Is green ruining your acrylic paintings? (video)

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting,colour theory

Ballet rehearsal-Degas

Edgar Degas, Ballet Rehearsal, 1834 – 1917

Green paint is like peanut butter is for dieters, dangerously addictive.

I don’t quite know why, maybe the freshness, the feeling of a landscape, the memory of nature… whatever the reason it’s a bad one.

Step 1. If you buy a starter set of beginners paints throw away the green that is included (usually this is Emerald green or phthalo green.)

It is usually terrible and very unforgiving when trying to create harmonious colour in painting.

“Can’t I use it tone down red?, or use red to tone down green? I know about complementary colours, I’ve only just bought it, I can’t throw it away!”

You must.

Still got it?…

Why is green such a problem, and how can you solve it?

It is always tempting for a beginner to make the green brighter, add a little more yellow, a little brighter blue. In acrylics this can be especially dangerous because you have nothing for the paint to mix into to help tone it down.

A vivid green can be easy to mix but hard to balance.

You can help yourself tone down the green by:

1. Adding red to the green mix to mute it down.

2. Always try and mix greens from a mixture of two colours rather than premixed greens.

3. Try working on a warm ground, even pinkish to help balance the tone.

4. Paint in the Autumn!

How to make beautiful greens

Don’t use blue or bright yellow.

Well, not to start with, a good colour to start with is a yellow and a brown.

Below is a list of mixtures, starting from the dullest through to the most vivid and brightest green:

  • Burnt umber & Cadmium yellow light
  • Prussian blue & Yellow ochre
  • Ivory black & Cadmium yellow light
  • Ultramarine blue & Yellow ochre
  • Ultramarine blue & Cadmium yellow light
  • Phthalo blue (Green) & Cadmium yellow light
  • Phthalo blue (Green) & Hansa yellow (sometimes called Lemon yellow)

Don’t be scared of the Burnt Umber & Cadmium Yellow Light, it can be very useful in created a greenish undertone without going in too strong.

Some nice premixed greens:

If you have to use a premixed green there are some nice ones, I often favor the more muted tones.

Terre verte – very handy for toning down pinks in portrait painting. Often used in classical paintings as a undertone colour.

Green umber – appears very muted put can look surprisingly bright when juxtaposed with a warm red based image. (Using the effects of simultaneous contrast to your advantage)

Green gold – as a transparent glazing paint for acrylics this is great. I only usually use a small amount towards the end of a painting to help give areas the ‘wow’ factor. It it quite potent so can put your colour mixtures out quite quickly. A small amount is the key. Also nice in watercolours for creating ‘Turneresque’ paintings.

Viridian – Handy for oil painting, gives a deep green.

“This is a very beautiful permanent green, but very dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced painter for grass and trees. How many crimes has it not been responsible for on the canvases of the young landscape painter.”
Harold Speed, commenting on Viridian – taken from ‘Oil painting techniques and materials.’

Green is very easy to overuse and people often presume you can only produce bright, vibrant paintings with acrylics due to the overuse of bright greens in amateur painting.

The reality is when mixing greens with a more muted acrylic palette, the results can be fantastic and sophisticated.

In the above video I mix a selection of greens, with different blues to show you the huge variety of greens, depending on the blue used.

You might also like:

How your hairdresser can teach you to mix colour
The hidden hues of colour mixing
How to choose a basic colour palette for acrylic painting

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs Kim Browne October 28, 2011

LOVE THE GREENS – I think I need to buy some new paints though, have been using a beginners box for the last 2 years!
I really am excited about this as greens are a real hit and miss at times, and a lot of paint can be used in the process of reaching those beautiful tones.
THANK YOU

Reply

Will Kemp October 28, 2011

Hi Kim,
Greens can be tricky, especially when you add white into the equation!
Glad you’re enjoying the site and keep experimenting.
Will

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Sue October 30, 2011

Thanks for a really informative video Will, I found it extremely useful. I’ve been fretting about whether it’s ok to use black as a mixing colour and now you’ve answered that for me!

