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A Christmas Bear

Whenever there was a turning point in an 80s movie, you could expect a music montage. Whether it was rebuilding a classic car, a group of rebellious teens learning to dance, or the karate tournament advancing to the final match, an upbeat song helped the story jump through time without making the viewer watch all the actual hard work.

Did you really want to see the protagonist standing in line at the auto parts store to get an air filter for the ’67 Camaro he’s restoring?

It often takes many days or weeks to complete one of my whimsical wildlife pieces, and I enjoy most of it. Drinking hot black coffee, tunes in my earbuds, I’m quite content to spend hours at a time painting tiny little hairs on a wolf’s muzzle or adding texture detail so the sea turtle’s skin looks real.

But if you were watching this work over my shoulder, I guarantee you would be bored out of your mind.

My buddy Derek is one of the most incredible tattoo artists you’ll ever see. When I hang out at the shop, I’ll often lean over his shoulder to watch. His linework is ridiculously precise, and I’m fascinated at the silky-smooth colour gradients he achieves with a tattoo machine. But eventually, it gets boring. He’ll often have clients that sit for hours all day for three days straight.

I just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.

I’ve been creating time-lapse videos off and on for many years, and even though they can add hours of extra work to a painting, they’re fun to put together.

Sometimes I’ll record a voiceover, something inspirational for other artists, or relevant thoughts on the piece. Over the years, I’ve done a few of those for Wacom, the company that makes the tablets and displays I’ve been using since the late 90s. While I still love their products and will continue to recommend them, the best days of that working relationship are likely behind me now.

Most corporations are still chasing the likes and shares on social media, whereas I am not. I have no designs on becoming an Instagram influencer. I’d rather spend that time creating more art.

The time-lapse videos I enjoy most are the short ones with a musical accompaniment. These days I have a monthly subscription to Epidemic Sound, and it allows me to find the right track to go with a painting, regardless of the mood I’m trying to set.

I record the first part of the video over my left shoulder with my DSLR camera. I must keep in mind that the camera is beside me on the tripod, careful not to bump it. Because I’m recording a digital screen with a digital capture device, it also creates lighting problems.

Movies and TV shows will often add device and monitor screens after the fact in editing because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to record them with a camera.

But people like to see my hand holding the stylus, moving around the display.

For the rest of the video, I use Camtasia‘s screen capture software. I’ve been using it to record and edit since I created my DVDs ten years ago, and it works well.

But when I get down to the smallest of hairs in the painting, making subtle shading changes, and applying catchlights to the wet skin of the nose or around the eyes, it eventually becomes difficult for the viewer to follow the cursor.

And finally, our attention spans keep getting shorter. With slot machine scrolling on our phones, multiple tabs open on our desktops and pinging alerts going off all around us, holding somebody’s interest is a challenge.

I used to record four- or five-minute time-lapse videos, but most people won’t sit through those anymore, so I try to keep them under two minutes. Of course, it means there are significant jumps in the painting’s progress and detail, but it works.

People just want to see some of the work in progress and the finished piece.

Cheers,
Patrick

P.S. As always, feel free to share the video, with my thanks. That goes for anything else I post on this site as well.

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Flight or Fancy

When you create art for a hobby, it doesn’t matter how you spend your time. It’s an escape, a leisurely pursuit. You can read about art, sketch, watch videos, take courses, visit galleries, or attend workshops or clubs devoted to the same goals. You can doodle for an hour, then throw it in the recycling.

But when art is your work, how you spend your time and energy is directly related to your income. If you’re not making art that sells, you’re risking your financial security. Bill collectors don’t take good intentions as payment, nor do they accept the absence of a creative spark as an excuse.

Anyone who has ever held any job knows what it’s like to have a horrible night’s sleep and wake up feeling unmotivated to do anything. But you haul your ass out of bed and go to work anyway. Because your boss is unlikely to accept “I’m just not feeling inspired today” as a valid reason for not showing up.

Talk to anyone in a creative field who does it for a living, and they’ll tell you that waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals get to work, even when they don’t feel like it. Art for a living is no different. You stick to a schedule, show up every day, and you do the work, even when you don’t want to.

But just as people in many fields go away for conferences, take additional training in the latest techniques, or keep up to date on industry literature to remain competitive, artists also need to make time for the unquantifiable.

The only way to improve on skills is to invest in them, even when it feels like you’re not getting any work done.

Whenever I start a new painting, my intent is most often to create a production piece. If it’s a painting of an animal, I want the result to be a print or an image for licensing, something that goes into the inventory to generate future income.

On occasion, I’ll make room for a character portrait for my own enjoyment (I’m working on one right now), but when it comes to the whimsical wildlife, I don’t often make time for sketching, or experiments, or ‘let’s try something and see what happens.’

But I should.

Even though I never went to art school, I know enough from talking to artists who have, that sketching and playing around is essential. It’s where you find your happy accidents, those unexpected gems that pop up simply from drawing for fun or practice.

My Grizzly, the very first whimsical wildlife painting in 2009, was an experiment. I was trying something new to see what might happen, and it eventually changed my entire career, leading me to the work I enjoy most.

It’s an easy bad habit to get into, judging the art I create to be only as valuable as its revenue. But, unfortunately, that’s a short-sighted view of what has been a long career and will hopefully continue to be.This eagle-in-flight could have become a production piece, but I got to a point where I realized that even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like taking it any further. It was good practice; I recorded it, so I get to show another time-lapse, but this is as far as I’m taking it. It’s more than a sketch but less than my usual hyper-detailed renderings. Click here or on the image to see the full sized piece and the 2-minute video.

I’m going to accept that it was a practice piece and creative time well spent.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Creating a Remembrance Day Cartoon

Each year, I struggle to come up with a Remembrance Day cartoon, assigning it more weight than almost any other theme. It’s a challenge to create images and text that evoke the appropriate reverence without being trite.

Many of my newspaper clients are weekly publications. While Remembrance Day is November 11th, many papers will run the cartoon this week, depending on which day their paper comes out. It always needs to be done early to accommodate everyone.

Throughout the year, I keep an eye out for cenotaphs and memorials in different towns and cities. I take reference photos from which I can paint, and then, I try to write something original to accompany the art. As there is very little about this year that’s normal, I went in a different direction.

This is the first year I’ve included the words Lest We Forget in a cartoon to the best of my knowledge. I’ve avoided it because of its overuse. But for the image I drew this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

With many parades and ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, most will stay home this year. Services and observance will be virtual and live-streamed. Traditionally busy venues on Remembrance Day, especially for veterans and seniors, Royal Canadian Legion branches will be closed in most places. The safety of members and their families will take precedence over fellowship. I’m sure that it will be difficult for many veterans.

This year, I recorded a short high-speed video of my cartoon, with accompanying music. Feel free to share it.

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© Patrick LaMontagne
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