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!

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.

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.