The trouble with green

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Gale Courtney of Manson, WA, USA wrote, “I am not happy trying to mix greens and want to know the secret! Your twice-weekly letters make me scurry out to my studio and begin to paint — except for trees, grasses and leprechauns.” Thanks, Gale. “Green” is a wide range of hues common in nature that have been predestined to make painters turn to drink. To make matters worse, green suffers from long-standing literary baggage; green trees, green grass, green with envy, etc. These sorts of clichés can colour our greens greener than they actually are. A good way to overcome green literature is to try to paint the sunlit and then the shaded part of any number of green leaves. The first law of green is observation. You need to look long and hard at that green thing and try to figure out its makeup in pigment. A broad hint — not to be taken as universal — in nature, greens are often loaded with orange. A good rule is not to squeeze out any green without squeezing out a decent dollop of orange. Unless your work warrants it, or you happen to be actually painting leprechauns, emerald, Phthalo green and all the outrageous “Kelly” greens should be taken down to the bottom of the garden and given to the fairies. A duller green such as sap green, Jenkins green, Olive green deep or Chromium oxide green should be front and center on your palette. Further, excellent greens can be mixed using various yellows and blues. Like a lot of things, you need to keep looking and doing to get the hang of it. Purples and roses such as Ultramarine violet and Permanent red violet light are excellent neutralizers of loud greens. When used neat in the same stroke with a loud green they provide beguiling colour excitement. The great colourist Merlin Enabnit used to call this effect “razzle-dazzle.” Many instructors will point you to the colour theory systems of Albert H. Munsell (1858-1918), Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1952), or Josef Albers (1888-1976). Theirs is fascinating and highly valuable material, but some of the best colourists I ever met knew nothing about these guys until I started dropping their names. The art of colour mixing is mainly a function of temperament and patience. Best regards, Robert PS: “There is a logic of colors, and it is with this alone, and not with the logic of the brain, that the painter should conform.” (Paul Cezanne) Esoterica: “Chromophobia” is not just a 2005 film featuring the Fiennes family, it’s actually a fear of colour manifested in some people and most problematical when found in artists. I first became aware of it in art school when I heard students and instructors say they “didn’t like red,” etc. Green, it turned out, was the most offensive. For various reasons, some of us hold prejudices about certain colours and these prejudices may impede our use of them. Once identified as a prejudice, a new and often exciting learning curve can begin. Even with green.   Inducted color by Tony van Hasselt, East Boothbay, ME, USA  

“Southport Sentinel”
watercolour painting
by Tony van Hasselt

I am a watercolorist and in my workshops always suggest students start their mix with one of the warm colors, then dip into almost any green, even the dreaded Phthalo and slowly add it to that warm mix. Of course, the advantage of orange is that it contains red and therefore neutralizes as well as warms those greens. I also like to use “inducted color,” the complementary color induced by a neighboring area. It is fun to sneak in some warm purples here and there. Best advice? When the easel is in grass, look down and observe those warm and slightly neutralized greens. There is 1 comment for Inducted color by Tony van Hasselt
From: margaret Kevorkian — Jul 04, 2013

I don’t quite understand what you mean by inducted color – could you explain it a bit more, please? That’s a beautiful painting, by the way.

  Living with greenophopbia by Alison Nicholls, Port Chester, NY, USA  

“Among the rocks”
watercolour painting
by Alison Nicholls

I’ve always assumed my dislike of green was thanks to growing up mostly in the UK, where everything is ridiculously green due to the amount of rain. My feelings were compounded by moving to Africa and discovering a love of deserts. Returning from Botswana to England on vacation, I’d be completely overwhelmed with the greens. “Just too much green” my husband and I would say to each other as we drove around the country. So I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with this feeling. However, I have found a solution. I limit my portfolio to African peoples and wildlife, which often allows me to use minimal amounts of green and excessive amounts of orange, red and purple. Any green in my work is usually just yellow overlaid with blue — but that’s an advantage of painting in transparent media! There is 1 comment for Living with greenophopbia by Alison Nicholls
From: sue gardner — Aug 05, 2013

Aha! I thought it was just me driving around here in Derbyshire saying ‘arrgh too much green everywhere!’ I’m looking forward to Harvestime and Autumn!

