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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.


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Calgary Expo – The Wrap-Up 2019

The Calgary Expo wrapped up on Sunday and it was one of the most unique and unexpected results in the six years I’ve done this show.

At the beginning of the weekend, I was thinking this might be my last one and said as much in my previous blog post. While I stand by all I said in the most recent post, and there is a lot of room for improvement on the part of the organizers, I had great sales. With just a couple more prints out the door, I would have beaten 2017, which was my best year.

So, on that front, I’m very pleased with the results.

Let’s start with what I didn’t like about this year’s event.

Informa, the company that now owns the Calgary Expo cast out the soul of this show, in my opinion. Plenty of people I spoke with, both vendors and attendees had choice words to describe the shortcomings. The attendees weren’t happy with the guests this year. Sure, they had Michael J. Fox and the Back to the Future cast, but they had them last year, too, except Fox had to cancel, so it was almost a repeat. Other than that, only one or two I spoke with were excited to see some of the other guests.

Communication in the run-up to the show was poor, especially compared to their predecessors. I could elaborate at length, but it would be boring. Let’s just say they’ve got nowhere to go but up. Clearly efforts to slash costs, a lot of little corners were cut.

There were quite a few empty booths at the show this year, so much so that I know quite a few vendors who got to expand their own space into the empty areas beside them. That’s unheard of for this show, but since I was one of those who got to add two feet to my booth and have some storage beside it, I was happy to take advantage. A number of vendors told me that this was their last year. Some attendees said the same.

The weather. This one is just bad luck, nobody’s fault, springtime in Alberta, what are you going to do? Saturday is traditionally the busiest day and we got walloped by a BIG snowstorm. Shonna usually drives in from Canmore for the day to help me out on Saturday, but since the weather was accurately forecast, I called her that morning from the hotel and told her not to come. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

It was a good call.

She would have been driving home right around the time that buses, semis and cars were careening into the ditch on the Trans-Canada. They closed the highway as a result. Walking the six blocks back to my hotel that evening was an adventure, horizontal snow and stinging wind, right in the face. I took a cab back the next day as I couldn’t roll my little suitcase through the snow and the sidewalks were skating rinks.

With people heading home to beat the storm, it got real quiet the last couple of hours on Saturday. That no doubt hurt sales, but they were still quite good.

The upside? There was plenty of that, too.

My booth location was the best I’ve had. I was right by a main entrance to the other building, a perimeter thoroughfare close to the exit from the Corral where the events were held. I really couldn’t have picked a better spot. No doubt that contributed to my great sales. Last year, some of my regular customers had a hard time finding me. This year, quite a few said I was one of the first booths they saw.

The vendors around me contribute a lot to the experience. When setting up, tearing down, when it’s slow, or you just need someone to talk to, the people around you can make it very dull or really fun. This year, it was most definitely the latter. My neighbours were all talented artists, each with their own unique styles. More than a few times, we were crying from making each other laugh.

It’s always great to see vendors I’ve known for years as well. When they found out I was alone, one couple came by a few times on Saturday and Sunday to watch my booth so I could take quick bathroom breaks. I had brought plenty of good food and could steal quick bites at the booth, but getting away was tough. So that thoughtful courtesy was greatly appreciated.

Patrick, Dani, Jamie, Marvin, Sebastian, Brock, April, if you’re reading this, thanks for making a tiring weekend a lot more fun.

The new product was well received and it was great to have such a variety to share. In addition to the usual prints and canvas, quite a few magnets, coasters, calendars and aluminum art pieces went home with customers and many remarked on the great quality of the goods from Pacific Music and Art. Quite a few people mentioned they’re seeing my stuff in different places, too, a result of that new license. One man said he recently saw a display of my work in The Banff Springs Hotel. I’m looking forward to checking that out.

Last, but certainly not least, I enjoy the people who come to see my funny looking animals.

