A Little Death and Darkness

Posted March 25th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

SkullTopHatFBEvery 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.

Painting Elephant Rock

Posted March 8th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

HarbourSealsClick on any of these images to see them larger.

Commission – Cows

Posted February 19th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

CowsFinalPostMy 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.

CowsClosePostWhile 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.

Click on either image to see a larger version.  This piece was painted in Photoshop CC on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD.

Photo Reference and Painting Comparison

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.

Photocomp01 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.



Parrot Totem

Posted January 24th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

ParrotTotemAs sometimes happens, I hadn’t planned on painting this Totem anytime soon, if at all.  I just happened to do a painting sketch for practice of this Macaw a little while ago.  When I posted the rough painting on social media, the response was very surprising.  People really seemed to like it.  I asked my wife, who is always my harshest critic, a trait I both love and loathe about her, and she said she really liked it as well.  Since I needed to get another Totem done fast in order to meet a print deadline for my Calgary Expo booth in April, I figured it might as well be the Parrot Totem. I realized while finalizing the files that this is my 20th Totem painting.  Where does the time go?

While it has become a cliché for me to say that ‘I really had fun with this painting,’ it can’t be said for this one, at least not entirely.  From the original sketch to the final hours, this one kind of felt like work, couldn’t quite get in the groove for most of it. However, I  woke from a sound sleep last night around 1:30AM for no reason in particular,  and I lay in bed for a half hour until I realized I wasn’t going back to sleep.  One of the benefits of my office being mere steps from my bedroom, I did what I usually do on the rare occasions I can’t sleep, I got up to paint.  And from 2:00AM to 730AM when I finished the painting, I was really enjoying myself with it, so insomnia turned out to be a good thing.  Or perhaps the reason I woke in the first place was that the parrot was squawking for closure.  Either way, I’m happy with the finished result.

ParrotCloseupI’ve stopped keeping track of how long these take, but were I to guess, maybe around 20 to 25 hours in between my other work.  It was painted in Photoshop CC on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD Cintiq and the 24HD Cintiq, moving back and forth between the two, depending on whether or not I was working in my office or painting in the evening while watching TV in the living room.  Thanks to Pete Collins for the reference photo he gave me a few years ago.  I finally got around to using it.  Pete’s a generous soul and a great guy, but don’t tell him I said that.  It’ll go to his head.

I think another reason that I wanted to paint it was that people seemed to be just fine with the painted sketch being a finished product and I most certainly was not.  Add many more hours to it and here’s the difference between the two.



An Editorial Cartoon in Two Minutes

Posted January 13th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

This is just over an hour of sketching, drawing, and painting, condensed down to two minutes.  From sketch to finished work created digitally using a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display and Photoshop CC.  While the majority of my editorial cartoons are sketched on paper first and then scanned, this is pretty much the whole process I go through for each cartoon.  This is best viewed at full screen in HD.   To learn how this is done, you can purchase my cartooning DVD at PhotoshopCAFE.

Another Meerkat Sketch Painting

Posted January 13th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

MeerkatSketchFB003Finding that I’m really enjoying sketching and painting these little guys.  The fact that I’ve amassed so many reference photos from the Calgary Zoo meerkat enclosure means there will likely be more on the way.  This was painted in Photoshop CC on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD display

iPad Painting with the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus

Posted January 11th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

RatiPadFBAs anyone who creates digital art for a living will tell you, it’s difficult to do without a Wacom tablet or display.  Beginning with the Graphire and the first generation Intuos tablets in the late nineties, I’ve used almost all versions and evolutions of Wacom products.   Currently, the one I use on a daily basis is the Cintiq 24HD display.  When I want to get out of the office, which usually just means moving to other parts of the house, I’m drawing and painting on the Cintiq 13HD.

Many people have asked me if I’ll be getting one of the new Cintiq Companion displays, but having just purchased a top of the line laptop to supplement my desktop PC, I don’t need another computer.  I make my living with my artwork and have daily editorial cartoon deadlines.  I can’t afford any downtime, so having another full system that I can work on if my main computer needs repair is very important to me.  As I work at home and spend 90 percent of my time here, a fully functional portable Cintiq Companion would be wasted on me, so the 13HD and a laptop suits me just fine.

From time to time, however, I do enjoy the portability of drawing and painting on my iPad.  I bought my first gen iPad about three months after it came out in 2010 and I used it almost every day.  I began with finger painting, and then I probably spent a couple of hundred dollars in the first year, trying to find a stylus that would work well for drawing and painting.  Eventually, I settled on the Wacom Bamboo Stylus and it worked very well for its intended use.  Having tried many different drawing apps, I found that the ProCreate app suited my drawing style best and it’s the one I use above all others to this day.

I like to rest my hand on the screen, so I cut the thumb, index, and middle fingers from a light glove and wear that while drawing and painting on the iPad.  I worked around the lack of pressure sensitivity by manually varying the opacity in the app.  A similar method is to add a new layer and vary the opacity of that as well.  A little awkward, but I managed to create some iPad drawings and paintings that I was pleased with, even if they took longer than they would have on my PC with a drawing tablet or display.