  On the green by Robert Wade, Australia  

watercolour painting
by Robert Wade

These days much of my work is commissioned from golf clubs. How to handle all the green stuff? Never use tube greens — mix from blues and yellows (e.g., Cobalt and Raw Sienna, French Ultra and Raw Umber, etc.) Vary the greens in hue and intensity, beware of pretty greens, keep the painting looking natural. Always drop in a bit of red somewhere in the work — red sweaters, pants, golf bags, caps or whatever, it does not have to be big, but that bit of the complementary of green has a wondrous way of muting the plethora of green on your paper. There are 3 comments for On the green by Robert Wade
From: Mike Barr — Jul 04, 2013

Great advice from one of the world’s leading watercolourists – thanks Robert. One of the few artists that can really paint well with green and the Australian greens are wonderful.

From: Michael McDevitt — Jul 04, 2013

Bob can paint with any color on the wheel. He doesn’t need as many mulligans as the rest of us do. ;-)

From: McCluskey — Jul 06, 2013


  Mixing with the Deity by Merv Richardson, Barrie, ON, Canada  

“Holbrook #3”
watercolour painting
by Merv Richardson

Commercially ready greens just don`t give me what I want, and as a consequence my palette contains not one. I mix all my greens from the lovely variety of yellows and cool/warm blue combinations. I’ve also found that too few of my students have a good understanding of how to mix their own greens, and therefore rely heavily on what they can buy. These same folks very often comment to me about how unhappy they are with the results in their paintings. I once made this comment to a class: “There are no greens in nature that God didn’t make from His choices of yellows and blues. Did He not do a fantastic job?   There is 1 comment for Mixing with the Deity by Merv Richardson
From: Sharon Wadsworth-Smith — Jul 05, 2013

So Right Merv, I have been given several tubes of left over acrylics and among them were some greens, hookers, sap and thalo. I tried them for the fun of it and still I return to my mixed greens. Many of my students wonder that I do not include green in my palette and I still adhere to the rules of mixing primaries for the best results and happy surprizes at times.

  Safe, but sorry by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Why do artists fear green? You’ve added to their anxiety here, Robert. Even the most intense ‘screaming’ greens can easily be employed if you use intense purples, magentas and oranges. The color I love to use with bright greens is cadmium orange light which is a wonderful orangey gold tone. Using more neutral greens punches up the bright greens even more. Distant greens are easily blued up to create wonderful atmospheric perspective effects. I’m tired of seeing dull landscapes with nothing but dull browny and gray greens. It’s safe, but sorry. These purist painters will actually tell you that their boring greens are ‘realistic’ as justification. I say they should come out to Tennessee in May and tell me their boring palette matches the exciting spring greens I see in the landscape! There are 4 comments for Safe, but sorry by Paul deMarrais
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jul 05, 2013

Paul, you are so darn right! Here in North Georgia we have the most obnoxious greens … but they are beautiful, if they are used in the right context … and there are the wonderful complementaries to them. I’m always surprised when a painter with their “palette” does our scenery and it no longer looks Eastern or Southern!

From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jul 05, 2013

Gorgeous painting, Paul. What fun it is using all those colors and ending up with a beautiful green landscape.

From: Sandra Bos — Jul 05, 2013

good for you Paul! yes Tn. is very beautiful in all seasons. I hope you are back to making those beautiful soft pastels? I love them!

From: Shirley Fachilla — Jul 05, 2013

A beautiful painting filled with harmonious color… including, of course, green! And you are so right about spring, Tennessee and green. The vibrant greens here in Tennessee simply sparkle; they are definitely not dull and gray.