There are so many return customers who buy my prints year after year, some who rival my parents in how many prints they have and they keep coming back. Many of them follow my newsletter and gave me positive feedback about videos I’ve recorded, stuff I’ve written about, told me animals they’d like me to paint, and were just great to talk with, often more than once over the weekend. More than a few of them greeted me with warm handshakes, hugs and big smiles.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that I’m so good at remembering faces, but not names, even though they all forgive me for it every year. As they’re fresh in my mind right now, I could run down a list of people I was happy to see again, but that might invade their privacy and I would invariably leave some out.

If any of you are reading this, hopefully I adequately conveyed my great appreciation for your continued support when I saw you in person. And even when you run out of wall space, as some of you have and many are close, please continue to come by and say Hello. A purchase is not required.

You are the best part of my Calgary Expo experience.

As the price of booth rental only went up a little, and I was guaranteed my same booth space if I renewed at the show, I put down the deposit for next year with hopeful, but realistic expectations.

My neighbour Jamie put it well when he said that our current Expo grievances, while well founded, might also be a simple case of resistance to change. Nothing stays the same and even though there’s plenty with which we’re not happy, there’s still good reason to hang on a little longer and see how it turns out, give Informa and Fan Expo the opportunity to listen to the complaints and try to make things right.

I’m willing to take that chance, at least one more time.


If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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2020 Calendar & New Prints

I can finally announce that by the end of April, my first calendar will be available in more than 50 Save-On-Foods stores in Western Canada. More than once over the years, I’ve walked into a store somewhere and have been surprised to see my own art staring back at me, whether on a T-shirt in Victoria or on a coffee mug in Banff. Now I can look forward to seeing my funny looking Otter in a display rack at my local grocery store.

This  2020 calendar is now available for purchase from me directly. These will retail for $12.99, but I’m offering them for $12.00 (plus tax and shipping). If you’re local, I’ll even deliver free of charge. If you’d like to order one (or two, or three, or…), send me an email with your address and I’ll be happy to make that happen. I’ll accept e-transfer or Paypal for mail orders. In person, I can take debit, credit, or Apple Pay. Cash works, too.
There are also three new prints available in the online store. Happy Baby, Peaceful Panda and Walking Wolf. Hard to believe I’ve painted more than 60 production pieces, with just over 40 currently available as prints.

Back to the brush strokes.


If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Prints and Prep for The Calgary Expo Holiday Market

With the Calgary Holiday Expo next weekend, I’m busy preparing my prints and booth hardware, wondering once again if I’ll be able to get it all in the car. It’s a valid concern, especially when I change things up, as I always do.

A few years ago, this sort of thing was a significant source of stress, as it adds quite a few hours of work to an already busy week of the usual deadlines. This time, however, it just feels like business as usual, which is a pleasant surprise.

I have a spreadsheet checklist of things I need to bring and everything I had to order has arrived with plenty of time to spare. As expected, the more you do something, the easier it gets.

The only thing that could throw a wrench into the gears is bad weather, poor sales, and myriad other unexpected possibilities, none of which I can do anything about. Usually I’d worry about it anyway, but this week, I’m not.

As my grid wall setup is changing yet again, I will spend an afternoon tomorrow or Tuesday setting everything up in the garage, just to address any issues ahead of time. It’s not a task I look forward to, but one I think is necessary, given that I don’t want to find out I’m missing something on setup day. I’d hate to have to give up a good parking space to make a run to Staples or Canadian Tire.

Now that I’m using a new printer for my giclée works, I have to order larger numbers to keep my costs down. Instead of ordering 5 prints of a particular painting, I have to order a minimum of 20. This means more of an investment each time, likely holding on to prints for a longer period of time.

For example, I don’t expect to sell 30 Smiling Tigers next weekend, but likely more than 10. Since I only had 9 left in stock, I had to place an order and now have 29. I had to stock up in similar fashion for a number of my better selling prints, which means when looking at overall numbers; I have a couple hundred more than I need.

That does make me a little nervous, because it means I’ve invested money now that I normally wouldn’t have until later. On the positive side, however, prints don’t expire when cared for properly.

