There are two key aspects to this problem. First, we must learn to ignore our mind's rule of what the color should be and to learn to see the actual color before us. Second we must learn how to use our paints to achieve the color that we are actually seeing. Both aspects of the problem will be discussed in this post.
Let me digress briefly to give a recent personal example of how the mind can trick us in seeing the actual colors that are before us. I was taking a portrait class with Scott Nickerson, where I paintied the following portrait of Bre.
At the end of the series of sittings we were allowed to take a photo of the model. Below is my photo. I was shocked when I looked at my photo, as I was inwardly still believing that her hoodies was "really" a somewhat cool light gray. As you can see, my mind had really been playing a game with my perception!
I began by studying how master painters of the past handled the color green in their paintings. I particularly found the paintings of William merit Chase a wonderful example of how to handle the greens found in nature. Pictured are two examples of fields of tall grasses in the beach areas of Long Island.
One can just see all the variety of shrubs and grasses with various lighting conditions that can be found is a seaside meadow.
On the other hand lets consider a grass lawn. One might be tempted to think that a cut grass lawn would be uniform. However lets look at four examples of Chase's lawn paintings.
The challenge is how can we use our augmented modern color pallet of paints to realistically represent the exciting variations of green that are found in nature.
- Color Mixing
- Fan Brush Magic
The color mixing that I will be describing uses my augmented modern color pallet, pictured below. It consists of seven mixing colors, two tinting colors and two shading colors. The mixing colors consist of a warm and a cool version of red, yellow and blue, along with a green.
Similarly, the two blues have components of blue, green and violet. However the cool blue, Phthalo Blue/Green Shade, has more green and less violate. Whereas, the warmer blue, Anthraquinone Blue has more vile and less green.
As described in the Color Mixing section of the My Painting Methodology tab of this website, when two colors are mixed they take on the characteristic of the color compost that they share while the others tend to cancel each other out.
Therefore if you want to mix a strong green color you would choose the yellow and blue that have the largest component of green, Hansa Yellow Light and Phthalo Blue. A significantly less brilliant green will result if you mix the yellow and blue that have the smallest component of green, Hansa Yellow Medium and Anthraquinone Blue. You will see examples of this in the color mixing exercises pictured and described below.
Each spoke of the wheel therefore represents a specific hue or color. In addition there is a change in the chroma or intensity of the hue as you travel along any specific spoke of the wheel. The chroma of a color is a measure of the intensity or brightness/brilliance of a color. A high chroma color is a brilliant/ bright color and a low chroma color is a dull color.
The outside of the color wheel pictured above represents high chroma and the center of the wheel is low chroma. For example, on a red spoke of the wheel, the outer edge would be a brilliant red and as you move down the spoke toward the middle the hue would be come more an more dull with a lower chroma. in the case of the red spoke we would go from a bright red to a duller red to a red brown to a near black at the center.
The chroma of the colors in the augmented modern color pallet are shown in the diagram below.
This color wheel provides a unique understanding of color mixing. For any two colors positioned on the color wheel by their hue and chroma, mixtures of these two colors will fall on the line that connects the two mixing colors, as depicted on the color wheel below.
Below is an example of the mixtures on the lines connecting five external colors defining the boundary of the color gamut for the augmented modern color pallet.
Mixing Greens with the Augmented Modern Color Pallet
Phthalo Blue Mixtures
The chart below depicts mixtures based on the use of the Phthalo Blue and our two yellows.
As indicated in the above chart of paint mixtures, each of the mixtures has been tinted on the left hand side with titanium white and on the right hand side with zinc white. This is to provide examples of how tinting can raise the value of the mixed color. Note that the opaque titanium white tends to give the paint a somewhat chalky pastel characteristic. Whereas the transparent zinc white raises the value without a major impact on the hue.
Anthraquinone Blue Mixtures
Similarly, when the reds are added to the mixtures the resulting colors are also duller. This can be seen by studying the color weeks for the Anthraquione Blue mixtures shown below and comparing them with the charts for Phthalo Blue above.
Phthalo Green/Blue Shade Mixtures
Similar results are obtained when the mixtures are dulled with the two reds, as can be seen in the mixture chart above.
These mixtures are plotted in the color space of the four color wheels below.
The image below is my painting that set me off on this detailed study of "greens" which had always been problematic for me. The painting done in response to the source image presented at the beginning of this post and the customer's request for a different flower arrangement. As you can see the image contains a tremendous variety of greens. It is after all a motif in Ireland!
Studying the image below, you can find each of the families of greens in the above mixing charts. These mixtures were painted directly wet in wet on the canvas in many cases. However, some of the most exciting and delicate effects were achieved using the layering, glazing and fan brush techniques discussed below. This is particularly true in the optical effects achieved in the expansive "green" lawn. This will be discussed in detail.