Posted November 3rd, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy painting characters from movies, rather than just the actors who play them. The primary reason is that I believe I can know characters, but despite what the tabloids would have us believe, I don’t know the actors who play them. When Anthony Hopkins was filming ‘The Edge’ here in Canmore, however, he had a reputation of treating everyone he met with kindness and sincerity and is remember fondly around here, so I must confess, this one was also about painting the actor, simply because I like him and his work.
Meet Joe Black is a loose remake of ‘Death Takes a Holiday.’ Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Bill Parrish, a very wealthy man of character and presence who finds himself reluctantly playing tour guide for Death, played by Brad Pitt. Knowing he is about to die and not having any real idea of how long he has to make peace with it, Hopkins expertly runs the gamut of emotions, with the character sworn to secrecy but trying to say his goodbyes, nonetheless.
The movie received mixed reviews, with criticisms that it was too long (the run time is just under 3 hours) and that it dragged in places. As it is one of my favorite films, and I frequently disagree with critics, I’ve watched this movie a few times and have never been disappointed. I believe the story lends itself to the slower pace and the movie contains a wealth of well played characters brought to life by a very talented cast.
For this portrait, I watched the film again and made notes in different places where the emotion of the character touched me most and I settled on six different possible references. In the end, it came down to two, the final scene with Parrish dressed in a tux at his birthday party, or the scene when he is finally committed to accept his fate and tells Death that he is ready. I chose the latter.
I thoroughly enjoyed this painting, listened to the musical score a few times while working on it and I was sorry to see it end, knowing I could have spent another week nitpicking every little detail and still not wanting to put it away. But to quote Bill Parrish in his final line of the film. “Well that’s life. What can I tell you?”
For those artists who always like to know the technical details, the final size for this image is 15″X20″ at 300ppi. Painted on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD in PhotoshopCC. Photos were only used for reference and the painting consists entirely of brush work. No textures or photos were used in this image. As for how long it took, I didn’t keep track, but I would guess about 10-15 hours.
Posted October 21st, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
This is another commissioned piece, a portrait of Cajun who sadly passed away earlier this year. She lived a long life and the family wanted a painting to remember her. I had plenty of reference photos to choose from, but only one or two that I felt would work well for the painting and thankfully the family agreed with the pose I chose. This painting goes to proof this week and once everything looks the way I’d like, it will be printed as a 15″X20″ canvas giclée with a black shadowbox frame. I don’t mind saying that I always get a little teary eyed when I finish these memorial paintings, which to me means I did my job.
Posted October 15th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
The other day I found myself wanted to do a little housekeeping with my Photoshop brushes, and I figured I’d share some thoughts. I won’t be teaching anything about how to create brushes in Photoshop here as I’ve already detailed all of that in both of my DVDs, an article I wrote for Photoshop User Magazine and in a webinar or two that I recorded for Wacom. Creating Photoshop brushes is an easy topic to find online and I would encourage anyone who wants to paint digitally to learn how to create and customize your own brushes.
With an almost limitless supply of free brush sets online, digital artists of all levels seem to have a habit of downloading anything they can find on the off chance that one day; they might have use for the Valentine’s Day Zombie Cupid Brush Set.
I’ve seen artists who not only have hundreds of brush sets at the ready, most of which they’ve looked at once, but also those who have a hundred or more brushes in the set they use every day, most of those going untouched as well. Before downloading a brush set, ask yourself if you’re really going to use it.
There are two main brush types that I’ve come across and both have their uses. The first are stamp brushes. Usually it’s the type of brush that is meant to be tapped onto an image just like a stamp. For my editorial cartoon work, my signature is a stamp brush. As I want my brand to be consistent, it is comprised of my editorial cartoon signature (different than my actual signature), and my website address. On every cartoon I’ve done for the last few years, my signature looks exactly the same because of this stamp brush and it’s the only stamp brush I use consistently.
Paint brushes on the other hand are ones intended to be used with a brush stroke. With a little imagination and experimentation, a well-crafted stamp can be turned into a versatile and powerful paint brush.
Some of the free downloads out there are really great. You can find specific sets for holidays, environments, themes, moods, and weather. I’ve spent many hours exploring brush sets over the years. As time went on, however, I found that less is more and I pretty much stick to one brush set, most of which I designed myself.
