We all know that blue and yellow make green. We probably learned that in preschool. But what we probably didn’t learn from making a mess with the non-toxic, washable primary colors we used was how to mix the perfect green paint for our artwork.
There is more than one green. There are probably even more than a hundred greens. How to do you go about mixing the one that is right for you? I hope to help you mix the perfect green in the article below.
What Colors Make Green
We have already discussed that mixing yellow and blue make green. But what type of green do you want?
Are you mixing a green for grass? Are you painting a forest? Or maybe you are painting a bright neon green door?
There are a lot of shades of green and an equal number of paint recipes to mix them. Only a few of these recipes are a combination of yellow and blue
There are as many different shades of yellow and blue as there are green. How you mix them with each other or combine them with other colors will determine the shade of green you get.
To get the perfect shade of green you first need to understand a little about color bias. I know, boorring, but it is important and will make your color mixing easier and far less frustrating.
Color bias simply means that your paint color tends to lean towards another color. Each one of the primary colors tends to lean toward another primary color to varying degrees.
For example, Prussian Blue is a cool blue that has more yellow pigment in it. Therefore, it leans towards green. (Blue + Yellow = Green)
Ultramarine is a warm blue which has more red pigment, so it leans towards purple. (Blue + Red = Purple)
If you aren’t sure what the color bias of your paint is, you can look it up online. A quick way to tell for yourself in most cases is to mix a tiny amount of white paint with your pigment. You should be able to see the undertone.
For example, if you mix a small amount of white into Payne’s Gray you can easily see the blue undertone. So, Payne’s Gray is a gray with a blue bias.
Why is all of this important to understand? Well if you mix a warm yellow (red bias) with a warm blue (red bias) then you would be mixing all three primary colors together in close to equal amounts.
What happens when you mix all three primary colors together? Instead of getting the lovely grass green you wanted you end up with a muddy field.
To get an actual green you can use you need to mix cool colors or a warm color and a cool color depending upon how bright or dull you want your green. For more information on color temperature see my post on Warm and Cool Colors.
How to Mix a Bright Green Paint
If you need to mix a bright green for a bright patch of grass for example you need to mix a cool yellow with a cool blue. Neither of these colors contain any red to dull down the brightness of the green.
Some examples of bright green mixes:
Cadmium Yellow Light + Prussian Blue
Lemon Yellow + Phthalo Blue
Hansa Yellow Light + Cerulean Blue
Since blues tend to be deep pigments it is best to start off with a lot of yellow and just a touch of blue. You can keep adding a little touch of blue until you get the color you want.
If you want to use a premixed bottle green that you already have to try and make a bright green, you can try adding a touch of white or lemon yellow to it. I prefer the yellow because I find white tends to give a slightly murky result.
The results you get with the bottled colors will vary depending upon the combination of pigments used so you may need to experiment until you get the right color.
How to Mix a Muted Green Paint
To get a muted green you will need to use a warm and a cool color. The red bias in the warm color will tone down the green somewhat.
So, a good mix for a muted green would be:
Prussian Blue + Yellow Ochre
Prussian Blue is a cool blue and Yellow Ochre is a warm yellow with a red bias. Since red is a complementary color to green on the color wheel it tones down the green.
How to Tone Down Green Paint
If you have already mixed your green paint but would like to tone it down a little the best way to do this is to add a little of its complement…red.
A lot of beginning artists will attempt to tone down a color using black, but this only darkens and deepens the color. A tiny amount of red is enough to mute the green without deepening the color.
Be careful about the amount of red you use. Start with a very tiny amount. Too much red will give you a muddy color instead of the muted green you are looking for.
You can also use red to mute premixed bottled greens if they are a little too vibrant for your needs.
Glazing with Green
If you want to subtly change the tone of your green paint you can paint over you work with a green glaze. Use your original mix with a glazing medium or water to make a thin wash to either lighten or darken the color.
Glazing medium can be purchased at most art supply stores and is useful for thinning paint without changing the hue. The general mix is 5 or 6 parts glazing medium to one part paint. The mix differs between manufacturers so read the instructions on the bottle before using.
For more information on acrylic mediums, see my post on How to Use Acrylic Mediums.
Glazes can also be used to add subtle shadows as well. Mix the glazing medium with a deep blue, purple or Payne’s Gray depending upon the surrounding colors.
The nice thing about using glazes is that you can build up multiple layers until you get the desired color.
How to Make Green Without Yellow
Yes, it is possible to make green without yellow. You can substitute another color that has a slight yellow bias. The greens will be more muted but could be the perfect color for distant hills or foliage.
Possible color combinations for green without yellow:
Raw Sienna + Prussian Blue
Orange + Ultramarine Blue
There are many other combinations possible. Play around with what you have to see what kind of greens you can produce.
How to Make Green Without Blue
You can also mix green without using blue. Again, you will get a more muted green, but you can produce some nice olive hues.
Possible color combinations for green without blue:
Cadmium Yellow Light + Burnt Umber
Cadmium Yellow Light + Payne’s Grey
Start with the yellow and add very small amounts of the brown or grey to it since the yellow can very easily become overwhelmed with the darker colors.
Continue adding the darker color in small amounts until you achieve the color you want.
Final Tips on Mixing Greens
There are hundreds of combinations you can use to make green. You don’t ever have to be stuck using a green you aren’t happy with.
Since colors can vary between manufacturers it is a good idea to experiment with the paints you have to see what hues of green you get.
A good idea would be to purchase an inexpensive watercolor book or a notebook with paper that can handle paint. Use it as a paint diary of sorts and do swatches of your paint mixes.
Remember to write down your paint combinations so you will know how to replicate them in the future.
If you are just starting out on your painting journey and wondering what paints to purchase for landscapes, a good rule of thumb is to buy 2 blues and 2 yellows:
A cool yellow – Lemon Yellow or Cadmium Yellow Light
A warm yellow – Cadmium Yellow Deep or Hansa Yellow Deep
A cool blue – Prussian Blue or Phthalo Blue for example.
A warm blue – Ultramarine Blue or Cerulean*
*There is a lot of debate over which blues are warm and which are cool. While researching this article I came across many artists who argued back and forth over whether Ultramarine in particular was warm or cool.
It is a hot topic (sorry 😏) apparently with many technical arguments about its placement on the color wheel. It’s enough to make your head spin. (Sorry again 😏)
Ultimately, I decided since Ultramarine blue has a slight reddish/purple/violet bias it would fit the warm blue definition for the purposes of mixing greens.
In the end it doesn’t really matter how you classify any color as long as it fits into your color palette and you get the mix you are going for.
I hope these tips and explanations are helpful to you. Have some fun mixing the various colors and coming up with your own favorite mixes.
Thanks for reading.