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A Couple of Great Deals!

Posted August 26th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on A Couple of Great Deals!

FreeShipping

First Offer: FREE SHIPPING!
This applies to everything in my online store, including the 8″X10″ prints I just added. They’ve only been available once before via my newsletter, social media, and at The Calgary Expo. For those 8″X10″ prints, postcard sets, poster prints, matted and canvas giclée prints, there are no shipping fees for orders to Canada and the Continental United States, only while inventory lasts. If you live close to me, I’ll even deliver and can take payment in person via cash or credit card. Check out the store here.

Second Offer: 30% OFF COMMISSIONS
The regular rate for pet portrait commissions is $900 (+GST). For the first THREE people that book a commission following this deal, the cost is $630 (+GST). That includes a canvas giclée print (up to 18″X24″), shadow box frame, and shipping. We’re talking friends and family rates here. This sort of thing makes a very unique Christmas gift and something you’ll want to think about sooner, rather than later, to have it done on time. For more information and to see some of my commission pieces, please visit that page on my site.

Any questions, drop me a line via the contact page.

Cheers,
Patrick




Conservation, Conviction, and Commerce

Posted August 10th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Conservation, Conviction, and Commerce

It came to my attention last week that the Calgary Zoo has allowed the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International to book their annual fundraiser at the zoo facilities next year. In the wake of the recent shooting death of Cecil the Lion, there has been a lot of focus on the trophy hunting of animals both at home and abroad. Unfortunately with our rapidly changing news cycle and our thirty-second attention spans, we as a society are prone to outrage one moment, apathy the next. Online, it has often been referred to as slacktivism.

For most, it costs nothing to rage against the Calgary Zoo on Facebook and Twitter, and then move on with our lives having raised our voices with righteous indignation but ultimately that’s the end of it. We rage on one bandwagon, wait for another to come alongside and climb aboard.

Unfortunately this issue has been literally keeping me up nights. Glancing at the clock on my computer, it is presently 12:53 AM as I write this sentence. I’m normally up at 5 AM to get my editorial cartoons done, so tomorrow will no doubt be a very long day.

The dilemma I’m having with the Calgary Zoo is that I spend a fair bit of time there, taking reference photos for paintings and enjoying the animals. When people have challenged me on supporting the zoo, I’ve long defended their conservation record and have explained the societal value of a well-run humane zoo, that it educates the public about the plight of at-risk and endangered animals world-wide.

A couple of years ago, the zoo started selling prints of my whimsical wildlife paintings and I’ve been proud to announce on social media whenever I’ve delivered another large batch of my poster prints or when I’ve visited the zoo to take reference photos.

I wrote an email to the Calgary Zoo expressing my disapproval of their decision to allow Safari Club International to use their facilities in an official capacity for an event. SCI will actually be auctioning off opportunities for their members to hunt some of the very animals that are featured at the zoo.

As an aside, I should be clear that I do not object to subsistence hunting or those who choose to feed their families with wild game rather than the meat available at the supermarket. I’m a meat eater and we are part of the food chain. Hunting for food is something every species does with the tools they have available.

My objection is to trophy hunting.

Zoo
In the zoo’s official response to the negative publicity (seen above) and no doubt plenty of emails and letters from their own members, the zoo says that they have no relationship with Safari Club International. They then go on to talk about all of the businesses that book their venues and say that they won’t discriminate against anyone wishing to book their facilities.

I would agree that it is unreasonable to expect that an ethical panel be convened anytime a company or individual is presented as a potential client. Nobody has that kind of time or money to conduct such an investigation. I don’t do background checks on everyone who buys a print, nor have I done extensive investigations into every newspaper I work for or gallery that sells my work.

But in the case of Safari Club International, the Calgary Zoo fails to make a credible argument with their response.

From the zoo’s own website, one finds the following, “Your support will connect the community to the natural world and inspire visitors to care for it, all while giving hope to endangered species.”

Additionally, “Education at the zoo builds a legacy for future generations – a love of nature and a commitment to conservation. Your support provides visitors and students of all ages with engaging experiences that connect them with the natural world. You can inspire the next generation of environmental caretakers. Help put our future in caring hands.”

And finally, “The future of your zoo is centered on animal welfare and a proud history of saving species. Inspiring Change, the zoo’s 20 year master plan, will set a new standard for exhibit design, connect the community with nature and continue important endangered species work locally and globally. Help us inspire change and join us on the journey to a brighter future for wildlife and wild places.”

Safari Club International’s mandate is to kill animals. Their argument that they aid in conservation is window dressing, a pretty frame for the dead carcass or disembodied head they take as a trophy. Anyone truly interested in conservation wouldn’t feel the need to kill the animal they claim to protect.

