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Letter to my Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Alex:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Patrick
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Mila Kunis – A Portrait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Break by a Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducks

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

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

It would appear to agree with me.

PatrickFB




Polar Bear Totem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Posted March 16th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.




Tiger Totem

Posted March 2nd, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Tiger Totem

TigerFinalThe latest in the series, this is the Tiger Totem. Specifically a Malaysian Tiger, but most people won’t be too concerned over the species.

It’s funny how these always turn out. I start with a vision in my head of what I think it will look like but every Totem always becomes something different than what I’d expected. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because the final image is usually a pleasant surprise. For example, with this painting, I rather expected the tiger to look stern and a little menacing along the lines of my Cougar Totem. Clearly it didn’t end up that way, but I kind of like it.

I’ve often said that the personality just shows up at some point in each of these paintings and this one was no different. Many artists will speak of their muse, that ‘other’ that contributes to their work, provides a spark that isn’t entirely their own. Define it how you will, but it’s that which infuses these animals with something that doesn’t quite feel like it was mine to begin with. So when the personality shows up and is different than what I’d envisioned, I just go with it.

When I posted this online yesterday, one person said that this one looked a little more anthropomorphized than my others. That’s basically a ten dollar word (one I’ve always liked) to describe a human quality or character in something that isn’t human. It definitely fits for my work. As for there being more or less in this one, that’s up to the viewer and I would refer you back to the previous paragraph.

A couple of other people said that it looked like the tiger was taking a selfie. Likely it’s because of the lighting and the way I painted the body below the head, making it look like his front legs are outstretched. In point of fact, the tiger was resting on his front legs in the reference image and I decided to keep that pose. Did I get it wrong? Maybe. Do I wish I could change it? No.

TigerCloseEach of these paintings comes with a decision tree where one choice leads to another and so on. I thought about putting foliage in the foreground, might have added more depth. I thought of putting a darker and lighter background. The reference featured the entire body of the tiger and I thought about putting more of that in as well. But my Totems are all about the detail and I can only show that in a close-up of the face on a larger animal. Somebody else might have chosen differently.

Just as I paint what I see, everybody sees something different as well. If to some it looks like he’s taking a selfie, then that’s what it looks like, and they’re not wrong. I’ve learned that with signature or niche pieces, creations that aren’t done for a client or somebody else, an artist just has to paint what they see and separate themselves from the result and how others will interpret it.

Some will love my work, some will downright hate it, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a constant struggle to be at peace with that and every artist I know has been through it.

TigerCintiq13HDThis was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC using both a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and Cintiq 24HD displays. Photos were only used for reference and the painting was done entirely with brush work. On a personal note, a big thank you to Alan Hess, a photographer friend who gave me the main reference photo I used for this piece, a shot he took at the San Diego zoo. I’ve had the photo for many months, but it finally felt right to paint this Totem.

Alan is a talented professional photographer, author and instructor. I would recommend taking a look through the images on his website as you’ll find some great shots on a wide range of subjects.

Thanks for stopping by.
Patrick

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Great White Shark Totem

Posted January 31st, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Great White Shark Totem

SharkFinalFBWhile I’ve wanted to paint a Great White Shark for quite some time, I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing it right now.  It was suggested to me recently and after thinking about it, I thought I could indeed do it justice.   I’m pretty pleased with the result.  This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD display and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  Photos were only used for reference, and all of this was done with brush work.

I’d love to say that this was a lot of fun the whole time, but editorial cartoons, year end bookkeeping, and a sudden short deadline video project popped up, so my painting time kept getting put aside.  It got to the point where I just wanted to get this done as it seemed it was never going to happen.  Thankfully, as is the case with finishing many of my Totems, I had a Saturday morning free of obligations which allowed me the time needed to finish it, which did end up being very enjoyable.  If you’re familiar with these posts and my work in general, you’ll be aware that Saturday mornings are my favorite time of the week.  I still get up at 5AM, but with no editorial cartoons sent out on weekends, I have four or five hours of music in my headphones, a few cups of coffee and nothing but painting.

