Wonderful Watercolors at Whitewater Memorial

In August I spent a lovely day along the banks of Whitewater Memorial State Park’s beautiful lake located south of Richmond, Indiana, close to the Ohio state border. Established in 1949 to honor those who served in World War II, Whitewater has the distinction of being the only state park purchased with funding raised by the citizens in four Indiana counties, making it truly a park for the people. The 200-acre manmade lake is surrounded by wooded rolling hills, steep ravines and an impressive dam that provides access to neighboring Brookville Reservoir.

I began the day on a bluff overlooking Whitewater Lake near one of the many shelters available for picnics and gatherings. The Saturday I visited,  members of a big family reunion walked over to engage with me about my painting demonstration set up in view of the water through an opening in the trees. I was grateful for shade on this hot summer day not only for comfort but also to help with the sun’s glare that can distort my paint colors. I was also situated along one of the trails and roads that follow the shoreline, so I was easily accessed by park guests driving cars, riding bikes and hiking.

At noon, I moved to the bathhouse near the park’s swimming beach which again provided plenty of shade on a covered patio overlooking the beach. The upper level was under construction and will become the future site for Whitewater’s nature center. Besides swimming, there are plenty of opportunities to fish, camp and ride horses along miles of bridle trails. While we were painting, all kinds of boats and watercraft floated by and many bird species flew over or landed in the water.

Another large family reunion stopped by my painting activity after swimming and showers to try out the water brushes and paint supplies. I was thrilled to see so many crowding the picnic tables to paint while one young lady softly played her ukulele.  In all, fifteen young people had fun with watercolors with as many adults cheering them on and assisting the littlest artists. We gathered for a great group photo thanks to one of the moms who miraculously organized everyone to stand still, smile and even display their artwork all at the same time!

The final stop was once again located in a shady spot next to the boat rental shop, with a rack of kayaks on display and an enticing dock that I couldn’t resist painting in pastels on one of my ampersand pastel panels. I was particularly attracted to the bright reflected flush of gold foliage on the opposite shore, a reminder even on a hot day in August that autumn is just around the corner. The steady stream of boaters leaving or returning with their rentals gave me plenty of opportunities to show my work for the day and discuss the merits of creating art outside.

It was a perfect way to wrap up a relaxing day of creating art and connecting with over 60 visitors. Paints in the Parks was also honored to be the first Arts in the Parks event held at Whitewater Memorial State Park, making this visit a special one to remember.

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Return to Spring Mill

As the dust settles from my third application for another Arts in the Parks grant in 2018, I’ve returned to the studio to avoid an odd post-Labor Day heat wave, and prepare for another September visit to Spring Mill. Hard to believe exactly a year has passed since my first painting trip down to Mitchell, Indiana, the birthplace of astronaut Gus Grissom and home to one of Indiana’s best known state parks.

I’ll be bringing with me completed artwork from last year’s visit, including an 8″ x 10″ oil painting of the wooded bank near the entrance to Twin Caves. I found a great spot to set up and visit with a crowd of park guests waiting for their boat ride into the caves the morning of my program last year. And I was able to get a good start on this view of fallen logs left to decay, creating a natural environment for all sorts of plant and animal life. Back at home, I’ve enjoyed playing with the differences between what is above and below the waterline, helped by the surface refraction of light and shadow.

The afternoon rain showers that day forced me to seek shelter in a breezeway between log cabins while working with a pastel of the three-story limestone grist mill that is the centerpiece of Spring Mill’s pioneer village. Since pastels and precipitation don’t mix (unless you want an accidental watercolor) I had to make some creative choices about omitting details such as the unfortunately placed little tree in the foreground. No matter, I was able to take some better photos when the rain ended that helped me fill in details later and finish this 5″ x 7″ pastel on sanded paper in the studio.

A year later, I’m preparing to paint the grist mill again, this time with oils. I confess that I’m not particularly confident about my skills in rendering buildings, especially using brushes since I have much more experience with drawing. And I find that trees and organic natural forms are much more forgiving than linear edges and the dreaded two-point perspective. I prefer to eyeball and claim near-sighted impressionism as my inspiration.

