Posted May 10th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
A couple of months ago, I finished the above painting of Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield just before he became Commander of the International Space Station. Just painting the image was worth the effort because I really enjoyed it. But then Commander Hadfield saw it in orbit, sent me a short message and re-tweeted the link to his followers on Twitter. A tweet from space is quite a thrill and I’ve actually had the pleasure of receiving two of them, the second after I did the editorial cartoon you see below when he took command. Had it all ended there, I would have been pleased enough.
Shortly after Commander Hadfield retweeted the link to the painting, however, I got an email from Tim Gagnon, a graphic and portrait artist who lives next door to the Kennedy Space Center. Since 2004, Tim has worked with five Space Shuttle and nine ISS Expedition crews helping design their mission patches. Tim had some kind words to say about the portrait and then asked me for a little more information about the digital medium and how the painting was done. I was happy to send him some video links that I’ve done for Wacom, some time-lapses of my paintings and I shared a little more information inviting him to ask any other questions.
Tim told me that he designed a special crew patch for Expedition 34 at the request of that mission’s Commander, United States astronaut Kevin Ford, and he told me he would like to send me one. He said that it’s the first crew patch since Apollo XIII to have a motto. The expeditions overlap, so that Hadfield arrived at the ISS on Expedition 34 and then when he took command, it became Expedition 35. I was thrilled at the offer, thanked Tim for his generosity, and gave him my address. In exchange, I sent Tim my training DVDs on digital cartooning and painting to give him more information on that medium.
Much to my surprise, when the package arrived, there was not only the embroidered Expedition 34 patch, but the 35 patch as well. Tim also included a sticker of the Soyuz mission that took Hadfield’s expedition to space. I’ve had the mission patches for awhile, but haven’t posted it on my site until now, at Tim’s request. He was waiting until he had the go ahead from Kevin Ford, who arrived safely back on Earth on March 16th.
Something many of us take for granted these days is the incredible level of connection we are privileged to enjoy. Multiple daily tweets from space are exciting enough, but the simple fact that an instant message can be sent from one side of the globe to the other is truly amazing, or at least would be 100 years ago. What I find so incredible is that a painting I did for my own enjoyment went to orbit, was sent back to Earth, was noticed by another artist in Florida and now I have these very special mementos of the experience here in my hands, keepsakes that I will enjoy for many years to come. We really do live in an extraordinary time and we shouldn’t forget that. It also shows just how small our world really is.
An interesting side note that I found amusing is that Tim’s grandparents were Canadian.
Posted May 9th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
I always look forward to visiting the animals at the Calgary Zoo. While it’s true that I can easily justify spending two or three hours at the zoo to take photo reference, it always feels like I’m getting away with something, because it never feels like work. Almost like I might as well be slacking off to go see a movie. If I lived in Calgary, I’d spend a lot more time at the zoo, I’m sure, but the drive there and back takes just under three hours in good traffic, so I usually try to combine it with errands that are bringing me to the city anyway. Fortunately, yesterday’s errand was a meeting AT the zoo, which was pretty convenient. Or planned. I’ll never tell.
Yesterday, I took a few hundred photos and ended up with about ten that I wanted to keep. The beauty of a digital camera is that you can just keep shooting and sort them all out later, knowing full well that the vast majority will end up in the trash. I usually try not to have an agenda, so I make the rounds knowing that the best photos will be the ones where the animals are cooperating.
It was a hot day, so the lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!) and other large animals were either hiding in the shade or just being lazy and lethargic in the sunshine. Who can blame them? So, weather does factor into it. One Totem I really want to paint in the future is a red panda, and even though they were out and active enough, and I took a lot of photos, none of them were good. Same situation with a few of the other animals I was after. Bad angles, bad light, bad photographer.
But I did manage to get a few that I like, including the ones you see here. While none of them are good enough to be the prime reference for a finished painting, I plan to be doing a lot of sketching and painting studies in the future and these will do just fine for those. It is my plan that before too long, I’ll be able to create a book of my animal work, which means I’ll need to draw and paint a lot more of it.
Any excuse to go to the zoo.
Posted May 9th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
When it comes to this business of art, there is no manual. Most of us are just winging it, making corrections each time a mistake or miscalculation knocks us off course. Most of the time, it’s not some big disaster, it’s just evaluating the results from throwing stuff at a wall to see what would stick.
Last year, the Calgary Zoo started selling my matted Totem prints, the same ones that were sold at Two Wolves in Canmore and are currently in About Canada in Banff. The prints did well at the other two venues and also sell well in my own online store. The zoo, however, is a little different because their retail store is not a gallery, but a gift shop that complements the destination, so to sell matted prints at $44 in this venue was an experiment. While they did sell, they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves.
Regular readers will know that I recently had a booth at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. In addition to the matted prints I normally stock, I also introduced a poster print. Not a gallery quality giclée, but still an excellent quality print with a white border. Hand signed, with backer board, in a plastic sleeve just like the matted prints, the price point is lower which allows for people who want to buy a print but aren’t looking to have the full matted and professionally framed look and expense. They sold well at the Expo and also in an online sale I had recently on this site. But since I ordered far too many for the Expo, I thought I might see if the Calgary Zoo was interested in giving them a shot, so I requested a meeting, which I drove in for this morning.
