Florida artist Sharon Osterholt decided she would spend 2015 visiting and painting every state park in the Sunshine State. Here’s what she discovered.

Lead Image: “Lake June-in-Winter,” by Sharon Osterholt, 2015, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 6 in.

Osterholt seemed to learn some new things about her home state, and some things about herself. She says she didn’t really realize the variety of sceneries available in Florida. “I live in Central Florida, where there are nice beaches and crystal clear water,” she says. “But out near Pensacola you find enormous, high sand dunes and white sand beaches. The Keys are mostly flat and almost rocky.” She came to know Ybor City, a small town near Tampa that was once dominated by a cigar company. “That was a pleasant surprise,” says Osterholt. “Ybor City turned out to be a historical old town, and I painted there in the morning, when there were more chickens than people in the streets!”

"Stump Pass Beach," by Sharon Osterholt, 2015, oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 in.
“Stump Pass Beach,” by Sharon Osterholt, 2015, oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 in.

The artist encountered a good amount of wildlife, including “plenty of snakes, from rattlesnakes to cottonmouths to black snakes. It’s a good thing I’m not too bothered by snakes,” she says. “I saw alligators, but none while I was painting. I saw egrets, herons, owls and eagles, watched manatees swim by, spotted some dolphins. When you are standing still painting, animals seem to relax; they don’t feel threatened. Once I heard footsteps behind me, and I turned around to say hi, and it was a couple of turkeys.” Osterholt also encountered small creatures of the human kind. “Kids, especially on the beach, were interested in what I was doing, and I really liked the way they reacted,” says Osterholt. “The girls were nervous and scared, and the parents would encourage them. They would come up, so excited, and say, ‘I love your painting.’ A few times I had nice conversations with boys. One boy hung out with me the whole time I was there on the beach. He asked about everything—my backpack, easel, color choices. His mom had to drag him away to go hiking.”

Sharon Osterholt painting at Bulow Creek State Park
Sharon Osterholt painting at Bulow Creek State Park

The artist came to realize that she had a few predilections regarding subject matter. She tends toward compositions that have a river or a path winding around a tree. And she has a hard time resisting palm trees. They are emblematic of Florida. But they have to share room in Osterholt’s heart with oaks laden with Spanish moss. She says she still doesn’t feel like she has mastered the trees of Florida. “I love palm trees. Most of my paintings don’t feel complete without a palm tree in it,” she says. “But I struggle with them.”

"Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park," by Sharon Osterholt, 2015, oil on linen panel, 8 x 8 in.
“Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park,” by Sharon Osterholt, 2015, oil on linen panel, 8 x 8 in.
Osterholt saw this bobcat trotting along during one of her painting sessions
Osterholt saw this bobcat trotting along during one of her painting sessions

Although she made a point of exploring other types of compositions beyond the path approach, Osterholt found that her preference for this design made things a bit easier when she arrived at one of the 140 state parks. “On tour I didn’t have a lot of time to choose a scene,” she says. “This helped me pick out a scene much faster. I didn’t have to walk around for an hour or two, looking. It gave me more confidence, too.”

Osterholt painting in Ybor City
Osterholt painting in Ybor City
Osterholt's setup at Stump Pass Beach
Osterholt’s setup at Stump Pass Beach

Osterholt says the project seemed daunting at its start, but by the summer she realized she had it under control. It helped that she did much planning before beginning. It also helped that she lived in Central Florida, so most of the parks she visited were mere day trips away. She and her husband, who was a steady companion on the tour, fishing pole in hand, also made weeklong excursions to the panhandle and to the Keys, and the couple used a house in South Florida owned by Osterholt’s in-laws during winter months as their home base for trips to parks in the bottom part of the state. “I was stressed because I thought it was a lot to do in the year,” says Osterholt. “But in the summer I realized that I was going to have time to paint it all, so I slacked off when it was really hot. By December I only had two or three left. It was a relaxing month.” She traveled light—just a backpack with her painting supplies and a tripod—and mostly painted 8″-x-10″s and 6″-x-8″s, with a few 8″-x-8″s and 12″-x-16″s in the mix.

A manatee at Homosassa Springs
A manatee at Homosassa Springs

Her pieces from the 2015 tour of Florida state parks will be on view at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, in Mount Dora, Florida, March 11 through April 30. The exhibition, which is titled “Capturing Florida’s Beauty on Canvas,” will be the first time all 140 paintings will be hung together. The director of Florida’s state parks plans on attending the opening, which is not surprising. “The parks department has been very encouraging along the way, very helpful,” says Osterholt.

For more information on the show, click here.

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