Most venues with facilities for rent should and do have a line in their application for use that reads something like, ‘we reserve the right to refuse bookings at our discretion.’

When a client’s image is so diametrically opposed to the mandate of the Calgary Zoo, it isn’t discrimination to politely refuse the booking and to suggest that perhaps another venue might be more appropriate, especially since there is no grey area or hidden agenda with regard to Safari Club International’s purpose as an organization. The zoo doesn’t need to do any digging to find out that SCI exists so that members can kill animals.

So I’ve been wrestling with this moral dilemma. Do I simply wag a finger at the zoo for allowing this event, but continue to use my annual membership to take pictures? Can I criticize them for doing business with this organization I find so despicable, but still happily deliver prints to their retail outlets to be sold there? Or would that make me as big a hypocrite as I’m accusing them of being?

I’ve been having a hard time with this. I had a long discussion with a friend about it while camping this weekend. My wife and I went back and forth about it this evening before I started writing this post. In all honesty, I’ve been looking for a way to keep selling my prints there while still occupying the moral high ground. I’m a self-employed artist. Removing my prints will be voluntarily cutting a portion of my income. Conviction comes at a price.

I’m just getting started on this journey of painting animals and I enjoy it a great deal. I plan to be doing this for many more years to come and if I start compromising my integrity at their expense in order to make a few more dollars, I’m as bad as the people who go out and shoot them under a bloody flag of conservation. When you get comfortable compromising your values, it will become a habit.

I am hopeful that their many other clients, patrons and regular guests will apply pressure to the Calgary Zoo, to urge them to deny Safari Club International the venue next year. I am hopeful that the outrage I saw online when this story broke wasn’t just hollow talk without action. I would like to give the board at the zoo time to realize their error in judgement and I will be happy to continue to support the zoo if they come around to the right decision.

If not, I will no longer supply any more of my prints to the Calgary Zoo and will cut up my membership. I have to sleep at night.

.

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Delighted with DecalGirl

Posted July 30th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Delighted with DecalGirl

I spend a lot of time trying to get the details right, painting in all of the little hairs and textures. So when I have that work printed, it needs to look great, too. Whether it’s the poster prints sold at the Calgary Zoo, or the giclée matted prints and canvas in the galleries in Banff and on Vancouver Island, if it doesn’t look good, I don’t want my name on it. I’m also a big believer in working with professionals. Rather than stumble through learning to print my own work, I hire people who are already experts at printing. By paying them to do what they do best, I get to continue doing what I do best, which is painting funny looking animals.

When I signed on with The Mountain , it was only because I’d seen their quality and attention to detail and knew that my paintings would look great on their shirts, and I wasn’t disappointed. My reputation is only as good as the people I choose to work with. I didn’t want shirts that were good enough, I wanted the best shirts.

OtterCaseSo, when I got the opportunity to sign on with DecalGirl, it didn’t take long for me see that this company was a perfect fit for me and my whimsical critters. DecalGirl has been in business since 2003. They were the first-to-market, the original skin company to produce full color skins in the United States. They support over 500(!) unique devices, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, MP3 players, eReaders, and gaming devices. Sounds like they’re the best to me.

Whenever possible, I’ve tried to work with companies where the owners are still involved with the day to day. While you can always hire good people to work for you, it’s the people at the helm who chart the course. When those are the people who have built it from the ground up or who’ve bet their own future on it, they just care more. You can build relationships with these people.

Here are some other positives that really stand out for me with DecalGirl.

– Their products are 100% Made in the USA. Yes, I’m Canadian, but I have a lot of great friends and customers in the U.S. and I find it a lot easier to stand behind a product if I don’t have to hide where it’s made. DecalGirl is a one stop shop. Their customer service staff is right on site, so if you’ve got questions, you’re going to be talking to the right people in the right place.

– I already knew from their website that they paid attention to detail, but seeing is believing. I received my samples last week and I was WOWED. The print quality is as good as that of the work I sell in the galleries. I couldn’t wait to put my Shark Totem on my laptop and kept squinting and looking at the fine detail, couldn’t believe how good the print was.
Packaging– These decals don’t just arrive loose in an envelope, the packaging is well designed, colorful, and professional. From an artist’s perspective, I was very pleased to see that included in the details was my name, the name of the painting and my signature. That not only makes me feel valued as a partner, it’s going to make my customers feel valued that they’re not just buying some generic catalog stock photo. This is a piece of artwork.