Here’s the set I started with and what it looked like after I was done editing. Some were even duplicates, although I don’t know how I managed that. Some look like duplicates but because of different settings, the brush stroke is very different, even if the stamp doesn’t reveal that. To clean them up, I just went through them one by one and asked myself how often I really used a brush. If the answer was ‘almost never’ then I deleted it.
I still have and use other brush sets from time to time. For example, I have a brush set that is just snowflakes, another that is just leaves, and yet another that is just lightning stamps. But I use them very rarely, so while those brushes are not part of my main set, they’re still worth keeping. What you see here, however are the brushes I rely on every day.
Because I like to keep my tool and brush palettes clean and out of the way, I don’t worry too much about naming my brushes because I only view them as small thumbnails. I do, however, like to have them grouped so that I don’t have to test a brush each time I grab it to make sure it’s what I want. If they’re grouped together, I have a good idea what any brush is going to do when I choose it. Here’s how mine are grouped.
I’ve been asked innumerable times to provide my brush set for people and the answer is always No. It’s not that I have any magic brushes; it’s just that you will learn a lot more by creating your own than by using ones other artists have created. The main brush I use for painting, however, is one you already have if you use Photoshop. It’s a default and is my favorite painting brush, the one you see in the next image. In articles and videos, I’ve also shown how to make my hair brushes, but don’t be fooled. Having the tools is completely different than knowing how to use the tools. You only get that from experience and you only get experience by painting.
While this panel may look complicated, it’s not. The best way to find out how everything works is to experiment with the different settings and paint on a blank page while doing it. I actually use much less than half of the options available to me in this panel because the way I paint doesn’t require all of the bells and whistles. My brushes are pretty simple.
Cleaning up this brush set took well over two hours because I kept experimenting with ways to make each brush better and I enjoyed playing around with the possibilities.
One brush, however, kept crashing Photoshop, and I have no idea why. Every time I tried to work with it, Photoshop CC died on me. The first time it happened, I lost about 20 minutes work because I hadn’t saved the new brush set. Happened three times before I realized it was the brush itself, and I ended up deleting it entirely and avoided any further crashes. It takes very little time to save the set after each brush change. Get in the habit of doing that when you’re working with brushes. Save the brush, save the set.
There are so many ways to paint digitally. Some artists seek to emulate traditional media and do so with great skill. Others paint in ways that traditional artists would find completely confusing. Everybody has their own way of doing it and designing your own brushes can often spark ideas for paintings and images that you might not have considered had you simply downloaded somebody else’s tools.
Less is more, so if you have 100 brushes in your main brush set, see if you can’t whittle that down to 50. Keep the old set on your computer and save to a new set so you can always go back and retrieve any you wish you’d kept. Create new brushes, make changes to old ones, keep them organized and never be afraid to improve on the old standbys and eventually you’ll wind up with a brush set that is uniquely yours.
Posted October 3rd, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Sometimes having too many choices is just as bad as having too few, especially when it comes to technology. What works for one person may not work for somebody else.
While I’m primarily a PC user, one piece of Apple tech that I really enjoy is my iPad, a first-gen device I bought in the summer of 2010 that I’m still using today. With each new iOS, it gets a little twitchier and temperamental, but I have definitely got my money’s worth from it.
I’ve also been using Wacom devices for well over a decade now, from the early first generation Intuos and Graphire tablets to the Cintiq 24HD display that I use today, and I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do without one.
One of those fortunate souls who works at home every day, I have a dedicated office and spend the majority of my time at my desk, drawing and painting on my Cintiq 24HD, a display I’m very happy with. Everything I need to be productive on a daily basis is in my office. In the evenings, however, I like to sketch the next day’s cartoons or other images with pencil on paper while relaxing on the couch in front of the TV. Sometimes I’ll do rough paintings and sketches on my iPad as well.
But lately, I’ve wanted to paint more detailed work or move on to the digital ink and paint stage of a cartoon without having to go upstairs to sequester myself in the office that I’ve already been in all day.
The newer Cintiq 13HD has abandoned the power brick of the previous 12wx, and while you still have to plug it in and connect it to a laptop, it has the resolution and screen space I want, and the ability to just prop it up on my knees to paint. So I figured this would be my next portable device.
