Spooktacular Fun at Summit Lake

Paints in the Parks’ final park visit for 2018 took place on a very cold day at Summit Lake State Park near New Castle, Indiana, where I painted some colorful fall foliage reflected by the lake and had a blast offering my painting activity at their Spooktacular campground event, complete with pumpkin carving, chili cook-off, s’mores and very creative Halloween costumes. What a great ending to our third grant year!

Part of 2,680 acres set aside for recreation and flood control measures along the Big Blue River in the 1970s, Summit Lake’s 800-acre lake attracts woodland animals and 100-species of birds in addition to providing a home for bass, sunfish, crappies and yellow perch. Established as Indiana’s 19th state park in 1988, Summit’s name comes from its location at one of the highest elevations in the state. The park is also home to Zeigler Woods, a preserve that presents a rich variety of native flora and fauna that could be found in abundance before the area’s development in the 1800s.

In the frigid morning light, I set up my easel at one of the three boat ramps near the park’s boat rental and docks. Even though I had trouble feeling my fingers enough to hold a paintbrush, I enjoyed seeing the first flush of fall color reflected in the lake from trees along the shore. Our unusually late autumn had me itching to add some reds and oranges to all the green that I’d been painting for months. A few hardy souls ventured out in the frosty air, particularly fishermen who quickly and efficiently launched their watercraft into water that was much warmer than the cold air above it, creating misty clouds that floated above the surface like ghosts in keeping with the day’s Halloween theme.

A few hardy souls chatted with me as I struggled with my water-mixable oil paint that becomes very gooey in cold weather. While traditional oil painters can work outside in freezing temperatures without too much trouble as long as they avoid frostbite, I found out the hard way that the morning’s 38 degrees pushed the limits with medium that is water-based. That’s okay though, because my indoor studio is always available when the weather turns cold!

After a good start on a view of the shoreline’s fall foliage, I spent the rest of the day at the campground naturalist’s site, strategically located right next to the chili cook-off and a crackling fire for hand-warming and s’mores making. I offered my watercolor painting activity as part of Summit Lake’s annual Spooktacular campground weekend where prizes are given for the best-decorated campsite, the tastiest chili, and the most creative carved pumpkins. As the sun came out to stay and the day grew warmer, costumed crowds gathered to sample a long lineup of crockpots filled with spicy family recipes, construct messy chocolate and marshmallow confections, vote on the crazily creative carved pumpkins, and even test out my large array of art supplies to paint their own spooky postcards full of ghosts, ghouls and greenery.

I especially enjoyed watching artists working on several picnic tables provided by the park while sporting all kinds of costuming, from monarchs to kitchen mops (yes, really). Participants’ outfits and face paint added an amazing kaleidoscope of color to match the splashes of creativity on their canvases.  At the end of a very successful few hours before the park closed the roads for their trick-or-treat parade, over 80 park visitors had stopped by our special canopy and table, with 50 children and adults creating art despite all the other wonderful diversions going on at the same time!

My fingers and heart were certainly warmed up by the time we drove off into the sunset of another fulfilling year with Indiana’s Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant program. As always, I’m very grateful to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Arts Commission for making this program possible. And a special thanks to everyone who participated or stopped by in 2018–your smiles at the end of the day make our park visits endlessly worthwhile!

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Painting Matters at Mounds

With one successful park program under my belt last May, I began June’s visit to Mounds State Park near Anderson, Indiana, with a little more confidence, boosted even more by the two lovely ladies who were waiting to draw with me that morning. The park naturalist had done a great job advertising the Paints in the Parks event, and they had brought along pencils and paper to capture the Great Mound with me for a pleasant few hours.

The weather was sunny and mild that day, maybe the best of all the park visits last year. I found a good spot with a little shade near the trail leading to the Great Mound’s entrance, where I could talk to visitors strolling by as I took advantage of the strong morning light and shadows. Faced with the largest of the earthworks created by a group of prehistoric people, I could only capture a portion of the mound, reenforcing the plein air painter’s need for framing and omission in the composition of a painting.

I’m pleased to report that the Great Mound’s distinctive shape topped by tall trees and surrounded by a rustic rail fence prompted park guests during subsequent events to immediately recognize the subject whenever they saw this painting on display. Considering that these remarkable landmarks had to survive the construction of an amusement park on top of them in the early 20th Century, I’m very lucky to still be able to capture the spirit of this sacred site.

The above glimpse of my palette gives me the perfect opportunity to introduce my choice of paint and colors. A friend who is an accomplished art teacher and oil painter gave me a beginner box of Artisan Water Mixable Oils made by Winsor & Newton. Since I began my training as an acrylic painter and knew nothing about oils, I was eager to try an alternative to the traditional thinners and mixes, and use water for mixing and clean up. I supplemented with tubes of Duo Aqua Oil by Holbein, which are very creamy and easy to use. My color palette includes the usual basics like Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. But I also like to include Dioxazine Violet, Raw Umber, Cadmium Orange, Cobalt Blue and Prussian Blue.

And then there are the greens. Because you need to work fast in plein air, I prefer to go the “lazy” route of pre-mixed greens (suddenly I have a hankering for salad), which include Sap Green, Light Cadmium Green, Phthalo Green and Terre Verte. As you can see, that makes for quite a few colors lined up, so it’s helpful to have them already squeezed out before you head out to paint. I use a covered palette with a piece of palette paper cut to fit in the bottom for easy cleanup. This arrangement has worked for me, but there’s still some waste despite the small amounts. In 2017 I hope to try a more limited palette that will control the relationship between color groups and emphasize values better.

Around lunchtime I packed up the oils and moved down the trail to the Bronnenberg house, pioneer residence to one of the first settlers in the area. I will admit that buildings, straight edges and perspective are not my forte; give me a twisted tree trunk or winding stone-strewn creek any day. With that in mind, I had already gotten a good start on a pastel of the historic site in my home studio based on photos from a previous visit. I knew the tiny details of countless mullioned window panes would be my undoing on a rickety easel along the breezy and uneven trail. Some work is best done flat on a table.

What was left was mostly what I enjoy, like filling in plantings and the rail fence in the front yard. My preparation paid off as I continued to greet and chat with a large group on a nature hike, as well as folks touring the house. I even gave a short video interview for a reporter from a local newspaper as I nervously dabbed at my picture with soft pastels. One of my friends from Indianapolis joined me to paint with her watercolors. The sun continued to shine, but wasn’t unbearably hot.

After a couple of hours that went by too quickly, I was ready to pack up and head for the Nature Center to offer my watercolor painting activity and participate in a big birthday party with an enormous sheet cake to help celebrate Indiana’s Bicentennial and the state parks’ Centennial.  More next time about my pastel palette and pastel paper preparation. Until then, help yourself to some cake!