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Eagles and Reality TV

Late last month, a subscriber sent me a link to a live cam of a bald eagle nest on Big Bear Lake, California. She has a cabin on this lake.

These cams exist all over the place; there’s one of an osprey nest just down the road from me. I took to this one because of the story of the breeding pair, Jackie and Shadow, and the beautiful scenery in which they live. The image quality and camera placement is fantastic; it switches to infrared at night, providing a clear image without disturbing the eagles. Their nest is 145 feet high in a Jeffrey Pine Tree.
I’ve been checking in on them every day, sometimes more than once, as it lets me scan backward several hours to see if I missed anything good. I only end up watching a few minutes each time, and I’ll admit to preferring the scenes where both eagles are in the nest, which is usually only a minute or two.
Jackie laid her eggs in January, and ‘pip watch’ begins next week. Jackie and Shadow haven’t had a successful clutch the last couple of seasons, so hopefully, they will this year. But, unfortunately, nature can be pretty brutal, and life isn’t as rosy and fairy tale as we’d like to imagine. There’s no guarantee that these eggs will produce healthy offspring that survive to leave the nest, between predators, the elements, and all that can go wrong. That makes those that do even more of a wonder.

The information shared on this camera space by Friends of Big Bear Valley is extensive, as is the commentary in the sidebar chat. While I’ve not participated in that conversation, I’ve learned a lot from reading through it.

I’ve enjoyed watching the two eagles switch off incubating the eggs so the other can go eat, fending off marauding ravens, and interacting with each other. The chatter between them when one flies in is amusing and fascinating. That tree also gets rocking when the Santa Ana winds blow over the lake. A snowstorm blew in fast and heavy last week, and while the eagles certainly didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves, they handled it well.

I didn’t see them complaining about it on their phones, at least.

 


© Patrick LaMontagne

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Whimsical Wildlife NFTs

I’ve recently signed with two different NFT marketplaces, minting a selection of my whimsical wildlife paintings. They’re both launching in locked BETA in the next week or two, which kind of makes them members-only clubs, for the time being, so with nothing to link to, you’ll have to take my word for it.

I won’t get super-technical, but this does require a little unpacking. The average person has a problem understanding NFTs, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain because some of the people explaining it speak a language the rest of us don’t.

I’ve been drawing and painting digitally in Photoshop since the late 90s. With other digital artists, I can talk about Adjustment Layers, Blend Modes, Histograms, Paths, and Color Spaces, all standard terms in Photoshop, but geek-speak to anyone unfamiliar with the software.

The language of the Cryptosphere is no different. But just as you don’t need to know how the internet works to use it, the average person doesn’t need to know everything about NFTs to understand them.

NFTs are digital originals; they can be images, music, gifs, videos, documents and more. These assets are traded on a blockchain, a digital ledger of events and transactions using tokens and coins. The T in NFT stands for token.

Somebody more blockchain savvy than I might add “well yeah, sort of, but…” before elaborating on my explanation to make it more specific and accurate, but you get the idea.

My understanding is that when I mint one of my digital paintings, the code within the NFT certifies it ‘an original’ in the Cryptosphere. The verification process renders it unchangeable due to a gauntlet of checks and balances with computers from all over the world, all of which must agree that this is the original.

But, I can save 1000 copies of the same digital painting, all identical and indistinguishable from the original piece, so why is one more valued than the rest?

Because it’s the original, or in some cases, one of a finite collection.

It’s the same concept as a numbered limited edition giclée. It could be an exact copy of an open edition print, but some collectors, especially in the last century, are willing to pay more for that number. For example, one first edition copy of Moby Dick recently sold for almost $50,000, even though I can read the same story in the paperback I bought from Amazon for $7.50.

As someone who doesn’t collect anything, I don’t covet first or limited editions, rare pieces of art, or an original Aliens script signed by James Cameron, even though I’m a big fan of that movie. But I shouldn’t need to explain that plenty of people love these things.

So, dismissing or judging NFT collectors simply because they’re interested in something new that many don’t understand is foolish. As much as I respect the genius of da Vinci, I just don’t get the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa or why it’s worth over 100 million dollars.

I do, however, think it’s a crime that Leonardo never saw a dime of that money.

Scarcity and rarity have value. They always have. To some people, but not all people.

However, if these rare things matter to you and your community, whether it’s sports, music, literature, comic books, archeology, art, or anything else, what others think shouldn’t matter.

The guy who paints his whole body in team colours, puts on the jersey and cheers himself hoarse for three hours at a game, surrounded by thousands of people like him, doesn’t waste his time worrying about the millions who couldn’t care less about the sport that gives him so much happiness.

After last year’s frenzied reporting around a few artists who scored big on NFT sales, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of NFTs, as I understood them. I saw the potential for artists but wasn’t rushing to create NFTs of my work at that time. One reason was the environmental impact.

NFTs have a well-earned reputation for consuming a lot of energy because of something called Proof of Work. Proof of Work requires a shit-ton (not a crypto term) of computers worldwide to talk to each other to verify that the code is legitimate.

Those computers run on electricity, so the process has a significant environmental footprint. Even though most of that traffic comes from verifying cryptocurrencies rather than NFTs, artists have been reluctant to sign up to be part of the problem.

In that first post, I wrote, “They’ll solve the blockchain energy problem, and it will become more affordable and less environmentally destructive.”

That’s happening right now.

