A Lean, Mean, Green Machine

Art takes me to so many unexpected places. I’m a curious sort of artist, and I’m always off searching for ideas and inspirations as different words and phrases pop into my mind. Sometimes it’s music I hear. Sometimes it’s poetry. Sometimes it’s just… words.

So, it’s probably no surprise that this morning I was hearing green words. They came in a cluster, prompting me to stop, drop, and roll with what I was hearing. Lean, Mean, Green Machine. To my surprise, I learned that such a thing actually exists.

Rest assured I have no intention of buying one of these, especially not with the $75,000.00 price tag attached to it. If you’re interested, you can find more about it here.

It’s an intersting aside for today’s post, however, in that, to me, this oversized motorized tricycle looks a bit demonic, and that’s exactly the right word to use when it comes to the color green, at least where art is concerned.

Green is mean. I’m not sure about lean, but it’s definitely mean.

When I first began painting — back in the days when I struggled with watercolors — I was warned about green. I scoffed a bit. Green? I like green. Why should I be afraid of it?

I learned all too soon, and it wasn’t long until — like so many artists before me — I, too, came to fear green. I took out my frustrations one night with a green abstract, and that made me feel better, but it didn’t help me resolve the problems of how to successfully use green in painting. For an aspiring landscape painter, that was a serious problem.

A lot of what we learn in art comes through experience, of course. Learning to handle green is no exception. One reason it’s problematic, however, is that green is a catch-all color. There are many, many different varieties of green. So how do we know which green to choose? Another consideration is that green is a secondary color. It’s one we can mix for ourselves rather than buy, and many art instructors recommend doing just that. But mixing green only complicates matters more, because saying “mix blue and yellow” isn’t very specific. Which blue? Which yellow? Cool ones? Warm ones? One of each?

We can make ourselves a bit crazy with greens. All the same, though, it’s part of the process, and at some point we have to figure out what greens we like — kale, turnip greens, spinach — oh, wait! Different greens. Yes, I do love the leafy, green vegetable kind, but let’s get back to art.

A few years ago I patiently pulled out all my blues and all my yellows. I mixed each one with each other one. Some I liked; some I liked a lot less. My favorite was a mixture of cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue. When I recently did a similar exercise as part of my 100-day “Mood and Atmosphere” project, I wasn’t surprised when once again I chose a green mixed from cadmium yellow and ultramarine as my favorite.

Along the way, I have found a few “tube greens” that I like. Olive green is a definite favorite. I like sap green, and soil green, as well.

What I don’t like is viridian. I’m often surprised at how many art instructors have suggested having viridian on a landscape palette. To my view, it’s much too blue to be useful in landscape painting.

Of course, viridian can be mixed with additional yellow to bring it back to the lean, mean, green side, but if we’re going to mix, why buy the viridian?

As I browsed online a bit more, I came across a painting done all in viridian. Seriously? All in viridian? While I wasn’t wild about the painting, it presented viridian in a whole new way. Another of those “Go ahead, I dare you” sort of challenges.

I no longer keep viridian on my landscape palette, but my original Mont Marte set had a fresh tube, so I grabbed it, grabbed a brush, and I set out to create my own “Viridian Only” landscape — a quick little study painted on the reverse side of the canvas page I’d used for my green-making exercises.

Viridian Only

No work of art, but I must say that this was a lot of fun to do. Of course I added black and white to come up with different values, and I slapped the paint on quite freely, just trying to create essential shapes of color and tone.

In a somewhat similar fashion to the release I felt when I painted my Demon Green abstract years ago, putting viridian green all across this canvas page was almost cathartic. No, I still don’t like Viridian. No, I won’t be adding it to my palette. Yet in some perverse way, I can appreciate the color a little more now.

Overall, I’ve come to a better understanding of greens and how to use them. In landscape painting, of course, it’s necessary to use a variety of greens — light greens, dark greens, every sort of green in-between. I’m learning that we can create these greens not only by mixing white or black or gray with them, but by combining the different yellows and blues, and by using the different greens we can purchase ready-made.

The important thing — as I saw when I painted a scene of yellow flowers recently — is that we remain consistent with our color family. In that painting, I had cool greens in the background, then used a much warmer green in the foreground. The differences between the two were noticeable — and jarring. That mistake was prompted by the “rule” about using cooler colors in the background and warmer ones for the foreground. It doesn’t work well with greens, obviously. At least not the way I did it.

There is much, much more than can be said about green in painting, and in the final analysis it comes down largely to personal preference, to finding “what works” for us. It can be helpful, though, to know what other artists think of green, how they choose it, and how they use it.

