I just finished teaching a five-day plein air workshop at MISSA (Metchosin International Summer School of Arts). I had amazing students who painted diligently every day. One of their challenges was painting summer greens! Snuggled into a corner of the Pacific Northwest, the location of this art retreat is top heavy with trees both evergreen and deciduous, all coloured in an assortment of summer greens.
How do I deal with summer greens? I paint in layers. I first lay down the big shapes I’ve determined in my thumbnail: three values (light, middle, dark) in three colours. When painting summer greens, I like to underlay them with warm or cool violets and sometimes colours from the orange side of the colour wheel.
I had students do some practice work, trying various purples and oranges under whatever greens they had in their palettes. Often the greens in starter sets can be fairly high chroma and too unreal for use in a landscape painting just as they are. So layering greens over violets and oranges will transform the greens into something more easily workable in the green summer landscape. The main thing to remember is to layer colours of the same values.
Let me take you through my demo first. I wanted to show a scene of greens and how to deal with it, colour-wise, value-wise, and simplifying-wise.
Here are the three colours used for underpainting:
Back in the studio, I made a few tweaks. And here it is finished…
And in black and white…
Let’s look at a wee bit of theory. Greens, oranges, and violets form a triad on the colour wheel. Have a look below:
When we use the three primary colours together, we always create some form of grey. If we use two secondaries together, we are doing the same thing since each secondary is made up of two primaries. So in fact, when we overlay a green over a violet or an orange, we’re creating a form of grey.
However, in pastel layering (as opposed to say oils or acrylics), we don’t crush the pigments together so each colour still has a voice and speaks to us through the layers.
Also, since each pastel is created from uneven amounts of the primary colours, when we layer, we won’t get a perfect grey (thankfully!). Rather we see a colour that is muted and leans slightly (or moderately) towards grey but retains some of the flavour of each of the original colours.
Let’s look at these base colours with greens over them.
I had students do this exercise so they could see themselves, the change in the greens, and also so they could explore the possibilities of various greens over violets and oranges as a way to deal with painting summer greens.
As I was writing this blog, I remembered that Albert Handell had talked about the challenge of painting summer greens in the IAPS interview I made in 2017. Here it is:
I know that Richard McKinley also talks about using purples and oranges with greens to make them look more natural in the landscape. I found this article by him on the subject.
And that’s it for me! Please let me know if this was helpful information about painting summer greens or if you have questions. Just leave a comment below. I LOVE hearing from you!!
Until next time,
PS. One of my MISSA students snapped me while I was teaching…..
Here’s the colour wheel I use in combo with value finder: