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 utilized 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.