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The Other Side of Another Photoshop World

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

Last week found me once again at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2014. While I’d love to be able to say that it’s all work and no play, I’d be lying through my teeth.

While I did decide to take a break from the conference last year, this was the fifth time around for me at PSW. Every year is different depending on which classes I’m taking and which group of friends is showing up.

This creative community of artists is an interesting mix. Photographers, designers, illustrators, compositors… they come from all over the world and from a number of different generations, but everybody is looking to have a good time and learn a few things. Many of the people with whom I spend my time at this conference are ones I talk to all the time via email and social media, but only get to see once a year, sometimes not even that often.   But it’s very easy to pick up where we left off and it’s definitely a working vacation.

AirborneOn that latter point, I budgeted a little time to check one more item off the bucket list, a flight with Sky Combat Ace to experience some airshow acrobatics in an Extra 330LC, which was quite a thrill ride. Here’s a link to the video.

Airborne2While the conference itself is very heavy on the photography side of things, it has still been worth this cartoonist/illustrator/digital painter’s time to attend. One thing I’ve learned from taking classes at this event is that whether you’re talking photos, design, or illustration…images are images. The principles that will make an image better in one medium will often translate to another, so a class on composition in portrait photography will help me become a better portrait painter, too.

Since I take many of my own reference photos for a lot of my recent work, editing those images and figuring out how to get the best from them will also help me produce better digital paintings.

In 2010 at this event, I was fortunate to have won two Guru Awards, one in the Illustration category and also the Best in Show award. This year, I submitted three images, again under the Illustration heading. While I knew ahead of time that two of my images were finalists, I assumed both were in that category. When the awards were announced however, my portrait of Bruno was the only one that came up in the Illustration genre. As I’d gone in with low expectations, I was OK with not winning.

GuruBIS

Much to my surprise, however, my painting, “One in Every Family” was awarded the Best in Show award again this year and I was very pleased. While the prize that was announced ahead of time was a gift card from the sponsor, B&H (one of my favorite shopping destinations), a surprise addition to the prize was a Canon 5D Mark III camera with lens included. It now appears that I have to up my game when it comes to my knowledge of photography. My photographer friends at this event have all assured me that I now have one of the best cameras I could ever want and have physically threatened me if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to become a better photographer.

With that in mind, I took the camera with me on one of my regular hikes the day after I got home, and managed to get a few photos that I thought were pretty decent, a couple of them shown here.

LittleBird

Butterfly

I still have a LOT to learn, but have plenty of resources with which to do so and many professional photographer friends who’ve offered their assistance.

As I was already going to be in attendance at the event, my friends at Wacom invited me to present at their booth on the Expo Floor for the second time. As luck would have it, the topic I chose was the story of discovering the family of Great Horned Owls at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore earlier this summer, which led to the painting that won the award the day before I presented at the booth. Add in a little painting demo and I think it went rather well.

WacomI really enjoyed myself at the conference, largely because of the people with whom I spent the week. While it’s too early to tell if I will return again next year, this year’s trip was time and money well spent and I find myself inspired to produce even better work in the year ahead. You really can’t put a price on that.

TheGang




A Portrait of Bruno

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

BrunoThe first time I asked somebody if I could paint their portrait, it was a spur of the moment thing and I was woefully unprepared.   My buddy Darrel and I were attending a small concert at Ironwood Stage and Grill in Calgary last year for Alan Doyle’s debut solo album, ‘Boy on Bridge.’ An intimate venue, I could have put my feet up on the stage from where we sat. A trio of Doyle, Corey Tetford and Kendel Carson, all talented and accomplished musicians, it became one of my favorite live music experiences to date, just had a really great time.

During the show, when Carson was playing her fiddle in one of the songs, I noticed the way the light was bouncing off of the wood, her face and her long straight blonde hair. It was just this instant feeling of, “I want to paint her.”

While gearing myself up to ask, all I could think was, “no matter how I do this, she’s going to think I’m creepy.”

But, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try, so at the end of the show, I approached her with my business card and mentioned that I’d like to paint her portrait, showed her a few images on my phone and told her if she was interested, I’d love to see any photos of her playing that I could possibly paint from, really wishing I’d brought my own camera. It was that image of her playing that I really wanted to paint, but I had missed that moment. While she was friendly and polite, I knew right away this wasn’t going anywhere.  Pretty sure she thought I was creepy, and in that profession, I imagine she’s got reason to be wary of strange men approaching her after a show. Who can blame her?

I’ve painted a number of portraits over the years, mostly characters from movies, and all personal projects. A few have ended up having some very nice stories to go with them. Emilio Estevez bought the original of my portrait of Martin Sheen to give to his father last year and when astronaut Chris Hadfield was hired to speak at a conference here in Alberta, the host company bought the original of his portrait to give to him as a gift. They all graciously signed prints for me, which hang in my studio.

