Saturday, June 21, 2008

Grand Manan Workshop Week

Warning: This post consists of a summary of five days. I apologize for the length. - MCJ

I've written it before and I'll write it again: What's a Maritime experience without fog or rain? We had a bit of both in our week on Grand Manan Island, the "Queen of the Fundy Isles." But our waterfront cottages had a paintable view with big porches to paint from and big windows to paint out of. Students stayed both in our cottages (Fisherman's Haven Cottages) and in another cluster just a short walk down the bay (Seaside Haven Cottages.)

Our first day was overcast with enough sun seeping through to give a good sunburn. After a short talk about the basics of plein air painting at our cottage, where we served coffee and tea, we headed over to Seal Cove for an oil demonstration. Seal Cove has many historic fish buildings that were used in the smoked herring industry.

"Seal Cove Overcast"
8x10, oil, en plein air

After painting, Trina and I went off to check e-mail at the public library, tour the wonderful Grand Manan Museum and then revisit some old painting spots to remind ourselves what they are like. We also scoped out a few dining possibilities for our anniversary, which would come on Friday, the Summer Solstice. We stopped at the Whale Cove Inn, where novelist Willa Cather summered for many years, to see their menu and to inquire about bringing the group to paint.

Later that evening, we had the first of the optional paint-alongs, in which I invite students to paint without instruction. (They get to visit some of my favorite, secret locations on these paint-alongs.) We went to Pettes Cove, where we had a spectacular view of Swallowtail Point, its lighthouse and two fishing weirs.

"Swallowtail Light, Evening"
5x7, oil, en plein air
On our second day, we had rain. After talking about the importance of value in the landscape, I demonstrated in pastel under the cover of our front porch. For this one, I used my customary wash of Turpenoid. For the first time, I had benefit of a hair dryer to help dry the underpainting. (It would have taken a long time to dry in all that rain!) Students painted from their porches or from inside looking out; we donated our porch to two.

After the workshop, we drove out to see the current show at the Grand Manan Art Gallery and to purchase a roast chicken for dinner from the grocer's. Afternoon was spent working on the new book and dining on roast chicken. Although the rain stopped around dinnertime, fog moved in. It was low tide, a perfect time to go out to the revealed beach and do a quick study of one of the fish buildings near the cottages. The fog thickened, and by the time I finished, my brushes were slick with moisture, and I was having a hard time getting the oil paint to stick to the wet panel. (Oil and water really don't mix!)

Our third day had fog, so after a short critique at our cottage, we headed out to Castalia Marsh Provincial Park. This is a good fog location, since there are picnic shelters to protect you from the mist and close views of the salt marsh, edged with wild roses. High tide was coming in, and the fog came and went, making for a very changeable scene.

I should step back a bit and talk about boats. On the night before the workshop began, Trina and I toured the wharves in both Seal Cove and Ingalls Head. I was pleased to see them packed with scores of colorful boats, some moored five abreast. What perfect places to paint! But the following morning, on our morning constitutional to the wharf, to our surprise the harbor was nearly empty. As we looked, the very last boats were pulling out for a day of fishing. Lobster season is taken seriously by the fishermen.

Still, fishermen seem to keep fairly regular hours: Head out soon after dawn, back by supper, with Sundays off. I'd been planning my optional painting sessions for 5, and I figured that by then, the boats would have returned to the harbor at Seal Cove. By 5, the fog had lifted enough for us to see the boats well enough, if they were indeed there. We weren't disappointed. Many of the boats had returned, and we had two beautiful ones to paint.

"Orange and Blue"
8x10, oil, en plein air

Thursday -- morning fog again. After a talk on atmospheric perspective (how appropriate!), we decided to hold off painting until afternoon, hoping the fog would lift by then. Trina and I then headed over to the Anchorage Provincial Park to hike the trail to Ox Head, which passes by a beautiful pond spotted with water lilies and edged by marsh grasses and firs. It'd be a great place to hike in with a "backpacker" painting kit.

Our decision to wait until 3 pm was rewarded with blue sky and bright sun. We made the short drive to the Ingalls Head wharf where boats were just starting to come home. You can really get lost trying to paint every boat, piling and buoy. I told students that if they focused on just one boat and rendered all the rest as simple patches of color, they could create a satisfying illusion of boatyard complexity around the one well-drawn boat. I took this idea to extremes and painted a single dory while eliminating the other 20 boats around it.

"Grand Manan Dory"
5x7, pastel, en plein air

"Ingalls Head Pier"
5x7, pastel, en plein air

Friday -- it's hard to believe, but yes, more fog! Today, with students leaving in the afternoon, we couldn't postpone our painting session. But first, I talked about color harmony and addressed how to correct common problems in the final stages of a painting. After that, we headed out to North Head, where I did a short demonstration to show how to paint a tree. Finally, once we were done painting, several of us had lunch at the Back Porch Cafe. (It doubled as our anniversary meal.) Trina and I finished up the day with a hike to the Swallowtail Light and to Net Point. The sun was just beginning to poke out as we headed back to our cottage to pack up.

It's always sad, leaving Grand Manan. Despite the week's unsettled weather, Grand Manan was, as always, a wonderful place to paint. You can find shelter if you need it, and if you're working in oil, a little mist doesn't hurt anything. And if you have sun! It can be glorious. Everyone had a great time, and we're looking forward to a return visit next year.

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