Posted July 28th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Grassi Lakes here in Canmore is a short hike and easily accessible. It’s usually quite busy on weekends and during the summer, but if you get there early and take the difficult route (not that difficult), you meet relatively few people on the way up. If memory serves, it’s about a 20 minute hike one way, at a brisk pace.
The lakes themselves aren’t large, two connected ponds really. The attraction is their emerald colour. Seemingly iridescent blues and greens make for a very nice scene and it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Some benches, bridges and reinforced paths, and on one side of the far lake, you find a large rock face which is actually a fossilized Devonian coral reef. It’s also a popular climbing wall.
From the Wikipedia entry, the lakes “are named after Lawrence Grassi, an Italian miner who emigrated to Canada in 1912. After working with the Canadian Pacific Railway for several years he worked in the Canmore coal mines. Grassi also become a well-respected climbing guide as well as building many trails in the area including one to the Grassi Lakes which also bear his name.”
Grassi Lakes is great when I don`t have a lot of time, but still want to get some exercise. It’s picturesque, an interesting trail and at the lakes themselves, there is plenty of opportunity to take photos of Golden Mantle Ground Squirrels, a favorite critter of mine.
In the middle of last month, I was up at the lakes happily snapping pics of a ground squirrel when a woman came over to me and asked quietly, “Have you seen the owls?”
When I said that I hadn’t, she pointed across the lake to the rock wall. About 40 feet up is a little cave and sitting atop one of the rocks was a big Great Horned Owl. I thanked her and moved around the lake for a better look and with my camera at full zoom, I was able to see the owl very clearly. I could also see an owlet that until then had just looked like another rock. The camouflage was perfect.
As it’s a provincial park, I wasn’t surprised to see an obvious red sign chained into the wall at ground level below the cave. I never actually went to read it, but somebody told me it was a warning that this particular climbing route was closed for the protection of the owls. Climbers were on the wall, but all were giving the nest a wide berth.
Over the next few weeks, I went back up to Grassi Lakes with a pair of binoculars (that I happily shared with interested tourists) and a tripod for the camera. I took well over a thousand photos, most of them at full zoom, and probably ending up keeping a couple of dozen. Great for reference, not so much for print, but since I hadn’t planned on that; I was very pleased with the results. The owls seemed to have no concern at the people watching from below and it usually took a raven or other bird flying by to capture their interest, although the little ones did seem fascinated by a couple of dogs splashing in the lake on one occasion.
While I’ve painted a Great Horned Owl before, I honestly didn’t know much about them. With plenty of information online, I learned a great deal about what I was seeing, including the family dynamic, the breeding season, how long the owlets would stay with the parents…the info is easily found if you Google it.
During my visits, I was able to watch their behavior, saw both the male and female parents (the female is larger) and the two owlets. Both of them grew very fast and by my fifth visit, they looked quite a bit larger and their feathers had changed to look more like their parents and less like the fuzzy little balls of fluff that they are in the painting. They grew braver and started venturing out further along the rocks away from the cave, were actively hopping and flapping their wings, practicing their calls and mimicking their father, who seemed to spend the most time with them. A real joy to watch.
On my sixth visit, I didn’t see them at all. A friend had said she didn’t see them the day before, either. Judging by what I’d read, my assumption is that they had learned to fly and although they do stay near the nest until the fall, my guess is that they’re also exploring their surroundings and learning to hunt. I don’t think I can expect to see the whole family hanging about the nest any longer, so I stopped going to see them.
Some locals have mentioned that the mating pair returns to that cave each year, as Great Horned Owls mate for life. The fact that I’ve never seen them before means I probably just wasn’t paying attention to that part of the wall on previous visits and they’re not obvious. I’m looking forward to next spring to see if they return and raise new young. A family of owls in the wild was a treat.