After completing a full print inventory and swallowing hard at the total, I have twice as many individual images in stock than I’d like. Between 8X10s, canvas, acrylic, poster and matted, I have prints of 45 different animals. On one hand, that’s an impressive number of paintings. On the other hand, it’s far too many different images to stock on a regular basis, especially since a third of those are not big sellers.

Even though I have fond feelings for every one of my paintings, it doesn’t mean they resonate with everyone else. I’ve already been weeding out certain ones as I run out, but will be much more aggressive in that practice over the coming year. I sold the last matted Raccoon Totem print online this week. As much as I like it, I won’t be ordering any more. There are about a dozen others that will meet the same fate when the last of each sells.

Many times, after I finish a new painting, I’ll get an email or a private message from somebody telling me they want a print. On more than one occasion, those folks have disappeared or told me they’ve changed their mind after I’ve invested the money to make prints available, when I might not have done so had they not expressed interest. Take that as a cautionary tale for both artists and buyers. Talk is cheap.

Then, of course, there are my reliable regular customers who ask for a print of a new animal, and even though I want to be able to make one available, I have to ask them to be patient until I get around to doing a print run. These are the folks I hate to disappoint since many have been supporting my work for years. Thank you, you know who you are.

I’m always painting new animals and if I want to stock prints of some of those, I have to start letting many of the others go. It also means that when I do paint a new animal, I have to think long and hard about whether or not I’m going to have prints done right away.

Or at all.

The Calgary Expo Holiday Market runs next Saturday and Sunday, November 25th and 26th in Halls B & C at the BMO Centre. Tickets available online and I believe at the door as well. Here’s the link. You can find me at Booth 414. Come by and say Hello.


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A Couple of Great Deals!


This applies to everything in my online store, including the 8″X10″ prints I just added. They’ve only been available once before via my newsletter, social media, and at The Calgary Expo. For those 8″X10″ prints, postcard sets, poster prints, matted and canvas giclée prints, there are no shipping fees for orders to Canada and the Continental United States, only while inventory lasts. If you live close to me, I’ll even deliver and can take payment in person via cash or credit card. Check out the store here.

Second Offer: 30% OFF COMMISSIONS
The regular rate for pet portrait commissions is $900 (+GST). For the first THREE people that book a commission following this deal, the cost is $630 (+GST). That includes a canvas giclée print (up to 18″X24″), shadow box frame, and shipping. We’re talking friends and family rates here. This sort of thing makes a very unique Christmas gift and something you’ll want to think about sooner, rather than later, to have it done on time. For more information and to see some of my commission pieces, please visit that page on my site.

Any questions, drop me a line via the contact page.


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Calgary Expo – The Wrap Up

Booth001This weekend found me running my first retail booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.  All day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I was selling my wares to attendees of the second largest event of its kind in Canada, along with many other artists and vendors.  As this was my first ‘con’, here’s a bit of a review to show how the reality of the experience met with my expectations.

At this event, I was selling prints of ten of my original creations, my Totem paintings.  I prepared as best I could by reading blog entries and articles online by those in the know.  A talented animator friend, Jennifer Llewellyn has had a booth at this Expo six times now and she graciously shared a lot of information with me both before and during the event.  There’s a distinct culture at this sort of show and as I’d requested a booth beside hers when I registered, Jenn served as my guide throughout and was a big help to me.

The first year is where you’re going to spend the most amount of money if you want to do it right.  I wasn’t content to have a booth that looked bargain basement as many will do to save on expenses, so I put my best foot forward.  I bought retail grid walls that stand on their own, had a professional banner printed, bought bins to hold my prints, and other assorted retail hardware.  For product, I offered poster prints for $15.00 apiece, with backer board, artist bios and cellophane sleeves.  I also offered the usual matted giclée prints for a discounted show price of $35 (regular $44) and my limited edition 12″X16″ canvas giclée prints at a discounted show price of $220.00 (regular $295.00).  As this was my first foray into the show, I had no idea how much inventory I would need.  Considering that I regularly keep prints on hand for online sales and supplying the local retailers who sell my work, I figured I should aim high, so that anything I didn’t sell would just become part of my regular inventory, stock I would need anyway.