Last year, I promised to return to Spring Mill in honor of the bicentennial of the grist mill, begun in 1817, with several revisions throughout the years. I particularly admire the stone pillars of the flume that transports water to power the mill wheel from cave springs up the hill. Perhaps I’ll find a shady spot underneath those pillars since, unlike last year, the day promises to be nothing but sun in the upper 80s. But I’m grateful to be able to take these challenges in stride because I’m aware that life, as in painting, is made more interesting in its contrasts.

River and Ruins at Charlestown

 

The beautiful August day I spent at Charlestown State Park on the Ohio River near Louisville was one for the record books. While enjoying a flawless blue sky and crisp breeze, I painted barges on the river, discovered ruins on a mysterious island, and talked to many visitors who couldn’t believe that this was August with such fall-like weather.

Established in 1996 as one of the newest state parks, Charlestown’s 5,000-acre parcel is bordered by the Ohio which is fed by Fourteenmile Creek that runs through the park, one of the oldest unglaciated stream valleys in Indiana. Mostly open farmland or pasture at the turn of the century, much of the park’s reforestation occurred under the resource management of the US Army, which operated an ammunition plant on the property from 1940 to 1995.

For my morning demonstration, I set up my easel for oils at one of two overlooks along the Ohio near the park’s boat landing where I attempted to paint my first barge as they slowly came into view around a distant bend in the river. While engaging in some great conversations about art and life with visitors who stopped by to experience the river, we saw fish nibbling at the rocky edges and plenty of herons soaring high in an empty blue sky. No chance to practice painting clouds that day.

After lunch, I headed down a very steeply graded road across Fourteenmile Creek to Rose Island, the site of a 1920s amusement park that was heavily damaged in the infamous 1937 flood that also affected Louisville downstream. Luckily, the DNR van was able to drive me and all my supplies to my painting site across an old 1913 truss-style bridge relocated to provide access to the island. Only a few concrete and stone structures remain of the amusement park that welcomed 135,000 guests a year, offering rental cottages along the river as well as a hotel, swimming pool, dance hall, rollercoaster and zoo.

I positioned my easel at the entrance to the Walkway of Roses where climbing vines once covered the three arches that can still be seen near the foundation of the dance hall. The arches were also lit back in the 1920s providing a romantic path on those happy summer evenings before the Depression and World War II. Now, only the stone and metal arches remain, with young trees growing in between the posts and nature doing her best to hide the island’s secrets of the past. The purposes to some of the remnants remain unknown, and archaeological digs on the island have yielded artifacts from both the amusement park and indigenous people who lived in the area.

My demonstration along the trail provided a stopping point for the Rose Island Guided History tour led by interpretive naturalist Jeremy Beavins, where I talked to over twenty participants about my program and the supplies I’d brought that day. That evening, some visitors from the tour group met me at one of the spacious picnic shelters for my hands-on watercolor activity. Painting in the golden rays of the setting sun while listening to song birds was the perfect ending to a wonderful day at Charlestown, where I interacted with over 50 visitors overall.

Many thanks to the DNR staff who promoted my program and made it easy to experience the best of Charlestown. I hope to return soon so I can go on the complete Rose Island guided tour and hear the rest story.

 

Painting at Prophetstown

My visit to Indiana’s newest state park this month challenged me to try out alternative equipment in new locations that differed from my typical schedule. Prophetstown’s unique blend of prairie, wetland and woods honors the memory of important Native American history while providing the perfect setting for painting and interaction. As if that wasn’t enough, this new state park also features several picnic areas, bike trails, an aquatic center, extensive campground and a 1920s small-scale working farm.

Established in 2004, the park sits at the edge of what was originally a tallgrass prairie, with areas of open oak woodlands. Glaciers passed across the park at least three times, creating the landscape that I was lucky to paint during my visit. My morning painting demonstration was located at an observation deck overlooking the wetlands and floodplain where the Tippecanoe River meets the Wabash. Harrison Creek flows  close to the platform from a pond and fen created by those same glaciers, and was running high that morning from all the recent rains.

