Daddy's Christmas Angel

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Good Health is a Writer Asset

"Tennis Match" acrylic/canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes
"If you have your health, you have everything."

That's what my mother told me many times through the years. As I've grown older, I've learned to appreciate her philosophical commentary more and more. For writers, no words could be more true. After all, writing can be a sedentary occupation, sitting before a computer, often slouched or hunched forward.

"Valerie's Star"
I probably am fortunate that for many years I was a tennis fanatic. During the summer, I played singles tennis every day, sometimes all day long. Jerry Horner (in my painting) was our instructor for a number of years. He also was athletic director at Rappahannock Community College, so that's where we sometimes went to play matches. I loved it, and the play in summer heat definitely conditioned me. It also gave me a need to continue physical fitness when winter cold prevented outdoor play.

Twenty-three years ago, I was delighted to discover Riverside Fitness & Wellness Center in Gloucester, Virginia. Valerie Morgan had a great aerobics/ fitness program in place, and I learned that indoor tennis at the Denbigh Riverside Center was included with my membership. Over the years, Valerie has created many year-long fitness challenges. The most recent was completing 130 classes in celebration of the 30 years the Center has been open. Valerie made a special star Christmas decoration for everyone who completed the challenge. I did and will treasure my star. Over the years, I have kept up my fitness which was needed for my art as well as writing.

The Varidesk is another important fitness element that I discovered about three years ago. This is a wonderful desk for writers that can be adjusted for both seated and standing work. Since my husband purchased a Varidesk for me, I have always used it standing.

Beside physical fitness, the writer also needs to eat healthy and rest well to set the tone for great plots and energetic writing sessions.

"If you have your health, you have everything."

Mother was right.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Who Is the "Passenger to Paradise"?

A few years ago, my publisher, the late Billie Johnson, decided to create the "Passenger to Paradise" series for my novels. Because the books were set in exotic locations such as the tropical island of Jamaica and the red rock landscape of Sedona, Arizona, Billie thought they deserved a special imprint for the series. So, together she and I designed the "Passenger to Paradise" logo.

Like me, the shadow in the logo image loves to travel. Her carry-on bag is always packed, allowing her to leave at a moment's notice for whatever outlandish or glamorous destination calls. She races through airports, roller bag in tow. She never checks her suitcase because the extra time retrieving luggage might be just what she needs to grab the last cab or catch a ride on a horse-drawn wagon in some faraway place. 

One day, a package arrived with a surprise in it. Tearing open the box, I discovered that Billie had sent me a T-shirt featuring the "Passenger to Paradise" logo. That T-shirt is a treasure for me now.

Hearts Across Forever was the first book of the series. With Billie gone, I have a new publisher for that one as well as the rest of the "Passenger to Paradise" novels.

Dunns River Falls forever beckons to me, calling me back to Jamaica and the perfect temperatures for romantic tropical nights. Reggae music reminds me of the adventures of Kathryn Calder and Flynt Kincade, the mysterious man from beyond all her possible memories. Throughout this story and the haunting images of old Jamaica, the mystic picture of Rose Hall Great House rises into my thoughts.

So many imposing paintings evolved on canvas, created from photos and memories of the falls. One hung for many years at the Richmond Marriott Hotel. The four by six-foot canvas had an impressive linen mat and a wide gold frame. Where it is now, I do not know because it disappeared a few years ago in the redecorating and refurbishing of the hotel structure. Four of the magical Jamaican paintings are now hanging at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg. A Rose Hall acrylic on canvas became part of my coffee table book, Hotels to Remember. 

Over the years, the "Passenger to Paradise" has had an amazing time as she followed her dreams, met new people, and placed the most interesting and appealing ones between the covers of her books. The new cover for Hearts Across Forever will be revealed soon. All the "Passenger to Paradise" books will be republished one by one throughout the year.

Who is the mysterious "Passenger to Paradise"? You can find out for yourself through the pages of her books and in the brushstrokes of her paintings.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Persistent Thoughts, Deja Vu, and More -- Reincarnation

"Airport Clouds" ©Mary Montague Sikes
When I was a young child--four or five years old, I would lie in the grass and study the sky. Clouds were strange and amazing, I thought. They were beautiful and whimsical, and I wondered from where they came. What did they hide? What lay behind them in the far reaches of space?

I was an inquisitive and imaginative child and, strange as it might seem, I believed I once lived as the famous artist, Mary Cassatt. Where or why I developed such a belief, I do not know. After all, my mother was horrified by the mention of reincarnation. For her, it went against her Christian faith and background.

As a child, I don't recall anyone I knew who believed as I did. I don't even know where I first heard the word, "reincarnation".

Growing up, I put all those thoughts behind me. Then, the summer before my senior year in college, I traveled to Europe for a Methodist work camp project. While there, the group went from our Linz, Austria base to spend several days in Vienna. From the moment we reached those ancient city streets, I felt at home. It was as if I had strolled those avenues before and had entered the beautiful old buildings at another time. Years later, when I returned to Vienna, I experienced the same deja vu feelings.

