Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dealing with summer greens

Stapleton photo: Garin Baker,
 Here are a questions I received a few days ago;

  "Dear Stape:
I learned how to mute my greens which was what I had thought was a good idea.  Now my landscapes look dead.  I live in Minnesota, a state that looks like a salad in summer.  How do you handle all those greens.  If I match what I see, it's doesn't  look real.
 ......................... probably some blonde chick
I have written about painting summer greens before and I will excerpt a few suggestions from deep in the blog as an answer for you:

I think that summer is the hardest season to paint outside. It is just way too much green for me. I do some green paintings, but I don't want to make a whole seasons worth of them. One or two in a show is fine, but a whole room full of green paintings is not. I have crashed a lot of paintings in the greenness. I always think I won't do it again, and every year I make at least one painting that is nice, but way too green.

I am not the only landscape painter to feel this way, lots of them have and there are some strategies to avoid the problem. Here are a few that come to mind.
Willard Metcalf   image:
detail from the Metcalf painting above showing variations in greens and addition of other colors as modifiers
  • Notice how many colors other than green Metcalf has put into this picture. The powerful blue in the sky also draws attention away from all that green by overpowering them a little. There is still a whole lot of green in this midsummer painting but there are enough other colors to counter the  assertiveness of the greens.
  • If you must paint in a green hell, try to vary the greens and tone them down too. A green plus red is called olive, Savor those, the more red you can smuggle in there the better. The violets in the shadows aren't green either so they also serve as a foil. Ask yourself would I wear this color? There are colors in paintings you wouldn't wear, but with the greens the question is more relevant.
  • Historically artists have turned their backs to the green. Many of the art colonies of America started in seaside towns. Artists who painted the hills of New England in the fall and winter painted the harbors or surf in the summer. The ocean is a great place to be when it is too green out there.
  • Woods and fields can be a nightmare, but in the evening the lengthening light and the gathering darkness begin to drop the saturation of some of the green. In the late hours lots of too green places become paintable.
  • Gardens are great place to paint in the summer. They are green but if you have flowers, paths, shadows or evening light, there are endless good garden pictures to be made. Most people who have fine perennial beds are flattered and will to allow an artist to paint their gardens. I have knocked on strangers doors.
  • Try to look for big shapes that aren't green, such as a colored house or a yellow field or gray out buildings, any thing that you can use so that at least an important part of the canvas isn't painted green.
  • Another solution is to cripple your ability to mix green. Restrict yourself to an earth color palette or at least mix all of your own greens from ultramarine. If you are restrained in the presentation of the greens in a landscape rather than literal, usually better paintings result.
  • Sometimes it helps to stain your canvas with a warm earth color before painting, you might rub it down with burnt sienna and a little solvent, using a paper towel. The influence of that wet layer of sienna particularly if it gets into the notes lain onto it, can be a welcome modifier when things go green.
  •  Chromium oxide green, (PG17) is a chromium color related to viridian, it is opaque, permanent and a dull green -yellow . It is a useful landscapists color. I think Metcalf used a lot of it. Give this color a try if you are experimenting with greens, it is not too powerful and goes well with earth colors.
  •  The three color guys from out west, pack ultramarine, permanent alizirin 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.
  •   I do a lot to replace it or shade it towards red to tone it down. I often push my greens towards olive or ocher or heat them up or purple their shadows. I don't want to make paintings that are green all over, so I smuggle red. There are three colors, blue, red and yellow. Green contains blue and yellow so I want to use as much of a different color from those two as I can . That leaves red. So I smuggle reds. That is, I try to sneak it into my greens to "step" on them and get greater variety in my color rather than green, green, green.

    I am particularly wary of a certain green that occurs everywhere in the lights during the summer. It is a high key chartreuse color most easily made from a combination of lots of white, plus viridian and some cadmium yellow light. Note I am not talking how to "hit" a given color outside. I am talking about modifying or even replacing the actual note of nature with something I think will make a more attractive painting. You have heard me speak of design a lot, here I am designing my color. Sometimes I want my paintings to be the color of 500 dollar suits. High key lemon greens are not something I would want in my suit.