– I worked in a sign shop years ago and I learned a lot about vinyl and the different weights and qualities. I’ve printed and applied vinyl to many vehicles and signs, but it’s been well over a decade and I’m out of practice. I needn’t have worried, because not only do the decals come with easy to follow instructions, the vinyl is of such excellent quality that I was able to apply it quickly and easily, using only my fingers to smoothly stick it in place. No fuss, no bubbles, and it looks great! Follow the instructions, you’ll have no trouble.
Otters

– The great prices they’re offering for their products, the incredibly large number of available devices, and the attention to detail is very impressive. I’m really not going to have to sell their work, it pretty much sells itself.

– When I bought my laptop, I wanted one that could replace my desktop in a pinch. It had to be powerful and robust, so that if my main computer went on the fritz and needed repair, I’d still be able to work. So my laptop is rather unique and uncommon in the market in that it’s a high end gaming laptop, perfect for the demands of detailed digital art. As such, it’s not listed in their available devices. A nice feature DecalGirl offers is that they’ll custom fit one to your specs. I gave them the measurements of my laptop and the print that arrived fit perfectly in the space I’d intended for it!
Shark– Getting tired of my mentioning attention to detail? On my iPad Mini, for instance, all of the little holes for the volume and power buttons, the speakers and microphones, they’re already cut out of the decal. It helps with getting a perfect fit if you start on an edge with those holes and then apply from there. It almost fell into place on its own. They’ve also got a downloadable wallpaper for your devices, which was a simple process. The decal on the front of my iPad lines up perfectly with the wallpaper on the screen. Looks very cool! This image also completely covers the back and sides of the device, too!
GiraffeiPad– These decals will in no way harm your devices. They’re easily removed without any leftover residue.

At present, the Totems available from DecalGirl are my Great Horned Owl, Ostrich, Giraffe, Otter and Shark. For those who’ve been asking for some of the others, fingers crossed that these sell so well that eventually all of your favorites will be available. Take a look and see some previews of what these look like on your devices.

While this is still very new, the folks I’ve been talking with at DecalGirl have been friendly and welcoming, offering me any and all assistance to make sure I’m happy with how they’re putting my paintings on their products. In point of fact, I’m thrilled. I’m looking forward to a long relationship with these folks.

Cheers,
Patrick.




My Muse

Posted July 27th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on My Muse

MusePostAnyone who loves and makes a pet part of their family knows that right there in the fine print of the unwritten agreement are the words, “sometime in the future, there will come a very bad day.”

This morning we said goodbye to our cat, Muse. Many of you reading this have been where we are, as we’ve been as well. We got Maya and Muse 18 years ago as 12 week old kittens from the
Humane Society in Calgary and since we never had kids, these cats were spoiled rotten. We lost Maya four years ago when she developed some serious neurological issues, likely a tumour or cancer.

While we could have adopted another cat, we realized that Muse was happier on her own (her sister was a bit of a bully) so we decided she would get all of our attention for herself during her senior years.

She was diagnosed with thyroid issues a few years ago. After she turned out to be allergic to the medication, a change to a specialized diet thankfully saved her and she was still able to enjoy a pampered quality of life. We realized she had gone deaf earlier this year, and that too is something she adapted to easily. In recent months, however, she has been losing weight and it’s been tough to get her to eat. I’ve been bringing her food wherever she’ll eat it, heating it up, and doing whatever it takes to keep her interested and her weight stable. Because she was restricted to the thyroid food, I couldn’t use any other foods to entice her, so it was a challenge. At one point not too long ago while discussing her senior health issues, Muse was rolling around beside me, playing and being cute. Shonna pointed out, “you know she’s happy, right?”
MusePlayingStill playful, demanding, energetic and a little diva, she has indeed been a happy elderly cat.

In recent weeks, though, her appetite has waned even more; she has lost more weight, and despite the vet saying she was doing pretty well a month ago, I’ve had a feeling something was off and that this was coming. The vet had scheduled her for another visit a few weeks from now to check on her weight, some concern about possible kidney issues if she kept losing pounds.

This weekend, it became clear that we weren’t going to make it that long. The light in her eyes had vanished, she became lethargic, had begun to stumble and fall, and was clearly distraught. She wasn’t eating, couldn’t get her to purr, and she just didn’t seem to be able to get comfortable.

In all of the reading I’ve done online the last time we went through this and this weekend, they say most often it’s the owners who know when it’s time, and both Shonna and I agreed. After a very difficult weekend, we euthanized Muse at the vet this morning. We had decided that any extraordinary measures at her age would be selfishly prolonging her life for us, not for her. In human years, she was in her nineties and we weren’t willing to put her through tests and treatments that would likely only buy us weeks or months, but would most definitely make her miserable.

As we did with Maya, we stayed with her ‘til the very end. I held her in my arms as she died.

While we will both miss her, Muse and I had a special bond, likely because I’ve been home with her all day for the past ten years. Tortoise shell cats often take to one person, all part of their quirky personality. She sat with me while I worked each day, would follow me down to the kitchen when I got another cup of coffee, and she let me know when it was time to take a break and play with her. I would always oblige. Although never a lap cat, it was me she wanted to be next to on the couch in the evenings, within petting range, of course. She was my first priority in the morning and I brushed her every day. Half a dozen blankets, cat beds and fabricated hiding places around the house made sure she always had a comfortable place to sleep.

Maya was Shonna’s cat. Muse was mine. But we both felt their loss equally.
MuseandMayaThere is going to be a very large hole in my life for a while, just as there is for everyone who loses a pet. For 18 years our home has always had a cat in it. It will again someday, but not for quite a while. This grief will be raw for quite some time. If you imagine me with dry eyes while I write this, you are mistaken.

The emptiness in the house will be tangible, no doubt. When I go to the kitchen first thing in the morning, have breakfast later on, come back from my usual hike in the afternoon, I’ll be expecting Muse to greet me with a purr and her demanding meow. The silence is going to be tough.

Everybody deals with these things differently; grief is a very personal thing. If you’re reading this via social media, please don’t feel obligated to write a comment or say anything. I never know what to say, either. Shonna and I view death in a very practical light, so I would ask that you NOT tell me about the rainbow bridge or say that I’ll meet my cat again. While I respect your beliefs, I don’t share them. I believe this experience is a limited time offer and when it’s over, it’s over.

Right now, I’m very sad, as can be expected. This will pass and eventually I will only focus on the happy memories. That’s how we remember Maya these days, our chatty little goofball who made us laugh and enriched our lives.

Muse had 18 good years. She was loved and I’m grateful for the time we shared. I will miss this face.
MuseBlanket




A Trio of Ostriches

Posted July 22nd, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on A Trio of Ostriches

PaintingSomething about painting these animals of mine with the intention of printing and selling them is that I can become a little too focused on the end result and forget why I started creating them in the first place, which was for the simple joy of it. I’ll often go through my now very extensive, but neatly organized folders full of animal photos, looking for inspiration for the next piece. While there are plenty of animals I’ve got pics for and have yet to paint, it’s a matter of timing. Certain animal paintings just happen when the mood strikes me, when it’s just their time. I’ve had some pics for years before I’ve gotten around to using them for a painting.

Even though I’ve painted an ostrich before, part of my Totem series, and despite the fact that it’s one my best selling prints, I found myself looking at some recent ostrich pics I took at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail and others I’d taken at the Calgary Zoo. I just love the attitude of these animals. It’s completely unjustified, but they always seem two seconds away from bristling at whatever imagined indignity is confronting them. Kind of like a cross between, “how dare you?!” and “don’t you know who I am?”

At the Calgary Zoo, the ostriches and zebras share an enclosure. While I was taking photos one day, a zebra made his way toward me, clearly with the intent of eating some of the hay by the fence. To get there, he (or she, can’t remember) had to walk between two ostriches and their reaction made me laugh out loud. They quickly backed away, hissed at the zebra and their body language indicated that they were offended at this worst of possible slights and invasion of their personal space. The zebra seemed to be used to all of this and just ambled through without giving them a second glance. It was pretty amusing.
CloseupWhile looking at the reference pics, I realized that there were plenty of other animals I could have painted right now to add to my menagerie of marketable prints, but in the end, I just wanted to paint some more ostriches. I might have painted them all looking angry and indignant, but I just went with what I felt while working on them. There’s a trace of that attitude in there, especially in the one on the right, but to me, they just seem to be a trio of ridiculous looking goofs. Whatever you see in them is right for you, of course.

For some reason, it also reminds me of three awkward teenage kids being forced to pose together for a family portrait.

This was a lot of fun and while I doubt I’ll be painting more ostriches in the near future, you never can tell. I didn’t expect to be painting these three. This was painted in Photoshop CC 2015 on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD displays, with photos used only for reference.

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Zendaya

Posted July 3rd, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Zendaya

Zendaya
My latest painting, a lion cub named Zendaya.

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a couple of lion cubs at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail. It’s a wonderful place I’d driven by on many an occasion but had never made the time to stop in.

I’m wary of supporting zoos if they don’t have a mandate or reputation for existing for the right reasons and for treating the animals well, so I did a little research before attending. I was pleased with what I found out and if you’re curious, I’d encourage you to visit their site to read a little about the work they do.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the generosity of many of my photographer friends who’ve been willing to let me use their images for reference on a number of my paintings. Some of my most popular pieces wouldn’t have been possible without their assistance. In other cases, I’ve purchased stock photos online. The common thread in both of those options is trying to find the right photos to work with that will get me close to the vision I see in my head. Often, I find that even though the photos might be excellent, I’m working with what I’ve got and have to settle a little. This should in no way be seen as a criticism of the photographs, just a missing element, namely my own experience with the animal I’m painting.

In recent years, I’ve been taking my own reference pics and that has quickly become the preferred option. Having won a high end camera along with my Best in Show Award at Photoshop World last year, I’ve been working to become a better photographer. Between that camera and the one I already had, each with their own uses, more and more often I’m using my own reference pics for paintings.

Discovery Wildlife Park offers behind-the-scenes experiences with some of their animals, under the vigilant supervision of their keepers. This year, with the arrival of two lion cub siblings, they offered an opportunity for very small groups of people to get up close and personal with the cubs, for an additional fee, as would be expected. This will only last as long as the cubs are enjoying it and while they’re small enough that it doesn’t expose guests to any risk.
LoungingTwo trainers, two other guests and I were brought into an area outside of the cubs’ main enclosure, but still in a controlled area. The two cubs were each brought out on a leash by a trainer. Initially, the female, Zendaya, the subject of this painting, didn’t seem to want to come out and be sociable and they had told us earlier that it was up to the cubs. If they didn’t feel like participating, they wouldn’t be forced. I quite liked that.
CubCuddleGriffin, the boy, seemed to love the attention and exploring outside of his enclosure. He was also clearly enjoying the physical interaction with the keeper and there was an obvious bond there. When Zendaya finally decided she was missing out on her brother’s fun, she wanted to come out as well and was just as affectionate with her keeper.
WalkWe had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and for much of the time; I was within arm’s reach of either cub. When the keeper felt that one of the cubs was relaxed enough, we were allowed to touch them, specifically told to keep our hands away from their heads as they didn’t know us. I was allowed to take plenty of pictures and the whole experience was a real thrill.

When I got home, I had so many great shots to choose from, I knew I was going to paint one of the cubs and will very likely paint the other in the near future. I’m also planning to return to the Park very soon to get some more photos of the other animals for similar painting reference. They have a very cooperative beaver there that I’m dying to get some good shots of as I’ve wanted to paint one for a while.
ZendayaCloseI had initially intended this first lion cub piece to be more of a sketch painting, but the more I worked on it, the less I wanted to stop, so I carried it through to a completion. I’m very happy with the result and I’m looking forward to seeing it on canvas.

This was my first painting done with the recent upgrade of Photoshop CC 2015 and it worked flawlessly. As usual, no photos or textures are used in the actual painting, just for reference. Everything is brush work, using both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the Cintiq 24HD displays.

Thanks for reading.
Patrick

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Letter to my Editor

Posted June 30th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Letter to my Editor

I’ve been following Renegade Arts Entertainment for some time now as the company is a local success story. A Canadian publisher of comic books and graphic novels featuring internationally known writers and artists, Renegade’s reach appears to be ever expanding. Based right here in Canmore, their commitment to quality artwork, storytelling, and printing has earned my respect.

Earlier this year, I asked Editor and Publisher (and writer!) Alexander Finbow if he wouldn’t mind meeting me for lunch. I was looking to pick his brain about publishing and asked for any advice he could give me. Alex and I didn’t really know each other, though we’d met, but I needed help and figured I had nothing to lose by asking.

He was gracious and generous with his time and information, we talked about Renegade possibly publishing my book (something I didn’t expect), but with the many submissions he gets each week and the fact that my book will be very different from anything they’ve published before, it was just tire kicking on both of our parts. I thanked him for his time and willingness to share what he knew and I went away with a lot more to think about.

Alex and I ran into each other a few times at the Calgary Expo, talked while walking to the BMO Centre one day during the event, and he invited my wife and I to a networking event that weekend as well, which was a lot of fun.
Alex01FBThis past Sunday, I went downtown to Café Books here in Canmore to buy Renegade’s latest book, The Loxleys and Confederation, and Alex and I chatted more about my project. Before I knew it, we had agreed to work together on it, and Renegade will be publishing my book in early 2017. If that seems like a lot of lead time, it’s because there are a thousand things to do if you want to publish and market a book well. Creating the content is step 1. I’m looking forward to a lot of work and a lot of education over the next year. The artwork and writing of the book needs to be done by Canada Day, 2016.

So now I have a deadline. I’m good with deadlines.

With some suggestions for the narrative from Alex and my own thoughts rattling around my head, he tasked me with laying down a foundation for the book. What do I want to say? What story do I want to tell?

Yesterday, I sent Alex the following email and I thought it might be something you’d like to read, with his permission and approval, of course. He even came up with the title for this post.

So here it is. The beginning of my first book of artwork…

Hi Alex:

Having had some time to think about the direction of the narrative in the book, I wanted to write down what I think would give you my best work to go along with the images. Most people I know who’ve run their own business or charted their own course for any length of time, have experienced the rewards of following their gut instinct. Sometimes it’s soft spoken, other times it’s a deafening roar. We’ve all been the victims of ignoring that instinct as well, and the ones still working have learned from it. I’m sure you can say the same of your own experience.

With that in mind, I don’t want to include any fictional stories in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I like writing fiction. I’ve written two novels that have been sitting on a shelf for the past fifteen years because I was focusing on my artwork instead. Truth be told, I chickened out on trying to get either published, although I did recently start editing the first one again to give it another go.

But for the animal work, fiction just feels wrong to me. What I had intended from the beginning, and what still feels true to me, is to use the writing in the book to talk about the road from there to here. How I stumbled upon drawing animals and the success of that work at this point in time is a weird meandering story and that’s the one I want to tell.

I’ve never gone to art school, so I don’t like talking or teaching art in that way because I don’t feel qualified to do so. I’m also not an animal expert by any means so talking about habitats and biology would be boring for me to write, not to mention for someone to read. As for telling a story that goes with each painting or image, there really isn’t one for every animal. Some of them, like my Bactrian Camel image, was just because I saw one at the Calgary Zoo and thought, “I want to paint him!”

BactrianCamel
That’s often the case with most of my images and there will be plenty of sketches and works-in-progress I’d like to include in the book that won’t require captions or accompanying text.

But there are many paintings that do have fun and ridiculous stories associated with them. There are the owls up at Grassi Lakes, a rooster on a hobby farm outside of Bowden, a couple of goofy looking seagulls on a dock in Ucluelet, the lion cubs I photographed up close outside of Innisfail recently, and a Coyote that waited twenty years to be painted. Incidentally, that Coyote is my favorite painting and I’m willing to tell that story in the book. I’ve never written about it before.

CoyoteTotem
I’ve got plenty of stories to tell, but the common thread that will tie them all together is that they’re part of my story. So that’s what I want it to be, a collection of stories that contribute to the whole. The lessons I’ve learned from painting animals.

I want to talk about my philosophy on the business, anecdotes, learning to paint, following instinct, serendipity and happy accidents. I started in my mid-late twenties and somehow turned this into a career. What I’d like to share with people is the inspiration that it’s never too late to try something new and to point out the value of taking risks. Ask twenty artists how to become a success and you’ll get twenty answers. The ones who went to art school will say you have to go to art school. The ones who paint with oils and acrylics will say you have to paint with traditional materials. More and more in my career, I find that the rules others tell you that must be followed are often shackles, chains that prevent you from moving forward.

This is the type of narrative I want to write, the one I’m the most passionate about, and what will deliver my best work to the project. It’s these types of themes that have given me the greatest response in newsletters and blog posts over the years, the ones that strip away the glossy PR and marketing and talk to people like they’re real…well…people.

I’ve been keeping a pretty regular blog since February of 2008, although some months are leaner than others. Lately, more of my writing has gone into my newsletter, but there’s a lot of material there and more I can add that I think will make an interesting read to go with the paintings.

Everybody’s got a story to tell, and I’d like to start telling mine. I think there’s value in it. Plus, I really do enjoy writing and if I’m going to keep painting the images I want to paint, then I’d like the writing to follow the same guidelines.

That being said, I fully submit to your editing expertise when the writing is done. I mentioned to my wife the other day that it seems laughable when we were kids that our teachers would assign 1000 word essays in English class. I can write that much in an email even when I’m trying to keep it short. Clearly, I need an editor.

I’ve had a title in mind for a couple of years now. It best sums up the work and describes the whimsical nature of most of my paintings. I’d like to call it, “Funny Looking Animals.”

With that in mind, I’d welcome your thoughts and advice on this. I’m happy to send you links to any blog posts I’ve written that I think best illustrate the tone I’d like to set in the book. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Cheers,
Patrick
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Mila Kunis – A Portrait

Posted June 6th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Mila Kunis – A Portrait

SolaraFBThis is a portrait of Solara, a character from the movie ‘The Book of Eli.’ While the movie received mediocre reviews from critics and audiences alike, I’ve always liked it.