I’m happy to say that they were very well received and now all ten Totems that were printed for the Expo are now available as poster prints at the Calgary Zoo. With fingers crossed for this eventuality, I had brought full inventory of each print with me today instead of just one sample, so these should be available right away. The poster prints will retail for $25.00 each, so if you were one of the lucky ones who took advantage of the recent sale or bought at the Expo, you got a great deal on them. Here’s hoping they do well at the Zoo and they ask me to restock their supply soon.
Posted May 7th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
With the Adobe Max conference going on in L.A. this week, there are many in the design, photography and other digital creative industries that are actively talking about all things Adobe. Most of the talk is surrounding the Creative Cloud and the subscription model. In fact, I’ve seen and participated in some heated discussions the past 24 hours about the pros and cons. Most of these arguments look very much like online political bickering, complete with name-calling, passive aggressive rants and the usual ‘my way or the highway’ arguments that are the staple of social media discussions. Having expressed my opinion already, I don’t feel the need to repeat it all here. Bottom line is that anybody who uses any of Adobe’s software will have to subscribe to the new model or eventually watch their tools become obsolete. Time marches on, adapt and overcome, deal with it. The corporate mind is made up and unlikely to change. We’ll just have to agree to disagree and move on, since we should all probably be working anyway.
One of yesterday’s announcements that caught my eye was Adobe’s introduction of Project Mighty. A pressure sensitive pen for the iPad and iPhone, connected to the cloud, allowing people to draw and take notes on the iPad. Before I talk about my impression, here’s a video that explains it, just so we’re all on the same page.
At first glance, this looks like it might be something very innovative. In fact, I’ve had a number of people send me email and private messages since this was announced telling me I must be excited about this and asking what I think of it. The only reason I assume they’re asking is that my medium for the majority of my work is digital and that I’ve also done a fair bit of iPad art over the past couple of years. So having only seen the same video you just watched, my first impression is that the Mighty doesn’t strike me as memorable, at least not in this first edition.
I’ve tried a number of iPad pens over the last year. Some of them have a plastic disc that rests on the screen, many have rubber eraser type nibs in varying sizes, and even one expensive disaster purported to be pressure sensitive, but ended up just being a waste of $80.00. The battery didn’t last and it relied on raising and lowering the volume of the device since it communicated through the iPad’s microphone. To quote Mr. Scott in Star Trek, “The more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”
In my experience with art on the iPad, the strength lies in a well developed app, because the hardware is a compromise. The iPad just wasn’t designed to use a pen and Apple has consistently showed no interest in answering the scores of artists who have been begging for one. As Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it.”
But with a good third party stylus and a well written app, you can still draw and paint well enough on the iPad. The best apps that I’ve used to date are procreate, artstudio, and Sketchbook Pro. I’ve been able to work around the pressure sensitivity quite well in all of these apps simply by varying the brush opacity while I paint. Coupled with a good stylus, I find painting on the iPad to be quite enjoyable, despite having to wear a light glove so I can rest my hand on the screen while I draw. The pen I settled on after trying many of them, is the Wacom Bamboo Stylus and it works quite well, despite the limitations of the iPad itself. The paintings you see here were done on the first generation iPad with the Wacom stylus.
What surprised me most about Project Mighty is that it doesn’t appear to involve Wacom at all. I’ve been using Wacom tablets and displays since the 90′s and while each new evolution is better than the last, the one consistent thing I could always count on was that there was no better name in pen and tablet tech than Wacom. I would defy any digital creative artist to challenge that statement. The industry standard for pen technology has long been Wacom and if this pen was a cooperative venture between the two, I would have expected Adobe to lead with it, so I can only assume that this was an independent creation. It was my understanding that the two companies had a symbiotic relationship as most Adobe users I know are using Wacom tablets or displays in their work. Wacom’s lack of involvement in Project Mighty (unless it’s some deep dark secret) is perplexing.
One of the biggest complaints I hear when reviewing any stylus or app for the iPad is that people want it to work like their Wacom tablet. Same features, sensitivity, and functionality. Unrealistically, many artists want the power of a robust computer mixed with a Cintiq 24HD that is light and allows them to take it anywhere. Someday, I’m sure, but I still think that perfect device is a long way off. Then again, we might see a hint of that soon.
On February 28th, this status update on Wacom’s Facebook page created quite a ripple through the digital creative world. “We’ve heard you shouting out loud for a Wacom mobile tablet for creative uses. Well… we’re listening. We’ve read your email and spoken to many about an on-the-go dream device. It will come. This summer. We’re working 24/7 on it. And yes, it has a real pressure-sensitive professional pen, smooth multi-touch, an HD display, and other valuable features that you haven’t seen in other tablets.”
With this tease still resonating, I won’t be buying into Project Mighty. When it comes to digital pen technology, I’m willing to be patient and wait for whatever Wacom has up their sleeve. We might finally see tablet hardware that doesn’t ask artists to compromise. If Wacom’s previous track record for stealing the show is any indication, I expect many artists will consider everything that has come before it to be just an opening act.
Posted May 2nd, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
A few years back, I found myself considering a part-time job. In my late 30’s, working full-time at home as a freelance artist, it wasn’t about the money, but getting out of the house a little more. As much as I like working for myself, I missed having coworkers, even though when I had them, they drove me nuts.
The only place in Canmore I wanted to go for an evening job was Avalanche. Make a little extra money, sure, but best of all, I got to be around movies, something near and dear to my heart. I’m hardly the type of person that can discuss great cinema, tell you anything about Fellini or discuss the hidden nuances in Woody Allen films. In fact, I can’t stand Woody Allen films. I just love movies.
