How to mix greens and avoid the "salad bowl effect"
by Shawn Dell Joyce
When you paint landscapes, especially plein air, you use a lot of green! Not just any green, many greens! One of my plein air friends, artist Steve Blumental used to say, "you want to avoid the same green, like a salad bowl filled with iceberg lettuce. No one wants that! We all want Mesclun salad! So vary your greens!"
In plein air class, we often mix other colors to get greens. Some professional painters have said that you need to mix three colors to get any one color correctly.
We all know that blue+yellow=green. But it also varies according to the temperature of the color you use. For example, Cereuleun blue+lemon yellow=bright Kelly green (similar to Chromium Green). Ultramarine blue+cadmium yellow=khaki or olive green. Additionally, you can mix black and yellow to get a similar deep green color as well.
In addition to these beautiful shades of green, you can warm up and neutralize the greens by adding red (the complement of green on the color wheel). This creates a brownish-green similar to what you see in late fall foliage and dry grass. Adding a little red to all the above color mixes gives you some uniquely beautiful greens.
These greens are what my friend Steve so eloquently mentioned. In addition to different colors and shades of green, we all need to think of the greens in terms of temperature. Have some warmer and cooler greens and some colors that may read as green but are not (like violet and blue).
Look at these two greens. Notice that the one on the right is cooler, has more blue in it. The one on the left is warmer and has more yellow in it. Cool colors recede, warmer colors come forward, so we want to use the cooler greens for the mountains in the distance. The warmer color works for the foreground grass.
If I used the cooler one in a foreground it wouldn't work. It was stymie the sense of perspective and ruin the illusion of depth. This is because in the landscape, we are looking at the mountains in the distance through tiny droplets of water vapor suspended in the atmosphere. This gives the distant hills a bluish and cool look called Aerial Perspective.
When you capture aerial perspective, your painting has the illusion of depth. If you couple that with warmer & darker coolers in the foreground, then the illusion is complete.
If you are using pastel, and have a limited array of greens, you can get the same effect by scumbling a light sky blue over the distant hills, and a warm yellow over the green in the foregound. If that is too difficult, then underpaint those colors first, and put the green on top making sure to blend the background blue and green to mix them.
Note the bluish Aerial Perspective of the distant hills and the way the greens warm up the closer they come to the viewer.
Many artists, including me, often substitute other colors for green to break up green areas. Adding a little violet to a dark underbrush will punch it up and make it more interesting than using just a dark green or black. Conversely, adding a little rust to a leafy green tree (especially oak) will warm up the foliage and make it look very real and different than the grass.
Notice that these trees have alot of other color to them, reds, violets, ochres, and green!
Your best way to learn this, is to play with your pigments and combine them in different ways to create different greens. If you take Plein Air Adventure with me, you will get the above worksheet and get to play in class. Check out the class on my website, it has its own page and the season is about to start on November 3. Hope to see you there!