LUMINOSITY AND CREATING GLOWING COLOR.

TRANSPARENCY OCCURS BETWEEN PAINT PARTICLES.

Many people say that the way to create a “glow” in watercolor is to paint pale glazes of “luminous,” transparent hues so that the white of the paper underneath passes through the paint particles “like light through a stained glass window.” Apparently, however, light passing THROUGH a layer of watercolors is not the way luminosity actually works! That description is just a myth! 

According to several color scientists, chemists, and Bruce MacEvoy (handprint.com), little light actually passes THROUGH the particles. Instead, transparency happens when light reflects off the paper BETWEEN the particles of watercolor paint.

We know that watercolors don’t form a solid paint layer the way acrylic and oil paints do, as discussed in this post: ‘Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…,’ (9/7/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/09/07/some-watercolor-pigments-lighten-more-than-others-when-they-dry/ . Oil and acrylic paints stay on top of the painting surface and dry in a solid paint layer. 

In contrast, watercolors (made up of various sizes of suspended paint particles ) end up “on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers” (Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com). More of the white paper is therefore revealed as the water evaporates. The most transparent of watercolor paints produce a thinner coating of smaller pigment particles on the paper. These pigments in a smaller particle size seem to hide less of the paper (or other pigment particles) underneath, making the color appear more transparent. Thus, transparency happens BETWEEN these pigment particles and NOT THROUGH them ( see http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html) .

ACHIEVING THE GLOW OF LIGHT.

Although transparency and glow may not work the way we once thought, achieving a glow remains a goal for many artists. We want to paint the light! We wish to highlight brightness, glow, radiance, luminosity. But to create a luminous glow, don’t rely on using lots of ‘bright’ colors that may not work together. Bright colors can be intense but also may be dull and opaque, and they may not set each other off to advantage. For example, yellow is a bright color, but if applied too thickly, even a transparent yellow becomes LESS luminous and will no longer be a light value. 

‘Golden River Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

Instead, although transparency is essential, luminosity comes from choosing colors by their effect on each other; that is, you should choose colors that create a reaction with nearby colors. Remember that paint colors change their apparent brightness, transparency, and hue depending on the context in which they appear. 

To bring about a glow, you will want to create CONTRAST in both VALUE and TEMPERATURE by surrounding a transparent light color with a COMPLEMENTARY dark ( a dark leaning toward the complement of the light color, NOT an unexciting, flat tube black such as Ivory Black, or purchased mixes such as Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint). Colorful darks can therefore enhance the effect of light in a painting. The function of a dark color is NOT JUST to create value contrast, but to help the light-valued color (whether warm or cool, muted or intense) to glow. (For more information on complementary colors, review ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing In Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/ .)

HOW? VALUE CONTRASTS AND COLOR COMPLEMENTS.

What painting methods actually work to create glowing color? First, choose a pure, transparent color, well diluted to a light value. Second, mix your dark surrounding values to be complementary dark colors. If your light value is a pale yellow, you might try to use a version of deep purple or dark purple-gray. 

‘River Flowing Forward’ Watercolor Painting.

ADD COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

To further exaggerate the glow that is forming, you can adjust your dark by taking into account color temperature. That is, establish a warm-cool relationship between your light and dark by remixing your complementary dark, altering proportions of pigments to move the color to be cooler or warmer. If your light valued yellow is WARM, the best complementary dark to set it off would be a COOL bluish-purple dark. Or for a COOL light valued yellow, contrast it with a WARM, reddish-purple dark. Always judge a color in relation to the colors next to it. A blue, for instance, will feel even cooler next to a warm color.

‘Rocky Maine Shoreline Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

TRY MID-VALUE CONTRASTS ALONG WITH COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

At times, a strong dark can overpower your composition. In such a situation, a mid-valued color contrast can also enhance and complement the glow of light values in the painting. Mix the complement of your light color, shifting it into a warm or cool variation, as needed, to create a temperature contrast. But instead of a rich dark, strive for a mid-value mix. If you mute this mid-value mix somewhat by adding a bit of its complement, you will gray the mixture, thus setting off the light-valued color. A cool purple (which you gray slightly with a touch of warm yellow) will cause your warm yellow light to glow even brighter. In the same way, you can gray a warm red-purple with a bit of its cool yellow complement to make a cool yellow light look still brighter.