SheenEven though I make my living as an artist, portraits of people are solely for my own enjoyment, at least for the time being. Up until recently, they’ve all been painted from reference from movies or online video, nothing I’ve shot myself.

A few weeks ago, I was at the local outdoor market here in Canmore. A regular Thursday event downtown in the summer months, it attracts vendors from all over, selling all sorts of food and creative products.

One particular booth, Spirits of the Creek, sells pottery, jewellery, and bio magnetic products. It’s excellent quality handmade work. As I was perusing the merchandise and talking to the vendor, with his eclectic hat that he said was handmade by a friend in California (Head n Home), there was that little voice again. “I want to paint him.”

The next week, I returned to the market with my camera and while I wanted a candid shot of the gentleman, I also knew that if I started snapping photos of him, he would notice, so I just approached him, introduced myself, told him what I was after and showed him some of my portrait work on my iPad. Bruno seemed amused by the whole idea and said he was fine with my taking the shots. He later told me that he and his wife, Donna (the creative force behind the pottery) thought it amusing afterward.  Were the roles reversed, I would have as well.

Now, no matter how well a person thinks they’re being natural, a camera will always make a non-professional change his demeanor, unless the photographer is very good at putting their subject at ease. So, I skulked around the other booths, taking candid shots of Bruno from a number of different angles, and was pretty sure that most of the time, he didn’t see me.  But a couple of times, he did and sure enough, he changed his posture and expression.

BrunoAt one point he was talking to a customer, and for a split second he noticed me and only his eyes moved in my direction. I snapped the shot and instantly knew that was the one. As I don’t like chimping (constantly looking at the display screen at the back of the camera while shooting), I waited until I got home and sure enough there was the shot I needed, that one out of about two dozen.

I set to work painting and over the next two weeks, managed to produce what I think is probably my best portrait piece to date.

When I showed up at the market with the finished image on my iPad, I was relieved that Bruno liked it. He asked me to email it to him so he could show his wife and she sent me a lovely email the following morning, approving of the work. It was really a lot of fun to paint and I look forward to sending Bruno and Donna a canvas print next month.

On the legal side of things, I did get him to sign a model release, which basically allows me to use the image as I see fit, whether it ends up in a book or some other media. From what my professional photographer friends tell me, a model release will rarely come into play for most people, but you get everybody to sign one just for the one person that makes it necessary.

Perhaps the best thing I’ve learned from this experience is that I want to repeat it.  The next time I see a person with an interesting look or character, and that little voice pipes up inside my head, I’ll be more willing to take a risk and ask if they’ll let me paint them.  Some will say No, I’m sure, but for those who say Yes, I can only hope that I do them justice.

And if it’s a woman, I’ll probably get my wife to ask her.

 

Bruno Close

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Ukee Locals

Posted August 4th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

SeagullsFINALI titled this painting, ‘Ukee Locals’ as that’s how residents in Ucluelet refer to their town.  Having lived in two tourist towns (Banff and Canmore) for the past twenty years, I often feel a kinship with locals in other tourist towns, knowing what it’s like to make your living from visitors.  It’s a love-hate relationship with the tourists sometimes so I have to fight the urge to tell every server, tour operator or staff member, “It’s OK,  I’m not one of them, I’m with you!” which I’m really not, since I don’t live there.

When you think of wildlife paintings, a seagull is hardly the first animal that comes to mind.  The fact that we’re so used to seeing them in urban environments makes many of us think they’re practically domesticated.  Expert scavengers, opportunists and thieves, they’re not usually someone’s favorite animal.  I kind of like ‘em.

While out on my wildlife cruises in that area in June, something you’re likely getting sick of hearing about I’m sure, I saw plenty of different species of wildlife and took a lot of photos.  I’ll be painting animals from that trip for quite some time and each one I do just makes me want to go back for more.  While pulling into the dock one day, literally seconds before Al (with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises) cut the engines, I noticed two gulls perched on one of the many posts around the harbour.  What I was really aiming for was a shot of one of them flying, but when I got home and started sorting through my photos, I realized that this was the scene I wanted to paint and I used three different pics as reference, not including the one you see here.

GullPicOriginally this was just going to be a sketch painting, but the more I worked on it, I just couldn’t put it away.  Even when it was finished, I found myself still wanting to work on minute detail that nobody was going to see.  The wood on the posts, the aluminum caps, the feathers, the light…each presented another challenge and I had a lot of fun with this painting.  It turns out that I learned a little about the birds themselves, too.

Closeup01As I was painting them as a couple, I realized that I didn’t know if males and females of this species looked alike or not.  Birds of different gender will often have different plumage.  It would be embarrassing to paint them as male and female only to have somebody point out that females look completely different.  Keep in mind that I’d already done a lot of work on these when this popped into my head.  Fortunately I found out that the only visible difference in this particular type of gull is that the female is a little bit smaller, which also worked for the painting.  I also found out that the type of gulls in the Ucluelet area, all up and down the northern west coast actually, are called Glaucous-winged Gulls, something that isn’t going to matter to most people.  They’re seagulls.

