Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dolphin Cove Morning

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had an opportunity to paint with friends in the Ft. Bragg and Mendocino areas just this October.   On the last morning there, we visited Dolphin Cove, which is just a little way further up the Noyo River from Noyo Harbor, a place I have painted many, many times.

When I arrived at the Cove at about 9 in the morning, it was still in deep shade.  The high bluffs and fir trees forming the east and south rim around the harbor blocked the sun even this late in the morning.  However I could see that the track of the sun would soon bring it over the ridgeline and the light would begin to reach the boats in the harbor.  I set up my easel at the water's edge and by the time I was ready to paint, the sun had reached the boats on my side of the docking area, while the boats and the hillside on the other side remained in shadow.  It made a dramatic scene of light against dark.

I painted a 12 x 16 plein air piece of two of the boats in front of me.  It's posted below.  After returning I decided I wanted to do a slightly larger and more finished studio version of the same scene.  Fortunately, I had taken a couple of pictures to use along with the plein air painting as reference.

Painting in the studio, I was able to carry the painting further.  In particular I wanted to emphasize the brilliant intensity of the morning light against the dark background.  Of course, my studio painting does not have the immediacy of the plein air experience, but in exchange I was able to develop areas and details a bit further.  At the same time, I tired to concentrate on maintaining some looseness in areas of the painting...and to be careful not to over paint.

Dolphin Cove Morning  20 x 16  Oil on stretched canvas

 This is the plein air work of the same scene.

I've begun to pare down my palette lately - both when painting in plein air and in the studio.  Both of the paintings above were done with the limited palette for the most part. I'm not rigid about it and I feel free to add any tube color I feel might be useful, but I am generally using only about 4-5 colors plus white.  I've borrowed Kathleen's Dumphy's palette pretty much, which she generously shares on her blog along with huge amounts of wonderful information about her painting experience and technique.  The palette is Naples Yellow Deep, Cad Yellow Lemon, Cad Red Medium, Ultramarine Deep, Transparent Oxide Red, and Titanium White.  All of the colors are Rembrandt except the Cad Yellow Lemon, which at Kathleen's suggestion is Utrecht.  The TOR is my addition to the palette.  It's a color I find invaluable in so many ways.  I would have a difficult time painting without it...and it's easily my most used color. (I'm cutting way down on white also, except when it is an obvious color in the scene, as in the two paintings above.)   Kathleen rounds out her limited palette with Rembrandt Cold Gray.  I have it on my palette too, but I haven't learned to use it comfortably yet.  I will be taking a workshop from Kathleen in April and I hope to remedy that!

I rarely have a tube green on my palette.  Mixing greens from blue and yellow and modifying them with red or TOR gives a nice variety and I don't often feel the need for the tube greens.  I still find uses for's a distinctive color that I can't mix.  For many years I used large amounts of yellow ochre and I still squeeze it out nearly every time out of habit.  But I'm finding less and less need for it and I'm now wasting way more than I'm using.

I find the limited palette very comfortable.  As I said, I don't feel constrained to use only those few colors...this isn't some kind of challenge or test...but the more I paint with the limited palette,the less often I feel the need for other colors.  

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art


  1. Very strong unity to that painting
    Wonderful success
    I've been to Noyo many times but never visited that Cove-something to be changed at the next opportunity
    Thank you

    1. Wow, thank you Neil! I appreciate your comment about "unity" in particular. I had never been to Dolphin Cove either, but one of the other painters discovered it and tipped the rest of us off to it. For a painter, it's every bit as attractive as Noyo Harbor, and maybe even more so. Plus there's a great little Deli right there that has delicious lunches. You can eat on a picnic bench right near the water.

  2. Bruce, You have done an excellent job of using the plein air location painting and photo references to paint a beautiful larger painting. Congratulations! I also enjoyed reading about your use of a limited palette. You have proved the limited palette works quite well. Congratulations again!

  3. Thank you Ruth! As you know -since you were there painting also! - it was a neat place to paint. Although painters frequently talk about using plein air 'sketches' as a step to more finished studio paintings, I don't think I've ever actually done it. There's a first time for everything...and I'll be doing it again I'm sure.

  4. Love both paintings! I use the same limited pallete, but I also use red oxide too. Kathleen uses the cold dark grey to grey down when the compliment does not do it enough. I have quit putting it out since I so rarely use it. I also carry alzirium chrism to get a brighter pink/purple that this pallets won't produce. Vickie

    1. Hi Vickie! Thanks for the nice comments...and for cluing me in on how Kathleen uses Cold Gray. I also find Alizarin to be a useful color, particularly when making dark darks. Anyway, it was a great place to paint, wasn't it? If I remember right, you did the entrance area to Dolphin Cove. It was a great trip.