You’ll find a lot of good information in this article from The Artist’s Road: It’s Not Easy Seeing Green. Here, twelve very talented artists share their choices.

For me, I’ll continue to work mostly with the favorites I’ve found: sap green, olive green, and my “personal preference” of cadmium yellow with ultramarine. I hope that the more I mix, the more comfortable I’ll be with creating the right greens in the right values, and keeping them in the right color families.

With luck — and a lot of practice — maybe I’ll someday become a “lean, mean, green-making machine.”






  1. Love my green. Like to paint with green as long as there is a pretty blue background like a cobalt to set it off nicely.
    A friend was trying to psychoanalize me a couple of weeks ago after looking at a large painting I have. She thought my large botanical was very wild and dark like being in a jungle…maybe it is a dark colour??!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. i love greens, but i agree- not viridian so much.. My faves are sap green and green-gold( goldens version) i also love to mix them to varying degrees with titan buff in a limited palette . I greatly dislike chromium green though, probably worse than viridian.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It always puzzles me when I hear art instructors suggest including viridian in a landscape palette. It just doesn’t work for me. I do like sap green. I’ve never used Golden’s oil paints, so I’m not familiar with their green-gold, but it sounds like something I might like!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. i absolutely love it..one would think we could still do the plein air events even during Covid but no..all of ours were cancelled. I was on the committe all year planning then boom- pandemic..a few are re opening but they are so complicated ..have to use an app for time lapse photos for proof, etc.. pay $30- to enter a non juried show and it may have the final showing online instead of in person..idk…seems lame…hopefully will get back to it by next year

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      2. Yes, I’m hoping our art club activities will be able to resume later this year. A few days I wrote a post that shares some of my “pandemic” feelings. It’s scheduled to post in a few days. For the most part my life hasn’t changed a lot — except for art activities. I know it’s affected a lot of families, though.

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      3. i have done that a few times, i guess my thing is i really enjoy paitning live ..ive ofetn done live painting at events and totally enjoy interacting while painting…something about the energy..i just feel more alive and creative, especially outdoors.. I guess i am an oddball artist..i dot do well painting alone

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      4. I’m completely the opposite. Since I only started learning to draw in 2015 and then started oil painting at the end of 2016, I’m very self-conscious about what I’m doing, especially when I’m around groups of trained artists. 😦 It’s still intimidating for me to feel I’m being “watched”.

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      5. i know, it’s weird.. i have also never had a fear of public speaking like many. A part of me thinks maybe it was because my mom put me on display a lot as a young child- art contests, talent shows, etc..but even then i dont remember ever fearing it..

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      6. I’ve been performing on stage since age 4, but that was with music. It’s a lot different with art. I had a “natural” talent for music, but I have no natural talent at all for art.

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      7. yes, you do…lots of talent..i see it in every post you make. I am not a music person though..yet my mom insisted that i sing at many public events..small town stuff at least.. i didn’t seem to mind but never really embraced it..in fact i suppose i have just dabbled in all areas of the arts( visual, literary, music, etc) most of my life, finally settling on painting. At this point it’s what i will stick with mainly…not natural talent, just perseverance and effort…lol

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      8. Yes, if it weren’t for perseverance and lots of effort, I wouldn’t be able to draw or paint at all. It’s never going to be “easy” for me, although I am seeing that some things are feeling easier now. Still, when I’m around artists who’ve been painting for decades and those who have taught for years, I’m very much intimidated. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I live in the US, very close to the middle of the country. Right now it’s very cold here with lots of snow! Many people have discovered art during this pandemic. It can be a rewarding, satisfying part of life, and it can also be soothing and comforting during troubling times. I hope you find some inspiration here as you follow along on my journey of “art discoveries”, and if you have any questions, please let me know!


      2. Hi! I’m not familiar with the Brusto brush pens, so I just looked them up online. They look very similar to some of the Tombow brush pens that I recently received. I’m using mine for my calligraphy practice. Are you wanting to use your pens for lettering or for drawing? Either way, I think the best place to begin is by doing lots of practice strokes. These “brush pens” are designed with flexible tips so that it’s possible to get thick, fat lines by pressing down on the tip, or to get thin, fine lines by applying ver little pressure and drawing/writing with only the very tip. “Art Spirits” has a good video tutorial. She shows different techniques. Even though she is using a different brand of brush pens, the techniques should be basically the same. I hope this helps! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44mMcBRQDDc


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