Posted December 21st, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Coming up on the end of another year and while it’s just a date on a calendar, having these periodic markers along the way does give a person a chance for reflection and to make plans for the next go round the sun.
I’ve been fortunate that every year in my art career has been better than the one that came before it. 2014 was no exception. Always learning and improving my skills, the challenge this year was to keep my eyes on where I’m going, despite the distractions that tempted me to lose focus. It’s easy to look at what other artists are doing and to wonder if they know something you don’t, but in my experience, we’re all just winging it, no matter what profession you’re in.
This past year, I found myself doing a lot of sketch paintings, simply the term I use for what I consider unfinished work. Some of those went further to become finished paintings in my Totem collection, others ended up being practice pieces, and still others sold well as prints, even though that hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the year. I plan to do a lot more of that type of work in 2015, as I really enjoyed it.
In the spring, my wife and I were once again working my booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, our second year at that event. As it was a big success for us, I’ve been signed up for the 2015 Expo almost since the last one ended. I’ll be trying a few new things with print sales this year and I look forward to participating in their tenth anniversary. We also plan to have a booth at a few other trade shows during the year.
I painted my first landscape in 2014, an enjoyable personal project I did just to see if I could. I doubt that I’ll become a landscape artist anytime soon, but I’ve still got a few ideas I’d like to bring to light, so there will likely be one or two in the coming year, along with some experiments that may or may not involve animals.
One of the reasons I chose that particular image to paint, a landmark called White Face Rock, was that I had fond memories of Ucluelet, British Columbia, somewhere my wife and I had vacationed a few years ago. I decided to go back this year on my own in June for sort of an artist’s retreat and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life so far. I rented a little cabin off the harbour for four days, took three days of wildlife cruises through Barkley Sound, brought home plenty of photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That trip also gave me the opportunity to get my work into two new galleries in Ucluelet and Tofino. In the New Year, I plan to go back there and will stop in at some other places along the way. I still have reference photos I have yet to use from the last trip and I plan to get to some more of those soon.
One of the more valuable life lessons I’ve learned is to make time for personal projects. Seems each one ends up yielding unexpected benefits. One such project this year came from finding a nest of Great Horned Owls up at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore. After watching the family of owls for a couple of weeks, taking plenty of photos and doing some sketch paintings, I ended up with a painting that I called, ‘One in Every Family.’ It was a departure from my usual style of animal paintings.
At Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, that painting won me the Best in Show Guru Award, the second year I’ve received that honour. A nice surprise bonus of that award was winning a Canon 5D Mark III camera, a professional piece of hardware that I am enjoying learning how to use. I’ve discovered that photography as a hobby has opened new creative avenues for me, especially since it contributes directly to my work. I take the camera with me whenever I go hiking or for a drive and it has helped me get even better reference photos for paintings. Funny how things work out.
While I’ve got plenty of fond memories of Photoshop World in Las Vegas, having attended five times, made plenty of friends and learned a lot, this year was a high note and I think a good ending for me for that particular event. I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, certainly not in 2015. I’ve learned never to say never, but there are plenty of other experiences and trips I’d like to take. The world’s a big place.
In August, I met a gentleman named Bruno, a vendor at one of the Canmore Market booths. I just liked his character and felt the urge to paint him, another personal project. He was willing to participate in the experience and I ended up doing a portrait piece that I was quite proud of.
Since then, I’ve gotten to know Bruno and he has been giving my wife and I a crash course in the community and inner workings of the artist trade show circuit in Western Canada. We’ve been learning a lot and planning to venture into that world a little more as a result. Serendipity once again. I will be doing more portraits in the coming year.
And finally, one of my favorite pieces this year was the commissioned painting of Denzil, one I consider to be my best work to date, at least when it comes to a realistic rendering. It raised the bar for what I will now consider a finished piece and it’s going to make me try harder. Many times I’ve finished a painting and thought, “that’s it, I can’t do better than that,” and I’m always wrong. With time and practice comes more skill and that applies to everyone and everything, no matter what you do.