‘White Primroses’ Watercolor Painting.

OR CREATE AN ILLUSION WITH UNTOUCHED PAPER.

Perhaps you want to leave the untouched white paper as your light value. It’s possible to make this white begin to glow depending on what you choose for a nearby accent. Whatever mid-tone you pick creates a subtle, optical or color illusion as it nudges the white paper into appearing as a complement. There is actually no need to alter the white paper, even though that might be your first tendency. Cool nearby colors will make the unpainted paper seem warm. For example, cool blues create a subtle orange glow, while cool purples move the nearby whites toward a yellowish glow. In this way, you can establish a glowing contrast, instead of merely a simple dark-light contrast.

(Much of the above information on how to create glow through complementary darks and dulled mid-valued colors is presented in  Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons on Color And Design.) 

‘Clouds Over Dales’ Watercolor Painting.

IN SUMMARY.

The mechanism producing “glow” may be different from what people say, but you as a painter don’t need to DO anything differently as a consequence of your new understanding of how that mechanism works. You can create the illusion of glow in a watercolor painting in several ways. 

Remember that paint colors change apparent brightness, transparency, or hue depending on the colors that are nearby. Therefore, you can establish luminosity by building color relationships (through value and temperature) between lights and darks (or mid-values). 

Try to use transparent, single-pigment paints to maintain the impression of light. Opaque paints are thicker and duller, and can become lifeless in mixtures, causing you to lose ‘the light.” Also avoid using lots of bright colors hoping that ‘brightness’ (without contrast) will create luminosity.

Learn to use complementary colors to create color and temperature interactions that produce glow. Your goal when mixing luminous color is to combine unequal proportions of the two paints in a mix, so that the final color is either warm or cool and can be used to complement another in value, as well as color and temperature.   

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, the latest art news, or information about new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print. 

Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…

Don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting. I see too many watercolor painters whose paintings could be improved by using stronger mixes of paint in their art. A watercolor painting needs contrast, strong lights and darks, to create impact (unless, of course, you’re painting fog, mist, or similar types of weather).

Make your colors vibrant! (EerieLight Watercolor Painting).

Watercolor paints change their color appearance as they dry. Colors that look to be the right value and color when painted and wet, may shift as they dry, creating a ‘DRYING SHIFT.’ Expect almost all watercolor paints to appear paler, duller, and less bright when they dry. 

DRYING SHIFTS VARY BY PIGMENT.

However, when drying, some pigments change appearance very little whereas others change a great deal. Not only does a watercolor pigment end up looking different from what you expected when you mixed the paint, but EACH PIGMENT changes to a varying degree compared to other pigments. 

Test Your Colors To Overcome Drying shift (Beach Shadows Watercolor Painting).

WHY DO WATERCOLORS LIGHTEN AS THEY DRY?

Oil and acrylic paints look much the same whether wet or dry, and stay on top of the painting surface as they dry, bonding with the paint binder and forming a paint layer. In watercolor painting, however, the combination of paint, water, and binder (whether gum arabic, glycerin, honey or a glucose humectant) behave differently (from oil or acrylic paint) as the water dries. 

According to Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com, when watercolors dry, all of the water evaporates, and the paint vehicle (BINDER) “along with the dissolved surface SIZING of the paper,” are drawn by “capillary action” into the tiny spaces between the paper fibers, where they harden and dry. Paint particles may be a VARIETY OF SIZES and DO NOT uniformly stay on the surface of the paper. Instead, MacEvoy says, “in many watercolor paints, smaller pigment particles tend to be less saturated and lighter valued than the larger particles. These duller, paler and smaller particles also remain in liquid suspension longer than the more intense, darker and heavier particles, which sink first to the paper surface and into the paper crevices” where they are more hidden from light. No solid paint layer seems to be formed. Pigment particles are “strewn on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers,” revealing more of the white paper. Thus, watercolor paints will appear to whiten or fade as they dry. (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html , and http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html .)

CHANGES IN PAPER.