Although it horrified several family members, I have always been fascinated by reincarnation and have wanted to hear every story that I can that relates to the subject. "It is not more surprising to be born twice than once," French writer and philosopher Voltaire said long ago.

Henry David Thoreau, an author I have admired from the first moment I read his words, said, "As far back as I can remember I have unconsciously referred to the experiences of a previous state of existence."

He, too, heard the sounds of "a different drummer". I have forever loved the drummer quote.

So many great writers and personalities of the past are quoted with thoughts of reincarnation. Henry Ford is another. "Genius is experience," he said. "Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives."

I suppose my interest in reincarnation had to come out somewhere in my writing. In the 1980s and 90s, we traveled many times to Jamaica. On several occasions, we toured Rose Hall Plantation and the Rose Hall area. The story of the "white witch" intrigued me and inspired the writing of my reincarnation novel, Hearts Across Forever. This is the book of my heart, and it will be re-released soon.

Persistent thoughts, deja vu, and more. I'll be writing new reflections on this subject and my books in the next several weeks. I hope you will follow my thoughts.

"Airport Clouds, Jan. 2019" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Expanding Art Interests for 2019 - A New Year's Resolution

"Following the Star" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I don't much believe in making New Year's resolutions. They inspire us at first, then life gets in the way. For 2019, I decided, "No resolutions this year."

Then I thought about it some more, and I realized I had big plans for my art this year. After all, I have four different media that have caught and held my attention over the past several years. Three of them relate, but they each use different materials.

"Following the Star" (11" x 8") is oil and encaustic (hot wax) and was created using a toxic process that makes painting inside less safe. However, I love the method and the results.

In my studio, I have more than two dozen small encaustic pieces on art board, some of which I plan to use like working drawings for larger paintings. I love this style of work and the ideas it creates inside my head.

The cold wax with oil is the method most related to encaustics. Building history, then creating
"On the Crowded Street" ©Mary Montague Sikes
mystery from it is exciting and rewarding. I already have many starts using this process, and I am finding extraordinary excitement experimenting with it. I like spraying medium from a bottle to make changes in the surface. Using that process gives me more control than placing a heat gun above the surface of a painting to move the wax around. With both encaustics and cold wax, I have the opportunity to create texture on the surfaces of my paintings. "On the Crowded Street" (10" x 10") is cold wax on cradled board.

Using acrylic paints and a variety of gel mediums and painting with credit cards and palette knives is the third related working style. I love creating texture using this media. I can imagine myself with encaustic paintings as my guide, building all kinds of new work on canvas. This is truly a fun process that I have used for many years.

"Rendezvous on Xanadu" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The fourth procedure I plan to develop further is that of using the intense Robert Doak paints on Yupo to design new and magical work. "Rendezvous on Xanadu" (40"x32" matted) is part of my on-going Xanadu series. In these paintings, I use all sorts of found objects to develop texture. I love spraying the paint while blocking various spaces.

Every method I use offers opportunity to experiment and develop my work further. While I enjoy traditional art work and the use of carefully honed skills, the exotic experimental progression forever beckons me back. Large canvases of all sizes, hoarded for years in my studio, call to me to fill their vacant spaces with color and warmth. Some urge me to add Yupo to their surfaces and to continue my search for Xanadu.

I cannot ignore the call as I expand the horizons of all that exists inside my studio. An exciting new year summons me on.

Friday, December 21, 2018

An Angel Painting for Christmas

A few years ago, I started creating a work of art for our Christmas cards. Perhaps it all began when our children were small, and I carved a wooden block with two angels for a print. They represented the two young children, Allison and Alicia, we had at the time. Later, I wished I could add a third angel to the woodcut, but that wasn't possible. In more recent years with the use of my camera, computer and printer, I have tried to use the media and process in which I am working at the time to make my Christmas angels. A lot of those paintings have been small works on paper. Some have been larger, more abstract pieces created with watercolor on Yupo.

"Angel of the Valiant Cross" ©Mary Montague Sikes
This year, I decided not to work in my current processes of mixed media on paper and/or canvas or cold wax on board. I wanted a more traditional angel, so I painted her with Golden acrylics on a 20" x 16" gallery stretched canvas. Since adding texture to my paintings has become an important part of my work, I developed gold and silver halos with incised lines patterned in. The wings are textured as well. Also, I couldn't help but use my ink roller to print bubble wrap designs on the angel's gown.

The lovely crystal cross my daughter, Amy, gave me served as the model for the "Valiant Cross" my angel is wearing. Because I had just watched a movie about Winston Churchill, who praised the young men landing on the beaches on D Day for their valor, the cross became the "Valiant Cross".

So my 2018 angel was born on a blank canvas. For me, her silent presence brings meaning and joy to a world too often unaware of the goodness that can exist and the beauty we might see.

Merry Christmas.