It’s all about the green

My ‘Using Green in watercolour’ course with Paul Talbot Greaves started last Friday.

I received an email on Friday morning containing a worksheet with all the information and links that I needed to get cracking. Obviously, it wouldn’t be right to share the exact resources that I’ve been provided but I am happy to share the bones of what’s being covered along with the paintings and studies that I do in response to the exercises.

During my time painting, I’ve mainly learned experientially, by actually painting, rather than by the theory of how to paint. The same applies to my understanding of my palette and mixing colours. I’ve never carried a ‘ready mixed’ green in my palette, preferring instead to try to learn to mix my own greens. This has often been a bit of a hit and miss exercise and is one of the reasons that this particular course appealed to me.

The first worksheet explored mixing greens, beginning with an exploration of the colour wheel on which Paul has plotted the colours he predominantly uses for mixing greens. I have a passing familiarity with the colour wheel but I can’t say that beyond cool and warm, I’ve ever explored it in any depth.

It was really interesting to go through the theory behind what makes the colours do what they do when mixed, depending on where they sit on the colour wheel. It’s already given me an idea for a little project to do when I have a little more time! In the meantime, however, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some of the practical work!

The worksheet contained links to a couple of reference photos for participants to download and to a video demonstration from Paul. I was really excited to see this because, beyond my interest in green, I greatly admire Paul’s paintings and was keen to see how he constructs his paintings.

First up on the demonstration video, Paul did a series of practical colour swatch exercises to explain and demonstrate the colour wheel principles before moving on to his demonstration painting.

Demonstration painting

This is my first effort based on the reference photo provided and following Paul’s demonstration video:

Quarter sheet demonstration follow along (take 1)

I was pretty pleased with how this turned out and it was great to be able to watch the video, then go through it again as I painted this version, pausing it at will when I needed time to catch up! The overall approach is similar to that of many watercolour artists. The process begins with a loose pencil sketch followed by a loose first wash. This is followed by what Paul describes as a ‘blocking in’ wash. This establishes most of the main elements and, once completed, is followed by a final stage of details.

It’s not strictly the darkest darks saved for the last stage, as is often the case, but the final stage really is just a few finishing touches, or at least it was for Paul!

I really enjoyed painting this view, so much so that I decided to return to it later on but this time to go large and paint a half sheet size version. With the first effort, I felt I’d gone a little too dark with the cast shadow of the wall on the left-hand side. Similarly, the grass verge on the left of the wall felt as if it was in the shadow when actually it was sunlit. Overall though I just wanted to try my hand at this all over again!

Half sheet demonstration follow along (take 2)

I could be critical and say that the fields look a lot more yellow, rather than the vivid green I’d hoped for, but I did this late at night by electric light which I think threw my judgement a bit!


Our homework was to apply the colour mixing principles and what we’d learnt from watching the demonstration to another view, taken at the same location but facing in a different direction.

I didn’t find the composition of this image as appealing but, armed with a slightly greater awareness of how to tackle my greens, I was eager to give it my best!

Exercise in green take 1

I tried to apply similar principles to this as Paul had demonstrated but, I didn’t feel I was able to do so with the same confidence as I’d achieved with the other composition. This composition had a lot of abstracted elements, especially the grass verge in the middle. Also, the bottom half of the painting is in shadow and was torn between trying to indicate this with as I applied the paint, or to paint it as if it wasn’t in shadow, and to apply the shadow later!

In this first effort, I opted to try to apply the painting to match the tonal of it being in shadow. I also felt that I’d gone in a little too heavy with some of the darks. I wasn’t discouraged as such, but I did feel that I could do a better job of it!

Here’s my effort at a better job of it!

Exercise in green take 2

There’s probably a moral to this tale but, overall, I still prefer my first take on this. At the time of writing, I’m still expecting that I’ll do another take on this as I’m still not satisfied that I can’t do better! I have a few ideas that I’m mulling over and will hopefully have an update to share next week.

All participants are invited to submit their paintings to Paul for him to critique. I have until the 31st of January to submit mine so still have a few days to see if I can improve on these efforts!

New year resolutions update

Although this isn’t the most exciting of my New Year’s resolutions, it may yet prove to be a significant one.