Everything that must be verified by all those computers, that Proof of Work, is shifting to something called Proof of Stake. Other processes are called Proof of Residence, Proof of Randomness, and likely more I haven’t yet heard of. This should provide even more secure transactions and render the process more sophisticated and familiar. When cryptocurrencies adopt these other Proofing methods, the environmental impact of minting coins and NFTs will go from ecologically disastrous to environmentally friendly almost overnight.

Cryptocurrency investors are in it to make money. It’s the same reason traditionalists invest their pension funds and retirement savings in the stock market, which, as we have too recently seen, can be just as risky when bad actors rig the game.

Just ask somebody who lost their home or life savings in 2008. The current system only masquerades as secure, but we accept it out of familiarity.

We take comfort that our financial system is regulated, but it’s built on faith and belief. Cash is only paper or plastic, and our investments are just numbers in somebody else’s database. The stock market routinely veers wildly all over the road.

While cryptocurrencies are unlikely to replace the current banking system, they likely aren’t going away. Your traditional bank is investing in them, and the signs point to the integration of the two.

Regardless of where they keep them, everybody wants their investments to grow.

The people running cryptocurrencies realize that an environmentally friendly reputation is more attractive to investors, so it’s in their best interest to develop more energy-efficient methods and operation models. Revised Proofing is just the first step. The environmental impact of minting cryptocurrencies and NFTs will soon be a thing of the past.

Another reason I’m getting involved is the emergence of more sophisticated NFT art marketplaces created and operated by business professionals. Some are treating these marketplaces like professional galleries, curating their collections. Artists are vetted, approved, and recruited for inclusion based on their work quality, reputations, and experience.

There was already a large NFT marketplace called OpenSea. The problem with OpenSea is that anybody can mint anything and call it an NFT, put it on the platform, and it becomes one big tasteless soup. A professional artist with years of experience, an established niche and audience can create an NFT of a piece of her art and upload it to OpenSea. Two seconds later, her work is on Page 45 of today’s offerings because somebody uploaded a collection of 1000 poop emojis wearing different hats.

It would be like walking into a gallery looking for beautiful art but having to dig through millions of finger paintings, crayon scribbles and post-it note doodles to find it.

So, when my buddy Derek Turcotte told me a new type of NFT marketplace contacted him, and he gave me some of the details, I was intrigued. I researched the project and the people involved and saw the potential. Shortly after that, Derek suggested another marketplace I found even more appealing.

One was big on hype and promotion but backed by experienced operators in the crypto world. They didn’t have it all spelled out like I was used to, but I didn’t see it as nefarious, just a different culture that operates a lot more casually. I considered the risks vs. rewards and still felt it was a good bet. And yes, the word bet is appropriate because all of this is new and speculative.

However, the second platform was more like dealing with a real-world licensing opportunity. After an actual phone call from the company in the U.S., where I was free to ask plenty of questions, I agreed to give it a shot. I received a professional legal agreement, names, emails, and phone numbers of people assigned to help me navigate the process. I uploaded my initial images to a professional site, and now I’m waiting for the launch.

What the first platform could learn from the second is that if you want professional artists to mint NFTs and participate in this world, you must learn to talk to them in the language they speak. Artists who do this for a living are used to dealing with companies, galleries, and markets, and you won’t earn their trust if you speak to them like gaming crypto-bros.

Just as amateur artists must learn business language to become professionals, companies must learn how to speak to artists if they want them to climb aboard.

From talking to these NFT marketplaces in recent weeks, there are two stark differences between the crypto world and the traditional business art world.

In the real world, for lack of a better term, galleries, licenses, and retailers will try to get artists to sign exclusivity contracts, especially in smaller regions. So if your work is sold in a gallery, you can’t sell it in another one nearby, sometimes even in the same town or city.

When I asked the NFT markets about this, each waved it off. The only exclusivity required is that you can’t sell the same NFT on more than one marketplace. That’s more about logistics and reputation than anything else. An NFT is essentially a certified original. If two people bought the same original simultaneously from two different marketplaces, it would erode any confidence in the parties involved.

The second thing is that the NFT market seems to value quality artwork more than the real world, as far as pricing goes. These collectors understand the value, scarcity, and provenance of a piece of NFT art and that it has more value than a print.

In the real world, I paint custom commissions for clients, as original a piece as you’re ever going to find. And yet, I get push-back on the price all the time from people who want my best work, but at garage sale prices. Some of my first NFTs are priced higher than my custom commission rate, because they will be originals in that space.

Finally, the crypto community has been the most impressive surprise in this whole experience. True, you can find sinister characters everywhere, but my interaction with these people so far has been positive.

After receiving an out-of-the-blue invite to learn more about this world, I spent an hour in an online phone call with five other people from different parts of the U.S. I admitted my ignorance about much of this. While one guy laughed and said, “wow, you’re just a baby,” he followed it up with, “hey, we’ve all been there.”

Although they were all experienced crypto investors, he cautioned that cryptocurrency and NFTs could very well be a recurrence of the dot-com bubble of internet start-ups in the late nineties. Many of these cryptocurrencies and speculative ventures have already failed, and more of them will, just like plenty of businesses in the real world.

Great reward doesn’t exist without risk. But, if you’re aware of that risk and do your best to mitigate it, you can approach it with open eyes, hoping for the best but ready for a possible rug-pull.

An important caveat here; the only reason the first guy reached out was my friend, Derek. It is very much who you know and who vouches for you that gets you invited into these discussions. If you’re associated with good people online or in the real world, that goes a long way to establishing trust. And if somebody asks, “who’s this guy?” then the answer will most likely be, “this is Patrick; he’s a friend of so-and-so.”

