Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, September 26, 2011

Painting En Plein Air

"Hats by the Powder Horn" acrylic/canvas MMSikes
Painting en plein air has always sounded intriguing to me, but I never tried it before last Saturday. Although it rained some off and on, the weather was not too bad. Since I use a variety of materials and larger canvases than many artists, I can't move my work station quickly in the event of sudden rain showers. Because of that I found a protected alcove where I could paint using photographs I'd taken earlier in the week in the restored area of Colonial Williamsburg.
"Colonial Garden" MMSikes

I was thrilled to create two new paintings from scratch. Normally, I would never have spent all day Saturday painting. This was fun! Next time, hopefully the weather will be sunny. Maybe I'll get a French easel, but for my work it will have to be a big one.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation Blogfest

Usually my vacation trips are all about writing. This summer was no exception.

With camera in hand and a notebook at the ready, we explored Lake Tahoe in early June. How strange to see the snow-covered mountain tops soon after leaving the heat and humidity of Virginia. The lovely crystal clear lake forms an unforgettable scene. I learned from several people that it's not always so lovely. The lake can have high winds and waves that once fooled early explorers into thinking they had reached the ocean.

Our next summer trip was to Las Vegas. No, this was not a journey to visit the casinos or the shows, although I spent a lot of time parading among the slot machines to get to meeting rooms in the sprawling hotel. Instead, it was a trip to the Public Safety Writers conference where I appeared on several panels. I loved meeting with my publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, and other writers I knew or had wanted to see in person.

Between those two trips, I set up an artist show of my "Monti Just for Fun" loose little acrylic paintings of various glasses, bottles, and more in the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center in Richmond, VA. These paintings feature the joyfulness of pattern and color and created a happy Slantwall display at the Center for the month of July.

In August we headed to Wisconsin where our daughter drove us over much of the eastern section of the state along Lake Michigan into the Upper Peninsula. There, at the tip of the land projection into Lake Superior, we learned a lot about the old copper mines that once brought great wealth into the area. We had dinner with Mary Ann Beckwith, one of my favorite artists, during a stay in Hancock. Later, we headed to Milwaukee for three days at the Pfister Hotel, visits to the art museum on the waterfront, and much more. Along the way, we discovered the Fonz statue by the river side, and I was happy to have my camera.

This sounds like the summer of the lakes! I'll be posting more about these trips as I find time.

Please visit Michael Di Gesu's blog and find the names of others participating in this blogfest.

On Saturday,  September 24, I'll be in Williamsburg as one of the En Plein Air artists. This sounds like a fun event if only the rain will stay away.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Artist in Residence at the Pfister Hotel

Artist in Residence Shelby Keefe - MM Sikes Photo
What fun to be the artist-in-residence! Especially at the historic Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Shelby Keefe was named the hotel's third artist-in-residence last February. A contemporary impressionistic painter and performance artist, Shelby follows a portrait painter in the residency program.

During her year at the Pfister, Shelby is occupying a large studio and gallery space right off the lobby. She keeps regular hours in the hotel, painting on her easel and chatting with visitors about her art. She also maintains a studio in the city at Hide House where quite a few artists create their work.

Besides maintaining her studios, Shelby also paints to music, performing in front of an audience where she creates 20-minute paintings. Since 2002, she has worked on 30 by 30 inch canvasses in front of viewers, often painting to music that she herself has created.

"The work is much quicker and intuitive," she says because she's performing under the pressure of time, audience, and loud music.

Because of its extensive Victorian art collection that is the "largest of its kind in any hotel in the world," the Pfister Hotel has a special relationship to the arts. As a painter, I am thrilled to walk into the Pfister and view all the special and wonderful art on view there.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Jungle Jeopardy, An Adventure Story

Jungle Jeopardy, an adventure novel, will be featured during my book signing today at Discover Teas, Village Shops at Kingsmill in Williamsburg. I'm excited about this book because it's my first adventure story--think Indiana Jones--and it focuses on the Maya ruins in Central America, a subject that fascinates me. Dana and Clifton, the heroine and hero, from Secrets by the Sea  continue their search for the Brasher doubloon in this book. Tyler Hunter is a new character who intrigues me.

While Jungle Jeopardy is a stand-alone book, readers may want to first learn about Dana and Clifton in Secrets by the Sea before opening the new book. I still find it amazing that characters come in and take over their own stories. Things have a way of turning out not at all the way I planned!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Branding - What Can It Do for You?

