How to Paint Landscape Greens

A grid of greens using warm and cool blues and yellows. Lisa Marder

It seems to happen overnight sometime in May in New England.  Suddenly the world, which was once various shades of gray, changes to a feast of greens, punctuated by an array of other colors as new leaves emerge, grass rejuvenates, and flowers bloom.  It never ceases to amaze me.  In June the leaves have matured and greens are all around, even reflected in puddles and water.  How do you capture all that green?

Where do you start? You can start by learning a little bit about color and color mixing.

There are many greens that can be made by mixing together the primary colors of blue and yellow. These greens can vary dramatically depending on the blues and yellows you combine and in what ratio.  Greens will be cooler, or warmer, depending on the proportion of blue to yellow. Cool colors contain more blue, warm colors have more yellow.  Even blues and yellows themselves can be cooler or warmer.  For example, Ultramarine Blue is cooler than Cerulean Blue. Cadmium Yellow Medium is warmer than Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow.

Read about how to create your own color wheel using the warms and cools of each primary color.

Exercise Mixing Green From Blues and Yellows

Here's an exercise that will help get you started familiarizing yourself with mixing greens. I suggest setting aside some time to experiment rather scientifically with a variety of blues and yellows in varying permutations, making a chart to which you can refer as you're painting in your studio or out in the field.

 Use it until painting greens becomes intuitive to you.  

Start with a basic grid of nine, with blues along the top, and yellows along the side, as in the image shown. You'll be mixing different combinations of the blues with the yellows:  cool with cool, warm with warm, warm with cool, and vice versa.

You're going to try to make the purest green that you can from the particular blue and yellow that you are using. Remember to slowly add small amounts of the darker color to the lighter color until you get the desired hue.  Adding too much or adding the lighter color to the darker one might leave you with more paint than you want.

Blues to use:  Cerulean Blue (warm), Ultramarine Blue (cool), Light Blue Permanent, Cobalt

Yellows to use: Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm), Lemon or Zinc Yellow (cool), Naples Yellow

Once you have your grid of nine, you might want to experiment with different hues of green by changing the ratios of the blues and yellows you're using, and then see what you get by tinting the color (adding white), shading it (adding black), and toning it (adding gray). Read Tints, Tones, and Shades to find out more.

You can also use Yellow Ochre or Yellow Oxide with different blues for a toned down green. As you can see, you can create a large number of greens from only a few different yellows and blues. 

Mixing Greens Using Other Colors

You can also mix a variety of complex greens from a few other colors. You can use black mixed with Cadmium Yellow for a great dark landscape green (depending on the ratio of black to yellow), or Burnt Umber mixed with Cadmium Yellow for a muted, earthy green.

Watch How to Mix Green Acrylic Paint from Will Kemp Art School. 

And of course, you can always buy green from a tube. Greens such as Chromium Oxide Green, Hooker's Green, Viridian, or Sap Green are useful.  Try them out, see how close they are to the greens you've mixed. If you want to tone down your tube green you can always add the opposite color, which would be a bit of red, or some Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber to neutralize it.

Try different combinations of colors to create greens and record them in your sketchbook. Green can be tricky, but the more you experiment and try different color combinations in varying ratios, the more control you will have and the better able you will be to capture just the right landscape green! Then try your hand at painting a landscape of greens.