Paint Schoodic

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Thursday, June 15, 2017


Research is not a luxury in a plein air event. Planning and preparation are key to success.

The back tracks of Nova Scotia can be a bit rough for an elderly Prius.
Yesterday, Mary Sheehan Winn and I spent more than ten hours tracking back and forth over the same 79 km-mile strip of land between Advocate Harbor and Five Islands. I used to consider this kind of reconnoitering a luxury, because it involved an extra day on the road. I’ve come to realize it’s a necessity. What am I looking for?

Subject: I’m interested in boats, tides, cliffs, rocks, clouds, water, and the small fishing villages that cling to the edges of the sea. That drives me to the outermost points, along the cliffs and the small dirt tracks that run along them. In this part of Nova Scotia, the waterfront is still occupied by people of modest means. Mobile homes share the coastline with old farmhouses.

I wrote earlier that we couldn’t find the fishing fleet at Parrsboro. That is because they tie up on the outside of the public landing, and the tide was down when I was here. With Mary’s help, I found them, but they’ll still be hard to paint. They’re across a wide basin from the closest vantage point.

Near Port Greville, Nova Scotia.
Weather forecast: Unfortunately, the forecast gets wetter and cooler as we approach the weekend. I’ll plan for things which need sparkle for tomorrow, and do things which can tolerate less light on Saturday.

Tide: The tide affects every seascape. This is most true here on the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest range in the world. At low tide, channels cut sinuously through the mud across Parrsboro harbour. At high tide, the town comes sharply into focus across shimmering water. Every possible painting has several permutations.

Angle of Light: Cape Blomidon curls into the Minas Basin like Big Boy’s giant lock of hair. It looms across every vantage point. Its color and clarity depend on the hour. The light can make a mediocre composition shine. For example, Five Islands are too widely spaced to make a good painting from the shoreline. But at the witching hour of dusk, they are lit up by the setting sun.

A lonely lobster boat on a rising tide.
Composition: If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to make an empty painting of the sea. I’m searching relentlessly for a composition that has foreground interest without sacrificing the sense of place.

Moon phase: We’re in a waning gibbous moon, and the sky is going to cloud over as we move forward in the week. If I’m going to do a nocturne, it will be tonight.

Character: Yesterday I was asked if I thought the Minas Basin looked just like Maine. Actually I think it looks more like the Great Lakes. Those red cliffs are the same sandstone that underlies Niagara. Because it’s soft, the scree at water’s edge is worn into flat cobblestones. Part of my examination is to put into words how I know this is the Bay of Fundy, rather than Cape Cod or Wisconsin.

Granite and basalt on much of the North Atlantic coast, but sandstone here.
Permission: I use this prep time to ask people if I can paint on their property. Yesterday, when I did so, a woman told me about a problem in their neighborhood with a rogue black bear. That’s very handy to know.

All the planning in the world won’t make a ‘great’ painting, however, and somewhere I need to build in a few hours to rest before our canvases are stamped and we’re set loose on an unsuspecting public.

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