Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, October 16, 2017

Saving the Alligators at the Jefferson Hotel

Alligator Photo in Jefferson History Museum ©MM Sikes
Over the years, one of the most fascinating stories I have encountered is that of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia where alligators once roamed in the lobby. According to hotel history, following a fire, renovations were made to the hotel soon after the turn of the 20th Century. Soon, live alligators were placed in the marble pools that were located next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the rotunda.

Over the years, people who had brought alligators home from Florida to keep as pets found that they were taking up too much space in their bathtubs, so they would bring the reptiles to join those already at the hotel. Some were left in containers on counters; others were deposited at doors. 

Stories have it that bellmen would sweep alligators from the furniture upon their arrival in early morning. The exotic creatures became part of the hotel lore. One tale has it that an alligator once wandered into the hotel library and was mistaken for a footstool by a guest.

Old Pompey, the last of the resident alligators, died in 1948. Today, a bronze statue by an entrance
"Old Pompey" at the Jefferson ©Mary Montague Sikes
door pays homage to him.

Anyone who wants more alligators can also visit the Gators Gift Shop on the lower level of the hotel. You won't find live alligators there, but the stuffed toy variety might be more appealing anyway.

In my new book, An Artful Animal Alphabet, Old Pompey is part of the story that I think children will enjoy. My fascination with the Jefferson alligators continues.

 Product Details

Friday, October 6, 2017

Enjoying a Kathleen Conover Workshop

Kathleen Conover Demonstration ©Mary Montague Sikes
Every year, I enjoy taking one artist workshop. Somehow, this year I went a little crazy and took three. Last week, we traveled to Boone, North Carolina and Cheap Joe's magnificent workshop facility for Kathleen Conover's outstanding class.

Because I don't usually like working on Arches watercolor paper which headed the supply list, I doubted I would get very much from this workshop. However, because Mary Ann Beckwick often spoke of Kathleen during her classes and because it was at Cheap Joe's, I wanted to take the workshop.

I was not disappointed. "Chaos to Order" was one of the best workshops I have ever taken. Kathleen is thorough and provides a detailed outline for her instruction at the very beginning.

The first day we made 12 starts, creating "chaos" by "playing" with texture, repetition, variety, and much more as we worked with her patented "gesso juice". By 5 p.m., I was exhausted and ready for dinner. We had the beginning of paintings, using plastic wrap, wax paper, stencils, stamps, sponges, and much more.

The week continued at the same fast pace. I didn't create any masterpieces, but I learned a lot about composition and using design. Of course, I already knew a great deal, but sometimes reinforcement is something everyone needs. The small works (1/4 watercolor sheet) can be planning art for larger paintings or they can be finished pieces in themselves.

It was inspiring to be in the midst of a classroom full of dedicated artists. We each had two tables on which to work. We all did value studies and spent time editing our work. I loved being with them and with Kathleen for the week. Now I need to read over and study the class outline once more and use it to make order out of the original "chaos" pieces I didn't complete in class.
In the midst of chaos.

Monday, September 18, 2017

We Can't Control the Weather

Island Club 2016 ©Mary Montague Sikes
A few weeks ago, I thought I had everything figured out--book events and art happenings. We would drive down to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, enjoy the beach and favorite restaurants for a few days, then I would teach two three-day workshops at the Art Academy. It would be fun. I looked forward to expanding my wings with cold wax as well as exploring more mixed media with students. During our time at Hilton Head, I hoped to learn to play pickle ball on the beautiful Island Club tennis courts.

At the end of the week, we planned to get on the road for four hours, heading down to Valdosta, Georgia for a book signing and children's program for An Artful Animal Alphabet. I would get to know my new publisher and visit an Art Center. What could be more perfect?!

Well, as you know, Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Irma had other plans. Our resort, Island Club, in Hilton Head was closed and the road entering the community, blocked. Although we hoped to get part of our week's vacation, we learned that the resort would remain closed for the rest of the week and some units for this week as well. In addition, the bookstore in Valdosta suffered some water damage, so that signing event was cancelled as well.
Hyatt Windward Point Key West ©Mary Montague Sikes

We are glad we chose Key West over Sedona for a vacation trip in May. Windward Point was beautiful then, and I suspect the lush palm trees and green grass are lush and green no more. And, too, I wonder about the fascinating pieces of sculpture that greet visitors as they land at the airport and later as they stroll the streets, drinks in hand. Could they have survived? I hope, but I doubt. Perhaps with damage.