Initially, I was just going to do a few sketch paintings and move on. I started out with one of the adult male looking angry at some ravens that were harassing the nest, then another of one of the owlets trying out his lungs. The noise was truly pitiful and I laughed out loud while watching it. Finally, I added the sibling to the initial owlet sketch painting, looking surprised. After that, I knew I was going to paint the whole family and that it would be a finished piece. All of the sketch paintings and the final painting were done in Photoshop with a Wacom Cintiq display.
Maybe it’s because I’m a cartoonist and have this need to imbue animals with human characteristics, but watching the family interaction, I could imagine what was being said between the owlets and the parents. At one point, all of them sleeping in the sunshine, one of the owlets suddenly fluffed up and excitedly ruffled his wings. The father woke up suddenly, turned sharply to the owlet, and made some noises. I could have sworn he was saying, “Hey! Stop screwing around!”
I like to think that’s also his expression in the painting.
This whole experience was a real thrill and I think I’ll try painting more scenes like this, featuring other animals. I’ve already got one in mind but likely won’t get to it right away. I’ve already got the reference, though, so you never know.
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Pre-orders are available for an 11″X14″ matted giclée print of “One in Every Family” until August 30th and they will be shipped in the latter half of September. For more information or to order, follow this link. Exshaw, Banff, and Canmore residents, please order by email for free delivery.
Posted July 19th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Gallery owners know their business. If you check your ego at the door and are willing to listen and learn, you’ll find out there’s a lot of middle ground between artist expectations and the reality of the business of art.
In recent years, my prints have sold primarily at About Canada Gallery in Banff and at the Calgary Zoo, in addition to my online and trade show sales. The owners at About Canada have been wonderful to work with and I told them early on that they didn’t have to spare my feelings when it came to what they were willing to stock. Thankfully, they took me at my word, give me honest feedback and are receptive when I reciprocate.
If something isn’t selling well in Banff, I replace it with something that might do better, without any ill feelings. One person’s favorite painting might not be that of others and when it comes to limited space, majority rules.
Limited edition canvas prints are at a higher price point so they don’t sell as quickly or as often as matted prints do, but they’re well worth having. They look great on the wall and attract a lot of attention, but it’s the 11”X14” matted prints that sell best and consistently, simply because they’re still great quality, but at $44, they’re priced well for an impulse buy and are small enough to fit in a suitcase. The 16”X20” matted prints will eventually be discontinued because they’re a pain for tourists to carry home or ship. These are the things you learn along the way.
Initially, About Canada only wanted animals that were found in this area, many of which are my most popular, including the Grizzly, Wolf, Moose, Raven, and Great Horned Owl Totems. But with the Otter selling well online, I suggested they give it a try. It didn’t take long for my little sea otter to become a best-seller in Banff, joined shortly by a few other non-mountain animals, including the Giraffe, Parrot, and Cows.
While the matted prints do very well in Banff, they weren’t flying off the shelves at The Calgary Zoo , despite a lot of interest. The retail manager and I figured that the $44 price tag might be a little steep for a souvenir of a day at the zoo. With that in mind, I swapped out all of the matted prints and introduced a line of Poster Prints I have done at Maranda Reprographics and Printing in Calgary. Printed on a satin finish paper, resembling a high quality magazine print, they look great and are popular sellers at the Calgary Expo. As they’re not archival giclée prints like my others, I’m able to offer a lower price. At $25 with backer board, artist bio and in a plastic sleeve, it didn’t take long to realize that our assumption was correct and they now sell very well at the zoo, even prints of the animals they don’t have in residence.
While on Vancouver Island last month, I figured it was a good opportunity to scout galleries in the Ucluelet and Tofino area. Knowing the area I was going to, I packed 11”X14” matted prints of the Totems I thought would best get me in the door, including the Bald Eagle, Otter, Wolf, and Humpback Whale.
After making inquiries of my hosts aboard the Raincoast Maiden on my wildlife tours and others around town, it became clear that the best venue to approach would be Reflecting Spirit Gallery. With locations in both Ucluelet and Tofino, it would be an ideal arrangement to work with one owner in both communities. I also remembered that my wife and I enjoyed our visit to that gallery on our last trip to the area.
