Daddy's Christmas Angel

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Joy and Danger of an Artist's Life

"Packing up in my studio" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The sad and tragic fire in an old warehouse building in Oakland, California reminds us once again about the importance of safety and vigilance in the life of an artist. Over the years, I have had art studios in several old buildings. I seldom questioned safety or the fire codes compliance situation in these artist facilities. I enjoyed working and showing paintings surrounded by other artists. I liked having an Open House to attend each month where patrons of the arts gathered.

I expected these buildings to be safe. I trusted those who operated them. More than one was a converted warehouse. Others were former school buildings.

Artists need spaces to house their works in progress. They covet places where they can show their paintings, crafts, sculpture, and more. They long for camaraderie, so they often look for and find nooks and crannies inside big buildings often located in "bad" areas of town where they can afford to rent.

"Open House Night" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I read somewhere that real estate people love for artists to invade an old rundown area because they know in 10 years it will be booming. That happened with Shockoe Bottom Art Center in Richmond, Virginia a few years ago. The artists converted an old tobacco warehouse into studios. Each month for the Art Open House, the area overflowed with art lovers as well as with those who enjoyed the refreshments and free (at that time) wine. It was fun and exciting to be there. The old section of the city thrived with the presence of the artists until eventually the real estate people came in and took it away. The artists moved to other locations, some of them to an old furniture store in Petersburg. More studio spaces were built and painted in the old buildings uncovered by the artists, and so a new cycle of development began.

Over the years, I have created a very large piece of sculpture inside an abandoned school building; I have painted in a rundown old office inside a once-deserted building; I have walked along many streets where I felt unsafe. I have stood on a sidewalk where slaves were once sold at auction. People were not permitted to live inside the studio spaces they rented in places I called my art home. I suspect that some of them did. After all, artists keep very strange hours. When they are inspired, they don't want to stop work. In one location, I brought in a little sofa that higher powers made me remove in case I became tired one day and fell asleep there.

I am fortunate because I have a working art studio inside my home. If I decide to fall asleep, no one tells me not to. I have a space in Richmond now in a nice well-kept studio/gallery facility. (Thank you, Jenni Kirby, for making this possible.) The Petersburg building now houses apartments, a beautiful art gallery and artist spaces. (Thank you, Noelle Ward and family.)

Because of my own past experiences, I can understand how the situation in Oakland could have occurred. Artists need affordable places where they can work. They need safe locations. They need patrons for the arts. There can be and should be joy in the creation of art.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Farewell to a Little Feral Cat

Fluffy Noir ©Mary Montague Sikes
For the past two or three years, we have fed a feral black cat. I was first drawn to Fluffy Noir when I saw him with an injured, bleeding chest. Thinking it could be his last meal, I opened a can of tuna and left it for him.

He got better, and I started to see more of him. Whenever I had good leftovers, I put some outside for this little cat that always looked bedraggled and scruffy. Eventually we started to buy cat food to feed him. I discovered he liked pate best, especially the "super supper".

One day someone noticed that the cat (now named "Fluffy Noir") had patches of fur that were matted. Since he never got close enough for me to touch him, I could do nothing to help. She insisted that he should be trapped and taken to the vet to get neutered, inoculated, and his matted fur fixed. Although I did not like the idea of trapping him, I agreed, especially after being told that the matted fur was painful for an animal. A nice volunteer with a group working with the town's feral cat population came and set up a trap in our yard. After a few tries, Fluffy was trapped, and she took him away.

This lovely lady was an angel. She took Fluffy to the vet where his fur was shaved in the places it was badly matted. He got his shots, was neutered, and his flea problem was taken care of for about 30 days. The poor kitty looked awful, but he probably felt better than he ever had before in his lifetime. When the volunteer returned him to me the next day, Fluffy shot from the trap and raced the fastest I ever saw him run to a heavy thicket. I thought he would be upset with me for his ordeal, but I found him waiting for breakfast the next morning on our deck.

This little cat had no meow, but he would stop and listen when I talked to him. Although he still ran from me, he was letting me get closer at feeding time.

About two weeks ago, I found an eagle sitting on the deck railing opposite our back door. Since I had never before seen a raptor close to our house, I was fascinated. I even searched my Peterson's book of Virginia birds, but this raptor was not listed. Then I noticed Fluffy was tucked close to the brick wall, sitting on the other wooden rail.The bird was almost three times his size which made me a little uneasy. Until then, I had not thought about the cat, the smallest in the neighborhood, being in danger. When I started to open the door, the bird flew up into a nearby tree and lingered there for much of the day.

It has been over a week since I last saw Fluffy. I look out the windows in hope of seeing him in one of his usual spots, but I'm always disappointed. I'm afraid the eagle targeted him, and there was no way for me to save him from harm.

In my first novel, Hearts Across Forever, I allowed a cat to die. One of my readers told me she would never buy another of my books because of the cat's death. Now I understand why. I cannot use Fluffy's story in one of my books unless it is changed to "happily ever after".

Pets are special. Cats are extraordinary.

