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Orca

This Orca painting has been a long time coming. I remember a particularly vivid dream about an orca I had in the mid-nineties. I kept a journal at that time and often included dreams. This was before I had ever done any professional artwork, even before my first editorial cartoon, drawn in 1998.

And still, a lot of those dreams were about animals.

While painting this piece, I thought about that orca dream , went back through the journal and found that entry. It was right after the dream I had about the symbol that became the basis of my tattoo last year, which is now my business logo as well. Considering how that past seems to be informing on my present, it might be worth reading those old journals to see what else I might find.
Shonna and I had a great time out with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria while on Vancouver Island in December. We were thrilled to see orcas in the wild and I did get some nice photos of them. Unfortunately, none of those were good enough to paint from, especially not in my style that focuses on the face and the eye(s).

While I like to get my own photo reference wherever I can, I’ve relied on the kindness of photographer friends or purchased stock photos for some of my creature paintings. If memory serves, I started gathering the reference for this one four or five years ago, adding to the archive whenever I saw an image I thought would help me do a better job of it.

The challenge with painting marine life underwater is avoiding having it look like the animal is just pasted onto the environment. Water has a different look and it affects everything around it.
In this case, the eye and mouth are somewhat detailed, but everything else is rather soft in focus. The tail is fading into the background to suggest the depth and the whole thing has a blue look, even the black and white whale. Some of these choices were made ahead of time, but many of them were done on the fly, to adjust for things that just didn’t look right.

Each painting presents its own hurdles and this one was no exception. Most important, it was a case of leaving well enough alone. Painting a lot of detail adds a lot to the realism in many of my paintings. In this case, it would have ruined it. The light reflections on the whale’s back were fun to mess with and I had to stop myself from going too far with that as well.

Because it was soft focus, and devoid of any great detail, this didn’t take me that long, right around ten hours I think. The image will be available through my licensing clients shortly, but I won’t have prints available until sometime in the New Year.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Artistic License and Creative Risk

In late 2009, right around this time, I began work on my first whimsical wildlife painting, a Grizzly bear.

By the time I walked into a gallery in Banff in Cascade Mall in January, I had three. The Grizzly, a Raven, and an Elk.

The manager treated me well, the owners did not, and on a tip, I barely got my stuff out of there before they shuttered the store overnight a couple of years later.

But it led me to a store in Canmore called Two Wolves, where the two women who owned it treated me very well. They ultimately closed up shop, but I learned a lot, they urged me to seek a license with The Mountain on T-shirts which turned into a nice four year deal and opened other doors.

In Banff, when the first gallery closed, I sought out another and that’s how I ended up at About Canada retail gallery. We’ve had a very nice relationship for the past 7 years. It’s all been consignment, which means that I supply the prints; they pay me when they sell, and the cheques arrived every month without fail.

Richard and Alison taught me a lot about the business, they offered helpful suggestions, delivered harsh truths, and were always willing to try something new. Initially, they just wanted mountain animals, but I convinced them to try some others. My Otter painting has been their bestseller for a number of years, followed closely by the Bald Eagle, neither of which is associated with these mountains.

Because they had treated me so well for so many years, About Canada had exclusive rights to sell my work in Banff. It’s also the only place that sells my matted prints and canvas with consistent sales. The other is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring.

Earlier this year, they decided to retire from About Canada and put it up for sale. They had a large number of my prints and canvas on hand, and I authorized putting my stuff on sale with everything else. After a busy summer, it’s almost all gone.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make a big change.

Many successful artists will stock up and hit the road, especially this time of year to do multiple gift shows and sell their wares. I know a few who make the bulk of their annual income at Christmas markets. If my funny looking animal paintings were my only income, I would likely be doing the same thing.

Because of my editorial cartoon deadlines, I have to produce at least one cartoon every day, some days more than one. Following the news keeps me here, but since I dislike driving long distances, especially in the winter, working at home suits me well.

Oh yeah, and I loathe Christmas. Bah, Humbug.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen the licensing model. The artist creates the art, then signs contracts with companies who sell it on prints and other products. They do all of the work and promotion it takes to get the items into retail stores, on websites, produce the goods, ship them, invoice, collect and the artist just collects a cheque. If the artist is smart, he/she will never give up copyright and a reputable licensee won’t ask for it. All of my current licenses are non-exclusive on paper, but I’m careful not to sign with direct competitors.

I’ve had a number of licenses for my work over the years with a few different companies. T-shirts, decals, phone cases, online art sales from multiple companies, and Art Licensing International currently represents me, based out of the US. They currently have 54 of my images out for licensing.

Now you might be thinking “cha-ching!” but when I sell an item through a license, I get a very small percentage of that sale, anywhere between 5% and 15% at the high end. That’s also from the wholesale price, not the retail price.

