It was a rare opportunity: a good friend donated her lovely farmhouse in Nova Scotia to selected artists so they could paint. I was asked to join the group—4 retired art teachers and me. I was astonished, delighted and a bit paranoid. What if I had slipped in by mistake, or even worse, they just didn’t like me? I had to appear at least somewhat in control. A week before we left, I tidied up my paint palette and practiced assembling my easel so it wouldn’t fall apart.
All my fears faded quickly once we settled into our lodgings overlooking the Annapolis Valley. My new friends came with no airs or judgment. We were all there for a single reason: make the most of a retreat set in the middle of idyllic farm country with nothing else to do but enjoy and create. There were no stores (or Starbucks) in walking distance. I really was “stuck there,” “forced” to paint every day for ten days—while living in paradise.
And it was paradise.
Nova Scotia’s fabulous North Shore
Nova Scotia is a Canadian jewel. I had no idea what it offered, especially along the less frequently visited North Shore with its remarkable tides. By day three, its outstanding beauty left each of us emotionally exhausted — breathtaking views along the Bay of Fundy and the MinasBasis, seemingly endless walks on the ocean floor at low tide, bountiful farms and vineyards nestled in the valley, and the charm of tiny Wolfville.
Plein air: like my fancy French?
We were painting “en plein air” (that is, “outside”). Plein air may not produce the best paintings (the weather alone tends to dictate the result), but the process is ideal for improving painting skills. There’s nothing like being perched on a rock on a windy day (with a cheap easel) to force yourself to paint what’s in front of you without a lot of time to fuss. The result? You actually produce art, not a reproduction of someone else’s vision.
It’s also very Canadian. The Group of Seven were arguable the most famous plein air painters in the world. In particular, J.E.H. MacDonald, founder of the Group of Seven, encouraged artist to paint outside in order to hone their painting skills.
Farewell but not forever, Nova Scotia. I’ll be back!
Enjoy a video of our excursion!