Posts Tagged ‘North Shore



Around Labor Day we made a brief excursion to the North Shore with some good friends. Our lovely cabin in Lutsen was right on Lake Superior’s rocky shoreline. One of the things about these rocks and boulders I find endlessly exciting is the beautiful lichen. I’m like a kid in a candy shop!

Lutsen lichen rock 1

I painted these using a small kit I’d put together for sketching, consisting of cigar box with duct tape hinge, small plastic spice jar used as water container, and some paint brushes with ends broken off to make them fit in my bag.

Companion animal: Least chipmunk

Lutsen lichen rock 2




Hjørdis at dock

If you’ve ever been to Grand Marais, MN, you may have seen the schooner Hjørdis which sails out of the North House Folk School. Her green hull, sienna-color sails, and Old-World profile are distinctive as she traverses the harbor.

Last month when I was in Grand Marais painting during Todd Voss’ plein air class, we were down by the harbor near the Folk School. We’d seen the Hjørdis earlier in the day sailing about, and now she was safely back at dock. As a light rain passed through, I took cover under an overturned boat on a storage rack. (My paints are water-mixable oils so they start to run when it rains!) I set up a little 4 x 6 canvas, and painted the Hjørdis which was directly in front of me. Since I had to finish the painting later, it’s not an exact representation, but I hope it captures some of the feeling of the Hjørdis and its home.



agate bay

A couple weeks ago we were on our way up the North Shore, and stopped as we often do at Agate Bay.

Not far from Duluth, the bay contains traces of days when iron mining, shipping, a railroad, and a plethora of saloons made the town one of the busiest ports on Lake Superior. Now largely empty, the area around the bay is at once forlorn and, perhaps in part because of that, strangely attractive. Tourists come to look at the fenced-in lighthouse and comb the beach for agates. Locals walk along the bay and its shoreline footpaths. Seagulls call, and an occasional mournful horn blast from the taconite loading docks breathes out over the water. Nature is cautiously filling in the spaces where no one else lays claim. That afternoon, it was this apparent no man’s land, bordered by the obvious attractions, that I was most drawn to.

While I was there, vendors were quietly setting up for the weekend’s Heritage Days festivities.

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Sunrise poem

I’ve been following the posts on North Shore photographer Bryan Hansel’s Facebook page, gaining daily inspiration from his wonderful photographs, including those of Lake Superior. Bryan has also been writing haiku to describe some of his photography experiences.

This morning I woke up with a poem forming in my head, inspired by Bryan’s photography and writing.


Superior sun

each day ascends

her limnel throne.

At her procession

we stand enthralled –

each day a new gown.


The word limnel is one I made up, based on the Greek word for lake (limne, as in limnology). Surprisingly, I was unable to find another adjective with that meaning!


The Lowdown on ‘Surf’s Up!’

I spent several days last week up on the North Shore of Lake Superior – this time on a retreat to try and gain a greater sense of direction related to my work life. I had the opportunity to work with life coach Marcia Hyatt, and to stay in her cheerful yellow cabin on the water’s edge.

Any career guide will tell you, the place to start in choosing a fulfilling career is to know and understand oneself, so that is where we began. Self-reflection isn’t new to me, but I was curious to know if anything else valuable might surface. So, I wrote, I drew in a visual journal, I hiked up a mountain, I did ki breathing and yoga, I talked with Marcia and played in her sandplay box, I didn’t talk with anyone else for a day, I wrote some more, I paid attention to my dreams..

By the middle of the second full day, I was tired of focusing on myself. Since the night before, prodigious waves had been crashing relentlessly, and the sky was a churning kaleidoscope of dark clouds and blinding sunlight. I thought it would be fun to send a clip of the waves to some friends, so grabbed my iPad to capture some video. Just one clip though, didn’t seem to do the scene justice, so I kept shooting more. Back at my cabin, I searched around for some video editing software for the iPad, and started throwing my clips together, making a slapdash video I ended up posting on Facebook.

All the while I felt like I was totally goofing off, and not doing the work I had come to do. Toward the end of my retreat, trying to discern what I might have accomplished, I was reminded of the Tao Te Ching – of doing without doing, of being so in harmony with nature that there is no sense of conscious effort. Among the insights I experienced during the week, this video and other spontaneous things I did when I was taking a “break” were at least, if not more telling than the more deliberate thinking I had done.

Who are you when you goof off?


Wood’s Creek

Last week I was up in Grand Marais vacationing. Everywhere one turns there is material for inspiration, including along the many hiking trails. Along the Superior Hiking Trail you can follow Wood’s Creek, a lovely, meandering stream that runs into Devil Track River. I did this painting there as the afternoon light was fading.


Onion river

This painting was done last month when I was up on the North Shore, following the plein air painting course I’d mentioned earlier. Even though I liked the painting, I wasn’t sure I was done with it, but the longer it sat, the more complete it felt.

I painted this along the Onion River, where there are some striking geological formations. It takes a fair amount of rock hopping to get around the riverbed, and the black flies were pretty fierce, but the magic of the river is worth it.


Quick Paint Up North

This past weekend, after years of yearning for some proper equipment and guidance, I got myself a plein air painting set up and took a class in outdoor sketching in oils through the Grand Marais Art Colony. My teacher was Todd Voss – an extremely talented, thoughtful and inspiring instructor. The demonstrations he did for us each morning were beautiful as much for Todd’s measured, economical and masterful strokes as for the stunning final products.

Todd Voss plein air demo

I have very little experience painting in oils, and my first paintings were struggles to simply manage my materials – both on and off the canvas – within the 45 min. time frame we were allotted. The idea was to capture a scene within a limited time – as a sketch that had some freshness and character on its own. It may or may not be improved upon later or used as the basis for a studio painting.

By the end of the second day of painting, I was starting to feel more comfortable, if a bit overexposed to the elements after a day of chilly fog followed by one of intense sunshine. We finished up near the North House Folk School docks.


Apparition at Devil Track River

In early July the temperature of the air and water were constantly fluctuating not only along the shore of Lake Superior, but in the microclimates of the many streams and rivers that feed into the lake.

As the sun passed behind some clouds and the air chilled, I saw a sudden mist form over the mouth of Devil Track River. It passed slowly, like a specter, across the rocks and water, and then was gone.


North Shore morning and evening

More from a recent trip to the North Shore.



These shots were created using Photomatix software, which is able to combine multiple exposures – very helpful for crepuscular shooting!

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