  Black as a basis for green by Joanne Gervais, Kingston, ON, Canada  

“Algonquin Park”
original painting
by Joanee Gervais

Not well known, and not mentioned in the article, are the lovely greens that occur when black is mixed with yellow (I usually use Ivory, but Carbon and other blacks can be used). A bonus for landscapers is that the greens tend to be very natural looking. Be stingy with the black as it is a very dominant colour when mixing with the yellows. Create a sample colour chart using various yellows including yellow ochre, Hansa, etc. Adding a touch of burnt sienna, transparent red oxide, oranges, etc. to the mix warms the green and “greys” it a bit. As mentioned in Robert’s earlier article, practice in colour mixing is absolutely mandatory in order to understand colour and to have the ability to mix any color on demand. Happy mixing and may you discover many a new useful colour! There is 1 comment for Black as a basis for green by Joanne Gervais
From: Donna Dickson — Jul 05, 2013

Yes I totally agree Joanne. I usually use Black or Paynes grey with different yellows. Great painting by the way! Algonquin Park a wonderful place for painting en plein air.

  Green options by Ray Steiner, Lakebay, WA, USA   The challenges of green(s) must be met with a different approach, in my opinion. Our northwest forests are mixes of species, deciduous and conifer, and the variance of hues in the foliage is remarkable. Many days are plein air experience days and that means we are out-of-doors in gray-overcast light conditions, which produces the practical need for warm- and cool-olives opaqued with titanium white (Gesso if working in acrylics). So the ancient Mars Black mixture with a cadmium yellow in serial dilutions brings the “olive base color” and then, depending on the day’s grayness, the proportions of white are “strung-out” in a parallel series of color strings. The warming with alizarin crimson and cooling with ultramarine blue occurs as the painting progresses. Out of the tube Hooker’s green and occasionally Phthalo-yellow green (in minute amounts) do set-up a palette of “green options” that works for me. There are 2 comments for Green options by Ray Steiner
From: Jackie Knott — Jul 05, 2013

Several have mentioned specific locales in evaluating greens and how intense some greens are. There is a difference in greens in the East and Gulf Coasts of the US, the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, and I assume Australia (kudos to Robert Wade, above – magnificent). Those differences can be allowed for in the same manner one alters hue in seasonal changes; it has more to do than just with different species of trees, grass, and shrubs. However, such nuances may be lost on the viewer. We still must master value and temperature with a little more care invested in green.

From: Hanna — Jul 10, 2013

There must be something wrong with my computer monitor because Wade painting looks more gray and flat than grass green to me. deMarrais colors look amazing though.

  Temperature, not color by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Northern Indiana Afternoon”
oil painting
by Diane Overmyer

I love color and I use a lot of green when I am plein air painting… after all, Indiana, where I live, turns and often stays pretty green through much of the warmer months of the year! One simple way of thinking has helped me. I try to think in terms of temperature, so I work with a warm and a cool green. I love Gamblin’s Radiant Cadmium light green and then I normally use Viridian, however I seldom use either hue straight out of the tube. A basic understanding of the color wheel and a good understanding of values will help with any painter’s problems also. Another tip I give my students is that people’s visual understanding will lead them to interpret hues as being the color that is normally associated with the object they are viewing. For example, trees are normally thought of as having green leaves in the summer…thus even if an artist pushes the blues or lavender hues in the shadow areas of foliage the tree is still viewed as being “green.” There are 2 comments for Temperature, not color by Diane Overmyer
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jul 05, 2013

I love your painterly painting. It almost has sound effects!

From: Arnold Dutton — Jul 07, 2013

This is a true painting. The tones are dead on and the forms within the trees, for example, show thoughtful light, halftone and dark. The brushyness of the painting convinces us that it is a painting.

