Sage, as its name implies, is a type of green with a distinct smokey grey overtone, considered a quaternary colour. Quaternary, in the context of colour theory, refers to colours created by mixing colours on the fourth level down from the primary colours. Because of their distance from the primary colours, the colours that count as the definitive list of all quaternary combinations is not so strictly defined. But it is widely agreed that sage, being a combination of green and grey, two secondary colours, counts as one of the agreed colours within. Because of its resemblance to dried sage, sage as a colour has largely been associated with nature, herbs, and gentle greenery.
When it comes to composing a colour palette with it at the centre, there are many directions that one can go. So long as they know why and in order to achieve what mood they choose to do as such.
Sage green is a distinctly cool and neutral colour, even among greens, which are already very cool colours, according to colour theory. Being mixed with grey leaves sage green is a particularly calming and mitigated shade, balancing out the yellow undertones that give green its vibrancy and leaving it soft and almost velvety. Even when rendered out into basic flat colours without the shading and texturing necessary for it.
While the inspiration for the colour, as stated, is the grey-green of dried spices, what sage green actually reminds me of most often in nature is the colour of succulent leaves, which have a dusty, fuzzy top layer over their outer leaves. As an unexpectedly neutral influence on brighter colours, you can use sage green as both the vibrant tone in a colour palette, or, conversely, as the least saturated colour among more vivid ones, while making sure that they are tones that go well together regardless.
According to standard selections, some of the colours that go naturally well with sage green are vintage peach and terracotta, both muted colours in and of themselves that compliment sage green while allowing it to shine through. This selection can be very complimentary for interior decoration, because of how both peach and terracotta are already very popular colours for furniture and walls. This is also often the case with throw pillows, carpets, and even when selecting out the colours of a set of clothing. Sage green is a muted, relaxed colour that compliments other relaxed colours.
This being the situation at hand, however, I personally think that this can be limiting: while sage green is a desaturated colour of green, it still has all of the robust flexibility of green, and shouldn’t be limited to only the obvious choices, especially when it comes to painting artwork, rather than selecting a colour palette to decorate the interior of your house with.
In addition to all we’ve discussed, sage green is also very much the colour of olive leaves. Swaying in the breeze, especially the top coat of the leaves, which looks almost grey in the right light.
For this reason, one of the interesting combinations that make for a stunning visual piece is to combine the grey-green of sage with a more vibrant green that you can use sparingly. Imagine green olives still on the bows of an olive branch, hidden among the silvery leaves – and incorporated alongside shades of brown.
These colours can be more saturated than sage. In fact, probably should very well be more saturated, in order to make sage the relaxed centre of the piece, the colour most frequently used, to be balanced out with brighter, more robust colours.
While the example I used was olive trees, this particular palette of sage green, bright green, and several types of brown, can be put to use when painting various types of trees or other vegetation. Including the bodies of rose bushes, pine trees, evergreen trees, some deciduous trees in the spring, and even more types of cactuses! You can even change it up and use this exact same selection to paint fields of green grass. With the sage green used to paint the drier patches of greenery, the brighter green to depict clover, or places where the sun catches the blades more brightly, and the browns being the ground below.
While most colours tend to be painted with oil as a first and watercolour as an afterthought, I actually think that this destaurated, free-flowing colour can be used to more creative effect using watercolour, or other highly liquid mediums. This is the case because it blends readily with other types of green and yellow, and even compliments well the white paper beneath it, and looks almost haunting when it is at a slight opacity, resembling the aftermath of a bright green rather than the green itself when it was young and bright, and so can add beautifully to the atmosphere that watercolour already possesses.
Other colours that might be a surprisingly good combination to use with sage green, in particular with watercolour, are desaturated reds and pinks, which are opposite colours to sage green and so bring out its best and most interesting qualities, while it brings out the same for them. The one thing to look out for when painting with this particular palette, however, is to avoid blending the three directly on the page – while they all look very well together, they blend together in a way that cancels each other’s most eye-catching qualities out, leaving you with a muddy grey, or a desaturated brown.
As I hope I’ve demonstrated here, there’s a lot to be done with as simple of a colour as sage green. While its natural use is as a neutral balancing colour to peaches and terracottas, it can and should be used beyond that, to explore the bounds of nature and bring the exterior indoors and onto the canvas. When combined with the right colours and the correct medium, sage green is more than a balancing, relaxing colour – it represents the spectrum of green rarely captured in art, and to great effect in all types of visual art.