Where did all the color go?

 Photo - San Mateo Coast at Pescadero

Photo – San Mateo Coast at Pescadero

Last summer I received a personal invitation to participate in a museum show. I of course agreed. It only took two months after the invitation to work myself into a corner. This was to be a themed show: submit a larger studio work developed from two plein air studies. So it was off to my favorite Northern California coast location in San Mateo County at Pescadero. After a couple of months, I had eight or so plein air studies and a couple of starts on a larger studio piece. But the weather was not cooperating. With very few sunny days during the summer on this part of the coast, fog generally will burn off by noon and then it will just be overcast through evening. That is, until two to three weeks following Labor Day. Then the coastal fog front recedes and the fall days become warm and sunny. Color is infused into the coastal landscape, providing the perfect setting for end-of-summer beach activities including painting en Plein Air.

Not this year. After years of California drought, off-shore weather systems were now massing early off the coast. My favorite location had lost most of its sparkle and all of its high color. I am committed to this location at this point, however.

Photo - Pescadero Point

Photo – Pescadero Point

Not wanting to start making things up, I decided to complete the project and deal with all the grey atmosphere and moisture in the air as well as light fog. I struggled through another study and then decided on something I really don’t do— a limited pallet. In addition to my four colors (Cad Yellow Medium, Ultramarine Blue, Sap Green and Alizarin Crimson), I added three separate Grey’s—light, medium, and dark. Once I established a very tight value study with the Greys, I added color. The following two additional Plein Air studies were completed:

The next task was to paint my large studio piece. I used the same process as with the Plein Air studies—limiting my pallet, holding very tight with Grey mixtures, then adding color to complete San Mateo Coast.

30” x 40” San Mateo Coast

30” x 40” San Mateo Coast

After completing my work for the museum show, I decided to apply the strategy to another painting at a different site. I was especially happy with Point Lobos Calm No. 2 and have since been using the limited pallet with a couple of accent colors for all of my Plein Air work.

24” x 30” - Point Lobos Calm No. 2

24” x 30” – Point Lobos Calm No. 2

I have just received notice that Point Lobos Calm No. 2 has been accepted to the Oil Painters of America 26th Annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils.

I think I’ll stick with this approach for awhile!

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  • Very nice discussion of the why of these and color … or not much color. I keep trying to enjoy a limited palette. You inspire to try again! Thank you.

  • Dot Bunn

    The use of grays to master values first and then add color is an old tried and true method of painting. I teach my students this method to help them understand the importance of value control and to free them to experiment with color more freely after values have been identified. I am a studio painter and use this method most of the time but often use a neutral color rather than gray as my underpainting.

  • Tessa Smith

    Beautiful images. How fortunate to have time and money to do this!

  • Theresa Grillo Laird

    In preparation for a Scott Christensen workshop I took a couple of years ago. I practiced with a limited palette of 3 colors plus white for 2 years before taking the workshop.I mixed my own greys from the 3 colors. I found the result to be much more natural looking but it’s also incredibly easy to veer too much towards the greys, painting with them plus a little color instead of the other way around. I miss the greater color I used to have so I’ve added a few colors back to my palette and I’m looking to strike a balance between all grey and all highly colored. Point Lobos is beautiful! What palette did you use for it?

  • T. Jeff Williams

    Will Maller is a master of the seascape. Enlarge the Point Lobos Calm 2 and see how he integrated the rocks into the water along the shore. You can practically feel the cold ocean water and hear it lapping against the cliffs.