The PAPER SURFACE also changes during this process. (Different brands of paper, weight, fiber content — e.g., cellulose vs. cotton fibers — and paper finish — e.g., hot press, cold press, rough — will each be affected somewhat differently.) But, in all cases, the wet paper fibers soften and expand, becoming thicker and fuzzier, especially with repeated brushing of the paper or ‘fussing’ and fiddling with the applied paint. In general, the less agitation of paint on the paper, the better. Lots of brushing forces a larger number of pigment particles into the scuffed paper crevices which will DULL the color. If you want to achieve bright, clean color in your painting, try to apply your paint in one brushstroke (or in as few as possible) and let it dry. Limit your brush strokes!

Avoid Over-brushing (Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting).

COMPENSATE FOR DRYING SHIFT.

Drying shift is one reason color mixing can be very challenging in watercolor painting. As a watercolor artist, you should be aware of drying shift and know that you must compensate for it by adjusting your paint/water ratio. More specifically, get to know which paints on your palette tend to have a great drying shift and dry lighter or duller. (See http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html for Bruce MacEvoy’s chart of Watercolor Paint Drying Shifts where he lists the pigments he has found to have the greatest shifts. For example, Prussian Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Lamp and Ivory Blacks show some of the largest drying shifts, whereas Cerulean, Hansa Yellow Light, Cadmium Lemon, and Benzamida Yellow have low drying shifts. Keep in mind that drying shifts may vary by brand as well as pigment, since different manufacturing and milling methods will affect the size of paint particles.) 

With some notion of which of your watercolor paints produce greater drying shifts than others, you can compensate for this tendency by mixing those pigments with LESS WATER (decreasing dilution) to create a more vibrant color mix. It is always a good idea initially to test your mixed color on a watercolor paper test sheet prior to painting, let it dry, and check its appearance when dry. With experience, you will become able to judge what the pigment will look like in a painting when dry.

Intense color (Iris Watercolor Painting).

IN SUMMARY.

Color drying shifts in watercolor pigments are highly variable. These shifts depend on several factors:

  • the pigment itself (different pigments behave differently), 
  • brand/manufacturer of paint (various milling methods),  
  • paint vehicle (type of binder), 
  • paint dilution (some paints can be made more vibrant by mixing with less water), 
  • type of paper (brand, paper weight, fiber content, and finish), 
  • and application method (try to limit repeated brushing). 

Compensate for large drying shifts by adjusting water/paint ratios when mixing your paint. Use more pigment (or less water) in your color mixing to intensify a color likely to produce a large drying shift. Feel free to check your mix on a watercolor test sheet to ensure your dried color will be the correct value or the value that you intend. 

So, once again, don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting!

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

When Should I Use Masking Fluid?

Preserving lighter shapes in your watercolor painting is tricky. Sometimes you can simply paint, with care, around them. As an alternative, however, you can preserve the light areas or develop special effects by taking advantage of one of several masking or resist materials available. These include candle wax or wax crayons, dripped wax, rubber cement, packing or masking tape or Scotch Magic tape #810, masking Frisket film, and liquid latex fluids. The two types of masking materials that watercolorists use most often are liquid latex masking fluid and tape. Apply the masking, paint around it, then when the paint is dry, remove the masking (wax resists cannot be totally removed) to reveal the lighter shapes. Rubber cement pickup erasers are easy to find and use to remove masking, or you can rub with your finger if the mask-covered area is not overly large.

Not every light area should be masked, as masking can inhibit spontaneity or alter your painting process. Consider your purpose in masking. Masking can allow you to save delicate white areas in a picture and protect intricate lighter areas temporarily from nearby dark paint. I have also used masking fluid to make sense of very complex areas in a painting. For example, in this White Primroses painting, I masked many but not all the flower petals in order to distinguish and simplify the painting of leaves and negative spaces.

White Primroses Watercolor – Masked some of flower petals.

Masking can also create interesting special effects. Splattering masking fluid before painting can create the impression of snow falling. Use an old toothbrush dipped in mask by gently dragging your thumb over the bristles to get spots of mask. Splatter from a variety of directions to suggest snow swirling. Or try dropping masking fluid into wet paint and allowing it to dry before removing mask. This technique is said to create the effects of moss or lichen on a wall. You can also create textures to suggest tree bark or rocks. Apply masking fluid, let it dry, then gently rub the mask with your finger to partially remove some of the mask, leaving uneven blotches. Paint the area, and when it is dry, remove the rest of the mask. 