I asked one of these guys why somebody hasn’t created a course for artists to help them navigate this new frontier. He said there are some introductory courses, but everything changes so fast. The only way to keep up is to do the reading, join discussions, and get involved.

Community is essential in this world, which means I will have to be more social in some of these forums, something I have avoided in recent years. Thankfully, there are rules established in these communication spaces. They all have moderators, and a common theme seems to be, “don’t be a dick.”

If only other more popular platforms could adopt the same policy.

I’m excited to wade into these waters. True, I have risked some of my artwork, but none of my best sellers yet. These platforms need to earn that trust. Professional artists take risks with their work the first time they sell a high-quality print or canvas in a gallery. All it takes is somebody with the right equipment to scan the work and sell it to somebody else as their own. It happens every minute of every day all over the world.

Last month, I sent a cease-and-desist to a company in Australia. They were selling my Smiling Tiger image on a product. They took it down, but who knows if they just put it up on another site or how many other places are illegally selling my work? It’s a sad joke that artists know their work is good once people start stealing it. Unfortunately, theft is part of the trade, and good luck suing a company on the other side of the world.

Lately, there have been cases of automated bots scraping images from Twitter and art sharing communities like DeviantArt, stealing an artist’s work and minting NFTs from it. While most of these marketplaces will take down the counterfeits, finding the offence and reporting it takes a lot of time that most people don’t have. And if you do manage to get it taken down, ten more pop up in the meantime.

These curated marketplaces are working on that problem, too, with patents pending for better security software. Banks and credit card companies had to do it, and every corporation on the planet must constantly invest in security. The marketplaces that make it a priority will soon get that reputation. Word will spread, and consumers will learn that the NFTs you buy from Market A are often counterfeit, but those from Market B are vetted, verified, and support the rights of individual artists.

Which market would you trust, especially if you want to invest in value and growth?

It’s still the wild west, but the sheriffs and posses are multiplying, making it harder for the outlaws to roam the territory unimpeded.

There will undoubtedly be challenges, growing pains, and issues with this new venture. After record-breaking gains in 2021, cryptocurrencies across the board have experienced massive losses in these first weeks of 2022. While it will likely correct and recover, when (if?) that will happen is just best guess. Nobody really knows. As a financial investment, the crypto world is not for the faint of heart.

As a creative investing my art in the crypto world, it’s about the same as every other potential opportunity in art-for-a-living. You throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. This is no different.

I still have a lot to learn, but I’m more optimistic about the potential than early last year. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject as these marketplaces launch and speculation becomes experience.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Wilder Stickers


With the growing interest in my large vinyl stickers, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve released seven more designs into the wild.

Based on feedback at the recent gift shows and online, people wanted the option of buying them individually, so the four-pack of brown bear stickers has been discontinued. Instead, all designs are now offered individually in the shop. Adaptation is a cornerstone of self-employment.

When I first moved to Canmore in 2001, I worked for a sign shop for a few years. Every place I’ve worked taught me skills I’ve applied to my own business. From that job, I learned design techniques, colour theory and how to create vector art. I still use vector paths and Bezier curves for clean ink lines in my editorial cartoons, a skill I learned at Canmore Sign Co.

With many different jobs done for multiple repeat clients, their computer filing system was simple, efficient, and well-organized, especially when searching for reprints or creating variations of older designs. As a result, I adopted the same system for my own files and still use it 20 years later.  

While it’s not something I often need in my current work, I also learned about vinyl printing, cutting and application.

So, when designing and producing these stickers, I was unwilling to compromise on quality.
These are larger die-cut stickers than you will generally find, each around 4” X 5”. I didn’t want to shrink them down and lose the personality for which my whimsical critters are known. I also wanted people to have the option of putting them on vehicle windows, so they’re made from long-lasting, weather-resistant, high-quality vinyl. Finally, I chose a matte finish over glossy for better visibility in changing light.

Stonewaters here in downtown Canmore is a great store with a unique quality inventory of furniture, décor and artwork. They placed their first order for the four bear stickers at the end of September, and they did so well that they placed a second order not long after. After dropping off samples this week, they placed a third order that has already been delivered, so all the current designs are available there as well.

But if you’re not visiting Canmore anytime soon, you can get all these designs in my online store. They’re $8 each, with free shipping in Canada, regardless of how many you order. Unfortunately, shipping to the US is $9, and nothing I can do about that, so maybe add them to an order for prints or my 2022 calendar, while supplies last.

Too subtle? 😉

Cheers,
Patrick

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Bias and Bighorns

Driving back to Canmore from visiting a friend in Exshaw, I came around the bend to a massive herd of bighorn sheep. There were 40-50 of them on both sides of the secondary highway and a handful crossing from one side to the other. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to slow down and navigate the obstacle course of rams, ewes, lambs, and the four or five tourist vehicles stopped to take pictures.

Watching for wildlife on highways around here is routine. Rarely have I made that ten-minute drive without seeing one or two sheep.

When I got home, I sent my buddy a text about the largest herd I had ever come across, and he was unimpressed. Like many Exshaw residents who work in Canmore, he’s made that commute for years, so bighorn sheep along the highway are more annoying than enjoyable, especially when winter renders that road more treacherous.

Along with that stretch of highway, you can often find these critters around the junction of Kananaskis and Smith Dorrien Trails on Highway 40 and on the Lake Minnewanka loop outside of Banff. But they can pop up anywhere.