But then, Wacom recently announced the Cintiq Companion and Cintiq Companion Hybrid Devices. The first is a stand-alone 13” Cintiq with all of the functionality and power of a laptop. The Hybrid device works as a fully functional Cintiq 13HD when it’s plugged into a desktop or laptop, but becomes a portable Android device when it’s unplugged.
First Option: Having just bought a very powerful laptop I eliminated the Windows 8 Companion quite quickly. I like to write, which is one of the reasons I wanted the laptop, rather than a portable device with a peripheral keyboard. The Cintiq Companion Hybrid, however, would allow me to work on the couch and also give me an untethered portable device to take with me on the go.
Second Option: Provided Apple doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the pending iPad 5, I could pair that with the standard Cintiq 13HD. This would give me the portability I want for painting outside my office while still tethered to a laptop, plus allow me to keep using the iPad, which has many apps I rely on. Wacom’s new Intuos Creative Stylus for the iPad (not first-gen) allows pressure sensitivity and palm rejection in some of the apps I already use for iPad painting, which means you can rest your hand on the screen and it won’t be confused with a pen stroke. Currently, I have to wear a fingerless glove when I paint on the iPad to prevent that problem.
Portability: The Companion and Companion Hybrid are being marketed that you can take them anywhere. While I do enjoy working in a coffee shop once in a while and have to travel on rare occasions, most of my portable sketching is done with a pencil and sketchbook, especially since I’m usually out in the woods or in a creek canyon somewhere while I’m doing it. The thought of taking a digital device with me to these wild places is unappealing. Worrying about charged batteries, dirt and moisture on an expensive device, not to mention that I don’t want to be connected when I’m out in nature, is unappealing to me, which is why I even turn my phone off. Whether it’s on a hike, camping, or out at a buddy’s cabin, I still prefer to draw in a traditional sketchbook.
When I do want a portable digital device, I already know that an iPad works very well for me and the Hybrid is too big to be a suitable replacement. With the new Creative Stylus, painting/sketching on the iPad when I’m in a coffee shop or other urban setting will do the trick nicely.
If I lived in a city, had to commute, was constantly out and about and in need of all of the full tools I enjoy on my desktop, an argument could be made for the Cintiq Companion or Hybrid, and I’m sure it will appeal to folks who find themselves in that daily environment. Living in the mountains, working at home, and wanting to be away from electronics when I’m out in the woods, however, I wouldn’t use this device to its full potential.
Cost: A lot of people are complaining about the cost of these new Wacom devices, but when you own the market, are leading the way in the technology and have put the R&D into creating the tech that every digital creative wants, to give it away is just bad business. Supply and demand is as old as the hills.
That being said, budget is a factor. Living in Canada, I have to buy from a reseller since only U.S. residents can buy from the Wacom site. Despite the U.S. and Canadian dollars being at or near equal the last few years, Canadian prices are significantly higher than in the U.S., an angry reality that Canadians live with on clothing, books, technology, cars, and many other products.
The best price I can find on a Companion Hybrid in Canada is $1749. That’s more than I just paid for my laptop. The price on the Cintiq 13HD is $1089.00.
All weighed and measured, I think I’m going to go with the Cintiq 13HD and a new iPad with the Intuos Creative Stylus. The cost of all three of those, estimating for the iPad 5 of course, would work out to around $1900.00 and would give me the all-around best solution to fit all of my creative portable needs for a few years to come.
It’s important to understand that the reason I’m explaining all of this is not to tell you what you should buy. It’s to illustrate the point that we all have individual needs and wants when it comes to technology. Rather than buy every new phone, TV, tablet, computer or other piece of tech that comes out simply because it’s new, take a step back and ask yourself if what you want is really what you need. Make a list of what you want to be able to do and buy the devices that fit you best. Take the time to tailor your tech to your needs and you’ll be a lot happier in your work.
Posted September 24th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Went for a hike up to Grassi Lakes here in Canmore yesterday afternoon. Named for noted local, Lawrence Grassi, it’s not a long trail, but if you take the ‘difficult’ route, it’s quite steep in places and is very pretty. There are a number of relatively short hikes I take in this area when I just want to get my daily exercise, each about an hour or two in duration. Cougar Creek I can walk to from my house, but if I have to pull the car out of the garage anyway to get groceries or run errands, I’ll head to Grotto Canyon or Grassi Lakes for a change of pace.
