Exploring “Up North”, Plein Air Practice

At the end of June we took a trip “Up North” as they say here in Minnesota, to Duluth, a historic port town on the southern rim of Lake Superior (https://www.visitduluth.com/). The trip was to mark our 31st wedding anniversary, and my 60th birthday which had been earlier in the month. Also, as new “Minnesotans” we wanted to see more of this beautiful state while the weather was still great.

I brought along my plein air porchade box and a few canvases, intending to get in a little painting during the trip. One morning we traveled over to Wisconsin, to the Superior Municipal Forest in Superior, Wisconsin (http://www.ci.superior.wi.us/224/Superior-Municipal-Forest), and I did a quick study. It was hot, and too windy to use my solar shade umbrella, so it wasn’t my best effort, but always good to get in some practice. The area we found was via a back road, and allowed us to park close to my painting spot. Bugs were minimal, and it was a beautiful area.


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We also drove up along Lake Superior (photo above), scouting out other spots I might like to stop and paint. What a beautiful, vast body of water!

Another plein air session in June/July was at a spot I found last winter — the Old Mill in downtown Dundas which is perched on the Canon River. It’s a beautiful spot, the photos below show the difference between summer and winter views. I need to get back there as fall colors hit, and the trees start to lose their leaves.

In August I spent some time painting near the Canon River in downtown Northfield. Here’s the painting I started outside, and then worked on more in studio:

Cannon River Northfield

Not quite sure I’m done with it, but it’s been sitting awhile, so maybe I am.

Happy painting and exploring!



Change, Delete or Procrastinate?

I’ve been wondering for a while if I should just delete this blog, and now the name doesn’t quite fit since I turned 60 this month. I considered changing the name, but really, who cares? It’s just a spot in cyberspace where I can hawk my wares (my art), tell my story, and hopefully connect with a few other folks along the way.

One of my most meaningful and emotional posts was about almost losing my husband to sepsis in 2016 (Delicate Creatures). I was reminded of this today as I read about a woman who saw the signs of this on her son’s arm after a fall at the zoo. Life is so delicate, fragile and precious. If you take the time to read that post, the last line reads “Just a few weeks before we had danced and laughed at a nephews’ wedding. More of that please…”

Well we did just have “more of that”, we danced at the wedding of another nephew who was married here in Minnesota last weekend. It was wonderful to be able to drive from our house to the wedding, instead of having to fly from California. And always fun to see more of the family — a beautiful day and evening with lots of laughter.

So here’s to “more of this, please”, I’m enjoying what we have, where we are, and what is to come — at “Sixty-something”, under the guise of “Fifty-something”.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are…

…was the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a book I probably need to pull out again and review. The book was a gift to me by my mother many years ago. I have two copies now, hers which I found tucked in her nightstand when we cleared out her home after her death in 2010, and my original copy. Maybe I’m waiting to give a copy to the right person. It’s about mindfulness in everyday life.

Spring is starting to assert itself here in southeastern Minnesota. Trees are budding out with new leaves, grasses becoming lush, warm weekends bring out the gardeners eager to connect with the earth.

In my new downstairs studio space I’ve been busy getting things arranged, trying to paint more often. The other day I set up a still life of a bowl of pears, working on a looser more interpretive style. I actually painted the set up several times, but wiped them down and started over, pushing myself to create something more.

In the end, I was satisfied with this one (see photos below), for in the moment it started to capture just a little of the quality I was striving for. All painting is practice, like yoga. Each day you get to the easel, you bring with you where you are in that moment.

Winter Rose Dreams

In the spirit of keeping occupied during our first full winter living in Minnesota, I’m trying to paint more often. Although I like to paint from life, sometimes that’s not possible, so I do work from photos. Taking my own, or using royalty free stock photos, and then cropping or altering the composition is fun and satisfying to me.