It’s a daunting exercise to cold call a business. With nothing to lose, I went in with a positive attitude, but ready for rejection. The owner wasn’t in, so I talked to one of her staff about the gallery and showed her my work. An artist with work in the gallery herself, she was very nice, encouraged me to come back the next day and I left with a little more information, better prepared for a second visit.
It’s important to keep in mind when cold calling a business, especially one that’s owner operated, to treat everyone you encounter with respect. You could be talking to a member of the owner’s family or one of their closest friends.
The next day, I returned and spoke to the owner. A talented artist herself, she looked thoughtfully at the work I brought and gave me honest feedback. I opened my portfolio to show her the rest of my Totem series and she pointed out others that she thought would do well there. The Raven is significant for the native people of that area and there are plenty of cougars in and around Tofino and Ucluelet. Again, gallery owners know their market.
We discussed price points, consignment rates, and numbers. Before too long, she agreed to take my prints for both of her galleries. Needless to say, this Albertan was thrilled, especially since Reflecting Spirit primarily sells the work of Vancouver Island artists. Rather than order specific numbers of each, she left it up to me to give her more of the best-sellers and less of the others, based on my experience with my own work.
By Canada Day, a large order of matted prints had arrived safely, are on display and for sale in both of the Reflecting Spirit Galleries. It won’t be long before I find out how the prints will do in this new market, but it was well worth the investment of my time and money to give it a shot.
Many artists spend years waiting to be discovered, figuring that if they produce good work, supporters and customers will simply show up. “If you build it, they will come,” was a wonderful premise in ‘Field of Dreams,’ but in real life, success requires that you stick your neck out and do so often. As unpalatable as it is for many creative types, especially those who think it beneath them to sully their creative passion with talk of money, art is a business and it requires sales skills. You not only have to sell your work, but yourself as well.
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Posted July 2nd, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
A 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.
It 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.
Fast 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.
I’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.”
With 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.
If 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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Posted June 21st, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
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.
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.
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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Posted June 2nd, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
It’s easy to become so accustomed to your surroundings that you fail to see the forest for the trees. Living in Canmore, we often forget to look around and realize that we are so incredibly fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. You can get used to anything, no matter how idyllic.
Sure, I go on my hikes, sketch and take photos and appreciate the beauty, but when you’ve lived in a place for a long time, you never quite recover the feeling of seeing it anew. It’s only when we happen to hear a visitor exclaim with awe and wonder how majestic and beautiful our mountains are, that many of us stop, look around and think, “yeah, they’re pretty spectacular, aren’t they?”
I found this sense of wonder this morning in Ucluelet. Wandering the small craft harbour, socked in by fog and low hanging cloud. With a camera ’round my neck, a sketchbook in my backpack and my first cup of coffee of the day in hand, I marveled at the sights, sounds and smells, experiencing my first morning in this place.
At 6 AM on a Monday, there are low conversations and murmurs from the boats, as men get ready to head out for a day of fishing. Some of these are surely tourist charters, but clearly there are those that aren’t. Having been a local in a tourist town for many years, it’s easy to spot the difference.
In a broad sense, these locals are no different than any others. Just another morning at work, they’re likely oblivious to the little nuances that are making me smile, take in a scene, or breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to work this morning. Anyone who has been in fog knows the sound is different, and I quite like it. Seagulls and ravens criss-cross the harbour, some with little morsels in their mouths, others bitching at the ones who got some when they didn’t.
At home, ravens calling and squawking outside my window is annoying, and I often wish that they’d just shut the hell up. But here, they add to the scene, the immersion in the experience and the change of place has me welcoming their racket.
Sitting at the small table in my cabin as I write, I just looked up and saw a bald eagle fly by in the distance, the details hazy in the lifting fog, but unmistakable with his white crown and tail feathers. It’s a little exciting, because I don’t get to see them often, they show up so rarely at home.
