Posted April 23rd, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Space and Time
A third of the way into 2016 and I’m starting to see posts about upcoming events and excursions that used to interest me, but no longer do.
Despite the fact that I broke away from the norm and became a self-employed cartoonist and painter, it might surprise you that I’ve always been somewhat of a people pleaser, or at least that’s my instinct. I’ll usually go along with the general consensus of a group rather than create a conflict for no reason.
Last weekend, with the kids and spouses home to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary, my folks and I were talking about how I’m very much like my Mom. That’s a compliment. She’s a class act. But while I’ve inherited many of her skills and talents (that’s where the art comes from), the people pleasing also comes from her. She struggles with it, too.
The irony is that when you do that long enough, it eventually gets old and you start lashing out a little, or get a chip on your shoulder because you’re not getting the respect you think you deserve from friends and colleagues when they take advantage of that character trait. The truth, however, is that people treat you how you teach them to treat you and if you show them long enough that you’re not going to rock the boat, why would they expect anything different?
When those scales begin to tip, however, they can go a little too far the other way before your ship rights itself. I’ve gone along with things I didn’t want to far too often and have also been very militant about not doing anything I don’t want to during this uncomfortable realization.
Early in my career, I was part of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, NAPP for short. It was a great community full of photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and other creatives. There was a vibrant busy online forum of regulars and I became friends with many of them.
After a few years, I was making enough money to afford to go to my first Photoshop World event in Las Vegas, a conference that was part of that community. The second year I went, one of my images won the Illustration Guru Award and the Best in Show. In successive years, I ended up doing painting demos at the Wacom booth, got to know some of those folks with that company and have made some friends there, too. My last year at Photoshop World was 2014 and I again won the Best in Show Award for my painting ‘One in Every Family.’
It was a good year to end on and say, “Goodbye.”
I know some wonderful people today that I would not have ever met had it not been for that organization and those five trips to Vegas. My career moved forward in great leaps from being a part of that community, from the support I got from the members, instructors and affiliates to the immense treasure trove of knowledge I gained that contributed to doing what I love to do. It was incredibly inspiring, being around so many people who enjoy their work and watching them become better artists as well.
But things have changed. NAPP no longer exists and the organization became Kelby Media. It’s now focused so much on photography that while there are things I could learn, it’s just not enough to justify the expense. Many of those people I looked forward to seeing there each year just don’t go anymore. The whole feel of the experience isn’t what it used to be. The event has changed, and so have I. But, I have so many great memories and it was well worth my time, which is one of the best compliments I can pay.
I’ve also been seeing recent posts about the upcoming Canadian Cartoonists Convention in Toronto. The group was previously the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists but has expanded to allow others to join. I have not been a member for quite some time.
The only convention I’ve gone to was the one I actually hosted in Banff in 2008. It was a lot of work and budget restraints meant I couldn’t do the convention I wanted to, but people came and I did it because I felt I should. Parts of it were interesting as I got to meet some cartoonists I’d only known by their work and reputation.
I remember obsessing over details, working out a schedule, losing sleep many nights trying to make sure I remembered to take care of everything. On the first day of scheduled classes/discussions, we got started twenty minutes late because people just wandered in whenever. One of the older cartoonists told me that this was normal, these guys didn’t really do well with schedules and being anywhere on time.
That was a clarifying moment for me. I remember thinking, “Oh, I really don’t belong here.”
It became clear that my first one was probably my last one. The upcoming convention looks to be a three or four day event of talks, tours, meals and parties and I just don’t see the benefit to me. With limited time off during the year and funds with which to do so, that doesn’t even crack the Top 20 of trips I want to take. Many of these folks are competitors whose business choices have made my life more difficult and some have irreparably damaged industry rates and practices.
I’ve never been a good actor. How do you play nice in that environment, especially when you’re getting nothing out of it?
It occurred to me this morning, that while that convention is going on next month, I will be on my first camping trip of 2016. I’ll be sitting by a lake in British Columbia, relaxing, reading, sketching, taking pictures, enjoying good food and drink with friends I have known for years. That’s where I want to be.
I used to feel I had to apologize for not wanting to be a part of that editorial cartoonist organization, just as I should for no longer wanting to go to Photoshop World. Hell, I wasn’t even going to write some of this stuff down for fear I might offend somebody. See, that people pleaser instinct is tough to keep at bay.
There comes a time when you really do have to look at how many days you might have left (likely less than you think) and ask yourself how you want to spend them. Personally, I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars to attend conferences that deliver no worth to me. I’d rather be working.
The more success you find in anything, the more people will feel free to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, for no other reason than you’re not doing what they want you to do. You can’t change their opinion, and as time passes, you realize you don’t even care to.
Posted April 4th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Caricature and Cartoons
When I first started out as an editorial cartoonist, I was horrible at caricature. It took forever for me just to get a passable likeness and sometimes, I even had to put the name of the person on a briefcase or name tag just to be sure that people would know who they were looking at.