For the technically minded, this was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  Photos were only used for reference and all of the detail was achieved using relatively simple brushes without any texture overlays.

Incidentally, I did get the shots I needed of one of them taking off from the post,  so there might be another seagull painting in my future.

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The Owls of Grassi Lakes

Posted July 28th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

FinalHere’s my latest painting, entitled, “One in Every Family.”   In this case, it’s a family of Great Horned Owls that I had the privilege of watching for a few weeks in June.

Grassi Lakes here in Canmore is a short hike and easily accessible. It’s usually quite busy on weekends and during the summer, but if you get there early and take the difficult route (not that difficult), you meet relatively few people on the way up. If memory serves, it’s about a 20 minute hike one way, at a brisk pace.

The lakes themselves aren’t large, two connected ponds really. The attraction is their emerald colour. Seemingly iridescent blues and greens make for a very nice scene and it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Some benches, bridges and reinforced paths, and on one side of the far lake, you find a large rock face which is actually a fossilized Devonian coral reef. It’s also a popular climbing wall.

From the Wikipedia entry, the lakes “are named after Lawrence Grassi, an Italian miner who emigrated to Canada in 1912. After working with the Canadian Pacific Railway for several years he worked in the Canmore coal mines. Grassi also become a well-respected climbing guide as well as building many trails in the area including one to the Grassi Lakes which also bear his name.”

Grassi Lakes is great when I don`t have a lot of time, but still want to get some exercise. It’s picturesque, an interesting trail and at the lakes themselves, there is plenty of opportunity to take photos of Golden Mantle Ground Squirrels, a favorite critter of mine.

In the middle of last month, I was up at the lakes happily snapping pics of a ground squirrel when a woman came over to me and asked quietly, “Have you seen the owls?”

When I said that I hadn’t, she pointed across the lake to the rock wall. About 40 feet up is a little cave and sitting atop one of the rocks was a big Great Horned Owl. I thanked her and moved around the lake for a better look and with my camera at full zoom, I was able to see the owl very clearly. I could also see an owlet that until then had just looked like another rock. The camouflage was perfect.
003As it’s a provincial park, I wasn’t surprised to see an obvious red sign chained into the wall at ground level below the cave. I never actually went to read it, but somebody told me it was a warning that this particular climbing route was closed for the protection of the owls. Climbers were on the wall, but all were giving the nest a wide berth.

Over the next few weeks, I went back up to Grassi Lakes with a pair of binoculars (that I happily shared with interested tourists) and a tripod for the camera.   I took well over a thousand photos, most of them at full zoom, and probably ending up keeping a couple of dozen. Great for reference, not so much for print, but since I hadn’t planned on that; I was very pleased with the results.  The owls seemed to have no concern at the people watching from below and it usually took a raven or other bird flying by to capture their interest, although the little ones did seem fascinated by a couple of dogs splashing in the lake on one occasion.
002While I’ve painted a Great Horned Owl before, I honestly didn’t know much about them. With plenty of information online, I learned a great deal about what I was seeing, including the family dynamic, the breeding season, how long the owlets would stay with the parents…the info is easily found if you Google it.

During my visits, I was able to watch their behavior, saw both the male and female parents (the female is larger) and the two owlets. Both of them grew very fast and by my fifth visit, they looked quite a bit larger and their feathers had changed to look more like their parents and less like the fuzzy little balls of fluff that they are in the painting. They grew braver and started venturing out further along the rocks away from the cave, were actively hopping and flapping their wings, practicing their calls and mimicking their father, who seemed to spend the most time with them. A real joy to watch.

004On my sixth visit, I didn’t see them at all. A friend had said she didn’t see them the day before, either. Judging by what I’d read, my assumption is that they had learned to fly and although they do stay near the nest until the fall, my guess is that they’re also exploring their surroundings and learning to hunt. I don’t think I can expect to see the whole family hanging about the nest any longer, so I stopped going to see them.

Some locals have mentioned that the mating pair returns to that cave each year, as Great Horned Owls mate for life. The fact that I’ve never seen them before means I probably just wasn’t paying attention to that part of the wall on previous visits and they’re not obvious. I’m looking forward to next spring to see if they return and raise new young. A family of owls in the wild was a treat.

Initially, I was just going to do a few sketch paintings and move on. I started out with one of the adult male looking angry at some ravens that were harassing the nest, then another of one of the owlets trying out his lungs. The noise was truly pitiful and I laughed out loud while watching it.  Finally, I added the sibling to the initial owlet sketch painting, looking surprised. After that, I knew I was going to paint the whole family and that it would be a finished piece.  All of the sketch paintings and the final painting were done in Photoshop with a Wacom Cintiq display.

