Mixing Greens

Where I live, we’ve seen nothing but white and brown for some time now.

It’s either a white winter wonderland or when the snow melts, it’s a drab landscape in shades of brown.

I’ve started daydreaming of greens in their myriad hues from golden olive to seafoam blue-green and luxurious, rich emerald. So today seems like just the right kind of day to talk about that elusive and sometimes confusing subject – mixing greens.

Mixing green is perhaps one of the more difficult tasks for any artist to master. It frustrates beginners and irritates advanced painters alike. Premixed greens are often very unnatural in appearance, and folks just have a tough time creating the greens they observe in nature unless they spend a lot of time experimenting.

Create Your Own Color Charts

You can spend a lot of time learning which blues and yellows combine to make what type of greens. Don’t forget that you’ll want to try adding a complementary red to tone down or dull the greens as well.

Since this can be a lot of work, make your effort count. Create color charts showing swatches of each color combination. You’ll develop a set of charts you can refer to whenever you’re looking for the perfect green for your painting, and you won’t be duplicating the work over and over.

Premixed Green Paint

One generally doesn’t fling unadulterated premixed green paint on one’s canvas when painting nature. These paints need the intercession of additional colors to give them the natural, foliage appearance you’re trying to create. There are a lot of premixed greens, and each has its own characteristics. I’m choosing just two as examples – check out your taboret for the greens you may already have and try mixing them with other colors in your paint box.

Phthalo Green

Phthalo Green is an intense, vibrant green that you won’t find anywhere in nature. However, it’s very versatile for creating a wide array of greens. Use a medium yellow like Hansa to develop spring-like green like new grass. Add some Burnt Sienna to create a green that’s just right for a pine forest or make a warm olive green by adding Quinacridone gold.

Sap Green

Sap Green looks pretty good right out of the tube, but you can easily create a wide array of hues by adding a yellow like Cadmium Yellow Light or Quinacridone Gold for lighter, yellow-green hues or add a blue for deeper, rich tones.

For all premixed green paints, it’s easy to tone down the vibrancy by adding a bit of red like Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Rose or Cadmium Red.

Yellow And Blue Make Green – And Don’t Forget Red

Some artists won’t have premixed greens on their palettes. That’s okay – some cooks wouldn’t think of having a cake mix in their pantry. I choose not to use premade black paint. I’d rather mix my own darks.

Even though I understand how to mix greens from primary colors, I sometimes like the simplicity and the color selection of premade greens. However, you shouldn’t rely on only tube greens for all your needs.

Each blue reacts with each yellow differently, so try each blue in combination with each yellow and gold in your palette. You’ll be able to make many shades of green with just a few tubes of paint.

Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine Blue is a warm blue that leans more towards purple than green. Use it with warm yellows such as New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold or Cadmium Yellow Deep to make warm, neutralized greens

Cadmium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow or Nickel Azo Yellow will provide yellowish greens. Since Ultramarine is a cooler, purple-tinged blue, the green colors made from Ultramarine Blue will not be as bright as when mixed with a warm blue hue.

Phthalo Blue

Phthalo Blue is cool blue. It has no red in it to neutralize or dull the color. Mixing it with a cool yellow like Hansa Yellow Light will reward you with bright, spring-like greens while mixing it with a red-tinted yellow like Cadmium Yellow Medium or Quinacridone Gold will give you a more neutralized, natural looking set of green tones.

These are just two of the most popular blues; you may have others in your taboret. You’ll be amazed at all the tones and values you’ll be able to produce with just what you have on your palette.

Now you just need to wait for spring to practice your new skill with some fresh leaves, spring meadows and some little plein air painting sessions!

Take Your Color Mixing To The Next Level


There are loads of color mixing books available if you want to really study color in depth. There are theory books and recipe books for basic color study as well as books dedicated to watercolor, acrylic and oil paints.

One thought on “Mixing Greens

  1. Some great tips for color mixing! Greens are definitely one of the harder colors to get right. And I really like your blog, I’ve been reading here for a while :)

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