A Tale of Two Paintings

Posted November 18th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on A Tale of Two Paintings

My usual routine is to write a little blog post after each painting I do, to provide a close-up and maybe share a little bit of relevant info. Given the fact that I’ve been working on two commissions at the same time recently and finished them quite close together, I thought I’d share them both in the same post. It gives me an opportunity to show the difference between the two styles of commission paintings I do.


The first painting I recently finished was Loki, a beautiful old boy who passed away a little while ago. This is the second memorial painting I’ve done for this client; the first was Odin a couple of years ago. The client is very familiar with my work and chose a portrait style, which is quite often the case with memorial paintings I’m commissioned to do. With plenty of photos to choose from, I had the freedom to go with whichever pose I wanted to use. As usual, one photo spoke to me clearly and I got to work.

LokiCloseI usually only have a rough idea of what a painting will look like before I get started, but it’s usually enough. The background colour might change in the middle of a painting, but this one was orange and yellow from the beginning. The reference pic was taken in the fall and I knew those colours would just bring out his eyes. For me, it’s all about the eyes. If I get the eyes right, the rest of the painting will always come together. And if they’re wrong, nothing looks right.

Having lost a pet of my own this summer, there was a little more gravitas for me with this one. This old boy was loved a lot and I thought of that often while working on it. What a privilege.

SaxonThe next painting was in my Totem style, which is a whimsical caricature look, the same way I paint my wildlife paintings. The clients saw my paintings for sale in About Canada Gallery in Banff while on vacation and looked me up to see if I did commissions.

Saxon was described as a “beautiful drooling mastiff” and when I saw the photos, I was inclined to agree. His personality was evident in many of the pics and again, I found one that I thought would best represent what the client wanted him to look like.

SaxonCloseAs is the case in many of my whimsical paintings, I found myself smiling a lot while painting this big fella, and even laughed out loud a few times. I really wanted to paint in long strings of drool coming from those jowls, but the client didn’t want that. A commission is a significant investment, and while most of my clients give me carte blanche to paint what I want, I’m willing to take direction if it makes for a happier client.

Case in point, when this piece was finished yesterday, I had intentionally made the body a little narrow to draw attention to his big head, but the client thought I made him too skinny and wanted me to bulk up the body a bit. I spent another hour on the painting last night and delivered a final that pleased everybody, including me.

No matter what style my clients choose for their paintings, portrait or whimsical, memorial or just because, it’s such an honour to be trusted with the task. I enjoy these a great deal and each one challenges and teaches me something new. These two were no exception.

These will both be sent for proofing tomorrow and I intend to have them printed, framed and shipped in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for stopping by,


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Why They’re Called Totems.

Posted November 7th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Why They’re Called Totems.

Having just finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’, I realize I’ve been betraying myself. I have a book deadline in July of next year; it’ll be a book of my animal work. In it, I plan to talk about the painting process, what I think about while I’m working, stories about certain paintings and what brought about their existence.

I have been wrestling with one part of the larger story, however, most importantly deciding whether or not I want to include it. The reason is because it is deeply personal, it is the whole reason I paint these animals, especially the way in which I paint them, and it leaves me open to harsh criticism. I’ve only shared this story with a handful of people.

I’ve realized in recent days, however, that not to include it would be removing the very soul of the book. It would be robbing it of any honesty, and would genuinely be the worst kind of selling out, simply because I am worried about what people might think.

That’s not the book I want to write, and I wouldn’t be happy with it. Just as I’d rather give somebody a hug than shake their hand, you got to be who you are. So here goes.

In the mid-nineties, I worked at The Douglas Fir Resort in Banff, running the waterslide facility. A decent job, worked with some wonderful people, many of whom are still good friends. While I can’t be sure of the sequence of events, I do remember that my friends Michelle and Jeremy introduced me to Shamanism, which is a spiritual belief involving the natural world around us and most often associated with Native American culture, as I understood it. The general belief in communion with the natural world, however, is shared by many cultures on the planet. While I won’t go into it in great detail, I enjoyed the exploration.

