How To Mix Perfect Greens in Watercolor

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.

Materials List

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

Paper

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.

Colour Wheel Showing Complementary Colors

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.

Muting greens with red

How to Mix Vibrant Greens

Sketchbook page of watercolour Limes

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.

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How To Mix Dark Greens

Colour mixing recipes for dark green watercolours

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.

For more on color mixing and the color wheel. Please see this post.

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

Colour mixing recipes for a watercolour palette of forest greens

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 Photo

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

Olives Photo

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.

Colour mixing recipes for a watercolour palette of olive greens

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

Colour mixing recipes for a watercolour palette of olive greens

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.

Green colour mixing chart for watercolour

7 thoughts on “How To Mix Perfect Greens in Watercolor”

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for such details, step by step including % of each color in the mix. I have rarely come across instructions like yours for beginner

  2. Thanks a lot for this article. Instructions and pictures are great! Was wondering: a lot of people talk about getting “mud” when they mix 2 or more colors. I’m guessing that means that you wind up with a color that is opaque or near opaque, but not really sure. What qualities in a mixed color would make you qualify it as mud, and are there any “rules” to prevent mixing mud (or is it just a matter of experimenting and seeing what happens)?

    Also, I had been wondering if it was useful to have Viridian and Paynes Gray on hand, and thanks to this article, now I know.

    Thanks again for the article and the website. I’m just getting ready to check out the article on line and wash (watercolor and ink), which I’ve been wanting to try, as I love the style of it.

    Kate

  3. Love this tutorial. Never realised how many greens I could have. Going to experiment. Thank you so much.

    1. Definitely, this wasn’t meant to be comprehensive, only to expand your options, give it a try and see what happens

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