Dealing With Green


See how green is handled in this detail of my painting, Layers of Light.

This time of year it’s hard to miss the green. It’s everywhere. As spring rains lead to those summer flowers, green is a major part of the package. One of the most frequent questions I receive in a workshop is how do you handle green in your paintings? As an artist friend once said when asked about working with green: “I avoid it at all cost.”

The thing is; with green, a little goes a long way. If you want to use greens well and keep them in harmony with the landscape, my tip is: “orange is the secret and violet the friend.” Adding a touch of red to the mixture of yellow and blue (green) will complete the triad of color, helping to relate it to the other warm tones within the scene. Placing a little violet of the same value next to a mass of green counteracts the harshness of the green, making it appear a little more yellow, again pulling it toward a warmer appearance due to simultaneous contrast (see previous blog post for more on that). We often think we only see blue, green and variations of gray, forgetting that light is made up of all color. The pigments we choose to paint with merely represent what the eye sees. The leaves, for example, are not viridian or cadmium; those are pigments. We see non-absorbed light reflected off surfaces and associate colors. Pastel artists have an especially difficult time because so little blending is 45-dealing-with-green.jpgutilized in producing individual hues. We rely on hundreds of sticks while a wet painter might have as few as four tubes of paint. Most green pigments, in their raw form, are too blue (cool) and over saturated (bright) to work well unless combined with another pigment. Pastel manufacturers like Unison, Terry Ludwig, Girault, Sennelier, Mount Vision, and Great American have an assortment of greens that are a mixture of pigments. When purchasing individual sticks, don’t select them based on their pigment name. Look at them and ask yourself: Does this stick represent something I would mix if I were painting with wet paint?

My best advice is to acquire those blended green pastel sticks, the warmer the better. Add orange, (the secret) and violet (the friend) to those large green masses (as shown in the image of color swipes at right), even if it’s in the underpainting, and embrace the beauty of those natural greens. Soon they will become golden yellow—another story.

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5 thoughts on “Dealing With Green

  1. Lee Shelton

    I can’t wait to try this on a painting I’m working on right now. After reading this super tip, I even see the oranges and purples all around me as I drive. Sometimes we need someone to help us see. Thank you!

  2. Lynn Newman

    What a difference some lavendar made in a recent painting. It softened my trees and added atmosphere. What a great tip – I will be sure to remember that one. Thanks Richard.

  3. JoAnn

    Your article worked for me!
    Just completed a green painting (trees, grass,etc.)
    green, yellow and blue. Framed it and it’s flat!
    Added a few strokes of purple and warmed it up with orange. Reframed it and yes, it’s a go!

  4. Winny Kerr

    I cannot tell you how valuable all your demonstrations are. I look forward to them every time. This one is great as I have trouble choosing colours and how to blend them to get the right colours. I hope you will do a demo from start to finish one day.
    I also love the simplicity of your paintings yet so effective.
    Thank you for taking the time,

  5. Camille Day

    Richard, I always enjoy your blogs, but this one is particularly useful since I am painting outdoors more and more here in the South with all our glorius greens. Lately I have had some problems with them turning "acid". I think this advice might just fix that!Thanks for all your helpful pointers–almost as good as a workshop…by the way, hope you’ll consider doing one in Georgia one of these days.

    Camille Day
    Ellijay, Georgia