Finding Effective Greens to use in Landscape Painting

Judith Reeve, “Hazy Morning, High Meadow,” 16 X 22, oil, 2022

For the last few months, I have been experimenting with a new series of greens on my landscape palette. There are innumerable greens in a multitude of variations in the landscape of the Catskills where I live. Each tree has its individual quality of green due to its species. One can visually pull out a specific tree on a forested hill by its value of green and the color intensity of that green. The ground plane also has an acidic yellow-green so evident in the Northeast. It is a challenge to set all these greens down on the canvas in a satisfying relationship that speaks of one’s emotions in that moment and the phenomena of experience before one’s eyes.

Paint has its limitations. Pigment can only give you a mere reflection of the color and variety of nature before you. It can only act as a correspondence to your visual experience, and the artist is never completely satisfied with this transference. The painting can only serve as a signifier, a place setting of that wholistic intimacy of that painting moment.

Still, the artist must study how to get the variety of colors necessary to translate nature. And for me, greens in the landscape are some of the most challenging colors to mix and then later feel satisfied with. I found from experience that those intense yellow greens, present everywhere on the East Coast in summer, are vexing upon post-completion of the image. So in June, I attempted to increase the range of my green mixes, seeking a variety in color temperature, and intensity. Here are some of my experiments.

Judith Reeve, “Landscape Greens with semi-neutrals,” oils, 2022

Above is a chart I created to assist with my landscape painting. If you look at the top line, I have created a series of greens moving from YG, G 1, G 2, G 3, to GB. I made the mixes by combining Indanthrene blue (W&N) + Yellow [Azo yellow lemon (Old Holland’s, Scheveingen yellow lemon) + some raw sienna] at full intensity. This Indanthrene blue is new for me, and I chose it this season because it appears as a more true blue than Ultramarine, and it is also more intense like Prussian blue. The samples of these colors appear on the top line, right.

In the right column, I have placed a series of colors descending from P, BP, B Hue to R. These colors are a little difficult to see as pure colors, but one can see the changes they create in the rows. Notice that the P, BP, B Hue, and R each contain some amount of red, the complement to the green. It is relatively easy to get high-intensity greens but extremely challenging to get greens that are semi-reduced in intensity but remain visually vital. If one just uses red to get these semi-neutrals, you end up with a minimal range of color temperature.

To understand this chart, I have taken each high-intensity green along the top line and mixed it with one of the colors in the right column. Each column of green displays the semi-neutralized mixes as that green descends toward its complement of red. For example, G 1 appears at full intensity on the top line; G 1 + P [Ultra. + PR 264 + Cad. R] on line 2; G 1 + BP [Ultra. + PR 264] line 3; G 1 + B Hue [P + G] line 4; G 1 + R [Mars red] line 5.

Through my practice, I found that the mixes generated below the G 2, G 3, and GB were excellent. The most valuable combinations for the summer landscape have been G 2 +P; G 2 + BP; G 3 + P; G 3 + BP; G 3 + R. The GB combination helped add variety to my darks, especially the GB + P and the GB + R. But now that the green in the trees is waning and fall has set upon the landscape, I am using more of the BP combinations, including the YG + BP and G 1 + BP (and G 1 + P). As the leaves turn to reds and golds, I find myself adding VR to many of my greens, creating another row of green mixes that is presently not on my chart.

What the chart has done for me is open my mind to new mixing triangulations. I had probably mixed many of these combinations before, but because I have made it conscious, my mixing has been more directed and accurate to my lived experience before nature. Plus, I am more satisfied post-painting with the harmony in my color arrangements.

If you love to experiment as I do, consider a Zoom session with me, and I can assist you with color mixing or another element of your painting practice. Use the contact page to get in touch. Enjoy painting!

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.