  Colour prejudice wired in by Sandy Davison, Lansing, Michigan, USA  

by Sandy Davison

I too am baffled by “I don’t like that color” or “I like blue” as a basis for commenting about paintings. I even hear it from friends who are artists and would demand more in answers from their students. I think it’s based on our wiring and how our perceptual fields operate. Visual data is ranked and sorted in particular orders — motion mostly first (see the tiger coming), and then pattern and color and dimension and, and, and … Artists have the work cut out for them as we need to interrupt the pre-cognitive moment, review and resort continuously to keep things on track.     There is 1 comment for Colour prejudice wired in by Sandy Davison
From: Mishcka — Jul 05, 2013

Beautiful painting

  Colour blindness by Tom Irvine, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada  

Example of an Ishihara color test plate. The number ’74’ should be clearly visible to viewers with normal color vision. Viewers with dichromat or anomalous trichromat may read it as ’21’ and viewers with achromat may see nothing.

Approximately 6% of North American males are red/green colorblind and some of us are artists. I keep track of color by listening to people, asking a lot of questions and making notes as well as reading labels on my paint tubes so I can make those who see color differently happy. I will add color I know is there even if I can’t see it just so you can. I had a good artist friend who said don’t worry about it, you’re the artist, paint whatever colors you want. For the most part I have adapted to seeing color differently and have a system to work things out. It is interesting that since I have to ask a lot of questions about what color things are I find that there is considerable disagreement about color even amongst those who feel they see color the way it really is. Often I disagree and ask someone else to even out the odds. I make it a point not to discuss colors by names with those who speak another color language to avoid arguments. I am able to match colors reasonably well once I know the basic color. Nature’s colors aren’t so much an issue since I have them memorized and a lot of things I can figure out by just knowing (by listening) what other people see. I know, of course, that there is a red hard contact lens worn in one eye which can correct color vision allowing me to pass all the color tests but it is uncomfortable to wear and causes more confusion than solutions with color language, so I dispensed with that. I was advised it was not available in a soft lens and would not work in a set of glasses with one red lens. I would be interested in your thoughts, and anyone else’s, in terms of coping with color-blindness as an artist. There are 3 comments for Colour blindness by Tom Irvine
From: Lynne Schulte — Jul 04, 2013
From: Sarah — Jul 05, 2013

A great American artist claims to be color-blind (no reason to doubt him) and paints gorgeous landscapes, portraits, and still lifes with a system that puts the same colors in the same place, with advice from students when needed. I had the privilege of taking one of his classes, and if he hadn’t told us of his situation, I never would have guessed — based on his work.

From: William McAllister — Jul 05, 2013

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The trouble with green

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 01, 2013

When I first started painting out of doors the green thing overwhelmed me. This was all I saw. A sea of green. I was ready to pull out every hair on my head and go back indoors. Over time I began to notice (see) there was a lot of reds and oranges mixed in with all this green. Better yet, I began to see greens -in a different light- no pun intended. I saw greens as “cool” or “warm”, “tinted” and “untinted” and also intense and muted. That was a eye opener. I don’t buy quantities of different greens. I use the other colors to change the two greens I DO use. Sap green (which I mix) and Viridian green. Ultimately, don’t sweat the color, think more about the values. From that day forward, Green was tamed and I lived happily ever after- out of doors.

From: Anne Hightower-Patterson — Jul 01, 2013

When I first start a student in watercolor, I usually won’t let them use a tube green for quite awhile. I let them mix and mix from the reds, yellows, and blues that are on their palettes.

From: Jodie Blaney — Jul 01, 2013
From: Marvin Humphrey — Jul 01, 2013

I guess I’m relatively Chromophobic. Garish greens, and particularly gaudy violets, affect me as much as hearing a piece of music where all the musicians are playing out of tune. It’s usually best to stay away from tube greens. As Rick R. points out: think more about the values.

From: Marinus Verhagen, Dongen, the Netherlands — Jul 01, 2013

Thanks for this letter Robert, I’m going to print it and keep it with my stuff. So far nobody mentioned mixing greens from yellow and black which has been very useful to me.

