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Red Panda Totem

Posted September 16th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Red Panda Totem

redpandatotemI’ve been gathering reference photos of red pandas for a few years now at The Calgary Zoo, and while I’ve taken plenty of shots, I never seemed to get the ones that felt right for this latest addition to my series. Like so many other Totem paintings in recent years, I knew it would happen when the time was right.

Earlier this summer, I was in a pretty deep funk. Down in the dumps, stressed out, pissed off at the world with a black cloud hanging over my head. This happens to me sometimes, but rarely in the summer and not for this long. Part of it stemmed from too many obligations and the pressure I was putting on myself to get more work done.

I was having frequent bad dreams. A few were downright nightmares from which I’d wake up startled and sweating. Shonna even had to wake me up a couple of times.

Even though I’m usually looking for any excuse to paint, I wasn’t at all interested in drawing, painting, writing or any creative work. It was just work to get done.

Then I had a rather surprising dream. In it, I was sitting on a couch, leaning on one end with my legs out over the rest of the cushions. It was in the middle of a deciduous forest in the fall. All of the leaves were yellow, plenty on the ground, a familiar setting. I was brooding about something, feeling low.

Suddenly, a red panda crawled up over the back of the couch, walked up my legs, and put his paws on my chest, very much like a cat or dog does. I picked him up, put him further down the couch past my feet and said something like, “not now, I’m busy.”

He did it again, walked over my legs, crawled up and started putting his face close to mine. I moved him again, saying, “I said not now! Later.”

Finally, on his third attempt, I sighed heavily, said something like, “fine,” and started rubbing my fingers in his fur. He nuzzled my neck, squirmed around happily, curled up against my chest and suddenly I felt better. I woke up in a good mood for the first morning in quite a long time.

Most of my dreams over the years have seemed rather random, easily picked apart on examination. “Oh, that element is from a movie I watched, that part is because I was doing my bookkeeping this morning, and I can blame that weirdness on the chili peppers I added to the pizza last night.”

But animal dreams have always had a unique feel, a quality I can’t quite define. They’re just different. For example, that fall forest setting has shown up a number of times in past dreams. I recall one in particular; many years ago where I dreamt of walking through the same forest and was surrounded by a dozen or more black bears. None of them were threatening; they were just there, doing their thing. This forest is always well lit, the leaves vibrant and the scene is filled with a diffuse and pleasant light. It’s always fall.

I can trace back my entire menagerie of animal paintings to one dream I had in Banff, long before I had ever painted anything, before I’d even drawn my first editorial cartoon. It only makes sense in hindsight, but the symbolism is unmistakable. I wrote it down the following morning and still have it. Dreams like these are the reason my paintings are called Totems.

redpandacloseIf all of this sounds flaky to you, that’s OK. I don’t need you to share my beliefs. We all seem to experience ‘the other’ in the manner that makes the most sense to us. We just need to pay attention.

Because I’ve followed animal symbolism for many years, and the same ones show up time and time again, I don’t always need to look them up anymore to know what each represents. When I do, I have a few different books that have served me well; most notably one by the late Ted Andrews called Animal Speak. I bought it in a mall in Anaheim in 1995, at a time when I was having frequent dreams about whales.

This is the first time, however that a red panda has shown up and it wasn’t in any of my books. When that happens, I can usually figure out the symbolism if I sit with it a while, but this one was easy, about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

I wasn’t making any time to play, and I’d forgotten why I chose this profession in the first place. I’m supposed to be freed by my artwork, not shackled by it. Sure, it’s work, but a lot of this stuff is supposed to be fun, too.

So I decided I might as well go through my reference and at least do a sketch painting of a red panda. Call it a thank you for the wake-up call, and I hoped it would help me climb out of the dark hole.

I found the right reference, came up with a pose and began to work on a sketch painting.  Very soon after starting it, I realized I was painting the Totem. Every day I worked on it, I felt a little better. Yesterday morning, I cranked up the tunes, spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours finishing it, and it made me happy.

I guess that was the point.

Cheers,
Patrick

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This one time, at Drum camp…

Posted September 12th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on This one time, at Drum camp…

drumcamping04My buddy Darrel has been my oldest and closest friend for more than twenty-five years. We both went to school in Germany around the same time and he now lives in Red Deer, which is where I went to high school and college. Our parents have been friends for so long, that his Mom and my Dad went to school together as kids in France when they were base brats. We have a lot of shared history.

Darrel and I don’t get together as often as we’d like, but when we do, it’s often camping for a few days.