It can present problems with traffic jams and often-shocking displays of poor judgment, but tourists love to see wildlife, and it’s a big part of the allure of the Canadian Rockies.

While I have lived in one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet for almost thirty years, wildlife is a big draw in many parts of the world. Each has its hierarchy of popular species.

Everybody wants to see a lion or elephant on an African safari, but few have shelled out the big bucks just for a wildebeest or zebra.

Shonna and I are frequent visitors to Vancouver Island, and the big-ticket item there is whales, preferably humpbacks and orcas. Our friends own a wildlife tour company in Ucluelet, and while they usually see plenty of animals on their cruises, they’ve had to be specific that they can’t promise whale sightings. Any company that does, it comes with a caveat; the guarantee usually means you can come on the tour again for free.

Guides know where they’re most likely to find the animals, but luck and timing play a big part. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock.

Eagles, otters and black bears are a welcome sight out there — sea lions, seals and seagulls, not so much. Large fat sea lions congregate on docks causing costly damage for fishing boat operators and municipalities, requiring inventive countermeasures to keep them away. Sea lions are lazy, noisy and they smell nasty.

However, as a tourist, I’ll happily snap photos each time I see them, and I’ve painted more than one. Not surprising that they weren’t popular prints.

Back here in the mountains, the big sighting for tourists is bears, preferably a grizzly. And if she’s got cubs, well, that might as well be a lottery win. Conservation Officers and Park Wardens spend a great deal of time shooing tourists away from these situations. Summer ‘bear jams’ are common around here, sometimes leading to confrontation.

When a tourist and a stressed bear have a bad encounter, they don’t shoot the tourist.

Wolves and moose are high on the list, followed by pikas, marmots, pine martens, and other elusive smaller critters. But somewhere in there, you’ll find elk, bighorn sheep and deer, animals that aren’t difficult to find. While still exciting for tourists, locals are used to them, and they’re often the reason for traffic delays, or worse, injuries and fatalities from collisions on highways.

For many locals, these animals are a prime example of familiarity breeding contempt. I would imagine the feeling is mutual.
I’ll still take pictures of elk, bighorn sheep and deer, but it’s not nearly as much a thrill as it used to be. I didn’t stop when I came across that herd the other day, despite a safe pullout parking lot close by, but I have before. The reference for this painting was a photo I took at Lake Minnewanka a few years ago when I had explicitly gone searching for bighorn sheep.

While browsing my reference archive the other day, looking for something to paint, I opened that folder with low expectations. An image caught my eye, though, and I thought, “why not?”

Sure, he’s grinning, but the expression isn’t genial like many of my other whimsical wildlife pieces, and that’s by design. He’s untrustworthy and up to something. I wouldn’t turn my back on him. When I asked Shonna for a critique, she complimented the artwork but was less enthusiastic than usual about the subject. When pressed, she simply said, “I don’t like bighorn sheep.”

Clearly, she’s not alone.

But he was fun to paint.

© Patrick LaMontagne

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Another Berk in Progress

Here’s a sneak peek at a new painting of Berkley that I started this morning. I took the reference for this one in September 2019 at Discovery Wildlife Park but didn’t see the potential in it until just recently.

She was lying in the grass, looking right at me, so it’s actually a horizontal image, but I’m painting it vertically so that I can get the expression right. When it’s finished, people can hang the print whichever way they want, so that’s a fun little twist.

As the painting develops, I’ll paint in blades of grass in the foreground on the right side. It will partially obscure that side of her face but give the whole image a sense of place.

Yesterday, my friend and head keeper Serena sent me a personal video and a couple of photos to let me know that Berkley has woken up from hibernation. While it’s already warming up around here, seeing that sleepy 4-year-old brown bear’s face certainly makes it feel like spring might finally be around the corner.

Having raised her from a weeks-old cub, Serena and Berkley have a special bond, and I don’t know who was happier to see the other.

I’ll share more work-in-progress shots with my newsletter followers as this painting progresses, but I don’t think this one will take long. There’s no other face I like painting more than Berkley’s.

Almost all of the animals at Discovery Wildlife Park are orphans and rescues; many are brought to them from Alberta Fish and Wildlife. These are animals they can’t release back into the wild and would otherwise have to destroy.

While animals in captivity are never ideal, people have made many bad choices, and there are very few places in the world where animals are truly wild outside of protected regions.

I live in an area where trains, highways and tourists are the biggest threat to bears, wolves and other wildlife. By leaving food in easy reach, approaching wildlife, and even deliberately feeding them, we teach them to associate people with a free meal. When they eventually become too comfortable or even aggressive, they often must be euthanized.

Hazing and relocation to other areas will occasionally work, but most often, the damage has already been done and is irreversible.

Discovery Wildlife Park works to educate guests and visitors about coexistence and conservation, which is why I support their efforts.

But without financial support, they wouldn’t be able to do the work they do.

Discovery Wildlife Park is closed for the season right now, but they’ll be open May 1st. With 90 acres of space in which to move around, it’s a great place to get outside and spend time with the animals while still being able to social distance. While you’re there, make time for their daily scheduled presentations to learn how you can help keep wildlife wild.

Memberships are currently on sale for almost 50% off, granting unlimited admission all season.
© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Continuing Education

Since I didn’t start seriously drawing until my mid-twenties and never went to art school, I have often felt that I have spent most of my career playing catch-up.