This is how the tourists in Banff and Canmore feel when they see an elk, or if they’re fortunate, a whole herd of them. For locals, the elk are easily viewed as a hazard to avoid while walking or driving. We have our little condescending smiles when the tourists go gaga over them and start snapping pics like crazy. I imagine a local here might have felt the same had they spied me on a dock yesterday, where I spent twenty minutes happily taking photos of a bald eagle high in a tree, silly tourist that I am.
This is clearly why I’m here and why a trip like this is necessary. While calling it an artist retreat sounds haughty and pretentious, it’s really just a change of place to adjust my focus. I’ve no doubt that I’ll return home with a renewed sense of inspiration to paint, write, and sketch. It happens after every vacation, so it’ll no doubt be doubly so after this one.
Finally, it strikes me that I am incredibly blessed. Not only to have the means to take a trip like this, a purely selfish excursion, even politely telling a couple of friends that they could not come with me, but that I have the support of my wife, and those same friends who said, “Go. Have fun. Do what you gotta do.”
Someone once said, “They’re always making more money, but nobody has figured out a way to make more time.”
It’s the fear of squandering my own time, even though I’ve no idea how much of it I’ve got, that had me seeking a temporary change of place. I’m not often at peace, it’s just not in my nature. But this is close.
Ucluelet, BC. June 2, 2014
Posted May 2nd, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
This year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo has come and gone. Much more than a ‘Comic-con,’ the event attracts some of the biggest names on the circuit and with attendance approaching 100,000 this year; it has become one of the largest of its kind in North America.
Many types of vendors flock to the Expo, including artists. 2013 was my first year with a booth and it was an incredible learning experience. I spent a fair bit of money on display hardware, retail walls, print bins and other equipment you don’t think about until you have to, so the first year wasn’t a money maker. I brought far too many prints with me, so with what I brought home, I just ended up with inventory that eventually sold throughout the year at About Canada in Banff, the Calgary Zoo, and my online store.
Armed with a little experience (a dangerous thing?), I started my 2014 prep early, bought fewer prints, added postcards to the mix (btw: VERY successful), and tweaked my plans to streamline things a little before setting up my booth for my second year.
Between the daily editorial cartoons, illustration gigs, and the paintings that I never seem to have enough time for, adding even one trade show to an already busy schedule is a frantic juggling act. Talking with other artists who do this sort of thing, seems we’re all just two seconds away from panic and padded rooms.
The addition of a fourth day this year, really just four hours, was an unwelcome fly in the ointment. While the Stampede grounds in Calgary are only an hour and half drive from Canmore, the odds this time of year that the weather could turn foul (especially this year) meant that commuting every morning and night was unwise. Long days in the booth without a break were exhausting, which made falling asleep at the wheel a real possibility. Adding a fourth day meant taking an extra day away from my office last week in order to set up, plus another night in a hotel, an expense that wasn’t justified by Thursday “just looking today” sales.
I figured I could handle Thursday and Friday by myself and it really wasn’t difficult. The time went by fast and when I needed a bathroom break, my next door neighbours were happy to mind my booth for me. For the most part, there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie among the vendors. We’re all in this together.
My wife, Shonna, arrived on Saturday. Our friend Michelle was attending the event and graciously agreed to bring my lovely assistant to my aid. On Saturday and Sunday, the two busiest days of Expo, I really did need help at the booth and I couldn’t have asked for better. I wouldn’t have done so well had it not been for Shonna’s support, and that pretty much applies to my whole life in general.
While traffic ebbed and flowed, it was busy most of the time. People wanted to talk, asked a lot of questions about the work and seemed genuinely interested. Most artists want to stand out from the crowd, and many told me they’d never seen anything like my paintings, sweet music to my ears. One woman said that they looked like, “cartoon animals who found a way to come into the real world.”