For the first time since I began painting in the parks I arrived without the tripod that attaches to my paintbox, reenforcing the need for a packing list (that I have already written upon return). Luckily,  I was able to use my 4-foot folding table set to its highest height, and could spread out the paintbrushes, paint palette and my water container on a stable surface. When I had to pack up and retreat to the car for a brief rain shower, I was able to leave the table set up since it was waterproof. I returned to continue work on the oil painting I’d started while talking to nine visitors and observed many shorebirds and waterfowl, including great blue herons and kingfishers.

After lunch, I set up another painting demonstration under the shade shelter at the Native American Village located in the restored prairie near the visitors center. The collection of structures that includes a medicine lodge, council house and chief’s cabin replicates a settlement established by Tecumseh, who was Shawnee, and his brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) in 1808 to stop the European westward settlement.

Forced from his homelands in Ohio, Tecumseh formed an alliance with the Ojibwe, Delaware, Kickapoo, Miami, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Wea, Wyandot, Winnebago, Fox, Sac, Creek and Menominee, hoping to repel the advance of European settlement. They congregated at Prophetstown, and heard The Prophet speak. While Tecumseh was away recruiting more support, The Prophet decided to strike first in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 1811, where he engaged William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory,  and his 1,200 troops in the Battle of Tippecanoe that lasted two hours. Defeated, the villagers retreated to Wildcat Creek while Harrison’s men burned Prophetstown to the ground.

Pine branches layering the roof of the shelter provided marvelous shade while I began a pastel of the granary and talked to 13 visitors that hot afternoon. Two children and two adults tried out my watercolor brushes, paints, pencils and crayons along with two members of the DNR staff. The naturalists also provided pokeweed berry juice that was used as a dye by the indigenous people, and became an excellent paint for my painting activity. I was amazed by its color and consistency, and thoroughly appreciated how the poke berries blended in perfectly with the watercolor paints.

After an early dinner at a local restaurant in the town of Battle Ground and a tour of the battlefield along Burnett’s Creek where The Prophet’s warriors met Harrison’s troops, I returned to Prophetstown for an evening painting program at the campground next to the shower house. The head interpretive naturalist, Angie Manuel, not only introduced me as part of Indiana’s Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites with a brief background of the grant program, but she brought lots of natural objects and artifacts found on the park grounds for participants to paint.

We had a great turnout with 30 campers showing up for the presentation, and 26 kids and adults participating in the painting activity. All told, I engaged with nearly 50 people throughout the day at Prophetstown, and learned so much myself about the history of the park and the culture of the Native Americans who maintained the prairie landscape for hunting and gathering. And if you visit this beautiful park, be sure to stop by the stone circle located in the northeast corner of the park near the observation deck and basketball court, which includes a number of stones bearing plaques representing the known Native American tribes that lived at Prophetstown.

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!

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 Water

Painting at a safe distance with pastels on an 8 x 10" Ampersand pastelboard.

Painting at a safe distance with pastels on an 8 x 10″ Ampersand pastelboard.

During my painting events in state parks this year, visitors kept recommending that I visit Cataract Falls State Recreational Area, an easy drive from Indianapolis on I-70 near Cloverdale, Indiana. Whenever I mentioned my love of painting water in its many forms, the answer was often, “Oh then, you need to paint Cataract Falls. They’re the best in Indiana!” After my visit earlier this month on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I can tell you that those claims aren’t exaggerated.

A robust Mill Creek feeds the upper and lower sets of waterfalls which run over two ridges of pre-glacial bedrock, boasting the greatest volume of water (and sound) of any waterfall in the state. Both upper and lower falls provide plenty of good views for painting, but I settled on a spot at the edge of the ravine below the upper falls, apart from the viewing platforms and steady stream of foot traffic. There is also a historic red covered bridge that crosses the creek nearby, featuring a unique lattice-pattern truss system. I hope to paint it and the lower falls when I return.

The irony is that my family and I used to live just up the road years ago, and never knew about this hidden treasure. Now that we have been captured by its charms, we will definitely come back to Cataract Falls in the future.