Branding is the concept that developing a specific image for you or your product will make you more recognizable and memorable in the marketplace. One of the most important components of branding is a logo. The Nike logo is a perfect example of great branding. You recognize it everywhere. The font on the Coca Cola can is an example of using another kind of imagery in branding. After experimenting with several different font designs, Pepsi appears now to have settled on a Pepsi Max font. All the while, Pepsi has an unmistakable logo that make its products stand out in the marketplace.

For writers, branding can be especially important. Over the years while attending conferences and book signings, I've noticed that certain authors really know how to use branding to their advantage. Several who write paranormal fiction wear long, dark skirts and have the appearance of their heroines. Those authors with western themes may arrive sporting boots and cowboy hats. The ideas for dressing the part and developing a brand are endless and compelling.

*As you develop your brand, keep in mind your logo and use it everywhere you can.

*Use only one or two fonts and stay with Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana whenever possible.

*Choose a color theme, and stick with it.

*Use the fonts and colors on your blogs, e-mails, web sites, brochures, posters, and wherever else it's appropriate.

What can branding do for you? More than you think.

Try it and find out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Day That Changed the World

It was a beautiful, bright sunny day, but it was a dark and turbulent day. It was September 11, 2001. It was the day that changed the world.

"Bright Day, Dark Day" MMSikes
I was at the elementary school with my young art students when it all happened. In the teachers' lounge, I watched the buildings collapse. Wisely, our principal cautioned us not to tell the children. I thought, the world will never be the same for them. It will never be as it was before.

Our daughter, a pilot with one of the airlines involved that day, was supposed to be flying. I didn't know where.

Today, I listen as the roll call goes on for those who lost their lives that day. My heart is heavy for their loss and for our loss. We all lost our innocence that day ten years ago.

And now the good angels look down...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Getting Things Done and Organized

Organize your schedule.

Easier said than done.

Do all writers have the problem of organization? Or are some folks naturally more organized than others?

I have two new novels coming out this year. Jungle Jeopardy, an adventure story set in Central America, was recently released by my publisher. A Rainbow for Christmas, a sweet romance set on a wagon train, will be out in late October. That means I now have a double problem of organizing and promotion because I have two new books.

Unfortunately, although I know better, I have done little to promote either book. During the summer, we took trips that I would be unable to undertake any other time of year. Those trips put me way behind in setting up events for my books. However, those trips also gave me background and exotic settings for future books.

I have scheduled a radio interview with Neil Steel, several book signings, a talk, and a tailgate art show which sounds like lots of fun. But there is way more to be done. Jungle Jeopardy has a big tie-in with Maya ruins. A few years ago, I painted a big series of large acrylic paintings of the Maya ruins we had visited. Now, I want to set up art exhibitions with those paintings tied to my book signings. Hopefully, I can figure it out by connecting with art departments of the universities I attended.

So much to do.

I'm making a list of all the possibilities. Of all the potential. There is more to do than will fit into a normal seven day week.

It would help a lot to be organized.

I'm trying ...

Are you organized? I would love to know how other writers think.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hotels to Remember -- The Pfister

As an author of travel articles for many years, I think one of the nicest compliments you can give an old, historic hotel is to say that it hasn't changed a lot. Hotels have to change and update to keep up with the times, attract new business, and maintain loyal customers. However, if old hotels change too much, they will no longer retain the image that made them special. On a recent visit to the Pfister in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I was happy to discover that while changes have been made, the overall appearance and ambience of the hotel has remained the same.

The amazing lobby ceiling still gives the sensation of viewing early 16th century art by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Other valuable original paintings and sculptures remain on exhibition throughout the hotel. While featuring modern amenities, the guestrooms in the original century-old building retain an early 20th century charm.

The Old English Tavern downstairs has been replaced with a spa, but the Lobby Lounge is still filled with strains of piano music provided by talented musicians. The change I noticed most was that the green exterior awnings are now red. Since I created my painting of the Pfister when the awnings were green, I was a little disappointed. However, change is good, and the red attracts attention. Maybe I'll be inspired to make yet another painting of the Pfister.

Whatever is written or painted about historic hotels can only be "a snapshot in time." That is true of all Hotels to Remember.