Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, September 12, 2016

Teaching an Artists Workshop on Hilton Head Island Is Inspiring

Last week, I taught a three-day workshop at the Art Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and I found it inspiring. Hilton Head is special to me. We have owned timeshares there for years and travel to the island once or twice every year.

"Island Club Tennis Courts" ©Mary Montague Sikes
It's amazing how much Hilton Head has changed since we first visited in 1980. At that time, there was one grocery store and not much else. We fell in love with the tennis at Island Club and still believe it's the best place for playing with friends. There are many tennis activities, but fewer these days as interest in the sport has appeared to dwindle everywhere. We loved the Dennis Van Der Meer Tennis University from the first day we found out about it and took many workshops at the facility. We played with both Dennis and his wife Pat. It was part of the island adventure.

I also fell in love with the art galleries and found my first representation with Red Piano Gallery. The little house in the trees was enchanting, especially with the red piano displayed prominently in the windows of one large gallery room. After ownership there changed hands, I discovered Pink House Gallery which sold my pastel paintings. Later, Wexford Gallery came along and represented and sold my large acrylic works. I was thrilled and excited. Some of my work went into million dollar homes located on the island. Then, spaces and people moved, 9-11 happened, and everything changed in my art world. I also became an author, devoting more time to writing and promoting my books. Ironically, my first book signing for my first book was scheduled for 9/11/2001. Of course, that signing was cancelled. The timing for both my careers was wrong.

Perhaps that is why teaching artists' workshops on Hilton Head Island is so special to me. I feel a connection to the
"Giving a Demo at the Art Academy"
island and to the people who find it a special place to live or to visit. This year, my workshop was called, "Painting with Texture and Color". I've discovered that building texture with thick gesso works as well as using the heavy-bodied gel mediums. The students did a beautiful job creating with texture that way. We also worked with the glorious Robert Doak watercolors that become magic when used on Yupo.

It was a beautiful week with perfect weather. I wish we could have stayed longer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Our Star-Lit World Can Hurt, Gene Wilder Gone

Rest in peace, 2016 stars departed. ©Mary Montague Sikes
Last night right before my Circuit Training Class, I was touched by the pain of another class member when she learned of the death of Gene Wilder. He was part of my childhood, she pointed out, on the verge of tears. She remembered his part in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Sadness was evident on her face every time I looked at her.

This morning, I saw a Facebook post from one of our daughters who is very angry with 2016 and so many losses. When I asked her why she was so sad, she said, "Gene Wilder died."

There have been many celebrity losses this year. Prince and Muhammad Ali were bigger than life characters. Patty Duke, Harper Lee--the list goes on and on.

I thought about these children, now adults, who have lived all their lives in the midst of Hollywood, sports, and other glitz and glamour figures. These celebrity icons perhaps mean more to our children than celebrity meant to those children who grew up with men fighting terrible battles during World War II. Electronics helped change everything. The entire 20th Century was a time of change. Gene Wilder was part of that.

It was fascinating to read that it was after his discharge from the Army and his award with a spot at the Actor's Studio that he took the name Gene Wilder. Gene was from the protagonist of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel, Eugene Gant; Wilder came from the playwright, Thornton Wilder.

He had several marriages, including one in 1984 to Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. In her memory, he helped found "Gilda's Club", a network of support centers for people with cancer.

The availability of so much celebrity information makes them live in our hearts. They become a part of our lives and live on forever in television reruns.

Our star-lit world can bring much hurt. Rest in peace, 2016 stars departed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Grand Caverns and Orbs in a Photograph

Grand Caverns ©Mary Montague Sikes
Until last week, I had not visited an underground cavern in a very long time. As a child, I remember going to the caverns at Luray, Virginia. They were both spooky and spectacular to a little girl. Then, a few years ago, we visited caves in Trinidad that featured stalactites (ceiling formations that look like icicles hanging down). There were stalagmites rising from the floor of the caves. I wrote about these impressive caves in my novel, Night Watch.