The big challenge with this painting was the detail.  I thoroughly enjoy painting hair, fur, and feathers, but with none of those anywhere on a great white shark, it was  challenge to paint that leathery looking skin with enough detail to achieve the realism I wanted, but not so much that it looked completely out of place in water.  I also was afraid of overdoing it.  The environment is what made this one difficult.  I didn’t want to blur out the tail and fins too much, even though in darker water, they might just be shadows.  Then again, they couldn’t be too sharply defined, textured or brightly lit.  It was all a compromise and while another artist might have made different choices, I’m content with mine.  I’ve painted a Humpback Whale Totem before, but having painted this shark, I now think I could do a better job of the whale, if given another shot at it.  I think every artist can say that about past work, though, so I’ll just let it be, take the lessons learned and move forward.
SharkCloseCropI take a lot of liberties in the anatomy of my work, which should be rather obvious.  While I do need to know what the real anatomy looks like, my animals are caricatures of the real thing.  For example, in real life, a great white shark has rather black looking eyes, not a lot of life in them. My Totems, however, are all about personality, with my distinctive style of eyes a defining feature of the look, so I completely disregarded realism in that regard.  That little white catch-light in the eye would not be visible underwater, it’s physically impossible.  But remove it, and a lot of the life goes with it.  Again, these are the choices I make.

After I painted my Fox Totem, somebody said on my Facebook page, that, “Foxes have cat-like eyes.”   Clearly he doesn’t get my work, so I tolerated what was essentially a drive-by comment and moved on.

My wife has a thing for sharks, she has for as long as I’ve known her.  She’ll watch any documentary or read any article about them and has become quite knowledgeable as a result.  Her life long dream is to go cage-diving with great white sharks and I’ve resigned myself to go with her.  I plan to drag her along when I go swimming with humpback whales in Fiji someday, but you’re less likely to meet sharp pointy teeth with a humpback.  Of course, no matter how gentle an animal, if a bus rolls over on you by mistake, it’s the same result.  Neither of these dreams will go unfulfilled, I assure you.

Great white sharks are largely misunderstood animals.  I have a love/hate relationship with the 1975 movie, ‘Jaws.’  I do love the movie as it stands alone, for the actors, the script, the storyline.  I’ll still watch it again when it comes on TV and I can be counted on to let loose with a quote once in awhile.  But in the real world, Jaws has single-handedly caused the deaths of countless shark species, especially great whites, by justifying killing these monsters, as the general public thinks of them.

Shark hunting tournaments and the slaughter of these erroneously labelled ‘man-killers’ irreparably harmed the reputation and populations of great whites and every other shark species by association.  The author of Jaws, Peter Benchley said twenty years later, “I couldn’t write Jaws today. The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original…. If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage — through ignorance, stupidity and greed — to wipe them out altogether.”

There is a barbaric practice known as long-lining, which is often used only to take the fins from the animals, leaving them to die a slow death as they are thrown back still alive after the fins are removed.  Long-lining also harms countless other species of marine life in the process.  More and more conservation groups are shining a light on this and as a result, it is becoming poor fashion to serve shark fin soup in many places in the western world today, although it still happens in the Chinese community.  It is also still popular in China as a delicacy.

I realize it’s not my usual practice to use a blog about my latest painting to climb up on a soapbox and talk about animal conservation, but I’ve learned a lot about sharks over the years, largely because of my wife’s interest, and I’d like to see more awareness of the beauty of these animals and their valuable place in the ecosystem of Earth’s oceans.  We have done infinitely more to harm sharks than they could ever do to us and even though Jaws scared a lot of us senseless as children, it’s about time we grew up.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Lemur Totem

Posted January 12th, 2015 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Lemur Totem

LemurFBMy first Totem painting of the year, this is a Mongoose Lemur.  While many people think of the Ring-tailed species when you mention Lemur, mostly due to the animated movie Madagascar, I painted this species because of all of the reference pics I’ve shot at the Calgary Zoo.  The resident lemurs are free-roaming with no cage or glass between them and the people wandering around inside the large rainforest enclosure.  They don’t move all that fast and are very cooperative models.

