, unaware that the next two years would change everything for everybody.
I have no idea what to expect this year. As I post this, there’s still no floor plan published, I don’t know my booth number or move-in details. Eight days out, that’s concerning as far as confidence in the overall organization. It could be a great show, with record attendance and people buying a lot of my art. Or it could be quiet, folks reluctant to gather in groups, still financially shell-shocked from the last two years, and just browsing. It will likely be somewhere in between, but that’s still a big range.
I won’t know until Monday, April 25th when I run the numbers.
Last month, I finished what could easily be called my favourite commission piece to date. For those who’ve hired me for commissions in the past, don’t take that personally. I’ve enjoyed almost all the pet portraits I’ve painted. But this last one represented some notable artistic growth, which has become a rare thing.
When I first started drawing and painting, it was easy to take large leaps. Looking back on my earlier work, I can see considerable improvement over time as short as six months. Because I wasn’t very good at it, was hungry for new skills, and had no shortage of exceptional artists to learn from, I couldn’t help but get better if I kept putting in the hours.
Over time, however, my skills became more and more refined, as any creative should expect, and my work, especially in my style, reached a plateau. I had found the look that identifies my art, something most artists chase. People who know my work can easily spot it, even if they don’t see my name, just as I can spot the work of artists I follow.
I’m still always seeking to get better, but any improvement is often most noticeable to me. I get better at light and shadow, the way fur and hair flows, subtle shaping of features to reinforce the balance between whimsy and realism without straying too far into that phenomenon known as the uncanny valley.
People often say that my work looks “cartoony, but real.”
I’ve heard it said so often that I’ll occasionally use it myself when somebody tries to describe it but can’t find the right words.
I’m always trying to push the realism, mostly to challenge myself, without going so far that it becomes creepy and unappealing.
So, it isn’t just about painting better hair, fur, skin textures and personality in my funny-looking animals, but knowing when to stop. I suspect I’ll find that out the hard way one day and need to dial it back. I’m confident that Shonna will let me know.
This recent commission taught me I (thankfully) still have plenty of room for improvement. As I wrote about in that post, the client requested a full-body action pose because that’s how she wanted to remember her dog, Santé.
She didn’t insist on it, but it was her preference. And the last thing I want is for a client to be mostly happy with a finished painting but still think, “it’s good, but not what I really wanted.”
It was something I wanted to try but was afraid of because I didn’t think I was good enough to pull it off.
In every painting, there are peaks and valleys. The spark of the idea, taking and choosing reference photos, and imagining different options are always high points. But once the first brush strokes hit the digital canvas, so begins a slow decline. I find that the first half of a painting is simply putting in the hours, and there isn’t a lot of enjoyment there.
But somewhere in the middle, the fun starts when it starts to reveal what it might become. Sometimes it peaks again and then crashes when something doesn’t work, which can take hours to repair. The more time it takes to get through that valley, the more I think the whole piece sucks, I’ve lost it, and there’s no saving it.
But a brush stroke here, some light and shadow there, I solve the issue and again find the joy in it.
The best part of any painting is the last two hours. I have a playlist on Spotify reserved just for this period in a painting. It’s called ‘Pick Me Up,’ With that playing in the earbuds, drinking hot black coffee, often in the early morning hours, I’ll finish the piece and feel good about it.
That euphoria lasts a few hours, but I’m heading back down to the next valley by that evening, wondering what to paint next. Or I’ve shifted back into editorial cartoon mode and following the news, which can be like dark clouds ruining a sunny day.
Of course, there are other peaks for most paintings. The feedback I get from readers and subscribers is gratifying; those who follow my work and are kind enough to post a comment or send an email telling me how much they like the new piece. And if a new painting isn’t one they especially like, they’re usually kind enough to keep that to themselves.
I’m under no illusion that every painting is a winner.