Here’s my latest “Winter Rose Dreams”:


Prints are available here: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/winter-rose-dreams-barbara-oertli.html

Also, I’m happy to report that the original of the landscape painting I featured in my last blog has sold! There are still prints available through this link: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/winter-landscape-out-back-barbara-oertli.html

We’re still in the fullness of winter here, probably another month or two of snow blowing and shoveling. Next on the agenda, a riding lawn mower!

Keep Painting!

We survived the big Polar Vortex freeze of last week here in our new home in Dundas, MN. Thankfully we don’t have regular outside jobs to commute too, so it was relatively easy. Our house is newer, and very snug, so aside from a power failure or being deliberately stupid outside, we were bound to be safe. I did experience a larger dose of cabin fever than usual. As a native Californian, my need for sun is strong — the cold doesn’t phase me as much as a long stretch of overcast days can.  I try to get outside for a walk any time the weather is calm and close to 30 degrees or above.

I have started up with my oil painting again, it was hard after the move — my forward momentum with art had come to a standstill. To get going again I started sketching on a small sketchpad as often as I could. Trying to maintain a daily art practice, while still adjusting to a new home is difficult — many distractions! Finally I set up my studio easel and pulled out my oils — I started with a small floral of a pot of Paper Whites. It was a good exercise, but nothing worth showing. Then I focused on the landscape I’d been photographing on my walks or just in our big backyard.

Driving around this new landscape I’m always looking at the colors reflected in the snow, always changing and catching new color. Here’s a peek at the first of what I hope will become a series below:

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“Out Back, Winter Landscape”, 1/2019  12 x 9″ oil on canvas board


From Fire to Snow

Since landing in our new home near Northfield MN (see “Driving Miss Bella” for our journey out) at the end of September we’ve been busy unpacking, arranging furniture, hanging artwork and getting to know our new area of the country. It’s starting to really feel like “home” here, but back in our former home of Butte County, in Northern California, the news is grim. The “Camp Fire” has ravaged the area, consumed the beautiful town of Paradise, and put many people and animals out of their homes. It’s heartbreaking to see it on the news, read about it, and follow it on social media. As of this writing the huge fire is 35% contained, Oroville is still safe, but everyone has a “go bag” packed and must be sleeping with one eye open. I remember that feeling from our experience with the “Wall Fire” last year. The shear number of displaced people is astounding, and how housing will be found for them all — in a state sadly lacking in affordable housing — is a daunting problem. Meanwhile fires also rage in Southern California, and firefighters from many other areas of the country have gone in to help. My poor home state is really taking a beating, and whereas I’m glad to be out of the smoke, I feel a certain helplessness that comes from not being able to help more directly.

We have donated to this fund:  https://www.nvcf.org/fund/camp-fire-evacuation-relief-fund  if you can, please send a little to help.  Butte County is not a wealthy area, and many of the people who lost everything do not have the means to rent at higher prices, buy new clothing, and staple items. For those who owned homes, it is a long slow process to rebuild, or find another spot to settle in. My heart goes out to them all.

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On a lighter note, we have been exploring! Several weeks ago we drove to nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park at the recommendation of a friend who once lived near here. What a beautiful place! I’d love to get back there in the spring to do some plein air painting. Below are a few photos from our day.

We also made our way over to Red Wing Minnesota, and had fun exploring the Red Wing Pottery Museum, and the Memorial Park which had great vistas of the city of Red Wing and Mississippi River which borders the town on the north east side. (photos below)

And then of course we experienced our first light snow at the new house. It’s still magical to me — although as the winter drags on I’m sure that may change! Miss Bella was quite perplexed by the falling flakes!

Driving with Miss Bella

cat in cat carrier

When we decided to leave Oroville, CA and move to Minnesota, we knew that we’d probably have to make the drive — we had two cats at the time and planned on a long and yowl filled drive east. Unfortunately, poor old Bobcat didn’t last that long, we lost him in April of this year to kidney disease. So our usually placid Manx “Bella” would be our only furry passenger on this trip.