During the summer months, Grassi Lakes is usually quite busy. Even in the fall on weekends, you’ll find plenty of people walking this moderate hike, especially since the ‘easy’ route, which is essentially just a dirt road, makes the trail accessible to most people, regardless of their physical fitness. Yesterday, being a Monday, I almost had the place to myself and it was very peaceful, both on the trail and at the lakes themselves, which are really two connected ponds. The emerald colour of the water is very pretty and it’s a nice little spot.
I’ve noticed this tree stump at the lakes on a number of occasions. For locals, look up on your left, just after you cross the little footbridge between the lakes. More than once, I’ve sketched it, but yesterday I figured I’d like to paint it. Since I haven’t done much paint sketching in the last little while and didn’t want to make a finished piece out of it, I painted this on the iPad while watching TV last night. It sort of turned into a two-colour image and I quite like the finished result.
Painting on the iPad is a real challenge because of the low resolution (especially on my first-gen device) and the imprecise nature of the stylus. By varying the opacity of the brushes and layers in the procreate app, I manage to simulate pressure sensitivity and have developed a method that works quite well for me. Actual size of this image is 704 pixels X 960 pixels at 72ppi, so it would make a poor print, but it’s good practice.
Posted September 20th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Earlier this month, I found myself paying attention to the goings on at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, a conference I’ve attended for the past four years, but one I decided to take a break from this time.
It was a surprise to me that I missed being there, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, since not going was a conscious decision. The last couple of years, I’d been going for networking, socializing, and making strategic moves to further my career via different connections and affiliations. While that proved to be well worth my time, it also tainted the experience I’d had the first couple of years when I’d been taking classes and was really excited to be there.
When I first began this self-directed career, I was always hungry to become better. Having never gone to art school and starting pretty late to this business of art, I felt a need to catch up to my competitors, to prove I could hold my own, even had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing. Over time, through a lot of trial and error, I eventually found the work I love most. But during that period, I was learning new techniques from other artists, watching DVDs, reading articles, tutorials, and taking classes.
Then there came what I thought was a natural evolution. Suddenly, I’m the one writing articles, recording videos and training DVDs, doing demos and training for companies, schools and groups, and figuring that this was what I was supposed to be doing now, moving up to the teaching level. Many friends and colleagues have made teaching a large part of their businesses and some of them are not only very good at it, they really seem to thrive on the experience.
But more teaching will involve more traveling, writing scripts, recording, and less time doing the work I enjoy most. It will also involve breaking down the work I love so much into an assembly process, evaluating it to death and sucking all the life out of it. There’s still a feeling of magic in my work when I draw and paint, a connection to something else that isn’t me, as nauseatingly artsy as that might sound. It’s what I love most about painting, the soul of it all. You can’t dissect something without killing it.
The opportunity to speak and demo at the Wacom booth last year in Vegas was one I enjoyed. Even as an introvert (not to be confused with shy), I’ve got no problem with public speaking or talking with people, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it. Repeating that experience now and then is something I’m happy to do. I’ve realized that I do not, however, want teaching to be a large part of my career, at least not now. I’m fine with showing how I do it, talking about what I’m thinking, and trying to inspire others to explore their own creative instincts, but breaking my work down to stereo instructions is not something I enjoy.
I’ve written in the past that one way to find out what you want to do is to start checking off the things you don’t, then look at the choices that remain.
Over the past few weeks and months, an underlying melancholy has been lurking just below the surface, this feeling that something is missing. This week, while taking one of my regular walks up Cougar Creek, on the day I took the photo you see above, I realized what has been bugging me. I miss being a student.
When you’re self-employed at anything, especially in a creative field, fear is a part of daily life. After you’ve been in the gig for a number of years and are making a good living at it, the fear can stop being a motivator, however, and can instead keep you from moving forward, a fear of losing what you have already gained. It can happen so subtly that you don’t even realize that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.
The last couple of years have found me concerning myself with marketing moves, making connections and evaluating promotion strategies, all absolutely necessary for anyone who has chosen art as a profession. But when you’re going ninety miles an hour trying not to fall behind where you think everybody else is (a race you can NEVER win), you start missing the reason you’re on the road in the first place. That’s when it’s time for a change.
