Leading Stories

by Hannah Guice, Staff Writer

Maria Landy is no outsider to the strange and stressful; she’s a sergeant for the Pensacola Police Department, after all. When the work day winds down, Landy finds consolation in creating and sculpting whimsical creatures.

Landy is the owner and creator of Maria’s Monster Menagerie. Across the table, she unravels sculptures packed in tissue paper, her sketchbook, painted rocks and a pile of character cards from a basket.

Maria Landy creates little monsters with careful craft and brilliant imagination.

Landy moved to Pensacola with her family in 1992. She missed out on winning an art scholarship and after four years of living here she became a law enforcement officer.

Her gift of connecting with people altered her life and her ability to fulfill her job responsibilities empathetically. Law enforcement is very competitive, she says.  

“It just wears your soul out,” Landy said. “There’s probably only been a handful of people that I’ve put in jail that are truly bad people. Everybody else you put in jail is just regular people who’ve made mistakes, and you feel bad. You’ve just made a significant impact on their lives and you know it. You know, you’re doing your job and people like me, it wears your spirit down. (My hobby) balances it. Kindness back, after I’ve had a terrible day.”

Prior to the monsters that line her sketchbook and those that cover her coffee table, Landy drew and painted exquisite pieces.

Approximately 25 years ago, Landy hosted an art show at The National Naval Aviation Museum. What was meant to be a milestone in Maria’s artistic journey left her empty and discouraged.

Landy remarks that the museum was filled with passersby and lacked connection. No one stopped to view, nor did they purchase a single piece. Following this event, her pride and passion for art diminished. 

Maria Landy’s monsters come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

For 10-15 years Landy revisited her previous works to critique and often recreate, but she seldom created anything new. She invested in a “schmancy” camera and used photography as a creative outlet to document her travels and memories she shared with loved ones.

Landy painted a couple watercolor pieces of cemetery sculptures and other photos taken but resisted doodling anything new. She sewed cloth animals that have recently reappeared clutched in the arms of select sculptures.

When Landy swapped turns with her family to watch over her father as he battled stage four cancer, she broke out her sketchpad for the first time in nearly a decade. What started out as doodles morphed into a collection of uplifting characters.

After a hiatus from drawing, Landy discovered solace in the monsters she drew on the pages of her sketchbook and the inspiring quotes she inscribed alongside them.

Her father’s battle with cancer implemented an altering life philosophy of positivity and sharing how you feel in a given moment.

The joy she created out of art in a distressful time frame is now what she shares as a platform to nonchalantly connect with and uplift others.

When Maria worked an over-night security shift, she would leave sketches on cards of her monsters for the secretaries to brighten their morning. She began adding color to the characters with the markers at the desk and laminating the doodles with the office supplies (she assures she replaced what was used.)

Landy’s beloved dog Bip was hit by a car and broke his back. Bip mad a full recovery, but the required neurosurgery on his spine left Landy $10,000 in debt.

She picked up extra side jobs when she had the opportunity, but her friends suggested she begin selling her art.

Responding with hesitancy, Landy was puzzled as how to market her work and who would even purchase it. 

In addition to sculpting her little monsters, Landy animates them in her sketchbooks and on her iPad.

“It meandered into what it is now because I had to pick a business name, and then I learned about Zazzle.” 

She was introduced to Zazzle.com which she now uses to showcase her work.  

One friend in particular, Shauncey Fury, encouraged Maria that she was indeed a worthy artist and should take her work a step further and open a booth at The First Friday event at Bare Hand Collective.

Taking small steps altered the layout of Maria’s Monster Menagerie and revamped her eyes to the connection her work shared with people all along. After she opened a table at a Gulf Coast Fan Fest in October and then one at Pensacon in February, she realized that there was potential for a future, and it was just a matter of staying the course.

The collaborative spirit throughout the art community of Pensacola has encouraged Landy to showcase her work. While artists share similarities, everyone chooses what to create out of the basic tools such as paint and pencil.

