Painting on Brier Island

Six years ago I spent a week painting on Brier Island. It looks like I’m going to have that chance again in August and I am so excited about it. Here is the post from that original trip:

The Field on Brier Island. Painting by Flora Doehler, 2012.

Sept, 2012.
I just got back from a week-long painting retreat on Brier Island. My friend Helen Opie organized 7 of us who made the trek out to the Island–– a mere 1 1/4 hours drive away from here including 2 ferries.

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In order to cut down on costs, we stayed at the Backpackers Hostel in Westport, the only village on the island. The cost of that was $20 per night with 4 to a room and an enormous kitchen and living room that faced the harbor and the rising sun. This was the first time for most of us (and me!) that we had ever stayed in a hostel.
Each of us was responsible for a supper meal which freed everyone else from cooking responsibilities for the other 5 days. The hostel owners changed the towels every day, vacuumed and cleaned the bathrooms which allowed us time to paint our little hearts out.

The hostel on Brier Island sleeps 12 and is on a second floor.

I painted all my work around the sand dunes at the end of Gull Rock Road, the farthest tip of Brier Island. I was drawn to the combination of fields of Queen Anne’s lace and other weeds waving in the wind surrounded by blue ocean. On our camping trip a month ago the wildflowers were in full bloom. Last week most of them were in seed but their movement was still very graceful.

Seed distribution.

I can’t even begin to describe the thrill of standing above a field that stretches down to the ocean and watching birds dart by and the smells of the sea and the waving plants. And the sky; it is a brilliant blue and then an hour later it is full of clouds with infinite patterns and shapes. There is always the sound of wind in the air as well as crashing waves because the very tip of Brier Island is where the tides from the Bay of Fundy meet the Atlantic Ocean and this creates a lot of turbulence in the water.

Painting on site at Brier Island.

I spent 5 full days painting on those dunes and there were many hours where I was the only human being there. No traffic sounds, only the occasional sound of the foghorn.

There are special challenges in painting outdoors. The light is constantly changing, shadows move, the color of the painted object is altered by the atmosphere, it can be rainy, foggy, sunny, windy and all of this affects not only the artists comfort, it also has a huge impact on the paint.

Even the fog was wonderful. View from the hostel.

Most of the time I was using acrylic paint and mixing it with a slow drying gel medium. But a combination of wind and sun dries even the slowest paint fast! On other days I watched the fog rolling slowly and gradually obscure everything in my sight line that I was painting. This dampness in the air meant that paint absolutely did not want to dry which created problems.

Painting Brier Island.

And still, it was a total thrill to stand in the middle of the landscape doing what I love to do the most and knowing that somebody else was making supper and I had no other responsibilities in the world.

The camaraderie of our group was a definite bonus of the week. It was inspiring to spend time with other painters because we got to ”talk shop” for a whole week. We shared ideas and talked about the materials we use, where to buy them, the types of painting surfaces that people use, our painting set up.

A home made box for carrying wet oil paintings.
This home-made, mobile paint kit is the best I’ve seen. Note the open front of the buggy for easy access.

We met people who came and stayed at the hostel and their stories were very interesting too. A couple on a motorcycle from Michigan told us about their 20-something-year-old son who had no health insurance and who underwent emergency gallbladder surgery. He now has a debt of $10,000. The mom pays $90 per week for insurance… I’m not sure if that was just for her or included her husband but either way it’s a lot of money. While I have felt that Obama has been a disappointment and not lived up to his promises (closing Guantanamo, health care for all, getting out of the war business), they are avid supporters and believe that the Republicans have stymied him at every step and prevented him from doing the good deeds he would like to. It was interesting to hear their thoughts on life in the US.

St. Mary’s Bay.

We met a man at the hostel who is a director and acting teacher for a major Toronto theater who is also renovating a historic house on Brier Island. He has furnished it with years worth of stage set furniture from plays by Chekov and other 19th century plays. Each room has a fireplace and is set up like a living room with curvy couches and tall candlesticks and china and over-the-top antiques. After the tour, some of us thought it would be a good idea to come back and paint interiors of these rooms. We tossed around ideas with him about how painters and actors could collaborate on the island.

Fish hut on Brier Island.

We met local fishermen who kindly gave us fresh mackerel off the wharf which Helen and Micheline beheaded, gutted, and cooked for breakfast.

Remains of the meal.

And my fellow painters had lots of their own stories. I hadn’t met most of them before so it was interesting for me to hear snapshots about their lives, their regrets and challenges and their funny stories that made us all laugh.

As far as my own painting went, I worked hard and long and brought home some great memories on canvas. You can read about my painting discovery at Painting with Complimentary Colours as an Undercoat.

So if you think you can’t afford that personal retreat somewhere just grab a few friends and head to a hostel. Bring your own food, share cooking and do it on a shoestring. You’ll save money, you’ll meet people from all over the world, and you’ll have a chance to practice your passion, without interruptions.

8 thoughts on “Painting on Brier Island

  1. Oh lucky you to be planning another trip to Brier Island. Has that marvellous hostel re-opened under new ownership? I thought it very sad when it closed. I had a great stay there a few years back. I look forward to hearing all about your next outing.

  2. Sigh … I’m breathing deeply. Feeling relaxed from reading your post. Even hearing the “R” word (Republican) can’t spoil the mood. What a wonderful thought, going with a few friends and staying at the hostel there … I spent only a day on Brier Island and would love to spend much more than that !

    1. Awww. Sybil, I’d never spent time ‘downtown’ in Westport (population 200?) and it was interesting to watch and see the life in that community too. But my heart was tied up near Pond Cove. I’m thinking that your group of bloggers down there would love the place…..and maybe I’ll join you all. Twist my arm! It could be a photography or writers retreat too.

  3. Wonderful! I spent a day on Brier Island a month ago to go whale watching, and took my usual trip down Gull Rock Road. What a magical spot it is. Saw the largest rose hips I’ve ever seen and a enjoyed some time completely alone and filled with serenity.

    Now that I’m back in the Boston area, I can close my eyes and be back there. I look forward to seeing more of your paintings. Your time there sounded wonderful, and I love the photo of the fish heads….what a painting that would make.

    Take care,
    Margaret Jeddry

    1. Hi Margaret! I can’t stop thinking of the island. It was such a gift to be able to spend so much time there. I know what it’s like to shut your eyes at work and be transported to a favorite place. When I was still working in Toronto, I had an aerial map of Bear River stuck on the filing cabinet where only I could see it. All the artists were portrayed on it and I used to stare at it and wish that I could be here and be part of that life too. Well, here we are and in the brochure too. It’s different than what I imagined … it’s even better. 😉

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