Last year, this Expo experienced some significant growing pains.  The Fire Marshall essentially shut it down on the Saturday of the 2012 event, as there were far too many people inside the venue.  Many who had bought tickets and waited in line weren’t allowed in and others who had just stepped outside for some lunch or some air were locked out for the duration.  I was on a research trip to this event last year, and I experienced the lockout firsthand.  Our weekend passes became null and void early Saturday afternoon.  This year, they capped the number of tickets at close to 60,000 and sold out well before the Expo itself, increased the size of the venue, and vowed to fix all that went wrong with last year’s event.

So how did it go?  Well, lets start with the cons of the con, from this vendor’s point of view.

My only reference to how things should have gone was from other artists who had done this event before.  As the weekend wore on, a number of them said that this was one of the slowest years for sales.  Saturday is supposed to be one of the biggest and best selling days, and yet even though I was in a good location, there were hours on Saturday afternoon (yes, hours) where it felt like a ghost town in our corner of the world.  The first two hours of Sunday morning were exactly the same.  Quite discouraging as I was looking at the many prints still sitting in bins in my booth, wondering how many of them I was taking home with me.  Speculation seemed to be that because they had spread the celebrity guest signings and panels out to other buildings and with the limited ticket sales, many people didn’t make it to the vendor booths in the small press section (where I was located) or if they did, they didn’t make it back when it came time to make their purchases.

A big question mark was whether or not I was even in the right place to sell my particular brand of artwork.  Here was a typical situation my wife and I noticed throughout the weekend.  A person would walk up the aisle in front of my booth, scanning left and right as they walked.  When they saw my work, they’d smile or laugh, say something like, “Oh, cool!” or “These are great!”  They’d come over to the booth, look through my book, ask questions, and appear thoroughly engaged with the work and have many complimentary things to say.  Then they’d often say “Thanks” and wander off to the next booth or say, “I’ll be back later on.”  Both my wife and I have worked in retail years ago and have experience with the ‘just looking’ crowd but when the reactions seemed very genuine, we couldn’t figure out the reluctance to buy by many of the enthusiastic visitors.  Money didn’t seem to be the issue as our pricing was comparable to the wares of many other artists.  One of the most common comments we got was that my work looked like nothing people had ever seen before.  As an artist, that’s a great thing to hear, but whether or not it also prevented them from buying it because they didn’t know where to put it, who knows?

One quirk of this con is that when people had multiple day passes, they didn’t want to be carrying their purchases around with them all day, so they said they’d come back later in the day or on Sunday to buy.  Anybody who has ever worked in retail knows how that goes.  One way around that was we offered to hold on to their purchases until they came back for them and that did work for a few of them, especially one woman who bought a canvas print of the Ostrich Totem.  Others, however, just never came back.

Something that really began to annoy us as the weekend wore on was cellphones.  We easily had half a dozen potential good sales ruined by somebody getting a text or phone call while they were talking to us.  The phone would distract them and they would wander off while taking the call.  Or if they stayed at the booth,  following the call or text, their entire demeanor changed, as if that distraction had broken the spell of their interest.  Cell phones are not your friend when you’re trying to make a sale.

These were the less than ideal parts of this show, but now I’ll talk about all of the positives that came from this event.

There was a noticeable difference in the organization level of this event this year.  There were a lot of volunteers, all of whom were exceptionally helpful, friendly and receptive to feedback.  We heard nothing but good things from attendees and vendors with how well the folks at the Expo handled everything this year.  They really should be commended on how they turned lemons into lemonade following last year’s event and I personally made a point of thanking a few volunteers for their efforts and I noticed a number of other vendors did the same.

