I enjoy Robert Genn's twice-weekly letter, and one of this week's is a subject most artists either struggle with or at the very least work extra hard at. It's about the color green, and how to tame it (he is talking about the landscape, but it will work in still life and florals as well). The approach he is talking about is something I've been doing for years, but I thought I would share his words as his explanation says it perfectly.
"July 2, 2013
Yesterday, Gale Courtney of Manson, WA, USA wrote, "I am not happy
trying to mix greens and want to know the secret! Your twice-weekly
letters make me scurry out to my studio and begin to paint--except for
trees, grasses and leprechauns."
Thanks, Gale. "Green" is a wide range of hues common in nature that have
been predestined to make painters turn to drink. To make matters worse,
green suffers from long-standing literary baggage; green trees, green
grass, green with envy, etc. These sorts of clichés can colour our
greens greener than they actually are. A good way to overcome green
literature is to try to paint the sunlit and then the shaded part of any
number of green leaves.
The first law of green is observation. You need to look long and hard
at that green thing and try to figure out its makeup in pigment. A
broad hint--not to be taken as universal--in nature, greens are often
loaded with orange. A good rule is not to squeeze out any green without
squeezing out a decent dollop of orange.
Unless your work warrants it, or you happen to be actually painting
leprechauns, emerald, Phthalo green and all the outrageous "Kelly"
greens should be taken down to the bottom of the garden and given to
the fairies. A duller green such as sap green, Jenkins green, Olive
green deep or Chromium oxide green should be front and center on your
palette. Further, excellent greens can be mixed using various yellows
and blues. Like a lot of things, you need to keep looking and doing to
get the hang of it.
Purples and roses such as Ultramarine violet and Permanent red violet
light are excellent neutralizers of loud greens. When used neat in the
same stroke with a loud green they provide beguiling colour excitement.
The great colourist Merlin Enabnit used to call this effect
Many instructors will point you to the colour theory systems of Albert
H. Munsell (1858-1918), Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1952), or Josef Albers
(1888-1976). Theirs is fascinating and highly valuable material, but
some of the best colourists I ever met knew nothing about these guys
until I started dropping their names. The art of colour mixing is mainly
a function of temperament and patience.
PS: "There is a logic of colors, and it is with this alone, and not
with the logic of the brain, that the painter should conform." (Paul
Esoterica: "Chromophobia" is not just a 2005 film featuring the Fiennes
family, it's actually a fear of colour manifested in some people and
most problematical when found in artists. I first became aware of it in
art school when I heard students and instructors say they "didn't like
red," etc. Green, it turned out, was the most offensive. For various
reasons, some of us hold prejudices about certain colours and these
prejudices may impede our use of them. Once identified as a prejudice,
a new and often exciting learning curve can begin. Even with green."
A few comments from me.....
As a pastel artist I find this approach to the color green both exciting and fairly easy to employ. Because we pastelists don't have to "mix" our colors, but rather just have to select the color from our already available palette, it's not quite as cumbersome to have to "think" about the color, then mix the color, then paint the color. We just have to think, pick and paint, and if it doesn't work, pick again, until we get the results we're after. Often times a color just screams to be picked up, our palette talks to us. Listen to your palette, sometimes it knows what it's talking about!