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How to Mix More Interesting Greens

How to Mix More Interesting Greens

Green is a color that students often take for granted. When painting greens, many kids will default to just using the green in their paint set. This results in paintings that lack depth and interest. With some basic color mixing instruction, kids can paint a variety of greens and greatly improve their paintings at the same time!

Follow these steps to mix more interesting greens…


  • 9×12 white construction paper or watercolor paper
  • Watercolor set (I like the Prang OVL-8 set)
  • Watercolor brush (#8 – #12 round is good)
  • Water and container


First, help kids “see”

1. The first step is to help kids “see like artists” by recognizing the vast array of greens that are all around us in nature. Bring in plant and leaf samples, take a nature walk, examine the work of famous Plein Air painters like Claude Monet, or simply look out the window! Point out the subtle and not-so-subtle variations in the variety of greens that most people (not just kids!) may otherwise overlook. The photo below is one example of the variety of greens you’ll find in nature: 

Imagine if you used only the green in your paint set to paint this picture!

Next, show them the color wheel

2. Use a color wheel to show how green (a secondary color) is created by mixing yellow and blue (primary colors). The color wheel will show how by varying the ratio of yellow to blue, you can change the green that results.  

Then, let them experiment with paint

3. Now, paint some greens! Mix as many different greens as you can by varying the amounts of yellow and blue as you mix them together. Each time you mix a new variation of green, paint a small swatch on your paper.  
4. Next, try adding yellow and/or blue in varying amounts to the green that’s already in your paint set, for an even greater variety of greens.  
5. Then, take your greens a step further by mixing a green and adding a tiny amount of black to it. Do the same with red, orange, purple, and brown. (Just make sure that each new color still looks “green-ish“!) The goal is to paint as many different greens as possible. See who can paint the most greens!
green color swatches with watercolor

Now, use those new skills in a painting

6. Now use your new color mixing knowledge to paint a jungle (or another nature scene) using as many different greens as you can. Notice how much more lively your paintings look when you use a variety of greens and not just the green in your paint set!
Even very young children can be taught to mix a range of greens that more accurately reflect the amazing variety of greens all around us. Try this exercise with your students…. they (and you!) will never take greens for granted again!

Finally, protect your paint sets by teaching proper clean-up

All this color mixing can leave paint sets looking a little “worse for the wear”. Paint sets need to be properly cleaned to be ready for the next students who receive them. Imagine how discouraging it would feel to open your paint set, ready to paint, and find a dirty, sticky mess. A student shouldn’t need to clean their paint set in order to use it!

When students learn that cleaning up is an essential part of the painting process, it becomes a healthy habit. You don’t just close the lid and walk away when class is over. Students are happy to comply once they understand this process ensures they will get a clean set next time, too!

Cleaning their watercolor set is no big deal once students know what they’re expected to do. You can read the do’s and don’ts of my simple and effective watercolor clean-up process here and here.

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  1. It is very hard to limit yourself to one color. However, art paired with my love of plants and ecosystems make this a very exciting possiblity. I loved the color swatches! I also added you to my homepage for future inspiration to the up coming school year. Thanks

  2. I love this simple way to encourage students to go beyond the standard color. My problem with over 500 kids using the same paint sets is keeping the colors clean after encouraging mixing. For this reason I generally encourage mixing when using liquid tempera paint but not so much with the water color sets. How have others solved the problem of keeping sets clean but encouraging mixing? I find the light colors quickly get ruined from mixing.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment and question! I should have linked to my clean-up process in this post, so I just went back in and added 2 links for that at the end. Cleaning up after painting is so important! Kids need to be taught how to do this so every paint set is getting cleaned properly every time. No one should ever have to start their painting time by cleaning someone else’s mess. My clean-up process is quick and easy and the kids really don’t mind doing it when they know that it means they’ll get a clean paint set next time, too! Thanks again so much for your question!