Another peak is the first time I get a print because it never feels real or complete until I see it in real life. Most of the time, it’s when the first poster print proof arrives from Art Ink Print. Proofing with that company has become just a formality. I know how to prepare an image for their press, and they know what my work is supposed to look like, so I can’t remember the last time I had to reproof an image because the first one didn’t look right, but it’s been several years.
When the 18”x24” matte aluminum print of the latest commission arrived, it was a very good day. I checked it for flaws and couldn’t find any. However, I discovered that while the white background was smooth, the painted area was slightly raised with a noticeable texture. This was an unexpected but welcome happy accident that added even more to the print.
And there is the valley of apprehension of packaging and shipping the piece, waiting for it to arrive, or driving to deliver the work to the client. Finally, after more than two months of back and forth, sourcing the photos, discussing the approach, many hours of painting, sending periodic progress updates, her financial investment in the piece, it all comes down to the delivery and reveal.
Suzanne had already seen the image via email, but as I said, it’s not quite real until you see it in print.
Thankfully, she was pleased with it. We had earlier discussed some of her other artwork, and she generously showed me other pieces in her collection, including the first piece she bought of mine online from Wayfair. While I’ve had this license for some time, I’ve never actually seen one of the canvases in person, and I was pleased with the quality.
It’s always flattering to see my work in somebody’s home, especially a canvas of one of my personal favourites, my Berkley painting called “Peanuts.”
Even before I got home to Canmore, Suzanne had hung the print and sent me photos she generously allowed me to share.
As much as I love meeting clients in person, especially one who was such a pleasure to work with, and while delivering the painting is the pinnacle of all those peaks and valleys, there was an unexpected bonus to the day that can’t be minimized.
I got to meet Suzanne’s new little wonder, River, a black lab puppy, who is in that lovable, awkward, too small for her big paws stage.
From the dark valley of having to say goodbye to her best friend, Suzanne now gets the peak experience of providing a home to a new dog and introducing her to adventures around every corner.
Most people subscribe to A Wilder View to keep up with new paintings, read the stories behind the work and look behind the curtain of art-for-a-living. Some just like the art, while others are artists looking for insights to help their own careers.
We’re all cautioned to avoid coming across as too ‘salesy’ in our marketing, regardless of the business. So I try to avoid flashing the ‘BUY THIS’ sign too often. But this post is all about prints, products, and available options if you’d like to purchase my work.
I wanted to lead with that, just so there’s no feeling of a bait and switch.
Before Christmas, some subscribers placed special orders, and I wondered how many others wanted to do the same thing but might not be aware of the options.
So here are some of those. Prints
I have 11″ X14″ poster and matted prints available in the online store. This is my standard size print so that it’s easy to find an off-the-shelf frame in a store. It sucks to buy a print and then pay double or triple the purchase price to frame it. My prints are hand-signed, come with a backer board, an artist’s bio, and are sealed in a sleeve. The term poster is more about the print style than the size, a crisp, clean print on lightweight card stock, with bright colours and a very slight gloss.
As I write this, poster prints are $24.99 plus shipping. I haven’t raised my print prices or shipping costs in several years, but I can no longer afford to keep the rates as they are. Printing and shipping fees have gone up year after year, so I’ll be raising my prices on both next week. Until then, you can still order from the available stock in the store at current prices.
When my current stock of matted giclée prints is depleted, I won’t be carrying those anymore, so I’m reducing those prices to $19.99 for the next week, after which I’ll remove them from the store. That’s $10 off the regular price. You’ll see a SALE tag on the images in the store that have available matted prints, and they’re on the last three pages of the store. All mats are black, as shown here. Custom Orders
Sometime in the fall, a repeat customer from the UK told me that he would be coming back to Canmore on a ski vacation at Christmas. He wanted giclée (a higher-end print on textured rag paper) versions of some of my newer pieces and wanted to pack them in a roll, a safer method for international travel. Giclées have a deeper, richer look to the colours and textures, in between poster prints and canvas. The matted prints are giclée.