I should mention that the only mind altering drugs I’ve ever done in my life was that I’ve smoked pot a few times. Let’s just say it didn’t agree with my naturally guarded nature, so none of this is related to illegal substances. Also, none of us was doing moonlight rituals or dancing naked under the stars in meadows, calling ourselves Running Deer or pretending we were in any way connected with a Native tribe. It was merely an investigation, just as I’ve done with many other supposedly fringe beliefs during that time.

One day, Jeremy and I were hanging out at the pool on days off and he gave me a drumming tape, which is just a rhythmic beating drum track that, when coupled with meditation, can often induce an altered perception called a journey. So I went into the sauna with my Walkman (remember those?) by myself, leaving Jeremy out by the pool and figured I’d give it a shot. When in your mid-twenties, you’ll believe anything, including that you’re invincible.

To spare you the detailed play by play, I’ll just say that it was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. In the journey, I met a coyote, as vivid as if he was standing in front of me right now, more real than any dream, and he led me on a walk. In the simplest terms, I had met my personal Totem.

To even write this is daunting, because my instinct says, “right now, people are rolling their eyes and thinking, ‘wow, another flaky artist. What a shock.’”

If that’s you, feel free to stop reading. I won’t be offended.

Over the next few years, I was suddenly flooded with more animal dreams than I can count. I still have three or four volumes of journals I wrote at the time, complete with sketches of scenes and descriptions of the things I saw. These were incredibly vivid dreams and more journeys with the drumming tracks.

At our wedding the next year, one of Shonna’s friends gave me medicine cards. I still have them twenty years later. While in Anaheim in 2006, Shonna and I went to a mall and I found the book Animal Speak by the late Ted Andrews. I still open that book weekly and use it as a reference for the wildlife I often see. I was drawn to this stuff, it just seemed to show up everywhere, or I was suddenly just noticing it. I’m as much a skeptic as the next guy, so I’ll concede that point, as you often find what you’re looking for.

Over time, however, I lost interest in it. The flighty indulgence of youth has time for these things, but I became busy with my editorial cartooning career. Sure, I thought about those dreams once in a while and revisited it occasionally. When cleaning up my office, I might come across those journals and read a few pages, but as time past, it drifted away.

Around 2009, right after my first Photoshop World, I’d been looking for some painted work I could do that I could actually market. Up until then, I’d been doing a lot of painted caricatures of celebrities, but realized I wasn’t enjoying it much and that selling these likenesses would also present legal issues in the future and I didn’t like doing it enough to bother with that hassle.

So I thought about what I could paint. Given where I live, I figured I’d give wildlife a try. I’d done some renderings of animals for editorial cartoons, but wanted to see if I could paint them as well. A bear seemed like a good start. I made time for this experiment and the finished result looked sort of like a real bear, but it was definitely caricatured, which hadn’t been my original plan. It just ended up that way. The response was good, people liked it and most importantly, so did I. It just felt right. It was fun. I loved that bear and it’s still one of my favorites today, and one of my best sellers.

It was my first Totem painting, of which I’ve done almost thirty since, among many other animal paintings that aren’t considered part of that group. In February of 2010, with three of them done, I got into my first art gallery in Banff, seemingly by accident, and now my animal work is a large part of my career. With three galleries, two zoos and international licensing on apparel and other products, this part of my life is still growing. Best of all, it is still the most enjoyable work I have ever done and continue to do. It feels like a calling, like this is where I’m supposed to be.

Now here’s the spooky part.

About a year after I started painting these animals, I was getting rid of some books in my office. I came across those journals and got sucked into reading one of them. I discovered an entry that described a detailed dream I’d had right around the time I’d been introduced to the concept of animal spirits, about twenty years ago. In the dream, I was at a party in one of the chalets at the Douglas Fir Resort. I had gone into the bathroom to relieve myself but had been distracted by a noise outside. I looked out the small window and saw a grizzly bear walking toward the chalet on the path outside.

The bear approached the chalet, put its front paws up onto the wall, looked right up at me and grinned. The bear had human eyes. That was twelve years before I’d painted my first Totem, and I’d forgotten all about it.

