Art Unboxed Seeing Green
Three artists walk into a field, one is smiling, one is angry, and the other is sad. They were all seeing the same thing, they’re it affected each differently. They were all seeing green, and if you’re an artist you understand I’m not just trying to be funny. Seeing and painting green is among the most difficult challenges an artist faces.
Capturing light, balancing your darks, painting green accurately, capturing a likeness in a portrait, and achieving a realistic landscape are at least in the top ten great technical challenges in art. You’ll notice, while all the subjects are affected by color, only one focuses on a specific color. The best reason for this that I’ve heard goes back to warm and cool colors.
Basically a warm color would lean more towards red, yellow, or orange, while a cool color would lean more towards a blue, green, or purple. What gets confusing is that a red can be a warm red or a cool red, depending on how much of a cool color is in it. The same is true of a blue, or in this case a green.
A warm green is a green that has more red, yellow, or orange in it. In nature, most of the greens are a warm green, and many of the base green paints are a cool green. This is one of the reasons artists suggest that you mix your greens. Another reason is that it will give you the experience you’ll need at any time to mix a particular green that you see.
Green in nature can range from bright, to muted, to a green gray. In a painting of a yard, green grays can make the grass look more realistic. If you’re not a painter this sounds like a foreign language, at least it did to me. However it’s very simple really, artists are limited to physical materials, canvas, brushes, and paint.
We reflect light, not by the warmth of the sun, but by the balance of color on a canvas. I don’t care what artist you name, none have ever been able to equal what God created, and they never will. That’s not only my viewpoint as a Christian and Minister, but as an artist. You could ask any artist who may not be a believer, and while they may not acknowledge God, they will admit they can’t match what they see every morning.
We use yellows, red, and white to make the reflection of light brighter. We also paint dark colors around it to make it appear brighter. The same principle is applied to using grays in greens, it not only balances the green so that it looks more natural, it helps to direct the viewer’s attention to what part of the yard you want them to look at.
If I want one area of a yard painting to be bathed in light, that area will be a mix of yellow and green, whereas the darker areas would be mixed with dark greens and grays. The darker those areas, the more noticeable the bright areas will be, if the color temperature is accurate. To narrow it to a color, generally speaking you’ll find more Olive and Sap Green in nature than you would Phalo Green. It may be a pretty color, but it doesn’t fit in the puzzle of painting a lawn.
This brings me to the topic of some of my favorite greens. My first choice will be some form of Olive or Sap Green. I mention both because the same color can vary with different manufacturers. The artist Jane Blundell has researched this beautifully, and has wonderful resources to research further.
I enjoy Olive and Sap Green I believe because they lean towards a yellow green. So warm greens tend to be my favorite to paint with. After them would be Prussian Green, a mixture of Prussian Blue and yellow to make a deep cool green. Then would be Christmas Green. It may not be a landscape green, but I love Christmas and love to paint scenes related to it. I also am a fan of the comic book hero tied to this color, you can guess who.
Last would be Green Grays, usually a mixture of green with a Payne’s Gray for a cool Green Gray or Red Iron Oxide for a warm Green Gray . To produce great greens, you need to have a good understanding of grays and how they can compliment any color. It is so important with greens because of the percentage of them in a natural landscape.
These are the greens that make up my palette. They’re not the only greens I have, but they are the primary ones. I would recommend having a warm green, a cool green, and a standard green on your palette.
Some do not keep any greens on their palette. If you prefer to always mix your greens you can get by without it, but I’ve found convenience colors are a great jumping off point. Seeing green is another one of those invaluable tools as an artist, and one that I believe can’t be practiced too often.