As time went on, I spent a lot of energy trying to become better at that, because this artistic shortcoming drove me nuts. I tried to do the extreme exaggeration caricature, with the huge features, but never really took to it. I tried to do faces that were far too realistic so that they weren’t caricatured at all. Eventually, I discovered my own style which is a mix of the two, leaning more toward a realistic than extreme distortion. But still with big noggins.
It has been my experience that caricature is often seen as something easy to do by people who don’t draw or paint. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because many people have seen or had their caricature painted by one of those artists at county fairs or carnivals in ten minutes or less. What most people don’t realize is that the people who can do that are incredibly talented. That kind of speed and accuracy takes years to acquire and I have a lot of respect for the artists I know who can do it. It is a skill I do not possess.
I took an online caricature course years ago from Jason Seiler through Schoolism.com. Jason is an incredibly talented portrait and caricature artist, his work has appeared in many magazines and publications. He has even painted Pope Francis for Time’s Man of The Year cover last year. You probably saw it, even if you didn’t know who did it.
I learned a lot from Jason’s course, it was well worth my time and money. I probably found my own personal value more in the painting techniques I learned from that course, rather than the caricature. That’s not a failing on his part, far from it. It’s just where my interest was. A lot of the painting techniques I still use today have core elements of the skills I learned from Jason.
When it comes to caricature, I’ve done commissions for individuals, illustrations for magazines and newspapers, business graphics, and celebrity portfolio pieces. After I discovered my animal work, however, I realized that’s where my niche was and have since devoted most of my painting time to that. My caricature skills, such as they are, are clearly a part of that work. While I will still get requests from time to time for caricature commissions of people, I most often turn them down unless there are very special circumstances.
These days, the majority of my caricatures are for editorial cartoons. As deadlines are constantly on my mind, I can’t always put long hours into them, but every once in a while, I’ll make the time.
As I’d had the idea for this cartoon on Friday, in anticipation of the upcoming NDP convention in Edmonton, I decided to devote Sunday to working on it. I started with the sketches very early in the morning and finished painting it sometime around 3 pm, I think. Allowing for time to eat, chitchat with my wife throughout the day, I would guess this one took me somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to complete.
Editorial cartoon caricatures are tough because newsprint is a muddy and unpredictable medium. Subtle brushstrokes often get blurred out so they’re not even seen. For that reason, I have to paint with more contrast, harder lines, and include black lines where I might normally leave them out in another painting. It’s about finding the right balance between how I’d really like to paint the face and what I need to do to make it stand out on newsprint and hopefully look relatively the same in all of the publications that print it. You’d be surprised how one press can make a cartoon look great, while another can make it look completely washed out, all from the same file.
For those who follow my artwork, but not my editorial cartoons or Canadian politics, the guy is Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party of Canada. The woman is Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta, also with the NDP but at the provincial level. Neither is very popular right now and they’re both struggling for relevance.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, not only the faces, but also painting the car, just spending time on the whole image overall. Without worrying about whether it gets widely published or if my editors like it, I had fun painting it, nitpicking over the details, trying a few experiments, improving on my skills. It was time well spent.
While there will always be room for improvement, likenesses are a lot easier for me now than they used to be. And best of all, I’m confident that I don’t have to write their names in there anymore.
Posted March 13th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Young and Hungry
“…So my question to you is, do you have any advice, or tips, for a young artist who wants to make it a way of life? Especially without a degree under my belt.”
I often get questions from young and hungry creatives who want insight into becoming a professional artist. In this case, his focus is on writing. As I’d like to keep things anonymous, I’ve met (let’s call him Brian) a couple of times where my work and his job have crossed paths. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write for a living. Art is art.
There are plenty of ‘you can do it, Nicky!’ posts out there that say if you want it and wish hard enough, your dreams will come true. This isn’t one of those. Motivation is important, but so are reality checks.
I sent questions and emails to artists when I was young and hungry, too, and I always appreciated responses, so I try to pay that forward. The edited version of my response…
We’re all just winging it, Brian. I’ve never met an artist (writer, musician, photographer, creative type) who has it all figured out.
We’re all products of the talents we’ve been given, the drive to do something with them, the skills that come from constant practice and the backgrounds that put us in front of the right opportunities at the right time.
The only thing we can control is whether or not we recognize and take advantage of those opportunities.
I didn’t realize I wanted to create art for a living until my late twenties and it seemed to happen by accident. There was an ad in the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper for an editorial cartoonist. Once a week, draw a cartoon on local politics and current events for $30. I was working at a hotel at the time and it seemed like an easy way to get some extra beer money, especially since nobody else applied. I had always been a doodler, but never went to art school, had no training and was simply willing to fail publicly.
I spent five years in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, I took Psychology in college and then was an Emergency Medical Technician who never worked for an actual ambulance service after my training. And I have no degree. At the time, I worked in tourism.
Those first cartoons were pitiful and took so many hours, but for three years I did it and never missed a deadline. Without even realizing it, I was putting in the practice time for what would become my career. When another local newspaper started up in 2001, they asked me to be their cartoonist.
