Color Curriculum

Desert Greens

By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 17, Issue 2


In April I spend a bit of time in my home state of Arizona enjoying the warmth of the sun and the diversity of plant material. Living in New Hampshire I tend to forget the gray greens of the arid desert and only think of vivid greens of a location that gets plenty of rain with moderate temperatures. That old nursery rhyme, “April showers brings May flowers” not only brings glorious color but also luscious greens. In arid locations plants must protect themselves from the harsh sun and lack of water with either a waxy coating which appears clay-like or a downy covering which appears velvety to downright furry.  

The quickest way to achieve these muted greens is the inorganic, naturally occurring, blue biased PG17 chromium oxide green. I have only tested two: Daniel Smith’s Chromium of Oxide and Winsor & Newton’s Oxide of Chromium Green. It has been my observation, like any other colors, that there are different biases between the two manufactured desert greens. Daniel Smith’s definitely blue but slightly lighter and more yellow while Winsor & Newton’s is bluer, deeper, and more velvet-like. If you are going to paint desert plants on a regular basis, you need both. 

I recommend both because of another observation: desert plants with yellow flowers lend themselves to Daniel Smith’s paint and desert plants with magenta flowers tend toward Winsor & Newton’s.  

Characteristics to be cautious of when using either are: they can overpower and muddy other pigments and both have a large drying shift. The first you will see instantly but the drying shift is more elusive. My recommendation is to make splotches and let them completely dry to find your perfect match. 

A range of red hues can make Winsor & Newton’s Oxide of Chromium “pop”: starting with quinacridone red and working your way through all the violets to deep purple. On the other hand Daniel Smith’s Chromium of Oxide Green works well with deep yellow through all the oranges, including scarlet lake.  

If you want to make your own respectable desert green try mixing PY151 + PO62 gamboges (M. Graham) with either PB29 French ultramarine blue (Daniel Smith) or PB28 cobalt blue (M. Graham).  

One other green I might suggest for a deep desert green is Daniel Smith’s PB29 (ultramarine blue) + PO49 (quinacridone deep gold) Undersea Green. And one last hint: mix your Chromium of Oxide Green with PY53 nickel titanate yellow (Daniel Smith) and achieve the soft pastel of furry loveliness.