I’ve no desire for time to move quicker than it already does, but I find myself excited to think about the paintings I’ll do five years from now.
For the next year, I’m playing the long game. I’ve met with and hired a local designer friend and neighbour who is going to help me bring a book of my artwork into reality, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Up until now, I didn’t feel I had enough pieces with which to populate the book I had in mind. I still don’t, but by the end of 2015, I will, so there will be a lot of painting this year. Before I commit to anything else as the year goes on, that will be front of mind.
It’s with quiet confidence that I close out 2014, with great expectations for the coming year. I see no reason why the recent trend should not continue and I look forward to 2015 being better than the year that came before it.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a follower of my work. Perhaps you’ve purchased my prints at the galleries, online or at Expo, or you’ve been a client that hired me to paint one of your fuzzy faced loved ones. You might follow my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or subscribe to my newsletter. You might be one of my many editors across Canada who sees fit to publish my cartoons on your editorial page. Maybe you’re one of those friends or industry colleagues I’ve been fortunate to know and work with over the years. No matter where you fit in with your support of my daily work of drawing and colouring all day, please accept my sincere thanks. I do appreciate it.
My very best to all of you in the coming year. Take chances, start checking items off those bucket lists, don’t wait to live the life you’ve imagined. It is well worth the risk.
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Posted December 11th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
In the past, these presentations have been more about editorial cartooning, especially when students are studying politics and current events. It provides a window into the difference between journalism and opinion, satire and commentary. There is value there, and I think those talks are important, too, but my passion lies with the other artwork I do, so I was really looking forward to this one, as it was about the art, not the politics. To paraphrase the teacher who contacted me, it was basically an opportunity for students to be exposed to yet another creative medium of expression, one they might not have considered.
I’ve had plenty of folks give me a leg up in my relatively short career as an artist and whenever an opportunity like this comes up, I realize it’s my responsibility to pay that forward. So, if I’ve got the time, I’m happy to help if I can.
I was scheduled to do two presentations to two different age groups. A slide show of my work, a little background on how I got into it, the type of work I do, plus a glimpse into how the actual drawing and painting is done.
In the back and forth emails leading up to the presentations, I became aware that the Banff Community High School didn’t yet have any drawing tablets. School budgets being what they are, students often don’t get all that we would like them to have. I thought that showing them how to draw and paint digitally and then denying them the means to do so would be a little cruel on my part. Hey, look at this delicious candy I’m eating…you can’t have any.
Over the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to have made some valuable contacts in this industry, and some even better friends. While I’ve used their products since 1997, it wasn’t until 2010 that I started getting to know a few people at Wacom quite well. Over the past four years, I’ve done webinars, tutorials and hangouts with them; written blog posts, recorded videos, done demos at their booth at Photoshop World, and even ran a booth on my own for them in Calgary at a Kelby Training Seminar. I’d hardly want to give the impression that this relationship is one-sided , however, so without getting into specifics, let’s just say that Wacom has been very good to me in return. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.
Needless to say, I’m lucky to call a few of them friends. With that in mind, without shame, I requested a discount on a couple of tablets, so that I could give them to the school. I figured I could afford it and two tablets are much better than none.
Much to my delight, my friend (who is choosing to remain anonymous, dammit!) donated five Intuos 5 Medium tablets to the school, free of charge. For those unfamiliar with these devices, I could do all of the work I do on one of these tablets. These kids aren’t being asked to settle for inferior hardware, mostly because in my experience, Wacom doesn’t make inferior hardware. While I’m currently using their 13HD and 24HD displays (seen on screen in photo below), I have had an Intuos 5 Medium tablet for quite a while and if you went to my portfolio, a lot of it has been done with that device.
I was pretty thrilled at the donation, and it would have been more than enough.