I’ve mentioned in the previous posts the challenges I’ve experienced when painting plein-air when wearing my glasses that have a transition lens in them. This makes judging the tones between what I’m looking at and what I’m painting incredibly difficult.

When I first ordered the glasses I currently use I had hoped that transition lenses would aid my plein-air endeavours, but the opposite seems to have been the case.

I have now ordered a new pair of glasses that are totally clear and hope that this will make a significant improvement. So much so, I can already feel that I’m putting a disproportionate amount of hope and faith that these are going to totally transform my abilities in the field!

At the very least, however, it’s one less thing I’ll be able to use as an excuse for why things don’t work out as I hoped and, one more thing that I can tick off my list!

I don’t have the new frames and lenses yet but I’m hoping I’ll have them in time for the next meeting of the Brighton Painting Group on the 12th of February.

When, not if

With two of our family of three in full-time education, one a teacher in a sixth form college, the other a pupil in one of the countries largest junior schools of about 1,000 children, it was probably only ever a matter of time before Covid caught up with us.

To be perfectly honest I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has, but the inevitable happened over the weekend when all three of us tested positive.

The positive results that no one wants

Although it might sound ironic, this hat-trick of test results is probably the best possible outcome. For three of us to have it at the same time is much more manageable than for any one of us trying to self-isolate in a small flat!

Fortunately, we are fully vaccinated and up-to-date with booster jabs. Even so, we’ve both been knocked for six and have had to take time off work. I would hate to imagine how we might have fared had we not been vaccinated! (BTW, this isn’t a prompt to get political. It’s just the decision we made!)

Anyway, after a couple of days feeling pretty ropey as we’ve experienced a wide range of flu-like symptoms, we’re hopeful that the worst of it has passed and our fingers are crossed for a speedy recovery that will see us all out and about again as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Thoughts on It’s all about the green

16 thoughts on “It’s all about the green”

    1. Hi Jo and many thanks for this, really kind of you and I’m happy to report that we’re all well again (though the post covid fatigue does seem to linger on for quite a while!)

  1. Pingback: More green and a break from green!

  2. Just wanted to add that what makes the first demo ref all the more paintable than the second is that it’s predominantly contrejour, so that wall is much easier to achieve.

    1. Hi David and yes, I just found the first demo ref altogether more appealing! You should give that one a go, I found it much more enjoyable and rewarding to paint and I’m sure that’s partly because I just engaged with the view much more! (Naturally it could also be that I’m just not a good enough painter yet to make that other view work!!)

  3. Hi John, your attempts to paint both Paul’s demo and the exercise are great. You certainly found his loose approach which is still escaping me! I didn’t follow along with this demo but am now on my second attempt with the exercise. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why he chose it, both as a subject and as a model for mixing greens. That foreground shadow really threw me on the first attempt, and like you, I found myself in the exact same quandary – to add later as a shadow or to attempt to reach the right tone at the first attempt. On my second pass I am opting for the first option, having studied his shadow work on his paintings. I do find his palette overall a bit opaque, particularly his use of yellow ochre and cerulean. Two extremely opaque pigments! I switched on my second attempt to raw sienna as an underpainting. Perhaps his liking for these has something to do with his work as an oil painter, as his painting style is I think nearer oil in its application. Would you agree? That said, I do like his work of course. Just not sure I can follow him there. His paintings rely on very strong contrast to work, and they do! Looking forward to the next lesson, where I guess he’ll dive into his heavy dependence on convenience greens and neutral tint, which I think he prefers to mixing blue and yellow.

    1. Thanks so much for this David! so pleased you like the first two and especially pleased that you feel the ‘loose approach’ is coming across! I find his approach not too dissimilar to Alvaro Castagnets – the loose drawing, the base wash to establish key colours tones, and gradually working darker whilst still keeping everything connected. As for the looseness, it’s great to see Paul paint and to see how high up he holds the brush and how large a brush he uses even for smaller shapes and elements. Again, similar to what I see when I watch Alvaro paint. Such a lot of it is about the skill and confidence that only comes with a lot of painting! I would agree with you that he applies his paint in a manner similar to that of an oil painter, especially in the darker passages when the pigment is going on strong – but he’s still managing to get colour in there whereas sometimes I’m guilty of just going too dark/black with an ultramarine and burnt sienna mix. I’m really looking forward to where he takes us next, though I think I’m still keen to mix my own greens from what’s in the palette rather than using tube greens. I am really enjoying learning some things though, it’s really refreshing!

