“Newfoundland is of the sea. A mighty granite stopper thrust into the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, its coasts present more than five thousand miles of rocky headlands, bays, capes and fiords to the sweep of the Atlantic.”
Farley Mowat “Bay of Spirits”
Before I left for Newfoundland I stopped in the library and picked up a copy of Farley Mowat’s “Bay of Spirits” — the book he wrote about his time sailing around the outports along Newfoundland’s Southwest coast in the late 1950s. It was the ideal book to have along because every time I came upon a harbour I was reminded of his descriptions of schooners and skippers and steamers and a Newfoundland that mostly doesn’t exist anymore. And even though I’m not a big fan of air travel, a little part of me was happy my plane ride home today was delayed so I could enjoy the last pages of the book before landing. The perfect way to end the week.
I think we all have romantic notions when we travel of things we want to do or see. In Newfoundland I was hoping to see puffins, spot some whales, see a moose, and paint a fog scene. I did see a few whales, thousands of puffins, thankfully no moose (at least while I was driving) and today I got to paint fog. Last night I went to sleep with the sound of the fog horn and woke to the sound of the fog horn so I knew this was the day. Yes, it’s a bit of cliché, and there’s definitely some kitsch value in there too, but it’s rare that we have fog in Montreal so I had to try it. I painted this with a fully wet sheet and in fact it took hours for the paper to dry but it was a lot of fun to keep adding paint to the sheet and make the shapes appear out of the fog.
Trinity is picture perfect. But sometimes picture perfect is hard to paint because there’s too much choice. In Trinity there are dozens of tastefully painted historical buildings, a lighthouse in the distance, a backdrop of rolling hills, a marina, old fishing shacks, church steeples, boats, gardens, picket fences, granite outcroppings, a museum and saltbox houses. Where do I begin? With this much choice you just pick a spot and paint what’s in front of you.
There were not too many decisions I had to make sketching this scene. Lots of blue for the sky, a big wash of green for the land and some bright red for the lighthouse (which looks remarkably like a circus tent, don’t you think?) Surround that bright white with a lot of colour and the sketch practically painted itself.
Travelling around Newfoundland you are constantly reminded of the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1992. It was a sad time for Newfoundlanders and to this day cod stocks have not returned. Today on the dock in Petty Harbour there were recreational fisherman with bins of five fish each — that’s the daily limit this year — and I watched them slice off fat filets and toss the bloody carcasses back in the water. This is cod season, and it lasts only a few weeks. Petty Harbour is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, and was no doubt a thriving fishing community before the moratorium. I painted in the shade of one of the old fishing shacks, with my sheet propped up on an old wooden sawhorse. Many people stopped by to say hello but none more proud than the man who pointed to the house across the bay where he grew up, the house on our side of the bay where his wife was born, and the house in the middle that they bought together.
It was a view worth painting — both for where I was sitting and what I was looking at. My location: Signal Hill, overlooking St. John’s Harbour and also the site of Marconi’s first transatlantic wireless signal. My view: way out to Cape Spear, North America’s most easterly point. So far this place has surpassed expectations, both for the rugged, wild beauty of the landscape as well as the warmth of the Newfoundland people.
This has been a kind of amazing summer for travel but my trusty phone, which I use to post remotely, is on its last legs. This week I’ll be travelling around Newfoundland and hoping that the phone will last the trip. That means I may not be able to write much but I sure will be drawing. The first stop: the tiny outport of Quidi Vidi – as picturesque a village as you could ever imagine.