Countdown to the Parks

The grass is greening, tree buds are bursting, geese have returned (well, they never actually left), and warm spring breezes are calling to make art outdoors. I have another Arts in the Parks Grant for 2017, this time in six of the newest state parks throughout Indiana. In preparation, I’m finishing and featuring the paintings from visits last year, one set of park paintings per week until the official kick-off for my Paints in the Parks event the first weekend of May.

This week’s completed works are from my very first 2016 Paints in the Parks event on Memorial Day Weekend last May. I nervously set up my easel and supplies by the edge of Big Clifty at the most popular spot in Clifty Falls State Park near Madison, Indiana. I’d just been informed that a well-known Indiana photographer for Outdoor Indiana magazine was coming to take photos of me painting by the falls.

Working against the clock, I quickly located a good angle, framed the composition in my mind, and chose an appropriately sized panel. By the time photographer Frank Oliver arrived, I had roughly blocked in all areas and was working on details, trying to capture the movement of that rushing water over rocks, all while chatting with park visitors and trail hikers.

When it was time for me to move on to my next spot in the park, I was close to completing the painting, needing only a few touchups when I returned home. This particular one of Big Clifty, of all my 2016 park paintings, is truly a work of plein air, capturing the movement and lighting in that fleeting moment. All because of the threat of being documented with an ugly canvas. Guess I work better under pressure.

In late afternoon, I was set up across the canyon from Big Clifty on a trail that provided a dramatic lookout over the sea of green canopy. Through a distant slit in the leaves you could catch a glimpse of Big Clifty’s distinctive rocky cliffs and falls. By now I was becoming more comfortable engaging with the steady stream of hikers who paused to take a breath after a steep climb out of the canyon. The muggy weather threatened rain all day, but now the heat and humidity were building up for an afternoon thunderstorm, so I was watching the skies closely.

Despite all the moisture, I chose to try my hand at some pastel work while chatting with curious visitors who peered around my easel to see what I was doing. Before the visit, I had prepared a piece of sanded pastel paper, cut to a small standard size and taped to some foam board for stability. That way I could secure the painting surface by clipping it to my pochade paint box like any other canvas. The danger with pastels is always the possibility of knocking costly pastel sticks to the ground and breaking them, but I managed to keep them steady for a quick impression of the falls before the skies finally opened up. I then took the work in progress home to finish in drier conditions.

I find that I enjoy producing several versions of the same subject using different mediums. The chance to introduce to the public a variety of ways to paint and make art is worth hauling so many supplies into the state parks and up rugged trails. The countdown continues next week, so stay tuned for another set of finished paintings from last June. Until then, happy creating!

Falling For Clifty Falls

This past Memorial Day weekend found me painting up a storm at Clifty Falls State Park near the mighty Ohio river and Madison, Indiana. Created by Ice Age glaciers millions of years ago, the waterfall that has cut away the soft shale from hard limestone bedrock can be found some two miles away from where it first began on the Ohio river banks, leaving a deep canyon in its wake.  Sixty feet high and supplied by this year’s ample spring rains, I could hear the roar of Big Clifty  while I set up my easel for the morning demonstration.

My painting spot was one of several prime viewing areas protected by stone walls built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps where Brad Hessans, the park’s very knowledgeable interpretive naturalist, stopped to point out fossils embedded in the stones. Creek beds and rock formations throughout the park hold many examples of fossils from an ancient marine ecosystem full of corals and brachiopods.

The campgrounds and inn were also full at Clifty for the holiday weekend, and I was able to engage over one hundred visitors throughout the day on Saturday at several locations in the park. I worked on a small oil painting of the Falls in the morning, and a pastel of a long-range view of Clifty Falls from a lookout point on the trail in the afternoon. The trails range from rugged to easy, and there’s plenty to do in the park, as well as the nearby cities of Madison and Louisville.

Established in 1920 at the suggestion of Richard Lieber, father of the Indiana state park system, Clifty Falls is the first of six state parks I’ll visit this summer and fall. If you get the chance, I encourage you to come visit Clifty’s stunning waterfalls and scenic overlooks. My next stop in June is Mounds State Park near Anderson, Indiana. Until then, grab some supplies and go make some art outside!