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007Maybe it’s because I’m a cartoonist and have this need to imbue animals with human characteristics, but watching the family interaction, I could imagine what was being said between the owlets and the parents. At one point, all of them sleeping in the sunshine, one of the owlets suddenly fluffed up and excitedly ruffled his wings. The father woke up suddenly, turned sharply to the owlet, and made some noises. I could have sworn he was saying, “Hey! Stop screwing around!”

I like to think that’s also his expression in the painting.

This whole experience was a real thrill and I think I’ll try painting more scenes like this, featuring other animals.  I’ve already got one in mind but likely won’t get to it right away. I’ve already got the reference, though, so you never know.

001

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Pre-orders are available for an 11″X14″ matted giclée print of “One in Every Family” until August 30th and they will be shipped in the latter half of September.  For more information or to order, follow this link.  Exshaw, Banff, and Canmore residents, please order by email for free delivery.




Totems, Tourists, and Taking Chances

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

OtterTotemGallery owners know their business. If you check your ego at the door and are willing to listen and learn, you’ll find out there’s a lot of middle ground between artist expectations and the reality of the business of art.

In recent years, my prints have sold primarily at About Canada Gallery in Banff and at the Calgary Zoo, in addition to my online and trade show sales. The owners at About Canada have been wonderful to work with and I told them early on that they didn’t have to spare my feelings when it came to what they were willing to stock. Thankfully, they took me at my word, give me honest feedback and are receptive when I reciprocate.

If something isn’t selling well in Banff, I replace it with something that might do better, without any ill feelings. One person’s favorite painting might not be that of others and when it comes to limited space, majority rules.

Limited edition canvas prints are at a higher price point so they don’t sell as quickly or as often as matted prints do, but they’re well worth having. They look great on the wall and attract a lot of attention, but it’s the 11”X14” matted prints that sell best and consistently, simply because they’re still great quality, but at $44, they’re priced well for an impulse buy and are small enough to fit in a suitcase. The 16”X20” matted prints will eventually be discontinued because they’re a pain for tourists to carry home or ship. These are the things you learn along the way.

Initially, About Canada only wanted animals that were found in this area, many of which are my most popular, including the Grizzly, Wolf, Moose, Raven, and Great Horned Owl Totems. But with the Otter selling well online, I suggested they give it a try. It didn’t take long for my little sea otter to become a best-seller in Banff, joined shortly by a few other non-mountain animals, including the Giraffe, Parrot, and Cows.

While the matted prints do very well in Banff, they weren’t flying off the shelves at The Calgary Zoo , despite a lot of interest. The retail manager and I figured that the $44 price tag might be a little steep for a souvenir of a day at the zoo. With that in mind, I swapped out all of the matted prints and introduced a line of Poster Prints I have done at Maranda Reprographics and Printing in Calgary. Printed on a satin finish paper, resembling a high quality magazine print, they look great and are popular sellers at the Calgary Expo. As they’re not archival giclée prints like my others, I’m able to offer a lower price. At $25 with backer board, artist bio and in a plastic sleeve, it didn’t take long to realize that our assumption was correct and they now sell very well at the zoo, even prints of the animals they don’t have in residence.

While on Vancouver Island last month, I figured it was a good opportunity to scout galleries in the Ucluelet and Tofino area. Knowing the area I was going to, I packed 11”X14” matted prints of the Totems I thought would best get me in the door, including the Bald Eagle, Otter, Wolf, and Humpback Whale.

HumpbackTotemAfter making inquiries of my hosts aboard the Raincoast Maiden on my wildlife tours and others around town, it became clear that the best venue to approach would be Reflecting Spirit Gallery. With locations in both Ucluelet and Tofino, it would be an ideal arrangement to work with one owner in both communities. I also remembered that my wife and I enjoyed our visit to that gallery on our last trip to the area.

It’s a daunting exercise to cold call a business. With nothing to lose, I went in with a positive attitude, but ready for rejection. The owner wasn’t in, so I talked to one of her staff about the gallery and showed her my work. An artist with work in the gallery herself, she was very nice, encouraged me to come back the next day and I left with a little more information, better prepared for a second visit.

It’s important to keep in mind when cold calling a business, especially one that’s owner operated, to treat everyone you encounter with respect. You could be talking to a member of the owner’s family or one of their closest friends.

The next day, I returned and spoke to the owner. A talented artist herself, she looked thoughtfully at the work I brought and gave me honest feedback. I opened my portfolio to show her the rest of my Totem series and she pointed out others that she thought would do well there. The Raven is significant for the native people of that area and there are plenty of cougars in and around Tofino and Ucluelet. Again, gallery owners know their market.

We discussed price points, consignment rates, and numbers. Before too long, she agreed to take my prints for both of her galleries. Needless to say, this Albertan was thrilled, especially since Reflecting Spirit primarily sells the work of Vancouver Island artists. Rather than order specific numbers of each, she left it up to me to give her more of the best-sellers and less of the others, based on my experience with my own work.