A dramatic thriller set in post-apocalyptic America, it feels a lot like a Western. What the movie might lack in originality or depth, it makes up for with a talented cast of actors. Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis carry the movie well. I bought it on DVD and have watched it a number of times, as I often do with movies I enjoy. I’ve never really liked film critics, so I won’t pretend to be one here by over analyzing it or trying to convince you to give it a try. There is a clever twist at the end, however, which makes watching it the second time even more interesting.

EliPosterI’ve always been taken with the lighting in this movie. It has a definite sepia quality appropriate to the desperate tone of the setting. In one particular scene, near the end of a gun fight in the street, Solara peers out from where she’s hiding and I found it to be a powerful moment. Without saying a word, her face reveals her thoughts and I instantly wanted to paint Kunis in the role.

That was easily about two years ago, but I never quite forgot it. When I was looking to do another portrait, simply for my own enjoyment, I had a number of candidates in mind from films I’ve enjoyed, but I kept coming back to Solara. Part of the reason was that my portfolio has an abundance of male actors in it and I want to add more women, but also because I’ve thought about this painting often.

I started this in February, but with the preparation for the Calgary Expo, other deadlines and commissions, I had to put it aside so nothing got done on it for a couple of months. I finally made the time for it recently and I think I’m happy with the result.

SolaraCloseup
There’s no denying that Mila Kunis is an attractive woman, but in this role, she was living in a desolate world, barely surviving. Her character lived in what passed for civilization and she was as close to privileged in the role as one could be in those circumstances. But, one of the biggest challenges for this piece was trying not to make it look too clean to preserve that tone, but also not to use too many rough textured brush strokes so that it was overdone. I didn’t want to ‘grunge it up,’ just because I could.

It was an interesting challenge and I experimented with new brushes quite a bit while painting, which made the effort of working on this piece well worth my time.

This was painted in Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. Movie stills were used only for reference.

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A Break by a Lake

Posted May 24th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on A Break by a Lake

WoodThere’s a little lake in the Invermere Valley of British Columbia that I was introduced to almost twenty years ago by my buddy, Jim. He’s been going there every year without fail, for well over two decades. It was with surprise recently that I realized it had been eight years since my last visit. The reason for my absence was due in part to the demands of self-employment, building a business, and being a workaholic who has refused to take much time off since starting this gig full-time about that many years ago.

The other reason was that I had a little car I was trying to keep for as long as possible and when it was fully loaded with camping gear, it rode a little low to the ground. Given the nature of the road up to the lake, and the fact that on previous visits the undercarriage met with more than a few rock-knocks, I was reluctant to risk it on an often unpredictable road.

With the retirement of that car last year, and my upgrade to what amounts to today’s version of a station wagon, my Pontiac Vibe, I felt it was time to rejoin the world of camping, especially since I have all of the gear. I did splurge on a new instant pop-up tent this year, however, which worked like a charm. That’s the little green one on the far right.

CampsiteThis second weekend of May is an annual tradition for a number of friends, though people have drifted in and out of the group as time has worn on. This year, there were five of us. While it’s pretty much a guy’s weekend, our friends Babe and Susan come together, so she’s the exception to the rule.

The lake is an ideal spot that used to be a bit of a secret hideaway, but if you’ve camped anywhere in Alberta and BC lately, you’ll know that there is very little quiet and solitude to be had unless you’re off-road in the back-country. Fortunately, if you head out before the May long weekend, you might be up against unpredictable weather and a lake too cold for swimming, but you’ve got a better chance of finding a little peace.

I’d been looking forward to this weekend for quite some time this year, especially since the first four months of 2015 were very busy, with few chances for a break.

As if testing my determination to relax, our convoy of four vehicles was almost to the lake, and not yet on the roughest part of the road, when we stopped to enjoy the scenery and an unmistakable hissing sound announced that my front left tire wasn’t going to make it much further.

While I know how to change a tire, I’ve never actually had to, outside of my driver training course in the Army Reserves over twenty years ago. Believe it or not, aside from a couple of slow leaks taken in for repair over the years, I’ve never had a flat tire that warranted a roadside change. Not once.

While I began to unload my gear to get to the jack and spare, I’d barely brought it out before Jim and Al assumed the role of pit crew and had the tire changed, much quicker than I would have.

With the donut spare in place, half my gear loaded in the other vehicles, the others went on ahead to ensure we got our preferred spot, one of only three on the whole lake. I drove back down the road to the highway, headed for the Canadian Tire in Invermere. Thankfully, they managed to get my car into the shop in less than an hour. A sharp rock was the culprit, but in a good place for a patch. The mechanic told me it was a very common occurrence in that area with all of the dirt roads.

