Greens in the Landscape

by Armand Cabrera

Green seems to be one of those colors that thoroughly baffles most artists. They tend to overstate their greens or paint them too similar, killing any chance for interest and a sense of light. I thought with spring slowly coming back to most of the country I would offer some tips on tackling green in your landscapes.

First get rid of any green pigment on your palette. The best way to make a green is to mix it. Second forget about approaches that add red or some other color as an undertone to your canvas. Its just sloppy, formulaic and heavy handed like using a chainsaw to prune your flowers. With three blues, two reds and two yellows and white on my palette I can mix any color I need.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know I hate formulas and any formulaic approach to painting. It is the same with greens, but there are some real world observations I can offer that might help you to see the variety and interest in your greens when painting the landscape.

Take the time to observe how things grow. As plants and trees produce new foliage the old stuff wilts and eventually dies and falls to the ground. As it does this it goes through hue changes that are observable. New growth tends to be lighter and brighter than mature leaves. It also has the greatest hue shift for the greens except in fall. Some trees and plants actually have new growth that is pink orange, red, yellow or violet and this color is slowly replaced by the green of the mature leaves.

There is a point where the leaves no longer produce green and they start towards the color they will be in fall. This gradual change happens for weeks before the big fall color change that takes place in a matter of days as the tree or plant prepares for winter. Most of this change takes place at the outer edges of the trees or plants and the cores are usually made of limbs and trunks.

Look for opportunities to design compliments and other colors in a natural way into the green landscape. This is important because more than anything what causes a paintings failure is a lack of thoughtful design.

Good design starts with good selection of the elements to create the image. Follow this with intense observation of those elements and careful simplification of them, removing extraneous information that detracts from idea behind the painting.

Pay close attention to the abstract geometric planes of the forms for value and temperature shifts. Note the different hues of the various species you are observing. Use edges to describe the character and line of action all things have that give them individuality.

A thoughtful approach trumps a formula any day of the week. Use observation and design to control your greens and stop them from controlling you.

Mixing Greens part 1

By Armand Cabrera

People always ask me about mixing greens for my landscape paintings. Some people have trouble with the color green. The biggest problems are inappropriate saturation and hue.  Many times artists get their green too blue shifted for landscape painting. There is this old myth that green paintings don’t sell. I know this to be untrue because I sell them all the time. I would change the old myth to this “bad green paintings don’t sell. “

Here are some things you can do to keep your greens lively and believable.

Mix your greens from yellow and blue and don’t squeeze it from a tube. This is the fastest way to learn how to mix pleasing greens especially if you use a limited palette like the three primary colors or a warm and cool of each primary only. These palette restrictions will force you to make choices about how to depict the greens you see in the landscape. What you will quickly discover is how to make colors that appear green relative to your other color choices in the painting.

Think of green as a color key for the whole landscape that way you will paint variations on a theme of green with some being darker, some  lighter, and some shifted all along the spectrum of color but still effectively green. Side by side they would appear more red, yellow, blue, orange, or purple in comparison to each other but when isolated way from other greens they would still retain their green hue relative to other hues.

Look for opportunities to introduce color harmonies into your painting in the appropriate places to help add interest to your greens.  If used in a thoughtful, deliberate way this can be very effective and increase the sense of complexity to your color masses.
All images by Armand Cabrera

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

Mixing Greens Part 3

Armand Cabrera
Spring is officially, if not actually here for most of the country and I thought I would talk about green paintings again.  To read my first posts on tackling green in the landscape go here.
I am going to talk about a philosophical approach to painting green which is a little different from my other posts on the subject. While this approach works for any type of painting it is particularly helpful when you are dealing with scenes that are very monochromatic in nature. Let’s talk about what can make green look different to the viewer.
Local color
The actual hue can be different between different groups of flora this just requires a little observation to confirm.
The color of the Lighting
Light coloring is a little trickier. The color of direct, ambient and reflected light can alter the appearance of greens that have the same local color.
Light Direction
It’s not just the color of the lighting that affects the appearance of things; it’s also the direction of that lighting. One of the properties of plants is their translucency which raises the saturation of the color.The angle of light will affect the hue and chroma of the green you are seeing.
Add these situations together and you can see it requires careful observation. In my opinion painting is not mimesis and good painting reveals a truth to the observer. The artist chooses the important aspects of a scene to arrive at a statement. It is that process of selection and simplification that creates a powerful artistic point of view.  Ignoring the subtle and finer effects lessens the impact of a painting. This has nothing to do with details and minutia and everything to do with sensitivity.
A good way to quickly determine some of these points is to approach viewing the landscape with the idea of geometric planes. In a broad sense the geometry of the scene in relation to the angle of the light determines how the light affects things. Add the information you have from the color of the light and the local color of objects and you have a fair starting point for deeper observation.
 Start with the lighting; this gives you a quick idea of the scene, front lighting, form lighting, rim lighting and back lighting. Then look for the division between light and shadow. Next you have the smaller divisions of ground plane, top planes, angled planes and upright planes. This underlying structure allows you to sum up the view quickly giving you more time for a more sensitive look as you paint. You are working from a broad understanding to a very refined observation of the subtle differences before you to place emphasis where it is needed.

Mixing Greens Part 4


Armand Cabrera

I’ve covered mixing greens for landscape paintings in earlier posts but I still have some advice that can help you capture the greens of spring and summer and make successful paintings.

When you have a painting that has one color that dominates the image design becomes essential. When you restrict your color choices you must find other ways to add interest. Design becomes more important to the success of your painting.

One way to add design is using a series of rhythmic shapes and weave them through the painting. Rhythmic not repetitive, repetitive shapes call too much attention to pattern while rhythmic shapes have similar qualities of shape but are not exact copies. Their attributes change over the sequence to create movement and flow. You do this by changing the size, direction of the marks and their shape slightly from one stroke to the next.

Another way is to use paint calligraphy varying the qualities and thickness of the paint from thin passages that just stain the canvas with color to areas of thick impasto that pull the eye toward them.

Varying the level of detail is another effective tool for an artist. The center of interest can be controlled and information rich while less important areas can be simplified to represent just their essential characteristics.

The last thing to do is allow the painting to have some counterpoint to the overall color of the image, In a green landscape painting this could be the shadow colors, the sky or some other feature that is designed to break up the greens while retaining the superficial sense that what you are viewing is a green landscape.