It might surprise you to read that I’m an atheist. I was raised Catholic and know a lot about religion, but if I ever had faith in it, I certainly don’t now. In the simplest terms, I believe we get one shot at this life and I don’t believe in an afterlife. Or if I’m wrong, I don’t think we have the reference required to comprehend what a continued existence might entail, so I don’t give it much thought. I also don’t try to dissuade anyone who believes otherwise. Faith is faith, no matter where you place it. To each their own.

And yet, my personal paradox is that I do believe that there is a mysterious other level that parallels and interacts with our own. Something we can often feel and sometimes see and touch. I don’t try to define it, nor do I believe it’s the same for everybody; we might each experience it in terms we can understand. Whether through intuition, dreams, premonitions or just that gut feeling you have that tells you to turn left instead of right, there’s something indefinable that has an influence on our material world.

In every painting I do, and I’ve mentioned this often, there is a moment where the personality just seems to ‘show up.’ I’m not kidding. The technical brushwork might be to the best of my ability, but to me, it appears lifeless until that moment. When it happens, it is my glimpse into that other, because it’s so profound. It is a real experience to me. When it comes, there is often a sense of relief, that the work was worthy of it, but more often, it’s like greeting an old friend. I’ve even said aloud on more than one occasion, “there you are.”

It’s as if I did the work to create the painted body, and when it was ready, something else gave it life. That’s the best I can explain it. It moves me every time.

In June of 2013, I finally painted the Coyote Totem, and it was worth the wait. It was if I didn’t have the skills to do it justice until then. It is the only painting I have printed for myself and it’s framed in my office. It is not one of my bestsellers, but it is my favorite. My wife suggested I hang it where I could see it easily from my desk. I look at it often, especially when I realize I’ve learned something important or when a perceived failure yields unexpected dividends later on, the connection only apparent in hindsight.

His grin is all knowing and it always makes me smile, as if telling me to have faith in the process or simply to say, “told you so.” From Animal Speak, The Coyote is the wise fool, the trickster. “There is always hidden wisdom when the coyote is concerned. Its energies are tied to simplicity and trust.”

Recently, I mentioned on social media that I was thinking of getting my first tattoo for my 45th birthday in the spring. I’d finally realized that Wile E. Coyote would be appropriate, a frustrated, grumpy looking version that just suits my mercurial personality, and it’s a cartoon. Shortly after sharing that, my mother sent me this picture of me at 19 months old.

Seems he has always been around for me.

What I’ve learned from studying this Totem is that the best lessons are often learned in a roundabout way. When you’re failing at one thing, you’re probably succeeding at something else and you don’t even know it. While I was frustrated for years at not getting to where I wanted to be with the artwork I was pursuing, what I was really doing was getting better at drawing and painting, putting in those requisite 10,000 hours. Eventually everything came full circle until I found the work I love to do best, or rather it found me. I didn’t develop the skill until later to create these animals that make me so happy, but I’d always been working toward it, even if I didn’t know it.

So now you know. This is why I paint these animals, why they’re called Totems, and why I can never take full credit for them. It is a powerful gift, one I continually have to earn.

It’s my own brush with big magic, and I’m grateful.

Gusgus the Beaver

Posted October 5th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Gusgus the Beaver

Gusgus004For a number of years, I’ve relied on many of my talented photographer friends for reference pics for my paintings. I’ve either paid them, traded prints, and in a few cases, I simply remain in their debt, ready for the day they call in that favour. In all cases, however, I have been appreciative of their willingness to share their art so that I could create my own.

In recent years, however, I have found that taking my own reference pictures has not only helped me get specific shots I require, but I’m also enjoying it a great deal. Many times an accidental encounter will provide inspiration and opportunity to create a painting I hadn’t planned on. In other cases, I intentionally seek out the chance to take photos of a specific critter. There are some reference pics that reside in my files for years before I get around to painting them, waiting for the time to seem right. In other cases, I spend years trying to get the right photo reference for an animal I’ve been itching to paint.