It’s possible also to paint color first, let the paint dry, then mask to protect the first color, and later add more paint. Or you could mask multiple times, between several applications of color. Multiple masking, however, requires good quality paper! Transparent or semi-transparent colors, which layer well, work best for multiple masking layers. 

MASKING WITH LIQUID MASKING FLUID.

Masking fluid is an emulsion of natural latex, water, and ammonia (used as preservative). Many brands of masking fluid are available, although quality varies. I find Pebeo, Grumbacher, and Winsor Newton to be the highest quality, but you can also search for other brands that suit your needs. My favorite is Pebeo Drawing Gum, which covers smoothly and is easy to see because of its gray-blue color. I find Grumbacher’s bright orange to be very distracting, and Winsor Newton’s clear and lightly tinted options difficult to see on white watercolor paper.

Ducklings Watercolor – Masked edges of ducklings and their bedding material.

TIPS:

  1. Make sure to test your choice of masking fluid on your watercolor paper before using it on your painting. Some masking fluids can damage softer, poorer quality, or student-grade types of watercolor paper when they are removed. 
  2. DON’T shake masking fluid; it’s better to stir it gently. Shaking adds air bubbles, and too much agitation can cause the fluid to clump or start to solidify.
  3. Let masking fluid on the paper air dry naturally. Adding any heat, from the sun, a heater, or a hair dryer, makes it extremely difficult to remove without damaging the watercolor paper. Similarly, I don’t apply masking fluid to wet or damp paper because it seems to be absorbed into the paper and become permanently attached. I have read that you can wet the paper and float in the masking fluid to create a soft-edged shape; however, that technique doesn’t work well for me.
  4. Don’t leave masking fluid on the paper too long. It becomes more difficult to remove as time goes by. The time limit for removing the masking fluid may vary by brand, yet I would try never to leave mask on the paper longer than a week or two. I have seen masking fluid carelessly left so long that it becomes permanently bonded to the paper.
  5. Let the masking fluid completely dry before painting over it. Keep the cap closed tightly when the container is not in use, as masking fluid dries when in contact with air, and the contents of the masking fluid bottle can deteriorate quickly.
  6. Remove your masking fluid only when you have finished painting around it AND the paint is completely dry. 
  7. While hard edges result when masking fluid is removed, the edges can easily be softened by wetting and tickling the edge with a somewhat stiff brush after removing masking fluid.
  8. Apply masking fluid with careful attention to detail. If you are sloppy or careless, your preserved light areas will also appear messy and unattractive when the masking fluid is removed. Practice your application technique on scrap paper until you are able to apply masking fluid carefully and neatly.
Red Bumpers Watercolor – Masked ropes, bumpers, light edges of boat and oar against water, highlights on darkest boat.
Pumpkins Up Close Watercolor – Masked only outline on stem.

There are many tools available to use in applying masking fluid. Use one or many, depending on the effects you want to create. Possible tools include inexpensive synthetic cellulose brushes, sponges, sticks and toothpicks, a dip pen, a palette knife, found objects like pencil erasers, leaves, the handle of a paint brush, or bottle caps, a cheap synthetic brush, a toothbrush to create spatter, and my favorite, a ruling pen. (Be extremely careful to protect any brush you use by first applying soap to the brush and wiping any excess soap off prior to dipping the brush in masking fluid. Immediately after applying the mask, rinse and soap your brush again, then rinse, to remove masking fluid before it dries and adheres to the brush. Also, keep masking fluid away from clothing!)

Let’s Pig Out Watercolor – Masked light against dark edges and foreground straw.

MASKING WITH TAPE.

Tape can be used to mask larger or straight areas (e.g. parts of a building or the horizon line) in a picture. Masking film (which is available in sheets) can be used to cover and cut to fit larger areas of a picture, as well. Brown packing tape (lightweight economy grade) or Scotch Magic tape (#810 only) work better than masking tape on ‘Rough’ watercolor paper. Masking tape can be too thick to bend and adhere well to the numerous depressions in rough paper, allowing watercolor paint the chance to sneak under the edge. Experiment with different brands of tape and paper. Again, test the tape on the watercolor paper you intend to use to make sure tape removal does not cause damage. Good quality paper, such as Arches or Saunders Waterford, is preferable to poorer quality or student-grade papers. 