We make plans. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. We can't control the weather.

Perhaps one day ...

Seward Johnson sculpture Key West ©Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Scheduling Events for My New Book - An Artful Animal Alphabet

An Artful Animal Alphabet is my first book directed mostly to children. Because of the artwork,  it is an adult book as well that might even be fun to display on a coffee table.

I have just begun to schedule events for my new hardcover book. The paintings in the book are ones I created for the April Blog Challenge several years ago. At the time, I had no plans for a book. Then I grew fascinated with the results and decided the mostly small paintings deserved to be seen by more people. Now, I realize that means scheduling events in art galleries as well as in book stores and other shops.

My first art gallery signing is scheduled for Petersburg's Friday for the Arts on September 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Ward Gallery for Contemporary Art. This is a beautiful site for any event, so I expect it to be very special for a book signing. I plan to exhibit a few of the little paintings in addition to having my books there. My paintings from the first gallery show I had at the Ward Center are also there, so this will be a very special combination for me.

Some of the paintings in An Artful Animal Alphabet are based on photographs taken by my daughter, Amy Sikes, during trips to Australia and Tazmania. Amy is a true animal-lover who finds most fur creatures special. I chose one of her photos as my reference material for the possum which is a bit of a different animal down under than the American opossum.

Later this month, I have a signing scheduled in Valdosta, Georgia. On November 4, I'll participate in the Book Festival at the James City branch of Williamsburg Regional Library. At all the locations, I plan to have some of my original paintings that inspired the book. I also have a little art project to do with children that will relate to my book.
My paintings at The Ward Center ©Mary Montague Sikes

These are fun books. If you have suggestions for book signing locations, I would love to hear about them.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cold Wax Medium - A Great Choice for Mixed Media Artists

"Love and Light: Rising from the Ashes" ©MM Sikes
Are you familiar with cold wax medium? I wasn't until last year when I started to notice the work of several artists using this material. I liked what I saw and wanted to learn more.

In galleries and museums, mixed media work has always spoken to me and lured me to study it more closely. That's what most of cold wax paintings I saw seemed to be.

Some of my earliest paintings featured plaster on canvas. I suppose that was an early version of mixed media. Later, I worked with a product called Celluclay Instant Papier Mache and created both paintings and sculpture using this 3-dimensional medium. Several years ago, I discovered encaustic (hot wax) painting in workshops with Karen Eide. More recently, I have used a variety of acrylic materials, including very thick Utrecht Professional Gesso, to build depth in my mixed media paintings.

Throughout it all, I have stayed away from oil paints because I never liked the smell of turpentine and oil in my upstairs studio. When I work with oil paint and encaustics, I take the materials outdoors to heat.

Then I found a new world of painting with cold wax medium. In April, I took a three-day workshop with Lisa Boardwine, and immediately I was hooked. Using a Gamblin solvent with odorless mineral spirits, I lost my fear of bringing oil paints back to my studio. Cold wax appears to be the medium for which I've been searching. I can experiment in many directions, even using some of the techniques I've learned over my acrylic mixed media pieces to soften harsh flatness where it bothers me.

Because, using a soft cloth, encaustics can be polished to a dazzling sheen, I still love them and
"Starry Nebula" Encaustics ©MM Sikes
want to continue experimentation with that medium. The cold wax has a matte finish and can be incorporated into work with the encaustics. The possibilities are endless. I can scrape, incise, scribble, print, and much more. It's exciting to consider the new opportunities cold wax offers.

Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin have published a comprehensive book about the cold wax process. Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations is probably the best art book I have ever purchased. I will keep it nearby and take it into my studio when I go there to work in cold wax.

Serena Barton has published another excellent book, Wabi-Sabi Painting with Cold Wax. "Wabi-sabi is a philosophy and aesthetic that honors the imperfect, the transitory, the humble, and the handmade," she explains. Creating work intuitively, the Oregon-based artist considers making her cold wax art like "taking a journey...without a map."

With my own many years of art experience, I can testify that cold wax medium is a wonderful choice for artists who want to experiment. It is a perfect medium for intuitive artists. I will continue to explore and enjoy Yupo synthetic paper and the Robert Doak watercolors, but now I have a new medium for sculptural painting.

Thank you, Lisa Boardwine, for introducing me. Thank you, Karen Eide, for bringing me back to oil and much more.