About three hours after discovering the flat, I was back up at the lake, enjoying a frosty beverage and the sunshine. Despite insomnia the first night (for no apparent reason), I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
ClelandGroupWe had beautiful warm weather for four days, interrupted only by some cloud cover on Sunday and a few seconds of very light rain. Saturday morning, I rose early and was canoeing around the lake with my camera before anybody else had gotten up.
Cleland051215FB

Ducks

ChipmunkWith plenty of time to read, take photos, play a little guitar, eat, drink and enjoy each others company, four days in the woods by a lake does wonders for one’s perspective. As there is barely any cell service in the area, the usual distractions from email and text alerts were conspicuously absent, though a short walk up the dirt road did allow for one bar of service, so our Moms did get their calls on Mother’s Day.

With no plans to stray far from home this summer, I’m already planning another camping trip in a few weeks, this time here in Alberta. If it doesn’t end up as dry as they’re predicting, or as wet as 2013, here’s hoping I can manage a few more of these outdoor breaks before the snow flies again.

It would appear to agree with me.

PatrickFB




Polar Bear Totem

Posted April 4th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Polar Bear Totem

PolarBearTotemHere’s my latest painting, the Polar Bear Totem. I’ve mentioned before how I never really know when I’m going to paint a specific animal. I’ll keep reference photos for some animals for years before using them, waiting for the time to seem right. In other cases, I’ll get the urge to paint an animal and go searching for reference right before I start the painting, as I did for this one. I bought several stock photo images and used all of them in the painting of this bear, although as always, no photo is part of the painting, only used for reference. It was painted in Photoshop CC on my Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.

In my experience, if I paint an animal for commercial purposes alone, it often doesn’t end up working for me or it turns out to be less than I’d hoped for. The Magpie and Ground Squirrel have always felt like that for me, because I painted them for my first gallery in Banff, rather than for myself.

On many occasions, I’ll enjoy working on a painting, but I’ll feel the finished result just isn’t as good as it could be, so it’ll take me some time away from it until I feel good about it. Even then, some of my most popular paintings aren’t my personal favorites.

Thankfully, this one felt special and the final few hours were some of the most enjoyable I’ve spent painting this year.

Initially, I wanted to have this done for the upcoming Calgary Expo show in less than a couple of weeks, but to make my deadline to get all of my prints done, allowing me time to sign and package them, it would have had to have been done a couple of weeks ago. I was feeling rushed, looked at how many prints of images I was already bringing and it became clear that I didn’t need it, so I decided to take my time. I’m quite pleased that I did as I’m very happy with the result.
PolarBearSketchI’ve always loved bears, even though I’ll admit to an irrational fear of them, which sometimes does put a dark cloud over camping trips. I live in bear territory, specifically blacks and grizzlies. Despite the fact that I hike alone quite a bit, and have seen plenty of bear sign, I’ve never run into one in the wild, which after twenty years in the Bow Valley, is kind of odd. But I’m ‘bear aware’ as they say in these parts, carry bear spray and know what to do if I encounter one. In most cases, as long as you don’t startle them or they aren’t feeding or with cubs, they’ll want to get as far away from you as they can. Even if they charge you, it’s often a bluff, and if you can keep your wits about you, they’ll stop short of contact or veer off and hightail it in the other direction.

I’ve worn a black bear’s tooth around my neck for many years now, given to me by an acquaintance years ago in Banff. He’d found it somewhere in Quebec years ago, still in the skull, and it’s very old. I had a jeweler friend craft a silver bezel setting for it so I could wear it on a chain.

The first Totem I painted was a Grizzly, but it hasn’t felt right yet to paint a black bear. Sooner or later, it’ll show up, I’m sure.

Why I felt the time was right to paint a polar bear, is beyond me. Perhaps it’s the increased frequency of their mention in the news, associated with climate change and the expected loss of their habitat. Scientists fear that polar bears, while very adaptable, show no inclination to survive solely on land. They thrive on sea ice, that’s their habitat, and when it’s gone, likely they will be as well. A recent CBC report stated that ‘Inuvialuit traditional knowledge’ says the bear numbers are actually fine, so as in all things, the truth of their future lies somewhere in the middle, although they are classified as a threatened species.

The polar bear has no natural predators other than man. Classified as a marine mammal, it’s carnivorous and a skilled hunter. While they will avoid encounters with humans when they can, they aren’t fearful of us and have been known to kill and eat people. Considering how many of them have been killed by humans, I say turnabout is fair play.

I’d like to visit Churchill, Manitoba one day and take one of the polar bear tours, to see them in their natural surroundings.

PolarBearCloseIf you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form. Thanks!