Now that Spring is here, it’s entirely appropriate to talk about shades of green, and how they are named.
Pictured above is a set of green PMS colors, once the standard for the printing industry. Basic colors of ink were mixed together to create the colors in the squares, which were referred to by number. This was useful if you were running a two or three-color ink job on a small press. Let’s say it was a poster. The text might be in black, the light tones of the picture in PMS 394, and the darker ones, in PMS 3995. The black would be printed last to create outlines for the artwork. It required a lot of hand-eye coordination to cut gel screens for each ink color to burn the plates, and I’m glad that computerized printing innovations did away with all that.
The PMS colors made lovely artwork though. Printers would carry swatch strips fastened together on one end, so you could spread them out like a Chinese fan and admire the rainbow.
Historically, shades of green ran in cycles. Previous to the 20th century and its chemical advances these were based less on style and more on what was available. Scheele’s green, for example, was a pigment that yielded a rich emerald color in Victorian times that was all the rage, yet the shade fell out of the favor when the dye did, because it contained arsenic that tended to poison its users. (Another reason C. S. Lewis named his Green Witch as he did.)
For the 20th century shades changed more rapidly.
The 1930s were the age of Nile Green, as illustrated in the quilt above. In the PMS color chart, it corresponds to a more grayed version of PMS 360. It was used in fabric, clothing, kitchen decor and household tools (like the handles of my grandmother’s rolling pin). It was the shade of jadeite glass and Art Decor kitsch.
In the 1940s, darker, muted greens predominated. Not army or military shades, but vegetable ones like kale and spinach. Lighter greens were shades of celery and sage. The mood was serious and subdued.
In the 1950s, with the economy booming again, sweet pastel greens and yellow-greens in clothing, decor, and kitchen appliances became fashionable. Green’s cousins aqua and turquoise proved popular as well.
The 1960s brought psychedelic and acid hues, not the least because of the chemical innovations I talked about previously (and also ones like LSD.) I owned an acid-green Nehru-collared mini-dress that passed from my older cousin to my sister and then to me, a prized possession for a kindergartner. It was the green shade in the middle square of the pic below.
The 1970s brought Earth shades including the much-maligned Avocado, which was usually paired with Harvest Gold, a belligerent reddish-orange, and shades of brown in home decor. In the middle of the decade colors shifted toward primary hues, including a bright grass green which lasted for a while.
The 1980s brought fluorescent and neon greens and a bright yellowish green like the interior of an avocado rather than its shell. In the 1990s these were joined by shades of kiwi and honeydew and dark industrial greens from the grunge era.
As for the 21st century, I can’t say, since I stopped following trends at that point. But I think 80s and 90s colors are still circulating, if not in the brilliant shades they once had. A grayish, pearly mint green has also become popular.
Shades of paint also vary with the decades, particularly their names. Groovy Green might have been popular in 1969, but in 2023, Jade Apple carries more panache.
A paint name doesn’t necessarily have to describe the color exactly, however. Jade Apple brings to mind a bright but not too bright green shading to the green-yellow side of the spectrum; yet, Goblin’s Eye does the same thing, even though goblins aren’t real. Goblins do, however, conjure up images of Halloween and its bright yellow-green shades, and also of Spiderman’s enemy The Green Goblin, popular in movies from the 2000s and 2010s. So Goblin’s Eye is actually pretty accurate for a certain shade.
I came up with a randomgenned list of shades below, some of which could be only used as paint chip colors (Sporting Landscape) while others could be worked into some picturesque writing ( “… the pale green of a silken chrysalis.” )
Shades of Green
Touch of Seafoam