My licensing agent also takes a cut for any licenses they procure for me, so the percentage gets lower still.

Why would I bother? Same reason I sell syndicated cartoons to weekly newspapers for a lower rate than I would a custom cartoon.

Volume.

The money isn’t made on one sale, it’s made on MANY sales of the same image. That first Grizzly is still one of my bestsellers nine years later.

My licensing agent gets me deals I can’t get on my own. They have the connections, the professional sales people, the legal expertise, and the means to deliver. Through my agent, I recently signed a two year license for one image to a company in Spain for a nice flat fee. How would I ever get that on my own?

I’ve seen one of my T-shirts on a Netflix show and Ozzy Osbourne was wearing one recently on TV. I have clients all over the world that I could not get on my own and best of all, it creates momentum. One license begets another and so on. Licensing is how artists get their work into Wal-Mart (and then retire!).

So licensing is proving to be the model that works best for me right now, allowing me to create more work, while somebody else sells it. It is a long game, and one license can take years to bring in decent revenue, but that time will pass anyway and all I did was provide the images.

As regular followers will know, I have two different printers who both deliver great products. My digital prints are produced in Victoria from Art Ink Print and are sold at The Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, the Calgary Expo and online. These aren’t on consignment. When I deliver to these places, it’s an immediate sale of product to the retailer. I’ll still be supplying prints directly to those customers.

My canvas, giclée matted prints and acrylics are produced in Calgary at ABL Imaging and those are sold at About Canada in Banff and Reflecting Spirit Gallery in Ucluelet. Those are consignment sales, which I’ll no longer be doing.

I have over thirty paintings currently in stock, and that’s expensive. To get a good price on prints, I have to order more than I need, so I have multiples of those images, with the backer board, mats, bios, and cellophane sleeves to go with them. I don’t mind telling you that at present, I have hundreds of prints in stock.

They’re all neatly organized and inventoried, but they’re here, ready to deliver when there’s an order. They don’t expire and are well protected, so it’s an investment in future sales. Many of these prints won’t be sold until spring at Expo, especially now that I no longer have About Canada to sell the matted prints and canvas.

When Shonna and I were on Vancouver Island, it was a business trip as well as a little vacation. We visited licensees, my printer, I took a lot of reference pics for paintings and I was on the lookout for more ways to sell my work.

I saw my Otter T-shirt in a few stores in Victoria, which never gets old. I also saw lots of art from many talented artists. Art cards, magnets, trivets, coasters, and prints all with excellent printing quality, well packaged and presented.

There were two companies that stood out for me and I took pictures of the information on the back of the cards for reference when I got home.

The next time I stopped in to About Canada, I had a chat with Richard about the companies as he dealt with both of them. As he knew I was thinking of taking my prints in a new direction, he offered to send me their contact info, which I gratefully accepted.

In fact, he sent glowing introduction emails to the two people and cc’d me on them. See why I liked working with these folks?

Both companies contacted me and offered me contracts. Either would have been a good bet, I think, but after careful consideration and a long chat on the phone with the owner, I decided that Pacific Music and Art was going to be the best fit for my work.

From here on out, things will change on the printing front.

Pacific Music and Art will now be able to get my work into many more retailers in Canada and the US, with their sales reps doing the legwork to best represent my funny looking animals. For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, I just can’t create the work and meet my deadlines if I’m on the road going from store to store, building relationships with retailers, ordering and packaging the prints, shipping and delivering them, and doing all of the work that goes along with that.
Through Pacific Music & Art, my work will now be available to retailers on aluminum prints and magnets, art cards and other paper products, coasters, trivets, coffee mugs and more. It’ll be introduced to hundreds of retailers that I would never be able to reach and I’ll have more time to paint and have less stock to buy.

I am no longer bound by exclusivity in Banff, but my work will still be available at About Canada, in addition to other local retailers in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of prep work getting the first sixteen images ready. While the artist normally wouldn’t have to do a lot of the formatting and sizing work for all of the different products, I volunteered and was provided the templates.
Sizing the paintings for the different products required cropping them, a little squeezing and squashing, and making sacrifices, especially when a square painting had to be put into a horizontal template. I would rather make those decisions than a designer unfamiliar with my work. I’m proficient with Photoshop, so it was time consuming, but not difficult. After a couple of very long days of prep, I uploaded over 165 images to their server.

The fall catalog went live this week and my Otter is on the cover. I’m thrilled to be included among these well-known artists including Andy Everson and Sue Coleman.
The owner, Mike, was driving through here on Friday, a combination business and personal trip. He was visiting local retailers and introducing my work to them, many of whom were already familiar with it as I’ve been in this valley for 24 years.

