Phthalo Green—How To Tame It

In the last post, I offered some tips for mixing natural-looking landscape greens, the first of which was “avoid tube greens involving phthalo green”.

So, what do you do with the phthalo green (and mixtures using it) you already have? The secret is to tame it a bit so it works for you instead of just taking over the entire painting.

Here’s how:

Mix Something With Phthalo Green to Warm It Up

As you learned in the last post, phthalo green usually needs to be “warmed up” and neutralized to work as a natural-looking landscape green. Try mixing it with various reds, oranges, yellows and even warm purples to see if you get any greens you like for foliage.

In each of the swatches below, I’ve put phthalo green on the left and gradually added more and more of pyrrole red, indian yellow (Daniel Smith), hansa yellow and quinacridone gold deep (Daniel Smith).

I’ve indicated the brand for the two colors—indian yellow and quin gold deep—that are themselves pre-mixed “convenience” colors, because each manufacturer has their own take on these mixtures, so they can vary a lot from one manufacturer to another. But don’t go out and buy my colors. Just try whatever reds, oranges, browns, golds and yellows you happen to have.

 

trying to calm phthalo green
Mixing phthalo green with warmer colors.

 

Some of these mixtures might be usable for a natural-looking landscape green, and if I keep playing around, I’m bound to find more.

Use Phthalo Green to “Green Up” Other Mixtures

Another thing you can do is use your phthalo green as an “flavoring agent” for other greens. By this, I mean you can take one of your own mixtures—say, quin gold deep and ultramarine blue, or azo yellow and ultramarine blue—that might be a tad too dull for some situations, and use a little bit of your phthalo green to “green it up” a bit. Try adding just a little bit at a time, like adding a strong seasoning to a soup.

swatch showing mixtures of phthalo green, quin gold deep, azo yellow and ultramarine blue
Using phthalo green to “green up” your own mixed greens.

The secret to doing this successfully is simply to experiment until you get greens you like, and then using the same colors mix them again . . . and again . . . and again . . . until you can mix them easily. If you try to rely on “recipes”, you’ll never remember them. Instead you want to find a group of “go-to” colors that you know inside and out.

If you keep the number of colors you are working with SMALL (no more than 3 or 4 at a time!), this sort of practice takes minutes or hours, not days or weeks. Once you build this familiarity with a few colors, you’ll never have to think about how to mix them. You’ll just look at them and KNOW. (Soooo much more convenient than relying on those silly “color recipe” books!)

If you just finished Watercolor Jumpstart, I hope you are adding colors to your palette one at a time! If so, you might have one tube green that you just bought, and the original 5 colors from class (azo yellow, quin rose, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna).

This is plenty to make lots of great landscape greens (with or without a tube green involved), so if you are struggling with mixing greens don’t add any more until you feel completely comfortable with these.

Use Phthalo Green to Make Other Things Besides Green!

I’ve saved the best for last. My favorite use of phthalo green is to make various turquoise and “midnight blue” mixtures. This is actually the reason I have phthalo green on my palette.

Take a look at what phthalo green does when mixed with blues, violets and magentas. Oooh, I love, love, love these colors!  In fact, I love the mix with ultramarine blue so much I have been known to buy it premixed (Daniel Smith Ultramarine Turquoise).

MIxing phthalo green with magentas, violets and blues.
MIxing phthalo green with magentas, violets and blues.

You might have guessed that phthalo green + blue would give you a turquoise. The real surprise is that phthalo green + violet often gives a slate blue or midnight blue. This is where it really becomes evident how cool phthalo green really is. It has a LOT of blue-ish-ness to it. So the blue in the violet, plus the blue-ish-ness of the phthalo green, plus a bit of red from the violet results in a neutralized purplish blue or neutralized violet.

Unless the “violet” is really, really reddish. I added the Perylene Maroon as an example of that. In that case, there is enough red that instead of getting bluish mixtures, you actually get a pretty nice neutralized green that would be another good foliage green.

These soft, moody neutralized blue-violets and violets are great for reflections in water, and for suggesting shadows and twilight. I find them rather difficult to mix in other ways, but these mixtures are easy for me to mix reliably. (When I do use them in the shadow areas or water in a landscape, that’s when I might also add a subtle touch of phthalo green to my foliage greens for color harmony.)

So now you don’t have to toss those tube greens! Phthalo green doesn’t have to be allowed to barge in and take over. With a little knowledge and experimentation, it can become a trusted and valuable addition to your palette.

Have fun . . . and be green!