In previous posts on Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing, I experimented with “mouse colors” and color-mixing. In chapter 3, Dobie focuses on a single color family: green! Green is such an important color for landscapes and has so many different mixable personalities that it’s often the subject of special attention; Shari Blaukopf also has a great spread on greens in Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color.
The basic assignment is given in the book, but I created the stretch assignment out of personal curiosity.
Chapter Topic: Mixing a variety of greens.
Assignment: Paint a scene with three distinct, custom-mixed greens.
Stretch Assignment: Compare a variety of possible green mixes from the colors in your palette. Which are your favorite? Which can you see using for what situations?
Let’s Try It
This is the green landscape I made to illustrate possible greens from my Summer Palette. Each of the five trees, the grass, and the background hedge are different custom-mixed greens.
I feel like I fully convinced myself that mixing greens leads to more interesting and realistic results than finding the “perfect convenience green” and painting all the trees the same color!
Here’s a chart of all the greens I can make from the Summer Palette!
The columns are my orange or yellow mixers. From left to right: Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101); MANS (PBr7); Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150); Winsor Yellow (PY154); Rich Green Gold (PY129); Isoindolinone Yellow Deep (PY110).
The rows are my blue or green mixers. From top to bottom: Phthalo Green (PG7); Phthalo Turquoise (PB16); Prussian Blue (PB27); Cobalt Turquoise (PG50); Ultramarine (PB29); Rich Green Gold again (only on page 1*).
*After doing the first page, I realized that Rich Green Gold is really not a green – when mixed with yellow, it was mixing more yellow, not yellow-green. Rich Green Gold should be treated as a yellow/gold, not as a green/blue. So I stopped using it as a row and added it as a column on the second page, instead.
While each green swatch shows only an example of a color that can be made from two base components – you could mix each with more blue or more yellow, in darker or more diluted concentrations – they give a pretty good idea of the diversity of greens I can get from these colors! And this is just mixes of two: Dobie encourages you to use three colors in your green mixes (blue or green base, yellow to warm, and a bit of red to mute).
Observations on the oranges and yellows as groups, one column at a time:
- Burnt Sienna Deep is earth orange, not yellow, and as such it doesn’t really make green with blue, it makes shades of gray. But mixing it with green or turquoise results in some nice very muted greens. The top left color I accidentally mixed with too much BSD, so it came out brown, but I glazed it over with a more greeny mix from more Phthalo Green, and it’s a favorite muted green of mine.
- MANS greens are pleasant: mild, granulating, naturalistic.
- Nickel Azo Yellow has multiple personalities. In dilute, it’s a green-toned yellow similar to Lemon Yellow, and you can get pale neon green from the mixes with Phthalo Green or turquoise! Masstone NAY is more ochre-ish in color, so darker mixes tend to look more muted. I really like the clean, strong color from NAY + Phthalo Turquoise, or the pine green from NAY + Prussian Blue.
- Comparatively, I found the straightforward mixes from Winsor Yellow to be a bit predictable and insipid.
- Rich Green Gold makes a range of nice foliage greens that are similar to the NAY mixes, but a bit more muted, with juicy shades of pear and avocado. The bold mix of Phthalo Green + Rich Green Gold at the top there is one of my favorite bright, bold, summery, Hooker’s Green equivalents.
- With its orange cast, Isoindolinone Yellow Deep made even more muted tones, edging toward desert greens.
Observations on the blues and greens as groups, one row at a time:
- Phthalo Green is a very obvious choice for a green mixer and as such it mixes the most straightforwardly, near-primary greens.
- Phthalo Turquoise mixes are actually quite similar to the Phthalo Green mixes; a bit bluer, of course, but perhaps that could be counteracted by using more of the yellow mixer. I’ll have to examine the similarities and differences in more detail.
- Prussian Blue mixes are also pretty similar to the Phthalo Turquoise mixes although it’s easier to get a nice deep dark color, and to keep from being over-the-top bright. They can still get extremely bold, though. I love the bold jungle green from PB + NAY.
- On the other hand, Cobalt Turquoise mixes are never dark, always somewhere in the middle range, whether it’s gray with BSD or neon green with NAY.
- Being the most violet-toned, Ultramarine creates greens that are the most grayish and muted. The mix with BSD isn’t green in the least – it’s a very straightforward gray (similar to Jane’s Grey). The mix with NAY comes closest to being an actual usable green, similar to DS Undersea Green.
Overall, my favorite mixes included those with Nickel Azo Yellow or Rich Green Gold, and those with Phthalo Turquoise or Prussian Blue. The mix of NAY and Phthalo Turquoise is an especial favorite.
Here are some more mixed greens from base blues/greens not in my Summer Palette.
The yellows are in the same order but I skipped BSD since it’ll just make gray with the blues. Columns: MANS, NAY, Winsor Yellow, RGG, IYD.
Row by row observations:
- Indanthrone Blue makes dark, muted colors that are more grayish and less vibrant than the dark greens with Prussian Blue. MANS doesn’t make a green at all! It’s a gray really. Similar with IYD, although it makes a dark gray that’s arguably in the green family. Both NAY and RGG make dark, olivey, pine greens. With Winsor Yellow, it’s a lovely cool dark green similar to Perylene, and surprisingly granulating.
- Cobalt Blue again makes a grayish color with MANS and yellowish seaweed greens with NAY and RGG. I like the NAY one better. A pretty celadon with Winsor Yellow. Brownish with IYD – I think I didn’t put enough blue, but either way it’s not super greeny.
- Cerulean Genuine makes almost the same colors as Cobalt Blue, but a bit greener-toned, lacking in the dark values, and sometimes (as with the RGG mix) there is visible floating granulation.
- Serpentine is already a yellowish-green, so adding yellow makes it even more yellowish. As the base color is similar to the target color, these aren’t that different from each other. (Actually the base color is not dissimilar from the Cerulean + NAY mix.)
Areas for Further Research
Having done this exercise and seen a similar range of greens from certain mixers, I’m not sure if some of my colors are reduplicative – if certain pairs mix and behave similarly enough that I shouldn’t bother to have both in any given palette, if there are other areas of the color wheel where they act differently, or if I can come up with some kind of coherent theory as to when to choose one or the other.
These possibly-similar pairs are:
- Nickel Azo Yellow and Rich Green Gold
- Phthalo Green and Phthalo Turquoise
- Cobalt Blue and Cerulean
I’ll have to do “what’s the difference” posts to compare these colors as mixers across the color spectrum!
If you’re into doing landscapes, especially if you live in a place with lots of leafy trees and shrubs in the summer, greens are going to be an important part of your life, and in watercolor, there is such an amazing variety of greens possible! Though I’ve been painting with many of these colors for the better part of a year, I feel like I learned so much from being systematic about my greens. I encourage you to try it whether you’re intermediate or a beginner. If you have fewer colors, it will be easier!