We met for coffee in Canmore late Friday and had an enjoyable chat for more than an hour. He’d brought samples to give to the retailers and his Alberta reps, and he told me to take what I wanted from quite a large selection. I had to restrain myself as I have more than enough of my own work in my house. I settled on a couple of magnets, a few coasters, a trivet and a small aluminum print, along with the catalog. The quality of these items exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to see them in stores around here, as he’s already got quite a few orders. One store on Vancouver Island took all 16 images.

I’ve been at this art business for quite some time now and I try to temper my enthusiasm with healthy doses of reality and even cynicism, but I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and will free up time and money to pursue new things and allow me to create more artwork.

While it’s sad to see my relationship end with the owners of About Canada, I am grateful for the opportunity to see my business grow in a new direction. Without risk, there can be no reward and I’d rather fail reaching for something better than worry about keeping what I’ve got.

Art Ink Print does my digital prints, Harlequin Nature Graphics is my T-shirt license and now Pacific Music and Art will be a major license for me, all of these companies are in and around Victoria, BC. Considering how much we love Vancouver Island, it’s amazing how many reasons we now have to go there.

As always, thanks for reading.

Patrick

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Vancouver Island 2018

Why am I writing a blog post on my week away from the office? Because it’s pouring! But considering that the whole week on Vancouver Island was supposed to be like this, I’ve got no complaints. We lucked out on the weather, as the rain held off on all of our wildlife excursion days.

At the moment, we’re in a cabin on the harbour in Ucluelet, one of our favorite places.


While many end up on this side of Vancouver Island to visit Tofino, we’ve long preferred taking the left turn near the end of Highway 4, rather than continuing on to what to us seems like a Pacific version of Banff. No offence intended Tofino, but a busy tourist town is what we’re taking a vacation from. Ucluelet just feels more like a place you could live.


Rather than chew up four days driving to and from Vancouver Island, we’ve always flown into Comox and rented a car. If it costs more, it’s only by a small amount when you factor in the ferries, hotels, and gas. We’re not road trip people. Screw the journey, give me the destination.

On Saturday upon landing, we picked up our rental car (free upgrade to an SUV!), met up with our ex-Banffite friend Robyn for coffee, and stayed with long time family friends for a night. My buddy Darrel is my oldest and closest friend, and his parents always make us feel so welcome. Unfortunately, there are other friends we always like to see when out here on the Island, but with only a week away, after an incredibly busy summer in Canmore, we opted to be selfish and offered our regrets ahead of time.

Shonna decided we should try AirBNB and VRBO this year for our accommodations and it was a great plan. She found us a nice, albeit small, condo in a renovated historic building on the harbour in Victoria, a place called the Janion, right beside the brand new Johnson Street Bridge. An impressive piece of engineering.

Victoria has a beautiful downtown with plenty of restaurants and things to see within easy walking distance. We parked the car on arrival and didn’t use it again until we left.

The main reason for going to Victoria this time was for Orcas. Shonna has long wanted to see them. I’ve wanted to paint one as well, but this was something we’ve missed out on every previous trip to the Island so we were on a mission.

We booked with Eaglewing Tours, their floating office on Fisherman’s Wharf. A number of years ago, the owner licensed the use of my Humpback Whale Totem painting for a mural on the side of their building, and this was the first opportunity I had to see it in person. They’d combined it with another artist’s painting of orcas and whoever stitched it together did a fine job of it.

Given their reputation, we booked with them for our best chance to see Orcas.

Without subjecting you to a play by play, on our five hours in the Salish Sea, we saw over a dozen Humpbacks. At one point, with a dark sky and storm on the horizon, we could see the spray from their exhalations on all sides, an incredible and surreal sight.


On the way back, it was looking like Shonna wasn’t going to luck out on this trip, until the Captain spotted what we were after. In the end, we saw three family pods of Orcas, including two babies. One was almost a newborn, its white markings still orange.

One even swam right up to the boat, turning over to take a look at us. The experience surpassed our expectations and made the three days in Victoria well worth the drive down Island.

While in Victoria, I visited Art Ink Print for the first time, the company that supplies my digital poster prints sold in the zoos and parks. They’ve consistently exceeded my expectations when it comes to quality and service so it was nice to see where it all happens. Typical of Victoria, their shop was only a few blocks from where we were staying and I was able to see the first proof of my latest painting, Happy Baby. Prints will be available soon.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find my Otter Totem shirt in a couple of stores, those licensed and sold through Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill. With conflicting schedules, we didn’t visit them this time, but have in the past.

After Victoria, we headed north and west to Ucluelet for four nights. For the most part, we’re creatures of habit out here. Breakfasts at The Barkley Café and dinners at the Floathouse Grill, often more than once. From the beach in front of our cabin at low tide, I was able to watching a Great Blue Heron fishing and even saw seven River Otters go by one morning.