One of the owners, who was the editor and is now a good friend, asked me why I wasn’t syndicated. She told me to start doing cartoons on national topics and just start sending them out to papers across Canada. For the first two years, I had two papers, each paying me $10 a week. It was pitiful. I was working so hard, evenings, early mornings before work, and weekends drawing cartoons and sending them out, getting almost no bites at all, while still working a full-time job to pay the bills.
I often thought of giving up. Hours and hours and hours drawing cartoons that never got published. And in hindsight, it was just more of the necessary practice it took to help me become the artist I am today. I just didn’t know it at the time. I felt taken advantage of and tremendously foolish, as if I was kidding myself to think that I could make a career of it.
When things finally started to click, however, it happened pretty quickly. I started getting more and more papers and a little over ten years ago, my wife and I had a serious discussion about my quitting the full-time job. I was 34 years old, but I felt like I was too old to be taking such a risk. I now know different. You can take risks at any age and nothing great ever comes without one.
But for each person, the sacrifice will be different, greater or less depending on your personal circumstances.
The only way I could quit my job was if my business could still pay half of our mortgage and bills. While those first two or three years were pretty damn lean, we managed, and these days I don’t have to refer to myself as a struggling artist.
I’ve had good advice from unexpected sources, bad advice from others. I’ve made mistakes that have cost me time and money, something that still happens occasionally but a whole hell of a lot less. I’ve planted and cultivated new ideas and pursuits that have withered and died on the vine. Other crops have flourished. My career has shifted from solely focused on editorial cartoons to including my paintings of whimsical wildlife. Each year that part of my business shows positive growth and I plan for that trend to continue.
But there’s no secret that only successful artists know. It’s the same requirement for anybody who wants to be self-employed in any field.
You have to work your ass off.
When your friends are going out partying on a Friday night, you have to consider that Saturday will be wasted if you’re hungover. Every leisure activity you do has to be reconsidered. You must sacrifice.
Those two years when I wasn’t getting any newspapers but was still working what seemed like a full-time job on top of a full-time job, I was giving up time with friends and family, I quit skiing because I could no longer afford it, we got by on one car and vacations were few and far between. We rarely went out for lunch or dinner.
I’ve heard stories of photographers who had to sell expensive lenses to pay the rent, writers who write all day and then go work night jobs while the only thing showing up in the mail is rejection after rejection after rejection, not to mention artists who paint on anything they can find because they can’t afford canvas or other materials.
I think that’s the universe’s way of making you prove how bad you want it. It’s an old cliché, but it applies…if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
Paying the bills isn’t as hard as it used to be, but I still expect it to be all taken away tomorrow, by some unexpected calamity. It feels like I’m always living on borrowed time and I’m days away from having to go back and get a real job, even though I’m not. I am always working. Even when I’m camping or on vacation, I’m thinking about projects or cartoon ideas, following the news, etc. Success in self-employment means having to remind yourself to stop and smell the roses, but you’ll still only budget a small amount of time for it. I force myself to take afternoon hikes as often as possible just to stay healthy and get out of the office, but I’m still thinking about cartoon ideas and paintings while doing it.
That young guy in the picture above was not thinking about work that whole weekend. I guarantee it.
You want to be a writer? Write. All the time, even when you don’t feel like it. Waiting for inspiration is for independently wealthy trust fund babies. Success only comes to the creatives who treat their gifts like tools, just like a plumber, electrician, or other skilled trades-person. He or she worked hard for their expertise, artists have to as well.
Write about the dirt on the window, the dust on the desk, the clouds in the sky, that rude barista at Starbucks (wait, you can’t afford Starbucks anymore), the guy who cut you off in traffic, the ridiculousness of Apple iTunes agreements, the first blade of green grass you saw in the Spring. Just write!
Making a living at it isn’t for everybody. For some artists, the thought of soiling their talents with money and sales is as distasteful as dining on raw sewage. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can still create and have a job on the side to pay the bills. That works for a lot of people. Their creative pursuits are what make their job bearable.
So you have to decide what you want, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.
Posted February 23rd, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Fine Tooning
I spent most of Sunday (and a bit more of Monday) working on the cartoon you see above, featuring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a comment on this week’s provincial budget. From an efficiency perspective, it wasn’t the best use of my time. I could have easily done two or possibly three cartoons in the same span. But I love to paint and it’s been quite some time since I’ve poured everything into a caricature.
From an hourly perspective, I doubt I made minimum wage on this one, but it was fun and good practice, so it can’t really be seen as time misspent. I would love to be able to create this kind of detail in editorial cartoons on a regular basis, but in the quest to find the middle ground between best art and making a living, sacrifices must be made.
Like every other creative I know, chief among the questions I’m asked about editorial cartooning is, “where do you get your ideas?”
The short answer is that I follow the news closely, pretty much all the time. Newspapers, television, Google, websites like CBC, CTV, Global, National Newswatch and social media if you want specifics. While I won’t have the cartoon idea right away, I’ll be able to see from a headline and summary that there is likely one to be found within. That just comes with experience.