He ordered One More, Winter Wolf and Snow Day, and they turned out great. I had them ready to deliver to his rental accommodation while he was visiting the area. After I revealed the painting I did of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from Yellowstone, I received two custom print orders from people wanting to give them as Christmas gifts. I don’t advertise the portraits of people for sale, but they are available upon special request. I printed those as giclées.
I’ve recently had two orders for 12″ X16″ canvases of my Smiling Tiger, one of my most popular paintings. I’ve often said that my work looks best on canvas, as the texture in the fabric enhances the detail in the hair and fur. In addition, these come ready to hang, with black printed sides, and there’s no need to frame them.
One of my favourite custom orders was for a large canvas print of my Sire painting. When I saw what it looked like at 32″ X32″, I wanted one for myself, but I haven’t yet got around to it.
Shipping a large canvas, however, is costly. That big canvas of Sire was easy because I picked it up in Calgary, and the client drove to Canmore to get it. But to ship that across Canada, to the US or internationally, it would be best to order the canvas unstretched, have it shipped in a roll, and professionally stretched where you live. Most framing shops can do that, and it will still cost less than having a large flat canvas shipped, with less risk of damage.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a stretched canvas is how you usually see a painting hanging on a wall; the canvas wrapped tight around a wooden support frame underneath. My 12″ X16″ canvases come already stretched, but that’s because they’re not large, and shipping is about the same as a roll.
Before one of the Mountain Made Christmas Markets, I ordered a large matte aluminum print of my Grizzly on Grass painting for myself to hang in my office. It’s one of my favourite paintings. But since I had it, I figured I’d bring it to the show to see the reaction. It sold the first morning, so I must order another for myself. I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture of it, so I’ll just share the image. It was the first matte aluminum print I had done, and I was thrilled with the quality. Shonna wanted to hang it in our kitchen if it had been the right dimensions.
So, you can pretty much order whatever you like. I can print on poster photo paper, digital poster prints, giclée paper, canvas, glossy and matte aluminum, all with different framing and hanging options. Of course, each custom order must be individually priced, along with shipping, but almost anything can be done.
For several years, I’ve been painting custom portraits of dogs, cats, and even a horse. I don’t paint many of them, but I do enjoy them, and I’m working on one right now. To find out all that entails, please visit the Commissions page on my site.Stickers – These larger size, weather-resistant, high-quality vinyl decals are brand new in recent months, available on my site, Stonewaters in Canmore, and The Calgary Zoo.
Calendars – The 2022 calendars are available in the store for at least a couple more weeks, but I’m almost sold out, so I’ll be removing that listing soon. But Mike from Pacific Music & Art and I will be selecting the paintings later this month for the 2023 calendar, available sometime in the spring.
I also license my work to several companies, including the ones below. Decal Girl – phone cases and decals for laptops, iPads and other devices. Harlequin Nature Graphics – A limited selection of T-shirts.
Pacific Music & Art – Many products are available in retail stores, zoos, and gift shops in Western Canada, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. My whimsical wildlife paintings are available on coffee mugs, coasters, trivets, art cards, aluminum art, magnets, notebooks, and many other products, with new ones in development all the time. Even though I don’t personally sell them anymore, I still get asked about face masks. You can order them directly from Pacific Music & Art’s online store, along with some of the other products. While Pacific is primarily a wholesaler for retail customers, more products will be available for individual purchase as their website evolves.
I’m always exploring new opportunities. There are some other licenses in production right now that I can’t yet talk about, but you can be sure that I’ll announce them here.
In the meantime, if you have a favourite painting and want to inquire about or order a custom print, on whatever surface or size, you can always drop me a line and ask. I’ll be happy to price it out for you and give you some options.
Even though the online store only shows delivery available in Canada and the Continental US, that’s a software/shipping issue. It’s just too difficult to account for every worldwide shipping calculation with my current site software. But I will ship anywhere in the world, so you can always email me and ask.