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