Ask a bunch of Albertans where they love to go camping, most will answer, “the mountains.” Who can blame them? I live in the mountains and the views are spectacular. But every summer, especially on weekends, it fills up with tourists. When everybody else is coming here, we’re most often looking to get out. Or we go into hiding.

Darrel and I have gone camping in a few different places in Alberta, but more often than not, we end up at a small campground in the Badlands, northwest of Drumheller. It’s a different landscape, provides us each with a change of scenery, and amounts to about the same drive time for both of us.

Alberta weather hasn’t been great this summer, but this late in the season, camping is always a gamble. With kids back in school, it means a lot less people, however, so it’s often worth the risk.

drumcamping01Arriving on Thursday within a half hour of each other, we had the whole campground to ourselves. Though raining steady when we got there, we hung out in the cook shelter for a couple of hours, a couple of beers and some BBQ’d munchies, until the rain stopped and we were able to set up camp.

When my wife Shonna and I first bought our camping gear, she wanted a tent in which she could stand up. After initially dealing with leaking air mattresses and soggy foam pads, we then bought sturdy cots, something I highly recommend. Over the years, Shonna got tired of camping, as happens to a lot of people, but I still enjoy going out with the guys a few times a year. Not so many trips to make it worth investing in a trailer or camper, but enough to keep my gear in good order.
drumcamping06 In July, Darrel and I were in Drum for a camping weekend before he got married and we not only experienced a steady rain for about ten hours one night, but some of the hardest torrential rain I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Darrel sleeps in a camper van, but I like sleeping in the tent. After that much rain, I was pleasantly surprised that my thirteen year old tent hadn’t leaked. So while I have a smaller popup tent now that just fits the cot, if there is even a chance of rain, I bring the large one, even though it’s pretty big for one person.

This time of year, it’s quite chilly at night, but with multi-layered sleeping bags and blankets, I’m usually pretty comfortable.
drumcamping10Darrel’s parents gave up camping a while ago, and from them he inherited an 11’ X 11’ dining tent. This one piece of kit has more than once been the linchpin of our camping trips. With mesh sides and nylon fold down flaps, it keeps the bugs out and makes a great shelter from rain and wind. Add to that my folding camp table, a couple of lawn chairs and our drink coolers, and we can sit in there for hours. When the mosquitoes are bad, as they were at times this weekend, it’s the height of camping comfort.
drumcamping03Now, I don’t want to pretend we’re roughing it when we camp in Drumheller. We drive into town every day, go have a shower at the pool, have lunch at a pub, stop at 7-eleven on the way back. Hell, we even went to Wal-Mart on Saturday because I needed a new belt. While not quite fifth-wheel trailer glamping, we’re not living off the land. We just pretend we are.

This weekend, we dealt with rain and wind on the first night and then two days of warm weather with plenty of sunshine. On the third night however, as expected in the forecast, the weather turned downright nasty.
drumcamping07We saw the storm coming up the valley and with the forecast of 30-50 km/h wind gusts seeming to be accurate; the dining tent began to collapse under the force of it. For a good fifteen minutes, Darrel and I held up the tent from the inside as the leading edge of the storm arrived and overtook us. When it finally subsided enough, we set to work adding more guy-wires to the dining tent and it held.
drumcamping09By the time we turned in, the weather hadn’t improved much, the temperature dropped and it was too windy for a fire. As expected, however, not a drop of water in my tent, so I still had a good night’s sleep. Despite little improvement in the weather by morning, we still managed to be in good spirits as we put our wet tents into black garbage bags for the trip home. Just took mine down from drying in the garage and packed it away until next year.

We all want perfect weather to go camping and when it happens, it’s very relaxing, a nice break and a welcome recharge of the batteries. But something that occurred to me on the drive home Sunday, those perfect trips aren’t the ones I remember most.

When weather turns bad, strange shit happens, the annoying neighbours run their generator for four hours, there’s car trouble, or unexpected challenges pop up, that’s where the stories are. Those are the trips you talk about later.

Years from now, Darrel and I will still be talking about the weekend of torrential rain this past July, when it fell so hard and fast that the dirt under our feet in the dining tent suddenly turned into a small river. We couldn’t even play Scrabble because water was leaking through the roof onto the table. It’s the rain with which we will compare all future rain.

“Could be worse. Remember that rain in 2016?”

