Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Grand Canyon Stirs the Imagination of Artists and Writers

"Canyon!" acrylic on stretched canvas ©Mary Montague Sikes

"Canyon", 4' by 7', was the largest painting I had on display at Petersburg Regional Art Center. It was the last piece of art we piled on top of our final van load as we cleared out two studios and several walls from the Center over the weekend. Right now, it's sitting on the floor in front of a brick fireplace not far from where we watch television. The grand vista opens up a new dimension in that room.

As I studied the painting I hadn't viewed for a long while, I thought about the thousands of artists and writers who've been immensely inspired by this glorious and unique place. So many paintings. Artists working en plein air. Writers imagining what might happen if one of those folks posing on the canyon's edge might slip, might be pushed to their deaths far below. I wonder at the daring of the tightrope walker crossing a piece of the canyon.

Starting when our two oldest daughters were very young, we've visited the Grand Canyon many times. I worried then as they played near the canyon's edge. I always love the view from the spacious dining room of the El Tovar where one can watch the changing colors of light playing across the canyon walls.

In this painting, I used my imagination with many of the colors I chose, but I love the effect that resulted. Hidden away in archival drawers, I suspect I have some long-forgotten pastel drawings of the canyon. Color slides taken along roads and trails lie concealed inside carousel trays awaiting a show with the projector. I hope they will keep a few more years.

Our last visit to the Grand Canyon came last November. Already, the artist and the writer in me is longing to return.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Art Makes the World a Happier Place

Long ago, I discovered that art can make the world a happier place. I've always enjoyed children's art and teaching children and people of all ages to create their own art. Because art is often so much fun, I chose the theme of creating a painting a day during the month of April for the A to Z Blog Challenge.

One of my blogger friends, Chuck at Apocalypse Now, was following and asked me about using an underwater photograph taken by his wife in Honduras to make a painting as a surprise gift for her for their 12th wedding anniversary. I agreed to do it then worried as I always do with commissioned pieces that he might not be happy. The Sea Turtle turned out to be one of my favorite pieces from all the little animal paintings!

"Sea Turtle" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Please go to Chuck's blog to see what he wrote about the anniversary surprises he gave his wife. I love happy art. Thank you, Chuck!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do You Have a Love Story That Inspires?

"Swan" - ©Mary Montague Sikes
We live in a troubled world in very disturbing and dysfunctional times. That's why romance in movies and books provides often needed escape from reality. Sporting events offer escapes as well. I grow tired of the murder and mayhem television shows. We have only to watch the 11 o'clock news to discover murder and mayhem in real life or to hear the story of a young child who drowned in a public swimming pool because no one was watching.

Last night, I viewed the 2004 movie, The Notebook, based on the 1996 novel by Nicholas Sparks. The movie is beautifully done with the fantasy background of swan lake scenery at one point. The book is based on the real-life love story of the grandparents of Sparks' wife who had been married for more than 60 years at the time he first met them.

Nicholas Sparks spoke at a Writer's Conference I attended soon after his book was published. At the time, I was filled with envy for this man who had written for a very short time yet had already received a large book advance and was destined for fame. His book was released a year after the Bridges of Madison County created a stir because it was a love story.

I love this movie and that it is based on a true love story. It made me wonder how many true romance stories like this are out there. Do you know anyone with a special love story? Do you yourself have a romance that has flourished over the years? We all hear about the sad and unhappy relationships that appear to thrive in our unsettled times. I'd like to know about true love stories that inspire.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Self-publishing Strategies for the Artist -- What's This

Well, folks, if you thought plans and strategies in the world of self-publishing were just for writers, think again. "Self-publishing Strategies" is the lead headline on the cover of the latest Professional Artist Magazine. The headline right below that one is: "Get Your Art into Local Media". So you see artists and writers face similar issues in promoting and selling their works.

In her article in the magazine, "Self-publishing and Technology," E. Brady Robinson urges artists to "clarify your goals, study your market, and develop a strategy." Sound familiar, writers?