From: Catherine McLay — Jul 01, 2013

Many people, especially males, have red-green colour blindness which affects the way they see these two colours. My father had this condition and didn’t like any shade or tint of green in his clothing or household items. My sister’s son inherited this from him (the chromosome is sex-linked, i.e. on the X gene and passed through a daughter, not a son)

This may account for some of the public reaction to the use of green in art works.
From: Mattia (a.k.a.Matthew Ford) — Jul 02, 2013

Green has been my favourite colour since i was born.

When i started painting, i’ve found that green was very hard, especially when you had to make a realistic one! I used, at the time, already made greens…they were meh… then i started experimenting: yellow+blue, not bad. My “secret”? yellow+black. you can make various greens with it, mixing blue or white on it! It’s rteally useful…for now! About chromophobia? i have a friend that loves pink (she’s a girl) but hates yellow, she has a disgust of it! she can’t stand it! i find it really funny.
From: Janet French — Jul 02, 2013

I can appreciate the “green” concern. I took a week long class with a watercolourist on GREEN. We did classroom study on GREEN, then the afternoons plein air painting GREEN landscapes. This class was in Ontario, which sports every possible shade of GREEN. I still have a problem with defining GREEN when trying to get the value right.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jul 02, 2013

Thank you Robert for agreeing with me when you said some of the greens should be left out in the garden for the fairies. My personal non-favorite is Viridian as far as I am concerned this colour should never see the light of day on your pallet.

I usually encourage my students to make green then add red or orange to it to adjust the colour and to never ever ever add white unless you really wish to create artificial minty green (which does occasionally show up in some plants) It’s not easy making green but anything worth doing is worth the time spent to figure it out.
From: Celeste McCall — Jul 02, 2013

Colors seem to not be specific ‘colors’ to my way of thinking. Black, for instance, appears to be red black in the foreground and green black or blue black in the background to me. Green appears to be yellow greenish in the sunlight, blue green in the shadows, and red green (brown green) in between the two, when I look at a scene. Time of day and time of year also influences.

Some say to always paint red and yellow greens in foreground and blue greens in background. Or, red and yellow greens in sunshine and blue greens in shade. However, certain photographs don’t always back that rule up if the foreground is in shade. When driving, I’ve asked many artist friends if they can see the red green or blue green in the trees. Almost all say that they can only see emerald green. So maybe it is just me.
From: Mark D. Gottsegen — Jul 02, 2013

Excellent instruction today. Man, I had trouble getting these ideas across to my painting students until I set up some demonstrations in the early 1980s — then, it was a piece of cake. Chocolate cake. With sort of a green icing.

From: Tom Relth — Jul 02, 2013

I say… No. It’s the trouble with black. I say it kills the work. It is my last resort. And then … I prefer to mix a black … one way is Phthalo Green and Magenta or another red. I get the most amazing deep black blue.

From: Dwight — Jul 02, 2013

In watercolor at least…for dark green, a little phthalo green (that’s right) mixed with burnt sienna. Just try it once and see. Also, for the deepest green shadows, purple is a great substitute for dark, dark green. I live in the desert and had to learn greens when I spent a lot of time in Britain.

From: Carol McIntyre — Jul 02, 2013

As color mixing instructor, I find it unfortunate that so many painters struggle with green. This is a color that has so many possibilities with your yellows and blues (throw in the occasional orange). A simple color chart will show you many options and the discoveries are really fun.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 02, 2013

Rick R. loves Viridian Green. Sandra T. H. hates Viridian Green.

I think that about sums it up.
From: Ann Trainor Domingue — Jul 02, 2013

Best advice I received long ago was to make one simple decision first–is the green you are looking at more blue-ish or more yellow-ish? That has been my starting point ever since. Works for any medium.