But Avalanche also has a reputation. People like working there and that’s something you can’t fake, because they seem to like their jobs even when the owners aren’t around. In a business well known for hiring teenagers and young adults, I was easily the oldest guy there. Little did I know, the ownership was changing just as I was hired on, and I’ll admit that I thought I might have made a mistake. But Jeff assured me that the owners weren’t just handing it off to anybody, they were making sure that it went to people who would keep the culture of Avalanche alive.
Enter Patrick and Camille, and I had no reason to worry.
I already had a work ethic; it’s something I take pride in. But working at Avalanche, it didn’t take long to realize that everybody else there did, too. Many of these ‘kids’ worked harder and knew more about customer service than most adults I’ve met and worked with. For a lot of them, this was a coveted first job and with a lineup of their peers in this community waiting to take their place, few took it for granted.
My time at Avalanche was short, just over a year as I realized I was too busy for a part-time job, even though it was only a couple of nights a week. But I enjoyed it and am thankful for the experience, because though I left a while ago, they still treat me like one of their own. I even came back that year to work a shift with another former staff member, so everybody else could go to the Christmas party and we were happy to do it. How many employers would you do that for?
To understand what kind of environment and direction Avalanche has provided to kids in this community, you need only look to the adults many of them have become. Responsible and hardworking, they’re the type of people you want to know, hire and work with, because they know the value of doing a job well.
Customer service is a talk they walk at Avalanche. Rather than just point a finger to a corner of the store when you ask for a movie, staff will take you right to it or go and get it for you. That direction comes from the top. Even as a customer, I still can’t walk by a crooked DVD case on the shelf without straightening it.
The place always smells of popcorn, free for the taking while you peruse the store, and if once in a while a batch gets burned, it’s usually because all of the staff are helping customers and didn’t get to it in time. But a new batch isn’t far behind.
Only a fraction of late fees are ever collected. Most of the time, they’re forgiven outright. The only time you can be guaranteed to be asked to pay them is on the many occasions when they’re donated to benefit a local charity or cause. And in this community, people are always happy to give more than they owe.
Walking into Avalanche, you never have to worry that you don’t know what to get. I can’t tell you how many times Camille, Patrick or Jeff have taken the time to walk around with us, pointing out movies we should see, often sleeper hits we’ve never heard of and then thoroughly enjoy. It’s gotten so they even know what we like. One of my favorite movies is “The Way.”. This movie so inspired me that I painted Martin Sheen’s portrait from it. I may not have ever seen it, had it not been recommended to me by Camille on one of those walks through the new releases. That portrait now hangs in Sheen’s home in California.
Every dog in Canmore knows Avalanche. Not only is it one of the few places where they’re welcomed to come on in, but there’s a never-ending bag of dog cookies behind that counter. Even if you aren’t renting or buying a movie, dogs are always welcome to stop in for a treat, if they just happen to be on their way by.
For someone who lives outside of this community, you might view the closure of a movie rental business to be inevitable. In the age of digital downloads and faceless automatic rental kiosks, it might seem that this business model has seen its day. Not here. As mentioned in their release, Avalanche is only closing because “our location is no longer available to us.”
You don’t just go to Avalanche to rent a movie, you go because you might run into someone you haven’t seen in a while. It’s one of the still locally owned gems in this town where they know you and they’re happy you stopped in, even if it was just to say Hi. If this is the end for Avalanche, it will be mourned by this whole community. Small towns have a way of disappearing one business at a time and while we all want the modern big box chain convenience, nothing comes without sacrifice and we lose a bit of ourselves each time it happens.
Hopefully somebody out there will want to write the sequel in another location. If you’re that person, Patrick and Camille would like to talk to you. If you want to know where to find them, just follow your dog.
Posted April 29th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
This weekend found me running my first retail booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. All day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I was selling my wares to attendees of the second largest event of its kind in Canada, along with many other artists and vendors. As this was my first ‘con’, here’s a bit of a review to show how the reality of the experience met with my expectations.
At this event, I was selling prints of ten of my original creations, my Totem paintings. I prepared as best I could by reading blog entries and articles online by those in the know. A talented animator friend, Jennifer Llewellyn has had a booth at this Expo six times now and she graciously shared a lot of information with me both before and during the event. There’s a distinct culture at this sort of show and as I’d requested a booth beside hers when I registered, Jenn served as my guide throughout and was a big help to me.
The first year is where you’re going to spend the most amount of money if you want to do it right. I wasn’t content to have a booth that looked bargain basement as many will do to save on expenses, so I put my best foot forward. I bought retail grid walls that stand on their own, had a professional banner printed, bought bins to hold my prints, and other assorted retail hardware. For product, I offered poster prints for $15.00 apiece, with backer board, artist bios and cellophane sleeves. I also offered the usual matted giclée prints for a discounted show price of $35 (regular $44) and my limited edition 12″X16″ canvas giclée prints at a discounted show price of $220.00 (regular $295.00). As this was my first foray into the show, I had no idea how much inventory I would need. Considering that I regularly keep prints on hand for online sales and supplying the local retailers who sell my work, I figured I should aim high, so that anything I didn’t sell would just become part of my regular inventory, stock I would need anyway.
