Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Green! Everything is Green!

New Discoveries in Painting Green! 

As a landscape painter you often come across scenes that are just green on green on green. Ah! It's easy to get frustrated and just walk away, or turn it into an Autumn scene!

But there is something so beautiful about the lush greens of spring and summer. Every year I'm inspired once again to pursue that illusive "light through the leaves".

I spent some time recently in a local park, just focusing on the greens in the trees and painted a small painting. I was okay with the brighter greens, but the shadowed greens looked like a mass of army green camo. Not pretty!

Back in my studio I realized I needed to get  
back to basics. I'd gathered a bunch of different tubes of green paint. Even though I don't generally put a mixed green on my palette. I just kept thinking "If I just found the RIGHT green in a tube". So I bought a few more....

And now I decided to do some comparisons.

Some of you may have done some Color Cards . These are a GREAT way to learn and understand your paint colors. Today I decided to do a more informal version of a Green Comparison color card.

These are the tube greens I was comparing - they are the first four across the top:
  • Jenkins Green
  • Green Gold
  • Pthalo Green
  • Viridian
Compared to my usual palette where I mix combinations of:
  • Pthalo Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Hansa Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold
I also ended up adding in
  • Hansa Yellow Medium

So what did I discover?

  1. ALL the tube greens I was able to recreate with my regular palette paints!
    If you can see all the pencil lines I've drawn, they take you from a tube green to a matching mixed green
  2.  Hansa Yellow Medium - A nice warm yellow, which mixes well! I use Hansa Yellow Light on my palette now. It is cooler yellow, also a wonderful mixer and key for those bright spring greens, or leaves in sunlight. But I discovered that Hansa Yellow medium is a much better mixer than my current warm yellow - Cadmium yellow medium. As you can see from the chart, Cad Yellow goes muddy very quickly. I think this will be a new regular on my palette, maybe even replacing Cad yellow!
  3. Transparent Shadows - Sometimes I have to relearn again and again! Remember those army camo green darks I was mentioning? The key to lush dark shadows is using transparent mixes and avoiding Cad Yellow!
  4. Pthalo Blue + Hansa Yellow Light or Medium makes the best spring greens, leaves in light.
 Some other things I discovered
  • Ultramarine Blue + Quinacridone Gold. A really dark complex green that you can lean more to the blue or gold. 
  • Don't be afraid of Pthalo Blue! It is very strong and easily overpowers a mix, so add tiny bits at a time. But it is an awesome mixer!
  • For clear "Light Through the Leaves" effects. AVOID WHITE! You can see from the card that the minute I added white to any of the mixes, they went dull.

So here is the little sketch of light through leaves after my experimenting:

Try as I might I can't get the color accurate between my camera and my monitor! The darks are richer and greener in life. But hopefully you get the idea

More tips about painting green on green

  • We can't really paint with light. Sigh. And if you go lighter - more white - you sacrifice color! Instead keep your color in light vivid - no white - and darken the rest of the image.
  • For the lightest areas - paint the area first with white. Then come back over with your transparent rich greens with no white added. 
  • Keep adjusting those shades. There are an infinite number of shades of green! Use them :)

Can't read all the color codes in my picture?

Mwahahaha :) That's because you need to make your own!

Seriously, the only way this will make sense is to get out your paints and try it. It's too much stuff to remember. The way to do it is to show yourself. Let your fingers learn how to find those colors.

 Your paint colors are your tools, the notes in your scale. 

So get to know them, and they will serve you well, I promise!


  1. Karen thank you for this article rich and full. very demonstrative
    To our tubes and work now!

  2. ooooh arent color charts FUN??

  3. I agree cadmiums quickly can create mud,that goes for most opaque colors,great for just a splash of color.

  4. Hi Karen, is there a rule of thumb of how many greens we must limit when painting forest of trees? I used hookers green, olive green, pine green, moss green, the trees looks ok, but the grass below these trees looks messy with so many greens, I used cadium yellow mid as nightlight where the sun hits.

    1. Hi Bleu,
      The thing with greens for me is to paint what I see. I don't have any tube greens on my palette, I mix them with my blues and yellows. You can get a wide range of subtle color variations by mixing.
      The key is not how many you use, but whether they are in the right place and are the right color and value to describe the sunlight and shadow you are seeing. Squint your eyes and look for the big shapes formed in the trees and the grass by the sunlight. This creates different areas of value (light to dark). Keep all your greens in shadow darker and bluer compared to the greens in sunlight.
      And create pleasing shapes within the foliage and the grasses...

      If you do a page of mixing greens as I show in this blog you will see all the lovely varieties you can mix. My only true rule of thumb is don't use a pure tube color :)