There was our trip to Nordegg years ago when not only did we have to drive back 45 minutes to Rocky Mountain House because I forgot the propane, but we cut the trip short a day when it snowed. The trip Shonna and I talk about most is the one to Kananaskis where we were so cold we bought new sleeping bags the week after. And while it was a pain in the ass at the time, right before we got to the lake in BC for the first camping trip of the season last year, I had to make a three hour round trip back to Invermere to get a flat tire repaired, while the guys carried on to claim our site. Those events, however, now define those weekends.

So we didn’t have perfect weather for the last camping trip of the year, but we had fun. And most important, it was memorable.

drumcamping08




Grizzly Ride Into K-Country

Posted August 17th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Grizzly Ride Into K-Country

HighwoodPassHighway 40 into Kananaskis is one of the prettiest drives around here. From Canmore to the Highwood Pass (the highest paved road in Canada), it takes about an hour, although most people make time to stop along the way for photos of the scenery or if they’re lucky enough to see wildlife.

This time of year, it’s a busy place, especially on weekends. Almost all of the campgrounds stay full the whole summer. For that reason, I’m not a big fan of camping in K-Country, but I do like to make the drive once in a while.

Wednesday mornings are usually one of my busier days as I have two cartoons to get done and sent, one syndicated and the local cartoon for the Rocky Mountain Outlook. This week, I worked a little longer beforehand so that I could take this morning to go for an early drive, hopefully to get some photos of grizzly bears. A photographer friend told me that I’d have the best chance of finding them on that highway just as the sun was coming up before the tourists got going. As he’s got some beautiful bear pics and makes his living as a wildlife photographer, sounded like good advice to me.

The wildlife around here becomes scarce in the middle of the day and traffic is quite heavy all summer long. I got up before 5, sent out the cartoon I’d already drawn, grabbed a coffee, a quick bite and was on the road by 6:30.

While I had my heart set on animal pics, I know that’s always hit and miss and critters don’t punch time clocks, so I was optimistic but realistic. With only a few other cars on the highway, especially the last half of the climb, the scenery was spectacular as always. Happened across a red pickup truck pulled over to the side of the road and with nobody else around, I pulled up beside him and asked if he’d seen any bears. He said he hadn’t, but that’s what he was after. I think he was listening to radio collar frequencies, but I can’t be sure.
PikaI drove off up to the Pass without any wildlife sightings. After a few moments enjoying the stillness, I got back in the car and started back. Just two minutes from the Pass, I stopped at a spot well known for pikas and had some fun chasing the little buggers around the rocks with my camera, hoping I’d get some that would turn out. For you photographers out there, I was shooting with a 24-70mm lens. Pikas are fast and small, so I was relying a lot on luck, that one would just happen to run past me, close enough to get a decent shot. Managed about five keepers and I’m honestly surprised I got that many.

That bigger lens is still on my wish list. Someday.

On the way back, I decided to take the Smith-Dorian Trail back to Canmore, a 60km gravel dirt road. Not really a shortcut, just a different route. After about 5km, however, I turned back to Hwy 40. The road has become a severe washboard and I didn’t want to shake my car apart.

Kicking myself a little for turning back, I was rewarded for the decision. Not long after turning onto Highway 40, I came around a corner and sure enough, there was a large grizzly bear by the side of the road. Parked beside her, that same red pickup truck.

I pulled over and started clicking away.
Bear152As she munched away on bushes, moving down the ditch, red pickup truck guy moved around me for a better angle. When she had moved past me, I did the same and he and I played a little bit of a game of leapfrog as we kept pace with her, both of us shooting from our vehicles. At one point I asked him if I was in his way, and he waved it off with a smile, both of us trying not to hurt the other’s chances at the best shots.

I will admit that I was suffering from lens envy. His was bigger.

She eventually wandered off into the bush and I headed home, anxious to see if I’d gotten any shots. I got about three good ones I want to keep. Nothing that I’m likely to paint from, but I finally got to see my first grizzly in the wild. She had a radio collar on her, so I could see that she has been designated Bear 152. She sure is pretty.

Looking her up online, I’m pleased to see that she is not a nuisance bear, and plenty of other folks have had the same great experience to have come across her in their travels. I’m hoping to again.
Bear152_2If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!




Red Deer Advocate Cover Story

Posted August 15th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Red Deer Advocate Cover Story

Cover
The Red Deer Advocate interviewed me last week for a feature piece. I had no idea it was going to be on the cover above the fold. My Dad sent me the photo.

Here’s the story…

Doodling for fun, profit
by Susan Zielinski

Patrick LaMontagne can’t escape politics.

But the syndicated editorial cartoonist said that luckily many politicians have interesting faces he can play with.

