I have just finished painting a couple of watercolours of Bridal Bouquets and it became obvious to me that I needed to pay more attention to `my greens.’ As a Botanical Artist the colours you use most will be green as this colour forms the basis of nature. It is possible to use green paint straight from the tube or pan. However as all greens can be mixed by combining blues and yellows I don’t have green in my paintbox. Learning to mix your own shades of green gives you far more understanding of the qualities of the individual paints in your paintbox. Colour knowledge certainly helps.
In basic terms green is a secondary colour mixed from blue and yellow. In order to mix the `right’ green you need to know the blues and yellows in your paint box intimately. It is important to distinguish between warm and cool pigments.
The concept of Warm and Cool Colours can be very confusing. The way I remember is that warm colours have a red or orange undertone and cool colours lean towards blue. How do you distinguish between blues? A blue paint with a red undertone, such as French Ultramarine, is a warm blue and a blue paint with a yellow undertone, such as Winsor Blue (Green Shade), is a Cool Blue.
– Warm Blues lean to purple or red, e.g. French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue
-Warm Yellows lean to orange or red, e.g. Indian Yellow, New Gamboge
-Cool Blues lean towards green or yellow, e.g. Winsor Blue (green shade), Cerulean Blue, Manganese Blue
-Cool Yellows lean to green or blue, e.g. Lemon Yellow, Aureolin
How do you decide whether your individual paints are Cool or Warm if you don’t know? The best way is to consult the Manufacturers Paint Charts. I have an excellent Hand-Painted Chart from Winsor and Newton. All of their paints are listed helpfully according to their warmth/coolness – Cool Yellows-Warm Yellows- Warm Reds-Cool Reds-Warm Blues-Cool Blues. Their earth pigments are shown separately.
Knowledge of warmth and coolness will help you choose the right blue and yellow for the job. For instance if you mix a Warm Blue (consisting of primary blue with red undertone) with a Warm Yellow (primary yellow with red undertone) you will get a muddy colour of browny olive or grey and not a fresh Spring Green. That’s fine if you want an olive colour, but not so good if you have arrived at this colour through lack of understanding Any yellow or blue with a red undertone will mean you are mixing the equivalent of the three primaries together – red, yellow and blue, which mix together to make grey or brown.
I find that I often need a specific green for my Bridal Bouquet watercolours so I have systematically mixed all my blues and yellows together and made myself Green Charts for future reference. I have organised my charts with the blues going from Cool to Warm. Winsor Violet isn’t strictly a Blue in the true sense of the word but I included it as Violet is a bluey red pigment and I thought it useful to include it.
The time I spent making these charts was invaluable. To make a chart like this do make sure you use a clean brush to mix the pigments and change the water regularly. Start with the yellow when mixing greens. You don’t need to add as much blue to the yellow to make green. If you are after a yellow green it is much easier to start with the yelllow.
Cool Yellow Greens
Cool Yellows can produce lovely fresh bright Spring Greens. These yellows produce my favourite greens as they are so vibrant and cheerful. When I painted my Spring Bouquet I needed fresh Spring Greens including a limey colour for the Viburnum Opulus in the background. I mixed the vibrant lime green with Winsor Lemon and Winsor Blue (Green Shade). Cool Yellows do produce lovely fresh greens when mixed with Cool Blues, but the green can be a bit over-powering, particularly in shadows. More pigment will just produce a brighter green and not a duller green. If you need to dull the green add a touch of red to the mix or use a warmer blue. For the jasmine leaves I used French Ultramarine mixed with the Winsor Lemon to give a slightly duller green. Where the leaves were in shadow I added a touch of red Permanent Rose to dull them down further. By sticking with the same cool yellow throughout the image retained it’s Spring like qualities.
Colour mixing has taught me a few things about my blues. Manganese Blue and Cerulean are very similar tonally. However Cerulean granulates much more than the Manganese. This surprised me as Winsor and Newton specify that both of these blues granulate. The Cerulean creates wonderful textures which would be great for seascapes and rocks particularly on textured paper. However granulation means it is hard to mix with the yellow. I found this particularly noticeable with Raw Sienna which is also a granulating pigment. Cerulean therefore separates from any colour it is mixed with. I also found it harder to get strong deep greens with Cerulean and Manganese. Winsor Blue (Green Shade) on the other hand is a really strong pigment which does not granulate. It could be described as a `bully’. You only need the merest touch of pigment to change the yellow to green. However it does produce very beautiful turquoise, aquamarine colours which I love.
The warmer blues produce greyer greens and olives.
Warm Yellow Greens
When I was experimenting with mixing paint colours for my `Simple White Bouquet‘ image I started with warm Raw Sienna as my yellow. This was a mistake. Raw Sienna produces a lovely creamy colour which was a good colour for the roses. However I struggled to make a decent green for the leaves. I knew I wanted a dark dull green so a Cool Blue wouldn’t work for the darker leaves as it would be too bright. However the warm French Ultramarine blue and Raw Sienna just didn’t mix together to make green – all I got was sludge, which wouldn’t do at all to depict a beautiful white bouquet! Raw Sienna and French Ultramarine are also both granulating pigments so they just don’t mix to create a smooth shiny leaf. I ended up using French Ultramarine with a Cool non-granulating Yellow.
I found mixing greens with the earth pigment Quinacridone Gold interesting. On the colour chart and in the palette Quinacridone Gold looks biased towards warm red. However it has a decidedly green gold hue when mixed. It reminds me of old gold rather than pale brushed gold. This meant that it did make a good olive green when mixed with the French Ultramarine unlike Raw Sienna.
Other consideration when mixing greens – do you want a bright fresh colour? I favour mainly transparent colours due to their translucent properties which results in fresh, bright paintings. Try to avoid pigments marked as opaque in Botanical Paintings. You can always dull a green down by mixing a tiny touch of red (green’s complementary colour) to the mix. In Catherine’s Bouquet image I used a combination of fresh bright greens with more muted greens for the shadow areas. As there was a lot of foliage this made sure the foliage was varied in colour. I first painted this image with the shadow area in a bright green which didn’t work as the green over-powered the beautiful flowers.
I hope you find my Green Colour Charts as useful as I do. I am going to work on more colour charts experimenting with violets, pinks and purples which should be useful in my flower painting. Watch out for them in a future Blog Post!