Updated: Apr 28
To loosely quote a famous frog- it's not easy painting green. Using the color green properly can be a challenging part of landscape painting, but spring greens bring it to a whole new level. They are bright, acidic, and it's easy for them to appear unnatural if not handled carefully. Plus, those first-greens are fleeting, so we don't get much time to paint them.
Plein air painting year-round has taught me a lot about what makes each season unique. Some of the joy I get from painting outside is watching for the signals of each season, and seeing how the landscape transitions as each one comes and goes. This direct observation has given me a lot of clues about how to approach this tricky time of year, so here are my top tips for painting spring greens.
Use A Compliment. One of the first signs of spring isn't green, it's actually red (green's complementary color). There are many plants and trees that either turn red in early spring- or have red buds when they're getting ready to leaf. Since some plants get their foliage sooner, and others later, you will usually see quiet a bit red in the spring landscape.
Bring balance with cool colors. Look for the cool colors (like purple) they're there, and they'll balance out the warmth, brightness, and acidity of all those new greens. If you want to learn more about color temperature here's a post all about it.
Use neutrals. Beige, brown, even gray, are the backbone of the spring landscape. These neutrals are easy to overlook when they're next to the intense green of new foliage, so try to ignore the greens at first, and concentrate on building the scene with neutrals.
Go duller than you think. As I said in the beginning, it's easy to overdue spring greens, taking them to an unnatural color-space. My advise is to go duller than you think, you can always build up to something that's brighter, and more acidic. Often you'll find you don't actually need as bright a color as you thought.
Keep your distance. Since warm colors come forward, and cool colors recede, having a range of color temperatures in a painting helps to create a sense of depth and distance. The problem with spring is that most colors are warm, and it's easy to mix up where your colors should go. When that happens paintings can feel flat and "off". In my opinion this is the biggest reason why spring greens can be so challenging. The key is to remember that within the yellow-green family, there will be some colors that are warmer, and some that are cooler. Using the right color for each area (foreground, middleground, background) will create the illusion of distance.
After winter, it's both refreshing and rewarding to paint the landscape as it comes back to life. Spring greens can be intimidating, but they don't have to be avoided. I hope these tips help you feel more confident about giving them a try!