The Problem With Green, Part 1

118-revisiting-green.jpgMalinda Wiesner recently sent a question concerning a statement I made during a presentation earlier this year: “Last May Richard McKinley presented a demonstration at the IAPS convention in Albuquerque. In that session he commented that there was a prejudice against the color green. There were other comments about how it worked with orange and purple. Could he clarify and elaborate on that?”

Thanks, Malinda, for your question. I’ll break it into two blogs. We’ll address the prejudice against green in this posting, and next week, the use of green, orange and violet.

A few years ago while I was on a painting trip with legendary pastel plein air artist Glenna Hartmann, the question of how to handle green was posed. After a perfectly timed pause, she quietly responded, “I avoid it at all cost.” The ensuing discussion was very interesting. It seemed that every painter there had an issue with green.

As the discussion unfolded, it boiled down to a few issues. One of the most mentioned was the pigment used to make green pastels. What we see in nature is light reflected off of a surface. It shares a relationship with its surroundings as well as the bias of the light source. In our paintings, we’re creating an illusion of what’s real. Since we’re incapable of placing real light on a surface, we have to use man-made colors that reflect light back to the observer, representing what we see.

These pigments have limitations, and this is where the issue begins. Most green pigments that are green by nature are artificial to foliage. Even the strongest blue-green in nature is rarely as intense as pure viridian or phthalo green pigment. Dealing with this often entails layering and intertwining other colors over them to produce a more natural appearing green; this is also an excellent method of uniting and harmonizing a painting.

Most manufactures that offer a limited number of color offerings in their pastel lines suffer from an abundance of these harsh tones. Other manufactures with extensive offerings usually mix pigments together to expand their color range. By mixing pigments together, they’re duplicating the subtle temperature shifts that wet painters are capable of producing by mixing on their palettes. This produces more natural appearing green tones and has made painting the landscape with pastel much easier. If your pastel palette is small, it will serve you well to add some of these mixed green sticks, thus alleviating one of the issues with green.

In next week’s bog I’ll address how the other colors within your scene have an effect on your green pastel choices, and why orange and violet work with green.


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3 thoughts on “The Problem With Green, Part 1

  1. Richard McKinley

    Alice and Cindy,
    Thanks for the comments. Concerning which companies offer good mixed green pastels, the answer is quiet a few. Brands like Terry Ludwig, Great American, Unison, Mount Vision, and Sennelier all have offerings. Girault is a favorite when a little harder stick is desired. If you have the availability of open stock and can look at the actual sticks before purchase, it is easier to find these gems. Look for pastel greens that you would mix on a palette if you were working with wet paint. Many small pastel sets tend to offer bright intense colors that appeal to the eye but tend to be difficult to work with.
    If you are new to the blog, be sure to click back over the previous posts by selecting the months on the left column. There are over a hundred to review, thanks to the efforts of the people at the Pastel Journal.

  2. Awebb

    I am a watercolor painter trying to learn pastels. I have overpowered several peices with greens, and am very interested in your article, especially the mention of more natural green mixtures. What companies are making these? Can you give me a little more information on these colors?

    I enjoy your articles, and appreciate you taking the time to share your ideas and experience.