Paint Schoodic

Join Carol L. Douglas at beautiful Acadia National Park, August 6-11, 2017. More details here!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mixing greens

There are many paths to the final destination, grasshopper. This is just one fast, easy route to mixing summer greens.
Mixed greens, in oils.
Here in mid-coast Maine, the fog and rain are finally releasing the leaves from their winter sheathes. Hints of green show in my lawn, and the hardiest perennials poke their noses through last year’s leaf litter. We are very close to painting greens again, in all their light, airy delicacy.

By June, we will be wrapped in a blanket of immature, emerald foliage. By August, the color will have settled into a deeper, more uniform tone. The only way to navigate this is to avoid greens out of a tube. A system of paired primaries gives you more options, avoiding the acidity of phthalo green, the weight of chromium oxide green, or the soul-sucking darkness of sap green.

Jennifer's exercise in mixing and modulating greens.
Michael Wilcox published a watercolor pigment guide called Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green. Well, of course they do, but his point was that there are many routes to the same destination. One of the most useful landscape greens is black and cadmium lemon or Hansa yellow. Of all the greens I mix, this and ultramarine with yellow ochre are the two I use the most.

In my experience, bad paint mixing causes paintings to go wrong faster than anything else. Constantly over-daubing to modulate the paint color distorts the original drawing and makes a grey mush. If you’re confident of the color, you can apply it fast and accurately.

Loren's exercise in mixing and modulating greens.
For the past two weeks, I’ve drilled my students on mixing color. These are simple exercises you can do at home.

I make my greens on a matrix, which I’ve shown you both mixed (at top) and on a chart (below). The two swatch charts were done in acrylics by students. I asked them to first mix greens according to the chart, and then mix the resulting greens with tints (meaning a mix of white and a color) of ultramarine, raw sienna, and quinacridone violet. What the specific tints were was unimportant; what mattered was how differently tints mix from white out of a tube.

Cadmium lemon can be substituted for Hansa yellow
The range of results is infinite. It depends on both the proportions you choose and the brand of paint you use. However, note that blue/black pigments are much stronger than the yellows. You need about half the amount of blue or black as you do yellow.

These are Benjamin Moore swatches but you can find similar colors in other brands.
The second exercise involves stopping at your local hardware store for a few paint swatches. These are Benjamin Moore brand, but you should be able to find similar ones elsewhere. There are two off-whites: one cool and one warm. There’s yellow, green, and two soft blues. Your assignment is to mix until you think you’ve hit the exact color. Then put a dot of it on the card to see how close you got. (If you’re working in watercolor, the dot goes on paper instead.)

Jennifer's neutral swatches.
I also had my students make neutrals using combinations of ultramarine blue with burnt sienna and raw sienna. I use ultramarine blue and burnt sienna as my standard dark neutral, because it can go to the warm or cool side depending on how it is mixed. These are also my go-to mixes for rocks and sands.