An Abundance of Green
At risk of stating the obvious, there is a lot of green in the world.
This is true not only in nature, but in science. Residing in the middle of the spectrum of visible light, the human eye most readily sees green more than any other color. With great abundance, comes great variety. Our task as painters to navigate this broad color family comes with many challenges and possibilities – as greens vary drastically in regards to temperature and intensity.
The color green can put our eyes (and minds) at rest. It is the world-wide color of environmental consciousness. Green is a primary of light (additive color-mixing), but not of pigments (subtractive color-mixing).
We’ve heard from painters over the years that green is a challenging color family to mix within. It is. Not because we don’t have greens readily available from tubes, but because there is just so much darn green to navigate. We are so closely tied to nature, it can be a challenge to our sensibilities to incorporate greens of great intensity into our color palettes and paintings.
Let’s dive in and explore where the greens in the Gamblin palette fit into Color Space:
Note that we’ve included Cadmium Chartreuse and Phthalo Turquoise in this mapping, as they sit on the edge of green and yellow, and green and blue, respectively.
Mineral Greens and the Phthalo Boost
Mineral green pigments, such as Viridian, Cobalt Green and Chromium Green Oxide beautifully grey down in their tints and mixtures making them useful when depicting muted greens of the natural world.
To fully capture the diversity of this hue family, greens with greater chroma may be necessary. Permanent Green Light and Emerald Green are ready to go for this. The cool, blue-leaning Phthalo Green and the warmer Phthalo Emerald are both deep from the tube, yet beautifully vibrant in their transparency and tints. You don’t have to use phthalo pigments long before appreciating their high tinting-strength. Another key characteristic of this family of these modern organic pigments is their intensity in their tints and mixtures. Thus, Phthalo Green and Phthalo Emerald are incredibly useful in boosting the chroma of muted greens and pushing the envelope on incorporating “unworldly” greens into our painting.
Because green is a secondary color, many painter choose to mix all of their greens. The possibilities are endless. For simplicity’s sake, the examples below are limited to two yellows (Cadmium Lemon and Indian Yellow) and two blues (Cobalt Teal and Ultramarine Blue).
A six-color, “split primary” palette is one popular approach in choosing and organizing one’s color palette. Essentially, it utilizes a warm and cool for each primary. With the mixing of pigments (subtractive color mixing), there will always be some amount of intensity of color that is lost when two colors are blended together. The mixture is absorbing (subtracting) more of the spectrum of visible light, compared to each of the original colors in the mixture. However, the closer any two colors are on the perimeter of the color wheel, the least amount of intensity will be lost. The Cadmium Lemon and Cobalt Teal are both on the green side of their respective color families. Therefore, the resulting mixture will yield the mixed greens with the highest chroma. Cadmium Lemon and Cobalt Teal are also opaque, so their mixtures reflect more light off the surface and result in greens of lighter value (brightness).
Colors that live farther apart on the perimeter of the color wheel lose more intensity when mixed together. Indian Yellow and Ultramarine Blue is a good example. Each have a red bias (green’s complement), so their mixture will result in a green closer to the neutral center of the color wheel. Indian Yellow and Ultramarine Blue are also transparent in nature, trapping more light within the paint layer and creating a deeper value.
Positioned a moderate distance from each other, mixtures of Cadmium Lemon and Ultramarine Blue, as well as Cobalt Teal and Indian Yellow, predictably fill out the middle of the green hue family- neither the brightest nor the dullest of greens.
“The secret of mixing greens is an understanding of color temperature and value. Every tone and hue must relate to adjacent tones and hues. I prefer to have a large number of colors on my palette, representing numerous points on the color wheel. This allows me greater variety of temperature and saturation in my mixed colors (whether they are light values or dark values) and more options for toning a color if I want to shift or neutralize it. This is especially true for greens. Allowing subtle transitions of warm to cool, dark to light within a passage can make a beautiful statement. Setting a complement like a red, orange, purple or pink next to, or within greens can make all the difference. Additionally, the process of glazing to achieve different greens is important to me. Sometimes I will directly paint a lighter, warmer, relatively opaque green knowing that at a future point I will glaze a darker, cooler, transparent green (or other transparent color) over it. The two work together to make a new color you can’t get any other way.”
– Douglas Fryer