“Rachel Notley is pretty fun to draw. Her hair frames her face well. She also has very expressive eyes and when she smiles she has good lines in her face,” said the former Red Deerian.

“Ed Stelmach was really tough. I hated drawing him. Jim Prentice was kind of fun to draw. I really loved Ralph Klein. As a cartoonist, I miss him a great deal.”

LaMontagne, whose work has appeared regularly in the Red Deer Advocate since 2007, said he usually collects ideas to draw five to seven cartoons each week.

“This week it’s the Olympics, the Senate scandal, one on extreme weather that I’m working on that right now. The U.S. election is pretty big. I just did a caricature of Hillary Clinton this morning and sent it out.

“At this point I can usually know if there’s a cartoon in a story. Sometimes a cartoon just pops out, then I try and make it a little more original because I know another cartoonist might be making the same connections.”

LaMontagne, 45, of Canmore, said he never intended to pursue a career in the arts.

“I make the majority of my living from my syndication and the rest from my painted work.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now, but this was never the plan. I never thought of going to art school.”

LaMontagne said he was basically a doodler from way back, including in class at Camille J. Lerouge Collegiate in Red Deer.

“I really remember Mr. Molesky, my physics teacher, always giving me trouble for doodling in class when I was suppose to be paying attention.”

LaMontagne was born in Red Deer when his father was posted at CFB Penhold. He returned for high school and attended Red Deer College when his family came back to Penhold for his father’s last posting in 1986. His parents Peter and Maureen eventually made Springbrook (edit: actually Penhold) their permanent home.

LaMontagne first started drawing for Banff’s Crag and Canyon newspaper in 1997 and became editorial cartoonist with The Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2001, the same year he became nationally syndicated.

In 2006, he quit his full-time job as an administrative assistant for a physiotherapy clinic and became a full-time cartoonist.

His work appears in 60 to 75 newspapers across Canada.

Each week LaMontagne aims to tell stories without words. He said some days are more difficult than others.

“Right now coming up with new ideas for the Olympics is tough because I have to do it every couple of years and you can only make so many jokes about the Olympics.”

But the political ups and downs in Alberta is something he can rely upon.

“Alberta politics is something that everyone in the country watches because of the economic engine here, when it sputters, it hurts everybody.”

He said every editorial cartoonist quietly roots for certain politicians, not for their policies, but because they’ve become a favourite to draw.

“I have no party loyalty whatsoever.”

For more information on LaMontagne visit www.cartoonink.com.

Inner

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Saturday Morning Email

Posted August 6th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Saturday Morning Email

My friend Kristina in California sent me a short email last week, asking me if I thought the work on my book might be responsible for the creative block I talked about in my latest newsletter. While it took me almost a week to respond, I realized when I did that I wanted to post it on the blog. I was going to edit it, but thought it was more honest to just post it verbatim.

“Hola! Sorry, I was remiss in responding to this. A little discombobulated as of late.

I honestly don’t know what the issue is this summer. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like I’m on cruise control or stuck in traffic. Still moving, but feeling like I’m not. The funny thing is that financially, I’m having a great year. Usually there’s been a little growth each year, nothing exponential but creeping progress. 5-7%, that sort of thing, which in business is apparently pretty good. 2015 over 2014, however, there was a small drop for the first time. About 2% down. This year, however, I’m up 15% so far! Now it’s not all about money, of course, but you’d think that would feel like progress, but it doesn’t.

This social media experiment is very interesting. Clearly an addiction, and deleting the apps from my phone and iPad was the right move. It has become a knee jerk reaction to be checking it all the time. I was at the bank yesterday over the noon hour, so a bit of a line, and I would normally be checking the social media feeds. Yesterday, however, I was reading a book on my phone. I’ve been complaining for quite a while now, that I no longer have time to read. Obviously, that’s a choice I made. I also feel less keyed up this week than I normally do and I think that’s a benefit of not feeding the social media monkey. We had a cool thunderstorm here the other day, a real boomer with lightning and a great sky. That doesn’t happen here often as the mountains create unstable systems. Storms don’t gather steam until they roll out onto the foothills headed for Calgary. I was going to record it to get some stills and then thought, “what am I going to do with it?”

The whole reason I’d do that was to share it on social media. Instead, we just watched it. The constant sharing of everything has become insidious. And it sucks up a LOT of time. I get into a conversation and before I know it an hour has passed and that painting time I covet so much has gone away.