On Wednesday, I went out on a wildlife tour with Archipelago Wildlife Tours owned by our friends Al and Toddy, on the hunt for reference pics. Shonna’s been out with them twice, so she opted to spend the day being pampered at the Black Rock Spa, but she still got to visit when we took them out to dinner Thursday night.

This was my 7th time touring the Broken Group Islands and this go round, we saw bears, seals, sea lions, sea otters, eagles, and plenty of birds, not to mention some of the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere in the world, all from the comfort of the boat.


Thursday found Shonna and I at the Thornton Creek Hatchery on the road to Port Albion, where they’re working to increase salmon numbers in this area. We’d never been there before, but likely because we’re usually here in June and this is our first visit in September when the salmon are spawning.

One of the bonuses is that black bears frequent the river for the easy salmon meal. There is a boardwalk above the river, where for a limited time, tourists like us can see the bears without there being any danger to either species.

We headed down the dirt road through the thick growth rain forest to the gate, arriving at around 9:30, where there were already three cars ahead of us. By the time they let us in at 10, there were about a dozen vehicles waiting. Happy to pay the suggested donation of $10-$20 for the privilege, we were ushered into the enclosure where we lined up along the boardwalk rail and waited.


After about 25 minutes, the first bear showed up, plucked a salmon out of the river and went back into the woods. Over the next hour, four more bears came to visit, including two cubs. Got some great close reference photos from our vantage point, and it was wonderful to be see the wild bears feeding without any concerns.


Today is an unscheduled lazy day doing nothing in our cabin, watching the rain come down outside. Shonna and I really don’t do enough of that in our day to day. While sitting enjoying a beer in the cabin’s outdoor hot tub this afternoon, we realized we had taken no pictures of ourselves the whole trip. So looking our absolute best, we took a very rare selfie.


We’ll drive back to Comox tomorrow morning for our flight back to Calgary in the evening, back to the grind on Sunday which is when this will be posted.

Rested, inspired, and ready to draw, paint and write.

Cheers,
Patrick

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B.C. Road Trip

This post began in a motel room on Saturday night, just off the Coquihalla Highway in Merritt, British Columbia. That’s somewhere I never expected to be writing on my iPad, let alone in January.

Despite the fact that I’m in my mid-forties and have lived in Alberta for most of my adult life, I have never driven farther west than Kelowna. I’ve been on Vancouver Island a number of times, but we’ve always flown into Comox, rented a car and toured around that way. It’s a short flight from Calgary and I’ve never been a fan of long road trips. I’m a destination type of guy, with little interest in the journey.

The metaphor is not lost on me.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been going through a tough time lately and though I’m getting help, it would appear that it will be some time before I get back to normal, whatever that is. As I told a friend yesterday, it’s been months since I’ve felt like myself. With our home renovations finally finished late last week, I felt a desperate need to get out of the house. I figured my wife could use a couple of days break from my drama, too.

Completely out of character, I decided to take a road trip. Half a road trip, if you want to get technical about it.
My buddy Darrel has been one of my closest friends for more than twenty-five years, and he’d driven out to Vancouver Island from Red Deer to see his parents last week. Shonna and I always stay with his folks for a night on our trips to the Island as they’ve been family friends most of my life.

So, on Friday evening, I flew into Comox, had dinner with Darrel and his folks at their house and early Saturday morning, Darrel and I hit the road for the drive back.

I’ve got friends in the Comox/Courtenay area and family near Nanaimo, and if any of you are reading this, my apologies for not getting in touch. Adding more to my schedule right now is not what I need. I was also tagging along on somebody else’s trip, so not my place to add anything to his itinerary, either.

Darrel is easy company, we get along well and neither of us was in a big hurry to get home. I sent out a couple of extra cartoons last week and told my papers not to expect anything Monday. That, too, is completely out of character. But hey, clearly the usual isn’t working for me lately.
Although routine experiences for many, there were quite a few firsts for me this weekend. First time on a B.C. ferry, first time in Vancouver, first time on the Coquihalla highway, first time in the Fraser Valley.

I know that a lot of people love Vancouver, and I was only there for less than two hours, but I couldn’t wait to leave. I’m not a fan of big cities and that one didn’t appeal to me at all. We detoured and drove through Stanley Park, which was pretty enough, then got shunted out to drive through downtown which was frustrating stop and go traffic for about an hour. Can’t imagine what it’s like on a Monday morning commute.