To mask objects with tape, cover the shape with tape (overlapping edges if more than one strip is needed), then use a very sharp  X-acto or craft knife with slight pressure to carefully cut around the saved shape, and remove excess tape. Don’t use too much pressure when cutting the shape with the knife as you can apply so much pressure that you cut into your paper. Experiment first on a test sheet. After cutting the tape, press the tape down firmly. Paint.

Tape can also be precut prior before application to your paper. For example, to mask a window frame or a picket fence, you could attach a strip of packing tape to a self-healing cutting mat, cut narrow strips in the tape with your X-acto knife and a ruler, and then apply the strips to mask out a window or fence on your watercolor paper.

Personally, unless the area to be masked is large or straight, I prefer applying masking fluid with a quality, vintage German ruling pen (purchased on Ebay), as I have better control. I seem to struggle with tape, finding it difficult to apply, cut accurately, and also to remove. You should try it, however, as it has some advantages.

MASKING WITH BOTH FLUID AND TAPE.

If desired, masking fluid and tape can be combined to make it easier to mask larger areas, or a combination of a hard-edged area with nearby uneven areas. Both masking fluid and tape might be helpful if you wish to protect: 1.) blotchy, partially snow-covered ground (masking fluid) and a large, hard-edged snow-covered roof (tape), or 2.) a grove of tree trunks (tape) and a few leaves (masking fluid) that will be painted in contrasting colors or values, or 3.) lots of sky reflections on a lake (tape for straighter reflections and masking fluid for more erratic ripples).                                                   

First, apply overlapping pieces of tape over the chosen masking area. Press down lightly and carefully cut tape with an X-acto knife. Remove unwanted tape pieces, then press the remaining tape down firmly on the paper. Add masking fluid and let dry. Proceed with painting.

AVOID OVER-DEPENDENCE.

Try not to become overly dependent on masking materials. Instead, practice and improve your brush handling skills so you don’t need to use masks as often. Think about whether you can easily paint around an area and whether you need masking at all. Not every painting benefits from the use of masking. Sometimes painting is more spontaneous and quicker without masking. Choose the times when applying masking fluid or another type of mask material makes sense for you.

My Swamp Watercolor -No masking used.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

Jumpstart Your Watercolor Painting!

Several articles I’ve read lately have made me aware of the great benefits of ‘daily painting.’ Painting every day develops creative habits and greatly improves your art. You become more skillful, productive, and successful as an artist, according to the many painters who have tried it. Wait! Don’t, like me, immediately dismiss the idea of painting daily as impossible for you.  Try to keep an open mind as you read the following comments, and you may find that you are excited and inspired to begin to paint more consistently yourself.

Artist Mary Gilkerson explains: “Before you tell me you just don’t have time, let me point out a couple of things. Consistency over quantity. Consistency matters. Doing a small painting daily is better for your growth than 5 big paintings a month. 20-30 minutes a day can make a huge difference.

“The rewards: 

   1.  Your work improves.

   2.  You stay motivated because ideas flow easily.

   3.   Small daily steps move you closer to your goals.

   4.   Muscle memory takes over and the difficult things become easier.

   5.   You paint faster with more ease.

   6.   You paint more intuitively and responsively rather than consciously.

   7.   Your own personal style will develop without you even having to think about it.”

Chris Krupinski agrees and has said she knew she wouldn’t be a really good painter by painting only on weekends, so she committed to painting two hours every day no matter what. 

Duane Keiser, who is often credited with initiating ‘daily painting’ (as in completing a small painting a day) in 2004 and posts his work for sale on a daily blog, states that his daily small paintings “are about the pleasure of seeing.”

Simple Red and Green Watercolor.

Simone Nijboer, a Dutch artist, talks about her art journey, sharing this: “For many years, I wanted to paint but did not dare to start. When I had gathered enough courage, I started painting, but dropped it again quite soon, since I had lots of insecurities, doubts, and unhelpful thoughts around painting. 

“This all changed when I started painting on a more or less daily basis. I loved it so much! It might sound exaggerated, but I personally feel that daily painting changed my life. 

“Creativity became an indispensable and joyful ingredient of my day, and this joy spread over to the rest of my life.”