From: Kathleen Haynes — Jul 02, 2013

My first watercolor teacher gave the best advice EVER… no tube greens or blacks. Mix them all. She made me paint a “green chart,” combining every yellow on my palette with every blue, then adding the reds to get neutrals. Not just a great learning exercise, but I still use that chart as a reference when I need a particular green or neutral. I still don’t buy any tube greens. For landscapes, my favorite greens start with French Ultramarine Burnt Sienna, then I add a range of yellows. Always a dab of Permanent Rose here and there at the end. Works for me.

From: Elle Fagan — Jul 02, 2013

The trouble with green is that it is a secondary – so symbolic and we must trouble it into existence. I like and use your ideas for preventing coloring book green in my paintings – except for when I WANT that shade.

Refreshing basics re: Itten’s Color theories.
From: Beth Zink — Jul 02, 2013

Funny you should say what I have been telling my adult students for about 15 years…. add orange to your greens to make them look more natural. Also, yellow oxide/ochre with ultramarine, cobalt or cerulean blue makes for a variety of lovely greens. Enjoy your letters.

From: Denise Bezanson — Jul 02, 2013

My husband has never bought a tube of green paint in his life, preferring to mix his own greens always, and get the colour and hue he wants for each individual painting. I asked him once years ago why he didn’t have any tubes of green paint, and he said he didn’t need green paint, he mixed his own. His greens vary from painting to painting, never precisely the same as they are never squeezed from a tube. His base is mostly primary colours and he mixes most other colours anyway.

His favourite method to mix is to start with Prussian Blue, Cadmium Yellow, or Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium White. He puts in lots of Prussian Blue, Cadmium Yellow and Ivory Black if he wants a dark green. He’s been known to use Ultramarine Blue or Chrome Yellow, or Ochre, or anything to get the right hue and tone he’s looking for. He doesn’t use that for every painting, but that can be his base.
From: Russell McCrackin — Jul 02, 2013

I was in the Arizona desert with three various yellows and three blues and could not mix a green to match the Palo Verde tree or native cactus. My problem was solved with Lemon Yellow and a touch of Ivory Black. Only a little black gave me a very light green. More black gave me deeper greens. Sometimes a small touch of a blue, red, or orange gave me the exact green I wanted. Yes, I carry Ivory Black in my pallet of only five colors, including white.

From: Susan Easton Burns — Jul 02, 2013

Phthalo green with alizerin crimson makes the most beautiful black, and greys. We’ve had so much rain in Georgia this year, I had to paint with all greens for a week or so. Visit a green place to understand green.

From: Fleta Monaghan — Jul 02, 2013

Here in the mountains of western North Carolina we live in a “tyranny of green” in the summer. This year, with twice the expected yearly rainfall already, it is an absolute revolt. Mixing greens is an essential skill for the landscape painter. I recently posted a tip sheet on my blog, for my students and pals. I am happy to share. I see we have the same ideas, and I like your tip about the violets.

From: Susan Marx — Jul 02, 2013

Almost every painting has some pthalo green. It is a wonderful color. But as with all colors, it is rarely used “straight from the tube”.

From: Janet Stolle — Jul 02, 2013

One other way to paint green is to wait for an overcast day – it will reduce the temptation to use “loud” greens!

From: Roslyn Levin — Jul 02, 2013

When I first took painting classes at the tender age of 13, my teacher, Morton S. Harrie, taught us to mix our own greens before going out to paint. We would mix yellow and blue to get a starting hue and then add a bit of this to yellow to make four graduated lighter greens and on the other side add ever larger bits of black to get 4 more darker greens. Thus we were prepared for any eventuality, green-wise and learned to add red, orange or purple to our paintings to get the effect we wanted. We ended up mixing piles of each green and loading them into emptied toothpaste tubes to carry with us on our excursions.

Now I am a sumi-e painter so do not include a lot of colour. At any rate I found I was allergic to all the chemicals used in oils so had to stop mixing these amazing ‘elixirs” altogether. It was so much fun at the time.
From: Jude Lobe — Jul 02, 2013

I found another way to paint greens is to not use green paint at all. Mixing yellow with black gives a more natural looking sap green. Adding blues and oranges to that mixture to capture the hues of different trees works well. For a sunny green, I mix cerulean blue with yellow.

