Bear Hug

The giving of gifts

By Pamela Park
November 10, 2020

Someone once said that talent is what we’re born with, skill is what we do with it. There are a lot of talented people who’ve never explored their gifts, or tried to realize their potential. There are plenty of reasons, from difficult circumstances to imposter syndrome. Who do you think you are to reach so high?

Despite the challenges we all face this year, ones we most likely never anticipated, we are living at a time when there is more opportunity to develop our gifts than ever before. From an endless global archive of creative content to online schools with skilled teachers. When it comes to turning those talents into skills, so many barriers have vanished. The world has changed, and while frightening, some are seeing it as an opportunity to make some personal changes, too.

If you feel the yearning to create, the desire to fully unwrap your gifts and use them, there’s no time like the present. There’s a proverb that goes “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

When things seem pretty dark, when the world doesn’t seem like a very nice place to be, we have an opportunity, each according to his or her gifts.

It’s in the giving of gifts where lies the greatest joy. The sharing of our creations with others, an opportunity to make someone smile, when they really need it. You never know where it might lead, who you might reach, what you might change.

Find your gifts. Then share them.


About the painting of Gruff

The model for this painting is one of the most handsome residents of Discovery Wildlife Park. Gruff was an orphaned black bear cub who had a rough start in life, but thanks to Serena and her staff’s tireless efforts, he has grown into a beautiful, gentle bear with a wonderful personality. The keepers try not to pick favourites, but they each have a special place in their heart for Gruff, as do I.

I’ve often written about how much I value my relationship with Discovery Wildlife Park. They allow me incredible access to the animals, for which I’m immeasurably grateful. On my most recent visit in September, I was able to sit inside the enclosure while they did their bear education presentation, where they teach people about bear safety, behaviour and conservation.

I took hundreds of reference shots and didn’t realize I’d be using ones from that session so soon.

One of the keepers, Jacob, was in Canmore last week, and I had a brief visit with him. I told him what I was painting, inspired by the poses I shot. He told me that Gruff almost always has a ball with him. It doesn’t need to be the same ball, but it’s kind of like his security blanket. He even takes a ball with him into his den when he hibernates.

On one visit to the park a couple of years ago, Serena sent me a text asking where I was. I said that I was watching a silly bear play with a ball. She responded, “Gruff.”

Gruff taught himself how to pose with the ball and because it was so endearing, the keepers used positive reinforcement to encourage that behaviour. It was this pose that inspired the painting. As the light wasn’t great in this shot, the sun beside and behind him, I had to use other reference photos for the details. Thankfully, I have hundreds of pictures of Gruff.

Even though I was pressed for time on this, more self-inflicted than not, this painting was a joy to create. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun painting one of my whimsical wildlife portraits. Considering the kind of year it’s been for all of us, that’s no small thing.


About Patrick LaMontagne

Patrick LaMontagne, and is a cartoonist and digital painter.  After answering an ad in the Banff Crag and Canyon newspaper in 1997, Patrick suddenly found himself with a weekly editorial cartoon.  In 2001, he accepted a position as the editorial cartoonist with The Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper, the same year he became nationally syndicated. By 2005, he was a full-time cartoonist and illustrator, despite having never received any formal art training.

While he has drawn a lot of different things over the years, his whimsical animal paintings are what he enjoys painting most.  Two of these digital paintings received Guru Awards at the 2010 Photoshop World Conference in Las Vegas, including the Best in Show.  Another one earned the Best in Show in 2014.

He and his wife Shonna continue their pursuit of happily ever after in Canmore, Alberta, surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.


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