Green can be a perplexing color to deal with when it comes to pastel landscape painting. As we head into summer and the presence of ever more foliage, here are a few tips that may prove useful for painting greens in your landscape subject.
Mixed Greens: First, remember that green is a pigment in your palette and light in nature. Our pastel sticks are not what we see in nature, they are the tools we use to portray what we see. Many of the pigments used to manufacture green pastels are too chromatically intense (over saturated) and too cool in color temperature. Viridian and phthalocyanine green are examples. When these pigments are left in their native form and merely tinted with white and shaded with black to produce a value range, they appear artificial. While greens that appear cool in temperature definitely serve a purpose in a painting, these pigments have to be affected to appear natural. This has lead many pastel manufacturers to offer greens made by mixing pigments together much in the same fashion as an oil painter. These mixed-greens are often warmer in color temperature, producing a more pleasing green tone. While I have viridian green on my oil palette, I think of it as a turquoise blue/green and mix my basic green paint by combining a warm-yellow and blue. I duplicate this in my pastel palette by purchasing pastels that represent these mixed greens.
Color Secrets: Understanding the importance of color temperature and the effect simultaneous contrast phenomenon has on the appearance of color led me to create a saying for students: the secret of green is orange and the friend of green is violet. Natural light represents all color, so a little orange introduced into green (which is a combination of yellow and blue) subtly introduces the color family of red and completes the color wheel spectrum. Orange can be in the pastel stick itself, as previously mentioned, or feathered into a green passage within the painting. Violet also helps to visually complete the color wheel because violet is made with blue and red. When it is place in close proximity to green, it makes the green appear warmer. Note: Orange (the secret) is in or on top of the green and violet (the friend) is next to the green.
“The secret of green is orange and the friend of green is violet.”
Make a Comparison: When painting on location, a comparison can be made between a pastel stick and the scene. Start by selecting a pastel stick. Then hold it up in front of the scene, close one eye and squint. Make sure that the pastel stick is in the same light as the area in question, i.e. sunlight or shade. Often, the selected stick will appear more intense (chromatically saturated) than the actual area. This tests what we believe we see with what is really there and can help in making better green choices.
Green can be a tough color to handle, but with color temperature finesse, sensitive observation, wise selection, and artistic permission to sometimes tweak reality for the sake of a harmonious outcome, a successful lush painting can be achieved.
You’ll find more landscape painting tips from Richard McKinley and 22 other top artists in the new e-book, Landscape Painting in Pastel.