“It doesn’t feel competitive; it feels collaborative, and that makes a huge difference in how you approach your art,” Landy said. “When you feel you can collaborate with other artists it pushes you to be better. I’m sure other people have competitive spirits, but that’s not how I work. I have been competitive in the past and it leaves my glass empty. Now that I’ve moved on, I find that when I collaborate, I walk away with something too so that I don’t feel drained with the production of what I have done.”

Landy unfolds a deck of character card drawings epitomizing the evolution of her marker pieces to those digitally created.

Landy originally scanned her drawings to upload digitally with an office scanner that lacked the ability to depict the “colors, nuances and glitter” pivotal to each character.

A card drawing of the character “Dot,” one of the final marker pieces yet to be transferred digitally, defines the differences in her marker drawings and those designed through Procreate software on her iPad.

“Dot” is covered by freckles that are etched seamlessly by markers, an intrinsic detail difficult to replicate digitally.

Landy writes down quotes that inspire her within her sketchbook and then she draws her characters in pencil. From there, if she connects with a character, she will revisit them to begin the sculpting process.

Maria’s Monster Menagerie is rooted in innovation, symbolization and research. A friend commissioned Landy to create pieces for The Red Hat Society. She researched a variety of dog breeds and hats to create the characters.

At Pensacon, she designed a koala-themed monster for Australian actress Nell Campbell, who portrayed Columbia in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Landy began her creative journey with a rocky start. Up until the fourth grade her mother, the artist of the family, completed Maria’s art projects. When her teacher humiliated her in front of the class, Landy took initiative to diligently work at improving her art.

In the eighth grade Landy was selected for a special art program in New Orleans. Her instructor’s art was very abstract, much like Picasso’s cubism or Salvador Dali’s surrealism.

“I should reach out to him and let him know that it’s finally come full circle and the other part of my brain has unlocked,” Landy said. “His art and my art were just completely on opposite ends of the spectrum. I just felt very resentful of the classes, so I didn’t enjoy them as much as I should have. It was a huge privilege, but I just couldn’t appreciate it at that age.”

While attending high school in Spain, Landy had an influential art teacher that kept one of Landy’s pieces of artwork.

“When he passed away, his daughter sent it back to me with a note saying, ‘It had hung in his condo all the way up until he had passed away.’ I had written him a letter after high school, and he had kept it stuck to the back of the piece,” Landy said. “It was really special getting that back from her, and then going back through and realizing it’s crap looking at it now because I’ve developed so much more, but he valued it.” 

Intrinsic details such as the movement throughout Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are reflected in the freckles on Landy’s sculptures.

Landy is a dual citizen of New Zealand, and when “Lord of The Rings” launched, she was inspired by Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop. She wanted to begin making creature art such as special effects makeup.

Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation and even the cheesy ’80s “Clash of the Titans” monsters captivated Landy’s interest.

“That’s where I learned to have fun with my art,” Landy said. “Why did I feel that I was less than because it was silly? Because silly can bring a lot of joy.”

One of Landy’s main ambitions for Maria’s Monster Menagerie is to create a children’s book.

“If somebody were to approach me about licensing my characters, I would be fine with that, but I’m very concerned with language, lessons, morality and ethics of the characters,” Landy said. “I don’t ever want this to be ‘Rugrats.’ It’s more like ‘The Get Along Gang.’”

It’s crucial to Landy that any creative process concerning her characters stays true to a meaningful message.

“It’s not about making money,” Landy said. “It’s about bringing positivity into the world, so I don’t know. We’ll see where they go.”

For those struggling to balance a career with another passion, Landy advises to not get sidetracked by all of life’s distractions. It’s crucial to take initiative in allotting time to do what you love.

“For 20 years of my life I probably compromised my dreams of being an artist because I didn’t think I was good enough,” Landy said.

She compares sculpting to “gym rats,” with the notion that people must routinely train themselves to achieve what they want to.

“I’m going to be the crazy lady that lives on a farm, raises goats and paints,” Landy said. “I’m totally happy with that. But don’t give up, even if you do get sidetracked … Even if you get sidetracked by something in life, you still have the opportunity to come back to it.”

View and purchase Landy’s work by following Maria’s Monster Menagerie on Zazzle.com, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also stop by Maria’s booth at the First Friday event held at The Bare Hand Collective.