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Commissions: Lion-O and Gaia


For anybody that reads my random ramblings here on the site, it’s pretty clear that my favorite work is painting animals.  Whether they’re my signature Totem style of whimsical caricatured portraits, or the more traditional portrait look, I’m having my most fun when working with furry or feathered critters.  Once in awhile, I’ll even paint one that hasn’t got either (see Humpback Whale).

One of the great surprises of recent months is that more and more people want me to paint their pets, and in both styles.  While the portrait style is just as enjoyable, it’s a little more of a challenge.  When I painted my Wolf or Bald Eagle Totems, nobody was holding up a reference photo of one they know really well and deciding if I got the likeness right.  While a tabby cat very often looks just like a tabby cat, there are specific markings and features that have to be right or it just isn’t YOUR tabby cat.  Just as failing to capture the likeness of a person will collapse a portrait, the same can be said for missing the personality or likeness of a cat or dog.  Their owner (family member, companion, staff) will know the difference, even with the Totem style.

This past week, I finished these two paintings of Lion-O and Gaia, in order that you see them.  Each has different markings, fur textures, bone structure and personalities, so they presented their own challenges.  But both live in the same household, so the paintings needed to look like they belonged together on the wall.  The clients had choices to make.  Separate paintings or both cats together in one?  Totem style or traditional portrait style?  They chose the former of both options and I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, as are they.


These clients were VERY patient.  We’ve been talking about this for quite awhile and they decided to go ahead with the paintings in January.  As you can figure out, it’s now May, so these paintings have taken awhile to get finished, but thankfully they weren’t in any rush, which gave me free reign to do my best work.  Much of that time was back and forth finding the right photos and they certainly did their part, giving me a great variety to choose from.  But even still, with the preparation for the Calgary Expo last month, my daily editorial cartoon deadlines and other commitments, I spent most days wishing I was working on these paintings but otherwise occupied with other parts of my business.

While I’m always taking commission work, lately I’ve been telling people that rush jobs just aren’t possible right now.  I would not be as happy with these paintings had I barreled through them and I would imagine the clients would not have been as well.  Currently I have a number of other clients waiting their turn for commissions and I’m booked up until at least the Fall.  I’ll be getting back to work this week on the Coyote Totem I started earlier this year and beginning my prep for the next commission of a dog portrait, this time in traditional style.  More animal cartoons, sketches, and rough paintings are planned in addition to putting the focus on more Totems.  It was a genuine shock to me recently when I realized that I have not painted a new one this year, despite the fact that I’ve got six of them waiting to be done, reference photos and all.

If you are interested in a commission and are willing to wait your turn, I promise I will make it worth the wait by doing the best job I can for you.   Here’s a link to the information and if you have any questions, feel free to send me a message via the Contact page.

Here’s a little bit of how it’s done, too.


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Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013


Only a few days left before I haul this banner and everything else into Calgary to set up my booth.  Having been to the Calgary Expo as a ticket-buying attendee a couple of times, including during last year’s ‘if something could go wrong, it did,” event, this will be my first year as an exhibitor.  With a mixture of paranoia and excitement, I’ve spent the last four or five months obsessing about every last detail, trying to anticipate anything and everything that could go wrong and preparing for it.  As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s simply my nature.”

You could pretty much divide my career into two professions.  I’m a cartoonist, editorial and otherwise, but I’m also a digital painter.  While they both rely on the same artistic skills and the styles do intermingle, they’re actually quite distinctive in their differences.  As a cartoonist, I create and sell daily editorial cartoons and do custom cartoon style illustrations for clients.  As a painter, I create my Totem artwork, those whimsical funny looking animals that are printed and sold online, in galleries, retail outlets and licensed on T-shirts through The Mountain.  I also regularly paint commissions of pets for people.  They’re almost two different businesses.  And while the learned experts would say that an artist or business should focus on one thing and be good at that, they’re both large parts of how I make my living.  I enjoy them both equally, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m good at both and would have a hard time letting one of them go.