 A painting of my own with varied greens

detail from the picture above

  Here is the middle of the painting. I would like to point out a couple of things here. One is that I have deliberately painted different passages separate colors. I could have decided to take a tonalist approach and make them, all similar or closely related, I often do. Each of those brushstrokes is a different color than the ones around it. Look at the small green tree in the center of the detail. Above it is another tree that is ocher colored, above that the hill is a grayed olive color, in several variations and then the top of the hill is covered in pines that are an ultramarine color. Look along the water line at all of the reds and sienna I have stuck in there. They enliven the passages and form a nice foil for all that green. Look to the right of that middle tree. See the streak of light running in front of the big white pine down to the water? It is hot.

I am doing something here I call "smuggling red".
One of the things I do to landscapes to make "em" cooler, is smuggle red. Let me explain that to you. Blue and yellow are easy to see in the landscape, the sky is blue, the foliage is green ( blue and yellow ) surfaces in the light , dry grass and other things in the landscape are yellow. But red is more hidden. It tends to be woven into everything else. Often as a modifier. You don't see it out on its own as much as the other two, but its there just the same , woven into everything else.

Good color in landscape painting often calls for recognizing the role various reds have in the color notes of the painting. There's a story about a venerable New England painter who taught a lot of workshops. At the end of a long day he would run up and down the line of students, outside at their easels when he was tired and he would just say to each of them "more red, more red!" It sounds silly but it was more than a joke, because it WAS good advice. Almost every learning painter fails to get enough red into a painting. I try to weave a lot of it in as it steps on all of those greens that are so annoyingly It also takes the electric look out of a sky and keeps shadow notes from being too icy. Red is a wonder product!

So I smuggle reds. I am sneaking it into things, feeding it into other colors. I make a hot pink color myself and tube it up. It is the exact opposite of the color of green leaves and grass in the sunlight. I like to step on my greens with it, but it also goes nicely into skies and other places too. Some of the old landscape painters used to carry a color then called flesh, now called Caucasian flesh, I believe, for a similar purpose. My hot pink color is nothing like the old flesh color but the principle is the same.

 Green is everywhere. I do a lot to replace it or shade it towards red to tone it down. I often push my greens towards olive or ocher or heat them up or purple their shadows. I don't want to make paintings that are green all over, so I smuggle red. There are three colors, blue, red and yellow. Green contains blue and yellow so I want to use as much of a different color from those two as I can . That leaves red. So I smuggle reds. That is, I try to sneak it into my greens to "step" on them and get greater variety in my color rather than green, green, green.

I make up a custom color for myself that I think of as the anti-green. I call it Pornstar Pink. It is a hot pink with indelicate overtones of chewing gum and feather boa with a hot undertone that is nearly biological. This cheap lingerie color is the opposite of the green outside, and is the antidote. I can throw it into any of the mixtures I use to make greens and it will reduce or "step on" that green. I feed it into the painting here and there to "smuggle reds".

Painters I knew years ago sometimes carried tubes of "flesh color" into the field. They would never have used "flesh ( now I believe it is labeled "Caucasian flesh") in a portrait but it was really handy out doors. My homemade mixture, Pornstar Pink is a lot more vibrant than the old flesh color but the idea is the same, a red modifier pigment. In the winter this is a good color to have for painting snow, too

When I make this color I tube it not only for myself but for a friend or two who liked mine when they tried it. So I make about a quart at a time. I have experimented with it for a number of years and have arrived at a formula that works for me. But you probably don't want to tube paint, so there is this, Williamsburg Persian Rose
I started out using Persian Rose and then formulated my own version over the years from a mixture of precursor pigments I buy from RGH, my paint supplier. Their link is over in my sidebar.

 If you would like to know about the upcoming July workshop in New Hampshire please
click Here. I have included the cost of the workshop and information on the location in the White Mountains. I can teach you a whole lot, and probably save you years of screwing around. Why torture yourself ? Don't get left behind! You are worth it! Everyone's doing it. Act now.

I will teach about how to deal with greens in the summer landscape by applying the ideas above and a few  others, from the secret premium knowledge.

I have been developing a series of painting exercises to teach root skills. I have a bunch of them now and am adding them into the workshops. I set my easel up in front of the class and lead them through a painting exercise that will clarify either a skill, technique or principle. I will be presenting one of these each day at the July workshop.


Michael King said...

