Creative Convergence

During this season of winter torment (it seems I hear more and more people lamenting the harsh temps, snow and ice this time of year), I thought I’d shine a light on an individual with an abundance of artistic and creative talent.  Mary Montague Sikes.  Or Monti, to many.  We may as well find something fun and inspirational to focus on, right?

As I read Monti’s bio, I was reminded of the beloved book by Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book began as a collection of tips/hints from different artists and authors, and was published as a set of helpful methods for maximizing the creativity and productivity of artists.  I loved her book.

Cameron wrote about “morning pages” (three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning).  She points out there is no wrong way to do morning pages, “they are not high art.”  Rather, they are about whatever drifts into your mind.  And “the artist date” is a once weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests the artist.  Enjoy Julia’s website sometime soon — you know, during the next blizzard or ice storm!

Creativity – like human life itself – begins in darkness.
Julia Cameron

Monti strikes me as someone who has enjoyed a creative convergence.  Artist.  Author.  Teacher.  Traveler.  Photographer.  Poet.  Blogger.  Kindred Spirit.  Many talents folded into one lovely individual.

Mary Montague Sikes is a native Virginian who grew up in the historic city of Fredericksburg in the shadow of Civil War battlefields near the boyhood home of George Washington. Motivated by her surroundings, she started writing and painting at an early age. In high school she developed a fascination for the works of Edgar Allen Poe and was inspired to write short stories.  Always intrigued by far-away places, as an adult she began traveling and writing about her journeys to exotic locations.  Her first novel, Hearts Across Forever, is set in Jamaica and relates to her interest in the legend of Rose Hall Great House.  Using both her writing and her artistic skills, Monti wrote and illustrated a coffee table book, Hotels to Remember.  Her publisher created the Passenger to Paradise series for her exotic destination books. Night Watch, set in Trinidad, is the latest book in that series.  A professional artist with a MFA in painting, Monti teaches art to almost 400 elementary school children.  Besides her interest in painting, she plays tennis, follows baseball, does step aerobics, and enjoys her family of three adult daughters.  Monti and her husband now reside in a little Virginia town situated on three rivers accessed by two beautiful new bridges.


 The settings for her books and articles include: Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, and St. Martin.  Her most recent research trips carried her to Los Cabos on the western coast of Mexico, to Yellowstone National Park where she took over 500 photographs, and to Carmel-by-the-Sea where she marveled at photo opportunities wherever she turned.

A founder of Virginia Romance Writers, Monti is the author of seven award-winning books.  She is currently working on her latest novel in the Passenger to Paradise series, Jungle Secrets and Damaged Dreams.  Set in Costa Rica, this is a sequel to Secrets by the Sea. Monti is also working on new paintings for a July 2011 one-person art show.

  • You can see why I’m impressed, can’t you?

I was particularly interested in how one area of expertise facilitated other areas, i.e., the relationship between painting and writing books.

Monti said, “I’m a very visual person and see the scenes in my books completely set up in my mind.  Imagination in both art and writing is an essential quality.”

And while she’s been drawing and painting for as long as she can remember, lately, Monti’s also creating “gathering journals” that house ideas for everything.

For her guest blog post, however, Monti is sharing more about her art.

My Day of the Portrait
by Mary Montague Sikes

Recently a friend came by our house who had never seen any of my art.  She was most interested in several portraits hanging on our walls and that started me thinking and remembering.

It seems I’ve always painted images in series. At first I didn’t mean to, and then it just happened.  Probably my very first series was that of portraits. Because we had young children and I took lots of photographs of them, I had subjects available, willing or not.  I often painted with my children placed in Mary Cassatt poses.  One daughter still complains that she has one shoulder higher than the other because I made her pose leaning toward her sister.  I also used her in a Renoir-type pose standing on a garden path.  One Cassatt-style portrait has my oldest daughter combing the hair of her small sister.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized this was a series.  When I wanted to paint my mother with our youngest daughter, I used an Olan Mills photograph creating my own version in oil.  I also painted a portrait of my mother-in-law and father-in-law, but that painting is no longer in my possession.  I painted a group of tennis friends standing by a tennis net that included both my husband and me.

Many of my portraits were done in pastels.  I first used pastels when I took a drawing and design class while attending Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington).  All of my earliest portraits on canvas were painted in oil.  But when I entered the College of William and Mary to study art, I was introduced to acrylic paints and immediately was hooked.  Although oil paint is easier to blend into flesh tones for portraits, I loved the water-based acrylic for its fast-drying quality and its lack of turpentine odor. When I started taking classes in the art department at Virginia Commonwealth University, I created another series of portraits of my children using acrylics.  I recently uncovered one of those rather large (42 by 54 inches) paintings hidden away in my studio closet.

My series painting changed when I entered the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth. Instead of portraits, I created massive paintings of mountain scenes.  Each new painting was developed from a pastel sketch, so when my final thesis show was hung I had work in three different mediums—pastel, oil, and acrylic.  My next series, after graduation, was called “Tropical Fantasies” and consisted of many pastel working drawings and large acrylic paintings.  I believe my novels, most of which have tropical settings, relate in many ways to the days of those paintings.

Then came a series of paintings based on photographs I took at the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Cozumel, and Palenque.

Although I’ve had exhibitions featuring the Mayan Ruins” series, “Tropical Fantasies,” “Trees” and “Seascapes”, as well as many other art shows, I have never displayed most of my portraits.   However, I have taken some of the portrait paintings to school to show my elementary school art classes when I’ve talked about the work of Mary Cassatt.  I suppose that’s a little bit of public display.

About the time of the Mayan ruins paintings, I developed an interest in novel writing and stopped painting full-time.  I can’t help but wonder where my painting career would have headed if I had allowed it to remain my major focus.  What would have happened if my day of the portrait had continued? ~

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