Friday, May 22

Why Mixing the Color "Gray" Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Today’s Image
A Gradation of Gray

Today’s blog is about mixing the color “gray” in your paintings. It's like the box of chocolates from the movie, Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re going to get!

Oh sure, you expert artists out there would say otherwise. You’d tell me there are exact mixing guides that will give you perfect results every time. You’d tell me you must use these mixing recipes because, heaven forbid, you don’t ever want a “surprise” on your paper or canvas. Right.

To use an American expression, “they are full of it.” The art world can’t even agree on how the darn color should be spelled. In one camp, the color is ”gray.” The other camp spells it “grey.” I could care less how you spell it, although I choose “gray” for no other reason except that it looks right.


I find that using grays in your paintings is one of your most useful tools and a skill you should become proficient in.

Why? Because the change in value, the contrast, the chiaroscuro, is what makes your paintings come alive. Unless you’re painting in the abstract or abstract expressionism (or any other of the –isms), you need the gradation in tone (in color or black/white) to provide the third dimension and a sense of depth to your work.

Also, I’m not implying that you can only use grays to achieve value changes or shadows. There are many other ways to do that, although using gray is one of the most useful.

So, how do you get the color “gray.” Well, let me count the ways, but remember—there is no one right way of doing it.

I will add here that if you don’t know anything about color theory or the color wheel or any of that, I suggest now would be the perfect time for you to go and get a basic understanding of color before moving on. Otherwise, you will probably get very frustrated trying to mix your grays, not to mention all the other colors.

Of course, the easiest way to get a gray is to go out and buy one off the rack (like Davy's gray, for example). But to me, that’s cheating, plus it takes all the fun out of learning about mixing colors. Don’t do it.

The second easiest way is by adding the complement of the color you are painting. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, see the paragraph above on getting a basic understanding of color theory . For example, you get a very nice gray when you add a touch of orange to blue.

Following on with my blue-and-orange example, depending on the exact orange (yellow-orange, red-orange, etc.) and the exact blue (ultramarine, cerulean, etc.) you mix, you will get a DIFFERENT result every time. That doesn’t even take into consideration the proportions of the colors you're mixing.

And that’s just orange and blue. Yesterday, I mixed a very nice gray, and just the one I needed, by combining—get this—magenta, sap green, and cobalt blue—that’s three colors! There are also warm grays and cool grays, but I’ll leave that discussion for another OrbisPlanis art blog.

Wow--the possibilities are endless, but if you’re like me, you’ll learn a few basic mixes and then use variations of those as needed. Learning is the fun of it.

That’s why I said at the beginning, mixing the color "gray" is like a box of chocolates!


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