But then I realized that because they don’t yet have the Adobe CC software, the students had something to draw and paint on, now they needed a program to do it with. Lately, I’ve been using Autodesk Sketchbook quite a bit and thoroughly enjoying it. Their app for iPhone and iPad are the best I’ve seen for mobile art and those are only outshone by their desktop version. I’ve been doing a lot of sketching for my editorial cartoons with that lately, so I knew the students would benefit from it.
Even though I haven’t had a long relationship with Autodesk, Wacom works closely with them and had recently introduced me to some of the folks in charge, a direct result of the work I’ve been doing with their software. Since I was already on a roll, I sent an email to their Product Marketing Manager, told him about Wacom’s generosity with the tablets and asked if I could get some licenses for software to go with them. He simply asked how many I needed, and then made it happen.
Then, while mentioning all of this privately to an industry author friend of mine, (who also wants to remain anonymous), he asked if they could use any books. I told him they couldn’t be software specific as they’d be wasted if the students didn’t have those tools. So he asked his publisher Peachpit what they could do and sure enough they donated half a dozen books on design and photography, titles that the students will benefit from no matter what software they’re using.
While bragging about this on my Facebook page, a few people made references to these being great Christmas presents and ironic that this here often-Scrooge gets to play Santa. In truth, it really is just a coincidence of timing that I was asked to speak to the students this close to Christmas. I’ve no doubt that had I asked these wonderful folks for their assistance in September, they would have come through in the same fashion. I’ve made a point of thanking all of these people individually, and I know the school has as well.
Secondly, I would encourage you to consider how easy it is to give of your time and resources, no matter what it is that you do. You can’t always say yes to these requests, and over the years, I’ve had to decline these presentations almost as often as I’ve accepted them. Everybody has obligations and responsibilities, we’re all busy, we can’t give as often as we’d like. But it sure feels good when you can.
I would also encourage you to realize that when you need somebody’s help, especially to benefit someone else, don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be surprised how often people will say Yes when you need them to give a little, especially when it involves kids and education. If they say No, that’s OK, too, and don’t hold it against them.
It’s true that I was the one who got to stand up at the front of the room to reveal all of these great gifts from perfect strangers on Tuesday, and I got to do it twice. I wanted you to know that I was just the messenger. The real thanks go to my friends and colleagues, the ones who said Yes when they were granted an opportunity to give to complete strangers.
Thanks again, folks. You know who you are.
Posted November 23rd, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
As an animal lover myself, I always spend a little more time obsessing about these, trying to make each one the best of which I’m capable. Our pets occupy special places in our lives and unless you’ve had to say goodbye to a furry family member, something each of us must face eventually, you can’t really understand that unique loss. Eventually the sadness is replaced with only the happy memories, and that takes longer for some than others. This is often front of mind while I work on these and I’ll admit to getting a little misty eyed from time to time while painting a memorial portrait, especially when the personality shows up and it finally comes together.
This was printed at 12″ x 16″ on canvas giclée with a shadow box frame. I’ve often said that I believe my work looks best on canvas and this was no exception. These iPhone pics of the canvas (above and below) really don’t do the quality of this print justice, credit to Kelly at Chroma Surge in Calgary who never lets me down. I believe this is my best work to date and I was very pleased with the result.
For those interested in the tech info, this was painting in Photoshop CC using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and a Cintiq 24HD. I had the luxury of months to work on this painting, so I have no idea how long the actual painting took as I worked on it in between other deadlines. Photos were only used for reference and all painting was done with digital brush work alone.
Posted November 9th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Anybody who has ever run their own business knows that it’s all one experiment after another. In this day and age, our attention spans are shorter than ever so if you’re in the business of sales, you need to be looking for new ideas of promotion and catching people’s attention.
As an artist, the best way to do that is to continually produce new work. It keeps you in the collective short term memory of those who have found it worthwhile to follow you. The last thing an artist wants anybody to say about them is, “hey, whatever happened to that LaMontagne guy?”
