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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Praise for Pokagon

I couldn’t have asked for a better finale to cap off my 2016 Arts in the Parks grant than my final program at Pokagon State Park near Angola, Indiana. Located in Indiana’s lake country at the very northeast corner of the state, Pokagon borders two natural lakes and was named for the last notable leaders of the Potawatomi native people, who sold one million acres to the federal government (including the area that became Chicago) for the price of three cents an acre.

The park offers two beaches, 12 miles of trails, wooded hills, wetlands, open meadows and even a toboggan run built by the CCC in the 1930s. The lakes as well as the marshes, fens, swamps, pine groves and other unique ecotypes typical of more northern regions were created by one of the last glaciers to cover Indiana ten thousand years ago. Land that was farmed decades ago has been allowed to return to its natural state, and the nearby Trine recreational area added in 2007 complements Pokagon as part of local and statewide efforts in land and water preservation.

I spent a chilly but pleasant morning painting on the pier at Lake Lonidaw, a kettle-hole lake formed when sunken blocks of ice broke away as the glacier melted. The  mat of reedy vegetation along the edges fools you into thinking this is a stagnate pond, when in reality this constantly moving body of water drops off to a depth of 30 feet. Armed with a cup of hot coffee and plenty of duct tape to keep my supplies from flying into the lake, I made good progress capturing fall foliage in oil, saw a great blue heron glide by, heard plenty of red-winged blackbirds, and engaged with a morning tour group led by a Pokagon interpretive naturalist.

At noon in a wonderful gathering area full of comfortable tables and benches outside the nature center, I received a tremendous response to my watercolor painting activity with over 40 kids and adults trying out my watercolor kits, waterbrushes, Inktense watercolor pencils, and Micron drawing pens with ink that doesn’t run when you paint over it. By far the largest turnout of all the park events, I’m pleased to say that every piece of watercolor paper I brought was used and some wonderful connections were made, including a family who just happened to stop by on their way to Ohio to see their son in college, a little girl who spent two hours on a beautiful tree inspired by something in my sketchbook, and a student from an Indianapolis art institute who is adding her watercolor painting to a school art project focusing on geography.

I finished the day at the Potawatomi Inn beach on Lake James, with the sun casting interesting shadows on the little boat house I was painting, and the brisk fall breeze spurring on the little white-capped waves that raced to shore. I had some great, leisurely conversations with curious visitors and interested painters about my painting subjects, equipment and set up. All told, I engaged with over 100 park visitors during my final painting event, with the added treat of spending a long weekend at beautiful Potawatomi Inn, built in 1927.  Many thanks to DNR naturalist Marie Laudeman and the rest of the park and inn staff for such a successful and pleasant visit; and to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Arts Commission and the Indiana Bicentennial Commission for their support throughout my 2016 Arts in the Parks grant.

My painting programs may be completed for the year, but I’ll still be painting outside whenever there’s a good day this fall (and maybe even winter) while I continue to finish the paintings I began at all the wonderful state parks I had the privilege to visit this year. As a way to brighten up bleak winter days, I’ll also be working on new paintings inspired by the wildflowers I photographed on my walks along the trails. So, stay tuned for regular updates to Paints in the Parks and thanks for following along.