Then there’s the other side of it. I miss seeing what my friends are up to and talking to them. I’ve let the assholes control my habits. To avoid the politics, nasty comments and hate speech, I’ve limited my own interaction with friends and family. To promote my own work, I need to post stuff on my pages, but social media isn’t supposed to be one sided. It’s supposed to be give and take, back and forth, otherwise, it’s just one person talking in the conversation. So where’s the line? Where’s the balance? How do I use it effectively to promote my business without sucking up all of my time and still interact with my followers so they don’t feel it’s so one sided on my part?

I’m painting this morning, but actually thinking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Behance, worried that I’m doing it all wrong. In reality, however, ask 100 people how to do it right, and you’ll get 100 different answers. It feels like we’re all being conned.

So this hiatus is giving me plenty of food for thought. I’ve toyed with the idea of just posting less and not worrying about the likes and shares. Or starting up another personal profile and simply not accepting friend requests from toxic people and ignoring the more controversial posts.

But honestly, it feels like I’m a drug addict saying, “well, maybe just a little heroin.”

Funny, this response to you just became a blog post. ;)”

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Hearing Voices

Posted July 12th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Hearing Voices

Books

There was a small video crew here this morning to interview me, some footage for a piece they’re doing on the upcoming 15th anniversary of the little paper that could, The Rocky Mountain Outlook. Lots of people said it would fail when it first began in 2001, an empty curse that is often in the first paragraph of many success stories.

I have been the cartoonist for the Outlook since the first time it hit the stands and one of my cartoons has been in every issue. My connection to what has become the newspaper of record ‘round here is something I’m proud of, because it was a dream built by tough people who then passed it on to another generation and they’re taking good care of it.

I’m a big softie when it comes to nostalgia. I reminisce often and usually put an overly romantic spin on the memories when I do. Despite my misanthropic outlook, I’ve known a lot of good people in my time, many of whom have helped me get to where I am today, often with gentle nudges but sometimes with the use of high voltage cattle prods placed in uncomfortable places.

The interview this morning got me thinking about the road from there to here. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of my first editorial cartoon, a poorly drawn black and white scrawl for The Banff Crag and Canyon. I look up at the Coyote Totem hanging on my wall, with his knowing grin and I can’t help but marvel in hindsight at all of the dots that had to connect to finally become good enough to paint him. Had I missed just one of those dots, it might have all gone away.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, an outlet that has ebbed and flowed throughout my life, ever since I was a kid.

At my last Photoshop World, the subject of storytelling kept popping up. One of the instructors was talking about doing that with photos, but the other two mentions seemed entirely random. And yet, I picked up on it. Since then, the theme has been ever-present.

When my publisher Alex and I began talking about my upcoming book of my animal artwork, he was adamant that the writing in it should focus on telling the stories surrounding the paintings. When I dropped off a print to a valued client in Red Deer the other day, she told me how much she liked the stories behind the work. And one of my followers on Facebook commented this week that “One day you will also be an award winning author if you aren’t already.”

I don’t know if that last one is true, but I appreciated the thought. This common theme of writing has resurfaced in recent years, often to the point of distraction. I have editorial cartoons and painting to do, but I made time to write this instead.

When I was in the sixth grade in Lahr, West Germany, I had a teacher named Tom Muise. He was one of those teachers you hear about, who just happened to say the right thing at the right time and probably didn’t even know he was doing it. Handing me back an essay one day, he paused with it just out of reach, so I had to look up at him. When I did, he said, “Someday, you’re going to be a writer.”

I have never forgotten that. I still think about it often. In the late nineties, I was halfway through writing a novel and once again heard his voice in my head. He talked about it often, so remembering that he was from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, I found a number online for a Tom Muise and called him. He didn’t remember me, which wasn’t surprising, but I told him I wanted to thank him for the inspiration and that his kind words had not been forgotten.

Tom Muise died of cancer in 2008. I’m so glad I called.

I finished that novel and only sent it out once. One rejection is all it took for me to put it back in a drawer. Had I known then what I know now about no reward without risk, I would have kept at it and started collecting the pile of rejection letters that every published author holds dear. I still think about the story often and twenty years later, I’ve got pages of notes for a rewrite, hopefully with a more experienced voice. Shonna thinks I was holding back when I wrote it the first time and I know she’s right.

There was another novel after that, and both are printed and held together with cerlox binding, sitting on a shelf where I can see them as I write this. Last year, I bought three moleskin notebooks and keep them close at hand most of the time. I take them camping, on vacation, and on road trips. One is for the rewrite of the first novel, the second is for notes about the art book, and the third is for a new novel with the working title ‘The Dark,’ which will work well enough until something better comes along.