For the Expo, however, the two styles don’t belong together in the same booth.  So for this event, I am a digital painter first and foremost and this is the work I’ll be selling.  If the animals I painted were in the realistic style of Robert Bateman, this venue might not be the right choice to sell my work, but because of the nature of my Totems, their caricature look that borders on the fringes of other artistic styles, I think this will be a good fit.  There are a lot of people looking to buy art at this event and I’m optimistic that mine will generate some interest with this crowd.  The fact that my Eagle Totem made it into the Calgary Expo Art Book this year would seem to support that theory.


A survey this year of those folks who follow me on my Facebook page revealed my Top Ten Totems and I’ve been busy ordering, signing, assembling, and pricing the three types of prints I’ll be offering when the Expo kicks off on Friday.  There are 11″X14″ Poster prints, the quality you would expect to find in a book or on a poster (funny how that works).  I’m also offering 11″X14″ matted giclée prints.  These are exceptional quality, printed on high end paper with archival ink and materials.  These are the prints I regularly sell in galleries, the ones in the above image.  And finally, 12″X16″ giclée stretched limited edition canvas prints, complete with certificates of authenticity, gallery quality as well.  A couple of 18″X24″ framed canvas prints will be also be available.

OstrichWhen planning this booth, I went back and forth on which items to offer, how much of each image to print, how much stock to bring, what prices to assign to each, and what retail hardware and support equipment to buy as well.  I could end up bringing home a lot of prints, or selling out too early and have nothing to offer on the last day.  Both would be undesirable, although to be honest,  selling out wouldn’t be so bad.  There are so many variables to consider the first year and I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘best guess’ is the final say on almost every decision made.  I’ve had friends give me advice based on their experience, I’ve read articles online, in books, and magazines, but in the end, it will come down to not how somebody else has done at this sort of event, but whether or not my images will sell at this venue.  The only way to know that is to put my best foot forward, then wait and see.  Of course, having a very supportive wife who is taking a couple of days off to work the booth with me does make it a lot easier.  Fail or succeed, at least I’m not doing this alone.  She’s even going to wear an Ostrich Totem shirt.

I’ve always done well in my career by taking risks, especially ones that make me nervous and require me to stick my neck out.  The financial investment for this venture has been significant because I can’t bring myself to do anything half-assed.  If I’m going to take a shot, I need to be proud of the effort, win or lose.  I’ve spent the money, I’ve got more inventory in my possession right now than I’ve ever had, and now I just have to show up and put on a smile.

The Expo sold out of tickets a couple of weeks ago, and 60,000 people are expected to show up between Friday and Sunday.  It’s going to be a zoo, but also a lot of fun.  Some of the most interesting people you could ever want to meet will be invading the BMO Centre in Calgary this weekend, a number of them in costume.  This time next week, I’ll be exhausted, but it’ll be worth it.

If you’ve got tickets, you can find me in the Small Press section, Booth R 08.  See you there!

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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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Totem T-Shirts have arrived!

Was pleased to receive my first samples of the Totem T-shirts from The Mountain.  While there are two others yet to come for the 2013 line, the Wolf Totem and Ground Squirrel Totem, I’ll receive those soon, once they’re up for sale on their site.  As the Ground Squirrel Totem went up just recently, I would expect I’ll see the remaining two in January.

I received three shirts of each design in different sizes and was very impressed with the quality of the shirts themselves and the printing, not to mention my name clearly visible on every shirt.  Images will always vary in how they look, depending on what surface they’re printed on.  Paper looks different than canvas, so I was a little anxious to see how well they would reproduce on fabric.  I wasn’t disappointed.

As mentioned before, one of the things I like best about my Totem paintings being licensed to The Mountain is their commitment to being environmentally responsible and their business ethics.  I know that we get a little cynical about believing that these days, but I’d invite you to check out their claims at the following link, The Mountain: America’s Greenest T-Shirt Company.

If you’d like to purchase one of these shirts, you can visit their online shop.  Here is the link to the four shirts that are currently available, and coming soon, the Wolf Totem will be available as well.

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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.