While this little guy (or gal) is very cute, you might wonder why I made the choice to put so much work into it and add it to my Totem series, since mongoose lemurs aren’t as universally popular as say, a wolf or grizzly bear.  From a marketing perspective, it might seem like this would have been a better sketch painting.  But, one thing I’ve learned from painting these animals is that I usually get the best results when I put the time and work into the ones that just feel right at the time.

In the past, I’ve forced specific animals, painted them solely because I thought they’d be good sellers.  One in particular, the Magpie Totem, I did for that reason.  These birds are in abundance in this area, they’re interesting in appearance, exhibit amusing behaviour, and the tourists seem to be fascinated by them.  An apt description by one of my former local editors is that, “they’re just crows with better fashion sense.”

The first gallery that sold my work in Banff, the manager suggested I paint a magpie because the tourists often asked him what that bird was they kept seeing.  So that’s exactly what I did, even did some of the painting at a live demo in the gallery.  Even though people do buy it, it is probably my least popular Totem painting and I learned a valuable lesson.  From then on, I decided to paint the animals I want to, when it feels right to do so.

LemurCloseCrop In the case of our little Lemur friend, I’ve had reference for this one for well over a year and it just felt like the right time.  I don’t know if it will sell well or not, but I had a great time painting it and the fur was a real challenge.  It’s made up of very short hairs packed tightly together, so I had to experiment with my hair and fur brushes to find the best way to go about it.  In the end, it simply required putting in the time to get it right.  Looking forward to seeing this one in print.

Here are a few images of this painting at different stages.  This was painted in Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  It’s all brush work and photos were only used for reference.
LemurProgressIf 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!




Another great year, looking forward to the next.

Posted December 21st, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Another great year, looking forward to the next.

Ukee02_05
Coming up on the end of another year and while it’s just a date on a calendar, having these periodic markers along the way does give a person a chance for reflection and to make plans for the next go round the sun.

I’ve been fortunate that every year in my art career has been better than the one that came before it. 2014 was no exception. Always learning and improving my skills, the challenge this year was to keep my eyes on where I’m going, despite the distractions that tempted me to lose focus. It’s easy to look at what other artists are doing and to wonder if they know something you don’t, but in my experience, we’re all just winging it, no matter what profession you’re in.

AmurTiger
This past year, I found myself doing a lot of sketch paintings, simply the term I use for what I consider unfinished work. Some of those went further to become finished paintings in my Totem collection, others ended up being practice pieces, and still others sold well as prints, even though that hadn’t been my intention at the beginning of the year. I plan to do a lot more of that type of work in 2015, as I really enjoyed it.

BoothWEB
In the spring, my wife and I were once again working my booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, our second year at that event. As it was a big success for us, I’ve been signed up for the 2015 Expo almost since the last one ended. I’ll be trying a few new things with print sales this year and I look forward to participating in their tenth anniversary. We also plan to have a booth at a few other trade shows during the year.

ElephantRock
I painted my first landscape in 2014, an enjoyable personal project I did just to see if I could. I doubt that I’ll become a landscape artist anytime soon, but I’ve still got a few ideas I’d like to bring to light, so there will likely be one or two in the coming year, along with some experiments that may or may not involve animals.

Ukee02_03
One of the reasons I chose that particular image to paint, a landmark called White Face Rock, was that I had fond memories of Ucluelet, British Columbia, somewhere my wife and I had vacationed a few years ago. I decided to go back this year on my own in June for sort of an artist’s retreat and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life so far. I rented a little cabin off the harbour for four days, took three days of wildlife cruises through Barkley Sound, brought home plenty of photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That trip also gave me the opportunity to get my work into two new galleries in Ucluelet and Tofino.  In the New Year, I plan to go back there and will stop in at some other places along the way. I still have reference photos I have yet to use from the last trip and I plan to get to some more of those soon.

SeagullsFINAL
One of the more valuable life lessons I’ve learned is to make time for personal projects. Seems each one ends up yielding unexpected benefits. One such project this year came from finding a nest of Great Horned Owls up at Grassi Lakes here in Canmore. After watching the family of owls for a couple of weeks, taking plenty of photos and doing some sketch paintings, I ended up with a painting that I called, ‘One in Every Family.’  It was a departure from my usual style of animal paintings.