Last year, this Expo experienced some significant growing pains. The Fire Marshall essentially shut it down on the Saturday of the 2012 event, as there were far too many people inside the venue. Many who had bought tickets and waited in line weren’t allowed in and others who had just stepped outside for some lunch or some air were locked out for the duration. I was on a research trip to this event last year, and I experienced the lockout firsthand. Our weekend passes became null and void early Saturday afternoon. This year, they capped the number of tickets at close to 60,000 and sold out well before the Expo itself, increased the size of the venue, and vowed to fix all that went wrong with last year’s event.
So how did it go? Well, lets start with the cons of the con, from this vendor’s point of view.
My only reference to how things should have gone was from other artists who had done this event before. As the weekend wore on, a number of them said that this was one of the slowest years for sales. Saturday is supposed to be one of the biggest and best selling days, and yet even though I was in a good location, there were hours on Saturday afternoon (yes, hours) where it felt like a ghost town in our corner of the world. The first two hours of Sunday morning were exactly the same. Quite discouraging as I was looking at the many prints still sitting in bins in my booth, wondering how many of them I was taking home with me. Speculation seemed to be that because they had spread the celebrity guest signings and panels out to other buildings and with the limited ticket sales, many people didn’t make it to the vendor booths in the small press section (where I was located) or if they did, they didn’t make it back when it came time to make their purchases.
A big question mark was whether or not I was even in the right place to sell my particular brand of artwork. Here was a typical situation my wife and I noticed throughout the weekend. A person would walk up the aisle in front of my booth, scanning left and right as they walked. When they saw my work, they’d smile or laugh, say something like, “Oh, cool!” or “These are great!” They’d come over to the booth, look through my book, ask questions, and appear thoroughly engaged with the work and have many complimentary things to say. Then they’d often say “Thanks” and wander off to the next booth or say, “I’ll be back later on.” Both my wife and I have worked in retail years ago and have experience with the ‘just looking’ crowd but when the reactions seemed very genuine, we couldn’t figure out the reluctance to buy by many of the enthusiastic visitors. Money didn’t seem to be the issue as our pricing was comparable to the wares of many other artists. One of the most common comments we got was that my work looked like nothing people had ever seen before. As an artist, that’s a great thing to hear, but whether or not it also prevented them from buying it because they didn’t know where to put it, who knows?
One quirk of this con is that when people had multiple day passes, they didn’t want to be carrying their purchases around with them all day, so they said they’d come back later in the day or on Sunday to buy. Anybody who has ever worked in retail knows how that goes. One way around that was we offered to hold on to their purchases until they came back for them and that did work for a few of them, especially one woman who bought a canvas print of the Ostrich Totem. Others, however, just never came back.
Something that really began to annoy us as the weekend wore on was cellphones. We easily had half a dozen potential good sales ruined by somebody getting a text or phone call while they were talking to us. The phone would distract them and they would wander off while taking the call. Or if they stayed at the booth, following the call or text, their entire demeanor changed, as if that distraction had broken the spell of their interest. Cell phones are not your friend when you’re trying to make a sale.
These were the less than ideal parts of this show, but now I’ll talk about all of the positives that came from this event.
There was a noticeable difference in the organization level of this event this year. There were a lot of volunteers, all of whom were exceptionally helpful, friendly and receptive to feedback. We heard nothing but good things from attendees and vendors with how well the folks at the Expo handled everything this year. They really should be commended on how they turned lemons into lemonade following last year’s event and I personally made a point of thanking a few volunteers for their efforts and I noticed a number of other vendors did the same.
First and foremost, there is no substitute for experience, and the amount I learned about trade shows and expos this weekend is immeasurable. It was truly an education, one that was quite enjoyable. One of the best parts of this event was that my wife, Shonna worked it with me. She even wore her two Ostrich Totem shirts proudly on Friday and Saturday. The pic at left was Sunday. Her opinion and insights are always of value to me and the fact that I didn’t have to come home and try to explain everything to her is a relief. She went through it all with me, saw and heard everything I did and worked just as hard. Her help and support was incredibly valuable to me at this event. I could have done this without her, but I wouldn’t have done it nearly as well and it wouldn’t have been as much fun, because yes, as hard as we worked, it really was a good experience for both of us.
One of the benefits of having a booth at the con is that even though we didn’t get to see as much around the venue as I would have had I been an attendee, eventually a lot of the people came wandering down to our end. So, we still got to see many of the creative and elaborate costumes, a highlight of this show for many.
Neither Shonna nor I are big on crowds at the best of times. While I have plenty of experience in sales and working with people, having worked in retail and hotels before I was a full-time artist, these days I spend the majority of my working time alone in my office and I quite enjoy my solitude. But having a booth at a show, you have to be ON all the time. Smiling, laughing, saying Hello and making eye contact, inviting people in, being friendly and engaging, making people feel welcome to come and look at your wares, answering the same questions and telling the same stories over and over again for three days straight. I wondered if I still had it, and thankfully I did. Best of all, I really enjoyed myself and so did my wife. The people were the best part of this Expo because they were all there to have a good time. Even if they weren’t buying, it was fun to talk with them, hear their thoughts, and explain my work to them. Everybody I talked to seemed to really like my paintings and style of artwork, which was a nice boost. Every artist wants to find their own look and I’ve successfully done that.
Commissions! We couldn’t believe how many people asked about commissions of their pets. While many seemed content to just take a card, Shonna had the bright idea to start taking email addresses from those who made inquiries and today I’ll be sending a lot of personal messages to people with the blog entry link that explains all of the information about commission work. If even a small percentage of those who inquired take the plunge, I’ll be busy painting custom pet portraits for a long time.
