Painting the Diamond in the Bay of Fundy

I’m excited to be heading back to this painter’s paradise tomorrow. It is an artist retreat on an island in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. You know. The place with the highest tides in the world.
The following post is from 2012 on my first trip to the island with a group of artists.

When we arrived at Long Island in the Bay of Fundy for our Artist Retreat,  it was an overcast and showery afternoon. The mist and fog shrouded this huge rock of an island that we could see from our cabin. It looked ancient and mysterious as it disappeared and reappeared in the mist and I was anxious to see it at sea level when the low tide allowed it.

Diamond Island, Five Islands, NS.

I was fascinated with the reflections of it in the water when the sea retreated and exposed all the rocks between it and the 17 acre island that we stayed on.

I drew a few sketches of Diamond Island on damp printmaking paper using a graphite stick.

Diamond Island. Graphite on cotton paper.

This helped me get a good sense of the shape of the island and to realize that it was much rougher around the edges than it appeared. In fact, it is mostly rock, like a giant monolith rising from the sea. Eventually it and the other islands will be eroded by the pounding of the Fundy storms and it will disappear. I felt fortunate to be in the same time and place as this precious island.

The view on a sunny day.

I wanted to paint Diamond Island (though I think she looks more like a tooth – not as picturesque a name though) but I couldn’t see how I could lug all my supplies down to the beach and worse, bring them back up again. I surveyed the others; yes they all wanted to paint on the beach and my Larry agreed to ask the island host Larry to please hoist our gear down to the beach the following day.  (yes, there are two men on the island this week and they both are named Larry!)

Loading the platform with art supplies.

Larry-the-host checked the tidal schedule first and let us know that we had less than two hours before and after low tide to be on the beach. If we didn’t go back up to the island’s top after that, we’d be under 12 meters of water!
The following morning, two hours before low tide, our painting gear was lowered down by way of a pulley and platform system.

My Larry pulls on a rope to ensure that our cargo doesn’t smash against the cliff and further erode it. – Not to mention saving the paintings 🙂
We descended the 200 steps. It was miraculous to watch the water drain away and reveal a rocky ocean bottom and to actually stand on it. In the moment that low tide is reached,  the water ‘turns’ and starts to come in again. It was astonishing to see the water rise and bury stones and rocks.
You can see from these photos how ever-changing the scene was.
It’s this kind of constant variation in plein air painting that is one of the challenges for painters! Others are sand blowing into the paint and wind drying everything too quickly.
In spite of these obstacles, our group persisted and we all gave the Diamond our best try!
Helen Opie was smart and brought her French easel.
Susan Paczek draws inspiration from Diamond Island for her Graphic novel.
I set up my canvas and paints and roughly sketched the scene onto the canvas. I had tinted my canvas with a quinacridone gold (like a burnt sienna) colour. I wanted to capture the redness in the exposed island rock.
Painting from the ocean floor.
For me, each new painting begins with excitement mixed with trepidation. How will I be able to show the impact that I feel from the scene before me? It is actually an impossibility, but the intention is always there. ‘Maybe this time I’ll be able to capture the enormity of what I am experiencing in this moment.’
I start with a coat of gel medium over my drawing so that my paint will be able to move over the surface.
As I paint, the water recedes for low tide to reveal lots of texture in the rocks and a wonderful reflection in the water.
By the time I get to this stage, the tide has changed and all the little rocks are covered again.

The painting is hanging in the studio calling me to finish it. But the iris blooming in my garden also have a loud and strong voice and are calling me too! I’ll show you the results when I finish it.
While a hoist lifts our gear, we have to climb 200 steps to the top. Because of the cliffs’ steepness, some of those steps are ½ steps. This was a first for me, and they work really well.
That night when I closed my eyes, all I could see were soaring birds and a vast expanse of blue/grey water stretched out ahead of me and cliffs above.
We had a number of good painting sessions on the beach and also on top of the island – an oasis of green woods and ferns. More to come!

8 thoughts on “Painting the Diamond in the Bay of Fundy

  1. Are all those steps on private property ? I wondered about the “24 surveillance” sign. Have a marvellous time.

    BTW I always time my Fundy walks for 3 hours after high tie as that gives me 6 clear hours of exploring …Blue Beach is a favourite haunt for me with Blomidon as a backdrop in the distance.

    1. Yes, those steps are up to the private, small island. We also timed our beach walks for several hours before high tide…and it’s good to carry a clock. lol. Haven’t been to Blue Beach for years….is the road down to the beach still walkable?

  2. I know that each and every one of you would have really appreciated being dropped into that environment for a week and I wish I could take you sometime!

    I’ve had the photos cycling in my screensaver for 2 months to extend the memory of that place. It made me realize that without the distraction of cooking (each one of us prepared one ‘hot’ meal during the week), cleaning, visiting, house stuff, meetings etc, it really is possible to paint non stop and that experience only deepened my understanding of the environment. I have tried to take that into my summer and have painted more this summer than past ones.

    It was also gratifying to spend time with other painters.

    I’ll be going to Brier Island soon to spend a few days painting with a group…..this time we are staying at the local hostel so the accommodation won’t be as fancy 😉 but I’m sure it will be exactly what I need.

  3. Super post Flora. What a braveheart you are. The painting is gorgeous, and all things in good time. I’ve just “finished” some of my work from the past year. It will all happen. It looks finished to me now by the way. XO Barbara

  4. Oh Flora ! What a rich and wonderful experience for all of you — ‘cept for the 200 steps. lol I haven’t made it to Five Islands yet. You are showing me that I must rectify that situation asap.

    I like the vibrancy of your painting. The water is amazing, how it shimmers.

    Darn those irises for calling you away from finishing it. But I can never stay angry at iris for long.

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