And yet, despite that the fact that I am not a writer, Mr. Muise’s words came to me and helped with my artwork over the years, too. Because what he was really saying was that I could do whatever I wanted to.

In every creative life, there are critical voices. They might come from family, friends, or simply in the form of drive-by posts on Facebook or shouts from the cheap seats through cupped hands. But the worst one is internal. It asks, “What makes your story so special? What an ego to think anything you have to say is worth anybody else’s time. What arrogance. Who do you think you are?

That toxic voice keeps a lot of people from realizing their potential. It’s loud, obnoxious, and provides innumerable excuses for failing to try. Every creative I know fights with that voice on a regular basis. It just told me to delete this self-indulgent post before I embarrass myself.

That’s the voice that made me stop sending out the book after one rejection. Today, it’s not as big and scary as it used to be. Having made my living as an artist for more than a decade, I’m very comfortable with rejection. It’s simply a part of the gig. Its life’s way of asking, “How bad do you really want it?”

There is a parable of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside each of us, constantly battling with each other. One is evil, the other is good. When the grandson asks which one wins, the grandfather says, “the one you feed.”

We each have that choice.

Editorial cartooning will be over someday, of that I have no doubt. Painting will likely be a large part of me as long as I draw breath. This recent urge to write more, however, is a mystery. It might be short-lived, simply dropping by for a little while as it has before. Or perhaps it’s just finally the right time.

What is clear to me is that to ignore the impulse would be a disservice to whatever other has granted me the ability.

So I’ll write, and see what happens.




The Ultimate Bear Experience

Posted July 9th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on The Ultimate Bear Experience

SunshineIn December of last year, I received an email from Discovery Wildlife Park telling me about the Ultimate Bear Experience. A rare opportunity to “spend 4 hours with our black bears and our zookeepers. Feed, train and get to know each bear personally!”

For adults only, a limit of five spots, I booked quickly and was confirmed for the date seven months later. I have been looking forward to it ever since.

As of last year, I’ve become a regular visitor to Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alberta. I did the behind the scenes tour with the lion cubs twice last year as I knew it wouldn’t be offered again once they’d grown. Having seen them again this week, I’m glad I took advantage of it as those kitties got big! In October, I was granted a short photo shoot with GusGus the beaver and those photos resulted in my latest painting, which is already proving popular. My prints are now available in their gift shop this year as well.

Incidentally, I showed GusGus his painting on Thursday. Clearly, not a fan.
GusGusWhile I was sure the bear experience was going to be enjoyable and educational, I didn’t know what would be involved and was pleasantly surprised that it exceeded my expectations. Not only did we get close access to the bears, but one of the keepers was snapping photos the whole time, so in addition to my own pics, I was given theirs as well, a nice record of the day. Considering some of the great things we got to do, my camera would have been in the way during those times I wanted my attention on the bears.
BearShitWe began with raking and shoveling bear poop, something that is done every day by the keepers. After that, we stuck fresh cut branches of varying sizes into the ground around the enclosures while the bears were ‘loaded up.’ This means they were in their adjacent pens, a substitute for a den and safe place for them, much like how your dog feels safe in his kennel.
Planting02
Planting01We were given peanut butter and honey that we smeared on logs, leaves and branches around the enclosure. Just a little bit, enough to pique the bears’ interest. The purpose of this exercise is enrichment. By introducing new things into the enclosures on a regular basis, it gives the bears something to do. In the wild, a bear’s time is consumed with finding food. In captivity, enrichment provides them with stimulation through interesting things to explore, directly contributing to their overall mental and physical health.
Sunshine2
LittleBear01After we left the enclosure, the bears were released and we were able to see the results of our efforts. Sure enough, they were eager to check out the new digs. They manipulated the branches, sniffed out the little food smears, and were genuinely interested and engaged with what we had done. I had plenty of time to take pictures of the results.
GroupFor the rest of the time, we moved from one bear to the next. A couple of them live together, others on their own. I had expected to only be exposed to them with a chain link fence between us, so I was pleasantly surprised when we were able to step inside a few times. The only separation between our group and the bear was an electric fence, similar to one you’d find around a cattle pasture. Nothing that can hurt the bear, just annoying enough to create a barrier they learn to avoid.
ToesWe had a chance to reinforce some of their training, spoon feed a favorite treat of avocado, and when I mentioned that a large reason for doing this was to challenge my bear phobia, the head zookeeper decided to ‘take it up a notch’ and brought out the apple pieces. The result you can see below, a wonderful experience I won’t ever forget.
RenoPat01smDuring our time with the keepers, I asked a lot of questions about captivity, the training, and the overall health of the bears living the way they do. I’ve had the back and forth arguments of conscience that many animal lovers have when it comes to wildlife in captivity. Is it cruel? Is it necessary? Would these animals be better off in the wild?