I still plan to draw the daily editorial cartoons, paint my whimsical wildlife paintings and some portraits, and take illustration and painting commissions as usual. I’ll still be promoting my work the same way I’ve always done, running my booth at the Calgary Expo in the Spring, and evaluating each opportunity as it comes along. I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I make a good living doing the work I love, and I still do have to make a living, so I’ll always run my business to the best of my ability.
But, I’ve decided to take my foot off the pedal for a little while. I’m tired of running all the time and want to slow down. There is some fear that if I stop scrambling in the promotion game, that I may ‘lose ground’ but really, what the hell does that mean anyway? Lose ground to whom?
I miss being a student, so I’m going to spend more time being one. I can’t recall the last time I sat and read an article about painting or drawing or took some lessons to become better. Lately, when I see other artists and illustrators posting teaching and training videos, I’m not thinking, “I should be doing that.” What I’m actually thinking is, “I want to learn from these people.”
When in doubt, trust your gut, and this just feels right. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Posted September 19th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
The flooding in June of this year was the worst disaster in Alberta’s recorded history. One of the casualties of that flooding was The Calgary Zoo. The closure of the zoo has resulted in layoffs of the majority of the staff, a significant loss of revenue, relocation of some animals to other cities and a massive cleanup and fundraising effort.
Some of my Totem prints have been sold in their main retail outlet over the last year, something I was quite proud of, considering how much I enjoy going to the zoo. To be able to take reference photos for paintings, sit and sketch, and just enjoy some time with the animals is a great pleasure and I hope to go again soon. The main reason I painted my Rockhopper Penguin Totem in the series was because of this wonderful facility and their Penguin Plunge habitat.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to sell all of my inventory of that print at a discounted rate, with all proceeds PLUS a portion of my own costs going to the Calgary Zoo. Open to residents of Canada and the continental U.S., it’s a first come, first served offer, until the inventory runs out. All prints are hand-signed. I’ve also discounted shipping to a flat rate, as specified in the image. For Banff & Canmore residents, I’m happy to deliver at no charge.
To order, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, indicate which print you want with mailing address and I will send you a PayPal invoice.
This offer is not officially affiliated with the Calgary Zoo, but it will certainly benefit from it. If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them, please send me an email to the previous address listed or via my Contact Page. Thank you for supporting the Calgary Zoo rebuilding efforts.
Posted September 8th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
The reason this one was a little different is that I recorded much of the process. While I’ve done that a number of times before, the previous videos were done with screen capture software which runs in the background and you don’t really have to pay attention to it. There’s always a fair bit of editing work after the fact, but that doesn’t affect the painting itself. With the current video, it’s a mix of screen capture and footage from my GoPro on a tripod, which was sitting just off my left shoulder while I worked. I’ve often shown the software, Photoshop CC in this case, but wanted to show the hardware this time as well, since the Wacom Cintiq 24HD is such a great display. What this meant was that I couldn’t shift position and had to constantly be aware that this camera was there. The lighting was also different than what I’m used to working with. This changed how I felt about the painting process, but I really wanted to record this video, so sacrifices had to be made. I’ll be editing it this week and hopefully the footage I got was worth the effort. As always, photos are only used for reference in my paintings. It’s all brush work.
In a perfect world (hey, it could happen!), my painting sessions involve a hot cup of coffee, music in my headphones and a darkened room with no distractions, allowing me to get lost in the work. With having to think about the camera all the time, I could never quite get all the way into it until I neared the end. That’s when I forgot to recharge the GoPro for that session and the battery was dead. Rather than ruin a perfect Saturday morning painting session by waiting, I decided to just do screen capture for the end of the painting and I had a blast!
I know I say this whenever I finish a painting, but this is one of my favorites. I just love the expression on his (or her, your call) face. Anybody who has followed my work on these critters for any length of time knows that I don’t take all the credit for the personality. It just seems to show up and the funny thing is, it showed up twice while painting this one. I thought it did a couple of days ago, it was the same great moment that always happens, but then there was another moment in the final hours of painting when something just popped and it seemed to come even more alive. It was a bonus.
Prints will likely be available for the Giraffe Totem in the next month after I’ve done my proofing and I can’t wait to see them.
