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Mixing Green

Mixing Green can often present problems. The most common mistake is to end up with a result thatis too raw and saturated. We are going to do some exercises to overcome this problem.

For me, green is one of the trickiest colors to control. It seems to have a habit of taking over and completely invading a painting. There are a huge number of premixed greens available, but I find much greater control through mixing my own.

We have all been taught that Blue and Yellow make green but when we look around most naturally occurring greens contain a fair amount of red.

Materials For Mixing Green

Any old sheets or offcuts of watercolour paper (The backs of old paintings will do)


(Watercolor) Phthalo Blue, Burnt Sienna, Indian Yellow or Quinacridone Gold


1″  Flat brush, No. 2 Rigger Brush



The exercise below will show you how to mix a variety of greens without them becoming too raw and saturated.

The left hand column is the most saturated (pure) green, although not completely saturated because Indian yellow actually contains a small amount or red. If we were to use a yellow containing no red (eg. Lemon Yellow) the greens would be fully saturated. As we move to the right the greens become less saturated with the inclusion of Burnt Sienna.Do this exercise on a spare sheet of paper or in your sketch book. Try to keep the change from one colour to the next as even as possible.

Mixing green with Burnt Sienna, Indian Yellow and Phthalo Blue watercolor


Foliage Exercise For Mixing Green

Our next exercise is to paint some foliage.

Mix up a green (leaning towards orange) using our three colours. Keep the top edge of the foliage rough and uneven. Soften it in a couple of places with a damp brush.


While the paint is still wet, drop in a darker green mixed from just Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue. Putting this into the lower region will give the impression of three dimensional mass to the foliage.


Before things dry a couple of spots of Burnt Sienna can be dropped into the upper foliage to give the colour a bit more life.




We can roughly paint in the suggestion of grass with our 1 inch brush.  Use a dirty green mixed from our three colours. Vary the edges and keep the shape simple and direct.




Let everything dry then add some trunks and branches with your Rigger brush. Use a dark mixture of Phthalo Blue and Burnt Sienna and keep the lines crisp and thin.



This simple exercise shows how mixing green containing a fair amount of Burnt Sienna still gives the impression of green, even though it is bordering on a dirty brown. It is interesting to see just how far away from a saturated green you go and still have the color read as green.




In these palms the green is a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue and is muddied in patches by the addition of Ultramarine Blue. Varying the tone and sharpness throughout the mass and keeping the darkest area behind the focal point keeps the green mass interesting.

Watercolor of Beach and Palm trees using green mixed from Phthalo Blue and Burnt Sienna


A more saturated green is used in the painting below. The Pandanus fronds and areas of the water are made from various combinations of Lemon Yellow, Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo Blue. The lily pads contain only a small amount of Phthalo Blue, some Quinacridone Gold and a hint of Alizarin Crimson. Contrasting patches of pure Ultramarine flooded onto the wet paper keep the water interesting.

Pre Mixed Greens​

Occasionally a really raw saturated green is required – this is where a pre mixed green works best. Phthalo Green mixed with White Gouache makes a wonderful opaque turquoise. The top row in the example below shows the Phthalo Green/ White Gouache mixture. The bottom row shows the Phthalo Green being gradually diluted with water. The bottom row has a beautiful luminosity where as the top row has a flat opacity that can be applied over other colors. They both have their place and have very different effects

Swatches of phthalo green watercolor




The pale green light in the breaking wave below is a thin wash of pure Phthalo Green. It’s a vicious, sickly color that stains like crazy, but sometimes it is the only way to get that raw, transparent green glow.

Watercolor seascape using Phthalo Green and Phthalo Blue




The shutters and domes in this painting were brought to life with a Phthalo Green/White Gouache mixture. The domes were first painted with a transparent wash of Phthalo Green, then the opaque Phthalo Green/White Gouache mixture was added.

The painting below started with dirty compound greens then, as the painting progressed, the rich saturated mixture of Aureolin and Phthalo Blue was washed over areas of white paper to create the strong, saturated yellow/green around the focal point. The foreground water is pure Phthalo Blue.




Next time you are putting green into a painting, stop and think, just how green it really needs to be. Often moving towards a dirty compound brown will give your painting much better harmony and a more unified appearance. More saturated green can be added later if necessary. I always find green easier to control if I start with dirty compound greens then cautiously sneak up towards more saturated greens.

Occasionally a hit of raw, saturated green is required – this is where a pre mixed green such as Phthalo Green comes into its own.

See Winsor and Newton’s Spotlight on Phthalo Green


Author: John Lovett

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