Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, January 27, 2014

When Does a Writing Career Begin?

"When did you start writing?" In interviews, whether radio, television, newspaper, or blog, that question is usually asked at some point.

I most often answer, "I've been writing forever."

As I think about it, I always enjoyed writing lengthy answers on test papers in school. In high school, I wrote short stories, was school reporter for the local newspaper and editor of the school newspaper. In early adulthood, I stumbled accidentally into a freelance writing job for a city newspaper. Although I was busy writing and had a small but steady newspaper income, I never dreamed of becoming a novelist. That happened completely by accident.

When our youngest daughter was 14, I received a call from the local community college, inviting her to participate in a creative writing class they were offering. A gifted writer, she was recommended for the class by her high school English teachers. Since the college was 10 miles away and she wasn't old enough to drive, I decided to take her. Because I would be at the school with her, I enrolled in the class with her.

I loved the class; I loved the instructor; I started a novel. My daughter was less impressed and did not continue after that quarter, but I stuck with it. I wrote my novel and had each part of it critiqued along the way. The instructor, the late Jane Deringer, was inspiring. She got me involved in travel writing, a critique group, starting two writers clubs in the area, and much more.Years later, the novel I started in that class was published.

When did my writing career actually begin? Was it when I wrote a poem in third grade and was asked to recite it in front of the entire school? Was it when I won awards for my short stories in high school? Was it when I fell into the newspaper freelance job? Or was it when I met my mentor, Jane Deringer?

Perhaps it was each of those times.

Perhaps I became more of a writer at each rung of the ladder.

What about you? When did you become a writer?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Painting the National Parks

"Yellowstone Lake" pastel painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
These are the first of my paintings this year that are focusing on scenes from our beautiful National Parks. For these art works, I used as reference materials photographs I took during a trip to Yellowstone National Park in 2006. Both of these works were created using vine charcoal for the basic drawing, then I added color, working mostly with Rembrandt soft pastels. For both these paintings, I used half-sheets of Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper in the Moonstone color. The half-sheets are 19" x 12 1/2" unframed.

"Yellowstone Lower Falls" pastel painting ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do Art and Writing Mix When It Comes to Marketing?

what_works_IIIFor several years, I have tried cross-marketing ideas of promoting my books at art events. For example, at art fairs and festivals, lots of people come with plans to buy something. A book is less expensive than a piece of art, so this is a good place for book sales.


Not necessarily.

I've read about authors who have great success selling books at these types of events. However, I have achieved a limited amount of success. Often, I find those attending the festivals are not readers, or they are readers who no longer buy books and use their e-readers instead. Now at these events, I'm experiencing more success selling cards with images of my art on them than selling my books. That is disappointing for the writer in me.

Non-fiction books with a local connection appear to do better at art fairs, festivals, and crafts shows than novels. A local tie-in is ideal if an author can create one.

Occasionally, I have tried selling books in my art gallery spaces. This also has met with limited success. Those who come in for open house events often are only interested in the food and are not readers. Even when advertising as a book signing event, there is little interest from the art crowd.

From my own experience, art venues offer limited opportunity for book sales. What about your experiences with cross-marketing your work in other ways? Were they successful?

Thank you to the co-hosts of this Online Marketing Symposium about what works and what doesn't:

Jeremy Hawkins -

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yellowstone Lake Hotel is an Historic Convenience for Travelers

"Yellowstone Lake Lodge" ©Mary Montague Sikes
"Yellowstone Lake Lodge 2" ©Mary Montague Sikes

The Lake Hotel opened in Yellowstone National Park in 1891. Its convenient location provides visitors with an excellent base from which to start daily explorations of the massive park. We stayed at the hotel for a week in 2006, enjoying lovely views of the lake from our room windows and excellent meals each night in the large main dining room. I especially liked watching the work of the park resident artist as work in progress changed each day.

