Daddy's Christmas Angel

Sunday, June 19, 2016

There's Something About Being with "Creatives"

Mary Ann Beckwith talks about art ©Mary Montague Sikes
I just returned from a week-long visit to Boone NC where I spent five days with nine other "creatives" in Mary Ann Beckwith's experimental painting class. Since I first met Mary Ann in 2005, I have loved her. The atmosphere around her overflows with excitement and positive energy. I listened to her and watched her painting demos, and I just wanted to paint, paint, paint. Sadly, Beckwith plans to retire from teaching workshops and concentrate on her own work. This was her next to last workshop. The last one will be in October 2017 in Austin TX.

Being with other "creatives" in this class was special. I didn't feel the jealousy or competition that sometimes develops in art workshop classes. Instead, there was high energy focus that led me to new ideas and thoughts about making and finishing art. Much of Mary Ann's direction is toward developing design in paintings.

I remembered my early painting classes with Thomas Thorne at the College of William and Mary. He talked about design in artwork then, but it didn't make the impression on me that it should have. I was too enthralled by the intense color of my newly-discovered tubes of acrylic paint to care about anything else. I wanted to be a colorist. I had started out with oil paints that dulled with my overuse of turpentine. I didn't like the smell or the slow drying of the oil materials. Acrylics cleaned with soap and water. I loved them.

Now Mary Ann has taught me to like watercolor paints, especially those manufactured by Robert Doak in his studio in Brooklyn NY. I first painted with those intense watercolors 11 years ago and have been excited by them every since. Because both watercolors and acrylics are water media, I can mix them.

I hated to come home and leave the wonderful intense atmosphere of Mary Ann's workshop at Cheap Joe's in Boone. But I am inspired and thankful for the opportunity to have been with other "creatives". There is just something about them...
Workshop Class at Cheap Joe's ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Don't Hide Away in that Artist or Writer Studio

So often I am tempted to hide out beneath the skylights inside my bright and happy artist studio. Even more often, I want to stay to read and write in my writer's studio that overlooks our woods and West Point Creek.

That's a good thing, but as creatives, we can't hide out forever. It is important, perhaps essential, to get out and mingle with the world.

This past weekend, I visited Fredericksburg, Virginia where I grew up. It was satisfying to recognize Cornell Hill and remember how hard that street was to climb with short little legs en route to Lafayette Elementary School all those many years ago. It was poignant to drive along Sunken Road where I once found tennis balls lost over the fences from the college tennis courts. We lived for several years on the next street below the college, and I made lots of friends with children of the professors. Many tears were shed when we moved away to a little town so very different from that city. Years later, I returned to attend Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington) and felt very much at home on those city streets where I played as a child.

"Alumni Weekend with Lee Hall (UMW)" ©Mary Montague Sikes

I enjoyed driving through the campus and then getting to meet folks I knew mostly through e-mails exchanged over the past few years. The college bookstore carries my novels, so I've gotten to know Margaret Mock because of them. It was good to meet Mark Thaden in person for the first time. Mark is Executive Director of Alumni Relations at UMW, so I've had contact with him from time to time. A book signing was part of the Alumni events, and I was delighted to meet Kristen Green, author of Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, a book I had to buy because of parallels in my own area of Virginia.

"Margaret Mock and Kristen Green at book signing" ©Mary Montague Sikes

After the book signing, we drove for over two hours to reach my next destination for the day, the Mathews Bay School in Mathews. That was the location of a fun event by the artist and writer members of Chesapeake Bay Pen Women. These imaginative women chose paintings, sculpture, prose, and poems to serve as "seed" works to which other writers and artists would create response pieces. The result was a gallery devoted to writing and artful beauty.

"Looking at the Pen Women Collaboration Show" ©MMSikes

With my sculpture seed project.

Even though there was extra travel involved, the Saturday events emphasized to me once again the importance of leaving the studio sometimes. Hide out there when you can, but enjoy the company of others occasionally as well.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Seed Work for Authors and Artists - Visiting the Trees

"Through the Branches" acrylic/canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes
I belong to the Chesapeake Bay Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, and the group is working on an ambitious project that isn't really new but involves creative thought and effort. Over the past few months, we have produced work for a collaborative exhibition that will go on view at the Mathews Bay School on June 4. "Painting, Poetry, and Prose, a Creative Encounter" brings together artists and writers who study each others work and become a part of the artistic process.