My latest cavern adventure was to Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Virginia. This is the oldest "show cave" in North America with more than 200 years of guided tours. Soldiers from both armies in the Civil War took side trips there and even left over 200 of their signatures on the cave walls. These caverns were discovered in 1804 by an 18-year-old trapper named Bernard Weyer who called it Weyer's Cave.

The draping formations in Grand Caverns often resemble the wings of birds, particularly eagles. Some formations are very rare and look like shields. As I reviewed my photographs, I was surprised to discover one with a series of well-formed orbs quite visible. Using my Nikon Cool Pix digital camera, I was taking a picture of the rock formation and was very surprised to see the orbs. This is the untouched photo, except for resizing. 

Grand Caverns with Orbs ©Mary Montague Sikes
We were visiting the Appalachian Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. This was a side trip for us.

Have any of you had orbs show up in your photographs? Years ago, I had orbs appear in a photo I took of Mayan ruins with my 35mm Minolta camera. Those orb images became part of a painting in my series created of the ancient grounds and structures in Palenque and Chichen Itza in Mexico.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Selecting Powerful Words for Your Writing

Sitting with Linda Dobkins at the book signing
The Virginia Writer's Club Symposium "Navigating Your Writing Life" was very successful. "The Word's the Thing" - our panel for the event worked out well. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss word choices with Kim Dalferes and Angela Carter from our three diverse angles. Kim talked about comedy; Angela, poetry; and I spoke about words in feature article writing and the word connection dredged up between art and writing. We received positive feedback, and people were even turned away from our room because of a limited number due to the fire code.

The informational booklet for the symposium was an impressive 70-page book that contained all the handouts from authors participating on panels and making talks. My handouts were lists of power verbs and quality adjectives as well as a sample press release. I hope that at some point attendees will be able to use my press release as a guide to create one of their own. I want them to insert power verbs and adjectives from my lists.

Here are the power verbs from my list in the Symposium booklet: accelerate, achieve, administer, advance, build, chart, clarify conserve, consolidate, control create, customize, design, devise, enhance, envision, execute, expand, expedite, focus form, gain, guide, head, improve, initiate, inspire, institute, motivate, operate, pioneer, plan, produce, program, refocus, revamp, simplify, spearhead, streamline, strengthen, transform, update, upgrade.

Perhaps you can take a look at your own press release and enhance it through the use of a few of those power verbs. Having a good press release sample to which you can refer for the future is always a good idea, especially for book authors. 

What words have power for you?

Friday, August 5, 2016

"The Word's the Thing" - Virginia Writer's Symposium Panel

Mary Montague Sikes
Angela Carter
Kim Dalferes

I'm fortunate to be a part of the "The Word's the Thing" panel for the Virginia Writer's Club 2016 Symposium. I don't know either Kim Dalferes or Angela Carter, the other two authors on the panel, but I'm looking forward to meeting them.

Being on the panel has really started me to think about the importance of word choice. Long ago, when I first started writing for an afternoon metropolitan newspaper that no longer exists, I remember my shock and awe at the headlines written by others to go above the stories I filed. Those headlines brought extra power to the words in the leads I chose for my stories.  Sometimes the headline words changed the meaning of what I wrote and got me into trouble with county and town officials. I had never before known that such word power existed.

One time I wrote about an historic old church that had paint peeling like flower petals from the ceiling. That wording caused an irate response from one of the members of the congregation. I was trying to paint a word picture of the interior, not antagonize a reader.

The poor choice of words can sting and hurt someone. It can leave a memory that lasts forever.

Giving someone an unexpected compliment can bring them joy. You have spoken a word they might never forget.

That's why lyrics to songs become memorable. That's true of the words of poems as well. I've always loved the writing of Edgar Allan Poe.

Who can forget, "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary..."?

I enjoy the idea of creating our own memorable words.

Think about light and love. The word's the thing.