I’m what you call a self-syndicated editorial cartoonist. This means that I create one or two cartoons each weekday on regional, provincial, national and international topics, which I then send off to newspapers across Canada. Some clients only run my work; otherwise I am competing for space with other editorial cartoonists.
There are some daily newspapers that have a staff cartoonist, which is an endangered position, especially when layoffs seem to be the quickest way to cut expenses. I’ve often said that I’m glad I never got a job with a daily newspaper, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t still have it today.
From 2001 to 2006, I was self-syndicating to newspapers across Canada while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills. I would get up at 5:00am each day to draw and send a cartoon before heading off to work. I would also draw evenings and weekends. When I finally became busy enough to quit the ‘real job’ and still pay my half of the bills, I continued to get up at the same time simply because I’m a morning person. While most think it’s nuts, I truly do enjoy getting up that early. A lot of other artists work late at night into the wee hours, but that’s just not me. I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 most nights.
I work almost every day, though on weekends I have a little more flexibility. Saturdays I try to paint in the morning, but my wife and I will usually go do something the rest of the day. Sundays, I’m working on editorial cartoons. I squeeze in painted work and writing whenever and wherever I can.
The big challenge with freelance editorial cartooning is the speed at which cartoons need to be done. Someone who draws for a daily newspaper has the luxury of taking time to come up with the right idea and then enjoying the whole day to draw it. Nobody is going to take that spot on the editorial page from them as it’s reserved for their work.
For freelancers, however, it’s all about getting a good idea, drawing it fast, and sending it out to as many papers as possible before they go to print. For some weekly papers, that’s before noon on certain days and if there’s a time change in the wrong direction between here and there, that window of opportunity closes fast. This is where the early mornings help.
Not only do I have to make sure I deliver on time, but I’m also competing with other freelancers, not to mention a syndicate that resells cartoons from the few cartoonists who still work for the major dailies or the ones who’ve been laid off.
While I’m comfortable spending my days working alone, the isolation does have its stresses. For example, when big shifts happen in the world of newspapers, like last month’s round of Postmedia layoffs, things change quickly. Those Postmedia daily papers that used to run me quite often, well there’s been a sudden drop this month as editorial page editors have lost/left their jobs and new ones have started in. When there’s a shift like that, I often have to figure it out on my own and adapt quickly. Freelancers don’t get invited to meetings.
There’s also been a noticeable lurch to the right in much of the commentary on some of those daily pages, so any cartoon I draw that doesn’t paint the Conservatives in anything but a positive or persecuted light, well lately they don’t see the light of day. I’ve got no love for the Liberals or NDP, but I can’t bash them every single day ‘just because.’ That’s the Opposition’s shtick.
There is no doubt that the winds have changed. While I don’t expect any sympathy for having to adjust my sails to compensate, especially when so many have been outright laid off from their jobs, it has got me a little concerned. With an overactive OCD fueled imagination and a lot of time alone to think bad thoughts, the stress multiplies.
Thankfully, I have my painted work and print sales to reinforce the hull where it shows potential signs of leaking, but in a down economy, art isn’t a priority for a lot of people, either.
So what does one do? Well, the only thing I can do, I guess. Keep working, scramble a little harder, draw a little faster, look for new revenue streams, try to keep my current customers happy and borrow from a famous prayer. Accept what I can’t change, change what I can and figure out the difference.
Posted January 30th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Painting a Lion on the iPad
At one time, I experimented quite a bit with painting on the original iPad. When it would no longer support new updates, I replaced it with the iPad Mini with Retina Display, which is a horrible name, so it’s now just referred to as the iPad Mini 2.
Having tried a number of apps over the years and more than a few styli, I finally settled on the combo I liked best, which was the procreate app and the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2, another unwieldy moniker. So, let’s just call it the ICS2.
While you’d be hard pressed to hear me say anything negative about Wacom’s Intuos tablets or Cintiq displays, the ICS2 has had some issues. Complaints of poor tracking and cursor alignment aren’t hard to find. It works well with some apps, not with others. I’ll simply say that there are plenty of people unhappy with the stylus, especially if they have the full-sized iPad 2.
I haven’t done much iPad painting lately because I’ve been busy working. In my home office, I have Wacom’s Cintiq 24HD display and when I want to draw elsewhere in the house, I have the more portable 13HD display. With these two professional options and my constant deadlines, drawing on the iPad hasn’t been a priority.
Recently, however, I stopped by the Apple store in Calgary and took the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for a test drive. A little later, I found myself in the Microsoft store comparing it to the Surface Pro 4.
I quite liked the iPad Pro and Pencil, easily the best stylus I’ve ever used on a device. It felt fine in my hand, had a contact feel I liked, was flawless in its accuracy and I wanted to use it more. While I didn’t get to try it with procreate on the store model, the sketch program they had on the tablet was good enough. I didn’t really like the Surface Pro drawing experience, but many people do.
