Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Green is the trickiest colour to control.
Green is the trickiest colour to control and seems to have a habit of taking over and completely invading a painting. There are many pre-mixed greens available, but I find much greater control through mixing my own.
Here is an art store secret - shhhh…don't tell anyone.
Paint companies know green is a difficult colour to work with so they make wide variety of greens for you to buy. Veronese green, permanent green, extra permanent green, emerald green earth green Phthalo this and Phthalo that, cadmium green and many other random greens you might find, but it never turns out to be the particular green you are looking for…never…
Here is what they don't tell you…
Green is easy to mix!Notice I used the word mix… not control… as I said greens can be hard to control. To make things a little easier, I complied this list of 10 things you should know about green.
1. First off, green isn't as green as you think. Most things you think are green aren't actually green. The common thought is that grass is green and trees are green but that’s a mistake.
Look at these paintings that have things that “should” be green but haven't been painted as such…
2. Most artists purchase too many greens.When you mix your greens it’s easier to control the outcome because you can set your own temperature bias with the colours you choose to start with. Any combination of blue and yellow will make a green. The trick is to know what blue and what yellow to use.
3. There are only two kinds of green - warm and cool.Green, being a secondary colour, will always have a bias to either blue (cool) or yellow (warm). Before you mix your green decide the following:
What temperature do you want your green to be (warm vs. cool)?
What value do you want (light vs. dark)?
How much chroma do you want (bright vs. dull)?
Here are a few tips and combinations that work well in most situations.
Ultramarine Blue is a good workhorse for most greens. It has a bit of a warm tendency but it's easily controlled with the right yellow. Almost all yellows have a green bias to them already so just about any yellow will make a good green.
The yellows I prefer are Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Yellow Deep. If you mix the two yellows together you can get a decent Cadmium Yellow Medium. The cadmium yellow medium you buy generally has a large green bias to it, so it’s not a good choice for warm green mixes. I prefer to have a yellow on either side of the spectrum: Cad Yellow Light is very green biased while Cad Yellow Deep is very orange biased.
Cad Yellow Deep is wonderful for making warm greens. It's warm tendency allows for the addition of Cadmium Orange to make it even warmer.
Cad Yellow Deep + Cad Yellow Light + Ultramarine BlueMake a nice neutral middle-of-the-road green.
Cad Yellow Deep + Ultramarine BlueMake a nice green leaning towards warm. If you want it warmer add some Yellow Ochre to the combo. If it's an autumn tree you are painting, you can even add some Cad Orange to the mix.
Yellow Ochre + Ultramarine BlueThis combination makes a beautiful warm pine tree colour and is easily greyed off with a touch of red.
Cad Yellow Light + Ultramarine BlueMakes a beautiful spring green.
For cooler greens I use a blue that leans more to the green side. Cerulean will work but I prefer Manganese because it is stronger and also makes a great turquoise.
Cad Yellow Light + Manganese Blue
Makes a stunning spring bright (bug gut) green. This too is easily tempered with some red.
Although I shy away from tubed greens, there are some pre-made greens worth mentioning.
Viridian Green is very cool and soft. Because of it’s transparency it’s great for cool green shadows and perfect for glazing. It also makes a nice turquoise (just sneak in a little manganese blue).
Phthalo Green If you need a mega bright over-the-top green and you can't achieve it in a mix, you may need to resort to the Chernobyl of greens, the nuclear Phthalo green. WARNING - it’s a bully and doesn't play well with others. Use with caution.
5. Temper your greens.
Adding a touch of red to to your green will mellow it down and take away some of the harshness that greens seem to possess. As I said earlier, greens are rarely as green as you think. Calm them down a notch and you will be pleasantly surprised.
6. Practice your mixtures.
One could always just paint the fall and winter scenes, but that seems about as fun as painting on the moon. Practise makes perfect! Get some cheap canvas boards and experiment with your greens. Throw in some white to see how they lighten. Throw in some red to see them dull down. Imagine all the place you could use these new found fun combos.
7. When making greens (or any colour for that matter), start bright and work down.It is always easier to dull a colour than to brighten it.The right path is to mix a vivid green and grey it down, than to mix a dull green and try to brighten it.
8. Transparent vs opaque.
Transparent colours tend to recede and opaque colours come forward. If you want a green shadows to look right, use a transparent green. The problem here is that most mixed greens are opaque because most yellows are opaque (all the cads and yellow ochres and yellow oxides). This is why I like to keep Viridian green on my palette. It is transparent and used with ultramarine will bring some lustrous transparent greens to the mix.
9. Other than yellow and blue.
Most blacks will make green. Blacks like Perylene Black are really just dark green. Other blacks have a heavy blue bias and when mixed with a yellow will produce a lovely green. Take for example this Anders Zorn painting where the greens were mixed with Ivory Black and Yellow Ochre.
Burnt Umber is also a dull green. Although I don't use this colour, I have seen some remarkable painting done solely in the earthy green. Here is a David Leffel painting using Burnt Umber and Cadmium Yellow.
10. Shhh….Don't tell red…purple and green like each other.
It’s a secret affair. Throwing some purple in your greens makes them sing. Little violet on the tops of trees picks up the sky colour and helps the greens meld into the sky, making your trees look less cut out. Purple at the base of pine trees can bring a wonderful vibrancy to a painting.
Don't forget about glazing to produce an optically mixed green rather than a physically produced green. But that's for anther lesson. If you can’t wait, ask Sue Contini about her optically mixed greens using acrylics .. she's is a pure genius when it come to paint.
Don’t forget to share your results…
Have a green summer,