GrassiOwls
At Photoshop World in Las Vegas this year, that painting won me the Best in Show Guru Award, the second year I’ve received that honour. A nice surprise bonus of that award was winning a Canon 5D Mark III camera, a professional piece of hardware that I am enjoying learning how to use. I’ve discovered that photography as a hobby has opened new creative avenues for me, especially since it contributes directly to my work. I take the camera with me whenever I go hiking or for a drive and it has helped me get even better reference photos for paintings. Funny how things work out.

Wacom
While I’ve got plenty of fond memories of Photoshop World in Las Vegas, having attended five times, made plenty of friends and learned a lot, this year was a high note and I think a good ending for me for that particular event. I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, certainly not in 2015. I’ve learned never to say never, but there are plenty of other experiences and trips I’d like to take.  The world’s a big place.

Bruno
In August, I met a gentleman named Bruno, a vendor at one of the Canmore Market booths. I just liked his character and felt the urge to paint him, another personal project. He was willing to participate in the experience and I ended up doing a portrait piece that I was quite proud of.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know Bruno and he has been giving my wife and I a crash course in the community and inner workings of the artist trade show circuit in Western Canada. We’ve been learning a lot and planning to venture into that world a little more as a result. Serendipity once again. I will be doing more portraits in the coming year.

DenzilFlat
And finally, one of my favorite pieces this year was the commissioned painting of Denzil, one I consider to be my best work to date, at least when it comes to a realistic rendering. It raised the bar for what I will now consider a finished piece and it’s going to make me try harder. Many times I’ve finished a painting and thought, “that’s it, I can’t do better than that,” and I’m always wrong. With time and practice comes more skill and that applies to everyone and everything, no matter what you do.

I’ve no desire for time to move quicker than it already does, but I find myself excited to think about the paintings I’ll do five years from now.

For the next year, I’m playing the long game. I’ve met with and hired a local designer friend and neighbour who is going to help me bring a book of my artwork into reality, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Up until now, I didn’t feel I had enough pieces with which to populate the book I had in mind. I still don’t, but by the end of 2015, I will, so there will be a lot of painting this year.  Before I commit to anything else as the year goes on, that will be front of mind.

It’s with quiet confidence that I close out 2014, with great expectations for the coming year. I see no reason why the recent trend should not continue and I look forward to 2015 being better than the year that came before it.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a follower of my work. Perhaps you’ve purchased my prints at the galleries, online or at Expo, or you’ve been a client that hired me to paint one of your fuzzy faced loved ones. You might follow my Facebook page, Twitter feed, or subscribe to my newsletter. You might be one of my many editors across Canada who sees fit to publish my cartoons on your editorial page. Maybe you’re one of those friends or industry colleagues I’ve been fortunate to know and work with over the years. No matter where you fit in with your support of my daily work of drawing and colouring all day, please accept my sincere thanks.  I do appreciate it.

My very best to all of you in the coming year. Take chances, start checking items off those bucket lists, don’t wait to live the life you’ve imagined. It is well worth the risk.

Airborne

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An Opportunity to Give

Posted December 11th, 2014 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on An Opportunity to Give

TalkToonA couple of weeks ago, I was asked by the Banff Community High School to speak to their digital media and art classes about the type of work I do.

In the past, these presentations have been more about editorial cartooning, especially when students are studying politics and current events. It provides a window into the difference between journalism and opinion, satire and commentary. There is value there, and I think those talks are important, too, but my passion lies with the other artwork I do, so I was really looking forward to this one, as it was about the art, not the politics.  To paraphrase the teacher who contacted me, it was basically an opportunity for students to be exposed to yet another creative medium of expression, one they might not have considered.

I’ve had plenty of folks give me a leg up in my relatively short career as an artist and whenever an opportunity like this comes up, I realize it’s my responsibility to pay that forward.  So, if I’ve got the time, I’m happy to help if I can.

I was scheduled to do two presentations to two different age groups. A slide show of my work, a little background on how I got into it, the type of work I do, plus a glimpse into how the actual drawing and painting is done.