My desktop computer is robust, I’ve got a powerful laptop, the Wacom displays I mentioned and an iPad Mini 2. I currently can’t justify buying an iPad Pro. It’s quite expensive and so is the pencil. It’s a want, not a need.
Playing around with it, though, got me itching to try some more iPad painting with the device and stylus I do have. This lion is the result.
At first, having not used procreate in quite some time; I was still having some issues with accuracy. I had to paint while holding the iPad in portrait mode. Whenever I tried to paint in landscape mode, the registration would be off. The same thing happens with Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile, another impressive app. From what I’ve read, it seems to be a flaw in the ICS2 software or hardware, not playing nice with third party apps. It’s frustrating.
Not one to easily give up, I started going through the settings again and found the Writing Style options. By trying different ones, I found the right setting for me and the accuracy came back! Painting this lion suddenly became a lot more fun when I didn’t have to fight the technology.
The procreate app not only comes with an excellent selection of brushes for many different art styles, but their brush engine is quite good. I’ve always been one to design my own brushes, especially for hair, and procreate allows me to do that. It involves just as much trial and error experimentation as Photoshop brush design does, but by continually tweaking, I managed some pretty impressive results.
The downside of painting on the iPad…
Palm rejection does not seem to be flawless on any device with any stylus. I rest my hand on the screen when I draw and paint. Had I gone to art school or been professionally trained, they would have broken me of that, no doubt. The problem is that the device registers the palm/heel touch as an intentional brush stroke on many devices/apps so you end up with digital smudges and poor pen strokes from the stylus because the app is trying to interpret two points of contact.
My workaround is that I bought a pair of glove inserts, cut the index, middle, and thumb from it. This allows me to still use the touch features, but rest my hand on the screen without a problem. Fair warning, a very thin costume glove won’t work. The iPad will still sense the contact of your palm or heel of your hand.
The second thing is that whenever I paint on the iPad, I have the display brightness set in the middle of the slider or lower. My Cintiq displays are set quite low as well, both the display brightness and backlight. It’s just easier on my eyes, especially since I can spend many hours in a day in front of a screen.
As a consequence, I usually have to do some colour and light adjustments to anything I paint on the iPad, or it will look far too dark when it’s done. For this, I use Snapseed and the relatively new Photoshop Fix, which are both quality image editing apps.
Even still, when this was as close to done as I could get it; I opened it in Photoshop on my desktop and did a couple more small lighting adjustments. All of the painting, however, was done on the iPad.
So, what’s the verdict?
It’s unlikely I’m going to be doing a lot more iPad painting with the tools I’ve got. It took longer to paint this than it would have on my professional displays and the result is not as nice or detailed as that which would have been achieved had I painted it all on my desktop or laptop.
Would that change if I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil? I don’t know, but honestly, I kind of doubt it, even with the larger surface area to work with. I would still like to spend more time with it, though. In all things, however, it pays to experiment, especially with art. You never know until you try and this was worth doing, just for the experience.
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Posted January 18th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on What I Didn’t Know Then
Last week, I got an email from a fellow in Germany. He complimented me on my work, and asked, “Imagine you had a time machine and could meet the younger version of yourself. What would the number one advice be, in regards to art?”
My wife and I were making dinner at the time and I read the email to her off my phone. While Shonna is not an artist, she’s been on this ride with me since the beginning, and she knows what I know when it comes to this business.
We took turns rattling things off and within minutes came up with twenty or thirty different nuggets of truth and I wrote them all down on a scrap of paper.
Experience will always be the best teacher. If you’re an amateur artist looking for wisdom, you’ve got to earn it. But here is a small sampling from that list, some of the things I’ve learned so far.
1) Don’t work for exposure. When is the last time you saw an image, a logo, a website, design or anything creative and then thought, “I’m going to find that person and hire them.”
That’s what this type of client is promising. They want something for nothing and anybody they refer you to will want the same. I have worked for exposure more than once. I never will again.
2) Don’t work for spec. Spec work is often disguised as a contest, a call for entries or an audition piece. It often means a company asks many people to submit designs and the winner gets prizes or prize money. The company then owns whatever the winner created and gets it at a fraction of a cost they would have had to pay a professional. The company usually owns everything else submitted to the contest as well.
Spec work is for suckers. Work disguised as a contest is for suckers. I have been that sucker, more than once, and it feels dirty.
3) Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Don’t follow trends. Don’t copy someone else’s success. It just won’t work. Unless you have the exact same background as that person, started from the same place, with the same opportunities, jumped the same hurdles, had the same skills, influences, inspirations, environment, training, experiences, talent or luck, you will not duplicate another person’s success. You can still BE a success, but it’ll be YOUR success, not a poor copy. By trying to mimic another artist or ride his coattails, you are depriving yourself of discovering your own niche or voice.
Learn from everybody. Copy nobody.