While it’s true that I produce new editorial cartoons almost every day, many of the people who follow me on social media and my site are interested in my painted work, so it’s important that I keep them coming back. It’s not enough to tell somebody where to find me; I’ve got to make sure I make it worth their time to do so.
My Totem and commission paintings take a great deal of my time to complete, mostly because I have other work to do at the same time, like those editorial cartoons I mentioned. There can be weeks and sometimes (much to my horror) months in between finished full detail paintings. That’s a lifetime in the online world. While I’ll often post work-in-progress images during the process, I can’t always do that, especially if I’m working on a commission. Ruining your client’s surprise gift is bad for business.
To improve my painting skills, satisfy my desire to work on new things and to keep that new work flowing, I started doing what I call ‘sketch paintings’ a while ago. Some have taken exception to that title because they’re really not sketches and I’ll concede that. I call them that because in my mind, they’re not finished pieces, meaning that they don’t contain the meticulous obsessive detail of my other work.
I’ve recently realized that people don’t care and it does me no good to disagree with them when they say they like a sketch painting as is. That’s always good for business…tell your customers they’re wrong. I’m a slow learner sometimes, but at least I eventually get there.
A number of people have asked about prints of the sketch paintings and I’ve declined to offer them because the work isn’t finished. Again, somebody wants to give me money for my work and I’ve been telling them no. This Canadian cartoon guy isn’t too bright.
So, in order to correct my error, I decided to order up of a small selection of sketch paintings and offer them up for sale. They’re giclée professional quality prints, same paper and printing as my matted prints, but without the mat, bio, or clear sleeve. An 8”X10” print, which includes a ½ inch white border and each is hand-signed. They’re $15 each + shipping, which will be minimal because the print fits into a standard business envelope between two pieces of cardboard for protection.
This time around, only four of each was available, so it was first come, first served and newsletter subscribers had 24 hours to order before I posted the offer here. As a result some of the images below are already sold out and there are only one or two of the others available at the time I posted this. As they sell out, I’ll update this post to reflect that. I already consider this a success as some sold out quickly and a few early responders still didn’t get the ones they wanted, so I will do this again. Newsletter subscribers will still get first crack at them, so if you haven’t subscribed and want a shot at any future prints of this nature, I would encourage you to sign up at this link.
To order any of the available images below, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and indicate whether or not you’d like me to send you a Paypal invoice or want to pay by Interac e-transfer. You can order as many as you’d like, while supplies last.
Posted November 4th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
About ten years ago, I couldn’t think of anything I would rather be doing for a living than editorial cartooning. I had a full-time office job, and I was working my ass off to try and leave it. It wasn’t a bad job; in fact it was a pretty good one. My boss was a decent guy (still is), he paid me well enough, and I wasn’t expected to work overtime or on weekends. But it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Without boring you with all of the details, I was eventually able to leave that job with the blessing of my employer and I often tell people that it was the best last job (and boss) to have. It was very scary, but exhilarating.
Fast forward eight years and editorial cartooning is now ‘the job.’ I don’t really enjoy it as much as I used to, but there are plenty of worse ways to make a living. While I’m still trying to be original and do my best, I’ve often said to people that the job can be emotionally taxing and I wonder if any of these smartass illustrated comments even matter to anybody.
I’ve likened following politics and the news for a living to getting out of bed every day, having a shower, then wading into raw sewage. The animosity and venom online that accompanies any news story (don’t read the comments, don’t read the comments…), the general distrust of elected officials, the hypocrisy of entitled federal politicians who will walk across the aisle and hug after a national tragedy, but then will say the most horrible things about and to each other just days and weeks afterward, thinking we’re all too stupid to notice, (take a breath!) it’s a little much to take sometimes. They’ll all campaign for more civility in the House of Commons, but their actions rarely match their words.
