Friday Showcase: Patrick LaMontagne

I'm breaking my "photographer" rule for today, because there is absolutely no way you can talk about creative and artistic talent without including Patrick "Monty" LaMontagne.  From the time I saw him start posting his illustrations on the NAPP forums, I've been following his work, and have been delighted to get to know him through the powers of social media.  He's incredibly down to earth (well, relatively...), funny, and just has an eye for...well...everything.  I'm extremely honored he agreed to be my Friday Showcase for the week before Photoshop World, and am excited to get to see him again next week in Las Vegas.  Without further adieu, I present....Monty!

Thanks for the opportunity to highjack your blog for the day, Michelle.  When thinking about what to write, the one theme I kept coming back to was ‘how did I get here?’ because more than anything, people are most often surprised when I tell them that I never planned on being an artist.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever knew what I wanted to be.  I took a few years college psychology, I was in the Army Reserves for five years, two of which were full-time teaching basic training, and for a brief period, I was an EMT.

Living in Banff, Alberta, Canada in the 90’s with my wife, Shonna, and working at a hotel, the local weekly newspaper was advertising for an editorial cartoonist.  As I’d done a little bit of doodling and drawing in my spare time, I figured I had nothing to lose by applying.  Draw a cartoon once a week and comment on local community issues.  It seemed like a fun part-time gig that came with a tiny bit of notoriety and some beer money.  As a former class clown, the little bit of attention from drawing pictures and being a smartass was a good fit.

Fast forward a few years to September of 2001, and a new upstart paper, The Rocky Mountain Outlook was launched in the Bow Valley, an area that encompasses the communities of Exshaw, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.  Soon after hiring me, the editor asked why I wasn’t syndicated.  Thinking I knew more than she did (which, of course, I didn’t), I told her it was very difficult to get signed with a syndicate.  She told me to do it myself, something I just hadn’t considered.

I began to send out cartoons to newspapers across Canada via email, right around the same time we bought our home in Canmore.  For the next few years, I had full-time jobs to pay my half of the bills, from managing a few retail stores, working in a sign shop, to finally working as an admin assistant for a physiotherapist.  I worked a lot of very early mornings, late nights and weekends trying to get this cartooning business off the ground.  Made many mistakes, but still managed to keep moving forward.

Around five or six years ago, my business growing rapidly, it became clear that it was time to cut the cord from ‘the job.’  My freelance hours on the side had been full for months, and I needed more of them.

There were some very lean years and more than a few sleepless nights, but what surprised both me and my ever supportive wife is that the bills always got paid, we weren’t sliding deep into debt, and before I knew it, it felt like I’d been doing this for years.  Even though it took me until my thirties, I had finally found what I wanted to do.

This month will mark ten years since becoming syndicated, and it’s been an incredible decade.  My editorial cartoons run in daily and weekly newspapers across Canada, my illustrations regularly appear in national and international publications, and I get cartoon and illustration commissions from some of the most surprising people and places.

In the Fall of 2009, I got the idea to create wildlife paintings.  While still making them cartoony with a caricature feel, I wanted to go for realism in the details.  The spark for this idea was a combination of doing what I love and doing what I could sell.  Up until then, I’d been focusing on caricatures of actors and celebrities, but due to copyright and likeness rights, you just can’t sell those in quantity.

So, I painted my first animal, a whimsical looking Grizzly bear.  When I finished it, I felt that I was right where I was supposed to be.

Photoshop World 2010 in Las Vegas, my Moose Totem painting won the Guru Award for the Illustration Category and to my great surprise; the Wolf Totem painting won the award for Best of Show.  I'm honored to once again be a finalist in the Illustration Category again this year for my Great Horned Owl Totem painting. Some pretty clear validation that I might want to stick with this painting thing.

This past year has been one of the best I’ve had.  The paintings are doing very well in two local galleries and I’ve recently signed a licensing agreement with Island Art Publishers for art cards, sold to retailers across Western Canada and the Northwestern U.S.  Most recently, I’ve been commissioned to paint pet portraits in my style, something I hadn’t planned on, but work I’m happy to do.

I still love to paint people and do so when commissioned or just for fun and practice, but the animals are where my current focus lies.

Another highlight this year was being hired to do some event demo work for Wacom.  Wonderful people to work with and I feel privileged that they trust me to represent their products from time to time.  On September 13th, Wacom has invited me to teach a live webinar of illustration techniques, something I find frightening and exciting at the same time.

The most surprising thing this year, was signing with PhotoshopCAFE to record training DVD’s.   While it has been a difficult learning process, the results have been very rewarding.  I’ve recorded two DVD titles, the most recent one launched this week, entitled “PhotoshopCAFE Master Class | Animal Painting in Adobe Photoshop.”

Freelancing and being self-employed is not for everyone.  You work more hours than you ever would at a regular job, your income can vary significantly from month to month, weekends off are a rare luxury, and you must constantly endure friends and family telling you that you should ‘take more time off and relax.’

That being said, when I do take a rare day or afternoon off, I don’t have to ask anyone for permission.  That kind of freedom is priceless.

Looking back on the past ten years, I now can’t imagine doing anything else.  Despite the heavy workload (which is better than the alternative), every year has been better than the one before, and I realize how incredibly blessed I am.  I get to draw pictures and color them for a living.

Not an unpleasant turn of events for someone who never planned on being an artist.