Carol Marine, artist and author of Daily Painting, rediscovered the joy of painting when she began completing small (mostly 6”X6”) works daily during her son’s naptime. “Painting small and often gave me the freedom to experiment – every day I got to start on an entirely new project. No longer did I feel overwhelmed by the large number of things I wanted to paint – I could do them all. And I could do each one fifty different ways (or more)! If one subject or one style didn’t quite work out, well, I didn’t sweat it. I had only invested part of a day’s worth of work on it, after all.”

Two Fruits Watercolor.

Stephen Berry, a watercolor artist who writes the blog Seamless Expression, has written (3/11/2022) a most compelling description of how the daily painting process has affected him. “I’ve been doing a daily painting for each of the last 32 days, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.  I can’t recommend it enough!  I’ve gotten to stretch myself in a lot of ways, and although it’s been daunting at times (and logistically complex!), it’s also been a great deal of fun.  So much fun, in fact, that I intend to keep going….

“At first, the painting experience was just like normal for me, but slowly, as I began to paint each day, it dawned on me that I was going to paint again, and soon.  That can be very liberating!  Paintings become less precious, failure less demoralizing (although still totally irksome), more chances get taken.  And that means growth….

“Painting daily has provided me a space to try out new approaches— high key paintings, or new color relationships, new pigments, new compositions, etc…. I need to pick subjects I can easily simplify— and that means strong shapes and bold contrasts.  And that is often very good for creating compelling composition.”  Berry says he works hard to recognize what is really essential in an image and to decide just what it is he wants to paint. What is not essential, he discards. “There’s a bold, graphic quality to the final product, which I like….The changes in my compositions have been so compelling to me.” (See  http://www.seamlessexpression.com/blog/2022/3/10/daily-painting-for-a-month-and-longer to read more of Berry’s blog post.)

Lily Pads Watercolor.

I’m inspired! Are you? Will you choose to complete a small daily painting, or decide to commit yourself to regular painting every single day (not necessarily finishing one work daily)? Perhaps you’d like to really commit yourself to getting good at your art by painting consistently, not just on the weekend! Promise yourself to paint for 30 minutes to an hour every day, whether you finish a painting during that time or not. Return the next day to paint for the same amount of time, and the next day. By the third day maybe you’ll have a finished painting. The main thing is to figure out what works for you to get you painting more regularly, painting more than you used to.

Let me know how you get yourself to paint consistently. Do you have tips that you would like to share with others who struggle to find the time to paint? Let me know in the comments.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

Enviable Greens In Watercolor!

Green is one of those colors, along with gray and brown, that can create problems for painters, which may be one reason that beginners seek out ready-mixed tubes of color.  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 and provide enough variation to produce realistic and natural greens, 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?

MIX GREEN WITH BLUE AND YELLOW.

The color green is made of blue plus yellow plus a small amount of red to tone the color down and naturalize it.  Try this experiment: take every yellow paint on your palette, and combine each with every blue you already have.  Note that mixing a COOL yellow with a COOL blue creates a bright and vibrant green (for example, Hansa Yellow Light with Winsor/ Phthalo Blue).  In contrast, 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 (which grays/neutralizes the mix).

Greens Mixed With Various Combinations of Blue and Yellow.

MIX GREEN BY SUPPLEMENTING A TUBE GREEN.

Another way to create natural greens is to use ready-mixed tube green as a starting point but then to add other pigments to vary the color.  DaVinci Sap Green, for instance, can be the principal ingredient in a whole range of mixtures. Similarly, you can adjust the temperature and value of Hooker’s Green, Viridian,  Phthalo Green, or another tube green by adding other colors. 

Greens Mixed With Pre-mixed Tube Greens.

EVEN MORE VARIETY.

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 on the palette.  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 theoretically 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 should remain constant.

                      Mixing Trail and Mixing Hub. 

Bruce MacEvoy (on handprint.com) has suggested that to simplify mixing greens somewhat, you can create these five basic green mixtures.  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.

CHART FOR YOUR OWN FAVORITES.

With experimentation, you will find many mixtures that work for you.  Make your own chart, for handy reference, of your favorite mixtures. Check back to it later for ideas when painting.

Condensed Chart of Favorite Green Mixes.

MIX ON THE PALETTE, ON YOUR PAPER, OR GLAZE.

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 the appearance of color.  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.

IN CONCLUSION.

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 if you want to gray/neutralize a green.  Make a chart of your favorite blends for handy reference.  You needn’t rely only on purchased tube greens. Experiment, and have some fun!

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.