Northeast Ohio native aspires to paint entire Cuyahoga River

Susan Check is an alumnus of Kent State University and used to live in Tallmadge, Ohio — just a stone’s throw away from the crooked river. Over the last five and a half years, she has painted about 40 sections of the Cuyahoga River. Her goal is to be “discovered” one day so she can proudly display the nearly 85 miles of the Cuyahoga River.

I had the opportunity to talk with Check and see where she gets her inspiration from and how she works to depict one of the most notable rivers in Ohio.

Q: How did you pick out the spots you wanted to paint for the Cuyahoga River?

One of Check’s paintings on the Cuyahoga River in Kent, Ohio. She takes pictures of each section of the Cuyahoga River and paints them at her home in Virginia.

A: “One of the reasons I chose it was because it was just so accessible in that western part of it. There’s all the cities that have created their little paths, the valley of course is wonderful, but it is just so very accessible. You can…walk until faith and that’s the other thing. I sometimes walk in the morning and go to Brecksville and see people there hiking and taking the train. It is just so accessible and I just started collecting pictures. I have over a thousand pictures right now.”

“I am also trying to find areas that are not quite so easy to look at or look for. But those kinds of places, [where] people jog or walk on the trails would know them because there is a particular way the water moves around an island or you know the rocks…they are all really identifiable. So I am trying to include a few of those in the series.”

Q: What are the materials that you use to create the paintings?

A: “These are all oil paintings. I have done watercolors for a longtime. I think with these series, I started using exclusively with oils at that point. It has been about five and a half years that I have been working on this and it is just the oil paintings because I am able to go over of being able to go back over it, being able to get richer and a more textural surface. Watercolor doesn’t allow that.”

Q: What is your process for painting on the series and how long does one painting take?

A: “The way I work is usually eight to 10 at a time. I will go back and do a part of one, then put it up until it dried a little bit, the oil, it doesn’t take forever, but it takes longer than watercolor to dry. But I will keep going on with a little bit on five, six, seven paintings in one day and go back next day and do a little more. So it’s weeks [to paint a few].”

Q:Where did you get your inspiration to do this series?

A: “ I am overwhelmed by how beautiful it is for one thing. I had never really been up to that one northeastern part of it. It is not as accessible and there a few roads that cross over it and where there are roads it is hard to park your car and go back and walk off the bridge to take pictures. So part of it is, is that you know, I hadn’t gotten around to that part. I lived in Tallmadge, I have friends in Akron, Tallmadge, Cuyahoga Falls so that was kind of my focus. The whole river is so, at every turn is like a whole different place…it is an incredible river.”

Q: What do you want people to take away from your series and each of your paintings?

A: “Oh, to appreciate it, for its entirety, because I don’t know that many people take the time the time to go to the little corners. I mean that there are people who kayak on the east side and hike on the west side. Just that it is just so beautiful and so different.”

Check’s painting of the Cuyahoga River in January near Jaite (Brecksville), Ohio. Check says when she paints she likes to group the photos she will be using based on the seasons together so she can use similar oils at that time.

Q: What is your biggest challenge when it comes to painting this series?

A: “…trying to feel the personality of each place and try to technically put it on a piece of canvas and try and get the feel of the light and the way the water moves. That’s been a big challenge and understanding the rock part and the geology part, is part of that. Then there’s a part of the river that doesn’t have a marshland. That is a whole other thing to understand, but to understand it well enough to depict is on a canvas with the right light [is very difficult].”

In addition to her series Check told me she plans on paddling with a kayaker in Hiram to take more pictures of the Cuyahoga River that are more difficult to see to the public eye. She also said her work will be on display next year in near the city of Chagrin Falls at the Western Reserve Conservancy during the months of July, August and September. After the show her work will be on display at The Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio for two to three months.

To view more of Check’s work you can visit her website at:

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