Ask them about this behaviour and they’ll tell you that it’s all part of the game and you find out that a lot of these people in opposing parties are quite civil and friendly with each other when the cameras are off. Somehow they figure that they can justify these actions at taxpayer expense, with “Oh, we’re just playing.”
Follow politics long enough and you realize that it doesn’t matter who is in power. They’re all playing the same shell game and Canadians are the dupes who continue to put down the money, only to have it taken away. And of course, the game doesn’t work unless we believe that one day we’ll be quick enough to beat the shifty con man on the other side of the apple crate.
See? I’m well into a rant I had no intention of writing. But it’s because I get worked up about it. While I do try to use it to my advantage and see the humour in it, tell myself that it’s all part of the job, I also become angry about it, a lot more often than I want to.
Clearly, I take this job way too personally. But as the scorpion said to the frog, “I can’t help it. It’s my nature.”
What brought this all to mind today was something one of my editors said to me about my Remembrance Day cartoon I sent out this week, the one shown here. It’s a topic on which I must draw each year, and I’ll be honest, I dread it. This year was especially difficult given recent events.
I’ve often used quotes in these more serious images, so this particular editor asked whose lines I’d used in the cartoon. I think he thought I might have forgotten to credit them appropriately. When I told him that the words were mine, he was complimentary and I thanked him, explaining that with a military family background on both sides, and five years spent in the Reserves, I always try to be as respectful and original as possible with this particular cartoon without being maudlin and trite. I usually spend a lot of time on it, both in thought and on the artwork.
On that point, he said something that made me stop and think, not just about the Remembrance Day cartoon, but about editorial cartooning in general. He said, about his own job, “I try my best with my limited abilities, and I plan to come to work every day until they tell me to stop. Once in a while, though, those of us who do this sort of thing for a living, like you, create something that DOES matter, that DOES resonate with people, that DOES meet our own expectations. Not always, but sometimes. And it’s worth it, you know?”
Thanks, Steve. I think I needed that.
Posted September 8th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Last week found me once again at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2014. While I’d love to be able to say that it’s all work and no play, I’d be lying through my teeth.
While I did decide to take a break from the conference last year, this was the fifth time around for me at PSW. Every year is different depending on which classes I’m taking and which group of friends is showing up.
This creative community of artists is an interesting mix. Photographers, designers, illustrators, compositors… they come from all over the world and from a number of different generations, but everybody is looking to have a good time and learn a few things. Many of the people with whom I spend my time at this conference are ones I talk to all the time via email and social media, but only get to see once a year, sometimes not even that often. But it’s very easy to pick up where we left off and it’s definitely a working vacation.
On that latter point, I budgeted a little time to check one more item off the bucket list, a flight with Sky Combat Ace to experience some airshow acrobatics in an Extra 330LC, which was quite a thrill ride. Here’s a link to the video.
While the conference itself is very heavy on the photography side of things, it has still been worth this cartoonist/illustrator/digital painter’s time to attend. One thing I’ve learned from taking classes at this event is that whether you’re talking photos, design, or illustration…images are images. The principles that will make an image better in one medium will often translate to another, so a class on composition in portrait photography will help me become a better portrait painter, too.
Since I take many of my own reference photos for a lot of my recent work, editing those images and figuring out how to get the best from them will also help me produce better digital paintings.
In 2010 at this event, I was fortunate to have won two Guru Awards, one in the Illustration category and also the Best in Show award. This year, I submitted three images, again under the Illustration heading. While I knew ahead of time that two of my images were finalists, I assumed both were in that category. When the awards were announced however, my portrait of Bruno was the only one that came up in the Illustration genre. As I’d gone in with low expectations, I was OK with not winning.
Much to my surprise, however, my painting, “One in Every Family” was awarded the Best in Show award again this year and I was very pleased. While the prize that was announced ahead of time was a gift card from the sponsor, B&H (one of my favorite shopping destinations), a surprise addition to the prize was a Canon 5D Mark III camera with lens included. It now appears that I have to up my game when it comes to my knowledge of photography. My photographer friends at this event have all assured me that I now have one of the best cameras I could ever want and have physically threatened me if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to become a better photographer.
