OK, I’m not that bad. I don’t run away screaming if I see something green (except courgettes on my plate). But I do think green is especially challenging for a coloured pencil artist. This is, of course, rather inconvenient for a coloured pencil botanical artist. There are a few saprophytic plants that don’t have chlorophyll but I’d soon run out of subjects if I stuck to those*.

So, given that most plants inconsiderately insist on being green, the artist has to adapt.

The range of green shades available in coloured pencil is limited with regard true ‘botanical’ greens. They tend toward the sort of radioactive green that was the colour of limeade when I was a kid, or high-visibility jackets.

Derwent Artists has the most appropriate colours. But I tend to use Derwent for details only – largely because they are very hard, couple this with the very smooth Bristol Board I use as a support and it takes forever for me to get any colour intensity.

The greens I use are almost exclusively Faber-Castell Polychromos. After a few years I have found that almost all botanical greens can be made by blending layers of just a few of these:

Chromium Green Opaque (the base colour for virtually all my green leaf shades)

Chrome Oxide Green (adds bluish tones)

Earth Green Yellowish (adds, er, yellowish tones)

May Green (adds brightness)

Earth Green (good for muted bluish or silvery greens – a good example would be the ‘silvery’ areas on Cyclamen leaves)

I occasionally also use some of the pale green Prismacolor shades such as Artichoke or Pale Sage.

I always test colour blends on a scrap piece of my chosen support paper first – I do not expect that rough sketch book paper will respond in the same way. By working slowly one can adjust the mix as layers build up. Sometimes I find I need to use a more extreme green, yellow or blue to correct where I have got it wrong. I’m wary of using yellows as it is hard to add more pigment afterwards – the yellows tend to fill the tooth of the paper very effectively.

For shading under these greens I have tended to use Prismacolor Black Grape or Black Cherry but am experimenting with Caran D’Ache Luminance pencils such as Crimson Aubergine as it may have better light-fastness. I almost never use grey under green as I find it can make the greens look a bit flat.


So where am I going with this monologue on viridescence?

My current project is an image to base a greetings card on – the chosen subject is Helleborus argutifolius which seems to include virtually every shade of green! I actually got excited when I could do the anthers in yellow.

helleborus argutifolius
The model – Helleborus argutifolius

Here are a couple of pictures of progress so far. Shade tones are established using Prismacolor Black Grape in this case, before greening up. The flower interior needs to be brighter yet, I think, but I will assess this once the leaves are in place.




Oh – and for the record – my favourite colour is actually green! Specifically that lovely fresh shade of new Larch needles in spring.

* Saprophytic and parasitic plants are fascinating. Orchids are one of my many interests and one not only has no chlorophyll but spends its entire life underground – Rhizanthella gardneri.

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