By Canada Day, a large order of matted prints had arrived safely, are on display and for sale in both of the Reflecting Spirit Galleries. It won’t be long before I find out how the prints will do in this new market, but it was well worth the investment of my time and money to give it a shot.

Many artists spend years waiting to be discovered, figuring that if they produce good work, supporters and customers will simply show up. “If you build it, they will come,” was a wonderful premise in ‘Field of Dreams,’ but in real life, success requires that you stick your neck out and do so often. As unpalatable as it is for many creative types, especially those who think it beneath them to sully their creative passion with talk of money, art is a business and it requires sales skills. You not only have to sell your work, but yourself as well.

CougarTotem
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Aboard The Raincoast Maiden

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

Ukee02_05A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed on Vancouver Island for the first time. As neither of us is big on really long road trips, primarily because we’d like to stay married, we opted to fly into Comox and then rented a car. We visited a few friends and family, drove down along the inland coast to Victoria for a few days, and then ended up in Ucluelet and Tofino for a couple of nights. We wanted to take a whale watching tour and visit arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.

I think we booked with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises because of the incredible reviews we’d seen on Trip Advisor, but also because it was an owner/operator small business rather than a factory tour. A few years prior in Mexico, we’d taken a tour with Edventures (go ahead, look ‘em up) and were so pleased with the personal service that we decided to always go with a smaller tour when available, even if it cost more.   They just try harder.

Ukee02_04It was on that first trip to Ucluelet that we met Al and Toddy Landry, who live and work aboard their 53 ft. yacht, the Raincoast Maiden. Visit their site to read their bios and then browse around. It explains their tour and operation far better than I can.

That tour was easily the highlight of the whole vacation and we kept in touch with our hosts. Toddy had graciously given me access to her photos for reference, one of which I used for my Otter Totem, and I sent them a print of my Humpback Whale Totem, which they told me was hanging aboard their yacht. Considering there’s not a lot of room for artwork when you live on a boat, I took that as quite the compliment.

Ukee02_02Fast forward to my recent trip to Ucluelet, (my artist’s retreat, working vacation, whatever you want to call it), I had already planned to book a tour with them again. I had recently completed a landscape painting of White Face Rock, based on a reference photo I’d taken on my previous trip with Al and Toddy, and they had said they really liked the painting. The rock is a feature they see every day as they return from their tour. As I couldn’t surprise them with a print if they had nowhere to hang it, I offered to bring one to them if they liked, but understood if they didn’t have room. Toddy gave me the measurements of the available space and I brought the print with me.

Even though I’d only spent time with them that once, about five or six hours, it felt like I was going to visit old friends. That’s how welcome they make you feel when they take you around Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands. On this return trip three years later, Toddy greeted me with a hug. I gave her the framed print, and it was hung aboard the boat the day after.

Painting

Ukee02_06I’ve never lived by the ocean and haven’t spent much time on the water, but I loved it, cruising around the islands, taking photos of wildlife, and smelling the salt air. With no agenda for my five days out in Ucluelet, it was soon evident that one day on the water wasn’t going to be enough. I ended up going on the cruise three days in a row and I’m so glad I did. Having lived in a tourist area the past 20 years, I intentionally booked my trip in the shoulder season of that area so it would be less busy. Had I not, they might not have had the room for me on such short notice.

With coffee and tea on all day in the galley, freedom to move around as you like, binoculars for every guest aboard, it was an incredibly relaxed environment. Both Al and Toddy would alert us over the speakers to points of interest, recount stories and history about the area, and set us up for an abundance of wildlife sightings.

At lunch one beautiful sunny day, anchored in a quiet sheltered bay off one of the islands, I found myself reclining at the rear of the boat on the lower deck. Looking out at the water with a cold beer in my hand, I thought, “Perfect. Just perfect.”

Ukee02_03With whale sightings seeming to be hit and miss in the area this year, at least in June, I didn’t get to see any this trip, but we saw four on my first tour three years ago, so I wasn’t too disappointed. It’s just one of those years. The whales follow the food and according to the local fishermen, they were seeing them further out at sea while I was there. Wildlife doesn’t punch a clock, so it’s a gamble no matter where you go and it was the same story for all of the tour companies in the area.

But with Al and Toddy working hard to find as many wildlife opportunities as possible, we saw plenty of sea lions and seals, countless bald eagles, many different bird species, sea otters splashing and playing, a black bear foraging on a beach and some of the most spectacular coastal scenery you’ll see anywhere in the world.

Ukee02_07If you’re ever on Vancouver Island, make the time to head out to the Ucluelet and Tofino area, and if you know you’re going to be there, book a tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises. You won’t be disappointed.

I came home with a treasure trove of reference photos from which to paint, both for wildlife and landscapes. I can’t wait to go back for more.