Posted August 18th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Got this question on my Facebook page this morning. After writing the response, I thought I’d share it here as well with a few added sentences I thought of after the fact, as I get this sort of question a lot…
Hey Patrick, is your illustrations your main income?? I’m rattling around so much with going full time with my gift of photography but afraid to take that jump.. I seem to have no time to create working a full time job and kids;)
Between editorial cartooning, illustration, painting commissions, print sales and licensing…yes. I’ve made a good full-time living as an artist for the past seven years. But for nine years before that, it was a gig I did on the side while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills.
I built my business working mornings before work, evenings and weekends and finally got to a point where I couldn’t get any busier until I quit my job as an office manager for a physiotherapist. Living in Canmore (high cost of living in the Canadian Rockies) on one income is near to impossible, or at least was for us then, so the deal with my wife was that if I couldn’t pay my half of the mortgage, I had to at least get a part-time job to supplement the art income. Fortunately, my boss at the time was (and still is) a great guy, knew what I was planning from day one, and when I gave him two months notice, he suggested I go part-time first and he hired somebody else part-time to take up the slack. About six months later, I had to give notice again as I got a lot busier, but waited until he found the right person to fill my job, which took about a month. It was the best LAST job to have.
It was a real struggle for the first few years, a lot of waiting for money to come in, going into overdraft more times than I can count before I wasn’t relying on every invoice being paid in order to pay my half of the bills, but every year has been better than the one before. It hasn’t really been a struggle for about three or four years now.
I don’t want to discourage you, but your situation contains a big factor that mine doesn’t. We never chose to have kids, so the risk wasn’t nearly as much. My wife and I have often said that if we’d had children, I likely wouldn’t have been able to quit my job. I’m not saying it’s impossible, of course, lots of people do it, but it will be a lot more pressure on you. In those first few years, I had no time for anything else but working. Even now, I work almost every day. I finally figured out awhile ago why they say ‘do what you love for a living.’ It’s not because you’ll be happy all the time. It’s because when everything is hitting the fan, you haven’t slept, eaten, and the bills are overdue, if you didn’t love it, you’d toss it all out the window and quit. Loving what you do is a survival requirement.
Without knowing anything more about your situation, I would advise that before you quit your job, make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Everything from bookkeeping, accounting, taxes and some money in the bank. Get as many gigs as you can part-time first and make your big mistakes while you still have a job. Those first few years, I was on edge and scared ALL the time, feeling like I was one gig away from losing my business. You spend half of your time doing support work. In addition to bookkeeping and invoicing, you’ve got marketing, correspondence, portfolio and website maintenance, travel time, all of the little things that will take time away for your photography. So those billable hours have to cover that time, too.
I’m a big believer in doing what you love for a living, but it’s never easy. A lot of sleepless nights, chewed fingernails, and figuring things out as I went along, most often from doing a lot of things wrong. The stress WILL take its toll in a number of different ways. For however long it takes, vacations can no longer be a priority and you must go without luxuries. When you do take time off, you’re not getting paid. There is no such thing as a weekend anymore and if you don’t have a spouse whose job comes with health and dental benefits (fortunately I do), then you have to factor that into the equation. I know a number of people who quit their jobs without having any idea of what running their own business required and it’s unfortunate, because often they’ll end up giving up their artwork altogether because of the failed business. So they took what they loved and killed it in an effort to make it their job.
Having a hobby you love is not justification for doing it for a living. There are many days where the last thing I want to do is draw. I’ve invested so much of myself into my business, and honestly there is nothing I would rather be doing. Many people like the idea of being self-employed, but it isn’t for everybody. You can also count on friends and family failing to understand your choice and telling you that you work too much and should take more time off. They never stop doing that, by the way.
Whatever you decide, give it a lot of thought, but keep doing what you love. If it takes a little longer to do it for a living, and that’s what you really want, so be it, even though it’s frustrating to have to wait. I started very late to this art gig, didn’t even consider it until I was in my thirties and I know people who started even later than I did and are doing very well.
Anything’s possible, but as the old saying goes, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
Best of luck,
Posted August 8th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Working at home, I feel safe. This is my domain, the place I own and control, even if it’s only an illusion. I can turn off the phone, close the blinds, lock the doors, and cut myself off from the world. In that environment, I can create in complete solitude and safety, uninterrupted, exploring my imagination. And I like that. Most of the time, it works for me, especially when the goal is to get work done.
But even though silence and isolation can bring peace to a busy mind, allowing the elusive quiet thoughts to be heard and explored, imagination needs stimulation, too. For that, one needs to go out into the world.
