All you landscape artists who live in the dry, deserty parts of the world, or you plein air painters in the wet, watery parts of the world, bear with me, but those of us who live in the lushly vegetated parts of the world face a big challenge: green! It's everywhere, especially at this time of year! On hillsides, on trees, reflected in the water and even the sky—it's all green! Sometimes it feels like it's the only color in any subject you choose if you are painting outside! Do you know what I'm talking about?
Those of us who dare to paint these abundant greens have to learn to push our color mixes into a whole range of emeralds, aquas, olive drabs, limes, and celeries. At first read, it may sound like I'm advocating using a huge palette of umpteen colors, but no! Quite the opposite. In my experience, the secret to mixing a broad range of greens while still maintaining a gorgeous sense of color harmony is this: the limited palette.
When you work with a limited palette, you end up mixing the same handful of colors into virtually every stroke and passage of every painting—in different combinations, obviously, but you know what I mean. The result is that the colors automatically harmonize with each other. What more could you ask for? And when it comes to mixing greens, you can still mix a healthy variety. Let me explain what I mean.
|The pigments in a limited palette mix a range of
For many years, my entire palette consisted of: Ultramarine Blue (neutral), Cadmium Yellow (warm), Lemon Yellow (cool), Cadmium Red (warm), Alizarin Crimson (cool), and White. Because Ultramarine is a fairly neutral blue, you can easily "bend" it toward warms as I did in the top row by mixing it with Cad Yellow and Cad Red, or you can push it toward cools as I did in the bottom row by mixing it with Lemon and Alizarin. And this is just the starting point. Because all of these pigments are natural, as in made from earth materials, they always mix into natural-looking greens perfect for plein air painting.
|Adding Phthalo blue offers
me a broader range of
More recently, however, I started including Phthalo Blue in my palette. Phthalo is a synthetic color, so it is much more intense and holds its staying power when you mix it, as I did here with Cad Yellow and Lemon. If a broader range of bright greens is what you want when you are en plein air, Phthalo is a great way to get it by adding just one color to your palette.
However, Phthalo is so powerful that it can quickly look garrish, refusing to "play nice" with the other colors on this palette. To balance out its intensity, I've added two very drab colors as mixers to my palette: Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. When you start combining all of these, you end up with a fantastic array of luscious greens that are a bit brighter than the Ultramarine mixes but still look natural enough for a traditional landscape painting.
|Adding yellow ochre and burnt sienna to
the palette as mixers toned down the
Phthalo but still gave me luscious greens.
So the next time you're heading to do some outdoor painting, leave those tubes of green (and orange and purple and black) behind and give the limited palette a try. Not only will you get both infinite variety and beautiful harmony in your greens, you'll have less to carry!
What are your great tips for mixing greens? I'm always open to more ideas.