Daddy's Christmas Angel

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Settings Mean A Lot

Key West Sunset - Sikes photo 
It surprised me when the list owner of one of the romance groups to which I belong told me that a blog about the Hemingway House did not relate to romance writing. For me, it does. After all, Ernest Hemingway wrote in one of the most inspiring settings I have seen. Maybe his books cannot be classified as romances, but looking out a wall of windows (as he did from his writing studio) into a tropical setting invites the imagination to go wild in a myriad of directions. At least, it invites mine.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge," Albert Einstein once said.

Imagine that! A man of his brilliance knew the importance of imaginative inspiration. The idea must first grow in the mind before anything can be created.

The idea for the painting comes before the blank canvas can be filled. Even if it begins only with a spattering of paint. We have to decide to spatter and where.

The ideas for a novel comes as characters grow inside our heads. I think they grow more easily when we have an amazing and inspiring setting like Hemingway found in Key West and later on in Cuba, another tropical location.

Settings inspire writers and artists. They inspire romance. Settings mean a lot.

Mary Montague Sikes

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Six-toed Cats

While in Key West, a writer must visit the home of author Ernest Hemingway. Whether you loved him or hated him, Key West is rampant with relics and memories of the renowned and unforgettable Nobel-prize-winning author.

Amy and Pablo Picasso
Note the extra toe
And you must meet the six-toed cats (polydactyl) that are descendants of the first Hemingway cat, Snowball. Our daughter, Amy, is a real cat person who was thrilled to see all the cats on the property. There were little cat houses everywhere. All the cats have names, and Amy was especially taken with Pablo Picasso who was very people friendly. Gertrude Stein, Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, and Charlie Chapman were among the other cats lounging about in the lush foliage and on patio bricks. The cats are well-taken care of with a wire fence placed above the brick wall to keep them in and intruders out.

Picasso Painting
The studio where Hemingway wrote many of his famous novels is located behind the house. At one time a cat walk connected the two buildings so that the author could walk from his bedroom to his studio without going up or down any of the stairs. A painting on display in the bedroom by Pablo Picasso was given to Hemingway in exchange for a case of hand grenades.

If they want to learn more about the life and ways of Ernest Hemingway, visitors to Key West can go to the Customs House Museum. Upstairs, a video plays that tells the story of Hemingway, his four wives, his fishing interests, his days in Cuba and much more.

After visiting the Hemingway House, we headed to a converted house next door that is now the Six-toed Cat Restaurant. Not only did they have a gift shop devoted to more cat items, but the tops of all the tables were cut out in the shape of six-toed cat paws. The food was good and we felt gratified by our day with Ernest Hemingway and his descendant cats.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Escape to the Tropics

Tropical adventures are one of my passions. They have been for a long time. That's why I love to vacation in the Caribbean, and that's why I set many of my books there.

Our first tropical escape took us to the island of Jamaica. I was entranced by the exotic beauty of this lush Caribbean destination and have returned there many times since then.

On an early trip to Jamaica, we visited Negril and stayed at Sandals before so many resorts filled the glorious seven-mile beach. We strolled barefoot in the almost deserted silver sand and watched goats climb the trees as Grand Lido (recently rebranded as Breezes Grand Negril) was under construction there.

We climbed Dunn's River Falls before so many vendors clamored for attention along the way. Of course, I fell in love with the scenery and took dozens of 35mm slides that I later developed into large (several were four by six feet canvases) paintings. They were part of my "Tropical Fantasies" painting series.

Rose Hall Great House was another tourist location I visited during our first trip to Jamaica. The story of  Annie Palmer, the white witch, beguiled me. I learned about her ties to Obeah from several of the Jamaicans I met. When I returned home I researched Rose Hall, Obeah, and Obeah in Haiti. They later became the background for my first novel, Hearts Across Forever.

People have scolded me for going to Jamaica. "What about the poverty?" some of them ask.

Much poverty did and does exist, but there is such richness in the location. Even the poor have the beauty of the island surrounding them. The Jamaican people rely on the tourist industry for jobs, so they welcome their visitors even as many of them strive to leave the rich island of their birth.

The beauty of Jamaica still haunts me as do the memories. In the future, I will write of that destination again. And, of course, I look forward to other tropical adventures and future escapes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Creativity Focus - What Makes You Lose It?

As an art teacher for more than 360 elementary school children, I recognize the importance of focus for creative people. That’s why for the past several years I have used a little ritual with my students when they first enter the classroom.