I’m a workaholic perfectionist, which can be good or bad, depending on your metric. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t work, even for a couple of hours. This is not a complaint, nor should it be interpreted as humble-bragging.

It’s just my wiring.

On self-employment, Seth Godin once wrote, “You would never work for somebody who treats you the way you treat yourself.”

See? It’s not just me.

I heard recently on an art podcast that most people who go to art school don’t end up as artists for a living. The talent and art skills aren’t enough; you have to be driven.

The fact that I started late in the game means I’ve always been hungry, which has contributed to my longevity in this profession that’s synonymous with failure. An unhealthy dose of fear plays a big part as well. Grabbing the brass ring is easy but keeping a white-knuckle grip on it for decades, therein lies the struggle.

When people find out that I didn’t go to art school, they’ll often ask, “oh, so you’re self-taught?”

Self-Taught sounds like I just conjured it out of thin air, a claim that would be incredibly arrogant and false. I prefer the term self-directed.

I’ve learned from plenty of teachers, most of whom don’t even know it. While the internet has its fair share of toxicity and bile, it’s also a treasure trove of knowledge we often take for granted. While at Red Deer College, I remember having to drive down to the University of Calgary library to research a Psychology paper because the information wasn’t available in the college or city library where I lived.

Today that sounds positively archaic.

In books, webinars, podcasts, conference classes and online courses, there’s always a new bit of wisdom or technique waiting to be absorbed.

If you can’t find it, you aren’t looking.

Whether it’s how to make an image better or insight into the business of art, there is no excuse for failing to acquire or improve any skill you might have or desire.

That’s why the thought of retirement seems so foreign to me. I may slow my pace and become more selective of the work I do, but I’ll create art for as long as I’m able; however that looks.

I recently bought an online course on Character Design from Aaron Blaise, a fantastic artist with impressive credentials. Although I learned long ago to never say never, I don’t currently want to be a character designer.

But I’ve always felt that the principles of character design and animation, putting more action, life and dynamics into my cartoons and paintings, that’s where my skills are weakest. I’ve taken a couple of other courses on this theme over the years, but they never seemed to take.

This one, however, is fantastic. Even Shonna has noticed an improvement in my cartoons lately, and I’m only halfway through the course. It’s so good that I intend to watch it again, to reinforce some of the techniques. When finished, I’ll take another of Blaise’s courses.

I plan to talk about this course again, likely an accompanying narrative with a painting video, but for now, I’ll say that it has been time and money well spent.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I still feel like I’m playing catch-up when it comes to my art, even though the only person I should be comparing myself to is the artist I was yesterday. Funny how often I fail to remember that, especially while scrolling through Instagram.

Most of the time, everything I draw, whether cartoon or painting, is designed to be a finished piece. However, this course has got me drawing for practice again, investing in the skills that will allow me to make even better finished pieces later.

This weekend, I spent most of Saturday morning working on a new commission and Sunday morning on editorial cartoons. But in the afternoons, I played with this funny looking Mandrill. It’s much more developed than I had originally intended because I enjoyed it so much and didn’t want to abandon it.

A lot more caricatured than my usual animals; some might say too much, so it doesn’t fit with the rest of the portfolio. But I have no doubt that the techniques I’m learning to allow me to draw something like this will still inform my future painted work and make it better.

It also provides me with an escape from the work, to draw and paint just for the fun of it, which is why I wanted to do this for a living in the first place.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Sea Turtle

Years ago, I belonged to an organization called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I’ve talked about this group quite a few times before and likely will again, simply because it had a profound impact on developing my skills and career. I can attribute a lot of my success to my involvement with NAPP, and its biannual conference, Photoshop World.

The best part about that group was the community of members. From hobbyists to professionals, it was a group of supportive creatives interested in becoming better artists and helping others achieve the same.

There was an active online forum where photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and other visual artists would hang out, ask questions, share work, and invite critiques.

Occasionally, you’d get the odd malcontent, but it was an incredibly positive group of people for the most part. Whether or not I’m biased in my nostalgia, I’ll never know, but that’s how I remember the experience, and I miss that community.

Many of us referred to each other by our forum aliases more than our real names. To this day, some of them still call me Monty, a nickname first given to me in the Army Reserves (La-MONT-agne). My Dad once told me that had been his father’s nickname in the military.

Some longtime readers might remember that my blog’s original name was Monty’s Muse.

I still keep in touch with some of those people, usually an email exchange here and there, though not as often as any of us would like, I’m sure. Former NAPP members have hired me to paint their pets, bought prints and face masks, and some still supply me with reference photos for paintings from time to time. While my first choice these days is to take my own photos, I don’t have access to some of the animals I want to paint.

One of those former NAPP members is PapaBob from Florida. Despite Bob’s skill with a camera, photography is his side gig. One of the nicest guys you’d ever hope to meet, he was one of the most supportive and genial people on the forum, always willing to help out a fellow creative.

Bob has been a supporter of my work for many years. He has bought big canvases for his law office, given my work as gifts and ordered face masks this past year. At the beginning of this month, Bob sent me a Happy New Year message, and we had a bit of catch-up over email. I mentioned that I still planned on painting that sea turtle, hopefully sooner rather than later.

You see, Bob is a scuba diver and takes fantastic underwater photos. I don’t remember how I first asked for them, but I suspect it might have been when I was still on Facebook. About six years ago, Bob gave me some excellent sea turtle photos for painting reference. While it’s true that I can sit on photos for some time before I get to painting them, this sea turtle has been an exercise in procrastination.

