Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 Steps to Great Greens

Here is a 16x20 piece, painted from some photos I took while up in Wisconsin last year. We were there in late September, and we were starting to see just a few hints of fall. My palette for this piece was: cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, cadmium orange, burnt sienna, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, dioxazine purple, ultramarine blue, viridian hue (Holbein)

Painting this piece got me thinking about greens. Green is a difficult color to get right. From everything I've gathered, here are 5 steps to achieving great greens in your landscapes:

1-Greens tend to be a darker value than you think - Remember to squint, and check the value of greens in your subject. Compare that value to other objects. You'd be surprised how dark it actually is. 
2-Keep greens subdued - Keep your greens a little more muted than you think you need. Greens in nature are actually very muted. Once your subdued greens are placed and the value is correct, then add in some "punches" of more vibrant greens. One trick I like is to use yellow ochre for most of my green mixing, to keep my greens "in reserve". I'll dip into the cadmium yellow for those bright accents at the end. It's surprising how little of the cadmium yellow you'll end up needing. 
3-Remember atmospheric perspective - Colors change as they get farther away from us, and shift towards blue (in most cases). What's lesser known, however, is that yellow is the first color to fade, which is then followed by red. What this means is that greens will have more yellow in them in the foreground. Greens a little farther away will appear more purpley, followed by very blue-greens in the distance. This is another reason I like to save my cadmium yellow until the accent stage, and keep the cadmium yellow mixtures reserved mostly for foreground accents. 
4-Never use pre-mixed greens - Well, that's kind of a lie. While I do have a couple greens on my palette, and they are useful, I never use these greens as the starting point when I am mixing a green for my painting. Those greens are on my palette for "tweaking" colors only. All of the greens in my painting begin with yellow and blue. If the green needs to be more olive, I'll add some cadmium orange. More grey? Add some alizarin crimson. Needs to be a little higher in chroma? Now, and only now, is it time to add a little bit of Viridian or Phthalo Green. My basic rule of thumb: Never just squeeze out a bunch of sap green and paint a tree with it! 
5-Variety, variety, variety - Having a full-spectrum palette is great for many reasons. "Tweaking" greens is one of them. I like to dip into just about every color when I'm mixing greens, and I like to have every brush stroke be a slightly different green. Trees are made up of thousands of leaves, and each leaf is a slightly different color, and is reflecting sunlight at a different angle. It would make sense, then, for a tree to be made up of many different kinds of greens. 

A small black and white gouache study for this painting. The black and white study helps show just how dark of value greens can be. 

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