Some people have asked me how I can support zoos with my artwork and accuse me of selling out at the expense of the animals. In our social media ‘judge first, ask questions later’ culture, I’m used to this and dismiss that sort of thing. It’s not worth my time to argue with people who are more interested in telling you their opinion than having an intelligent discussion.

What people often fail to do is ask questions, in order to examine both sides of the argument. From what I’ve learned so far, I believe that animals in captivity, with the proper oversight and safeguards in place, offer valuable insight, especially when it comes to research, conservation and species at risk. Exposure to wildlife fosters empathy, especially in children. That empathy will hopefully later translate to a greater consideration for the world around us, something of which is currently in short supply.

Without going into great detail, I am personally satisfied that Discovery Wildlife Park is doing right by the animals in their care. Most are orphans or rescues and the only life they’ve known is at the park. Had they remained in the wild, they would have died. Returning them to the wild would have the same result. The life expectancy of an animal in captivity receiving top notch care and enrichment far exceeds that of one in the wild.

One thing is clear to me about this facility. These animals are loved. While the chain link fence separated us from the bears, the keepers were able to move about freely with them. In many cases, they’ve raised them and all of the training has been through positive reinforcement. I’d like to talk more about the reason for the training, but will save that for another post.

The facilities are clean, well maintained and the enclosures are large. For some of their animals, their spaces appear smaller, but from asking questions, I found out that there’s a good reason for that.

I’m a sucker for animals and when I see one hurt, injured or abused, it bothers me a great deal. I would not be able to support this park if I thought any of their practices were harming the animals that live there.

I plan to return often.
BearPose
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Kayaking in Tofino

Posted June 25th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Kayaking in Tofino

sm_GroupShonna and I like to vacation in the shoulder seasons, often in Spring and Fall. Having lived in Banff and Canmore for the past twenty plus years, we know how busy tourist areas get in the summer and we try to avoid those months as much as we can.

Early June is a bit of a gamble, because if you run into bad luck, you could have a vacation plagued by rain, especially where we were on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They don’t call it a rainforest for nothing. Fortunately, we only had significant rain on our last evening and the day we were driving back to the airport in Comox, so we lucked out in the weather department.

In addition to a couple of wildlife tours on this trip, we decided to try sea kayaking for the first time. We booked last minute with Black Bear Kayak in Tofino, found them through positive reviews on Trip Advisor. There was only one other couple on our four hour tour, which is one of the main reasons we don’t travel in high season. Smaller tours just make for a more enjoyable time. We also had two guides, so quite relaxing and informative as both knew a lot about the area.
sm_PatrickShonnaConsidering that you can tip if you aren’t careful, I didn’t bring my best camera on this tour. I do have a waterproof pelican case for my little SX-50, however, but only brought that out when we got out for a short hike. The guides take pictures of you throughout the tour on the water and they’re free to download from their site after a couple of weeks, which is why I’m writing this post a little later than the others from the trip.
sm_Shonna01Glad I brought my GoPro camera as the majority of these shots are screen captures from video. With a suction mount, I secured it to the kayak and pretty much left it alone. Thankfully, our guide Colin advised me to tether it with a bungie and carabiner, because the suction didn’t hold the first couple of tries (tip: get it wet first) and it ended up falling into the drink. GoPro cameras are waterproof, but they don’t float. Had it not been tethered, I would have lost it. While having the GoPro running the whole time meant I got plenty of shots I wouldn’t have, it also meant that most included Shonna’s back and noggin’ and only one of me, a consequence of my checking the settings while looking at the front of the camera.
sm_PatrickThe tour takes you through the islands and coastline around Tofino with a stop on Meares Island, which is native land. You pay a small separate fee ahead of time, money that goes to the local natives who maintain the boardwalk and preserve the area. The old growth forest is spectacular and our guides were knowledgeable about the flora and fauna we encountered. Shonna and I are history and information junkies, so this was our kind of trip.
sm_ColinWe saw eagles and porpoises at a distance, but not a lot of wildlife on the day we went. Considering the abundance on our other tours, it wasn’t a disappointment. Simply paddling around on the ocean, riding the currents and trying something new made this another highlight of the trip. We would take this tour again. For our first outing, the two person kayak worked well. Next time, we’ll each have our own as they weren’t difficult to pilot.
sm_ClaireOur other guide, Claire, was from Vulcan, Alberta. There are a lot of Albertans who have moved to Vancouver Island. It’s almost a cliché. While we’re not a big rush to do it, Shonna and I do discuss it often. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up there some day, probably sooner than we think.