I really liked that.
It was a great feeling to recognize a common reaction to my paintings. Folks would be walking down the aisle, scanning their surroundings, and when their eyes settled on my booth, they’d suddenly stop and smile. It happened more times than I could count and most didn’t even know they were doing it. It got so that Shonna started mentioning it to them. They’d smile, give a nudge to whomever they were with and then they’d come over.
It made me think of Kermit the Frog in the Muppet Movie. Dom Deluise’s character gets Kermit to consider leaving the swamp only when he tells him that he could ‘make millions of people happy.’ There are worse aspirations.
While there isn’t a lot of opportunity for networking when the event is in full swing, I did have some good conversations with nearby vendors. I couldn’t really leave my booth to wander and look around, but one thing about staying in one spot, eventually everybody walks by, so I did get to see some of the great outfits. Many enthusiastic people dress up (cosplay) as favorite characters from TV,film, comic books and video games, putting a lot of effort into their costumes.
One of the great surprises this year was repeat customers. People who bought a print or two last year came back to buy more. Best of all, we recognized many of them. I had plenty of people who said they’d seen my work before but couldn’t figure out where. When I mentioned the Calgary Zoo and About Canada in Banff, light would dawn in their eyes. Many needed no prompting at all, they just told me where they’d seen it, and some had even bought my prints at those venues.
This face to face connection and recognition isn’t something I get while working alone at home or through interaction on social media. It was very gratifying.
While I’m comfortable talking to people and public speaking doesn’t faze me, I’m a very private person and spend most of my time alone. Being ‘on’ for four days in customer service mode was mentally and physically exhausting. I was so drained on Monday that I managed to get one cartoon out and spent the rest of the day in a daze, interrupted by a few naps.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that I want to repeat and improve upon the experience in 2015, especially since it will be a milestone 10th year for the show. I’ve already booked my booth again and even asked for the same spot. Each year teaches me something new and I learned a lot this time around. I’ll be going into my third year with a more solid foundation and a better idea of how to streamline things, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and with some new ideas I’d like to try.
Even though I cut back from last year’s order and did very well, I still came home with more prints than I wanted, mostly from fear of not having enough for the whole weekend. So once again, I’m having a big post-Expo print sale and everything in the store is up to 30% off.
One of these days I’ll figure the inventory right. Until then, I’ll just keep trying.
Posted March 25th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Every once in a while, it’s nice to explore new challenges. It was an exercise doing that very thing which led me to create my popular series of Totem paintings, which are still my favorite pieces to paint. Recently I painted my first landscape, and while it was different for me, a worthwhile exercise and something I’ll repeat again, I doubt that landscapes will be one of the foundations of my future work and business. Feel free to call me on that statement if years from now, I’m painting more landscapes than anything else. As somebody who had never planned on being an artist for a living, I’m well aware that today’s plans are often replaced by tomorrow’s happy accidents.
Recently, a commercial opportunity was put in front of me to paint some images that are a departure from anything I’ve done before, some paintings with a little death and darkness to them. Still encouraged to use my own style in the renderings, which means they’re unlikely to steal any sleep from anybody, this pending series of paintings will definitely look like a matched set. I have no plans to abandon my Totem paintings, but for the next little while, you’ll be seeing the sort of image shown here, while I explore this genre.
While I can’t say anything right now about the intended use for these paintings, I plan to have a little fun with it, stretch myself a bit, and see if I can’t poke a little fun at the darker side of life.
This was painted on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the 24HD displays using Adobe Photoshop CC. It began as a concept sketch that you see below, with the finished piece beside it for comparison. You can click on the image to see it larger.
Posted March 8th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
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.
One 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.
On 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.
One 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.