Ukee02_01
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An Island Retreat

Posted June 21st, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off

WPTrail002
Last year, I had the idea to go away on a little bit of a working vacation, an artist’s retreat, for lack of a better term. Intending to start small, I was just going to drive down the road to Kananaskis in the fall, stay at the Lodge for a few days, and just sketch, draw, paint, and write.

True to my nature, I found a reason to cancel a couple of weeks beforehand with the excuse that I was too busy. Then I beat myself up about it, angry at my habit of talking a good game when it comes to stuff like this, and then playing it safe and chaining myself to my routine. It’s an odd quirk, considering that I had no problem quitting my safe full-time job eight years ago to freelance for a living.

Thankfully, my wife and I took an impromptu vacation to Vegas around the same time, did a whole bunch of fun stuff (biplane tour over the Hoover Dam, skydiving, gun range, saw some shows) and my failure to take the retreat was temporarily forgotten.

As winter wore on, overwhelmed with work, plus planning for the Calgary Expo, the thought of getting away started to creep in again. When I brought it up to my ever-supportive wife that I was thinking of going back to Ucluelet, somewhere we’d vacationed three years ago, she gave her blessing and I started planning.

I’d fly into Comox on May 31st, rent a car, drive across Vancouver Island, rent a cabin and for four or five days, I’d just sketch, draw, paint, and write. Shonna told me to save myself some money and use the Air Miles for the flight and car. I didn’t figure out why until later.

As the trip grew closer, and I realized how much work I had to do to, I started to once again consider that perhaps I was too busy to take this time off. But if you cancel a trip made with Air Miles, you lose them. That’s pretty much what kept me from finding a reason not to go. She’s sneaky, that wife of mine.

As a chronic over-planner, I tried my best to remain open to the adventure while still keeping my eye on the ball.  I fought my urge to please everybody and declined a number of offers of visits with people I know on the Island. But I did make time for one night in the Courtenay/Comox area. Had a BBQ with good friends who use to live here in the Bow Valley, spent the night with long-time family friends (their son is one of my oldest and closest friends), and planned to see my uncle and his wife on the way back to the airport on the last day. That was all I had time for unless I removed the whole reason for taking the trip. Selfishly, and without apology, this was all about me.

The mountain road out to Ucluelet and Tofino is winding, narrow, and a little hairy in places. I’m not a road trip kind of guy, I don’t like driving much in general, but that drive was a lot of fun thanks to the zippy little (and bright green) Mazda 2 the rental company gave me. Heading out early, I avoided any traffic and arrived in Ucluelet on Sunday morning before noon, to an ideal little cabin right on the harbour. It was bright green to match the car.

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The plan was to sketch, draw, paint, write and be creative. Shonna and I took a wildlife tour three years ago with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises and it was a highlight of our trip to the Island. I wanted to spend another day on the water with them again. I was going to walk along Long Beach again, spend at least one day in Tofino, and hike some trails in between there and Ucluelet. I wanted to be productive, make the most of my time and get stuff done. In no time at all, the best laid plans of this obsessive over-planner were tossed out the window.

I didn’t sketch at all. Not once. I didn’t paint. I only wrote one blog post. I wasn’t creative in the slightest.

Hiked every day on the Wild Pacific and other trails, including a very creepy, but exhilarating walk through the rainforest to Half Moon Bay at twilight, where I didn’t see another soul for more than two hours.  I spent three days on the water with people I now consider friends, and that’s an upcoming post all on its own. I was still up before 6:00AM every day, out with the camera and a coffee in my travel mug. I wandered the harbour and docks, smelling the salt air, and ignored the news of the world. I took a ton of photos. It was perfect.

Talking to Shonna one night, I confided that I really didn’t feel like going to Tofino. I didn’t even feel like going to Long Beach, as there was plenty for me right around Ukee. But, I felt like I was supposed to go to these places because I was already in the area. She told me to do whatever I wanted, that it was my trip. If I wanted to stay in bed all day in the cabin, read a book and take naps, then that’s what I should do. And she was right.

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There was this familiar urge to get things accomplished, but the only work I did was that I managed to get my prints into two new galleries, in both Ucluelet and Tofino, which will again be a whole other post, and I still didn’t have to go to Tofino. I felt this obligation to come back from the trip with a sketchbook full of work, thousands of words written, and a line by line accounting that quantified and justified the expense, as if I had a boss I needed to impress when I got home.

Last I checked, I became a freelancer so I didn’t have to deal with a boss like that.

Another artist might think it a sacrilege that I went all that way and didn’t do any of the creative stuff I was “supposed to do” while I was there. But according to what so many have told me I should be doing over the years, everything I’ve done to build my successful career as a freelancer has been wrong, anyway. Most of the advice I’ve gotten from other artists has been based on their own experience, and people like to justify their way of doing things by telling others they should do the same thing. If I were to add my own experience based truth about this profession, I would say, “Consider all of the advice, but ignore most of it. Trust your own instincts and chart your own course. It’s the only way you’re ever going to be happy.”