Booth002First and foremost, there is no substitute for experience, and the amount I learned about trade shows and expos this weekend is immeasurable.  It was truly an education, one that was quite enjoyable.  One of the best parts of this event was that my wife, Shonna worked it with me.  She even wore her two Ostrich Totem shirts proudly on Friday and Saturday.  The pic at left was Sunday.  Her opinion and insights are always of value to me and the fact that I didn’t have to come home and try to explain everything to her is a relief.  She went through it all with me, saw and heard everything I did and worked just as hard.  Her help and support was incredibly valuable to me at this event.  I could have done this without her, but I wouldn’t have done it nearly as well and it wouldn’t have been as much fun, because yes, as hard as we worked, it really was a good experience for both of us.

One of the benefits of having a booth at the con is that even though we didn’t get to see as much around the venue as I would have had I been an attendee, eventually a lot of the people came wandering down to our end.  So, we still got to see many of the creative and elaborate costumes, a highlight of this show for many.

Neither Shonna nor I are big on crowds at the best of times.  While I have plenty of experience in sales and working with people, having worked in retail and hotels before I was a full-time artist, these days I spend the majority of my working time alone in my office and I quite enjoy my solitude.  But having a booth at a show, you have to be ON all the time.  Smiling, laughing, saying Hello and making eye contact, inviting people in, being friendly and engaging, making people feel welcome to come and look at your wares, answering the same questions and telling the same stories over and over again for three days straight.  I wondered if I still had it, and thankfully I did.  Best of all, I really enjoyed myself and so did my wife.  The people were the best part of this Expo because they were all there to have a good time.  Even if they weren’t buying, it was fun to talk with them, hear their thoughts, and explain my work to them.  Everybody I talked to seemed to really like my paintings and style of artwork, which was a nice boost.  Every artist wants to find their own look and I’ve successfully done that.

Commissions!  We couldn’t believe how many people asked about commissions of their pets.  While many seemed content to just take a card, Shonna had the bright idea to start taking email addresses from those who made inquiries and today I’ll be sending a lot of personal messages to people with the blog entry link that explains all of the information about commission work.  If even a small percentage of those who inquired take the plunge, I’ll be busy painting custom pet portraits for a long time.

Suggestions! It is very clear that a panda and giraffe need to be added to my Totem list.  A number of people asked if I had those paintings.   Others I found intriguing were a Hedgehog, Alpaca or Llama, and a Lizard.  All of these would be enjoyable to paint and add to my funny looking menagerie.

Networking!  We spoke to many other experienced trade show and expo artists who were very happy to share the information they’ve gathered.  One couple who attend many of these shows as vendors stood at our booth when it was slow and took Shonna and I to school.  They told us which shows were profitable, which ones were not, which ones were expensive and vice versa.  We honestly didn’t meet anyone who was in a bad mood or wasn’t genuinely willing to share information with us and we tried to do the same.  There is a thriving community of professionals and amateurs on the show circuit and we were welcomed into it.

Validation!  Everybody is warned to have cash on hand to purchase items at the show.  Most vendors will not have the ability to take credit cards.  I went with the Kudos system, however, so I could take credit card payments on my iPad and I’m glad I did.  More than half of my sales were credit card transactions.  I would not have sold the canvases I did had I only taken cash.

People really did seem to like my work.  We got used to seeing big smiles and exclamations of, “Oh, look at these!” and “These are wonderful!” from people.  They would also say things like , “they look real, but cartoony.  How do you do that?”  And best of all, the adjectives.  Everybody sees something different in the expressions of my Totems and since I have no idea where the personality comes from as I paint, nobody is wrong.  The same Totem would be called, ‘sarcastic,’ ‘angry’, ‘scary,’ ‘mischievous,’  ‘happy,’ and ‘goofy,’ among other things.  They would tell me and others what the Totem was thinking.  “Oh he’s thinking, don’t worry, I’ll eat you quickly,’ and ‘what are you lookin’ at?”  I loved it.

