Daddy's Christmas Angel

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Key West - A Return Journey to Tropical Places

"Tropical Palm" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Years ago, my husband and I first glimpsed the tropical beauty of the island of Jamaica. We have always loved to travel, so, after that initial journey into the tropics, we could not get enough of the exotic beauty that inspired me to take thousands of slides and photographs. Eventually, I created many large acrylic paintings documenting those trips. I wrote travel articles for magazines and newspapers and even created and published a few novels set in Jamaica, Antigua, and other tropical places.

Lobster Fest on Duval Street ©Mary Montague Sikes
More recently, we returned to Key West, Florida, a destination we first discovered years ago during an automobile trip that covered the entire length of the state, including the Keys. Even though it was already a lingering point for artists and writers, Key West was a lesser-known vacation spot then.

Now, things have changed a lot. On our recent trip there, Duval Street was blocked off for the carnival array of tents dedicated to Lobster Fest. The street looked much like Main Street of our little town of West Point, Virginia when we have our annual Crab Carnival. For me, it was a little sad because I wanted Key West to remain different and undiscovered, full of unique locals and not so many tourists. I'm still looking for a tropical paradise.


Key West is not the same place it once was. I was glad to see that the 2017 hurricane damage there was not so severe. We visited in May of last year before the hurricane struck. We didn't see much that was different except the gigantic Seward Johnson sculpture of the dancing couple was missing from in front of the museum on the waterfront.

Happily, one thing that has not changed over the years is the glorious sunset over the Key West waters. People still gather at Mallory Square and cheer as the sun goes down. We went there twice and waited and were not disappointed. The sun still sets. ©Mary Montague Sikes

"Key West Sunset" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, August 6, 2018

Experiment in Cold Wax

Studio Experiments ©Mary Montague Sikes

“Give an artist the tools and she will thrive.”

That is so true, especially if those tools are used for building texture and developing new enthusiasm for creativity. 

A few years ago, I took a day-long encaustic painting workshop with accomplished artist, Karen Eide. I loved working with the hot wax, enjoyed the movement and subtle effects of the colors and much more. However, when the door was propped open to avoid danger from hot wax fumes, I got a little concerned. I realized that to work in encaustics, I would need to set up a studio outdoors where toxic fumes would not pose an immediate health hazard.

Although I now have a drawer full of encaustic painting supplies, I have never used the bee’s wax and oil colors in an outdoor studio annex situation. I also purchased a really nice hot plate and a heat gun. Neither one has ever been used. The encaustics still continue to intrigue me, so whenever possible, I take Karen’s encaustic workshops, sponsored by West Point Arts Alive. Once, I even followed her to Virginia Beach for the opportunity to work in hot wax in a museum workshop that she taught there.

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered Lisa Boardwine and her vivacious cold wax workshops. I had been reading about cold wax and watching videos about the process. In Lisa’s classes, I found ways to use a less toxic cold wax process and still produce results that relate to the hot wax that so intrigues me. Lisa shared a wide array of different tools that are so much fun to try. I even realized new ways to use the sculpture and ceramics equipment already in my studio.

For many years, I have also experimented with texture in acrylic painting. Several years ago, I enjoyed a week-long workshop in Sedona, Arizona, taught by Jan Sitts. Jan demonstrated a wide variety of techniques using acrylic liquid paints on surfaces built with thick gesso and a variety of painting mediums. I loved the opportunity to try out different methods for creating new work.

Recently, I ordered a book, Acrylic Painting for Encaustic Effects by Sandra Duran Wilson. I could spend months trying the many ideas described in this beautiful book of wax free methods.

For those who love to create in exciting new ways with paint, tools, panels, and canvas, cold wax might be the perfect medium for you. Come and learn more as we experiment together in a three-day afternoon workshop at Gloucester Arts on Main in Gloucester, Virginia. The dates are: August 28, 29, and 30.

                                                                                    Mary Montague Sikes
                                                                                    monti7olen@verizon.net

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Witness Trees Stand Tall in the Forest

"Magical Forest" acrylic painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
"What stories could the trees tell?" is a question I have often pondered.

