Anatomy of Green Color

Green is perceived to be a troublesome color to mix as it is found in abundance within the landscape. How can so many greens be produced with just a few pigments? Well, contrary to first impressions, only a few essential green pigments are required for mixing different greens from blue-greens of pine to golden-greens of willow leaves.

Important Green Pigments for Painting in Oils and Acrylics

My Youtube clip explaining the basics of mixing green

Some art kits include only one green which might give the impression that this one green with only white and a dark color (which might be black) is required for mixing the greens of nature. This will result in a flat and rather artificial rendering of a landscape. Viridian has been much maligned for its high tinting strength and harshness of hue, but I find it essential for my color mixes for it produces a far sharper green than most blues and yellows mixed together. A bright green can easily be tempered, but a dull green cannot be made more vibrant.

Green Pigments in Art to Produce Greens in Nature

Greens can be either warm or cool; dark or pale, as well as possess somber hues. For this reason, I will include certain blue and yellow pigments that when mixed with the green can make it warm or cool.

Ultramarine would appear to be a pure blue when applied in isolation, but impurities in this blue will become apparent when mixed with yellow, particularly cadmium yellow. Both these pigments possess a fair amount of red (ultramarine is rather violet and cadmium yellow is a little orange). Both possessing a fair amount of red will produce a swampy, warm-green. Pthalo blue and lemon yellow mixed with viridian will produce clean greens that are either yellow-green or blue-green.

The following pigments mixed in various ratios will produce greens for the following subject matter

Different Greens from Yellow, Blue and Viridian

Lemon yellow, viridian and a portion of white will result in a bright, acidic greens seen when the sun shines through young leaves in spring. Cadmium yellow, viridian and a portion of white will result in warmer, heavier greens that might be seen on oak leaves or parched lawns.

Ultramarine blue, viridian and a portion of white will produce warm, bluish greens that might be seen on unripe apples or pears.

Pthalo blue, viridian and a portion of white will generate cool bluish-greens that might be seen in pine forests on a clear day.

Subtle Greens in Painting

As mentioned earlier, a sharp green can easily be tempered, but a dull green cannot be made more vivid. This is why I personally think olive green and sap green are redundant in my pigment collection. A bright green can be given an olive cast with a little burnt sienna. Similarly a subtle cool green can be achieved by the introduction of a little burnt umber.

Dark Greens in Painting

Rich dark greens can be achieved by adding a little red or any color possessing red with the green. This will darken greens for shadows without dirtying the green. Permanent rose with viridian will result in a rich, very dark green (almost black) for the sharp shadows found in foliage on a bright day. A little cadmium red in place of the permanent rose will create a more rounded, warmer dark green.

Essential Pigments for Mixing Greens in Art

In summary, I use (with varying amounts of white) viridian, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow (pale), pthalo blue and ultramarine for my basic greens. For tempering green and darkening green, burnt umber, burnt sienna, permanent rose and cadmium red will come in useful. That is not to say other colors should be excluded from your greens. Cerulean will create bright, pastel-greens when mixed with lemon yellow; Alizarin crimson will create deep, full-bodied dark greens when mixed with viridian. Other counterparts might be cobalt blue, Winsor green (or process green) or Indian yellow.

Articles About the Color Green

Why do my greens look artificial?

How to paint light and shadow

Demo on painting a green landscape