Robinson points out the practical need for every artist to have a website. We know every writer needs one.

The next section of her article is about building an audience using social media. She focuses on the use by one artist of an iPhone camera to capture the images of people going about their daily activities. As a travel writer, I've always had a camera at the ready to document the stories I write. The digital camera is magic for both writer and artist.

Robinson also goes on to point out the value of Print on Demand as a device to aid artists in promotion of their work and making some of it visible to the public. Of course, POD has changed the world of writing. No more huge stacks of books in the garage or under the beds of self-published authors. It's a good thing for both artist and writer.

It's inspiring to read my copy of Professional Artist Magazine and see how artists and writers share similar challenges. It's exciting to be both artist and writer in today's digital age.

Enjoying the World of Art

In April, I had the exciting experience of actually creating a Painting a Day for the A to Z Blog Challenge. It was exhilarating to have a new and fun realistic painting at the end of each day. 

Now I'm back to the world of experimental water media art, creating paintings that viewers can see and determine their own meanings as they look at the work. My painting in the Members Show currently on view at This Century Art Gallery in Williamsburg VA is one of those creations.  I have many new paintings on canvas, Arches watercolor paper, and Yupo and will feature some of these new works on my blog from time to time. The Members Show at TCAG will be open to the public through July 19.

"Will There Be Peace Anywhere?" at Art Opening

Monday, June 10, 2013

Positive and Negative Reviews

Reviews are everywhere these days. Book authors are especially mindful of reviews that are written about their creative productions. We want reviews; we need reviews. We hope they will be positive, but sometimes any review is better than no review at all. Or so I've read...

Yesterday, I was on an art supply site and, while there, I checked out the available artist videos. One by a favorite artist friend of mine had two reviews. The first one--a five star review--was glowing and positive about all the helpful aspects of this video. The other was one of the most negative reviews I've every read. The video is by an experimental water media artist, and the reviewer criticized most everything about the artist's methods of creating art. The resulting one-star review surprised me. I wondered why someone who must be a traditional artist would have ordered this video in the first place and then taken the time to be so critical.

Sometimes people appear to go out of their ways to be critical of others. If they can find a flaw, they will point it out.

That's sad. Especially now when the written word is there forever.

"Looking at the Positive" ©Mary Montague Sikes
With reviews of books and creative work of any kind, look for something positive to say. If there is nothing good to say about a book or a video, perhaps it is best to write nothing. Always try to be fair.

Positive and negative. Smile, don't frown.  Photographs of people who appear happy make me want to meet them. Photographs of bright and cheerful subjects make me happy, too.

My mother used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

In days of the Internet, that advice is especially meaningful when it comes to reviews of our creative work. After all, we put our hearts out there for everyone to see.

Maybe we shouldn't...What do you think?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nothing Is Certain Except Change

Change is certain. Sadly, nothing remains the same.
Petersburg Regional Art Center - my studio
Yesterday, I was surprised, no shocked, to learn that Petersburg Regional Art Center will close soon for renovations. The renovations are a good thing. Closing it was a change I had not expected.

Ten years ago, my husband and I moved my paintings and all the things that go with displaying them from Shockoe Bottom Art Center in Richmond to the Petersburg site in the old Butterworth's Furniture Store building. SBAC, like the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, was based on the concept of working artist studios. Ironically, the artists had helped bring the Shockoe Bottom area back to life, but that didn't matter. The old tobacco warehouse was being transformed into condos and they moved the artists out.

We spent many hours painting and decorating to create an attractive studio space in the old furniture store. In July 2003 the Center had a grand opening. Since then, each month PRAC has celebrated Friday for the Arts in Petersburg with a juried show featuring nice cash prizes that attracted artists from many localities. Unfortunately, Rusty Davis and his mother, Deanna Thomas, the founders of SBAC and then PRAC, have both suffered debilitating health issues and are no longer involved with the Center.

According to the e-mail I received, the renovations to PRAC will include 45 apartments and approximately 75 artist studios. The work is expected to take about 10 months, and they hope to reopen in June 2014.

