Green is one of those colors, along with gray and brown, that create problems for painters, which may be one reason that beginners seek out ready-mixed colors. After all, color mixing can be confusing and unpredictable. While the ready-mixed greens sold in tubes are convenient, the colors available for sale are generally NOT the greens found in nature. And even if you can find some greens that look reasonably convincing, who can afford to buy even a dozen tubes of different convenience greens?
Foliage varies greatly in color and value, with each plant producing its own variation of green. Color and value also change with distance, weather, time of day, and season. In reality, the greens of nature show infinite variety. Therefore, realistic, natural greens require the painter to be able to mix many suitable variations of green from a limited number of paints. But where do you start?
The color green is made of blue plus yellow plus a small amount of red to tone the color down and naturalize it. Take every yellow on your palette, and combine each with every blue. Note that mixing a cool yellow with a COOL blue creates a bright and vibrant green (for example, Hansa Yellow Light with Winsor or Phthalo Blue). By mixing a WARM and a COOL or two WARM colors, you get a duller, less intense green – because both the warm yellow and blue have some red in their pigment.
Greens Mixed With Various Combinations of Blue and Yellow.
Another way to create natural greens is to use ready-mixed tube green as a starting point but then to add other pigments to it. DaVinci Sap Green, for instance, can be the principal ingredient in a whole range of mixtures.
Greens Mixed With Pre-mixed Tube Greens.
You can create even more mixtures by changing proportions of each color in the mix. Catherine Gill in Powerful Watercolor Landscapes (2011) describes a very effective technique for mixing numerous related colors by changing proportions in a mixture. She makes a “mixing trail” (p. 122), using two colors on her palette. Instead of mixing two colors together in the beginning, she puts the two colors on her palette, leaving a space between them. She suggests you take a little of the first color and mix it with the second. Then, take successive amounts of the second color, and mix with the first until you have several distinct hues. The space between the two colors is the area where you make the “trail.” The colors will all be close in value because you haven’t picked up any water.
Catherine Gill also describes a “mixing hub” (p. 123), which is a collection of mixing trails laid like spokes around a central pigment. The hub allows you to create a variety of related colors. The hub pigment is in all the mixes of the hub, ensuring color harmony. And again, since you add no water as you create the mixes, values remain constant.
To simplify mixing greens somewhat, you can think of five basic green mixtures, as suggested by Bruce MacEvoy (on handprint.com). A BRIGHT green could combine Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36) and Hansa Yellow (PY 97). A COOL green could combine Prussian Blue (PB 27) and Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36). Combining Prussian Blue (PB 27) and Hansa Yellow (PY 97) produces a LIGHT green. WARM green comes from combining Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PY 36) and Burnt Sienna (PBr 7). Finally, put together a DULL, DARK green with Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36) and Quinacridone Rose (PV 19).
Five Basic Green Mixtures.
With experimentation, you will find many mixtures that work for you. Make a chart, for handy reference, of your favorite mixtures.
Condensed Chart of Favorite Green Mixes.
Finally, the way you apply your pigments to paper can alter the appearance of your greens and foliage. The first option you have is to mix your color ON THE PALETTE before you apply it to paper. A second option is to apply separate colors TO YOUR PAPER, allowing them to mingle on your paper. This technique creates a more varied, dynamic color mix. Third, you could GLAZE one color over a DRY wash of another color. Glazing and layering are similar processes. They both change value. Glazing uses a very thin, transparent wash of one color over another color. When warm colors lie below a cool glaze, the resulting color mix is luminous, vibrant, and glowing. Starting with a cool color and putting the warm color on top gives a heavier, denser glaze.
Finding a variety of natural greens to paint convincing foliage can be confusing and frustrating. As painters, we know that ready-mixed greens are not sufficient. Therefore, you should take some time to experiment with all the yellows, blues, and greens on your palette, adding touches of red to some of your mixtures. Make a chart of your favorite blends for handy reference. Experiment, and have some fun!