In the back and forth emails leading up to the presentations, I became aware that the Banff Community High School didn’t yet have any drawing tablets. School budgets being what they are, students often don’t get all that we would like them to have. I thought that showing them how to draw and paint digitally and then denying them the means to do so would be a little cruel on my part. Hey, look at this delicious candy I’m eating…you can’t have any.

Over the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to have made some valuable contacts in this industry, and some even better friends. While I’ve used their products since 1997, it wasn’t until 2010 that I started getting to know a few people at Wacom quite well. Over the past four years, I’ve done webinars, tutorials and hangouts with them; written blog posts, recorded videos, done demos at their booth at Photoshop World, and even ran a booth on my own for them in Calgary at a Kelby Training Seminar. I’d hardly want to give the impression that this relationship is one-sided , however, so without getting into specifics, let’s just say that Wacom has been very good to me in return. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

Needless to say, I’m lucky to call a few of them friends. With that in mind, without shame, I requested a discount on a couple of tablets, so that I could give them to the school. I figured I could afford it and two tablets are much better than none.

TabletsMuch to my delight, my friend (who is choosing to remain anonymous, dammit!) donated five Intuos 5 Medium tablets to the school, free of charge. For those unfamiliar with these devices, I could do all of the work I do on one of these tablets. These kids aren’t being asked to settle for inferior hardware, mostly because in my experience, Wacom doesn’t make inferior hardware. While I’m currently using their 13HD and 24HD displays (seen on screen in photo below), I have had an Intuos 5 Medium tablet for quite a while and if you went to my portfolio, a lot of it has been done with that device.

I was pretty thrilled at the donation, and it would have been more than enough.

But then I realized that because they don’t yet have the Adobe CC software, the students had something to draw and paint on, now they needed a program to do it with. Lately, I’ve been using Autodesk Sketchbook quite a bit and thoroughly enjoying it. Their app for iPhone and iPad are the best I’ve seen for mobile art and those are only outshone by their desktop version. I’ve been doing a lot of sketching for my editorial cartoons with that lately, so I knew the students would benefit from it.

Even though I haven’t had a long relationship with Autodesk, Wacom works closely with them and had recently introduced me to some of the folks in charge, a direct result of the work I’ve been doing with their software. Since I was already on a roll, I sent an email to their Product Marketing Manager, told him about Wacom’s generosity with the tablets and asked if I could get some licenses for software to go with them. He simply asked how many I needed, and then made it happen.

Then, while mentioning all of this privately to an industry author friend of mine, (who also wants to remain anonymous), he asked if they could use any books. I told him they couldn’t be software specific as they’d be wasted if the students didn’t have those tools. So he asked his publisher Peachpit what they could do and sure enough they donated half a dozen books on design and photography, titles that the students will benefit from no matter what software they’re using.

While bragging about this on my Facebook page, a few people made references to these being great Christmas presents and ironic that this here often-Scrooge gets to play Santa. In truth, it really is just a coincidence of timing that I was asked to speak to the students this close to Christmas. I’ve no doubt that had I asked these wonderful folks for their assistance in September, they would have come through in the same fashion. I’ve made a point of thanking all of these people individually, and I know the school has as well.

CintiqBut, I wanted to write about it for a couple of reasons. One, these companies and people deserve a little positive PR for helping out, even though that isn’t why any of them did it. Trust me on that.

Secondly, I would encourage you to consider how easy it is to give of your time and resources, no matter what it is that you do. You can’t always say yes to these requests, and over the years, I’ve had to decline these presentations almost as often as I’ve accepted them. Everybody has obligations and responsibilities, we’re all busy, we can’t give as often as we’d like. But it sure feels good when you can.

I would also encourage you to realize that when you need somebody’s help, especially to benefit someone else, don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be surprised how often people will say Yes when you need them to give a little, especially when it involves kids and education. If they say No, that’s OK, too, and don’t hold it against them.

It’s true that I was the one who got to stand up at the front of the room to reveal all of these great gifts from perfect strangers on Tuesday, and I got to do it twice.  I wanted you to know that I was just the messenger. The real thanks go to my friends and colleagues, the ones who said Yes when they were granted an opportunity to give to complete strangers.

Thanks again, folks. You know who you are.