Mixing Greens part 2


Armand Cabrera

I’m going to continue with my article on greens and break down some ways of approaching mixes for green. People wrote to me asking about mixing and that they had problems with getting the appropriate green for their paintings.

Let’s talk about some broad ideas first that apply to all color not just green. Everything is relative to the colors and values next to it. When painting outdoor scenes you have to limit the range of color and value to what is available to you in paint. You can’t copy colors and values natures has many more at its disposal than pigment does.

 Knowing this, you have to get used to thinking about translating what you see not copying it. You must use  a key for your painting. Just like a key in music, a key in painting allows you to structure the color and value of your painting to conform to certain restrictions; these restrictions are part of the basic design. This applies to green as a hue and how it will interact in the larger scheme of the painting.  The local colors of all the objects must be shifted to conform to the effect of the light.

When we key the painting for color what we are talking about is limiting its range for color in the lights and the shadows. We are designing the colors to fit into a believable limited arrangement of hues that represents the scene we are trying to depict.

Outdoors you have two great sources of light, sunlight and sky light.  The sunlight falls in parallel rays affecting everything in its path. Sky light which is weaker than sunlight, affects everything not directly affected by the sun. Sunlight is usually considered warmer than sky light and so shadows have a relatively bluish cast to all the colors within the shadow area when compared to those same colors in sunlight.

How does this affect green? The strength of the color of the sunlight shifts all of the colors including green. Sometimes greens appear olive or even orange to the eye even though we know them to be green. By observing the local color relationships of the scene we can see how the sunlight affects those local colors and key them accordingly. All the aspects of color change under these shifts not just the hue but also the chroma and value. To mix your green properly you have to paint the color as it appears not force the green hue into the key when it doesn’t belong there.

When I mix a color I always look at its relative components to the colors around it. I always start with its value and where its value fits in the painting as a whole. My next step is to determine its hue. When mixing a particular green I compare its hue to the other hues around it to determine how it relates in the spectrum. Is it more blue, red or yellow than surrounding hues?

Even if those surrounding hues are other greens, each green will appear slightly more blue, red or yellow than the others.  If that difference is important enough for me to single out for its inclusion then I use it to help get me to the proper color note. The last thing I check my mix for is its proper chroma, its relative grayness to the colors around it. If all of these steps are completed properly I move one step closer to finishing the painting.

 This is why I say paintings are ruined at the start by not getting that first correct note down. Just like music if you start on the wrong note it throws every other note into disarray and the painting fails because of it. 

Each correct color note helps me solve the next notes until the painting is completed to my satisfaction.

 All paintings by Armand Cabrera

6 thoughts on “Mixing Greens part 2

  1. One technique I apply is to hold the loaded brush (in a perfectly lit situation) and compare it to the area that I'm working on. If it matches my current aim then I can turn to the canvas. (Certainly I would also apply more observed orange/blue/grey of the neighbor, to it's neighbors.)

    But, thinking of a situation where maybe there's little time to paint a scene before the sun goes down etc, couldn't a painting's key generate itself, with the held up brush technique, through rapid re-adjustment to the target color? Maybe this would be better in paintings without sky, or extreme values.

    A quirky analogy could be accurately replicating in two dimensions a large scene in front of us without understanding the rules of perspective.

    Great blog BTW.

  2. Armand – there is a lot of information packed into this post. Was wondering if you took pictures of any of these scenes before or during the time you painted them? That might help to understand what you chose to include in the painting and also show how you limited your range of hues; how you keyed the painting.
    Also, there is one sentence that maybe you could say another way that I'm really trying to grasp. "To mix your green properly you have to paint the color as it appears not force the green hue into the key when it doesn't belong there." Maybe an example would clear it up. I know that I pulled that sentence out of context, but I think it is at the crux of what you are trying to convey, but the way it is stated isn't getting through. I must be misunderstanding that sentence because it seems to contradict what you were saying about keying your greens. Maybe this can wait until Athens and you can show/tell me then.

  3. great post, but I have to read this many times just for it soak in , then miles of canvass to apply it , thanks I think ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.