While I’ve seen stories on the news and pictures in the media, I was unprepared for Downtown East Hastings Street. The homeless and drug situation was heartbreaking, seeing so many broken lives. It was overwhelming and while no doubt a consequence of the depression and anxiety issues I’ve been dealing with, that’s what I’ll remember of Vancouver. That’s not a fair judgement to pass from such a short drive through, but those images will stick with me for quite some time and I was relieved to put the urban sprawl of the Lower Mainland in the rear view mirror.

With mountains on all sides, and a wide flat valley of farmland, however, I think I’d like to visit the Fraser Valley again. Perhaps in the spring or summer, though unlikely this year. It was one of the more pleasant surprises of this trip.
It was dark by the time we got to Merritt, and the following morning we opted for the Okanagan Connector Hwy, rather than continue on the Coquihalla. Plenty of snow at that elevation and before we got to Kelowna, we had an hour or so of icy roads, poor visibility and slow going. January in the mountains, so not like it was unexpected. Weather wise, we did pretty well, all things considered.
I hadn’t been to the Okanagan in over twenty years, but it might as well have been the first time as there was little that seemed familiar. We could have pushed through to Canmore on Sunday, but that would have made for a very long day, especially since Darrel drove the whole way home, despite my offer to share the duty. So, rather than spend the night in Revelstoke or Golden, we took Highway 95 to Invermere. As my buddy Jim said via text, quite the detour from Highway 1.
Turned out to be worth it, however, as we got to have a schnitzel dinner at the Black Forest Restaurant, which was better than the Subway we’d eaten the night before. Darrel and I both spent years in Germany as kids, so a traditional German meal was a nice treat. If you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend it.

Monday morning, we headed up Highway 93 for the final scenic drive home. I’ve camped in the Columbia Valley many times over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever made the drive in winter and it was very pretty.
As is my nature, I have a bad habit of trying to quantify experiences. Was it worth my time? Did I get enough out of it? What was the point? For too long, I’ve been asking those questions about life in general, and the answers have been unsatisfying. Life doesn’t work on a spreadsheet, a lesson I’ve yet to learn.

I’ll have to be content with the fact that I did something completely out of my ordinary, spent a few days with a good friend and experienced a change of scenery. Perhaps the benefits will be cumulative or maybe it will make trying something new a little easier next time.

Who knows?

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Romeo and Juliet

UkeeLocals
In 2011, my wife and I took our first trip to Vancouver Island. We flew into Comox, rented a car and got a massive truck instead. After brief visits with friends, we drove down to Victoria for a few days and finally ended up in Ucluelet near Pacific Rim National Park. While many end up on that side of the island to visit Tofino, I fell in love with Ukee. There’s something very special about the place and having now been back twice with a couple of years between each visit, I plan to return as often as I can, although I probably wouldn’t like living there year round.

On our first trip, we took a tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises. A visit to the area without at least one cruise around Barkley Sound and The Broken Group Islands with Al and Toddy would now leave me feeling like the trip was incomplete.

We’ve become friends with them over the years and seeing them again was a highlight of our latest visit. It’s funny climbing aboard their 53 foot yacht ‘The Raincoast Maiden’ only to be greeted with my own artwork. Not a lot of wall space when you’re living aboard a boat, but they’ve got a few of my pieces framed and even some postcards tucked into nooks and crannies here and there.
Print_03

Print-2

My trip to the area a couple of years ago was solo and I went out on the cruise three times to gather reference photos of wildlife. While pulling into the dock one day, literally seconds before Al cut the engine, I noticed two gulls perched on one of the many posts around the harbour.  Technically, they were Glaucous-winged Gulls, but seagulls will suffice.

OriginalGulls

I painted the pair and called it Ukee Locals. A framed print now hangs aboard the boat.

Print01

In our run up to the latest visit to Ucluelet, I talked to Toddy fairly often over email. On one of the last ones before we left, she told me about a seagull couple that live near their dock. She told me that seagulls mate for life and that the two are very ‘lovey-dovey.’ Always touching beaks, cooing and sitting close to each other. They named them Romeo and Juliet.

We stopped at the dock on our first day in Ucluelet to say Hello to Al and Toddy as their boat pulled in from that day’s tour. We waited until their guests departed and went aboard for a very quick visit as we know they’re always busy right after a trip. After making quick dinner plans, we left the boat. Before we were back at our rental car, however, Toddy called out to me.

I turned back to see her pointing to Romeo and Juliet nestled together in a fish station on the dock. Toddy told me in her email that she wasn’t sure if it’s the same mated pair that I painted.

I choose to believe that it is.

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Aboard The Raincoast Maiden

Ukee02_05A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed on Vancouver Island for the first time. As neither of us is big on really long road trips, primarily because we’d like to stay married, we opted to fly into Comox and then rented a car. We visited a few friends and family, drove down along the inland coast to Victoria for a few days, and then ended up in Ucluelet and Tofino for a couple of nights. We wanted to take a whale watching tour and visit arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.