Some déjà vu in this article. ;)-

Florante Paghari-on said...

Nice post, Stape. I remember the smuggling red in James Gurney color and light book when he mentioned you about using reds when painting landscapes. Thanks! said...

I say : Summer; green green everywhere and not a color to drink. However with Stapleton Kearns approach I no longer fear the season. All great advice.

Also, Varasi oils is having a green sale. Their swamp green is very exciting to use.. Not the stuff of 500 suits but maybe a fine silk tie.

Philip Koch said...

I love the comment about painters hitting the coast during high summer and saving the inland hills for fall and winter. Surely I've done a lot of just that.

Architecture too is a real help in summer- it is darned hard to find a house anywhere painted leaf green. Maybe they were trying to help us painters out.

Douglas K said...

I've been struggling with just this issue so I really appreciate this post. I'm amazed at how much orange and red I pour into my greens, just to match what I see, and yet when I review all my oil sketches from the last few weeks they are a sea of green. Yesterday I was grateful for a variegated maple, with a lot of interwoven orange and red, as a relief from all the green. I've been working my way through your posts. Thank you for all of the guidance you have provided!

Jim Gibbons said...

Great post Stapleton. I was wondering what you thought about using blacks for greens? For me I've been using black+ cad yellow as a base and then mix whatever other color into that to get various shades.....reds, white, blues ect. It gives me an olive tone which I like and start my painting with a very thin transparent layer and then build off that. Black???? What's the word?

Sonya Johnson said...

Thank you so much for this post; I was just crabbing about this very issue on my blog recently.

If nothing else, it validates my own personal loathing of painting the greens of summer (which I knew wasn't just me, but didn't realize it was so widespread...nice to know I'm in good and longstanding company).

The green conundrum is compounded further by the fact I do my plein air work in pastel. So, a ridiculous number of greens is required, and yet, I never seem to have the right ones on hand: too saturated, not dark enough, too cool, etc. I've shoved blues and purples around to help, but after reading your post, I'm going to try the same with reds and maybe some pinks.

Thanks again.

mendacious_valkyrie said...

Does Williamsburg Persian Rose come in the pink bottle, or am I thinking of something completely different?

Judy P. said...

Recently I was wondering 'how did I get this tube of chromium oxide green?' Now I remember that you have recommended this color before; 'Smuggle Reds' was one of my very first neck tattoos!
I almost wish too much green was my main problem; for me losing value contrast is the killer. That sunny glare on everything makes me overuse the white, or fear it, to the point where I either have a chalky pale mess, or a too-dark one value painting. Someday I may find the happy middle.

SamArtDog said...

I've never thought of it as smuggling red. I like how it sounds illegal. The greens at this time of year get me stupid, and I often have to carry on a warfare of sorts with paintings-gone-bad. So I mix me up a batch of what I call bloody green. Using hot pink sounds downright visceral. Cool!

hilda dada said...
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lobote said...
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Antonin Passemard said...
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lobote said...

hi sorry if the post seemed spam like but I thought it was good to post a link to show what I meant about question of "has the sky's appearance changed in your opinion?".

Stapleton Kearns said...

No I am not aware of anything different.

Ida M. Glazier said...

Thaks so much for this post!! Reading about the greens issure in your words is so helpful. I often read back thru the post for info, and am so glad you have this blog. Green is my favorite color, and even I get tired of it!!!! and live in a sea of it. I believe I can handle some of it now---thanks!!!

Unknown said...

That painting of yours is one of my favorites. So much going on in there, and yet it has a quiet, peaceful feel to it.

But I have solved the green summer problem. Just move to New Mexico!

b robson said...

We have this issue with greens in New Zealand also as the light is particularly bright here. It may be its proximity to the South Pole.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post! And I love your suggestion about waiting for the light to change in the evening before attempting a grassy landscape. Really helpful for all seasons, but especially for summer -- heat, colors, everything. Thanks a million for sharing this.

Mary Irwin said...

Great blog post!
I am a watercolor painter and love the greens of summer as well as painting bright vivid pieces of gardens etc. I have always been frustrated as to how to bring it all together without looking odd. So this issue of toning done greens with red really made me think! This is the answer! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Stape, I love your paintings and I like your advice. But enough with the sexist insults already. It's keeping me from linking to your blog.