The Grass is Always Greener
“As one might speak of Velazquez’s blacks, one must speak of DuMond’s greens”
- William H. Gerdts, American Impressionist Writer and Historian
The American impressionist, Frank Vincent DuMond (1865 – 1951) was an influential teacher and highly regarded artist. He is especially remembered for his landscape greens and permanent, prismatic palette. As a young man, he trained at the Academie Julian in Paris, which can trace its origins to the French Barbizon School. When DuMond returned to the United States he taught at the highly regarded Art Students League in New York City. Some of his most notable students include Ogden M. Pleissner, Georgia O’Keefe, John Marin, Norman Rockwell and my teacher, Arthur F. Maynard. I’m very proud that my art lineage is connected to this great American master.
When it comes to green - I've tried them all. It’s a color that’s difficult to manage. Most store bought greens appear metallic, lack permanence and just don’t look like vegetation.
While studying oils under Arthur Maynard and John Phillip Osborne, DuMond’s principles and palette were passed down to me, in particular, his method for mixing green. In oils, I painted with a string of ten greens, which I pre-mixed by hand. All were different in value and color temperature. As a Plein air artist it was really handy to have these colors prepared in advance.
When I returned to watercolor, I longed for the convenience of those pre-mixed greens. After some thought and experimentation, I adapted DuMond’s methods to my watercolor process. Today, my green mixtures are basically a simple combination of yellow and blue. I use Thalo Green, Cadmium Lemon Yellow, French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson in various proportions for my realistic landscape paintings. In watercolor you make a color lighter with water, not by adding white, so I only prepare four greens, not ten, like I did in oils.
Parent Green is the lightest value and the one I mix first. I add a tiny amount of Thalo Green to one tube (14ml) of Cadmium Lemon Yellow. Don’t add too much Thalo – it’s very easy to overshoot and you’ll wind up with a color that looks like a '57 Chevy! Mix well and reserve half for painting. Parent Green is ideal for the vibrant colors in the spring landscape. Add a little French Ultramarine for the light, flat planes of the landscape and grassy fields.
Next, I mix the Sunlight Average Green. I gradually add about 4ml of French Ultramarine to my leftover Parent Green until it matches the "value" of Cadmium Yellow Deep. I use this color for my deciduous trees in the sunlight.
The third green in my string is Orange Value Green. I combine 11ml of Cadmium Lemon Yellow with a tube (14ml) of French Ultramarine and mix it to the "value" of Cadmium Orange. Use 3/4 of this mixture for painting. Orange Value Green approximates the color and value of the upright plane of a deciduous tree on an overcast day. I also use this color for sunny day effects; when mixed with Cobalt Blue it's great for a cast shadow across grass. Add a little Cadmium Scarlett to Orange Value Green for a terrific evergreen tree color.
My final mixture is Shadow Value Green. I add 1 tube (14ml) of French Ultramarine to the leftover 1/4 Orange Value Green, plus a small touch of Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Mix well and use this green for a tree's shadow. For the darker values within a tree's shadow add additional French Ultramarine.
When you finish mixing, these colors can be stored in tubes or put into empty wells on your watercolor palette. I always make enough to do both. Click here to purchase empty 22ml aluminum tubes at Jerry's Artarama.
I suppose a good string of green can be mixed with other combinations of yellow and blue. But if you do, be sure to mix a color that's warm and golden in the sunlight and cool, blue in the shadow. And most importantly... go easy on the Thalo!
I'd love to hear what you mix for your landscape greens. Log in below to share your comments.