Painting Accurate Greens

Dan Schultz

The color green is a difficult one to master. There are so many varieties of it in nature that painting accurate greens can be daunting. We find everything from intense yellow-greens to muted gray-greens, blue-greens, acid-greens and subtle light-greens.
1. Carefully Choose Your Palette Green

Years ago, Sap Green was the green of choice on my palette. One day I began to notice that all the greens in my paintings were looking very similar. Sap Green was average-looking enough that I was lazily using it for all my greens without much mixing. I wasn’t paying attention to make sure I was mixing accurate greens for all the unique greens in the landscape.

So I replaced Sap Green on my palette with Viridian. This choice forced me to take more time to mix my greens. Viridian is such an unusual green — it isn’t seen purely in the landscape — so in order to create accurate green mixtures, I have to mix other colors with it.

A nice byproduct is that I discovered Viridian to also be very useful for mixing complementary grays.

As a side note that many of you know already, I prefer M. Graham & Co. oil colors and I highly recommend their Viridian. It’s a beautiful color with plenty of pigment and is holding up well in my ongoing color stability tests.

2. Make a Color Chart

The fantastic book Alla Prima by Richard Schmid contains a section on how to go about making color charts. They take a bit of tedious work, but they can be an eye-opening exercise. A chart based on your chosen palette green will show the remarkable range of green mixtures your green can make when mixed with your other palette colors.

3. Identify Characteristics

Do your best to find ways to describe any particular green that you see. Answer the following questions:Does the green lean towards a particular color family? Is it light or dark?Is it intense or dull?  Once you have a description in your mind, you’ll have a better idea of how to go about mixing that particular green.

4. Be Patient

A major challenge with any color mixing is the temptation to be lazy. To let “close enough” be close enough.Even when you have time limitations, do your best to be patient when mixing colors. Don’t move on until you’re as close as you can get to matching the colors you see. In my opinion this is the best way to improve your ability to recognize colors and match them with your paint. Even if you struggle to finish because of the time it takes, you will see improvement in the long run.

5. Compare Your Mixtures

Use your palette to compare your color mixtures. When mixing your colors, let the mixtures actually run into each other. Where they overlap a bit, you can squint and compare their relationships right there on your palette, giving you a preview of how they will relate in your painting.

6. Paint Green Scenes

One of the best exercises for practicing green mixtures is to paint scenes with lots of greens! Find an image of some green bushes and green trees casting green shadows on a green meadow and go for it. If you wear a green outfit it’s even better. 😁

7. Paint Outside

Plein air painting (painting outdoors) has been one of the most important keys in my development. It provides the opportunity to see the real colors of the outdoors. It has given me a better understanding of how light behaves and has helped me recognize the true value and color of shadows. All the varieties of natural greens are waiting for you outdoors. Get out there and get to work on capturing them. 
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I hope you’ll find these tips to be helpful as you work toward painting accurate greens.

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