We really thought the move would happen sooner in the year, but the area we were focusing on, Northfield MN, was experiencing a real seller’s market. We flew back and forth several times, made several offers that didn’t succeed, before lucking out on finding the house we are in. It’s a new house built in 2015 in a new development in Dundas MN, which is right next door to Northfield. We closed on the home at the end of August. In mid September we started our trek.

Before leaving and while the movers came for our furniture and boxes, we decided to board Bella at Foothill Boarding in Oroville, a place she’d been before and seemed very comfortable at, we didn’t want her to be stressed by the movers. We stayed at the Gold Country Casino hotel for a few nights while the movers came and right before we took off for good. That was also a good choice, it was close to our house and had a decent restaurant for breakfasts — and was less stressful for us.

A lot of pre-planning went into this trip — first I got online and charted our course using Google Earth, chunking the trip into 7 to 8 hour sections and find towns we could stay in at those points. Then I found a site called “officalpethotels.com“, typed in the towns I’d targeted, and reviewed the list of possible hotels. One tip that I’d recommend would be to call each one personally and not rely on the online information. Hotels often take dogs, but some won’t take cats due to allergies. Once I’d nailed down our route, and reserved the rooms, we found midway points to stop for lunch and get gas. Since we had the cat with us, we couldn’t leave the car, so we opted for Subway locations which were usually close to the highway and a gas station.

As a side note, another thing we did was to do several “pre-packings” of the car (Toyota Highlander Hybrid). We had a fairly large fabric carrier for Bella which had room for a small litter box, food and water dish, and room for her to lie down comfortably. Tim reinforced the base with several layers of cardboard, so it was easier to carry. We also brought a smaller hard sided carrier, thinking we might need it to carry her into and out of the hotels, but ended up not using it and just bringing in the travel carrier. I was a little worried that she might claw through it, but it was fine and she really didn’t claw at it much after she got the idea of what was going on.

cat in cat carrier
Bella checking out her blue fabric car carrier. Lots of room for a small litter box, food and water bowls.

Our route took us four days via Hwy 80, from northern California, through Reno, staying the first night in Elko NV at a Best Western. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was actually Bella’s favorite! We figure it was “well scented” from other pets that had stayed there.

The second day we drove through Nevada and Utah, staying the night in Rawlings, WY at a MicroTel Hotel. This was a bit nicer and newer, and there was a nice cafe across the freeway we had dinner at. Bella was fine staying on her own in the room for an hour or so. She seemed to enjoy all the new beds.

Cat looking out window
Bella looks out at Rawlings WY, and thinks “I hope this isn’t it…”

The third day took us through the vast empty spaces of Wyoming to spend the night in Grand Island, Nebraska at a very nice Candlewood extended stay suite. We were all quite comfortable there, and just made sandwiches for dinner in the room which was equipped with a nice kitchen.

Cat on bed
The higher end Candlewood extended stay hotel was a hit with Miss Bella…

Then the forth and final day, we drove through Nebraska and Iowa, to head north from Ames, IA into Minnesota, to our final destination of Dundas. We settled Bella into our new master bedroom and bath with the larger cat box we brought, leaving some of our clothing around for the familiar scent. Since we had no furniture yet, we stayed in a nearby hotel (which unfortunately didn’t take cats).

Cat and woman in front of fireplace
Road weary travelers in our new home!

The moving van came in on Sunday, the the driver actually stayed in the same hotel, so we were able to show him the route and the house the afternoon before the big unloading. The next day he was there early, with a good experienced crew, and unloading commenced. We were buried in boxes, but finally in our new home. All three of us were able to sleep in “our” own bed that night.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I must say, Bella was a trouper. She did express her “dismay” at being on the road each morning when we started out, but always settled down for a nap in the afternoon. She was noticeably more comfortable on the straight, level stretches, and most agitated at the changes in elevation or curvy sections of the route. From the beginning of the process she seemed to understand what was going on, and as long as we were all together, everything would be OK.  In a strange way, I feel incredibly grateful for her presence in this new stage of our life, just as I felt when we brought our Bobcat up to Oroville from Santa Clara.

cat in chair
Feeling right at home in the new house, just in time for winter!