When I told Shonna about my enjoyable email exchange with Bob, she asked me why I hadn’t painted the sea turtle yet, considering that the reference was so good. I realized that I’ve been making excuses for fear of not doing it justice.

She suggested I stop putting it off and get to it, and I couldn’t come up with a good argument against it. I decided I’d waited long enough.

This was easily one of the most challenging paintings I’ve done. I don’t know how many hours I put into it, but it was more than usual. I tried a few different compositions, initially a simple gradient water background, but that just ended up looking like it was flying in the sky. I added water bubbles, but those seemed too cartoony. Finally, I decided to mimic the environment in Bob’s photos, which is close to what you see here. The background suggests vegetation, but any more detail would have distracted from the turtle. The animals in my pieces are the main focus.

I’m pleased with how this turned out and glad that I finally got around to it. Had I painted it five years ago, though, I don’t think it would be as proficient a painting, as I’m always trying to improve my skills.

Thanks for the photos, Bob. I couldn’t have done it without your help. And thanks to all of you NAPP folks who’ve helped and supported my work, way back then and in all of the years since. You remain some of my favourite people, and I miss seeing you online in the forum and in-person in Vegas. We had some great times.

Up next, I’m painting a commission of a wonderful looking dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I’ve got some great photos to work from, and the client wants it in my whimsical style, so this should be fun.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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A Little ‘Bout Licensing

“That was a great idea you had with the masks!”

I’ve heard that many times over the past few weeks, and as much as I’d like to take credit for it, I always set the record straight.

Yes, the artwork is all mine, and I put a lot of work into designing (redesigning and redesigning again) the templates for the masks.

But the idea was Mike’s. He’s the owner of Pacific Music and Art.

Like many self-employed in the gig economy, I’ve lost a number of clients during this pandemic, primarily weekly newspapers. Many of these losses are supposed to be temporary, but I suspect some won’t come back. A lot of businesses operate with a small profit margin, so for some, this shutdown will be the last straw.

The other half of my business is my funny looking animal paintings.
 I’ve had a number of licensing contracts over the years. My work has appeared on T-shirts, decals and cases for devices, print-on-demand canvas and prints from quite a few international companies, and thanks to my relationship with the Art Licensing agency, there are new ones popping up all of the time. Right before this current COVID-19 situation landed in our laps, I approved a deal on puzzles for a number of my designs. I have no idea when that will become a reality, but that’s the nature of licensing.

Most of the time, especially if it goes through an agency, the artist’s involvement is minimal.

In a traditional licensing arrangement, the artist supplies the images to a company or agency under contract, which often has a term limit of anywhere from 2 to 5 years. A royalty percentage is agreed upon by both parties, along with a payment schedule, usually quarterly.

Licensing is not a get rich quick process. There is a lot of time between the initial signatures and making any money. To put merchandise into production, find an audience, and to generate sales, it can take years before a design produces revenue and even then, it often doesn’t. I’ve got a couple of licenses where I see less than $100 a year.

At the end of a contract, usually with 90 days written notice, both parties decide if it’s worth continuing with the agreement. I’ve terminated licenses I no longer felt were in my best interest and I’ve had companies end contracts because my images didn’t reach their sales quotas.

A company called The Mountain used to sell my work on T-shirts. I was pleased with the monthly cheques, but after 6 years, the company sold, they went in a different direction and my portfolio was no longer what they wanted. I was disappointed, but it ended as well as could be expected. They do still have the license on one design, however, my Ostrich painting. It shows up in the strangest places, too.
In a generous gesture, the former owner of the company sent my work to Art Licensing and I’ve been with them for several years now, having gained many new contracts as a result.

There are many websites and blogs whose whole focus is art licensing, because it’s such a broad topic.  I’m no expert, but I learn more all the time, mostly hard lessons on what not to do.

I’ve had bad licensing experiences, including an early one that could have gone horribly wrong if not for some advice from a lawyer instructor at Photoshop World one year. He told me that the license was toxic and that I should, “Get out, immediately.”

That company said all the right things, made all of the right promises, and I wanted to believe their bullshit, which made me an easy mark. They kept avoiding a written contract, a big red flag.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a New Hampshire licensing lawyer I hired to go over my contract with The Mountain. She said you’ll find out everything you need to know about a company the minute you tell them you’re having your lawyer look over a contract.

If they get angry, act offended or insulted, or try to prevent you from doing so, they’re not a company with whom you want to work. Contract negotiations are part of the business and both parties should expect that.

When I told The Mountain I was going to have my lawyer look at the contract, they simply told me to contact them when I was done. My lawyer went to town on the contract, made lots of changes, and when I sent it back, some of them were accepted, others were not and I was pleased with the end result.

At that point, my involvement with the process was over. I’d complete a new painting, submit it to them, they’d tell me if they wanted it or not, and make an amendment to the contract for that image.

Most of the time, I have little contact with a license after the initial contract is signed.

Licensing allows me to reach a larger audience and get my work on different products. These companies have the contacts, resources, focus and reach that an individual artist could never have on his own.

They do all of the grunt work, the marketing, the sales and production, and the artist gets a royalty. When an agency gets involved, that royalty gets smaller. But an artist makes his or her money on the volume of sales, not on the individual percentage. If you make 30 cents on one coffee mug, it seems like nothing. But if you make 30 cents on 10,000 of them, now you’re talking.

