Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Green (Paint)

Happy St. Paddy’s Day, March 17, 2012

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I dug out my green color charts and contemplated the many shades and tones of green.

Terra Verte

Actually, greens are made with many more colors than green, mostly blues and yellows, and the variety is astonishing.

Green is a challenging color. Getting the right natural tone for a leaf or plant seems to be the biggest challenge I face. I guess that’s because although you might be able to squeeze a blue sky out of a tube, you can’t squeeze a natural green out a tube, you have to mix it. Therein lies the challenge; how much yellow, orange or brown is needed? Is it warm or cool? All my florals end up with some green, so it’s a perpetual juggling act.

In her book Color, a Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay says,

“[green]  has long been a difficult color to reproduce, and this most organic of colors–the color of grass and trees and fields–has in fact often been made traditionally from metal, or, to be more accurate, from the corrosion of metal.”

Here are three of my most used Greens, all Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour.

Terra Verte is a natural earth color, transparent,  delicate, and pale. It’s particularly good for underpainting flesh, with white and vermilion layered over it. I don’t use it much for foliage, it’s isn’t strong enough.


Viridian is made from hydrated chromium oxide, is very transparent and not that strong. When I combine it with the right yellow I can get a very realistic, natural leaf green. I use a lot of it.

Winsor Blue (GS)

Winsor Blue (Green Shade GS) isn’t a green at all (it’s blue), but you can see that it makes a whole lot of greens. The Winsor blues are made from phthalocyanine (some modern chemical product), and are incredibly powerful. A little dab goes a long way and I have to be careful not to blow up my color mixtures. You can see that even though I mixed this blue with yellows, it was hard to turn them toward green, the blue was that strong.

I’m big on painting color charts, in fact I just did a Naples Yellow and a Permanent Magenta one. You can see them at Naples Yellow and Permanent Magenta Color Charts. Plus there’s links to all my other color charts there as well.