With that in mind, I took the camera with me on one of my regular hikes the day after I got home, and managed to get a few photos that I thought were pretty decent, a couple of them shown here.
I still have a LOT to learn, but have plenty of resources with which to do so and many professional photographer friends who’ve offered their assistance.
As I was already going to be in attendance at the event, my friends at Wacom invited me to present at their booth on the Expo Floor for the second time. As luck would have it, the topic I chose was the story of discovering the family of Great Horned Owls at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore earlier this summer, which led to the painting that won the award the day before I presented at the booth. Add in a little painting demo and I think it went rather well.
I really enjoyed myself at the conference, largely because of the people with whom I spent the week. While it’s too early to tell if I will return again next year, this year’s trip was time and money well spent and I find myself inspired to produce even better work in the year ahead. You really can’t put a price on that.
Posted August 19th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
The first time I asked somebody if I could paint their portrait, it was a spur of the moment thing and I was woefully unprepared. My buddy Darrel and I were attending a small concert at Ironwood Stage and Grill in Calgary last year for Alan Doyle’s debut solo album, ‘Boy on Bridge.’ An intimate venue, I could have put my feet up on the stage from where we sat. A trio of Doyle, Corey Tetford and Kendel Carson, all talented and accomplished musicians, it became one of my favorite live music experiences to date, just had a really great time.
During the show, when Carson was playing her fiddle in one of the songs, I noticed the way the light was bouncing off of the wood, her face and her long straight blonde hair. It was just this instant feeling of, “I want to paint her.”
While gearing myself up to ask, all I could think was, “no matter how I do this, she’s going to think I’m creepy.”
But, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try, so at the end of the show, I approached her with my business card and mentioned that I’d like to paint her portrait, showed her a few images on my phone and told her if she was interested, I’d love to see any photos of her playing that I could possibly paint from, really wishing I’d brought my own camera. It was that image of her playing that I really wanted to paint, but I had missed that moment. While she was friendly and polite, I knew right away this wasn’t going anywhere. Pretty sure she thought I was creepy, and in that profession, I imagine she’s got reason to be wary of strange men approaching her after a show. Who can blame her?
I’ve painted a number of portraits over the years, mostly characters from movies, and all personal projects. A few have ended up having some very nice stories to go with them. Emilio Estevez bought the original of my portrait of Martin Sheen to give to his father last year and when astronaut Chris Hadfield was hired to speak at a conference here in Alberta, the host company bought the original of his portrait to give to him as a gift. They all graciously signed prints for me, which hang in my studio.
Even though I make my living as an artist, portraits of people are solely for my own enjoyment, at least for the time being. Up until recently, they’ve all been painted from reference from movies or online video, nothing I’ve shot myself.
A few weeks ago, I was at the local outdoor market here in Canmore. A regular Thursday event downtown in the summer months, it attracts vendors from all over, selling all sorts of food and creative products.
One particular booth, Spirits of the Creek, sells pottery, jewellery, and bio magnetic products. It’s excellent quality handmade work. As I was perusing the merchandise and talking to the vendor, with his eclectic hat that he said was handmade by a friend in California (Head n Home), there was that little voice again. “I want to paint him.”
The next week, I returned to the market with my camera and while I wanted a candid shot of the gentleman, I also knew that if I started snapping photos of him, he would notice, so I just approached him, introduced myself, told him what I was after and showed him some of my portrait work on my iPad. Bruno seemed amused by the whole idea and said he was fine with my taking the shots. He later told me that he and his wife, Donna (the creative force behind the pottery) thought it amusing afterward. Were the roles reversed, I would have as well.
Now, no matter how well a person thinks they’re being natural, a camera will always make a non-professional change his demeanor, unless the photographer is very good at putting their subject at ease. So, I skulked around the other booths, taking candid shots of Bruno from a number of different angles, and was pretty sure that most of the time, he didn’t see me. But a couple of times, he did and sure enough, he changed his posture and expression.
