I am often asked whether I paint from photographs. My answer is always the same: “If I have to.”
When I do, I use a number of photographs of the same scene because I need a lot more information than one shot will give me. In this way I’m able to give my own interpretation of the scene rather than slavishly copy a single photo. If I have a choice, I will always choose to paint on location.
Painting outdoors several hundred years ago, however, wasn’t nearly as easy as it is now. Painting “en plein air” as the French Impressionists called it, presented a little problem during inclement weather. Since rain today is much like rain centuries ago (especially on North Island in November), we are fortunate to have something called an automobile. Indeed, I have executed many a painting from the warmth and dryness of my car; thank goodness for intermittent windshield wipers.
The painting I’m doing in this photo was done on one of our beautiful days in February, although it could easily have been done any time. After a week of rain, the sun (what is that bright thing in the sky?) made its appearance. Since there was little wind, the ocean kept beckoning, so I headed for the nearest spot in which I could paint from my car if I had to, just in case the ocean breezes were too stiff.
Alder Bay Campground seemed a likely spot. Situated almost directly across from Alert Bay, it sees a lot of marine action and is only ten minutes from my studio.
The painting on the easel is of the southeast end of Cormorant Island. Malcolm Island appears directly behind it with the Coast Mountains, somewhat obscured by clouds, peeking through in the distance. The breakwater in the foreground is part of the docking and ramp facilities at Alder Bay. This time of year, with tourist traffic down to a trickle, the foreshore is filled with migratory birds of every description while beyond little fishing boats ply the waters around Alert Bay. A River Otter swims by and pokes a curious nose at you while the resident eagles chatter to each other in the treetops. Take a photograph of this and paint from it in my studio? You gotta be kidding!
Gordon Henschel owns an art gallery in Nimpkish Heights. www.henschel.ca