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.
Eventually I painted over this canvas because I just couldn’t capture what I was seeing. As always, it was a thrill to sit on the ocean floor knowing that in a few hours, it would be flooded by the incoming tide.
A wonderful experience sitting in unfurling fern with my paint.
Boardwalks throughout the small island ensure that noone gets lost and helps to protect the vegetation.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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.’
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!