My seed art piece is actually a small sculpture I formed in Montana talc a few years ago. I don't know if a writer has been inspired to make a statement in poetry or prose about this three-dimensional work, but I hope she has. I'll find out soon.

In reading over the seed poetry and prose, I was drawn to a poem, written by Bev McMillan, titled "In the Trees". I love trees. From my writing studio window, I gaze into woods where long ago Pocahontas probably played. This forest edges a creek that flows from the Mattaponi River, and I wonder if Captain John Smith in 1612 perhaps journeyed up our little waterway as he mapped our tidewater rivers long ago. Maybe he even climbed up the bank and explored our woods.

Over the years, I've painted our trees many times, often with my children in the foreground. Sometimes I stare into the woods and wonder what these trees have witnessed with so many people passing through time.

Like the author of the seed poem, I believe, "Everything has been in the trees."

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reflections on The A to Z Blog Challenge 2016 #atozchallenge

This year I decided to create a Heart a day for the A to Z Blog Challenge. This was a fun project, and I am very happy with the painting that I finished during April.

My "So Many Hearts Dancing in the Air" will soon be on display at Crossroads Art Center in Richmond, Virginia. This painting shows visually the significance of the words we use and upon which we reflect. My painting starts with an Aching Heart, continues on with Broken, Cheating, Dramatic, Fragile, Reckless, Shattered, and more all the way through the alphabet. Most of the hearts represent an emotion.

As a romance author, I wanted to choose words that reflected the emotions I might use when writing a story or a book. Some of the letters did not have a word that worked for a heart, so, in those cases, I sometimes chose a color, like "U" is for Ultramarine Blue and "Y" is for Yellow. Since yellow is a favorite color of mine and represents sunshine, I didn't think until later how Yellow could also represent the heart of a coward. In my painting, the Yellow Heart is that of a bright and cheerful person.

To the right, I show some of the pages from the sketchbook I used as I planned my painting. Each day I posted in my blog the new acrylic heart I created on the canvas. The quick drawings from the sketchbook are done with pencil and soft pastel sticks. They gave me an idea of what I wanted to paint on the canvas, but often the ideas changed when my brush touched down and started to spread the delicious wet paint. The color took over.

That's similar to what happens sometimes when I write a book.The characters take over and do something completely unplanned.

I believe my finished painting demonstrates the importance of the words we choose as we write and as we speak. Here is "So Many Hearts Dancing in the Air" as produced during the A to Z Blog Challenge in April.
"So Many Hearts Dancing in the Air" acrylic/mixed media on canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Good Wife Goodbye

In the midst of reflecting on this year's A to Z Blog Challenge, the series finale of The Good Wife occurred. Since I was captivated by this program for all of its seven seasons, I had to watch the last episode immediately. I had to put aside all my reflecting about painting little hearts the entire month of April. I had to think about how Alicia in this final TV series event must have had an exploding heart that went far beyond my shattered heart from "So Many Hearts Dancing in the Air".

As a romance author, I expected a "happily ever after" ending to the series. After all, Alicia had been through so much for Peter. She had truly been the good wife to him. But that was not to be.

I suppose the return of Will in the final episode should have been a foreboding of how it all would end. After all, Will was the love of Alicia's life, and when he died that event dealt a crushing blow to the series.

Another revealing point was when Alicia touched Peter's hand (as her lawyers instructed her to do) and Jason saw it. That was yet another indication of how it all would end. How could the Good Wife be anything but the good wife in the end? Jason saw that and knew he would always be second for Alicia.

Then there was the slap that Diane administered to Alicia. That slap had great meaning. It slapped Alicia back into her place. In the end, while standing by Peter, Alicia had betrayed everyone, including Diane who had always stood beside her through her many trials and tribulations.

This was not the way I expected the series to end. But upon reflection, it was the only way. The show had to live up to its name, The Good Wife.

Perhaps there will be a spinoff series in the future. I hope so. I would like for Alicia to discover true love and happiness. I would like for her to desert Peter forever.