Do you have a memorable cat story?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hotels Are But a "Snapshot in Time"

When I look out of my writing studio window, the yellow turning leaves capture my attention. They are the colors of autumn. A few years ago, I suspect the trees would be bare by now. With global warming, we have not yet had a frost.

Things change. And so did the hotels in my Hotels to Remember project. As I wrote, took photographs, and painted, I had no idea how quickly hotel facilities are renovated and transformed.

All the paintings in my Hotels to Remember coffee table book were created using a favorite material of mine, soft pastels. A few years ago while we were visiting famous and historic old hotels, I began to paint images of the rough and weathered facades of some and the shiny jeweled surfaces of others. I loved watching the paintings grow on the tinted Canson pastel papers. As I became more involved in the project, I realized I had far too many hotels to include in just one book.

The Royal Hawaiian "Pink Lady" was cast aside. So was the Princeville hotel in Kauai. I took out La Samanna in St. Martin, SuperClubs resorts in Jamaica, Orient Express hotels in New Orleans and in Charleston, South Carolina. There wasn't room for them in my book, so I put aside photographs and slides I had taken on site and stored them in a large box in my writing studio. I placed the pastels I had already painted in my flat files storage unit in the painting studio closet. I would come back to them soon, I assured myself as I added even more material from Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec to my stash.

Then I realized it was probably too late to start work on More Hotels to Remember. After all, when you are dealing with the hotel industry, things change quickly. Renovations take place. Buildings are altered with entrances shifting, properties doubling in size and much more.

Only the side trips remain the same and the locations. You don't transform the Grand Canyon when the El Tovar seated on its edge is upgraded. The charming little town of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia does not vanish when the Hilltop House Hotel closes. The St. Louis Union Station remains the same even though the hotel property switches hands.

Each hotel in my book is actually a "Snapshot in Time". A wise writer pointed out that fact to me. My publisher was quick to pick up on the premise and created "Snapshot in Time" books for a few of the hotels in the Hotels to Remember project. I added some new materials for the side trips, and realized that even closed hotels are a part of history.

Many of my "Snapshot in Time" paintings are now on view at Dara LeBlanc-Haynes' Mathews Country Galleria on Brickbat Road in Mathews, Virginia. The gallery is open now on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dara LeBlanc-Haynes in her Mathews Country Galleria. ©Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Visiting the Artist Studio of Dorothy Fagan

"Talking about  journaling" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Last Saturday, members of the Chesapeake Bay Branch, National League of American Pen Women had the opportunity to visit the studio of artist Dorothy Fagan. What a special treat that was, not only for artists in the group but for the writers as well.

Over the years I have found that people who paint often also write, and Dorothy did not disappoint me. She talked about journaling as well as painting. She told about keeping a journal since the mid-1990s. To me, the journal is like my "gathering books" that I have all over our house, so I was especially delighted to hear about her experiences. Dorothy has "lucid dreams" and chronicles them in her journal.

Sitting in her studio, hidden in the trees, felt especially comfortable to me because my own writing studio overlooks white oak tree branches similar to hers, and the light that glistens on the trunks and leaves is the same. I found joy in the "feel" of the space and especially gloried in the splendor of sitting amidst creative women who experience the same delight I find in writing and in making art.

I can only wish now and dream of more time spent with those who love to turn words around and change the world with color. These are the people I long to know better.
"In the Fagan Studio" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Looking for Consistency in Art and in Writing

"Circles and Butterflies" acrylic painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
Earlier this year, I was pleased to be a semi-finalist in the Xanadu Gallery's Mentorship program. I've long been a fan of Jason Horejs, owner of the gallery located in Scottsdale, Arizona who offers helpful blog advice to artists all over the world. "Circles and Butterflies," a 48" x 46" acrylic painting on canvas, was one of the pieces I submitted in my application.

As part of the program, I now have the opportunity to follow the progress of the two final artists through 15 bi-weekly podcasts that will document their journeys to an exhibition of their work in Xanadu Gallery during April. This is the first time that Jason has selected two artists for the program. Sculptor Phyllis Mantik deQuevedo and painter Kimberly Ferrell will compliment each other in an exhibition of their figurative work.

This week Jason discussed the importance of having consistency in the art an artist puts out for public display. I take notes throughout the podcasts and was pleased that he listed his six criteria for consistency. They are: subject matter, theme, style, palette, medium, and presentation. I thought about how authors also can benefit from using those same criteria for consistency in their books and their covers.

Jason says that artists should discover their own mix in the six criteria as they seek to find their individual brands. This reminded me of the time a few years ago when I met with the cover designer of my first novel, Hearts Across Forever.  She told me about branding, a subject I had not considered much before that day. Although she did not give me the criteria for consistency, she made me understand the importance of developing a "look" for not only the books, but the author as well. The art on the cover of Hearts Across Forever is my pastel painting of falls that are part of the story. It is interesting to note the similarities of the color palettes of my painting and those of my book. I had not thought about that common element until I put photos of both of them in my blog today.

From now on, I will give special attention to the six criteria for consistency as I develop my art work. I will also consider it in my book writing and in the art for my covers. Thank you, Jason Horejs, for your thoughtful suggestions.