Wednesday, October 28, 2009

About mixing greens

Jervis McEntee courtesy of

I was asked in an e-mail to discuss how I mix greens , so I will write about that tonight. For many years I had viridian on my palette as my standard green. I began using it when I was studying with Ives Gammell and it was the standard landscape painters green. However in the last few years the price of viridian as risen tremendously as its quality has fallen. I have been working without it for this year, I don't know that I will continue as RGH still makes a reasonably priced viridian that is of good quality. There is a link in my sidebar for them. I use them for all my colors except white. They make a good white too but I am fond of the LeFranc.

Instead of the viridian I have been using a pthalo green deep by RGH. It is not there because it is just like viridian , because it's not, but because it is a green that will work, and its not too yellow. Many of the proprietary greens made of pthalo are too high key, electric spring green, Salem menthol for my taste. This RGH pthalo deep is cooler, but it has a lot of pigmenting strength still like any other pthalo. I can deal with that but it took a bit of getting used to.

I have experimented with other solutions in recent years too. I have used both Prussian and pthalo blue. Both of those worked about the same as using the pthalo green. The Prussian is a controversial color with some defending it, and others saying it is impermanent. So I am not advising that you adopt it on your palette, you will probably want to use pthalo. The Pthalo colors give a range of strong, clean greens. They need to be "stepped" on much of the time by adding various other colors. Emile Gruppe used a pthalo on his palette with a full quiver of cadmiums to influence what he made from it.

The three color guys from out west, pack ultramarine and cadmium yellow, and taking a cue from them I have made a lot of greens in recent years from those. That has the advantage of not yielding greens that are too assertive. In the summer particularly the landscape can be VERY green. If you want that very green look, you can get it with viridian and cadmium yellow light. I was taught to make greens that way, but I came to feel later that although they looked like what was in front of me, they were to assertive and monotonous. In have tried in recent years to keep my greens well in check. I sometimes have joked in this blog about painting in the color of 500 dollar suits. You don't see those loud green suits on the racks at Brooks! You do see some green nylon parkas out there that are the colors I am talking down, they come from the discount stores though.

We are making paintings to go into peoples homes and be lived with, at least I am,. Some artists are making paintings to impress other artists or to go into museums or whatever, but I expect people to live with mine as decorative objects. I therefore don't want them to be the color of a granny Smith apple.

The painting at the top of the page is a good example of a restrained green, they are grayed or reddened until they are a neutral color that doesn't scream at you from the painting. Green is sort of the landscape painters enemy, there is so much of it and it is not always the most attractive color I can place on a canvas. The more I can push it towards gray often the better it is.

Here is a John Constable, look how restrained his greens are. Whenever I walk into a museum I always feel like the color in my paintings should be more subdued. We have such powerful pigments today, but I am not convinced that more color is better color. I have been painting graver paintings of late and I think I will head more that way.

Tomorrow I will talk about mixing less assertive greens.


Deb said...

Ah, this was helpful. I might try the RGH paints, as I am increasingly unhappy with several pigments I've been using, viridian being the highest on my current complaint list. It seems to have very poor mixing strength.
I did just recently find a new green mix that makes a very deep rich green, easily modified or grayed, but still deep.
I bought an indian yellow by mistake (it was on the hanger with the cad yellow). That with ultramarine makes a nice dark cool green, and retains alot of pigmenting strength. I've been playing around with that some, particularly in still life. That Indian yellow might make a nice addition to the earth palette trio also.
But I still don't understand about the hot dogs and bun question.

Philip Koch said...

Absolutely right that greens are the toughest hue. For landscape painters doubly so. One thing I always tell my students might be helpful to some here. When one is sliding into difficulty with a passage in a painting one starts obsessing about mixing up a slew of different temperature greens. A way out can be to concentrate instead on making the shapes of the forms more interesting and clarifying the tones. Good silhouettes and good tones can solve almost any problem.

Mary Bullock said...

What are your thoughts on sap green?

Jeremy Elder said...

It is insightful to take the Constable into photoshop and isolate the "greens" with a color picker. They turn out mostly to be yellows, oranges, and very warm grey greens. They are really only green in relation to what's around them. In fact, the entire painting is very low chroma except some of the foreground.

When making a grave painting like this, do you find it better to mix a neutral from two compliments and slowly add color to it to achieve the desired grey color, or to do the opposite and start with a high chroma color and slowly grey it down with its compliment?

Jeremy Elder said...

Also, when I painted with Frank Ordaz, he suggested using yellow ochre and ultramarine to get nice cool blue/greens that are low in chroma.

Judy P. said...

I have been catching up, reading all your past posts about color; I'm glad for this new one- I feel at least I've caught up with your current state of mind. One confusing thing- in my head I always think of the rule 'warm light, cool shadows (or vice versa); when you ascribe similar values with disimilar colors, using both cool and warm notes in a passage, are you careful to let either the cool or warm predominate the area, or do you let the value alone speak for light vs. shadow?
I've bothered Deb Pero in her blog about this too; of late this has been my most vexing constant confusion.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Indian yellow is essentially a hue. It is made with azo yellow. In the old days Indian yellow was a mysterious vegetable pigment from the far east.
There is a slightly smaller percentage of dogs than buns born and slightly fewer of those survive to adulthood.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What do you mean by tones?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will address that on the blog tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know that it makes a difference. But once In get rolling I have a pile of "dirty" that I can feed into colors anyway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I keep the entire passage warm or cool in relationship to the shadow. The terms warm and cool are I guess relative to their neighbors.

Gregory Becker said...

I love grey greens. I have been trying to experiment with mixing burnt umber, black, yellow ochre, prussian blue and white. When I get a good neutral I can add yellow, red or blue and also white to bring out those strengths in the neutral.
So far I can make colors bluer, greener or browner as well as easily controling making colors warmer or colder from a certain neautral mix seperated into a value scale. It's alot of mixing work but I think in time that will get easier.
The greatest benefit is conserving those expensive pigments.

Philip Koch said...

Stape, by "tones" I mean the levels of dark and light.
That's how most artists use the term, at least I think most use it that way.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I thought that was what you meant. I customarily use the word values. I think of tones as part of the triumverate, tints, shades, and tones, tones being the color plus gray.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee that seems like an awfully complicated mixture . It must be a lot of work. Why not just burnt sienna and ultramarine? or alizirin and viridian, both plus white of course?

Gregory Becker said...

I have actually made colors similar to burnt and raw sienna as well as yellow and red ochre on the palette by accident. I cant remember how I did it but it ended up there.
I like the value scale because I can keep the tonality uniform as well as any falloff effects in regards to light.
Chroma is the real challenge for me.
I guess I just like the earth tone palettes best. Then, if I just add a dash of green here or there it looks like there's green everywhere.
I'll have to try those mixtures you mentioned.