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Keeping it Green

Mixing green watercolour

Already this week we have seen the celebration of St. Patrick’s day, and along with it the celebration of all things green. Most of all it’s all about the Shamrock.

Here’s a bit of background. Traditionally, shamrocks have been used as a symbol of Ireland. Ireland’s patron saint Patrick, is said to have used it as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. The name shamrock comes from Irish seamróg [ˈʃamˠɾˠoːɡ], which is the diminutive of the Irish word seamair óg and simply means “young clover”. Clover must have three leaves to be considered a shamrock, or young sprig. If the clover has more or less, then it is not a shamrock. All shamrocks are clovers, but not all clovers are shamrocks.

Now, I’m not painting Shamrock but the early spring season is a very green season, with lots of new, young growth really getting going. Painting green does of course have its unique challenges, but don’t be shy, get the paints our and have a go.

Here’s my top tips for painting green

Consider the ‘family of greens’ in your subject. I picked up this tip from a fellow artist and basically it’s keeping everything coherent within your painting. Carefully observe all of the green elements in your subject. Stems, leaves, and nodes. How do these relate in colour, temperature, saturation etc.

Observation of temperature. As with flowers, all of the green elements of your subject will also have a temperature shift. Take your time to observe the light. Are the shadow tones cooler than the light? In the rose leaves the lightest highlights were almost blue, as were the darkest shadows. The brighter greens in the midtones were warmer, with lots of yellow undertones

Light and dark tones are not the only contrast. Contrast can be found in many elements within a painting. There’s temperature but texture, saturation, edges, detail, and colour hue and value all play their part in achieving contrast. The more contrast you can achieve, the more interesting the final piece, especially if there is a lot of green. Note on the rose leaves how overlapping edges create a contrast.

Light against dark. When painting a subject which is predominantly one colour, it’s important to make it as vibrant and visual as possible. To create the biggest impact try placing very dark elements against the lightest highlights. These could be darker stems, a strong cast shadow or very light stamens against near black depth. This will form a gorgeous focal point. Try placing these points near to the centre of your painting for an even bigger impact.

Mix your own. Pre mixes are not the only green. Have a go at mixing your own using yellow, blue and a touch of red. Practice mixing cool and warm, and light and dark greens with the primaries from your palette.

Need more inspiration? Take a look at my technique video on painting a little found Hosta Leaf. Complete with nibble holes and lots of texture and contrast, this study picks up on lots of ideas.