I think we booked with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises because of the incredible reviews we’d seen on Trip Advisor, but also because it was an owner/operator small business rather than a factory tour. A few years prior in Mexico, we’d taken a tour with Edventures (go ahead, look ‘em up) and were so pleased with the personal service that we decided to always go with a smaller tour when available, even if it cost more.   They just try harder.

Ukee02_04It was on that first trip to Ucluelet that we met Al and Toddy Landry, who live and work aboard their 53 ft. yacht, the Raincoast Maiden. Visit their site to read their bios and then browse around. It explains their tour and operation far better than I can.

That tour was easily the highlight of the whole vacation and we kept in touch with our hosts. Toddy had graciously given me access to her photos for reference, one of which I used for my Otter Totem, and I sent them a print of my Humpback Whale Totem, which they told me was hanging aboard their yacht. Considering there’s not a lot of room for artwork when you live on a boat, I took that as quite the compliment.

Ukee02_02Fast forward to my recent trip to Ucluelet, (my artist’s retreat, working vacation, whatever you want to call it), I had already planned to book a tour with them again. I had recently completed a landscape painting of White Face Rock, based on a reference photo I’d taken on my previous trip with Al and Toddy, and they had said they really liked the painting. The rock is a feature they see every day as they return from their tour. As I couldn’t surprise them with a print if they had nowhere to hang it, I offered to bring one to them if they liked, but understood if they didn’t have room. Toddy gave me the measurements of the available space and I brought the print with me.

Even though I’d only spent time with them that once, about five or six hours, it felt like I was going to visit old friends. That’s how welcome they make you feel when they take you around Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands. On this return trip three years later, Toddy greeted me with a hug. I gave her the framed print, and it was hung aboard the boat the day after.

Painting

Ukee02_06I’ve never lived by the ocean and haven’t spent much time on the water, but I loved it, cruising around the islands, taking photos of wildlife, and smelling the salt air. With no agenda for my five days out in Ucluelet, it was soon evident that one day on the water wasn’t going to be enough. I ended up going on the cruise three days in a row and I’m so glad I did. Having lived in a tourist area the past 20 years, I intentionally booked my trip in the shoulder season of that area so it would be less busy. Had I not, they might not have had the room for me on such short notice.

With coffee and tea on all day in the galley, freedom to move around as you like, binoculars for every guest aboard, it was an incredibly relaxed environment. Both Al and Toddy would alert us over the speakers to points of interest, recount stories and history about the area, and set us up for an abundance of wildlife sightings.

At lunch one beautiful sunny day, anchored in a quiet sheltered bay off one of the islands, I found myself reclining at the rear of the boat on the lower deck. Looking out at the water with a cold beer in my hand, I thought, “Perfect. Just perfect.”

Ukee02_03With whale sightings seeming to be hit and miss in the area this year, at least in June, I didn’t get to see any this trip, but we saw four on my first tour three years ago, so I wasn’t too disappointed. It’s just one of those years. The whales follow the food and according to the local fishermen, they were seeing them further out at sea while I was there. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock, so it’s a gamble no matter where you go and it was the same story for all of the tour companies in the area.

But with Al and Toddy working hard to find as many wildlife opportunities as possible, we saw plenty of sea lions and seals, countless bald eagles, many different bird species, sea otters splashing and playing, a black bear foraging on a beach and some of the most spectacular coastal scenery you’ll see anywhere in the world.

Ukee02_07If you’re ever on Vancouver Island, make the time to head out to the Ucluelet and Tofino area, and if you know you’re going to be there, book a tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises. You won’t be disappointed.

I came home with a treasure trove of reference photos from which to paint, both for wildlife and landscapes. I can’t wait to go back for more.

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An Island Retreat

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Last year, I had the idea to go away on a little bit of a working vacation, an artist’s retreat, for lack of a better term. Intending to start small, I was just going to drive down the road to Kananaskis in the fall, stay at the Lodge for a few days, and just sketch, draw, paint, and write.

True to my nature, I found a reason to cancel a couple of weeks beforehand with the excuse that I was too busy. Then I beat myself up about it, angry at my habit of talking a good game when it comes to stuff like this, and then playing it safe and chaining myself to my routine. It’s an odd quirk, considering that I had no problem quitting my safe full-time job eight years ago to freelance for a living.

Thankfully, my wife and I took an impromptu vacation to Vegas around the same time, did a whole bunch of fun stuff (biplane tour over the Hoover Dam, skydiving, gun range, saw some shows) and my failure to take the retreat was temporarily forgotten.

As winter wore on, overwhelmed with work, plus planning for the Calgary Expo, the thought of getting away started to creep in again. When I brought it up to my ever-supportive wife that I was thinking of going back to Ucluelet, somewhere we’d vacationed three years ago, she gave her blessing and I started planning.