On Sunday, a gentleman approached me about licensing my Totems for a specific line of products (that’s all I’ll say for now), took me to his booth, showed me what he was talking about and I was very interested.  I’ll be talking to him again today via email.  Best of all, some of the work on his products was that of another artist at the show, so I went to her booth and asked her opinion of the arrangement.  She gave a ringing endorsement, so I can go into these negotiations with a better understanding of the person and company I’m dealing with.  Apparently this sort of thing happens at a lot of these events as well.  And the reason I was approached?  He had never seen anything like my work before.


To sum up, having a booth at this Expo was a LOT of work and expense, both in prep and at the venue, but it was well worth my time.  Because the Internet and social media is so much PR and hard to tell where the truth lies, I’ll be honest.  While I still came away with good sales, I did not make money at this event, but both Shonna and I are fine with that.  The reason is that the first year is the most expensive and costs range from buying the prints and retail hardware to food and lodging and other expenses, all of which have to be considered on the balance sheet.  I brought WAY too much inventory, but only because I had no way of knowing where to draw the line, having never done this before.  I’m so glad I didn’t try to sell T-shirts and postcards as well this first time out.  The great thing is that none of the inventory goes bad.  It sells at the Calgary Zoo, About Canada in Banff and in my online store on a regular basis.  All it means is that I have plenty of stock for awhile and I don’t have to buy anything in the near future.  So I didn’t really lose any money, especially because I didn’t go into debt for this show.  All of my expenses have been paid, so this wasn’t a hardship.

In the end, this was an investment in experience.  The knowledge we now have could not have been learned without taking the risk and it was well worth it.  Was this the right venue for my work?  I still don’t know.  Will I do this particular Expo again next year?  I’m still thinking about it, leaning toward the affirmative, but I still don’t know.  Sometimes a first year or two is required just to get people to know your work and develop a following.  Will I be doing other trade shows like this to test the waters?  Most definitely, especially since I already have the booth fixtures at hand.  We’re already looking at a number of possible venues and figuring out our next move.

We came away from this event with a lot to think about and I’ve taken a new step in marketing my work.  Best of all, I took another risk and that’s the only way to move forward.  In the next couple of weeks, I’ve got a fair bit of post-con work to do from emailing potential clients about commissions and negotiating a licensing deal, not to mention reassessing the inventory I have in stock and figuring out the best way to make use of it.  It was a really good weekend and I’m glad I did it.

Even before this show, I had a lot on my plate, so right now, it’s back to drawing and painting, which is what got me into all of this in the first place.

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Survey Says!

Preparing for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April is proving to be an exercise in anxiety.  I already know that my work sells well in the right venues.  I’ve had my Totem prints in four different galleries and retail outlets and while some are better than others, the response has been quite favorable.  Five of the designs are currently licensed to The Mountain and I’m always working on a commission piece for somebody.  While confidence in the work is usually one difficulty faced by newbies to Cons and Expos, that’s not the problem I’m facing.  Even if my work isn’t popular with the crowd that shows up to the Calgary Expo, I’ll still be OK with the work, and just know that it wasn’t the right venue.  I’m not even uncomfortable running the booth, talking to people, or selling, which is something else artists often have difficulty with.  For many years, I worked in the tourism and retail industries,  I ran Wacom‘s booth on my own for a full day at a training seminar, worked a trade show booth on my own up at Fort McMurray for a Banff hotel I used to work for, and have done live painting and training demos quite a few times in the last four or five years.  While public speaking scares a lot of people, it’s honestly not a problem for me.  In fact, the trick is getting me to shut up.

Where the challenge lies is knowing how to stock my booth.  I could spend many thousands of dollars selling everything from cartoon prints, illustrations, paintings, portraits, cards, prints, t-shirts, posters, canvas…it’s  a long list of possibilities.  The key to a successful booth it would seem, is focus.  And, of course, not overextending myself.  I’ve got three full days to sell merchandise at an event that has become so big that with 600 vendors and artists, and 50,000+ attending, there are a lot of things to consider.  I already know that I’m just going to focus on my Totem paintings, for the sake of continuity.  But I don’t want to run out of stock on Saturday morning, nor do I want to be packing up a lot to bring home on Sunday afternoon.