Reply

Will Kemp October 30, 2011

Hi Sue,
Black can be very useful in mixing colours, so much so that I’m about to put on a post called ‘The 3 myths of black paint’ this week.
Will

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Sue October 30, 2011

Brilliant! I’ll really look forward to that, it will be very timely for me. Thanks for all you share, it is so valuable to beginner artists and there seems to be so little else available online that’s written by professional artists with a proper appreciation of fine art.

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Will Kemp October 30, 2011

You’re welcome Sue. Glad it’s helping your paintings.
Will

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Linda October 31, 2011

Super. Fantastic tutorial. Thanks Will!

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Will Kemp November 1, 2011

Thanks Linda, hope it helped to understand mixing green paint,
Will

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Cindy March 22, 2012

Enjoyed your video clip on mixing green…I was especially looking to use a brilliant emerald green color for the painting I am starting.
I like doing landscapes so the info on mixing for natural tree hues was very interesting to me as well. Thanks

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Will Kemp March 22, 2012

Hi Cindy, Glad to hear you enjoyed the mixing green video, the natural tree hues can be really handy when painting landscapes to balance out your paintings,
Will

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John July 28, 2012

Dearest Will Kemp

Thank you for the quality and the amount of information coming out of your website. I am a primary school art teacher in Australia and discovered your website during the last school holidays. My ability to teach art (after 5 years in the art room) has just gone through a major revolution. Sorta like a seed in the desert waiting for some rain.

My students are now developing a meta-cognitive approach to art based on the left/right brain theory in drawing and our adventures in colour mixing over the past few weeks has had siblings preempting the lesson based on what older or younger brothers or sisters have told them at home.

We have all learnt quite a bit and my own work is improving. I look forward to doing one of your drawing courses as part of my schedule of professional development.

Kindest regards

John

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Will Kemp July 28, 2012

Hi John,

What a lovely comment to receive! Brilliant to hear that the videos and articles have been helping your students (and yourself) learn about painting and drawing. I’m currently putting together a ‘success stories’ page of students achievements through following the lessons so feel free to email any of your own work ( or your students) to help inspire other budding artists!

Looking forward to seeing you on the drawing course, say hello to the class from me.

Thanks,
Will

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Jackie Gaul September 15, 2012

After I enter this I’m off to make a color chart of greens similar to your video so that I have a reference on hand! I have been looking for a sankir/proplasmo to use in icon painting and was getting very frustrating. Could not find what I was looking for. Your web site on green mixing gave me the answer. Actually it gave me multiple base tones to try. Which is great because not everyone has the same flesh tones, so neither should the paintings. With these various green tones (not the yellow with phthalo blue) an attempt to do verdaccio style paintings is going to start. Loved the web site. Thanks for the inspiration!!

Reply

Will Kemp September 16, 2012

Hey Jackie,
If you are after a ‘Verdaccio green’ the mix was even more muted than in my video and was traditionally created from a mixture of Mars Black & Yellow Ochre.
Hope this helps your icon painting,
Thanks,
Will

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John October 25, 2012

‘The value of teaching children (and grown ups) colour bias’

A five year old student just came up to me in the art room and and said he couldn’t make a good green cos I only gave him warm yellow! I nearly fell over. The colour mixing lesson was weeks ago. The students are currently debating what colours make what colours as they paint….very funny listening.

thanks again for the all information Will.

john
ps: the drawing course is apples too!

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Will Kemp October 25, 2012

Ha, ha, your teaching is working well John! That’s brilliant, really pleased it has helped the students get to grips with colour.

Cheers,
Will

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Faisal Alajmi November 3, 2012

Hi,
Thank you very much, the information is very helpful for me

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Sue dee November 11, 2012

Hi Will Just found your web site Wonderfully easy to follow colour mixing greens. thanks so much !!!

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Will Kemp November 11, 2012

Hey Sue,
You’re welcome, so pleased the video has helped. Greens can be tricky!
Will

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Malone A. Samuels February 27, 2013

Will,
Thanks so much for sharing your vast knowledge! Not only is it excellent theory, it is of great practical value when actually painting.
You are an excellent artist and teacher.
-Malone

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Will Kemp February 27, 2013

Thanks very much Malone, pleased you’re finding rhe tutorials helpful.