Draw from life. I’ve heard that so many times from so many artists that I can’t even give credit to any one person. If you ask me to draw a tree, a dog, a building, a lamppost or anything else, you’ll probably get a rendering that will look pretty much like what you ordered. Everybody knows what a tree looks like. But no two trees are the same. The only way to see that is to go look at them.
Draw from life. That means going out among the living.
I like coffee shops, especially ones with corner booths or seats. If I can put my back to the wall, make myself small, become unremarkable and unnoticed, then I can sketch people as they go about their business, natural and unaware. Propped up on elbows, heads in hands distorting faces, scowls or smiles while they read, backs hunched, faces quiet in thought, legs crossed or up on chairs, heavy sighs, changing positions, settling out of their routine. No posturing. No posing. Just there. That’s life.
Shopping malls, especially in the food court. Up high, looking down on the unsuspecting masses walking by. On a bench removed from the crowds, but still on the periphery, able to observe without being observed. Laughing, talking, tired, driven, meandering, texting, kids tugging on parents, parents clinging to that last nerve, couples holding hands, husbands sitting on benches looking bored as they wait for their wives to come out of a store. Sketches have to be quick in a mall. People don’t stand still for long. It’s all about catching the feel of what you’re looking at, not so much the details of every fold of clothing, every wisp of hair, but the shapes and structure, the lights and darks, the hard lines. You see them, take a mental snapshot, sketch and they’re gone.
Airports are wonderful. People are just waiting and most often they don’t really want to be there. No matter what people say about the journey vs. the destination, few people enjoy killing time in airports. But they sit, they stand, they drink coffee, they read, they doze off, they browse in little shops for things they don’t need and they watch the time. And artists draw them.
Parks, lakes, hiking trails, campgrounds, people hold themselves differently in natural places. A little less rigid, time to think. You’re less likely to see them texting or talking on their phones, at least you hope so. Ties and collars loosened, jackets open. Bagged lunches open on a picnic table, eyes a little glassy. Heavy sighs releasing the tension, enjoying the sunshine. Throwing a ball for the dog. Arm draped over a bench, legs crossed. Lying on blankets. People use natural places to escape, sometimes only for a few minutes. But it’s better than nothing.
I like zoos, too. Where else do you get to see animals from the other side of the world? A lion basking in the sunshine, his face suddenly erupting in a yawn as he falls over for a nap. There’s a feel to that scene you don’t see in a photo and it helps to sketch that live, in person, breathing the same air and trying to share the same feeling.
My buddy has a cabin in British Columbia. For years, he has allowed his friends to use it and it never fails to inspire me, even if sometimes I don’t realize it until after I’ve returned home. Up in the woods, rustic and most importantly, quiet. Little curiosities and knick knacks adorn the place, gifts left by guests, photos tucked into mirrors, half melted candles stuck into wine bottles that were probably opened and enjoyed in that very place many years ago. I love being there because it’s a change of scenery and it’s peaceful. When I draw there, it’s almost always something different than I would draw at home. So a change of scene is sometimes all that’s required to reveal those hidden creative alleyways and roads less traveled.
I’m rarely without a sketchbook. Many times it may stay in my pack or in the car, but too many times to count, I’ve been able to steal five minutes in one place or another to draw what I see. It’s just not the same thing to snap a photo with a smart phone. Later, when you download the photo and try to sketch it, you won’t be able to put yourself back into the place, and feel what you felt that compelled you to take the photo in the first place. You might come close, but it won’t be the same.
The trick to drawing from life is to try to be removed from the scene. If the person you’re sketching sees you and has even the slightest inkling that you’re focused on them, they will change and you will have lost the natural posture that drew your attention in the first place. When that happens, move on. The moment is gone, but another is close by.
Sketching is practice and need not be shown to anyone else, and it certainly doesn’t need to be finished. Different perspectives, capturing moments, opening yourself up to possibilities you might not have considered. You can’t do that by existing in the same place day after day. It’s not always easy. I’m just as guilty as the next guy of being too busy to take an hour or two to just sketch. It takes effort to change habits, and if at first you don’t succeed. Well, you know.
Gestures, sketches, drawings, paintings. All of these can be done in the studio. But if the studio doesn’t change or grow, neither will your art.