This trip exceeded my expectations. I came home inspired and invigorated. I will do it again, might even go back to the same place because I loved being there and I loved coming home, too. The photos I took have given me plenty of reference to paint from and that allows me to relive the experience. Given the chance to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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A Change of Place

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

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It’s easy to become so accustomed to your surroundings that you fail to see the forest for the trees.  Living in Canmore, we often forget to look around and realize that we are so incredibly fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  You can get used to anything, no matter how idyllic.

Sure, I go on my hikes, sketch and take photos and appreciate the beauty, but when you’ve lived in a place for a long time, you never quite recover the feeling of seeing it anew.  It’s only when we happen to hear a visitor exclaim with awe and wonder how majestic and beautiful our mountains are, that many of us stop, look around and think, “yeah, they’re pretty spectacular, aren’t they?”

I found this sense of wonder this morning in Ucluelet.  Wandering the small craft harbour, socked in by fog and low hanging cloud.  With a camera ’round my neck, a sketchbook in my backpack and my first cup of coffee of the day in hand, I marveled at the sights, sounds and smells, experiencing my first morning in this place.

At 6 AM on a Monday, there are low conversations and murmurs from the boats, as men get ready to head out for a day of fishing.  Some of these are surely tourist charters, but clearly there are those that aren’t.  Having been a local in a tourist town for many years, it’s easy to spot the difference.

In a broad sense, these locals are no different than any others.  Just another morning at work, they’re likely oblivious to the little nuances that are making me smile, take in a scene, or breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to work this morning.  Anyone who has been in fog knows the sound is different, and I quite like it.  Seagulls and ravens criss-cross the harbour, some with little morsels in their mouths, others bitching at the ones who got some when they didn’t.

At home, ravens calling and squawking outside my window is annoying, and I often wish that they’d just shut the hell up.  But here, they add to the scene, the immersion in the experience and the change of place has me welcoming their racket.

Sitting at the small table in my cabin as I write, I just looked up and saw a bald eagle fly by in the distance, the details hazy in the lifting fog, but unmistakable with his white crown and tail feathers. It’s a little exciting, because I don’t get to see them often, they show up so rarely at home.

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This is how the tourists in Banff and Canmore feel when they see an elk, or if they’re fortunate, a whole herd of them. For locals, the elk are easily viewed as a hazard to avoid while walking or driving. We have our little condescending smiles when the tourists go gaga over them and start snapping pics like crazy. I imagine a local here might have felt the same had they spied me on a dock yesterday, where I spent twenty minutes happily taking photos of a bald eagle high in a tree, silly tourist that I am.

This is clearly why I’m here and why a trip like this is necessary. While calling it an artist retreat sounds haughty and pretentious, it’s really just a change of place to adjust my focus. I’ve no doubt that I’ll return home with a renewed sense of inspiration to paint, write, and sketch. It happens after every vacation, so it’ll no doubt be doubly so after this one.

Finally, it strikes me that I am incredibly blessed. Not only to have the means to take a trip like this, a purely selfish excursion, even politely telling a couple of friends that they could not come with me, but that I have the support of my wife, and those same friends who said, “Go. Have fun. Do what you gotta do.”

Someone once said, “They’re always making more money, but nobody has figured out a way to make more time.”

It’s the fear of squandering my own time, even though I’ve no idea how much of it I’ve got, that had me seeking a temporary change of place. I’m not often at peace, it’s just not in my nature.  But this is close.

Ucluelet, BC. June 2, 2014

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Calgary Expo 2014 – The Wrap Up!

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

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This year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo has come and gone.  Much more than a ‘Comic-con,’ the event attracts some of the biggest names on the circuit and with attendance approaching 100,000 this year; it has become one of the largest of its kind in North America.

Many types of vendors flock to the Expo, including artists.  2013 was my first year with a booth and it was an incredible learning experience.  I spent a fair bit of money on display hardware, retail walls, print bins and other equipment you don’t think about until you have to, so the first year wasn’t a money maker.  I brought far too many prints with me, so with what I brought home, I just ended up with inventory that eventually sold throughout the year at About Canada in Banff, the Calgary Zoo, and my online store.

Armed with a little experience (a dangerous thing?), I started my 2014 prep early, bought fewer prints, added postcards to the mix (btw: VERY successful), and tweaked my plans to streamline things a little before setting up my booth for my second year.

Between the daily editorial cartoons, illustration gigs, and the paintings that I never seem to have enough time for, adding even one trade show to an already busy schedule is a frantic juggling act. Talking with other artists who do this sort of thing, seems we’re all just two seconds away from panic and padded rooms.

GollumWEBThe addition of a fourth day this year, really just four hours, was an unwelcome fly in the ointment.  While the Stampede grounds in Calgary are only an hour and half drive from Canmore, the odds this time of year that the weather could turn foul (especially this year) meant that commuting every morning and night was unwise.  Long days in the booth without a break were exhausting, which made falling asleep at the wheel a real possibility.  Adding a fourth day meant taking an extra day away from my office last week in order to set up, plus another night in a hotel, an expense that wasn’t justified by Thursday “just looking today” sales.