Suggestions! It is very clear that a panda and giraffe need to be added to my Totem list. A number of people asked if I had those paintings. Others I found intriguing were a Hedgehog, Alpaca or Llama, and a Lizard. All of these would be enjoyable to paint and add to my funny looking menagerie.
Networking! We spoke to many other experienced trade show and expo artists who were very happy to share the information they’ve gathered. One couple who attend many of these shows as vendors stood at our booth when it was slow and took Shonna and I to school. They told us which shows were profitable, which ones were not, which ones were expensive and vice versa. We honestly didn’t meet anyone who was in a bad mood or wasn’t genuinely willing to share information with us and we tried to do the same. There is a thriving community of professionals and amateurs on the show circuit and we were welcomed into it.
Validation! Everybody is warned to have cash on hand to purchase items at the show. Most vendors will not have the ability to take credit cards. I went with the Kudos system, however, so I could take credit card payments on my iPad and I’m glad I did. More than half of my sales were credit card transactions. I would not have sold the canvases I did had I only taken cash.
People really did seem to like my work. We got used to seeing big smiles and exclamations of, “Oh, look at these!” and “These are wonderful!” from people. They would also say things like , “they look real, but cartoony. How do you do that?” And best of all, the adjectives. Everybody sees something different in the expressions of my Totems and since I have no idea where the personality comes from as I paint, nobody is wrong. The same Totem would be called, ‘sarcastic,’ ‘angry’, ‘scary,’ ‘mischievous,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘goofy,’ among other things. They would tell me and others what the Totem was thinking. “Oh he’s thinking, don’t worry, I’ll eat you quickly,’ and ‘what are you lookin’ at?” I loved it.
On Sunday, a gentleman approached me about licensing my Totems for a specific line of products (that’s all I’ll say for now), took me to his booth, showed me what he was talking about and I was very interested. I’ll be talking to him again today via email. Best of all, some of the work on his products was that of another artist at the show, so I went to her booth and asked her opinion of the arrangement. She gave a ringing endorsement, so I can go into these negotiations with a better understanding of the person and company I’m dealing with. Apparently this sort of thing happens at a lot of these events as well. And the reason I was approached? He had never seen anything like my work before.
To sum up, having a booth at this Expo was a LOT of work and expense, both in prep and at the venue, but it was well worth my time. Because the Internet and social media is so much PR and hard to tell where the truth lies, I’ll be honest. While I still came away with good sales, I did not make money at this event, but both Shonna and I are fine with that. The reason is that the first year is the most expensive and costs range from buying the prints and retail hardware to food and lodging and other expenses, all of which have to be considered on the balance sheet. I brought WAY too much inventory, but only because I had no way of knowing where to draw the line, having never done this before. I’m so glad I didn’t try to sell T-shirts and postcards as well this first time out. The great thing is that none of the inventory goes bad. It sells at the Calgary Zoo, About Canada in Banff and in my online store on a regular basis. All it means is that I have plenty of stock for awhile and I don’t have to buy anything in the near future. So I didn’t really lose any money, especially because I didn’t go into debt for this show. All of my expenses have been paid, so this wasn’t a hardship.
In the end, this was an investment in experience. The knowledge we now have could not have been learned without taking the risk and it was well worth it. Was this the right venue for my work? I still don’t know. Will I do this particular Expo again next year? I’m still thinking about it, leaning toward the affirmative, but I still don’t know. Sometimes a first year or two is required just to get people to know your work and develop a following. Will I be doing other trade shows like this to test the waters? Most definitely, especially since I already have the booth fixtures at hand. We’re already looking at a number of possible venues and figuring out our next move.
We came away from this event with a lot to think about and I’ve taken a new step in marketing my work. Best of all, I took another risk and that’s the only way to move forward. In the next couple of weeks, I’ve got a fair bit of post-con work to do from emailing potential clients about commissions and negotiating a licensing deal, not to mention reassessing the inventory I have in stock and figuring out the best way to make use of it. It was a really good weekend and I’m glad I did it.
Even before this show, I had a lot on my plate, so right now, it’s back to drawing and painting, which is what got me into all of this in the first place.
Posted April 21st, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Only a few days left before I haul this banner and everything else into Calgary to set up my booth. Having been to the Calgary Expo as a ticket-buying attendee a couple of times, including during last year’s ‘if something could go wrong, it did,” event, this will be my first year as an exhibitor. With a mixture of paranoia and excitement, I’ve spent the last four or five months obsessing about every last detail, trying to anticipate anything and everything that could go wrong and preparing for it. As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s simply my nature.”
You could pretty much divide my career into two professions. I’m a cartoonist, editorial and otherwise, but I’m also a digital painter. While they both rely on the same artistic skills and the styles do intermingle, they’re actually quite distinctive in their differences. As a cartoonist, I create and sell daily editorial cartoons and do custom cartoon style illustrations for clients. As a painter, I create my Totem artwork, those whimsical funny looking animals that are printed and sold online, in galleries, retail outlets and licensed on T-shirts through The Mountain. I also regularly paint commissions of pets for people. They’re almost two different businesses. And while the learned experts would say that an artist or business should focus on one thing and be good at that, they’re both large parts of how I make my living. I enjoy them both equally, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m good at both and would have a hard time letting one of them go.
