By Heather Killen
Helen Opie has probably discovered the secret behind DaVinci’s paintings; someone else made supper.
This Granville Ferry artist says she believes one of the first steps towards painting prolifically is to simply hit the road. She arranges painting getaways at various seashore escapes.
This summer she and a group of six women artists stayed at a hostel on Brier Island for week. The idea was to co-ordinate an affordable do-it-yourself retreat, according to Opie. She invited others she knew from area, whom were within driving distance.
Opie has been arranging similar retreats for some time including another this year to Five Islands. Her idea is to gather a group of like-minded people to escape the ‘house magnet’ and paint together for a week. While most of the artists didn’t really know each other when the trip started, they quickly created a synergy that inspired and infused the group.
“I organize retreats for those people who already have plenty of instruction, but not enough time to work on their own stuff,” she said. “This way they can self-direct for a big chunk of time without having someone else’s agenda distract them from their chosen focus, or goal.”
This time she invited Michelene Gushue, Alberta Martin, Sharon Cave, Flora Doehler, Maxine Marshall, and Connie Lowe for a seven-day painting trip.
“They were all artists I liked and wanted to see more,” said Opie. “We didn’t know each other well, but we had some contact.”
Each of the artists has a distinct style and brings a unique perspective to the landscapes, said Opie. Watching others work not only inspires new techniques, but also offers fresh insight for personal styles.
Moreover, during their weeklong stay at the hostel, they met other visitors including Kevin McCormack, the artistic director at Equity Showcase Theatre in Toronto, whom added to the group’s synergy.
“Painting is usually solitary,” said Flora Doehler. “This was a way to connect with other artists in a non-competitive way.”
Alberta Martin, of Watershed Painting School, said she first heard about Helen Opie a few years ago, while driving overnight in the US. Martin was listening to a CBC radio interview with Opie, who was talking about a painting trip to Prince Edward Island few years ago.
“This way they can self-direct for a big chunk of time without having someone else’s agenda distract them from their chosen focus, or goal.” - Helen Opie
The tale was about a lively trip with happen-chance encounters and villages of barns they promised to paint on the way back.
“I thought, what a wonderful thing to do,” said Martin. “I was aching to paint and decided that one day, I’d like to meet her.”
When she retired to Bridgetown a few years ago, she was finally able to meet Opie. Martin had started a free outdoor painting school and Opie contacted her after reading an article about it in The Annapolis County Spectator.
She invited Martin to go painting and this year the pair decided to get a group together for a road trip to Brier Island. Each of the seven artists took a turn making dinner at night, so that they would be mostly free during the week to break away from the ‘house magnet,’ said Opie.
“When we’re at home we feel guilty when we paint instead of doing other things,” said Doehler. “We feel like we should be cleaning up, or doing other work. Painting is like a guilty pleasure.”
That’s one of the reasons why getting out in nature is so inspiring; there is sea and sky, but no dirty dishes. With no chores, internet, and television, all of the women were able to take in the landscape and concentrate solely on painting.
What they didn’t paint, they sketched. They say the images they found while beach combing will continue to inspire them throughout the winter.
Painted Every Day
“We painted everyday, all the time,” said Doehler. “We headed out after breakfast and the beach became the studio. If you focus completely on anything, you’ll get to a new place.”
There was no pressure to paint, and so there was plenty of time to look around at the sea and simply reflect on the work. Because many of the artists are ‘come from aways,’ they see the landscape with fresh eyes. Martin says Brier Island is a painter’s paradise with swirling pools of water, each unique in its patterns of reflections and shapes. The sky is even different there. But most importantly, the retreat simply gave them time to see a little more clearly.
“We had time to sit and look around and drink in so much,” said Micheline Gushue. “I’m still painting and sketching what I saw there.”