4) Figure out the difference between trolls, constructive criticism and just plain bad advice. There will always be those who tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Some of them will be competitors who are threatened by you or other artists that are just plain jealous. The view has always been clearest from the cheap seats. People that never try will criticize those who do. Social media often seems to be based entirely on that premise.
Some people are genuinely supportive, want to help you, want to see you succeed and have nothing but the best of intentions. If they aren’t in your business, however, don’t know what’s involved, haven’t got more experience than you, or just don’t know what your goals are, you need to find a way to smile and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Good people with good intentions can still give bad advice.
5) Do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.
That is one large steaming pile of manure.
Turning your art into a business may ruin everything you love about art. You can live a satisfying creative life without ever making it your livelihood.
I’ve been self-employed full-time for over a decade now. I haven’t been a struggling artist for many years and I’m making a good living at it. The mortgage gets paid; we’re not living in debt, and have never borrowed money from our parents. And while I take nothing for granted, I haven’t had to worry about getting a real job for years.
But every day I draw something I don’t want to. Sometimes I spend my whole week drawing things I don’t want to. This is not a complaint. This was a choice. I still make my own schedule. I get to go for my hikes in the afternoon, grab some time to take photos at the zoo and myriad other activities and diversions I wouldn’t get to enjoy if I had to report to a desk during specific hours assigned by somebody else. And I’m still drawing every day, which means I’m getting better at it every day.
I work longer hours for myself than I ever did for anybody else, very early mornings, evenings, weekends, statutory holidays and have done so for twenty years. I don’t know how to live any other way now. Art for a living is hard work.
You must invoice, keep your books and accounting in order, pay your taxes first and yourself last. You need a website, social media, keep up on industry news and advances. You need to contact clients, sell whatever you produce, figure out what works, what doesn’t, read articles, read books, make phone calls. When an invoice isn’t paid, you have to track it down. When equipment breaks down, you have to pay to fix it, when your internet crashes; you have to call your provider. There is no I.T. department, no human resources, and often no immediate help in a crisis. You must make time for training and improving your skills. I could write a thousand more words without once mentioning creating anything.
All of this is time away from doing the actual work you need to do in order to get paid. I’m writing this post, I’m not getting paid. That’s OK. This sort of thing has become a small part of my brand and I enjoy writing. It is good practice, too, and a little payment forward.
Honestly, I didn’t think much about whether or not I should turn my love of drawing and painting into a business, I just ended up doing it. But we never had kids and my wife told me in no uncertain terms that she could not support us both. Not in Canmore, Alberta where the paradise tax is high. The minute I couldn’t pay my half of the bills, I had to get a job, an ultimatum to which I agreed.
This business was part-time for ten years before it was full-time. Had I tried to do it too early, I might not be doing it today. Most of the things I thought I wanted, I’m glad I didn’t get, like a full-time job with a daily newspaper, which would have meant being laid off by now. Timing matters and that leap of faith is frightening, because you have to burn a lot of security when you jump. While it was pretty tight those first couple of years, I have no regrets and can’t imagine doing anything else.
As for the best advice I would give my younger self if I had the opportunity?
He did just fine without it.
Posted January 11th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Death Cartoons and David Bowie
I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but it all comes to mind again today with the death of David Bowie. You want the brutal truth, here it is. When somebody dies and I hear about it in the news, I weigh the depth of their publicity and decide whether or not I have to do a death cartoon, which for me, is often a memorial, more painterly than my other cartoon work. I’ll often include a quote, their name, and the birth/death dates.
Many cartoonists will draw the pearly gates, where there is a humorous or heartfelt exchange between St. Peter and the recently deceased. I loathe that concept and have never drawn a ‘pearly gates’ cartoon, at least as far as I can remember. For one, I’m an atheist, but otherwise, it’s just an overused vehicle that grates on my nerves.
That last statement makes me a hypocrite, by the way. I have recycled plenty of overused vehicles in my time as an editorial cartoonist, just not that one.
It seems incredibly callous that I must end up passing judgment on somebody’s life, whether their death is worth my effort. Does this person’s passing warrant the expense of my time and energy and will newspapers want to publish it? I have to ask myself that question. Then I must answer it.
Politicians, it comes down to their impact on society, the level of their station and historical significance. Celebrities, it’s whether or not they were beloved or famous enough. Religious leaders, artists, social activists, anybody who has contributed to our culture in some way or another merits weighing them on the decision scale.
Yes, it feels as dirty as it sounds. Sadly, it’s part of the job. In the case of Robin Williams, I deliberately chose not to draw a cartoon, even though he warranted one. It just hit me at a very low point in my own life and I didn’t feel like digging a deeper hole.
I woke this morning at my usual time of 5AM. I live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I have newspapers in the east so I need to get an early start every day, especially on Mondays. As I’ve done this for years, I even get up that early on weekends, because it turns out I’m a morning person and that’s when I do my best work.
My routine is to go into my office, turn on the computer and go downstairs to start the coffee. I come back up, check my email, scan the news headlines and hop into the shower. If there’s a breaking story, I’m thinking about cartoons.