There’s a lot of advice online from people who attend expos like this, telling artists to balance ‘fan art’ with their own work.  Use the fan art to get people to your booth.  That doesn’t work for me.  Fan art is basically just copying somebody else’s popular characters and selling them.  While illegal, most of these offenses go without prosecution, so artists keep doing it.  Considering how many artists complain about being ripped off online, I’m surprised at how many still condone the practice.  I intend to find out if I can support my booth on my own work alone.

As this is my first booth, I will do a number of things wrong, I’m sure.  How can you learn from experience until you have some?  But in an effort to put my best foot forward, I created a small survey earlier in the week to ask people their opinions on a few questions I’m faced with.  Two winners were chosen from the respondents to receive 11″X14″ matted Totem prints of their choice.  I received 100 responses, which was the survey limit, but the results were pretty clear when it came to ranking which of my Totem paintings people liked best, along with opinions on matted prints vs. unmatted.  In an effort to perhaps help somebody else prepare for a show like this, here are my results and how I choose to interpret them.

I asked respondents to rank my Totem paintings in order of preference.  While I have 16 Totems in my portfolio, I’ll only be selling 8-10, so here are the Top 10 in the order the survey indicated.

Results001Some surprises here.  The Humpback Whale is one of my favorites, and even though a few people agree with me, most do not.  But for this survey, I would have included it in my print run for the booth.  Many people did say in their comments that it was tough to choose and that they had a hard time ranking them because they liked them all.  While I can understand that, and appreciate the compliment, the ranking was very clear for the first five, not so much for the last five.  The Bighorn Sheep could have easily been shown instead of the Penguin as they were neck and neck.   But I chose the Penguin because the venue will be in Calgary and with the addition of the penguins at the zoo last year, it’s a safe bet some will buy it based solely on where it’s being sold.

The Wolf Totem has long been a favorite among people who like my work.  It’s a big seller and very popular.  But it was done over two years ago and I’m pleased to see that my two most recent pieces are in the Top 3.  Thankfully, it would appear my best work isn’t behind me, something many artists fear.

Matted prints and cost.  78% of people would prefer a matted print to an unmatted one and 73% said cost didn’t affect that decision.  That was very revealing, however the people who follow me online aren’t necessarily the same demographic as those who will be shopping at the Expo.  A lot of people go to the Expo to buy inexpensive prints and even at a reduced price of $30.00, it will be too much money for some, when they could buy two or three prints for the same amount of money, which means more art from different artists.  If this were a Christmas trade show with an older crowd, I would go entirely matted at regular price with a lot of canvas as well, but at this venue, I’ll be doing a mix of matted and unmatted prints.  But this was very helpful in helping me decide the balance.

The majority of people were interested in a discount on buying two prints, rather then three or four.

Results002When it comes to the T-shirts available from The Mountain, the Wolf was the clear winner, the Ground Squirrel second, but it was an even balance between the other three.  If I do decide to include T-shirts in my inventory, and that’s still undecided, it is obvious that I should include all five.  The large majority of respondents would buy one for themselves or somebody else.  One commenter suggested that she still liked the T-shirts, but wouldn’t buy one because her family just doesn’t wear shirts with designs on them.  Personally, neither do I, so I was curious to see how many thought the same.  Selling T-shirts as well as prints might be a little too much this year as it would require a lot of inventory in different sizes and might make for a very crowded booth.  This first year, I might just stick with prints and have one of each design on hand to let people know that they’re available online from The Mountain.

Finally, more than half of the respondents left comments, which I found very valuable.  Many were complimentary of my work, which I appreciated.  Others told me that ranking the Totems was very difficult and a couple even seemed to worry that they were hurting my feelings by doing so, telling me I shouldn’t think they hated the last one they picked.  No worries, I’ve got thick skin.  Still, others were just very nice words of encouragement and nobody gets tired of hearing those, so thanks for that.  Some suggested that other animals should be on T-shirts.  As they are licensed and not produced by me, it’s actually up to The Mountain which ones end up on T-shirts.  So while these five are the only ones at the moment, who knows what the future will hold?

Here are some other comments I found helpful, and my thoughts on each.

“Your pricing, I would do the multiples on the $10 mark… so $40, $50 etc. Just keeps things simpler.”  This is good advice and something I’m going to seriously consider.

“Would it be too much work to get more mat colors than black? Black looks nice, but can take away from some pieces depending on color. A color mat can really enhance the work. Good luck!!”  and another comment in the same vein “White matte and $40. I don’t like black mattes. Too heavy. Your prices are too low.”  Matting is always tough.  With lighter colour work or black and white, a white mat usually looks best.  With darker work (such as mine), a black mat usually looks best.  And you’ll easily find people who will disagree with both statements.  In a perfect world, a painting looks best when matted to reflect colours in the painting and matches the decor of a room.  How do you do that for every customer?  Well the simple answer is that you can’t.  White or black are the choices and as in all things, people prefer one or the other.  For continuity in an artist’s work and to minimize cost and inventory, it isn’t advisable to offer both, because hanging together on a wall or display, they will actually look bad beside each other.  As for choosing a coloured mat, that’s a minefield.  A number of people said they didn’t like the purple of the Wolf T-shirt, even though it did draw out colours from the painting itself.  Honestly, purple wouldn’t have been my first choice, either.  But it was still the most popular shirt in the survey.

I trust the advice of my printer, as he does both white and black mattes for many different artists.  After seeing these comments, I asked him what he thought and he said he thinks my work looks better with a black mat.  My wife agrees and I think so, too.  Art is a such a tricky business, because everybody likes different things for different reasons, and you can’t please everybody.  So I’m sticking with the black mats, but wouldn’t tell somebody they were wrong if they swapped it out for a white or coloured mat.  Even still, with the choice of only the black mat, the vast majority still preferred to have a print sold with the mat.

“A set of postcards of your totems on a special paper would be pretty cool.”  That’s a great idea.  While I was going to have postcards for promotional reasons, I hadn’t considered doing that for each animal as a little collector piece on their own.  Might sell them for $1.00 or $2.00 each or two or three for $5.00.  I already have art cards licensed through Island Art Publishers, but promotional postcards for the show might be a nice addition.

“Would like to see your totems on ball caps and mugs.”  That’s a licensing thing and while I wouldn’t produce them myself, you never know what might come around in the future.  I’m always talking to other companies and if I find the right one, you may get to see both.

A lot to consider with this survey and I would like to thank everyone who participated.  The expense of this show is significant, thousands of dollars to prep the booth and stock inventory, so I really wanted to put my best foot forward.  The input was very helpful and I imagine there will be other opportunities in the future for me to ask for your opinion and offer prints as prizes.  As always, however, you can always share your thoughts with me  on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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Take Twenty From Two!

Just picked up the first prints for the Otter Totem and Bison Totem yesterday and they look great, if I do say so myself!  After adding those two to my online store and updating my inventory, I’ve decided to celebrate by having a sale!  From now, until December 7th, I’m offering 20% OFF when you buy TWO matted Totem prints in any combination!  It can be two 11″X14″ prints, two 16″X20″ prints, one of each size, or two of the same Totem in the same size!  And if you buy more than two, the 20% off applies to the whole order.

Here’s the catch (there’s always a catch).  Not all of the prints are available in 16″X20″.  The Bison, Otter, Ostrich, and Humpback Whale Totems are only available in the 11″X14″ size.  While I have inventory available in every Totem as I post this, I’m not Walmart, so it’s a limited supply.  When I run out of a particular print, that’s it until the new year.  Chroma Surge in Calgary (where the prints are made) is closed for the month of December, so no new inventory until January.

The discount will be reflected in the shopping cart and does not apply to shipping fees.  Here’s the link to the store.