Studio Visit: Don Lake


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Studio visit appears first in print, on Sundays. Here, Melissa Merli visits with longtime Parkland College art professor Don Lake. In the Dec. 4 News-Gazette, instead of a studio visit, Merli will have a guide to buying locally produced art as holiday gifts.

Q: What have you been doing since you retired?

A: Trying to paint more and travel. So a lot of this work (at a recent show at the Cinema Gallery in Urbana) is a result of those trips.

Q: Where did you go?

A: I've taken a couple of long trips to the Southwest and national parks, Zion and Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. And more recently, another trip to national parks in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands. They're both huge national parks and really awesome, with rock formations, a lot of beauty and inspiring places to see.

On either one of those trips and at other big destinations I've found places I wanted to paint, so they're the subject of some of these pictures. And some of the work comes from fishing trips to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, where my brother, Rich, and a couple of my colleagues from Parkland make annual trips to fish. I join them sometimes. I'm not that interested in fishing but I enjoy camping and being out in the canoes. So I draw and paint while I'm there.

There also are pieces here from Kansas which have been an ongoing part of my work, from property I own in the Flint Hills. Some of the other pieces come from where I've gone to paint or stopped to paint when I'm on a trip.

I hadn't shown the on-location works before but I had a drawerful of them. I thought this would be a good time to frame them up. They're not significant pieces but as a group they represent a pretty substantial part of my painting time.

Some of the plein-air paintings I did nearby. This sunset was west of Champaign. That's at Portland Arch in Indiana. And Lodge Park and Lake of the Woods, when it was flooded. And that one near Lodge Park was done on a very, very hot morning, when there was just a foggy steam over the fields.

Q: Are those in this group (at Cinema Gallery) of plein-air paintings?

A: Yes. There are 21.

Q: They're a lot looser than your other paintings.

A: Yes, much looser. I paint those with one brush, just one big brush, so I don't spend a lot of time managing the painting. They're very direct, unlike my studio work. I don't want them to look too labored.

That process comes close to direct drawing, which is fundamental to all art work, and especially my art work. I think of these as being high-risk, high-reward. They either work well or you can crash and burn.

Q: Do you have any plein-air paintings on which you crashed and burned?

A: Do I have some? Absolutely.

Q: How long have you been painting with watercolors?

A: I started seriously painting with watercolors around '73 or '74.

Q: Are you showing your work anywhere else or entering shows?

A: I still enter some shows. I show at the Springfield (Missouri) Art Museum at Watercolor U.S.A. and related shows at that museum pretty regularly and occasionally somewhere else, but I'm not pursuing exhibition opportunities anymore. I'm more interested in making the work than in the career aspects of showing and selling.

Q: Are you still teaching workshops at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts down in Tennessee?

A: Yes, in fact I'm scheduled to teach there in April.

Q: I bet a lot of people would take a workshop or class if you taught one here. Do you ever do that?

A: Hardly ever. I'm not that interested in booking ahead. I want to keep my life as absolutely free as I can because if I want to paint or take a trip I can do that. That's one aspect of retirement that I enjoy: being able to organize each day as it arrives.

Q: When did you retire from teaching art at Parkland?

A: 2008.