I’d fly into Comox on May 31st, rent a car, drive across Vancouver Island, rent a cabin and for four or five days, I’d just sketch, draw, paint, and write. Shonna told me to save myself some money and use the Air Miles for the flight and car. I didn’t figure out why until later.

As the trip grew closer, and I realized how much work I had to do to, I started to once again consider that perhaps I was too busy to take this time off. But if you cancel a trip made with Air Miles, you lose them. That’s pretty much what kept me from finding a reason not to go. She’s sneaky, that wife of mine.

As a chronic over-planner, I tried my best to remain open to the adventure while still keeping my eye on the ball.  I fought my urge to please everybody and declined a number of offers of visits with people I know on the Island. But I did make time for one night in the Courtenay/Comox area. Had a BBQ with good friends who use to live here in the Bow Valley, spent the night with long-time family friends (their son is one of my oldest and closest friends), and planned to see my uncle and his wife on the way back to the airport on the last day. That was all I had time for unless I removed the whole reason for taking the trip. Selfishly, and without apology, this was all about me.

The mountain road out to Ucluelet and Tofino is winding, narrow, and a little hairy in places. I’m not a road trip kind of guy, I don’t like driving much in general, but that drive was a lot of fun thanks to the zippy little (and bright green) Mazda 2 the rental company gave me. Heading out early, I avoided any traffic and arrived in Ucluelet on Sunday morning before noon, to an ideal little cabin right on the harbour. It was bright green to match the car.

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The plan was to sketch, draw, paint, write and be creative. Shonna and I took a wildlife tour three years ago with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises and it was a highlight of our trip to the Island. I wanted to spend another day on the water with them again. I was going to walk along Long Beach again, spend at least one day in Tofino, and hike some trails in between there and Ucluelet. I wanted to be productive, make the most of my time and get stuff done. In no time at all, the best laid plans of this obsessive over-planner were tossed out the window.

I didn’t sketch at all. Not once. I didn’t paint. I only wrote one blog post. I wasn’t creative in the slightest.

Hiked every day on the Wild Pacific and other trails, including a very creepy, but exhilarating walk through the rainforest to Half Moon Bay at twilight, where I didn’t see another soul for more than two hours.  I spent three days on the water with people I now consider friends, and that’s an upcoming post all on its own. I was still up before 6:00AM every day, out with the camera and a coffee in my travel mug. I wandered the harbour and docks, smelling the salt air, and ignored the news of the world. I took a ton of photos. It was perfect.

Talking to Shonna one night, I confided that I really didn’t feel like going to Tofino. I didn’t even feel like going to Long Beach, as there was plenty for me right around Ukee. But, I felt like I was supposed to go to these places because I was already in the area. She told me to do whatever I wanted, that it was my trip. If I wanted to stay in bed all day in the cabin, read a book and take naps, then that’s what I should do. And she was right.

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There was this familiar urge to get things accomplished, but the only work I did was that I managed to get my prints into two new galleries, in both Ucluelet and Tofino, which will again be a whole other post, and I still didn’t have to go to Tofino. I felt this obligation to come back from the trip with a sketchbook full of work, thousands of words written, and a line by line accounting that quantified and justified the expense, as if I had a boss I needed to impress when I got home.

Last I checked, I became a freelancer so I didn’t have to deal with a boss like that.

Another artist might think it a sacrilege that I went all that way and didn’t do any of the creative stuff I was “supposed to do” while I was there. But according to what so many have told me I should be doing over the years, everything I’ve done to build my successful career as a freelancer has been wrong, anyway. Most of the advice I’ve gotten from other artists has been based on their own experience, and people like to justify their way of doing things by telling others they should do the same thing. If I were to add my own experience based truth about this profession, I would say, “Consider all of the advice, but ignore most of it. Trust your own instincts and chart your own course. It’s the only way you’re ever going to be happy.”

This trip exceeded my expectations. I came home inspired and invigorated. I will do it again, might even go back to the same place because I loved being there and I loved coming home, too. The photos I took have given me plenty of reference to paint from and that allows me to relive the experience. Given the chance to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Painting Elephant Rock

ElephantRockThis is my first landscape painting, a formation near Ucluelet, B.C. called Elephant Rock.

A few years ago, my wife Shonna, and I took a vacation to Vancouver Island, the first time there for either of us.  While many find the long drive to be part of the experience, we’re destination types, so we flew into Comox, picked up our rental vehicle (reserved a car, got a massive truck, which was quite a lot of fun), and spent the week touring around.  We visited some friends and family, spent a few days in Victoria, then drove out to the west coast of the island where we rented a cabin in Ucluelet for a few days.  It ended up being one of our best vacations to date.