For the Expo, however, the two styles don’t belong together in the same booth. So for this event, I am a digital painter first and foremost and this is the work I’ll be selling. If the animals I painted were in the realistic style of Robert Bateman, this venue might not be the right choice to sell my work, but because of the nature of my Totems, their caricature look that borders on the fringes of other artistic styles, I think this will be a good fit. There are a lot of people looking to buy art at this event and I’m optimistic that mine will generate some interest with this crowd. The fact that my Eagle Totem made it into the Calgary Expo Art Book this year would seem to support that theory.
A survey this year of those folks who follow me on my Facebook page revealed my Top Ten Totems and I’ve been busy ordering, signing, assembling, and pricing the three types of prints I’ll be offering when the Expo kicks off on Friday. There are 11″X14″ Poster prints, the quality you would expect to find in a book or on a poster (funny how that works). I’m also offering 11″X14″ matted giclée prints. These are exceptional quality, printed on high end paper with archival ink and materials. These are the prints I regularly sell in galleries, the ones in the above image. And finally, 12″X16″ giclée stretched limited edition canvas prints, complete with certificates of authenticity, gallery quality as well. A couple of 18″X24″ framed canvas prints will be also be available.
When planning this booth, I went back and forth on which items to offer, how much of each image to print, how much stock to bring, what prices to assign to each, and what retail hardware and support equipment to buy as well. I could end up bringing home a lot of prints, or selling out too early and have nothing to offer on the last day. Both would be undesirable, although to be honest, selling out wouldn’t be so bad. There are so many variables to consider the first year and I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘best guess’ is the final say on almost every decision made. I’ve had friends give me advice based on their experience, I’ve read articles online, in books, and magazines, but in the end, it will come down to not how somebody else has done at this sort of event, but whether or not my images will sell at this venue. The only way to know that is to put my best foot forward, then wait and see. Of course, having a very supportive wife who is taking a couple of days off to work the booth with me does make it a lot easier. Fail or succeed, at least I’m not doing this alone. She’s even going to wear an Ostrich Totem shirt.
I’ve always done well in my career by taking risks, especially ones that make me nervous and require me to stick my neck out. The financial investment for this venture has been significant because I can’t bring myself to do anything half-assed. If I’m going to take a shot, I need to be proud of the effort, win or lose. I’ve spent the money, I’ve got more inventory in my possession right now than I’ve ever had, and now I just have to show up and put on a smile.
The Expo sold out of tickets a couple of weeks ago, and 60,000 people are expected to show up between Friday and Sunday. It’s going to be a zoo, but also a lot of fun. Some of the most interesting people you could ever want to meet will be invading the BMO Centre in Calgary this weekend, a number of them in costume. This time next week, I’ll be exhausted, but it’ll be worth it.
If you’ve got tickets, you can find me in the Small Press section, Booth R 08. See you there!
Posted April 8th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
Last Friday, I was out in Golden, BC for a guys weekend at a buddy’s cabin. When I first started going out there, it was just the cabin itself on this plot of wooded land, but now, my retired friend and his wife have an art studio and a new home on the land as well. But that cabin up the hill is still there and he generously allows his friends to use it. I don’t take a lot of time off, but as that Friday was my birthday and Sunday was my friend Jim’s birthday, it was a great excuse to get away with no work. Set up on the deck of the house, the three of us enjoying the sunshine, I decided to grab my bedding and gear and hike it up the hill early so I didn’t have to do it in the dark later. On my way back down the trail, enjoying being in the woods with great weather and just starting to relax, I got an email alert on my phone. I stopped and already had an idea what it was. My suspicion was confirmed when I read that former Premier of Alberta Ralph Klein had died.
Continuing down the hill, I opened up a beer, sat down in my chair on the deck and began working on my phone. My buddies gave me grief that I was supposed to be relaxing, but I explained the situation, told them I needed a half hour and I began sending emails to the daily newspapers across Canada that would want a cartoon on this breaking news. You see, the cartoon was already done. The files had been on my phone for about a week, ever since the news came out that Ralph Klein was close to the end after years of suffering a debilitating illness. Once the cartoons were sent, I spent another half hour answering emails from editors either thanking me for getting the cartoon out so quick or a couple of others asking if I had a Ralph Klein cartoon for them.
Yes, it’s morbid that from time to time, I make my living from a product that is derived from someone’s death. When I hear that someone of note, whether political or cultural, is close to death or has died, I often feel like a vulture, sitting on a fencepost, waiting to take advantage of the situation. It’s not a great feeling. And it’s very difficult to be genuine and not come across as maudlin. There’s a lot of ‘bandwagon grief’ and crocodile tears on social media these days and I try to walk a fine line between honest respect and overt false sentimentality. There are few things I dislike more than hypocrisy and social media is ripe soil for that particular crop.
What’s even more morbid is that when I find out somebody has died, I have to decide if it’s cartoon worthy or not. I must ask myself if newspapers will find it newsworthy enough to write stories or editorials on this person. In some cases, it’s quite obvious. In the case of Ralph Klein, he was one of the most charismatic and popular provincial Premiers in Canadian history. He was beloved by many and not just in Alberta. Personally, I was saddened by his death, largely because his debilitating end seemed so unfair, given how he lived. I felt the same for former NDP leader Jack Layton when he passed, one of the few politicians I genuinely liked, even though I didn’t agree with a lot of his politics. Those cartoons aren’t as difficult because I actually feel something for who the person was, for the life they lived. While I wouldn’t call it grief, there’s a small connection and a desire to honour them appropriately, to do right by them in the cartoon.