I figured I could handle Thursday and Friday by myself and it really wasn’t difficult.  The time went by fast and when I needed a bathroom break, my next door neighbours were happy to mind my booth for me. For the most part, there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie among the vendors.  We’re all in this together.

My wife, Shonna, arrived on Saturday.  Our friend Michelle was attending the event and graciously agreed to bring my lovely assistant to my aid.  On Saturday and Sunday, the two busiest days of Expo, I really did need help at the booth and I couldn’t have asked for better.  I wouldn’t have done so well had it not been for Shonna’s support, and that pretty much applies to my whole life in general.

While traffic ebbed and flowed, it was busy most of the time.  People wanted to talk, asked a lot of questions about the work and seemed genuinely interested.  Most artists want to stand out from the crowd, and many told me they’d never seen anything like my paintings, sweet music to my ears.   One woman said that they looked like, “cartoon animals who found a way to come into the real world.”

I really liked that.

It was a great feeling to recognize a common reaction to my paintings.  Folks would be walking down the aisle, scanning their surroundings, and when their eyes settled on my booth, they’d suddenly stop and smile.  It happened more times than I could count and most didn’t even know they were doing it.  It got so that Shonna started mentioning it to them.  They’d smile, give a nudge to whomever they were with and then they’d come over.

It made me think of Kermit the Frog in the Muppet Movie.  Dom Deluise’s character gets Kermit to consider leaving the swamp only when he tells him that he could ‘make millions of people happy.’  There are worse aspirations.

While there isn’t a lot of opportunity for networking when the event is in full swing, I did have some good conversations with nearby vendors.  I couldn’t really leave my booth to wander and look around, but one thing about staying in one spot, eventually everybody walks by, so I did get to see some of the great outfits.  Many enthusiastic people dress up (cosplay) as favorite characters from TV,film, comic books and video games, putting a lot of effort into their costumes.

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Costumes02WEBOne of the great surprises this year was repeat customers.  People who bought a print or two last year came back to buy more.  Best of all, we recognized many of them.  I had plenty of people who said they’d seen my work before but couldn’t figure out where.  When I mentioned the Calgary Zoo and About Canada in Banff, light would dawn in their eyes.  Many needed no prompting at all, they just told me where they’d seen it, and some had even bought my prints at those venues.

This face to face connection and recognition isn’t something I get while working alone at home or through interaction on social media.  It was very gratifying.

While I’m comfortable talking to people and public speaking doesn’t faze me, I’m a very private person and spend most of my time alone.  Being ‘on’ for four days in customer service mode was mentally and physically exhausting.  I was so drained on Monday that I managed to get one cartoon out and spent the rest of the day in a daze, interrupted by a few naps.

There is no doubt in my mind, however, that I want to repeat and improve upon the experience in 2015, especially since it will be a milestone 10th year for the show.  I’ve already booked my booth again and even asked for the same spot.  Each year teaches me something new and I learned a lot this time around.  I’ll be going into my third year with a more solid foundation and a better idea of how to streamline things, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and with some new ideas I’d like to try.

Even though I cut back from last year’s order and did very well, I still came home with more prints than I wanted, mostly from fear of not having enough for the whole weekend.  So once again, I’m having a big post-Expo print sale and everything in the store is up to 30% off.

One of these days I’ll figure the inventory right.  Until then, I’ll just keep trying.

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A Little Death and Darkness

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

SkullTopHatFBEvery once in a while, it’s nice to explore new challenges.  It was an exercise doing that very thing which led me to create my popular series of Totem paintings, which are still my favorite pieces to paint.  Recently I painted my first landscape, and while it was different for me, a worthwhile exercise and something I’ll repeat again, I doubt that landscapes will be one of the foundations of my future work and business.  Feel free to call me on that statement if years from now, I’m painting more landscapes than anything else.  As somebody who had never planned on being an artist for a living, I’m well aware that today’s plans are often replaced by tomorrow’s happy accidents.

Recently, a commercial opportunity was put in front of me to paint some images that are a departure from anything I’ve done before, some paintings with a little death and darkness to them.  Still encouraged to use my own style in the renderings, which means they’re unlikely to steal any sleep from anybody, this pending series of paintings will definitely look like a matched set.  I have no plans to abandon my Totem paintings, but for the next little while, you’ll be seeing the sort of image shown here, while I explore this genre.

While I can’t say anything right now about the intended use for these paintings, I plan to have a little fun with it, stretch myself a bit, and see if I can’t poke a little fun at the darker side of life.

This was painted on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the 24HD displays using Adobe Photoshop CC.  It began as a concept sketch that you see below, with the finished piece beside it for comparison.  You can click on the image to see it larger.
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