Posted February 19th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
My commission work to date has been dogs and cats (and one beautiful horse), but a friend of ours recently tasked me with painting this gift for his wife. As she loves cows and is now pregnant with twins, he wanted a painting of a mother and two calves to hang in the nursery. I cautioned him that comparing his pregnant wife to a cow at a time when most women’s sensibilities are heightened, might be a recipe for disaster, but he assured me more than once that it would be fine. The canvas is still in the proofing stage, but he showed her the digital image of the piece this past weekend and she loved it. Apparently there were happy tears. So, with his permission, I’m able to share it now.
This was one of my most challenging paintings to date. The hairs on a cow are very small and short and the features aren’t as malleable as I’d first imagined. When painting one animal, I can usually find reference that will allow me to see all sides of the subject to decide which will lend itself best to my Totem style of painting. First, I had to find multiple reference photos of the right breed of cow (Holstein Friesian), which was not an easy task. I bought twice as many photos than I used as I couldn’t play around with the composition without the full resolution files. There ended up being three different comps and thankfully my wife helped me decide which was best for the painting. With three subjects in the image, it became a juggling act to try and show the best sides of all of them, in the correct proportions with the right lighting. Then I had to make them look cozy, cute and comfortable, but not crushed together. Finally, I had to lay down all of the right conditions to allow all three personalities to show up after many hours of painting, something I’ve often said never seems to be quite my doing, or under my control. When it comes to the life in these paintings, I’m often surprised (and grateful) when it arrives.
While I don’t consider this part of my Totem series, it is definitely painted in that style. Even though it was a commission piece, I will be offering prints of this image in the store in the coming weeks as well. The commission piece will be printed at 18″ X 24″ as a giclée on canvas with a black shadowbox frame. I’m hoping to be able to deliver it next week.
I honestly have no idea how long this took to paint as I worked on it during a very busy time, while juggling other deadlines. There was at least one session where I worked through the night on it. I’ll admit to being very frustrated with this piece at times when things weren’t going as well as I wanted them to, but to be honest, that happens a lot and it always turns around. I learned a lot from this painting and had to experiment and adjust brushes and technique to get the look I needed in places. So there was artistic growth here, too, which is always welcome.
Posted January 24th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
It was suggested this morning on social media that it would be interesting to compare the reference photo I used for my Parrot Totem with the finished painting. Since some digital painters trace over photos, I thought it would also be a good opportunity to show that I don’t, so it kills two birds with one stone. OK, that’s probably a really bad metaphor, especially considering the subject of the painting.
Pete Collins is one of the Photoshop Guys with the KelbyOne organization and I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with him at Photoshop World in Las Vegas a couple of times. Pete’s a great guy, loves to encourage creative types and is a very talented illustrator and photographer himself. One year, he sent me a folder full of pics he’d taken at the zoo and told me I could use any of them for reference, which was incredibly generous of him, but anybody who knows Pete wouldn’t be surprised by the gesture. He’s good people.
Click on the images to see them larger.
I’ve used a few of them for painting sketches and now two of them for finished paintings. Pete also supplied me with the main reference for my Ostrich Totem. While I usually end up using more than one reference, this one was pretty good and was my main reference for the finished painting. I bought a couple more from iStock for the close detail reference, as Pete’s wasn’t a large photo so the anatomy for some of the fine detail wasn’t visible here.
As you can see, it’s obvious this is the reference I used, but with my style of painting, especially with the Totem paintings, I take a lot of liberties with painting the anatomy, especially in the face and proportions. It is a caricature of the animal, rather than a copy of the photo. Zooming in on the detail, the photo doesn’t provide a lot because it wasn’t large, so you can see where I took more liberties with the details. My painting is very large, so I could still zoom in quite a bit further. I rely on reference photos because I can’t exaggerate an animal’s features or paint the relationships in the anatomy accurately if I don’t know what the animal looks like. Most artists will either paint from life (in a perfect world) or will use photo reference when available. When I’m painting commission portraits of pets, I need VERY good reference pics in order to get the likeness as close to reality as possible. When I’m painting my Totems, however, I can get away with a little bit less because I’m going to be distorting reality anyway.