The drive out to that part of the island is beautiful.  Coastal rainforest, a roller coaster highway that’s not for the faint of heart, with a lot to see along the way.  At the end of the road you’ll find Long Beach, hiking trails, spectacular ocean vistas and two little towns.  On one end is Tofino and on the other Ucluelet, where we’d booked our cabin.  Friends of ours used to live there and loved it and after visiting both towns, we’re glad we stayed in Ukee.  We’ve lived in a tourist area for two decades and to us, that’s what Tofino felt like, a tourist town.  A couple of hours there and we were happy to head back to Ucluelet, more of a working fishing village, but still a tourist draw as well.  It’s only a 30 min drive between towns, but  we stopped along the way for a hike through the rainforest on an elevated boardwalk, complete with staircases and bridges that emptied us out onto a beach at low tide, where we could wander among the rocks looking at sea life in the tide pools.

BoardwalkOne of the highlights of this island trip was a whale watching cruise through the Broken Islands group, something we’d booked in advance with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises.  Al and Toddy live aboard their boat and take tourists out to see the abundant wildlife and incredible landscape and it truly was one of the best days we’ve had on any vacation.  We saw Grey Whales, Humpbacks, Sea lions, Bald Eagles and more, and I was happily snapping photos left and right.  Now, none of them ended up being good reference for my Totem paintings, but this wasn’t work, it was a vacation.

Archipelago

GreyWhaleOn the way back, Al drew our attention to Elephant Rock.  I recently sent him an email asking for a refresher on the history of the rock and he sent back this explanation.  “The rock marks a boundary between the Ittatsoo tribes and the Toquart tribes.  The boundary goes beyond the time of tribal memory.   Essentially boundaries marked shore rights.  If a whale washed up it belonged to the tribe with the rights to that shore line.  Within living memory this was a peaceable boundary until the government drew official lines between the various tribes in the area, probably all over the province.  They didn’t use that rock, the official line is somewhere between Elephant Rock and the existing village in Ucluelet Harbour.  The tribes on either side have never come to agreement over this official boundary.”

Once again, government intelligence rears it’s ugly head.  But that’s the other part of my business and I’ll leave that alone right now.

I remember taking the photo and thinking, “I’d like to paint that,” even though I consistently tell people that I don’t paint landscapes.  For three years it has laid dormant in my archives until I recently got the urge to give landscape painting a try.  While I’m fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, spend a lot of time outdoors and taking photos of the Rocky Mountain landscape in my backyard, it’s funny that my first landscape isn’t from around here.  People come from all over the world to visit our neighbourhood and see the sights we get to experience every day.  But, you get used to it and as wonderful as it might be, you like to experience something different once in a while, which is why I enjoyed the area around Ucluelet so much.  I’m sure if I lived on the island for twenty years, the mountains I see every day here would have a similar draw for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed this landscape painting, although it did have me frustrated at times.  It took a LOT longer than I thought it would and presented me with challenges I haven’t experienced before.  The detail I put into my animal paintings just wasn’t possible here because of the distance in the image, not without making it so massive that even my powerful computer wouldn’t have been able to handle it.  It’s still one of the largest paintings I’ve done, the full resolution file measures 40″ X 40″ at 300ppi.  I painted it on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24Hd displays using Adobe Photoshop CC (photos only used for reference).  The square composition was unusual for me as well.  But it was a personal piece, an experiment, and well worth my time and energy.  I’m quite  pleased with the finished result and there will be more landscapes in my future.

CloseOne epiphany I had while painting this was that I wasn’t just painting a place, but capturing a moment in time.  I was trying to get each branch right, the height of each tree to match its neighbour, the small ripples in the waves, and the light just right.  But, the reference photo was taken three years ago.  I realized that this island wouldn’t look like this, now.  The rocks would, sure, but trees grow, they die and landscape is ever changing.  I rather liked that idea, that this was a moment that is gone, but I could still go there in the painting.  And it really felt like being back there.  As I painted, I saw things that had previously gone unnoticed.  Painting in a shadowy spot in the brush, I realized “hey, there’s a tree trunk in there.” or working on part of the rock formation and having a mental shift that made it feel more like sculpting than painting.

As odd as it might sound, this painting was a bit of a spiritual experience, one that I’m grateful to have had.  I’m going back to Ucluelet on my own later this Spring, an artistic retreat just to sketch, paint, write and take photos.  I’ve booked a little cabin right on the harbour.  I’ll be going on another cruise with Al and Toddy and I’m looking forward to seeing Elephant Rock once again in person.  Having spent so much time with it in this painting, I believe I’ll see it with new eyes.

HarbourSealsClick on any of these images to see them larger.