In our own yard, I suspect the many tall oaks and even some of the maples would have amazing stories to tell. Sadly, one giant oak fell during Hurricane Isabel about 15 years ago. Today, the massive trunk lies sprawling across the back of our woods. Is it a lost witness?

Earlier this month, the CBS Sunday Morning show had a segment about "witness trees".  They showed photographs of "witness trees" at Gettysburg, PA. Those trees are said to have given comfort to those brave men, many with only hours to live. The trees witnessed tragedy, horrendous death, and scarring of the landscape.

The "Grand Old Oak" saw bloody Civil War battles at Fredericksburg, VA. It provided shelter for Union soldiers who gathered under it. That tree still stands on the grounds of Brompton, home of the president of the University of Mary Washington, my first college and alma mater from which I received a B. A. degree in psychology. For that reason, the school is near and dear to my heart and so is the witness tree.

Yesterday, in looking through the matted pieces in my art bin at Crossroads Art Center, I found this little painting called "Crowd by the Tree". Now I plan to change the name to "Crowd by the Witness Tree". What do you think? This painting is watercolor on heavyweight Yupo.
"Crowd by the Witness Tree" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Organization Is Not My Strong Suit

"Studio Cart" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I have been blessed to have both a nice painting studio with a drawing room annex and a large writing office with numerous bookcases. Perfect for the artist/writer? Yes.

No. They should be, but they aren't because this artist/writer has never been organized. I have the perfect setups that any creative would adore. But when I think of organization, my mind races away to some far-away "neverland".

When I write, I organize thoughts inside my head, and an article usually materializes. Generally, a painting evolves on the blank canvas that I create on studio table or wall.

Years ago, a friend urged me to set up a filing system for my paintings. I started it with index cards inside a small filing box, even placing like color families together. There were not so many paintings then, so I got a reasonable start on the project. But then life got in the way, and my filing efforts failed.

Recently, I ordered a studio cart that has helped a lot with the organization of paints--watercolors and acrylics, texture-making objects, small papers, tapes, and much more. That's a huge help.

My paintings long ago outgrew the wooden slots created by the talented carpenter who built the studio addition to our house. All the slots are full and paintings are everywhere in our house.

I love making large paintings, but I have not painted a 4 x 6-foot canvas in quite a while. They are hard to transport and to store.

My website features many of my paintings, but not nearly all of them. My metal file of large storage drawers holds dozens of watercolor and pastel paintings. None of those have ever been photographed, so they cannot be on the website. I could use a full-time assistant.

Right now, I am wondering about resigning from some of the organizations to which I belong and withdrawing to my studios to create organization. If I spent part of each day with organizing projects, I might get somewhere.

What do you think? What is your plan for the organization of your work? Do you have hundreds of paintings in your studio closets and other places? I would like to know how you manage your art. Is there a secret?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

You Can Never Go Back

"You can never go back," I heard them say.

At first I didn't believe those words.

"Of course, you can," I thought.

But over the years, I've proven myself wrong again and again. Several times, I've gone back to my childhood neighborhood in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Those yards and streets that once were filled with my young friends, most of whom were the children of professors at then Mary Washington College, were different from almost the moment we left. The city grew and sprawled out into malls and suburbia that overtook the farmland. My uncle's horse stable is gone, replaced by highways and businesses I never imagined would one day exist there.

"Hotel Del Cornado" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Even the places I've only visited change ever so quickly. A couple of years ago, I returned to the Hotel Del Coronado, a favorite destination from my book, Hotels to Remember. To my surprise and disappointment, the beaches looked different there. The sands were far more crowded than I remembered. But the sturdy old building was the same in many ways. For that, I was thankful.

Many of the hotels from my book are different now. Some changed their outside appearances before the ink was dry. One of my favorites, the Adams Mark St. Louis, was soon gone. I enjoyed looking from my hotel window, down on the outdoor art gallery below, so I was especially sad. Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia has been closed for several years, but a movement is underway to reopen it.

The children are gone; the landscape, changed; the hotels, different.

"You can never go back," they said.

"You can never go back," I agree.