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.

Magic at Mounds

My visit to Mounds State Park last Saturday was full of sunshine, painting, and chats about art with new park friends. One of the smallest parks in the Indiana state park system, Mounds isn’t as well known as some of its larger and more scenic counterparts, but the mysterious earthworks resting amid wooded trails and the White River, as well as the historic Bronnenberg House, make a visit to the Mounds worthwhile.

This 290-acre park features 10 unique earthworks built by prehistoric Indians known as the Adena-Hopewell people. The largest earthwork, the Great Mound, is believed to have been constructed around 160 B.C. Archaeological surveys indicate the mounds were used as gathering places for religious ceremonies, from where astronomical alignments like the summer and winter solstices can be viewed.

The Federal-style Bronnenberg House is a lasting reminder of early settlers who recognized the uniqueness of this area and protected the earthworks from looters and farming practices. Despite the construction of an amusement park and railroad in the early 1900s, the Bronnenberg family actively fought to preserve the mounds. Along with the house, the prehistoric earthworks became part of the state park in 1930. The fully-restored brick structure seen today was originally built around 1850 and is open for tours.

Throughout the day over 85 visitors stopped or strolled by, and I had the pleasure of creating art at the Great Mound in the morning with two new friends who brought their own art supplies ready to draw! In the afternoon, 20 kids and adults took me up on my challenge to try out the waterbrushes and watercolor field kits. After attending a birthday party celebrating the Centennial of the Indiana state parks, we stuck around for drumming and dance by the Miami Nation of Indiana that took place inside the Great Mound this year.

Like the Bronnenberg’s, I recognize the uniqueness of this particular park and its earthworks. Painting in this ancient place fills me with peace and a sacred sense of wonder. Often overlooked despite its close proximity to Indianapolis and I-69, I chose this particular park to bring attention to its beauty and special charm, grateful to those who protected and preserved the Mounds’ special magic over the years.

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!

Winter in April

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The final day in April saw my first foray into painting in public along downtown Indianapolis’ Canal Walk.  In defiance of a cold spring drizzle that eventually became a steady dampening, I set up my easel underneath a modest overhang and went to work with a few other brave artistic souls.

From my attire you would never guess that May was a day away: several layers of clothing topped by a rain jacket, winter knit hat, waterproof shoes, and handy fingerless mitts, accesorized by an essential thermos full of hot tea. Nevertheless, after three hours I still lost feeling in my fingers while wrestling with thickening paint and stiffening paint brushes. Time to go home.

So far I’m pleased with the way my painting equipment works, and look forward to using a new shade umbrella if the sun ever shines again. As for the effectiveness of my sign, quite a few event participants asked me why I paint.

If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to come see me at my next event at Clifty Falls State Park in May.

Outside In

Touch ups to the wetlands at Pokagon State Park.

Touch ups to the wetlands at Pokagon State Park.

Seems like Indiana’s March came in like a lamb, but it’s going out like a very grumpy feline. After a beautiful Easter weekend, I’ve been stuck inside touching up plein air paintings from previous visits to the parks, while reading up on techniques and painting equipment. As rain lashes my apartment windows, I turn up the volume on YouTube videos describing the outdoor adventures of artists in kinder climates.

Oh, the irony. Spring will come in her own time, I suppose. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the comforts and convenience of dry quarters and digital photography to recreate the great outdoors. After all, nothing puts a damper on plein air painting better than rain.

Leap Day


On this extra day of 2016, I have taken the leap, plunging into a brave new world of creative expression. I’ve pulled out my painting equipment from winter’s closet, and brushed off the brushes. Palettes have been scraped clean of old doubts and crusty fears, big ideas packed for the move and my muses notified of my new location.

My calling cards come in the form of a new blog, a fresh Instagram account and a different email address. Like the proud new owner of a second home, I will split my time between the original writer’s cottage of Suburban Satsangs and a recently acquired rustic artist’s cabin called Paints in the Parks.

As with any major move, I’m sure that adjustments will be made in this transition. The mental furniture may need to be rearranged and ego expectations repainted. But I find that there’s nothing that a summer’s worth of fresh forest and field of flowers won’t fix. I look forward to flinging my door wide in welcome to babbling brooks, gushing waterfalls, stoic cliffs and mysterious caves.

And of course, my door is always open to you, dear reader. I hope you’ll make the leap with me and that I’ll see you here at my new digs this year.

Writing for Art


My tradition the last few years has been to choose a “word” for the year, starting in January. My word for 2015 was “Write,” and while I confess that I did write a fair bit, my greatest efforts weren’t in the form I’d imagined last year. Instead of the usual creative outlets like journal entries, poetry or even that book I keep promising to self-publish, I spent a huge chunk of my time in the throes of the hardest writing of my life — along with the blinking cursor of an online grant application that I filled out last fall.

As a grizzled veteran of numerous English research papers and an agonizingly procrastinated Master’s thesis, this is no small claim. The precise language and focused nuances required in proposing my project and asking for funding threw me into a strange new world, since I struggled to accurately portray a vision that would benefit the public as well as my own personal pursuits. You see, this particular grant focuses on creating art outside in state parks, and in my case, that art will be visual rather than verbal.

That’s right, my battles with the written page have been transferred to the terrors of a blank canvas, all in the name of celebrating art in nature. And I will gladly take on that challenge if I can convert even one person to the joys of spending artistic time outdoors, whether it’s to write a poem, compose a song, dance a jig, or set up an easel to paint.

Plus, I’ll be able to travel to some of the most beautiful natural settings that Indiana has to offer with a trusty assistant (my husband), and invite the great outdoors to be my personal work space. In the weeks to come, you’ll see a new WordPress blog called “Paints in the Parks” detailing my journey as I paint scenic landscapes in six state parks while I research my painting subjects and interact with the park visitors who stop by my easel.

I believe that in our modern society, we spend too much time cooped up in homes or offices that can become self-made prison cells, preoccupied with the flickering screens of fake connections and false avatars, while a sentient world lies just outside our doors, at the bus stop, on the bike trails, in the parks, and under the shade trees in our backyards; all waiting to be celebrated through ART — my word for 2016.