From: Mark McCormick — Jul 02, 2013
From: Tobi Ann Baumgartner — Jul 02, 2013

As I read this I breathed a sigh of relief. My greens are never green. I used to feel like I was cheating, or really out there when I would mix all different colours into green, especially orange! Thanks for confirming my experiments and thought process to get there weren’t crazy!

PS, the same goes for blue too!
From: Leslie Anderson — Jul 02, 2013

I live in Maine, the Pine Tree State, which I swear is even greener than Vermont. My wonderful teacher, the painter Tina Ingraham, demystified greens for our plein-air class by telling us to think of them not as GREEN per se, but as YELLOW, RED, or BLUE. Once I started noticing not so much the hue but the temperature of greens, it helped my painting immensely.

From: Steve Cornett — Jul 02, 2013

– very cool – obviously a universal problem – thanks

From: Luis Leigh — Jul 02, 2013

Thanks Robert for a timely letter on greens. I am looking outside my Ottawa Window and see a myriad of greens like you would not believe and I just don’t think formula approach works for most of us – it is always a challenge. Your advice ” to keep looking and doing to get the hang of it” is right on and I hope to build my green skills (pardon the pun) one day. This week I have used all sorts of colours other than orange to get to the desired green – I will start to include oranges to the experimentation. I should add that I often use its complement, ultramarine blue and even cobalt blue, as a green in my paintings; an under painting in primary colours can also help to create some very nice effects.

From: Catherine Robertson — Jul 02, 2013
From: Rachel Chodorov — Jul 02, 2013

You didn’t mention that colors change according to the color surrounding it or next to it. I.E. if green is surrounded by citron yellow, the green will appear more blue. Change the yellow to blue and the opposite will happen.

So one doesn’t have to adjust only by mixing colors on the palette.
From: Patricia Vicari — Jul 02, 2013

Your comments on green are welcome. I have found Perylene Green and especially Shade Green (Da Vinci) for watercolor quite useful for dark areas. Dark areas of green often look almost black and it is tricky to get them looking dark enough and yet still green. It’s tempting to put in a lot of dark blue, but that can have a deadening effect, I find. So I mix Sap with a red–but save time with the hues mentioned above.

From: Phil Carroll — Jul 02, 2013

Could not disagree more with your choices for greens.

From: Stephen Blumenthal — Jul 02, 2013

I’ve found that if you have a few yellows on your palette, nice soft earthy greens can be mixed with a touch of black.

From: Hank — Jul 02, 2013

I thought that I was the only one who panicked when I looked at a scene with green grass, green trees and green plants.

From: Pat Merriman — Jul 02, 2013

In a plein air class with Lois Griffel she dis allowed any tube greens…saying liveliness came in the mixing/neutralizing and paying attention to contrast and temperature.

From: Randal Gordon McClure — Jul 02, 2013

Just go heavy on the Viridian over any other color in the palette, add the white, and you’ll have the true shades of paradise. ;-)

From: Patricia D. Toole — Jul 03, 2013
From: Mike Barr — Jul 03, 2013

For all that is written about greens, there are very few artists that can successfully paint them!

From: Nick Belmont — Jul 04, 2013

With bright emerald green or even the dreaded Phthalo green, nice soft natural greens can be mixed if you have black, white, yellow ochre and cad red on your palette.

From: Dwight Williams — Jul 04, 2013

You’ve probably said and heard about green as much as you want for a while. However, just to see what would happen, I think I’ve tried every combination of mixes mentioned in all the recent responses.

Most of them were made with acrylic or oil and mine, admittedly, were with watercolor (or is that watercolour?). Yet they all work rather well with a little experimenting and practice. We could say…so many greens, so little time, go for it!
From: Russ Hogger — Jul 04, 2013

I use thalo green, blue shade. With just a small amount of it and any combination of the other colours on my palette I can mix any kind of green under the sun. I like contrast so I will add black to it to make a very dark green.