It’s the same as my nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. I don’t make my income on one weekly paper in Saskatchewan. I make my income on many papers across Canada running the same cartoon or one of the seven I do each week.

With licensing, you can make revenue for many years after a painting is created. I have several current bestselling images that I painted many years ago. While older paintings are being sold over and over again, I’m free to paint new images for future licensing.  

For many years, I had a print and canvas commission deal with a store in Banff called About Canada. The owners were very nice people, paid me every month for print sales, told me what was working, what wasn’t, and I enjoyed the relationship. They required exclusivity on my prints in Banff. Since I made good money from their store, I was willing to do that.

A couple of years ago, they decided to sell the store and retire. Since I would no longer be held to exclusivity in Banff, and I knew they worked with wholesalers, I asked them for advice on who I might contact.

Sending each a personal email, Richard generously recommended me to two companies. Both offered me contracts and I decided I wanted to work with Pacific Music and Art.

The other company was much bigger and more international, but because of my relationship with Art Licensing, I already knew what it was like to be one artist among hundreds of others within a company. Even though they’re professional and friendly in our interactions, I’m a small fish in a very large pond.

With Pacific, I had a better chance of being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to have the ear of the owner of the company, to have a hand in some of the decisions, to make sure my work looked the way I wanted it to look. That’s often not possible, nor practical, with a large corporation, at least not until (if ever) you’re one of the top horses in their stable.

I’ve long admired the work of Sue Coleman. She’s one of those artists where even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen her paintings. Her work is licensed through Pacific Music and Art, which I took as a good sign.

Pacific Music and Art is a different animal altogether, a unique relationship unlike any other license I’ve signed.

I signed my contract in October of 2018. They now have over 50 of my paintings available to retailers on art cards, magnets, coasters, notepads, trivets, aluminum art and many other products. I create my own designs for each of those products, based on their templates. It’s a lot more work, and not normally part of the artist’s responsibility, but I like having input on how my work will look on a product.

Mike has final say on everything, decides whether or not a painting becomes part of the catalog and he’ll suggest animals I might consider, but I enjoy having a voice in the process.

As a result, over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has sent me a photo of my art from a gift store located somewhere I’ve never been.
A good friend sent me a picture of my Eagle painting on notepads from Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Somebody else sent me a pic from a store in Oregon, another from Alaska, and a whole display of my art on products at the Banff Springs Hotel.

I painted two pet portrait commissions early this year, the client having found me after seeing my work in a Vancouver Island ferry terminal gift shop.

Like many artists, I’ve been ripped off a lot over the years, and have sent cease-and-desist orders to stores and companies. Because people who know me well are aware of this, they’re often on the lookout for my stuff and when they send the pics, they ask, “Is this legit?”

Thanks to Pacific Music and Art, it’s been my pleasure to answer most of these recent suspicions with a virtual thumbs-up.

My art is now sold to retailers all over British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is expanding into many other areas in Canada and the US thanks to recent trade show introductions to new markets.

Pacific Music and Art launched my first calendar in 2020, which was very popular. It sold in Save On stores across Western Canada. My 2021 Bears calendar was just released this week.
Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the gears this year and the forward momentum has slowed significantly.

I was supposed to be on Vancouver Island right now, returning home this Tuesday. For the first few days, I was going to be in Victoria, spending time at Pacific Music and Art. Mike and I have met in person a few times, but here in Canmore. He was going to introduce me to some of his best clients out there and I wanted to see his operation.

I was going to visit Harlequin Nature Graphics in Cobble Hill, a company that sells my work on T-shirts. I had planned to meet Sue Coleman at her studio north of the city, and then I was going to be out in Ucluelet and Tofino for five days, taking reference photos on wildlife tours for future paintings.

As we’ve all experienced this year, plans change. Now that we’re beginning to open up, I’m hoping those changes begin to trend positive.

When Mike first brought up the idea of the masks, we had a discussion about the possible perception of profiteering. We came to the easy conclusion that it didn’t fit the definition. We weren’t claiming these to be medical masks, and many retailers were encouraged to produce reusable cloth masks in order to meet the demand. The pricing model was reasonable compared to similar products, and it was simply adapting to a new situation, in order to keep our respective businesses solvent.

It’s no different than a restaurant that had previously only offered a dine-in experience, now shifting their business model to takeout and delivery. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, sign companies are making plexi-glass barriers and auto manufacturers are making ventilators. A company in BC that makes dog beds has shifted to making medical masks and protective clothing.
The face masks required a lot of work. Pacific Music and Art had to source the blanks, purchase and learn the printing equipment, solve fitting and design problems, deal with slow shipping, adapt to supply chains that suddenly stopped, and more. I had to redesign the masks three separate times to account for variables we hadn’t anticipated, spent hours of work tweaking them, while still drawing my daily editorial cartoons and trying (and failing) to find time to paint.

Throughout the process, Mike and I spent a lot of time on the phone and Face-time, exchanging emails and texts. Given the stress of the situation, dealing with our own personal challenges, we annoyed each other more than once, but managed to work through the frustration for a positive result.

I have had one day off since the middle of March. I’m tired and worn out. And yet, I know that Mike has worked even harder than I have, under some difficult circumstances of his own, not the least of which is a stressed-out, obsessive, perfectionist, worry-prone artist type from Canmore.

So while I’m not having a good time right now, I’m disappointed I missed out on the trip to the Island, and I look to the future with more uncertainty than ever before, I’m glad I chose Pacific Music and Art over that other company and that they chose me as well.