On that point, I’ve been trying to get reference photos of a beaver, so that I could finally paint this noble icon of Canadian culture. I’ve tried to get the shots in the wild, and even hung out around beaver dams a few times, camera at the ready. After the restraining order, however, I’m not allowed to do that anymore. Who knew that beavers had lawyers?

This past spring and summer, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail a few times. I had the foresight to buy an annual pass on my first visit as I had a feeling I would be returning. They’re open May 1st to October 12th and have quite a large area of land with a wide variety of enclosures for the diverse species they care for.

Some of these animals are orphans, others are rescues, but all are well cared for from what I’ve seen and read. From their own site, “Our goal is to provide our visitors the opportunity to bond with our animals and have a positive experience. Visitors leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of the diversity of life on our planet and, hopefully, the determination to do all they can to help conserve and protect all species and their habitats.”

A number of these animals are trained; some even appear in television commercials and movies. The training allows for easier care because the animals are used to their handlers and is also a form of enrichment for them. On the two occasions I’ve taken the behind-the-scenes tour with the lion cubs, Griffin and Zendaya, the close relationship with the keepers has been clearly evident.

I’ve asked plenty of questions during my visits and none have been dismissed or dodged. While some zoos try to maintain as close a habitat to wild as they can, and limit human exposure, this park does not. It is a different approach to conservation and education than that employed by a traditional zoo. When people are exposed in person to animals they might only see on TV or in movies, it fosters empathy for them. Children who grow up with compassion for animals will look at their world with those eyes and want to protect the creatures upon it. At least that is my personal hope.

With the end of the season fast approaching, I made arrangements with Serena Bos, the head zookeeper, to take some private photos of one of their resident beavers. I had asked about it during my last visit in the summer, but that’s their busy time and people pay to have their photos taken with him daily. That money goes back into the operation of the zoo and care of the animals. It was suggested that I try again in the fall and she would try to make it happen for me, for a fee of course, which I was happy to pay.
Gusgus003With the promise of fifteen minutes of his time, Serena and Barret, (another keeper I’ve met on previous visits), brought him out to his usual perch and I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Spending up close and personal time with any of these animals, however brief, just makes me happy.

They were going to try and have Gusgus face opposite to his usual photo-op direction in order to get better light, but he started to fuss about it and I said I’d work with him however he was most comfortable. These photos are for reference, so imperfect lighting isn’t a problem as long as I get the anatomy, detail and the pose I want.

With Gusgus, I got all of that and more. They had a tray of fresh veggies for him to gnaw on and he eagerly reached for them. As a trained animal, he would sit up when called upon to do so, I’d snap some pics and he’d get a treat, chattering away the whole time. I don’t think he stopped making noise during the shoot and I realized I didn’t know what a beaver sounded like until then.
Gusgus001As it was a quiet sunny day, Serena and Barret were in no hurry to put Gusgus back in his enclosure and he seemed to be quite content, so I got more than the fifteen minutes I was expecting. I asked a bunch of questions and learned a few more things about the park and some of Gusgus’ on-camera work. When I got home and downloaded the pics, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

With dozens of shots to choose from, I’m looking forward to this painting more than ever. The hardest part will be choosing the best shots to work from. I’ve even got a few pics of the goofy grinning artist and his subject, for my own memory of the experience.

I will be buying another annual membership to Discovery Wildlife Park next year and plan to visit as often as I can. If you live near or plan to be in the area, I would encourage you to do the same. This season, they’re open until the day after Thanksgiving, so still a few more days to check it out. With the weekend forecast calling for sunny days and warm temps, it would be a perfect time to go.

To Serena and Barret, thanks again for being so accommodating and for the work you do with the animals. I look forward to seeing you and them again.

(by the way, if you want to see Gusgus as a baby, here’s a link to an article from 2010. So frickin’ cute).
Gusgus002If 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!

Summing Up Summer

Posted September 13th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Summing Up Summer

The Bad

My cat died. Still miss her, still expect to see her, and still think about her a lot, though it doesn’t hurt as much as it did. No guilt, though. She got a ton of love her whole life and in the end, she just got old. It happens. It sucks.