Then there are the cartoons I must do about death that are newsworthy, but are regarding people for whom I feel little. This is not a comment on their character, their impact, or their value as a human being, simply that they are strangers to me. A recent example would be former Premier of Alberta Peter Loughheed who passed away last year. A respected leader, a man of vision whose footprints are all over the province I call home, and whose death was mourned by many. But Lougheed ended his run as Premier in 1985. I was 14 years old, living overseas in West Germany and I didn’t even start following federal politics until my late twenties, let alone that of any province. I’ve never felt a connection to the man.
The same could be said for former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who passed away this morning at the age of 87. While her influence was definitely felt on my generation, I feel little connection to her. While it’s unlikely that I would have shared her obviously right wing views while she was in office, her legacy is undeniable. Her impact on the UK and the world is clear. Up at 5:00 this morning, I was working on a cartoon about her death by 5:30 as it was obvious newspapers would be reporting and editorializing on her life and times.
Both of these previous mentions are examples of situations where my profession dictates that I must observe the contribution of these two people even though I feel nothing for them on a personal level. So, how do I do that without being cliché, falsely sentimental or hypocritical. The simple answer is that I can’t, not completely. But I do my best.
Then there are the many more people who die whose lives are not of interest to the editorial page. Annette Funicello died today as well. Roger Ebert died a few days ago. I did not feel their deaths warranted the drawing of a cartoon. There was no money in it. That’s the distinction I have to make. Can you believe that?
Often there will be a natural disaster where a lot of people have died and I have to draw a cartoon on that because there is nothing else to do. Trust me, nobody is going to print something funny or political on their editorial page when more than 200,000 people have died from a tsunami on Boxing Day. It was horrible, a tragedy and a nightmare for so many. The last thing I wanted to do was draw anything about it, because I didn’t feel my illustrative voice could possibly make anything better. My solution was to guilt people into giving.
I also have a difficult time with Remembrance Day, which is an annual cartoon about death. I’ve drawn a cartoon each year for November 11th for more than a decade, and each year it gets more and more difficult to create fresh imagery. Poppies, cenotaphs, senior citizen soldiers talking with children, military iconic images, memorials, passages and quotes about 11:11, In Flanders Field, Lest We Forget, and We Remember. Each year, I do my best to summon up hackneyed images to appear genuine, but feel like a fraud doing it. What’s worse is that I come from a military family on both sides, I grew up a base brat, and spent five years in the Reserves. Heck, I even met my wife there. But saying ‘Lest We Forget’ feels like a routine, kind of like saying Bless You when somebody sneezes. We say it, but how many really mean it?
One of the all time cliché death cartoons is that of the pearly gates. Cartoonists the world over have been showing the deceased either talking with St. Peter or being greeted by somebody who has passed away before them. There are many variations on the theme. I can honestly say that I have never drawn a pearly gates cartoon and never will. It’s an image that has been done to death, pardon the pun. But that’s not to say that mine are terribly original, either.
When I approach this sort of cartoon, if you could call it that, I’ve now developed what could easily be called my signature ‘tribute’ image, examples you can see above. Usually a painted portrait, rendered as well as I can in the short amount of time I’ve got, with either a quote, the name of the deceased, the dates they lived, or anything else I can think of. Having done a number of these over the years, even this now feels trite. Give me a week or more and I might be able to come up with something more original, but that’s not how the 24 hour news cycle works. Because I have a knack for portraiture and people seem to like and publish them, I continue to do these cartoons when appropriate and then I move on as quickly as I can.
Regrettably, it’s part of this business of being a freelance editorial cartoonist in Canada. The bills get paid by getting that spot on the editorial page earmarked for images rather than text. If I choose not to draw these memorial or tribute cartoons, somebody else will and I’ll be out of a job. Most of the time, I get to draw and colour and make smartass comments for a living. It involves long hours, it’s competitive, and it’s non-stop, even on a weekend off in the woods on my birthday. I thrive on the pace, I enjoy the work and it’s rarely boring. But while it’s a great gig and a great way to make a living, no job is perfect.
From the tone of this post, you can probably deduce that drawing another death cartoon this morning did little for my mood, today. Drawing cartoons about people dying is part of this gig I could really do without.
Posted April 1st, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
This week will see a lot of tributes to former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who passed away on Friday, March 29th. He’d been a television reporter and radio personality for a good chunk of his career, the Mayor of Calgary from 1980-89, and in provincial politics from 1989-2006, the large majority of that time as the Premier. Many Albertans just called him Ralph, a testament to his ‘man of the people’ persona. He was loved and despised, depending on who you were talking to.
As an editorial cartoonist, I liked Ralph a lot. He was fun to draw, was never boring, and I knew I’d miss him when he retired in 2006. One thing about Ralph, you always knew where he stood. Unlike so many politicians who will waffle on their ideals depending on the latest public opinion polls, you knew what you were getting with Ralph, even if you didn’t always like it. He was human and he made unpopular decisions sometimes. He also screwed up. But the difference with Ralph was that when you called him on it, he’d either argue his point, tell you to get over it, or in some cases, even apologize. There wasn’t a lot of bullshit with Ralph.