In 1903, the hotel was redesigned and expanded by architect Robert Reamer who also designed the park's famous Old Faithful Inn. The Yellowstone Lake Hotel is a rather plain clapboard structure with two large porticoes that face the lake. The original building was three-stories high. The 1903, 1922-23, and 1928 re-modelings added an eastward extension with a third portico, a two-story west wing, a dining room expansion, and a solarium. More renovations took place in 1984 and 1990. The most recent renovations occurred in 2012 and 2013-14.

"Buffalo Roam" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Although the hotel has an austere appearance from the outside, the lobby was cozy and inviting during our stay there. I especially enjoyed the art on display, and in the evening, buffalo were sometimes seen roaming along the lake front.

The buffalo often stopped traffic along the road that led to and from the hotel. Warning signs were posted throughout the park about the danger of the animals goring tourists, so most people were wise enough to stay inside their vehicles while taking photographs.

If we return to Yellowstone, I would like to once again stay in the Lake Hotel. However, I do not believe the resident artist program is still in place there. I will miss that feature.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yellowstone National Park - One Visit is Not Enough

"Yellowstone Lake" ©Mary Montague Sikes
One visit is never enough when traveling to and in Yellowstone National Park. It is amazing to realize that when Yellowstone was established in 1872, the United States was not yet 100 years old and the park was the first national one in the world. Located mostly in Wyoming, it extends into Montana and Idaho as well. When we spent almost two weeks there in 2006, we flew into Bozeman, MT which is an interesting town to visit and a good place to begin a visit to Yellowstone.

The park was everything I hoped it might be. I loved the rugged landscape, the wild animals, especially the buffalo, that lumbered across the roadway, halting the passage of all traffic. The mudpots were astonishing, like paintings on the surface of the land.

Can you believe the Yellowstone Lake is over the center of the super volcano that has been in the news a lot in recent weeks? How dramatic it must have been for early settlers to stumble across the fantastic scenery of Yellowstone.
"Yellowstone Falls"©Mary Montague Sikes

For Week Two of my journey through some of the National Parks, I will add more about Yellowstone. I haven't begun my paintings
 and will post them here when I do.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Glacier National Park - Memories from a Summer Visit

During our visit to Glacier National Park last summer, our family discovered that one week is not nearly enough time to explore all the possibilities that exist in this glorious and foreboding natural landscape. To investigate the west side of the park, we stayed in Kalispell, about 45 minutes away. From this location, we were able to visit Apgar, Lake McDonald, Logan's pass, the town of Whitefish, and much more. On a future trip, I would like to stay in a town on the east side of the park, near the Blackfeet Reservation and closer to the Canadian border. That way, we could not only explore the other side of Glacier, but we could cross over into Canada and travel around Waterton Lakes National Park.

Our first day of exploration at Glacier took us through the west entrance to Apgar, then on to Lake McDonald to visit the historic lodge that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014. The lodge overlooks the lake and is located on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our goal was to drive over Logan Pass and along Going-to-the-Sun Road to the east entrance to the park. Along the way, the road was as treacherous and as beautiful as we expected.

"Boardwalk to Hidden Lake" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The following day, we took a ranger-led excursion along a nature trail at Apgar, then we headed back to the Lake McDonald Lodge where we boarded a cruise boat to see the lake with its crystal clear waters and dramatic mountain views. Later, we went to Avalanche Creek for the short trail walk through spectacular woods filled with ancient trees. A beautifully designed watercolor sign said these
"Boardwalk Through the Forest" ©Mary Montague Sikes
trees were there when Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence. For the first time, we used the free Jammer shuttle.

We spent most of the next day in Whitefish, first going to the Whitefish Mountain Resort that features a variety of lifts. I was excited to discover many little art galleries in the town, including one featuring almost all encaustics by artist Karen Minton.

Our next excursion into Glacier National Park started at the Apgar Transit Center where we parked
"Jammer" ©Mary Montague Sikes
our car and boarded one of the free shuttles. We found we should have started out a little earlier because by mid-morning there was a considerable wait period to catch a shuttle. While it was convenient not to drive and park a car, killing time awaiting the arrival of shuttle required a great deal of patience.

The last day of our trip inside the park, we visited Discovery Cabin which was built in 1925. We returned to McDonald Lake via a Jammer, the driver of which passed around a journal book with an handcrafted stitchery cover for passengers to sign. Turned out that most of the shuttle drivers are also school bus drivers during the school year.