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Beaver Totem

Posted June 18th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Beaver Totem

BeaverTotemThere seems to be no predictable span between the time I gather reference photos and when I end up painting from them. A visit to the zoo might result in a sketch painting the very next day, but most often, I file away photos into folders and when I’m feeling the urge to paint something new, I’ll go browsing through my library until I see a critter that sparks my interest.

There are also many animals I decide to paint and for which I’ll deliberately gather specific reference, but it might be months or years until it feels right to get down to the work. Many of my Totem paintings have been planned one year and painted the next, often longer.

I’ve want to paint the Beaver Totem for a few years. I’ve had reference images for that long and had I been impatient and forced it, I probably wouldn’t have liked the result as much as I do this painting you see here. Most of what I had was stock photos I bought and in those pics, the beavers were all in the water or half submerged or in poses that might work, but none that really felt right.
BeaverTotemCloseup

Then last year, I visited Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alberta for the third or fourth time and arranged a little photo shoot with one of their resident beavers, Gusgus. He and his brother were orphans, brought to the park when they were just kits by Alberta Fish and Wildlife. Gusgus is the friendlier of the two and regularly comes out for photos with guests. He posed like a pro, while dining happily on crunchy fresh vegetables, with his constant chirps, grunts and murmuring.

My photo shoot lasted just fifteen minutes but I got more reference than I would ever need. In fact, it was hard to choose which pose to go with as there were so many good ones.

Of all of the Totems I’ve painted, this one ranks in the top three for how much I enjoyed the work. I didn’t want this painting to end. But there comes a time when you just have to call it finished and move on the next.

I will admit to some frustration in recent years, in that it never really felt like the right time to paint the Beaver Totem. Turns out, I was waiting for Gusgus.
PatrickGusGusIf you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!




Romeo and Juliet

Posted June 16th, 2016 by Patrick LaMontagne with Comments Off on Romeo and Juliet

UkeeLocals
In 2011, my wife and I took our first trip to Vancouver Island. We flew into Comox, rented a car and got a massive truck instead. After brief visits with friends, we drove down to Victoria for a few days and finally ended up in Ucluelet near Pacific Rim National Park. While many end up on that side of the island to visit Tofino, I fell in love with Ukee. There’s something very special about the place and having now been back twice with a couple of years between each visit, I plan to return as often as I can, although I probably wouldn’t like living there year round.

On our first trip, we took a tour with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises. A visit to the area without at least one cruise around Barkley Sound and The Broken Group Islands with Al and Toddy would now leave me feeling like the trip was incomplete.

We’ve become friends with them over the years and seeing them again was a highlight of our latest visit. It’s funny climbing aboard their 53 foot yacht ‘The Raincoast Maiden’ only to be greeted with my own artwork. Not a lot of wall space when you’re living aboard a boat, but they’ve got a few of my pieces framed and even some postcards tucked into nooks and crannies here and there.
Print_03

Print-2

My trip to the area a couple of years ago was solo and I went out on the cruise three times to gather reference photos of wildlife. While pulling into the dock one day, literally seconds before Al cut the engine, I noticed two gulls perched on one of the many posts around the harbour.  Technically, they were Glaucous-winged Gulls, but seagulls will suffice.

OriginalGulls

I painted the pair and called it Ukee Locals. A framed print now hangs aboard the boat.

Print01

In our run up to the latest visit to Ucluelet, I talked to Toddy fairly often over email. On one of the last ones before we left, she told me about a seagull couple that live near their dock. She told me that seagulls mate for life and that the two are very ‘lovey-dovey.’ Always touching beaks, cooing and sitting close to each other. They named them Romeo and Juliet.

We stopped at the dock on our first day in Ucluelet to say Hello to Al and Toddy as their boat pulled in from that day’s tour. We waited until their guests departed and went aboard for a very quick visit as we know they’re always busy right after a trip. After making quick dinner plans, we left the boat. Before we were back at our rental car, however, Toddy called out to me.

I turned back to see her pointing to Romeo and Juliet nestled together in a fish station on the dock. Toddy told me in her email that she wasn’t sure if it’s the same mated pair that I painted.

I choose to believe that it is.

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