I have the children close their eyes, take a long, silent breath and “see” in their minds a color, shape, or something else that may relate to the day’s project. I ask them to focus on that image, take another long, silent breath, then open their eyes. My intention is for them to forget about the games they’ve been playing outdoors or the work they’ve been doing in their classroom and just let their imaginations take over to see in their minds what they wish to create.

Many things can cause a creative person to lose focus. I hear often about those who have “writer’s block.” I’ve never had that problem. Instead, I have focus block. Especially during baseball season.

When I was a small child, I followed and loved the St. Louis Cardinals. In late evening, my grandmother and I tuned into KMOX, the voice of St. Louis, on our radio, and we listened to all the games. It was my passion, my focus. Although my mother scolded me for being a baseball fanatic, I never gave up following the Cardinals until I had children of my own to raise. Then, when Mark McGwire had the memorable season during which he hit 70 home runs and broke the long-standing home run record, I began following the Cardinals again. Like many other people, McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought me back to baseball. This year, part of the excitement of spring training for me and many others was getting the chance to meet Mark McGwire, the Cardinals new hitting coach.

Now I plan in March of each year to take a trip to Jupiter, FL for St. Louis Cardinals spring training. While there, we get to visit with the players and watch them train and play games at beautiful Roger Dean Stadium. From that moment on until late October (in the years when they make the play-offs), I am hooked. Now, instead of listening to the radio, I follow the Cardinals by watching all their games on satellite TV.

For almost eight months each year, I lose my writing and my artistic focus. I still write and paint during those months, but I plan my time around the games. In fact, I am so enthralled with baseball that when we go on vacation, the first thing I look for is a good sports bar where I can watch live Cardinal games!

Probably not many other writers and artists share my baseball passion, but I suspect there are other things that cause them to lose focus. Do you have a vice or passion that alters your creative time? I would love to know more about the creative focus of other writers and artists.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just Google My Name - A Catchy Song Title?

Having an up-to-date Web site is essential in the ever-changing age of internet promotion. Last weekend, I discovered how important it is to keep my Web site fresh with correct information. After all, if someone Googles my name my Web site is the very first item on the first page that comes up.

On Saturday, I received a phone call from the owners of two of my experimental mixed water media paintings. The collectors explained that for some time they had been trying to locate me because they wanted to purchase a third painting to display with the ones they already owned. Since I am no longer affiliated with the gallery where they made their original purchases, they were unable to track me down there. These collectors were calling from Petersburg Regional Art Center, a location where I now show my work, which they found on my Web site.

After a few calls and several photos sent by e-mail, they selected a painting and we met the next day at a shopping mall between the towns where we live, 60 miles apart. They now have a new painting, and I had the  opportunity to get to know some of my collectors.

Without my Web site, complete with links, I doubt that any of this would have happened. Google your name and see where your Web site falls on the list.

Just Google my name. Would that make a catchy title for a song?

©Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Amazing Painting/Sculpture Inspires Writing

For many years, traveling and writing about my experiences has been my passion. While visiting Key West, Florida in 2007, I stumbled upon the most amazing art exhibit in my memory. It was “Beyond the Frame, Impressionism Revisited,” composed of mixed media and bronze sculptures depicting in life-size in 3D a number of famous paintings by French Impressionist artists. This incredible art work, created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., was displayed so that the viewer could step inside and become of a part of the piece of art. This work was on view for about a year at the Key West Museum of Art and History at the Custom House.

I was especially fascinated by Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” and Renoir’s “The Boating Party.” As an elementary school art teacher, I often display prints of Van Gogh paintings as examples for the children to use as their “points of departure” for classroom assignments. I took a wide variety of photographs of these remarkable Johnson sculptures and posted them around our art room for inspiration when I returned home.

A few years ago, while attending art classes at the College of William and Mary, I enjoyed watching one of the students create an excellent large scale copy of “The Boating Party”. The painting took the student the entire year to complete. Because of that experience, I was even more interested in studying the sculpture of the painting. I came home with quite a few photographs taken of “The Boating Party” sculpture from different angles. In one of them, my husband appears to be inviting one of the pretty young ladies out on a date—so realistic in appearance I felt a little jealous!

When I go back to Key West this year, the fantastic sunsets will still be there. I can visit the Hemingway house and the bars that famous writer frequented, but I shall miss the astonishing sculptures I saw one hot day in 2007. I wish they would return to that museum and that I could study them more closely.

Seward Johnson is a gifted artist with a sense of humor and marvelous talent. I suspect his art has inspired many a writer. I wonder what Hemingway would have thought.

©Mary Montague Sikes