Color Mixing: The Color Green
by Chris Cozen
I’m always happy to talk about color. This past year has taken me on a few colorful adventures. Since I always travel with my camera I make a point to record things that inspire me. I spent seven months last year in Northeast Ohio and enjoyed seeing greens as I had not seen them after many years of living in California. With the West’s dusty drought-tolerant greens and its deep forest greens I had forgotten the liveliness of spring greens, with their perky, acid-toned bright greens, the soft pale green of the first leaves and the luscious rich true greens of the full-on summer. Each tree variety brings its own special formula into the picture.
Speaking of formulas, let’s talk about mixing greens. In my book Acrylic Color Explorations there’s a lesson on how to get a range of greens using a single color of blue pigment and just changing the yellow pigments. It’s good to start your mixing lessons with transparent pigments so you can see the clarity of the greens that are created. Get to know your paints. Scribble on a piece of paper with a pencil. Paint over your scribble. This will tell you how cloudy or clear your color is.
When you look at areas of green in nature it’s important to notice that the greens are not all exactly the same. For a natural look, you want a variation of green to imply where something might be hit by sunlight or hidden in shadow. When you start mixing greens take note of the ratio of yellow to blue for the brighter, sharper greens or the ratio of blue to yellow for the deeper ones. Once you have developed a range of greens you’re satisfied with, introduce Titanium white to your mixes and see how the greens lighten up. Your ratio of white to the mixture is also important. Too much white can overwhelm the green mixture and wash it out. Try the same exercise with a little Bone black added to your green mixtures. This will bring a deepness and richness to your formula.
What happens when we go too far one way or the other? That’s where glazing comes in. You can always create a lighter or darker green glaze: mix your original formula with glazing medium and apply the color over your original. Sheer glazes are built by using a 6:1 ratio of medium to paint. Remember that the more pigment you use the less sheer the glaze will be. Glazing is an excellent way to play with the surfaces of green areas as well. Want to create a shadow? Add a little glaze layer of Dioxazine purple or Payne’s Gray over an area and see it shift.
Favorites for Green Color Mixing
Of course, there are plenty of green pigments/paints out there in the marketplace to choose from. I have a few favorites of my own. I use green-gold (Golden), chromium oxide green, and sap green hue as mixers.
• Green-gold leans heavily towards yellow so I often substitute it for yellow to mix with my blues when I want a unique green.
• Chromium oxide green is a dense opaque green which is a great base color for starting a field of green. Mixed loosely with white and Titan Buff and brushed rapidly with lots of movement and you’ll get a lovely “start” for a field.
• I turn to sap green hue when I want some quick depth, especially in a glaze. Its formula has some black in it and that adds a lot of richness to the glaze.
All in all mixing greens is pretty fun. You can take any color on the blue to blue-green spectrum and add any yellow to create an array of greens to work with. Color mixing is an adventure as well as an investment in your painting process. The goal is to get to know the pigments you own and fully explore their potential! You should aim to be fluent in color so you can readily mix any color you may need. Pick up a lot more great ideas in my book as well as in the set of new DVD’s I created as a companion to Acrylic Color Explorations. Each of the DVD’s cover techniques for using color in various ways.