Like many Albertans, I have fond memories of Ralph Klein. He did a lot for this province. If you want specifics, just do a Google search. You’ll find no shortage of anecdotes and stories about King Ralph this week. One of my favorite personal stories took place right around his retirement. Knowing his resignation was coming and having already thought about the cartoon I’d do, this is what I came up with.
Under the guise of the ‘official portrait’ I tried to include as many of the controversies and noteworthy events from Ralph’s career as I could. There were his days socializing at the St. Louis Hotel in Calgary (written on the glass in his hand), the famous “shoot, shovel and shut-up” comment as well as the one about eastern “bums and creeps” straining Calgary resources. In his pocket, the $400 Prosperity Bonus cheques he gave to every Albertan after the provincial debt had been paid off.
The cartoon appeared in the Calgary Herald and a number of other newspapers. Shortly after, I received an email from someone who wanted a framed print of it, minus the ‘official portrait’ post-it note. I had removed that feature from the image when I’d added it to my portfolio. Two more print orders followed. Sometime the next month, Klein was honored at Mount Royal College in Calgary and a day later, I opened the Calgary Herald to see the photo below. Much to my surprise, one of the framed prints had been a retirement gift for Ralph. I ordered a copy of the photo for my office. Forgive me that I no longer remember the name of the Herald photographer who captured the scanned image below.
I look at the caricature now and I see all of the flaws. As I am a better artist today than I was then, there are a lot of things I would have changed and done better with this image, but every artist looking back on anything they’ve done could say the same thing of prior work. So, I try to look past that. It’s a good memory of moments in my career, both the time spent painting the caricature and knowing that Ralph was given a copy while he was still in good health. This is how I’d like to remember him and I’m glad I ordered the photo.
Posted March 26th, 2013 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending an online briefing for the new Wacom Cintiq 13HD Pen Display. For those familiar with the Wacom line of tablets and displays, the 13HD is the replacement for the Wacom Cintiq 12WX. Let me tell you, this might just be the one you’ve been waiting for.
Let me preface this post by saying, if you’re expecting an unbiased critical ‘pros and cons’ review, you’re not going to find it here. I’m a big fan of Wacom tablets for the simple reason that I make my living as a digital artist. The computer is my medium, but only if a Wacom tablet or display is connected. I would not be able to sketch, draw or paint with a mouse, and I’ve yet to meet a professional digital painter who is not using a Wacom device at some level.
Over the past ten years, I’ve used all versions of the professional Intuos line of tablets, a few of the entry level Bamboo tablets, the Cintiq 12wx, and my current go-to display is the Cintiq 24HD. Each has had unique features that distinguishes itself from the others and from the previous models. For my daily work, I’m using the Cintiq 24HD. It’s a joy to create with, and it excels in quality and performance. Combine that with the fact that I can customize all of the features and I find it does everything I need it to. Well, except for one thing. It’s a monster and you can’t take it with you! With the Cintiq 24HD, you find a place for it and you leave it there. Since I work from home in my office at my desk everyday, it’s all I need most of the time.
But from time to time, I like to do painting demos in galleries, instructional presentations, or give lectures at schools. The Intuos5 tablet works very well for that and I can still do all of my work with that tablet without a problem. But let’s face it, I’m not only used to working on the screen now, but I really enjoy it. The Cintiq 13HD paired with a laptop will now give me the portability and performance I need, not to mention the HD quality I’ve become used to and thrive on.
So in the briefing today, there were a few things that really caught my eye, features that made me sit up and take notice. Or should that be, sit up and beg?
They’ve gotten rid of the connector box that came with the 12WX. That box meant that every time you wanted to hook it up, you had to deal with plugging and unplugging what seemed like more cables than were really there. To be honest, it was a pain to cart around and I didn’t like that very much. Of course, the Cintiq 13HD still has cables, but they’re a lot neater. In fact, it’s a 3-in-1 cable. It also comes with an AC adapter to plug into the wall, as it’s unrealistic to expect a state of the art HD display to run on the power from a USB cable. For those who want the VGA connector, you can easily find adapters at most electronics stores.
Obviously, Wacom has tried to find the balance between portable and performance with this device, because the Pro Pen that comes with the Cintiq 13HD also comes with a handy carrying case, complete with the interchangeable nibs and other accessories that Wacom pen users have come to expect and appreciate. One of the best features with the pen is that it is compatible with the Intuos 5 tablets and other Cintiq displays so you don’t have to keep switching pens if you’re using multiple Wacom devices. I love that! One pen to rule them all.
The display stand is ingenious. With three different settings to allow you to adjust the height and angle, there will be a workable position for anyone. But if you’re the type of artist that likes to work with it on your lap or flat on the table or desk, the entire stand is removable, leaving you with just the display. Incidentally, the whole thing is less than 3 pounds!
One of the greatest features with any Wacom tablet or display is the ability to customize the Express Keys, Touch Ring and Radial Menu. With the Cintiq 13HD, they’ve replaced the Touch Ring with a Rocker Ring, which now gives you four more programmable buttons. As someone who usually has a hard time deciding which features win the coveted Express Key status, I’m pleased they gave me more options to choose from. The ability to make my tablet or display my own is a very important feature for me and I use these features in every image I work on.
Until I get my hands on one of these little wonders, I’ll just have to drool from afar, but it has definitely made this year’s technology wish list and I’m looking forward to getting one. The Wacom Cintiq 13HD will be shipping very soon, sometime in the middle of April.