The first email this morning was a CBC news alert about the death of David Bowie.
Yeah, that sucks. 69 is not old anymore and cancer, well… shit. David Bowie. What a shame.
No doubt I had to do a cartoon and even though it was unlikely to happen, I had to try to be original, which is a tall order at the best of times, but especially when doing a memorial cartoon. I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t using a quote, because that guy was a poet and everybody else would be quoting his lyrics or something profound that he said. Many would be using the same ones.
I showered quickly, got dressed, grabbed a coffee and starting looking for reference and ideas. The only thing I could think of was to do a portrait but it would have to be quick. I’m an obsessive nitpicker when I paint and I invest a lot of time in that work. But on a Monday morning when all of my papers are expecting cartoons before 10 and everybody and their dog is posting memes and my competitors will be doing the same thing I’m doing…yeah, I had to be fast.
I found a few reference pics, figured out what I was going to do, put down the broad strokes, got the features in the right place and then just painted, with upbeat music playing in the headphones to help me keep the necessary pace. The choices were made on the fly. Originally it was going to be Bowie when he was young, then as Ziggy Stardust, even as The Goblin King from Labrynth, then finally just a portrait of him as an older man, trying to capture his personality.
I used my own digital texture brushes, layer upon layer upon layer, threw down darks and lights, and just kept piling it on. Eventually, getting to a point where it was coming together quickly, after only about an hour and a half of painting. Finally, I wanted to add in some different colour and almost did the full Ziggy lightning bolt on his face, but opted for more of a suggestion of that persona, faded like an old tattoo, a remnant of his past but still a big part of who he is and what he’ll be remembered for.
The final piece ended up taking only a couple of hours, and yet still stretched my skills, that element of haste forcing me to cut corners, paint more loosely, and sacrifice the detail I normally enjoy and am known for in my painted work. I even abandoned my usual practice of using typed text, having to choose an appropriate font and instead just scrawled in the name and dates. It just seemed to work.
This piece ended up being a happy accident, brought about by the sad passing of a true visionary. I didn’t just have to do a death cartoon, I realized that I wanted to, a small tribute among so many today, paying respect to an artist whose impact on music and culture can’t be overstated. Few of us can claim that we have lived our lives so well.
I’ve drawn a lot of death cartoons and when I finish one, I usually feel a sense of relief, that it’s over and I can move on to something else, despite the fact that the responses are usually very positive.
With this one, however, I feel I’ve learned something, and become a better artist as a result.
This piece made an impression on me.
Just like David Bowie.
Posted January 6th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Snow Leopard Totem
With each animal I paint, there’s something unique about the experience. Sometimes it will be an especially challenging feature or the pose might not work the way I had imagined. While I find a way to overcome it and always learn something new, some of these paintings end up being a lot more fun than others. Lemme tell ya, a few have felt like downright work. Tough life, I know.
The challenge on this Snow Leopard was finishing it, primarily because it’s some of the most enjoyment I’ve ever had from a painting. I don’t even know why, but it was just fun, especially when the personality showed up. That experience is often as subtle as a sigh, but this time, it practically announced itself, as if throwing open a door. It was cool. I stopped painting when it happened and enjoyed the moment. That’s happened before, but I don’t remember the last time, so it’s a rare occurrence.
One of the reasons this painting hit home with me is that I hadn’t planned it. With some of the other animals I’ve done, I’ve thought about it and deliberately gone looking for reference, either from shots I’ve taken, requests to photographer friends, or stock photos. I may hang on to some of those pics for a while, but in the back of my mind, I still know I’m eventually going to paint that animal.
To my best recollection, I’ve never once had the forethought that I’d be painting a snow leopard.
This past September, I had an exceptional day at The Calgary Zoo. In addition to getting more meerkat photos, which are always fun, the hippos were out of the pool and seemed to be having a good time while one of the keepers sprayed water at them. They were opening their mouths, had bright eyes and after three years of trying, I finally got the reference photos I needed for my upcoming Hippo Totem. That would have been enough to qualify as a good day. I would have walked to my car and drove back to Canmore with a feeling of accomplishment.
But with time to kill and space still on the camera cards, I wandered around to the other enclosures, looking for opportunities. It had been raining, so the zoo wasn’t very busy. The red pandas weren’t around, but they just had a kid, so they were probably up all night. The wild boars were out, but they were covered in mud and I just couldn’t get any decent shots, and I was about to call it a day.
On my walk back, I saw that Karesh, the resident snow leopard had just been fed and he was lively. Bounding around his enclosure, playing in the wet grass, suddenly I was snapping shot after shot, ones I wouldn’t normally expect to get. He was practically posing, often within feet of the glass wall separating us. Then he’d look right at me and I could see in his face the Totem I wanted to paint. I might have giggled. I’m not proud.
I usually go through my photos the same day I take them, weeding out the bad ones quickly so I don’t procrastinate and end up with thousands of photos I’ll never use. Even after being really picky with the shots, I still ended up with a few dozen good ones and at least twenty I could paint from. The hardest part of this painting was choosing which ones not to use.
