Frustrated or Fearful of the Lovely Green Pigment On Your Palette?

6:44 AM

In a recent conversation, an artist shared she had just purchased a pre-filled watercolor palette and it only had one green pigment. Not only did it have only one green, she confessed, she didn't even like the color. She explained it was a very "fake green" not found in nature and she didn't think she could paint a garden whether it was her own, a cottage garden in England or a botanical garden like Selby.


Since she was new to art journaling, she was not ready to spend a lot of money on tubes of paint she wasn't sure she'd ever use. I get it. Setting up a custom palette can be an expensive undertaking when you go with quality grade watercolor pigments and it requires a commitment to invest in costly supplies. (If you're looking to try top artist grade paints without the big outlay of cash, consider an ImaginaryTrips.com palette here.)

Does this mean she (or you) can't paint a garden if you only have one green pigment on your palette and you don't even like the green?

Absolutely not!

A Simple Exercise
To learn more about the green pigment(s) on our palette, we need to have some organized fun! We need to play with all those pretty colors to see what happens when we start mixing them together. I say organized fun because we want to be able to replicate any successful mixes easily. and to do that, we need to make sure we label each and every mix. If we mix with abandon, we may or may not know which pigments combined to give us that fabulous now color.

For this exercise, I used a palette of eight pigments by Yarka White Nights or Gamma brand.

Step 1. Choose a shape and draw it out on a piece of tracing paper in pencil. Flip the paper over and trace the lines several times with pencil. I chose a leaf since I was playing around with greens. The shape itself is not so important as long as the shape can easily be divided into two parts and the shape is large enough to allow ample room for playing. (My leaf was approximately 1.5 inches long by 1.25 inches wide.)

Step 2. Either on a piece of watercolor paper or on a page in your journal, trace several shapes using the tracing paper as transfer paper. I scattered the leaves around the page, but the shapes could just as easily been in neat and tidy rows. I found it more entertaining to scatter the shapes.

Step 3. Choose a green pigment and paint it from light to dark in one leaf or shape. (Example 1) This is the base color and should be labeled as such. This shows how dark the pigment is when fully saturated as well as how light it is when it is diluted with water.
Example 1

Step 4. Choose another leaf and select one color to mix with the base green. The first color I chose was yellow. At the bottom of the leaf, I painted a small spot of green and a small spot of yellow so I could look and see at a glance the two pigments I used to achieve the greens within the shape. On the right side of the leaf, I started with the green at the top of the leaf and then the second color at the bottom. I let the two paints touch and mix in the middle of the leaf without help from me. This allows for both pigments to retain some of their original characteristics as well as to combine with a second color to make something new.

Step 5. For the other side of the leaf, I mixed the pigments together on the palette before painting the mix onto the paper. I call this homogenizing the paint because you eliminate most, if not all of the original pigments' personalities to form a new color. Because I was attempting to create greens, I pushed the new mix towards green whenever possible. I also lifted the paint on this side while it was still damp because sometimes the mixtures were more pleasing when they were not fully saturated.

Step 6. Once I ran through the eight colors on the palette, I started mixing two pigments to make green. I mixed yellow and blue to see what type of green I could make. Since I only had one yellow pigment, I then moved onto creating with three pigments by adding a touch of orange to the yellow to make an Indian yellow before mixing the color with blue and with green.

Other combinations I used were yellow and brown mixed with green, blue and violet mixed with green, red and yellow with blue...all in pursuit of finding pleasing green mixes.

Oh, What You Can Learn
Every mixture you create is not going to make a pleasing green, however, it may make a gorgeous gray or a moody black or a rich brown! Just because it didn't make green doesn't mean the new mix is not useful.

Look closely at the areas where the paint was lifted while it was still wet to determine if there may be a useful color not the paint is not at full strength. Make note of any combinations you dislike so you'll know to avoid that combination in the future. If there were any combinations that were especially pleasing, draw out a few more shapes and explore them further using more or less of each pigment to find out the range of the two or three pigments when combined.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
Many greens available on the market and in pre-filled palettes today are mixtures of greens and yellows. Occasionally, you'll find a green mix with orange, white, blue, or even violet pigments.

When you throw blue into a green mix that contains orange, what do think will happen? It will most likely turn to a grayed green as orange and blue are complements. If you have a green that has yellow in it and you add a bit of violet the results are likely to be gray as well.

Is it bad if it makes a grayer color? Oh no! Think about a foggy morning when everything is shrouded. Those grayed greens come in handy for shadows, foggy and overcast days.

Some palettes give you the composition of the pigments used to create each pigment and some do not. Even if the information is not provided, you can often tell if a pigment is a mixture depending on how it mixes with the other colors. Use this knowledge to avoid making mud!

Label, Label, Label!
Create a legend for your page if you create a page of mixes. Be sure to include the palette you were using as well as a small example of each pigment in its pure, unmixed state. Make notes as to which side was mixed and which side the paint was allowed to mix on the paper. I find dating the page to be helpful also. This information can be invaluable later when you're sitting in the meadow in England and want to paint the leaves of a Early Gentian.

And just so you know, there are few things more frustrating than going through old mixing sheets and seeing a mix you really, Really, REALLY like and you have no idea which pigments were used to make it. I'm sure you can guess how I happened to come by that experience! Don't be like me—label, label, label!

Last But Certainly Not Least
Just as this works for green, this exercise will work for any pigment on the palette. The exercise can be very handy when you're considering adding a new pigment to the ones your existing palette. If a pigment does not mix well with over half of the pigments I use on a regular basis, I typically will not add it to my palette as I know I won't use it.

As you begin exploring the pigments on your palette, I think you will quickly find there are far more possibilities than you thought possible. The time you spend playing with the pigments NOW will pay huge dividends later when you're out on location.

Up Next...
In the next post in this series, we're going to take what we learned in our mixes and start applying it to creating a garden!

Part 2 can be found here and Part 3 can be found here!

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6 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Great advise. You might even find a color combo you can't work without. :) Which to me is what the fun is all about.

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  2. I've stumbled across several combos like that, Lisa! And they almost all colors I wouldn't normally EVER mix together.

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  3. You make it sound like fun! I mix on the fly but have at times, wanted to recreate an exact color and then have to use a lot of paint and time to do it. If I can get my chaotic self to sit still for a bit, this is what I am going to do with my Yarka palette I bought and don't use. I still use your original palette you gave early on in your classes. It is an old friend now and I do almost all my journaling with it!

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  4. Great post Laurie. Fun idea and very informative! I can't wait to give it a try. I love the leaf theme.

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  5. What a great post! I learned from it, and I enjoyed seeing the combinations you created.

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  6. Yes, greens, they are maddening! I think most artists don't know how to deal with them. You're inspiring me: I'm going to make the color chart on my take-along sketching tiny-palette go-to greens.

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