How do you mix green? Everyone knows the obvious answer that blue and yellow makes green. Yes that’s true of course but there are a range of yellows and blues. Which ones make the best greens?
The human eye is particularly sensitive to the color green and most people can tell when a green looks wrong. If you like to paint landscapes, the chances are you’ll be using a lot of green.
It’s great to have the option to be able to mix any type of green you want, instead of buying tubes and tubes of pre-mixed greens. This post will tell you everything you need to know about how to to mix your perfect watercolor greens.
Ultramarine Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Cerulean Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Lemon Yellow: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Cadmium Yellow: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Paynes Gray: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Cold Press, 9″ x 12″, 140 pound Buy from Amazon
Let’s look at a range of greens and how to mix them.
How To Mix Warm & Cool Greens
The color green can easily overwhelm a painting. This is a problem that landscape painters have to deal with constantly. It’s important to be aware that while green is considered to be a cool color it can still have a warm bias i.e green becomes warmer as it leans towards yellow.
To mix warm greens simply use warm biased yellows and warm biased blues ( Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, New Gamboge) to mix cool greens mix cool biased blues with cool biased yellow (Lemon Yellow, Cerulean Blue)
So, it’s possible to have cool biased warms (E.G. Alizarin Crimson is warm color with a cool bias. i.e it has a bit of blue in it) and warm biased cools. Confused? hopefully you won’t be but if you are you can just forget all this and just follow the color mixing recipes that I’ll get into later.
Using Pre Mixed Greens: Sap Green, Pthalo Green, Viridian etc
You can buy pre-mixed greens (known as “Convenience” greens) but they tend to look a bit unnatural unless you tone them down by mixing them with other colors.
Muting Greens With Red
If your convenience green is a too overpowering you can tone it down by adding a little red to it. Red is the complement of green, meaning they are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
Adding more red will eventually cancel out the green entirely, resulting in a neutral grey.
Lets take one of those convenience greens that I mentioned earlier. Viridian is a very vivid green and quite difficult to use in the context of a non-tropical nature scene. However, if we add a little Cadmium Red to it, the Viridian becomes significantly less saturated.
How to Mix Vibrant Greens
In the painting of limes above, taken from my sketchbook. I needed a strong vibrant green for the limes and the leaves. To make the lime green stand out even more, I wanted to contrast it against a darker muted green.
To mix a vibrant lime green: Mix 50% New Gamboge with 50% Prussian Blue. You can add a higher percentage of New Gamboge compared to Prussian Blue and increase the amount of water in the mix in order to make it lighter.
Simply by varying the proportions of the mix ,the combination of New Gamboge and Prussian Blue will give you a wide range of possibilities.
To Mix Emerald Green: Mix 40% New Gamboge with 60% Prussian Blue
This mix is particularly vibrant because we’re mixing a warm yellow with a warm blue. Remember, for the most vibrant colors, it’s important to mix colors together that have a similar color bias. In this case New Gamboge is a yellow that leans towards red and Prussian Blue is a blue that’s close to Indigo. So it also leans towards red.
How To Mix Dark Greens
To mix darker greens, it doesn’t matter too much what yellow you use. I would tend to use a warm yellow like Cadmium Yellow or a cool yellow like Lemon Yellow with a dark blue such as Prussian Blue and a black or grey such as Paynes Grey.
To mix a dark mid green: Mix Prussian Blue with Cadmium Yellow and Paynes Grey. Paynes Grey is itself a mixture of blue and black, when mixed with Cadmium Yellow, the resulting green is a very dark rich green.
To Mix a warmer dark green: Mix equal proportions of New Gamboge and Paynes Grey.
Other combinations worth trying are New Gamboge and Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine with just a bit of Cadmium Yellow.
How to Mix Light Green
To mix light greens, use a light blue such as Cerulean Blue and a light, or mid yellow such as Lemon Yellow, or Cadmium Yellow. Any green can always be made lighter by adding more water to the mix . You can even just add a white such as Titanium White but be aware that adding white will make your greens more opaque.
How To Mix Forest Green
In a forest, there isn’t just one shade of green there are many and they range from light to dark and cool to warm. For instance, sunlight on grass will create a much warmer green. Because of atmospheric perspective, green hills will become more blue (i.e. cooler) as they recede into the distance.
Shadows will tend to be biased towards dark blues
Take a look at the mixing suggestions on the left
and try these combinations for forest greens.
Mix New Gamboge (NG) with a little Paynes Grey (PG) for a light green.
40% New Gamboge mixed with 60% Paynes Grey for a mid green.
Prussian Blue (PB) Mixed with equal parts Cadmium Yellow (CY) and Paynes Grey (PG) for dark shadows.
Try different combinations of Cadmium Yellow (CY) and Ultramarine.
How To Mix Sage Green
Sage Green is a muted grey/green. To mix this color try different combinations of Cerulean Blue mixed with Lemon Yellow and Paynes Grey
Alternatively Cobalt Blue and Lemon Yellow could work well for this too.
How To Mix Olive Green
I think when most people refer to Olive Green they are thinking about the color of olives in a jar rather than fresh ones, which are noticeably brighter (But I like the picture alongside better!). Like sage, olive green is a muted green but it can range from a dark green to a fairly light tone.
Mixing warm biased yellows with cool biased blues will tend to give you more muted greens as we saw before, those warms and cools tend to neutralize each other.
To mix a range of olive greens try experimenting with combinations of Lemon Yellow plus Paynes Grey and Cadmium Yellow. Alternatively, you could try combinations of Cadmium Yellow with Ultramarine and Paynes Grey as shown below.
How To Mix Sea Greens
The color of the sea will vary according to the color of the sky and the amount of vegetation in the water for more on this see my posts on painting seascapes and beaches in watercolor and my post on painting water but for some quick color recipes for sea greens take a look at the mixing guide below
That’s all for this post on how to mix greens in watercolor. For further study, try experimenting with other combinations of blue and yellow. See how far you can push the bias of your colors before they no longer make greens at all. For instance. I’ve found that Raw Sienna, a very warm biased yellow will make green but Yellow Ochre won’t as it just has too much red in it.