Cheers,
Will

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Ron March 11, 2013

Hi, thanks for the info Will
I haven’t tried mixing my own green yet…..But I wonder what is the green paint for if I shouldn’t use it?

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Will Kemp March 12, 2013

Hi Ron, you can still use it, just with extreme caution! Just try to start with mixing your own muted greens rather than jumping straight for the pre-mixed green, your paintings will look a lot more professional due to this simple change.

Cheers,
Will

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john March 13, 2013

Excuse me for being presumptuous Mr Will, but may I suggest some of Camille Pissarro’s landscapes, particularly from Eragny, as very useful examples of muted greens. Here in Ozz ‘Washing day at Eregny’ is a great example. This work is at Queensland’s Art Gallery in Brisbane. I found that one really helpful after viewing your tutorial! Recently, similar Pissarro’s were in the NGV’s Pointillism exhibition.
Regards John

Reply

Will Kemp March 13, 2013

Hi John,

Thanks for the comment, I could only find a small thumbnail image of ‘Washing day at Eregny’

Pissaro is a good painter to look at though, This painting ‘A Corner of the Meadow at Eregnyshows a lovely selection of muted green within the composition.
Cheers,
Will

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john March 13, 2013

yikes! sorta hoping that thumb nail wouldn’t be found due to its acid green glow. I clicked onto images for ‘wash day’ The Tate example works yes. The mrs, the kids
and I are planning our museum /gallery tour – Rome to London and places in between by train for next northern winter. Look forward to gelato and sketches!

Maybe a bit cold for gelato though.

regards

Reply

Will Kemp March 14, 2013

It sounds like your trip will be a real inspiration.

Never to cold for ice cream John! In fact today we’ve had snow and I’m heading to London to indulge in Gelato at the weekend!

This is my top tip for one of the best icecreams in London also going to try La Gelatiera for the first time, can’t wait.

Cheers,

Will

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Ann March 28, 2013

Thanks Will,
This was a very informative video and very helpful. I liked all of the four types of mixing but my favourite was phthalo blue with yellow, the colours really sang. Best wishes, Ann in South Australia.

Reply

Will Kemp March 28, 2013

Hi Ann,

Thanks for dropping by and really pleased you found the green mixing helpful,

Cheers,

Will

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Michel Decré April 7, 2013

Dear Will,
I’ve been drawing from nature, sketching, and occasionally using water soluble neocolour pastels for colour drawing, but never really dared the step into painting. Yesterday I decided to go for it, and discovered your website. I have to thank you warmly for the most didactic, user-friendly, and complete set of instructions and guidelines that I could ever have dreamed of. The fact that you spent so much time setting up all those detailed free videos commands universal thanks.

I have one question: being in the Netherlands, I use Talens/Amsterdam acrylics, and mixing burnt umber with cad yellow light hasn’t produced the greenish tints that you demonstrate: the range I get stays brownish. They probably don’t use the same pigments as Golden… Do you have any suggestion ? I’ve been struggling with greens for so many years using watersoluble neocolour II, that I’m really very excited at finally getting greens that are closer to what my eyes see in nature :D

Thanks, Michel

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Will Kemp April 8, 2013

Hey Michel,

Thanks for your kind comments and great to hear you’re stepping into painting for the first time.

When mixing Burnt umber with Cadmium yellow the result is a brownish green, however, the yellow pigment strength from Talens isn’t as punchy as the Golden, also they wouldn’t have as high pigment load.
To fix this, you can either increase the yellow opacity by using an artist quality paint, or increasing the blue (this in simple terms will make it greener) in the mix, I would add a tiny touch of Ultramarine blue until you get the tone you’re after.

The other consideration:
Are you viewing the colour in isolation (on a piece of white paper) or in the context of other colours? as this can drastically alter the perception of the colour, it’s called ‘colour constancy’ and changes depending on it’s neighbouring colour.