We flew home, glad for an unique journey into a major National Park and longing for a return visit. Our trip left us with many memories and lots of photographs that made us thankful for the digital age.

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, January 6, 2014

National Parks - Week One - Glacier

Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald dock ©Mary Montague Sikes
There is something mystic about a misty mountain lake in the morning. That was especially true of this view of Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park. Many of the magazine photographs of mountain lakes I have admired over the years appear to have been taken in Glacier. It was rewarding to be in this picturesque treasure taking my own pictures.

Glacier National Park, located in northwestern Montana, was established in 1910 and spreads over around one million acres. About 700 miles of trails wind through this glorious land of wilderness and wonder. Mount Cleveland, the highest peak in the park, rises 10,466 above sea level.

In 1933, the Going-to-the-Sun Road opened in Glacier. This narrow and treacherous roadway stretches for 52 miles up Logan Pass and over the Continental Divide to the other side. It connects the eastern and the western sides of Glacier. Each spring, preparing the road for reopening is quite a project that involves clearing snow at lower elevations and progressing upward, meaning that some parts of the roadway must be cleared more than once. It's usually mid-June before the road is completely reopened. Because of weather conditions, reconstruction along Going-to-the-Sun Road has to take place during the high tourist season, so visitors can expect delays from time to time.

Going-to-the-Sun Road ©Mary Montague Sikes
The free park shuttle that starts at the Visitor Center parking lot at Apgar is a great convenience to use during a visit to Glacier. The Going-to-the-Sun Road can be a bit intimidating to drivers and passengers alike, so it's nice to leave the driving to those more experienced.

For those who don't wish to stay inside the park or who can't get reservations, Kalispell is a lovely little town located about 30 miles from the west entrance to Glacier. There are many good restaurants, hotels, and other conveniences there. Plan well ahead of time if you want to visit this park and experience the many outdoor activities available there.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year, 2014, A Year of Focus

"Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Focus, they all say. Focus.

I never do, but I know I must. Today, the first day of 2014, I stare through the large window of my cluttered writing office. The clutter is evidence of my lack of focus. Piles of photos and papers for various future writing projects stack up on either side of my eight-foot-long desk. I inherited this huge desk from my father who always kept it neat and uncluttered. He was not a writer. He was not an artist. People who are neither writers nor artists live less cluttered lives, I am convinced.

This year--this beautiful new year--I intend to focus on National Parks. I am intrigued by the National Parks System of our glorious and vast country. According to Wikipedia, the national park idea can be credited to an artist, George Catlin. That is amazing but certainly not surprising. This man traveled in the northern great plains of our nation during the year 1832, and he found most troubling the devastation he saw of the Indian tribes, the land, and the wildlife. Other artists, including Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, and authors, James Fenimore Cooper and Henry Thoreau, portrayed the west in a different, more romantic manner than as a challenge for settlers that was previously perceived. We can be thankful for the artists and writers who "march to the beat of a different drummer."

I plan to blog, hopefully one day a week, about National Parks. Thanks to the interests of our daughters, we have taken family trips to National Parks for several years. It began with a visit to Yellowstone and to the Grand Tetons in 2006. Last summer, we toured together a portion of Glacier National Park. We found that beautiful wilderness so vast we were unable to see it all in just one week. Hopefully, we will return there one day.

This year, I intend to focus on painting the parks, using my favorite media--pastels--to which I return again and again. Over the years, I have taken numerous photographs in the parks and will use those as resource materials for my paintings.

I also intend to continue my focus on the Master's Meditation series of paintings that I create for individuals along with poems uniquely directed to them. These works are made using mixed water media that include the intense Robert Doak watercolors as well as Golden acrylic paints and much more. As part of this focus, I will continue to investigate the world of encaustic painting. My love of texture, color, form, and psychic visions is combined in these experimental works.

This  year of focus is one that will keep me busy, enthusiastic, and intrigued.  I will post new art work as it is developed.

Happy New Year, 2014!