HeraldThe fiasco with the Calgary Zoo and Safari Club International. To recap, I stated publicly that I could not support the zoo if they allowed SCI to hold their fundraising event there. That meant no more visits or selling my prints there, but it was contrary to my core values and I couldn’t get past it. The Calgary Herald read my blog post and asked to reprint it, which led to a lot of support, but plenty of nasty emails and comments as well. It was a jarring experience, one that I took personally and there were some pretty low days afterward. Who keeps feeding the trolls? Why aren’t they dead yet?

Art is a luxury and the Canadian economy has been taken out at the knees this year. When people are losing their jobs, the last thing they prioritize is paintings of funny looking animals. I get that and thankfully, editorial cartooning still pays a lot of the bills and we’re in a federal election. Make hay while the sun shines, even if it’s on the backs of lying, thieving, no good politicians. Hardly going to lose the house, but it’s been a bit of a down year. After so many good ones, I guess I was due.

Midlife crisis, existential angst, whatever you want to call it, this frickin’ thing never seems to end. Meaning of life stuff, what’s the point of it all, does all of this effort really matter in the end? I now know now why this ridiculous cliché exists, because it’s a harsh reality, too. A study out of the UK in 2008 reported that 44 is statistically the lowest year of a person’s life. I’m going to agree with that. Add that to my garden variety OCD and anxiety issues, which everybody says they understand, but really don’t. Trust me, nobody hates being around a downer more than the person who actually IS the downer. Shonna’s riding it out, clearly enduring some of the latter of the ‘better or worse’ contract. Haven’t caught her putting arsenic in my rum yet and I still have a couple of friends left…I think.

But hey, if you believe the stats in that report, it’s an upward swing from here, which means it’s an uphill climb, too. Damn these deep dark holes.

The Good

What, you didn’t think it would be ALL whining, did you? This summer had plenty of bright spots, too.

I’ve been doing a lot more painting this year, hoping to have twice the content I’ll need for the book deadline in July. Between the writing and artwork, I want it to be the best effort I can muster, so my funny looking animals have been the priority. Despite the economy, I’ve been turning down work that isn’t in line with that goal, focusing on the long game. I’ve wanted to do a book for years, and have no illusions of imaginary riches. With Renegade Arts Entertainment publishing it, it’s no longer a what-if or maybe-someday. It’s put-up-or-shut-up.

A few new shirts coming soon from The Mountain, a new licensing deal with DecalGirl, with more in the works, and I’m trying to get my prints into other venues in Canada. Best of all, just this week, Safari Club International pulled out of their event at the zoo and I received another print order that very day. I plan to go back on Monday to deliver the order and take plenty of pictures. Being able to take a stand and not have to suffer long for it, I feel like I got to have my cake and eat it, too.

Managed to squeeze in a few camping trips this year, which is three more than last year. Each had their high points and I’ll be making the same effort to get away from the desk and tech next year. The weather was all over the place this summer, so I didn’t hike as often as I would have liked, but I got out whenever I could, camera at the ready.

Visiting Discovery Wildlife Park this year was wonderful, especially getting a behind the scenes experience with the lion cubs. The first visit was so enjoyable that I went back and did it again, taking plenty of photos on both visits and I’ve already used some as reference for paintings. I’m planning to go back one more time before they close around the middle of next month.

If you had told me ten years ago that many of my waking hours (and more than a few of my sleeping ones) would be spent preoccupied with wildlife, I would have been surprised. Whether it’s taking pictures, sketching, or painting, these funny looking animals seem to have taken up residence in every corner of my life. There is a feeling of momentum with this work, that rather than cruising, I’m still accelerating. Where it will take me, I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to it.


GreatGreyIf 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!

A Couple of Great Deals!

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


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

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

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


Conservation, Conviction, and Commerce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My objection is to trophy hunting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Delighted with DecalGirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Muse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trio of Ostriches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My latest painting, a lion cub named Zendaya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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