And once we’re all out in the world again, if you happen to see one of my funny looking animals giving you the eye from a store shelf in some far off place, please take a photo and send it to me. I love that.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Good News Comes in Threes

Now that some businesses and services are opening up again, I’ve realized how many little things I take for granted.

My eye appointment last Monday for new glasses was a strange experience with all of the precautions, but I was grateful to have had it after I broke my frames weeks ago. Looking forward to the new ones, as a piece of duct tape is holding the current ones together.

The week everything shut down, I was supposed to have my teeth cleaned, something I do three times a year. Our hygienist has been looking after Shonna’s and my teeth for more than twenty years and has never seen me as happy about an appointment as I was yesterday.

Because of how busy they are at the best of times, I book my haircuts months in advance. Obviously, I have missed the last two, but I’ve got another booked for next Thursday. They’re not open yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Shonna and I went to Costco in Calgary for the first time in three months on Tuesday. We spent a lot more than we usually do, but we’re set for a while on the stuff we use most. They were well organized, and we went on a Tuesday morning, so it didn’t take long at all.

I noticed quite a few people wearing masks while we there. We were both wearing my Lion Face design and got quite a few appreciative looks. One woman asked where she could get one, so I suggested she follow my newsletter for when the next order would be available. She opened her purse on her cart, stepped back to maintain physical distancing and asked me to drop my card into it—what a strange new dance we’re all doing.

Here’s a selfie I took in Costco to send to a friend.
Which brings me to…

The Next Face Mask Order

The masks from the first order have all been delivered or shipped. I know many still haven’t received them with the mail moving a lot slower these days. But some of you have been sending me photos the last few days of you or your families wearing your newly received masks, and I’ve enjoyed that a lot. Some of them have made me laugh out loud.

So if you want to send me a picture of yourself in your mask, please do! And if you’re OK with me sharing it on my Instagram profile, let me know if that’s OK, too.

I heard from several newsletter followers who were disappointed they missed out on the first pre-order. For one reason or another, as happens to all of us, they missed that email.

With that in mind, this is the TWO DAY warning that the next mask pre-order will be happening on Saturday, May 23. Just as I did with the last one, I will be announcing it Saturday morning, sending out the options, pricing, and when you can expect them.

Pacific Music and Art went through a gauntlet of challenges with the first order, but they’ve worked out the bugs, supplies are on hand, and we aren’t expecting any delays.

Sign up for the newsletter here. Please don’t send me any orders until after I send the next newsletter on Saturday. Because of the work involved taking the orders and that I still have other editorial cartoon deadlines on the weekend, there will be a 24-hour window to get your order in.

Calendars


My 2021 calendar from Pacific Music and Art has launched, and the first shipment is on its way to me right now. I expect to receive it any day, might even be today. I’ll be offering those for sale sometime next week. The theme for my second calendar is BEARS, which is appropriate, considering that it’s National Bear Awareness Week.

I received my first sample with the last order of masks and was quite pleased with it. It’s funny that six of these bear paintings are of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park, and two of the black bears live there as well.

Prints

I’ll be uploading half a dozen new prints to the online store next week, and spending a good part of today putting those together. There will be a promotional offer combined with a calendar that will go along with that, with more details to follow soon.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

Cheers,
Patrick

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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MORE Face Masks

The response to the forthcoming non-medical masks has been a little overwhelming and I’m glad that there is such great interest.

Here are the other seven designs being produced. If you missed the first batch I shared, you can see them here.

People are asking the same questions, so here are the answers, based on the information I have. Like this situation in which we’re presently living, things may change, but hopefully not.

1) How much will they cost?

Based on what we know right now, they’ll be $12.99 for the large, $12.49 for the small, or 3 for $30, plus tax and shipping. As they are small and lightweight, shipping for 3 masks will be something like $2.25 for Canada, around $4.00 for the US.

2) When are they coming?

The masks are in transit to Pacific Music and Art right now. I won’t link to their website, because it’s under renovation this weekend. Once they arrive, they need to be printed and shipped. So when I have them, I can fill orders. They are expected to arrive sometime this week, might be shipped to me the following week.

Your patience is appreciated, and it’s likely we’ll be wearing masks for quite some time, even when they relax the isolation rules. I’d love to be able to ship these tomorrow, but everything moves a little slower right now as we’re all hobbled by our present circumstance.

3) How can I order?

I will be offering the first batch of these masks as an exclusive pre-order offer to my newsletter followers. I know that some people have shared the first post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and a common comment has been “let me know when they’re available.”

The only way to know is by signing up for my newsletter. These won’t be available on my site (at least not yet) and all orders will be done by e-transfer or Paypal invoice. If you’re local in Canmore, I expect to be able to deliver them in person; physical distancing rules apply of course. Or I can just mail them to you with the rest.

The reason I’m doing them by pre-order is because I only want to order what people want. Ordering large numbers of all 16 designs means I’ll undoubtedly end up with a stockpile of the least popular ones. While prints don’t go bad if I hang on to them for a couple of years, here’s hoping there won’t be any demand for masks a year from now.

As it can’t be repeated enough, these are non-medical masks and not a substitute for staying at home, hand-washing and keeping a distance of 6ft/2m or greater if you have to go out and run errands.

Feel free to share this post with anyone you like, but when the pre-order is released, only newsletter subscribers will be notified. Here’s the link to sign up.

Stay healthy,
Patrick

EDIT: Yes, these masks will be washable. 🙂

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© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt
Sign up for my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.