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The Panda in the Room

One of the most challenging parts of marketing is playing the game.

We’re emotional creatures, not as evolved as we like to think, prone to gimmicks, triggers, fear of missing out, limited time offers, inflated prices on sale for regular price. We are prey to an overabundance of cognitive biases, fall for the same stuff repeatedly, voluntarily share our personal information to save a few bucks, and forever fail to learn from our past mistakes.

Even though everyone knows that salespeople have a spiel or massage the details to put the best possible spin on things, we still buy into it. Marketing works because it understands all of this. And even when you know these things, we still fall for them.

Everybody who has ever invested in anything knows that the cardinal rule is to buy low and sell high. So why does the stock market have a seizure every time somebody in power sneezes or runs and hides when the wrong person says, “Boo?”

We’re emotional creatures, even though we like to pretend that we’re not.

Every so often, it’s nice to point out that elephant in the room. Not just mention it, but shine a light on it, display those wonderful big ears, beautiful tusks, enormous feet, pretty eyes and most importantly, the fact that it just sat on the buffet lunch.

Yes, I’m painting an elephant soon. Stay tuned.

(Get to the point, Cartoon Boy!)

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all a little testy, impatient, worried, uncertain, choose your own less than ideal emotional state.

So I thought I’d try something different for today’s marketing—brutal honesty.

The Calgary Zoo is usually one of my largest print clients. They’ve been supportive of my work for many years and a great customer. Like every other business this year, especially ones where the public gathers in groups, they’re facing extraordinary challenges right now.

I was taking photos at the zoo recently, and they’re taking the safety measures seriously. The animals are still well cared for, and the staff are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I would encourage Albertans to visit the zoo, support wildlife conservation, and a local business that keeps those hardworking people employed.

They also sell my face masks in their gift shop, made in Canada by Pacific Music and Art, so that’s one more place you can get them.

One of the many unforeseen casualties of this pandemic has been the Panda Passage at the Calgary Zoo. The pandas themselves are fine, but they must go back to China and are leaving soon. They were supposed to be in Calgary for a couple more years, but the daily flights that brought their bamboo diet have ceased. The zoo has been doing its best to source the bamboo from other places, like British Columbia, but winter is coming, and the supply has run out.

As nothing goes unconnected these days, here’s a strange way this affected your friendly neighbourhood cartoonist and whimsical wildlife painter.

The Calgary Zoo used to sell a lot of my Panda prints. They sold almost all of them. Popular in their gift shops, I made it a habit to keep plenty on hand so that when they ordered, there was no waiting. At the end of last year, I ordered more than 50 of them. The Zoo did not place their usual large spring order. I need not explain why.

With the closing of the Panda Passage, it’s beginning to look like it will take me a very long time to sell these particular prints, even at a discount. With that in mind, I’m offering that print at a substantial discount.

Regularly $24.95, I’ve reduced the price of the above panda print to $6.95.

Another print I’m offering at the same price is the Sasquatch. This is a weird one. Mike from Pacific Music and Art suggested I paint this image a year ago because many of his retail customers are in British Columbia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. That’s Sasquatch country!

The image does very well on magnets, coffee mugs, art cards, T-shirts from Harlequin Nature Graphics and plenty of other products. It’s one of the best sellers on face masks.
But whether it was at the Calgary Expo or on my online store, it does not do well on prints.  So, I’m going to blow out that stock, too—regular $24.95…now $6.95.

No Promo Codes, no new sign-ups, no hoops through which to pirouette. It’s just the price in the store.

Here’s a bonus to entice you. If you buy THREE or more prints, no matter which ones, I’ll throw in something extra. Could be a calendar, a magnet, face mask, who knows? It’ll be a surprise, but there will definitely be an added gift product in there.

Also, all of my prints are 11″X14″. That’s a common frame size you can buy in many stores that sell them, no need to spend a bundle having them professionally framed.