  4. Ironically none of your paintings have any green in them! I expect orange is the new green; god! I’m so OLD so OUT OF DATE! Why didn’t I know that! Seriously, though, I suppose you have to be a bit “out there” with your greens if you’re going to run a course on the subject – otherwise there’s be no point in talking about it. Perhaps he should have called his course, “Representing Greens”. The results certainly work well. Nice. He’s clearly good! I really like your paintings this week and, again ironically, I again prefer the first versions, which are a bit bolder and more punchy – darker, crisper darks and lights? Not to be a bore… could you have done even more with those lights? I’m thinking of the painting where you’ve scratched (?) vertical grasses into the grass verge. A pen dipped in masking fluid before you started might have given your foreground even more “interest” with very little effort. You could even have put a pale green wash over them at the end in order to stay on theme.
    As for Covid, hope you are on the mend as it seems you are. I imagine you’re all young and healthy!

    1. Haha, I think what’s tricky is that I’m not able to share the reference photos or Paul’s demos! If I did, you’d see that they did contain a lot of proper greens – it’s just that I didn’t do as good a job of mixing mine so they’ve come out more golden in colour! With the second reference – where I did do some scratching out in a desperate effort to create some texture – I just find the whole scene quite challenging. It’s certainly not one that I’d have opted for – which is probably why I’m struggling and fighting with it. I didn’t consider using masking fluid as I’m being quite literal I suppose in only using what we’ve been shown so far. I don’t think Paul uses masking fluid so I feel I should try to follow suit on this. I think if I do try this one again I’m going to change the shadows and imagine the sun to be slightly higher, so the shadows don’t cover the entirety of the foreground, but go say two-thirds across the road, and not all the way down the field on the left. Haven’t quite decided yet but it might be a plan!
      I wish we were all as young and healthy as I think you think we are! Speaking for myself, I feel neither young nor healthy but I’m delighted to report that we seem to be recovering and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t have any of the lingering malaise that I’ve heard others experience!

  5. John, first I wish you and your family a speedy recovery, and I hope you all come through unscathed. 🤞

    Your paintings are beautiful as usual. Some of the technical stuff went past me, but color usage is common to both of our hobbies. I really loved the second take on the first view. It just seems like you really captured the essence of the warm sun and cooler shadows. For me a great image is one that makes me feel like I am there, and then I can imagine how I would be feeling. Your paintings did that. The second view is nice, but like you I didn’t care for the composition as much.

    Fun post, and I do hope you all get better soon.

    1. Hi Tim and thanks so much for this. So pleased you like some of these and your favourite of the lot is my favourite too! So pleased that it makes you feel as if you’re there – that’s a tremendous compliment, thank you.
      As for the Covid – my daughter seems completely unscathed by it aside from a runny nose! We’re all beginning to come out of the other side of it now which is great. Hopefully we’ll start to show some negative test results soon because I’m now far less bothered about the covid symptoms than I am about being cooped up day in day out!

      1. Hi John, I am glad to hear you all are doing better. I am sure the vaccinations helped mitigate the symptoms. As for the paintings, I guess great minds think alike. 😉 No, seriously, I always enjoy your work.

        1. Thanks Tim and yes, I’m sure the vaccinations have helped mitigate the worst of the potential symptons! Thankfully we’re all feeling fine now although I’m still testing positive. I’m at the end of my 10 days of quarantine now though and can’t wait to get out into the fresh air again!

  6. John—This is what you needed! More green! I know that these are the teacher’s samples, but still, I sincerely like what I am seeing, actually, in each painting. When you go back to your “own painting,” please do not hold back on color intensity. You have done wonderful work here. Cheers!

    1. Haha – thanks so much for such wonderfully positive and encouraging comments Carol! This was week one of five (if I remember right!) so hopefully lots more like this still to come! Thanks so much Carol!

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