Plein Air Painting on Hornby Island in British Columbia

Bundles of impressions with snippets of morning light linger over the rounded forms of the cliff and ragged sun-bleached driftwood. The sweet lime-toffee-scent of new growth on cedar and fir trees mingle with the pungent sea at low tide and crest into my awareness between barking sea lions and the door-hinge screech of eagles. These fragments of observations then settle softly, next to the storm-washed, smoothness of beach pebbles I am rubbing between my fingers before setting up in the cool shade for another painting sketch. How does one make sense of this jumble of sensory information? As a landscape painter, I have a process for gathering such reference materials from the field for later use in the studio. Let’s see what we have from Hornby Island in British Columbia, Canada.

This first painting session is from 10 – 11:00 ish in the morning at Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island. My partner came with me. We hiked 4 km return with the painting gear and my camera. The trek was totally worth it though I was happy to have an extra hand for the basket of paints boards and our drinking water. 

“The Bay at the Peterson Bench” 8 x 10 inch acrylic plein air by Terrill Welch.

This small bay drew me in again and again over the time we were here. I am suspicious that it just might end up an oil painting on a large canvas. 😉

Small Bay in Helliwell Provincial Park

The weather has been unseasonably warm with little breeze these last few days. I have been hiking early in the morning between 5:30 or 6:30 to 7:30 or 8:00 am. Then, I find a place to paint in the shade during the later morning or afternoon. Lovely though and as you can guess, a stunning island for nature and landscapes. 

“Sandpiper Beach Community Park” 8 x10 plein air acrylic sketch by Terrill Welch

The exposed striations on this beach make it a favourite for geologists studying the land structure and history of the island. I wish I knew the name of this tree as it is not an alder or a maple tree. We have one in our backyard as well. Someone said it might be a traditional medicine tree but no one has been able to tell me it’s name. That one lone cloud just above the horizon is the only one we saw during our first three days.

Sandpiper Beach on Hornby Island

There is something about standing painting at the edge of a cliff that is irresistible! This latest adventure was no exception. Helliwell is such an incredibly beautiful provincial park… though it is a 5 km round trip with the painting gear to set up plein air in this location.

“Helliwell Cliff on Hornby Island” 8 x10 plein air acrylic sketch by Terrill Welch

On this day it was so hot that I put my sun hat on David’s wispy hair and covered noggin. Then I made a makeshift hat out of a clean painting rag held on with hair ties on my own head. We must have been quite a sight but we didn’t get heatstroke and we drank enough water that the basket for the return trip was much lighter. I have captured this specific place from several angles and at different times of day. This first is from the same time and view as the painting sketch above.

Cliff in afternoon at Helliwell Provincial Park

And a view from a little farther away in the early morning shortly after sunrise.

Early morning cliff walk in Helliwell Provincial Park

A favourite capture is looking the other way, also first thing in the morning. A writer friend who saw this image commented on the lemonade sky – would make part of a painting title I think 😉

Lemonade sky morning in Helliwell Provincial Park

There are more images of this cliff of course, many more actually, and I haven’t even begun to edit the images from my big camera. But let’s move on to the final plein air painting sketch…

Plein air painting in the early morning at Grassy Point on Hornby Island

The weather had cooled overnight and a wind was huffing along out of the west. So I tucked in with the sunrise on the east, down near the shore where there was shelter and warmth enough to work. An upset sandpiper was screaming the grass sideways above me because I walked past her nest of four eggs in the pen field. Other that that, there were just a few gulls, the driftwood, a gentle sea and stones. A good morning for a plein air painting sketch! 

“A Grassy Point Morning on Hornby Island” 8 x10 inch acrylic by Terrill Welch

Generally, Grassy Point is known for its sunsets but I can attest to the beauty of the sunrises as well. However, we did manage to stay out for one lovely sunset just the same.

Sunset at Grassy Point on Hornby Island

It is a popular place with locals and visitors alike at in the evenings, not unlike Georgina Point on Mayne Island.

Gathering to witness the close of day at Grassy Point on Hornby Island

And the Camus and other wildflowers offered an extra splash of colour.

Camus wildflowers grandstanding at Grassy Point.

Still, I will take early mornings on the cliff in Helliwell Provincial Park as a first choice for my landscape muse.

Cliff at dawn in Helliwell Provincial Park

And again…

rock outcrop at Helliwell

Did we go to Tribune Bay you might ask? Yes, we did. Though, you may have guessed by now, I am not really much of a laying-on-the-sand-soaking-up-the-sun kind of gal. But we did do a low tide beach walk. I enjoyed finding whole living sand dollars…

Sand dollar at Tribune Bay on Hornby Island

and the rich textures of sea and sky and sandstone…

Tribune Bay on Hornby Island

I must confess, Tribune Bay wasn’t the highlight for me as I had anticipated it would be. It IS beautiful and a grand beach but the lure of other adventures on the island overshadowed its sparkle for this trip. That said, the first larger studio oil painting is of an old fir tree that is on this beach. I will share the process for this painting in the next post soon.

There are many more images for painting references. But we shall stop there for now.

This may have been the best working trip in a long while and it’s success goes partly to our host couple, Diana and David at Hornby Island Mt. Geoffrey Bed and Breakfast. After my early morning adventures, I would come back to coffee and the smell of fresh baking muffins. Sometimes, I would still need to rouse a sleepy partner and other times he would be up looking bright and cheery waiting for me. Then, down the stairs from our private guest area we would come to devour a full heartily breakfast including egg, bacon, muffins and yogurt with local homemade raspberry/blackberry sauce to go on top. 

Suppers were handled by Forage – a farm to kitchen cafe which closed at 3:00 in the afternoon. We were a little early in the season still and the main Sea Breeze restaurant was fully booked with private events and the Thatch pub/restaurant near the ferry was intermittently open. But, like much of islander life, one learns quickly to make do with what is available. We thrived on our delicious early dinners with a later evening snack, without feeling the least shortchanged. With a bit of luck, we hope to make a late fall return visit. Even with three ferries to catch from Mayne Island to Hornby Island via Vancouver Island, it is a reasonably easy day of travel.

What has been your most favourite working trip in the past while?

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Website: TerrillWelchArtist.com 

6 thoughts on “Plein Air Painting on Hornby Island in British Columbia

    • Thanks Anita! I managed to get the next post about the process for the tree into the newsletter before I am going to be able to post it here. So it will be in your email on Friday 🙂

  1. Found quite a few of your posts in my junk folder this morning – sorry. Have enjoyed them to the max now this morning. Thank you.
    Laurie’s posts went to junk for awhile and now come in as Between the Lines? and Sam’s posts also are going straight to junk folder. I am not sure how to correct this problem But at least I found you today

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