I hope this helps,

Will

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Michel Decré April 12, 2013

Hi Will,
Thanks for your friendly reply.
I am indeed mixing on white. I’m working on my first composition of our garden, and started from yellow ochre as you recommend, sketching burnt umber and whites first to build the contrast :)

I can’t seem to find the course or video back where you talk about using different palette background colours to compensate for our colour perception biases. Can you point me to the right place please ?

Thanks, Michel

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Will Kemp April 13, 2013

Hi Michel, you’re welcome. It might have been this post where there is a video of the effects of simultaneous contrast of colours.

Cheers,
Will

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Bec October 11, 2013

Hi Will
I’m fairly new to painting (started in my late 40s) and am totally self taught. I love using acrylics and LOVE bright colours and do mainly abstract pictures. I laughed out loud when I read this post! Why? Because I use sooo much green in my paintings!!! I guess to you they will look very amateur but believe it or not I sold my first painting last month (which was the 7th painting I’ve done) and guess which was the predominant colour? Phthalo green LOL!!! How funny is that? The only problem I had working with green was how hard it can be to get it to flow – it’s so thick.
Nevertheless, I have listened to your advice (and I DO value it) and will definitely continue to experiment.
I LOVE your site and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing all your knowledge and expertise.
Many hugs x

Reply

Will Kemp October 11, 2013

Hi Bec,

pleased the article struck a chord! really pleased you’re enjoying the site and bright green!

Cheers,
Will

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patricia January 23, 2014

This video was truly helpful! Thank you!

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Will Kemp January 23, 2014

Good one Patricia.
Cheers,
Will

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Angela February 2, 2014

I think this will be a huge help for me. I do a lot of houses/landscapes for people with quite a bit of grass and trees and have had the hardest time getting the green. I just threw out 5 half-full tubes (gulp) of premixed green paint and I’m starting again with the list you give.

I’m currently working on a large acrylic painting of Big Sur/Bixby Bridge and the angle I’m using has a ton of green & brown and I think this will help. Do any of one of your tutorials help with the detail on grass/plants or rocks? Thanks!

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Will Kemp February 3, 2014

So pleased to hear it Angela, I haven’t got any specific tutorials on painting details of grass and plants, but hoping the new green mixes are helping with your paintings.

Cheers,

Will

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Sallie nardone February 6, 2014

Am so thrilled to know about your web site! The tutorial on greens is wonderful! Am just getting back into painting with oil and have forgotten much of the color theory. I have several paintings of garden scenes in mind for my future work and adore greens, therefore, can’t wait to experiment with your combinations of color. My best to you. With appreciation, Sallie Nardone

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Will Kemp February 6, 2014

Hi Sallie,

Thanks for your kind comments and really pleased you’ve been finding the colour mixing tutorials helpful, good luck with your new mixes!

Cheers,

Will

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Jana March 11, 2014

Hi Will, I’ve been reading your articles on color mixing, very helpful, thank you! I have a question though, I don’t use acrylic, I use oil paints. I’ve been watching some tutorials from Dennis Sheehan (he paints landscapes) and his two colors that he uses the most are phthalo green and transparent oxide red. Of course he mixes it with other colors. Yet you say that phthalo green should be thrown away. Are you talking specifically about acrylic phthalo green? I do have very good results with this paint too (in oil). But not straight from the tube of course.

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Will Kemp March 12, 2014

Hi Jana, throwing your Phthalo Green out is a turn of phrase, you can of course create fantastic paintings using Phthalo Green – in the right hands. You just have to be aware of how intense it can be when you’re first starting landscapes as it can very easily throw your mixes out due to the high tinting strength of the pigment. This is the same with acrylic or oils.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Jana March 12, 2014

Hi Will, thank you for the clarification, it makes sense. :)

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Lu States March 16, 2014

i really liked the one made with the black ” set “. black was not a colour i bought using one of your begginers guides. so having no black, how do i make those greens ? make a black first….i’m confused ……..

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Will Kemp March 18, 2014

Hi Lu, just mix the Ultramarine blue and Burnt umber and you will have a black you can use.

Cheers,
Will

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