Chasing the light by @theaatkinson

A visual artist friend of mine thought I’d enjoy a week-long artist retreat to Prince Edward Island a few years ago.

“After all,” she said. “Writing is an art.”

Reluctantly, I agreed to go, thinking that as I couldn’t draw a stick figure, I could at least bring my camera and learn to take better pictures.

“There’s something strangely intriguing about dogging around PEI’s countryside with a trio of artists,” I wrote in my journal on day one. “Nothing is as it appears.”

Indeed, nothing was. We pulled over at fields striped by lawn mowers and skies polka-dotted by clouds. There were always spurts of, “Oh my God, the light,” from the three artists, and an inevitable, accidental initiation of the windshield wipers as the driver got so excited she whacked the gear-stick in an effort to pull the van off the road.

Blue was often the topic of conversation through those first hours. “It’s a strong color,” they told me. So, too, was green, a secondary color made by combining 95% blue to 5% yellow. I remember thinking about school day biology lessons that taught blue irises signaled weak eyes, and I considered, in light of this new information, that perhaps blue eyes were weak because the strength of the color forced them to see more.

They returned to the van, all three having painted the same scene differently.  The results had nothing to do with talent, I realized, but with cones and rods and their journey to a tangle of synapses. Each tangle with its respective knots is different. And so the scene is painted, the sketch drawn.

On day two we went field traipsing. They discovered water in the field. Again, blue; again green. I couldn’t help feeling it was sacrilegious, somehow, to stomp heavy-footed over earth that still harbored food. But the artists, they were driven.

When talk moved later at the cottage to shadows and how blue silhouettes cast on red makes mauve, I promptly said that I hadn’t known shadows could be any color other than black.

“Start noticing,” one told me and I stood watching the darkness that began filtering through the day. Soon, as I stood alone on the veranda, I heard a delighted squeal coming from inside as another artist discovered the mauve shadows painted on the red gravel drive.

I wondered why I had to be shown, but the other artist just saw and chalked it up to the cones and rods again–or their glasses. I studied their eyes, my three artists, and noticed they all wore glasses. Perhaps there was a blue filter in their lenses–or in their retinas. Yes. That was it, I decided. That was the explanation. They had that strong color embedded as a filter deep in the flesh of their eyes and that was the reason they saw differently.

We began the third day by toddling down to the beach to watch the sun rise and cast shadows on the ruddy sand and layers of rock. One of them stripped down to bloomers and swam while the sun painted the water oily and the sand orange. There was a freedom in the air, as if her aura reached out and spread over the water like gasoline. If I could have ignited it, it would have burned off quicker than the camera could register–it was that intangible.

Afterwards, we drove directly to Bumblebee Road because they wanted to indulge my desire to capture on film a long line of honey bee hives.   While I snapped away, one of the three had a whelming desire to pee in the field. She said that the white-bundled hay reminded her of rolls of toilet paper. Her peculiar tangle of synapses set up the shot for me. The other artists immediately agreed to bare their butts for the camera and for the sake of art.

Intriguing business, recreating what the eye sees. Because it really isn’t recreating, I discovered. And how shocked I was at the discovery, until I realized how tainted we all are by our own perceptions.

By day four, I’d learned something further about shadows; they are an absence of light. They weren’t black or blue or black and blue, but a darker color of where they lay. I wanted to know if a shadow on green was a darker green, then what shadow color would be on white.  None of the artists relieved me of the question, but all looked at each other with a quiet sort of intimacy.

On the second to last day of the retreat, we happened upon a wonderful village of barns that far out-villaged all the ones that had come before. The artists were beside themselves. Ransackle buildings in all their natural glory screamed at them to be painted. The 75-year old bachelor who owned the farm took great pleasure showing us around, and stood bewildered as the artists complimented him on the various bits of well-used and often worn-out equipment: empty window frames hanging against a cob-webbed wall, rusty heads of rakes hidden beneath a sack of grain, exterior walls devoid of paint and weathering in the sun. We spent the entire day with him, and I think by evening he began looking at his ordinary farm with slightly different eyes than he had before.

In the end, I came away with little writing and precious few pictures because my rolls of film hadn’t been engaged properly, but what these artists instilled within me will last a lifetime.

They found beauty and value in the most ordinary items. Things that I took for granted, they admired.  There’s a lesson there. Many things are worthy of appreciation; it’s up to us to see them and as writers to capture them.

Now I wear blue colored sunglasses when I drive–to perdition with the rose.



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One Insular Tahiti by Thea Atkinson

Samples are always free on Amazon

BTW: The East Coast has some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada. I set most of my novels in NS, but One Insular Tahiti had some Cape Breton sprinkled in. I’d love it if you would sample it. No pressure. Just see if it’s your cuppa.


One Insular Tahiti is also available from BN, Kobo, Smashwords, Itunes, and Sony

Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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2 comments on “Chasing the light by @theaatkinson
  1. How wonderful that you are able to have these conversations with your children.. It expands all of your perspectives. I’m so glad yous stopped by and took the time to comment. Please do again; it was fresh to be able to read a new voice.

  2. Wendy Fehr says:

    This sounds like an amazing and insightful time! I am not artistic – I, too, paint my pictures with words. However, I have moments like the ones you describe here: seeing things from a different perspective. You see, my children are enrolled in a fine arts school where they learn dance, drama, music, and art in addition to the regular curriculum. Their art teacher, Monique Martin, is amazing. My children often point out an artist’s perspective to me and allow me to participate in this realm vicariously. I love the perspective – which is exactly why I put them in that school.

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