Working with Greens

Still life study, 9×12 in., oil alla prima painted from life
Work in progress, still life study, 9×12 in. oil alla prima on canvas

The two studies above were part of my demonstrations on working with greens. I set up a still life comprised mainly of green objects. The key to working with greens is variation–the greens in the set up range from cool blues to warm yellow greens, there is a high degree of variation in the shadows and highlights and the tablecloth provides a neutral color that can be pushed in a direction that promotes additional color variation.

I begin with an under painting in either burnt umber or burnt sienna. The one on top was done with umber, the one on the bottom you can still see the burnt sienna underpainting in some areas. Burnt sienna is a nice choice for  paintings dominant in greens because it has a lot of red in it, red is the complement of green and therefore an excellent choice for neutralization and shadow variation. The under painting is done using no medium with a dry brush technique, this allows me to immediately work on top of it when I go to color without risk of blending between layers. Another alternative is to do the under painting in acrylic, or to do it as a wash drawing with turpenoid and let it dry over night before beginning the color layer. I prefer the dry brush method in oil and immediate progression to color.

Once the under painting is complete, I begin laying in my darkest darks. These darks are typically neutral in tone, they are not saturated with local color. We know the bottles are green, but if we really look at the darkest darks on them, they are almost black. I find ultramarine combined with burnt umber and a small amount of alizarin makes a beautiful darkest dark. Place this color in the darkest shadows of the painting first.

Next, I begin working with the middle value greens. I do not use tube greens (or purples or oranges, I mix all of my secondary colors). Since this painting is heavy on the greens, I have 3 blues and 4 yellows on my palette: ultramarine, cobalt and king’s blue; yellow ochre, cadmium barium yellow pale, naples yellow and naples yellow light. In addition to the blues and yellows I also have: alizarin, burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw umber and titanium white.

I begin with the more muted greens in the shadows, using ultramarine and yellow ochre. From there I progress through the brighter middle value greens, keeping some cool (cobalt or king’s blue and cadmium barium yellow) and some warm (ultramarine and cadmium barium yellow).  I use the naples yellow to lighten some of the lightest greens on the apples, this is preferable to white because it does not dull the color as much and make it chalky. Whenever possible,  I use a color to lighten rather than a white.

I look for interesting variations in color on apples-red, terra cotta, yellow ochre and sienna can all be found on green apples. I place these variations liberally to create interest and reduce the monochrome look of all the green objects.

Another place to create variety in color is in the table cloth. Since it is a grey neutral, I can push that grey in whatever direction I want. I chose a light purplish grey for the shadows and warm, soft yellows for the areas in light. By mixing the grey and using naples yellow for the light, I was able to get a grey that was far more interesting than just a tube grey or a black mixed with white.

On the highlights, I always look for warm and cool tones. Never use just plain white, tone it with yellows for the warm highlights and blues/purples for the cool ones.

Color variation is important in any painting, it is crucial when you are painting something that has a strong, predominance of a single color. It keeps the painting from becoming monochromatic and increases depth and interest.


2 Responses to Working with Greens

  1. Rachel DeRagon says:

    Thank you so much for this detailed demo! Your work is very inspiring to me. 😉

  2. kullaf says:

    thank you Rachel!

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