I’m fortunate that prints and other products aren’t perishable. Someday this will end, and I’ll be ready to supply my customers with the stock I have on hand. But I keep painting new pieces, and if I want to stock new stuff, I must make room for it. When sold, the Panda and Sasquatch prints will be retired, as will several other pieces. It’s the only way to keep releasing new images.

Speaking of which, here’s a Grizzly bear I finished last week, not yet available.
Hopefully, that candor is a refreshing change from the sleight of hand sales gimmicks we often get. I try not to make my blog posts and newsletters all about selling you stuff because I don’t like to receive too much of that either. But I’m a self-employed artist, and it’s the nature of the gig.

Stay well, be safe, and try to be patient with each other. Things are tough all over.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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Sasquatch

From time to time, my retail clients will offer up subject matter if their customers have asked for a specific animal or if it’s popular in a region where my work is sold.

That doesn’t mean they’ll end up being popular paintings,but I’m usually willing to take a chance, especially if I think it’ll make a good image. Some that come to mind are the Elk and Ground Squirrel paintings, suggested by the first gallery that sold my work in Banff. Neither of those paintings ended up being bestsellers, but to be honest, I’ve never liked my elk painting and will likely take another crack at one soon.

The Panda and Hippo were suggestions by the Calgary Zoo, the Beaver and Black Bear by the former owners of About Canada in Banff, and a few others were random suggestions by friends and customers.

Regular readers will know that I recently signed a license with Pacific Music and Art on Vancouver Island. So far, I’m pleased with how this relationship is progressing. The owner, Mike, had asked for an Orca during our initial conversations. That painting was already in the works, but I bumped it to the top of the list and finished it just over a week ago.

But when he asked for a Sasquatch, that gave me pause. I told him I’d never painted a mythical creature before.

He joked, “But is it?”

At least I think he was joking.

The Sasquatch, he explained, is a popular theme among his customers in Western Canada and he thought it would do quite well for me. The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the idea. The whole challenge would be finding reference to paint from.

Of course, I couldn’t very well use the most popular photo in Bigfoot lore, the lumbering dark blurry shape with which we’re all familiar.My buddy Darrel has a theory that the reason nobody can get a clear shot of a Sasquatch is that they actually look blurry in real life. Who am I to argue?

I thought of doing a more animated pose in an elaborate forest scene, but this was supposed to look similar to my other whimsical wildlife portraits, so it’s the head and shoulders image where the expression and detail take center stage. While it’s nice to stretch boundaries and try new things, art for a living means you often have to paint commercial pieces as well.

Gathering the reference for this was a fun effort. I used a couple of dozen images with different subject matter. A few actors’ expressions and features were used as inspiration, including Ron Perlman, Kurt Russell, Vincent D’Onofrio and one stock photo of a random older man with a funny expression. I didn’t want any suggestion of the actual likeness of any of these people, however, so I just used their images for reference for eye wrinkles, skull structure, teeth and lips, and then exaggerated them all how I saw fit.

For animal reference, I used gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and grizzly bears, taking inspiration from each to create the facial structure,textures and hair.

And finally, I was well aware that the most famous Bigfoot characters in media are from Harry and the Hendersons , the Jack Link’s Sasquatch and even Chewbacca from Star Wars. I made conscious choices to deviate from their anatomy as much as I could so that I couldn’t be accused of copying those designs.

For example, both Harry and the Jack Link’s Sasquatch have prominent conical foreheads with dramatic receding hairlines. I deliberately structured the anatomy of mine to avoid that. What resulted was a bit of a salon hairstyle in my painting, but I think that just makes it funnier.

I also chose to paint in prominent white eyebrows, a higher cuter nose and frankly, impossible depth around the lower jaw. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the result and it contributed a little more to my growth as an artist. Whether it will be a popular image, remains to be seen.

Here’s hoping the real Bigfoot isn’t an art critic.

Cheers,
Patrick

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