yellow and blue watercolour paint tubes

When Yellow and Blue don’t make Green!

Yes, you heard that right! You can mix yellow and blue watercolour and NOT get green!

“How Ramya? “

After all my yakking about the colour wheel, this must come as quite a surprise, right? How on earth can blue and yellow NOT make green? Well, the answer lies in the question. ‘EARTH!’

Earth pigments! These are a varied and beautiful range of colours derived from the earth itself. Earlier, before synthetic and other chemical-based pigments for art creation were created (probably), I imagine humans used the lush beauty of nature around them to add touches of colour in their visual creations. Cave paintings using Sienna are surviving till date.

Earth pigments are naturally occurring minerals (mostly iron oxides) which have been used since prehistoric times.

You have heard of some of these colours, they are quite common and inexpensive- thus appearing in even the simplest student grade paints.

These are most commonly forms of desaturated or dull yellows, oranges, and reds.

Yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber- does this sound familiar?

Fun Fact! I used to hate yellow ochre as a young art student back in school and early college days because it was so dull. So often seen in the colour of buildings around me and reminding me of baby poop! Now, I can’t do without some yellow earth tone in my palette!

The range of earth pigments are quite varied as they depend on individual paint manufacturer’s way of producing or even processing pigments, resulting in slight shifts and variance among brands.

Coming back to the topic of this blog post, can there be a yellow and blue which don’t make green?

The long-awaited answer to that question is – YES.

It can if the yellow is an earth yellow and the blue is Ultramarine Blue.

image of 2 watercolour tubes on a black surface

I first saw this in a workshop with Gary Tucker, where he painted a beautiful sky and ‘warmed it up’ with Yellow. I was aghast, wasn’t all that wet-into-wet going to result in green?! But surprise! surprise! It didn’t!

Certainly, control in the wet-on-wet technique due to which there was no puddle of mixed colour on paper, but a soft blending between colours. The other main factor was that the yellow he used, was Yellow ochre.

Well of course I tried that very same combination of paints (Ultramarine + Yellow Ochre) right after and got a non-green result! Since then, it has been a favourite way of adding touches of warmth to my sky in my watercolour sketches of painting.

But recently, I have been experimenting with alternates to the Yellow Ochre in my palette for a change. I tried a few alternates, namely Sennelier Raw Sienna, and Daniel Smith Monte Amiata Natural Sienna. I also have Camel’s Yellow Ochre.

Mixing Earth Yellows with Ultramarine Blue

Here are the 4 earth yellows I have and tested. As always, I only use artist-quality paints so unless mentioned, all names in brands will be indicative of the artist range from that company.

Sennelier L’aquarelle  Yellow Ochre – PY 43

Sennelier L’aquarelle Raw Sienna – PBr 7

Daniel Smith Monte Amiata Natural Sienna – PBr 7 (That one is such a mouthful it will be called MATS from now)

Camel Artist’s Watercolours – Yellow Ochre

4 watercolour swatches of earth yellow paintsLook at the pigment composition of the 2 siennas. They are both P (pigment) BR (brown) – so logically maybe, they don’t mix to green with blues, simply because they are not ‘real’ yellows.

Here is the main blue I use for skies, Ultramarine Blue- is a beautiful granulating warm blue. (Sennelier Ultramarine Deep, PB 29)

Here are the mixes of the 4 earth yellows with that Ultramarine blue.

mixes of 4 earth yellows with ultramarine blue watercolour

Do you see how none of the mixes can be called Green? They could be greenish-greys, but nothing like the kind of green you would get mixing the same blue with say, a Primary yellow?

In light on-paper mixing the yellows and blues run into each other creating cloudy greys in between. Ultramarine being a granulating pigment shows a soft settling into the ridges of the paper in the mixes.

Camel’s Yellow ochre seems to be the most ‘yellow’ of the lot, forming slight greener mixes with Ultramarine. It still stays within a sea-green or Sage rather than foliage green.

Other Blues:

Here are also mixes of the same 4 earth yellows with Cerulean blue (PB28, Sennelier)  and Cobalt blue (PB28, Mijello Mission Gold) and Phthalo Blue GS. (PB 15:3, Sennelier).

Both Cobalt and Cerulean are granulating blues and you can see the separation and settling of pigments in the texture of the paper. In this case they are also from the same pigment but with different intensities so produce differing results.

Phthalo Blue is a very cool blue tending to greenish on its own, and a smooth non-granulating pigment. Notice that all the earth yellows turn quite a bit green with the Phthalo Blue. Being such a green-tending blue automatically helps the mix shift greenish, with the earthiness of the yellows making them desaturated and well, ‘earthy’!

mixes of earth yellows with various blue watercoloursNote to self: These make nice mixes for marshy greens, with the camel one being the most yellow and the DS MATS being the most translucent and clear.

Here is a video by Smoothie77 on Youtube demonstrating a painting with the same principles.

Here is a final image of four mini-sky washes with our four earth yellows and ultramarine blue. Really, Yellow + Blue ≠ Green!

4 small sky washes wiht earth yellows and ultramarine blue

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