From: Cecily Donnelly — Jul 05, 2013

This is a great conversation, thanks to Robert and everyone.

It can be really interesting, next time you’re in a museum, to look at the work of the major landscape painters of the 18th/19th century; often green is barely present at all except where the painting itself requires it. If foreground trees, rolling pastures and distant woodlands are portrayed, the viewer understands them as green even though the actual paint color may be gray or soft greenish brown with no vibrant green at all. Cezanne often used strong wild greens in his landscapes, but only where the painting itself required it, just as often making the greens into soft grays or lush blues as needed. Sometimes, especially in plein air work, I think it’s hard to control the greens rather than being controlled by them, but I think it’s the integrity of the painting that matters: a complicated balancing act between interpretation and the actual realities of any particular landscape on any particular day. The constant challenge, right? Cecily
From: Sally Shea, NH, USA — Jul 05, 2013

As a pastelist, I find greens difficult as we can’t mix a big patch of green then go lighter/darker in value or warmer/cooler in temperature and keep the green “married” throughout the landscape. Any help out there??

From: Karen R. Phinney — Jul 05, 2013

I stopped painting landscapes awhile back, because I had trouble with greens. I tried mixing them from blues and yellows and using phthalo with various yellows and some red added…. but it was still a challenge. I figured there are lots of people out there doing landscapes, so I would do something else! I do interiors, still life and street scenes, which have a minimum of green in them, usually. I do admire those who have mastered the balance of green with other colours in the mix. I tend to paint a slightly expressionistic style with brighter colours, so I love phthalo and other vivid greens. I do tone it down too. Interesting comment about having a hard time selling works with green…an artist friend said that, too. Is it true? Surely a lot of you are landscape painters who use greens and are successful? Isn’t green supposed to be restful?

From: Rose Moon — Jul 05, 2013
From: Shirley Erskine — Jul 05, 2013

Re: the framing dilemma – My solution has been to paint on large two inch museum mounted canvases. I also paint the sides so that they can be hung framed or unframed. The choice is made by the purchaser. As I am basically a collage artist, it is interesting to see the work from all angles, even the sides.

From: Fred — Jul 06, 2013
From: Jacki Prisk — Jul 07, 2013

I too use olive green, almost exclusively, adding red at different levels. Works for me. I have taken art classes from instructors who always mix their own green. When I asked why, they really didn’t know, other than to say that that’s the way they were taught.

From: Marilyn Hartley — Jul 13, 2013

Years ago when I did my art shopping in Reibe’s art Supply in Melville, on Long Island, NY there were printed aids alongside Winsor & Newton’s oil colors. I saved one: Color Mixing Chart by W & N themselves.The only green used pure on this chart is Veridian. The other greens are all mixtures using blues, yellows, reds, and I find it much more adventuresome mixing to get a green that sings to me than squeezing a green straight from the tube.

From: Jody Ahrens — Jul 17, 2013

Mixing black with yellows, cads or oranges is a quick easy way to produce fabulous realistic greens. Try using different blacks or Payne’s Gray, with different cad / yellow combinations.

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Eggplant Parmigiana

oil painting, 10 x 8 inches by Leighann Foster, Boerne, TX, USA


Untitled by Michel St. Hilaire

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Michel St. Hilaire of Winnipeg, MB, Canada, who wrote, “Green is tricky. My gallery in Calgary, Alberta tells me greens never sell.” And also Nuala Farrelly who wrote, “I was taught the Color Theory of Itten. It changed my whole way of seeing the world and mixing Color.

Itten’s colour wheel

(RG note) Thanks, Nuala. Johannes Itten (1888-1867) was a colour theorist associated with the Bauhaus in Germany. He’s often studied along with the three mentioned in my letter.              

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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