Over the 10 years, I have expanded my area in the building to include two studio spaces there. Many of my oversize 4' x 6' paintings are hanging in the hallways. Now I'm wondering where to take these pieces of art--a decision I'll need to make soon.

Change is certain. We don't always like it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Are Our Goals As Writers?

What are our goals as writers? What gives us a feeling of success? Do we all expect to grow rich and famous? Thinking about the Insecure Writer's Support Group started me asking those questions to myself.

If we set goals, we writers will feel more secure. How many books do we intend to write? One a year? Three?

Self-publishing, once a blight to the writer's career, is now fully accepted and thriving. Perhaps we can have even better careers if we control every aspect of them ourselves. Or perhaps self-publishing will drive us crazy and into leading non-productive lives. It's something to consider as we jot down our goals.

Success as a writer. Is it a publishing contract? That's a beginning. How about a first book signing? That's pretty exciting especially if people come by and actually buy your books. Is it a speaking engagement? That gives you the opportunity to share what you've learned with others and can be a win/win situation for your career as a writer.

Daddy's Christmas AngelHow about winning an award in a writing contest? Yesterday, I received a letter telling me that I had won third place in the National Federation of Press Women's Communication Contest in the Novels for Adult Readers category. I was happy because Daddy's Christmas Angel, for which the award will be given, is a book of my heart. Earlier this year my book won first place in the Virginia Press Women's Communication contest and was sent on to National. I probably will not attend the awards banquet in Salt Lake City, Utah in August to receive the award, but it feels like success when your work is appreciated and recognized by others.

Do we expect to become rich and famous? Probably at one time or another we all expect and hope to have exceptional monetary success. Obviously, that will happen to very few. There are just so many books out there and the competition is tremendous. Still, there are some who will have amazing success. Sometimes, for unexpected reasons a book will catch fire and make fantastic numbers of sales.

We cannot count on that or even expect it to happen. We can, however, lift a glass of champagne for the little successes along the way. A glowing book review, a new contract, a nice royalty check, a contest win, the bright smile of a reader telling you how much he/she enjoyed your book, a thoughtful comment from a reader of your blog. These are goals you can expect to obtain.

Live in the moment and enjoy them! That's a great goal to have...

Thank you, Alex Cavanaugh, Sheena-kay Graham, Suzanne Furness, and Laura Eno 
for co-hosting the Insecure Writers Support Group this month.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Two Additional Benefits from the A to Z Blog Challenge - A Painting A Day

"This Cluttered Universe" - acrylic painting ©Mary Montague Sikes

Today, I am highlighting two of the unexpected benefits of participating in this year's A to Z Blog Challenge, my version - A Painting A Day.

First, I was thrilled to be selected by Alex Cavanaugh for his Special Challenge Participant Feature on the A to Z Blog. Please check it out. I am delighted to have this honor!

Second, each day during the Challenge, as I created one of my animal paintings, I had some paints left over on my palette. Not to let expensive acrylics go to waste, I decided to use the leftovers on a canvas that I sketched out in charcoal several years ago. That canvas has rested against my studio wall, untouched ever since.

"This Cluttered Universe" is 30" x 42" acrylic on gallery wrap canvas. All the paint is what was left from 20 A Painting A Day creations. (Five of my paintings were done in Boone, North Carolina; one painting was created with pastels.) The only additional paint is the blue background which was done with Titanium White acrylic mixed with Pthalo Turquoise and/or Ultramarine Blue.

It was a wonderful surprise to now have another new painting hanging on the studio wall and 24 little animal paintings leaning against everything in sight. (One painting--"Casey Cat"--is hanging on my daughter's wall. "Daffodils and Dragonfly" is a pastel that is in the studio on paper and unable to lean.)

I'm not sure if this painting is finished or not. What do you think? 

Thank you, Alex and everyone who worked hard to make the A to Z Blog Challenge a big success. Cheers and happy painting and writing trails to you!