Pastel Pursuits at Turkey Run

The next stop in the countdown to my 2017 visits to Indiana’s state parks goes back to a beautiful day in July at the unique Turkey Run State Park. Easily the most visited state park in Indiana, I spent a productive morning at the busiest spot at Turkey Run — the suspension bridge over Sugar Creek. You couldn’t ask for a better position to engage the public. I broke all attendance records for the morning alone!

In order to visit most of the dramatic cliffs and canyons in the park, you must cross the creek over a bridge that does move a bit depending on the wind and traffic. I set up for the morning in the cool shade of a convenient clearing in view of everyone hiking up and down the steps of the mossy concrete support for the cables that hold up the foot bridge. Even with many pauses to chat with visitors at this visible spot, I made enough progress on my painting that people could recognize what I was working on.

I chose to paint with pastels that morning, and had already prepared a piece of sanded 8″ x 10″ Wallis pastel paper secured with white artist tape to a piece of foam board. I’m able to clip this set up to the easel of my pochade box the same way I do my panels for oil painting. That way when I’m finished and need to move on, I can carry the pastel clipped to the outside of the box, or place it in one of the plastic bins I bring along to protect the fragile pastels from the elements and keep everything else away from the dust.

I use several brands of soft or chalk pastels, although I’ll be experimenting with oil pastels in 2017. I have used the firmer Prismacolor NuPastel sticks since college, and prefer them for crisper edges and a wide variety of colors at a reasonable price. I also use Derwent pastel pencils for clean, sharp lines and details. A few years ago a painting teacher at my local art center introduced me to Rembrandt pastels, which are softer and pricier. After enjoying the depth of color I’ve achieved with these, I finally took the plunge and bought a few of the very expensive Sennelier soft pastels in buttery, darker shades. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to pay big bucks for those very necessary dark shades that pop the lighter colors and add depth to your painting.

After taking shelter under the nature center’s covered porch for a big thunderstorm, I hauled only the basics (my pochade box and a camp chair) down the many steps to the bottom of Turkey Run Canyon. Perched on the edge of the swollen creek, I began an oil painting on a 9″ x 12″ panel while hikers tried to cross over on the few remaining rocks jutting out of the water. Few made it across without getting their feet wet. Meanwhile, I tried to replicate the beautiful saturated colors left by the rains as the sun’s rays hit all the water particles suspended in the air, turning them to diamonds.

Neither photo nor painting could do justice to the enchanting scene I hoped to capture that afternoon. I hope to remember it always, and now have a completed painting to help jog my memory. I particularly enjoyed painting all the warm colors found in the water, pebbles and sand as complements to the cool blues and purples of the canyon walls and woods.

Keep an eye out for a change of pace and completely different scenery when I head up to the sand dunes of Lake Michigan for my next installment. Until then, happy creating!

The Mists of Turkey Run


July’s painting event at Turkey Run State Park featured all the best of a summer day: beautiful weather, an afternoon thunderstorm, an ice-cream social, and a mystical time inside those famous hollows used by pioneers to corral wild turkeys for hunting, hence the name for one of the busiest state parks in Indiana.

The second park to be established in Indiana’s state park system, Turkey Run’s sandstone bedrock was carved into canyons and formations by the glaciers that brought boulders and plant life only seen in northern areas of Michigan and Canada. The hemlock groves and canyon ecosystems are found nowhere else in Indiana. This park is also the final resting spot for Col. Richard Lieber, father of Indiana State Parks, and home to the 19th Century Lusk Home, the Lieber Cabin built with virgin timber in the 1840s, and the Log Church built in 1871. There is also a covered bridge over Sugar Creek and a suspension bridge that leads to the sandstone canyons and rugged trails.

I set up at the suspension bridge in the morning, and used pastels to capture the steps and concrete base with a glimpse of the creek as many visitors strolled by on a beautiful Sunday. I had some great conversations about what I was doing throughout the morning, meeting many who were creative artists in their own way including a blacksmith and a quilter. I saw over 140 visitors for the day, my most successful event yet.

My watercolor activity at the Nature Center around noon was also a big hit, with over 25 kids and adults trying out waterbrushes and field kits despite the afternoon thunderstorm that cut my time short. After a brief stop for the 100th birthday celebration with cake and ice cream at the Inn, I descended with only my paintbox and a camp chair to the entrance of Turkey Run Hollow where the cool creek water and saturated air from the thunderstorm met to form the most beautiful mists and light rays that cut through the dampness. Hikers paused to chat by my chair before attempting the trail’s precarious water crossing.

There’s so much to see at Turkey Run that I’m sure I’ll return soon to paint its wonderful covered bridge or the waterfalls in hidden canyons full of dense green ferns and moss. Until then, I’ll treasure the memories of a perfect summer day and the glimpses of a mystical world brought by glaciers.