Given the choice, I would have started painting this one right away, but we were in the midst of a federal election with plenty of editorial cartoons to draw, I had three commissions pending, a Gorilla Totem half-finished and a Panda Totem that had to be done before the end of the year as I had promised it to The Toronto Zoo. The Snow Leopard had to wait, but it was worth it. I’m glad this was my first painting of 2016, as it starts my artistic year off on a high.
This truly was a joy to paint and I kept nitpicking it, convinced I could make it just a little better if I only spent another hour on it, which would no doubt stretch out to two, then three, then four hours. I recently heard somebody say something quite fitting regarding creative pursuits, a lesson I’ve been forcing myself to learn. Better done than perfect. So, I had to call it.
I’m pleased with this painting and grateful for the experience. From start to finish, it reminded me that right here, right now, this is the work I want to do more than anything else, and while I’ve hit my stride, my best work is still yet to come.
And very soon, I still get to paint that Hippo.
This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and 24HD display. Photos were only used for reference. If 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!
Posted December 22nd, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Panda Totem
Here’s one that I’ve wanted to paint for quite some time. There have been times where I’ve had galleries and others asking me to add a Totem to the series for marketing reasons and it hasn’t always worked out the way I’ve wanted it to. On a couple of occasions, the painting ended up feeling forced and I didn’t have much fun with it, because it seemed like I was painting it at the wrong time.
At other times, however, the request coincides nicely with the desire to paint that animal and I’ve been pleased with the result. This is one of those times.
The Toronto Zoo has a couple of pandas on a five year loan from China and they are proving to be very popular. This year, they were successfully bred and two panda cubs are currently being well cared for. Panda cubs are delicate and they won’t be available to the public for some time, although the zoo has been posting some pretty adorable photos.
I approached the Toronto Zoo to add my Totem prints to their retail program this year and they are eager to place a large order in January, which will include animals in my current portfolio and a few I’ve yet to paint. The Panda Totem was one they requested.
I’m pleased with how this one turned out, especially since it was one of the easier paintings I’ve done. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to take my own reference photos on this one, so I relied on stock footage. My friend Scott had some credits that were about to expire and he graciously offered them to me, for this painting and a few others I’ll paint in the future.
With those new photos and some of the others I’d already bought, I used about four different head-shots for this one and three different bodies, each offering me detail and anatomy that wasn’t available in the others.
Some paintings I’ve done have been arduous, where I had great difficulty getting the anatomy right, or the expression, personality, lighting. My Bighorn Sheep Totem is especially memorable for being a real slog. But this painting flowed nicely, was quite fun and didn’t take nearly as long as many of the others. It was nice to have such a smooth painting experience this time.
I’ll be printing this one in January and it will be available in the online store by the end of next month. The Calgary Zoo has already expressed interest in it as well, as the pandas at The Toronto Zoo will be moving there in 2018. Early speculation is that the cubs will be joining them.
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Posted December 13th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Gorilla Totem
I started this at the end of October but didn’t get far on it, as I had pet portrait commissions and editorial cartoons taking priority. The bulk of that logjam was cleared last week and I was happy to get back to working on one of my own paintings. As much as I welcome and enjoy commission work, my own work has a lot more freedom to it, as there are no client instructions or details to keep in mind.
If I had nothing else to do, I’m pretty sure I could get one of these done in a couple of days. In fact, I’d love to have a year with nothing to do but paint the animals I enjoy most. But, I guess that’s everybody’s dream, isn’t it? No obligations but the bills still paid would certainly be the ideal. That’s likely why so many hope for retirement one day.
On that front, I often think of one of my favorite artists, Drew Struzan, who has painted some of the most iconic movie art of our time. If memory serves, he has tried to retire a few times, but he keeps doing work when his favorite clients come to call, if he feels like it. I like that. I don’t run well on idle and likely won’t ever retire. I’ll just paint what I like.
I took a lot of reference photos this year, some in the wild, but most at The Calgary Zoo and Discovery Wildlife Park. Some of the shots were sought out for upcoming paintings, others were happy accidents where an opportunity presented itself and I got the photos I needed. This Gorilla Totem is the result of the latter.
Had I planned ahead for this painting, I might have chosen the classic Silverback to paint. An imposing figure with great presence, I’ve no doubt I would have been pleased with the result. But this lady was looking at me through the glass one day and when I brought the camera up, she appeared even more interested. Whether it was her own reflection in the lens or mere curiosity, I happily snapped away until she moved on. The glass was dirty and at an odd angle, the light was poor with annoying reflections, but I managed, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
I’ve said before that I might hang on to reference for some time before getting around to painting an animal, waiting for the moment to seem right. That’s why I chose the gorilla over others currently waiting in the wings. It was just the right time. This was painted on the Wacom Cintiq 13HD, 24HD in Adobe Photoshop CC, with photos only used for reference.
Starting another Totem today as there are a few I’d like to get done before the end of the year.
Thanks for stopping by.
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