IntuosCreativeStylusRecently, Wacom introduced their Intuos Creative Stylus for the iPad and I was intrigued.  It connects via Bluetooth, has pressure sensitivity, programmable buttons like their other tablet and display pens, and palm rejection capability, which means you can rest your hand on the screen without your palm creating any digital pen marks.  The key word here is ‘capability.’

As my first gen iPad had been proving unreliable and twitchy over the last year, I finally retired it and bought the new iPad Mini with Retina display, preferring the smaller size to the iPad Air.  The Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus arrived last week and I was eager to put it through its paces.

The first thing I was impressed with is that it comes in a very nice case.  With space for five spare nibs (it comes with two spares) and battery included, you feel you’ve purchased quality.  My Cintiq 13HD came with a very nice case for the stylus as well and it gives me peace of mind that these portable styli are well protected while they’re being carted around.

IntuosCreativeStylusCaseThrough trial and error and a little research, I found out some important technical info that will make your life a lot easier when using this pen.

First, the stylus takes an AAAA battery (that’s 4 As).  It comes with one of them, so it’s ready to use.  But I happened to be out running errands the day mine arrived so I wanted to see how hard it was to find replacements.  Fortunately I found a set of two at The Source, a small franchised electronics store.  A package of two batteries set me back $12.  Our grocery store battery display didn’t have AAAA batteries, so you might have to look to find them.  The Wacom site says a battery will last you 150 hours.  I spent a few hours painting with the stylus and the battery still reads 100% in the ProCreate app, so I’ve no reason to doubt the claim.

Second, I have a wireless keyboard that connects to my iPad via Bluetooth and you connect it in the iOS settings.  You can’t do that with the Intuos Creative Stylus, since it doesn’t even show up there.  The stylus connects to your iPad inside of the supported apps (click here and scroll down for the list).  In ProCreate for example, there’s a dropdown menu that shows a device option and sure enough, the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus is one of the choices.  The connection was very stable and putting it away in the case seems to shut the pen off so it doesn’t waste the battery.

AppsI didn’t bother to try any of the other drawing apps, so let’s just talk about ProCreate and this stylus.  I haven’t done any iPad painting in a while so I was very impressed with the recent updates ProCreate has made to their app.  They’ve got great blend mode options for layers, adjustments for color, sharpness, blur, multiple transformation tools and their brush engine allows for a LOT of customization.  ProCreate is a very robust app and I see no reason to change my preference.  It didn’t crash once while painting my funny looking rat, so it’s very stable.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t get the palm rejection to work well in ProCreate, so I ended up wearing the makeshift glove again which doesn’t really bug me.  It was only later that I found out that it isn’t the stylus that doesn’t support palm rejection, it’s the app.  Again, refer to the list of which features work with which apps.

The pressure sensitivity on this stylus works like a dream!  With the programmable buttons, ProCreate allows you to choose which task you want each button to perform.  I set one button to activate the color picker, and the other button to Undo.  You don’t even need to have the pen in contact with the tablet to get these to work, either.

AppandiPadBottom line, this stylus works as advertised.  While the price may seem steep to some ($99.95 from Wacom), I’m a big believer that you get what you pay for and my experience with Wacom devices is that they last and work well for a long time.  I’m being careful not to drop this stylus, though, as it’s still a precise electronic device.

A couple of final thoughts.  It would be unreasonable to expect this stylus to perform as well as a Cintiq display.  I can make quicker brush strokes, enjoy much more precise pressure sensitivity and paint with larger documents with higher resolution on my professional displays than I would expect to on the iPad.  This stylus does not turn your iPad into a Cintiq Companion display.  Also, keep in mind that Wacom created the stylus, not the apps with which it is used, so if there’s something that doesn’t work the way you might expect it to, it’s likely the app, not the pen.

I’m very pleased with the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus and I expect to use it often for sketching and rougher paintings.  Beginning the rat painting you see at the top on the iPad was quite enjoyable and the image will eventually become a much larger, much more detailed rendering using Photoshop and my Cintiq 24HD display.

I would recommend both the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus and the ProCreate app without reservation, but as always, the tools are only as good as the artist using them.  For best results with your artwork, keep learning, follow the work of other artists, and draw and paint as often as you can.


Meerkat Painting Sketch

Posted January 5th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

MeerkatSketchFB002One of my favorite stops when I visit The Calgary Zoo is the meerkat enclosure.  A colony will always have one meerkat standing guard, which puts him or her at the highest point in the area, keeping a lookout for predators.  It’s an instinctual trait as it occurs even with meerkats who are born in captivity.  They just take turns.  While they have nothing to fear from predators at the zoo, this behaviour is fantastic for taking reference photos.  You couldn’t ask for a better subject as one will turn this way and that, remaining as still and posed as a fashion model in a photo shoot.

This painting is still pretty rough but it was a lot of fun.  I will probably be painting more of these little critters in the near future.

Gorilla Sketch Painting (sort of)

Posted January 2nd, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

GorillaSketchFBIn my continuing efforts to paint more, I decided to do another rough painting sketch of a gorilla this afternoon.  I just couldn’t stop, however, so I took it further than I had intended.  I was having fun, dammit!  While I think I might compose it a little differently, maybe show a little more of the body, this may end up a Totem painting.