At one point he was talking to a customer, and for a split second he noticed me and only his eyes moved in my direction. I snapped the shot and instantly knew that was the one. As I don’t like chimping (constantly looking at the display screen at the back of the camera while shooting), I waited until I got home and sure enough there was the shot I needed, that one out of about two dozen.
I set to work painting and over the next two weeks, managed to produce what I think is probably my best portrait piece to date.
When I showed up at the market with the finished image on my iPad, I was relieved that Bruno liked it. He asked me to email it to him so he could show his wife and she sent me a lovely email the following morning, approving of the work. It was really a lot of fun to paint and I look forward to sending Bruno and Donna a canvas print next month.
On the legal side of things, I did get him to sign a model release, which basically allows me to use the image as I see fit, whether it ends up in a book or some other media. From what my professional photographer friends tell me, a model release will rarely come into play for most people, but you get everybody to sign one just for the one person that makes it necessary.
Perhaps the best thing I’ve learned from this experience is that I want to repeat it. The next time I see a person with an interesting look or character, and that little voice pipes up inside my head, I’ll be more willing to take a risk and ask if they’ll let me paint them. Some will say No, I’m sure, but for those who say Yes, I can only hope that I do them justice.
And if it’s a woman, I’ll probably get my wife to ask her.
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Posted August 4th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
I titled this painting, ‘Ukee Locals’ as that’s how residents in Ucluelet refer to their town. Having lived in two tourist towns (Banff and Canmore) for the past twenty years, I often feel a kinship with locals in other tourist towns, knowing what it’s like to make your living from visitors. It’s a love-hate relationship with the tourists sometimes so I have to fight the urge to tell every server, tour operator or staff member, “It’s OK, I’m not one of them, I’m with you!” which I’m really not, since I don’t live there.
When you think of wildlife paintings, a seagull is hardly the first animal that comes to mind. The fact that we’re so used to seeing them in urban environments makes many of us think they’re practically domesticated. Expert scavengers, opportunists and thieves, they’re not usually someone’s favorite animal. I kind of like ‘em.
While out on my wildlife cruises in that area in June, something you’re likely getting sick of hearing about I’m sure, I saw plenty of different species of wildlife and took a lot of photos. I’ll be painting animals from that trip for quite some time and each one I do just makes me want to go back for more. While pulling into the dock one day, literally seconds before Al (with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises) cut the engines, I noticed two gulls perched on one of the many posts around the harbour. What I was really aiming for was a shot of one of them flying, but when I got home and started sorting through my photos, I realized that this was the scene I wanted to paint and I used three different pics as reference, not including the one you see here.
Originally this was just going to be a sketch painting, but the more I worked on it, I just couldn’t put it away. Even when it was finished, I found myself still wanting to work on minute detail that nobody was going to see. The wood on the posts, the aluminum caps, the feathers, the light…each presented another challenge and I had a lot of fun with this painting. It turns out that I learned a little about the birds themselves, too.
As I was painting them as a couple, I realized that I didn’t know if males and females of this species looked alike or not. Birds of different gender will often have different plumage. It would be embarrassing to paint them as male and female only to have somebody point out that females look completely different. Keep in mind that I’d already done a lot of work on these when this popped into my head. Fortunately I found out that the only visible difference in this particular type of gull is that the female is a little bit smaller, which also worked for the painting. I also found out that the type of gulls in the Ucluelet area, all up and down the northern west coast actually, are called Glaucous-winged Gulls, something that isn’t going to matter to most people. They’re seagulls.
For the technically minded, this was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. Photos were only used for reference and all of the detail was achieved using relatively simple brushes without any texture overlays.
Incidentally, I did get the shots I needed of one of them taking off from the post, so there might be another seagull painting in my future.
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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.
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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