Getting the Greens

Any artist painting subjects in nature will ultimately confront the challenge of greens, which demand a mastery of color mixing. I’ve found that multiple transparent layers create the most realistic greens. I often begin a green with a glaze of pure yellow, which I allow to dry completely. If I want a bright yellow-green, I’ll start with lemon yellow. Transparent yellow produces a middle-range green. Warm, soft greens begin with aureolin or new gamboge. A thin layer of quinacridone gold is especially useful in communicating translucence.

When I mix green on my palette, I also begin with yellow and then add a cool or a warm green, depending on the temperature I’m trying to achieve. Where leaves or grasses overlap, layers of cobalt blue and ultramarine blue create believable transparent shadows. Adding the complement rose madder genuine or permanent alizarin crimson creates beautiful gray or dark greens. Any red as an accent color imparts a pleasing visual vibration.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the ASTM International’s subcommittee on artists’ materials.

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