Gray is a shade between white and black, usually 1/5th of black for 4/5th of white.
Gray is perceived as a non-color, but for painters it is the color that makes others shine.
In graphic art and in interior architecture, the nuances are subtle and even poetic:
gray slate, bitumen, celadon, gray (a mixture of gray and beige), gray of Payne (created by the English watercolorist William Payne), Gray mouse or pearl, turtledove (a warm gray), turd (color inspired by horses whose gray pulls on the yellow) or gray putty.
Picasso uses a lot of white, black and gray in moments when he wants to say something very important and when he does not want to waste his time with color.Carmen Giménez, administrator of the Reina Sofía Museum where Guernica has been exhibited since 1981.
How to find yourself in these shades of gray?
Words are not enough, even if we can share what Pearl Gray may mean. Professionals use color charts, and I present you 2 as an example:
- The Pantone color chart comes from the print shop, and references a combination of 18 colors, rather than the 3 primary colors.
- The WEB color classification, which accepts 29 gray references.
Pantone color chart
In the Pantone color chart, there are 148 references.
|Color name||Color sample||Color name||Color sample|
|Bis||Gris fer 2|
|Bistre 2||Pearl gray 2|
29 gray colors are referenced among the web colors.
Watercolor instant grays
In watercolor, there are two direct grays, gray payne and gray davy. The first is dark, slightly bluish while the second is lighter, predominantly green.
The opinions of the watercolor painters are controversial: some look at these instant grays as dirty colors, others include them willingly in their palette. We will see why in the rest of the article.
Payne gray from Winsor & Newton is a mixture of phthalocyanine blue, black and a quinacridone pigment. It has a bluish appearance.
At Blockx, Payne gray also contains ultramarine blue, black and a red pigment.
Examples of mixtures
- The mixture of gray of payne and crimson of alizarin gives a gray-brown as well as the mixture of gray of payne and of burnt shadow earth
- The mixture of gray of payne and blue ceruleum gives a gray-blue
- The gray mixture of payne and overseas gives a gray
Boats on the pond, Gérard LeserreThe background of this watercolor is made from aureoline, magenta and a tip of red transparent oxide. The lower part is enhanced with payne gray. The vegetation is enhanced with the same gray and blue.
Davy gray often has a very light green tint.
It allows very subtle color corrections.
Discreet, it is in fact very useful when delicate hues are sought after
Landscape, Dominique Maréchal
Quebec quietness. An artist's village, peaceful along the river, watercolor done on the pattern, 18x26cm.
Water and lots of green, olive, bladder green, chrome oxide, perylene green, davy gray, and always a tip of red.Dominique Maréchal
I specify here the characteristics of these two grays. You can find more explanations on the analysis of a color on this article. Indeed, Payne and Davy are colors each using 3 or more pigments, and which are semi opaque.
|Resilience to the light||II|
|Transparence/Opacity||SO (Semi Opaque)|
|Resilience to the light||I|
|Transparence/Opacity||SO (Semi Opaque)|
Compose a gray from the 3 primary colors
In watercolor, gray is obtained by mixing the three primary colors: red (pink madder), blue (cobalt) and yellow (aureoline). This is called a trichrome gray.
It is advisable to start with blue, then add red, and switch to gray with yellow.
Primary color and complementary color
An equivalent way is to take a primary color and associate the complementary pair (major pair):
- For blue, the complementary is the orange (of cadmium)
- For yellow, the complementary is purple (crimson alizarin and ultramarine blue)
- For red, the complement is green (emerald)
One can play on the pigments to obtain:
- Neutral grays, whose colors are perfectly balanced
- Gray to predominantly cold or hot, revealing a color as the mixture is uneven.
By uneven, one understands either a predominance in quantity of one of the primary colors, or a more covering (more opaque or less transparent) pigment. This is calledmouse grays.
According to this same principle, it is possible to apply after drying of the first layer another very transparent layer, from a complementary color applied in glaze of an underlying color.
The Winsor colors (Winsor blue, yellow Winsor, ...) are generally more covering.
To illustrate the color revealed by the association of gray, I propose two watercolors that associate the grays between them:
Curley's Barn, Jeanne Dobie
53 x 68 cm, mouse gray, diluted or saturated (Aureoline, Garance Rose, Blue Cobalt, Indian Red, Emerald Green, Cadmium Yellow, ...).
Small view, Isabelle Corcket
19 x 19cm, colored grays combinations.
Make grays sing
The setting and the jewelMake color sing, Jeanne Dobie
The secret of gray is uneven mixtures.
To bring out the gray, or so that the gray brings out a color, one juxtaposes a gray with a dominant with the complementary color.
Look at these squares and take a step back, note the vibrations of the centers.
To illustrate how a gray background can bring out the main subject, below are two watercolors that use this process:
The red heels, Emms 2011
Demonstration on a subject in ocher tones embedded in a bluish gray.
The gray is composed of a yellow base auroline + quinachridone magenta to make an orange, then a cobalt blue.
Tea Break, Angus McEwan 2016
Watercolor on Fabriano paper handmade, 56 x 38 cm.
Chinese orange and ash blue, purple gray and clear turquoise blue of cobalt, burnt Sienna earth, burnt shadow earth, Prussian blue, Moonglow, gold quinacridone, Indian yellow, cobalt blue, burnt orange of quinacridone, green Olive, quinacridone violet, Van Dyck brown, Italian ocher.
Application to 6 mice
The mice will be used to demonstrate the association of colors to make the grays sing. We associate each primary color with its complementary, and the mice will demonstrate if they stand out on the opposite chromatic background.
We have six possible combinations:
- Each of the three colors opposite its complementary (blue orange)
- Then reverse mouse and background.
3 X 2 = 6 illustrations. Let's start with blue and orange.
Combination of bluish gray and orange
This gray is made from orange (Cadmium Yellow with Scarlet Lake) and Blue Cobalt.
Depending on the proportions, the gray turns blue or orange-brown.
Inversion of blue and orange
For the second mouse, I take the same pigments, simply I decrease the cobalt blue to leave a dominant orange.
The background decoration shows the variations of colors that can be made around the gray, going from yellow, orange and gray.
Combination of purple with yellow
This gray is composed of yellow (Yellow of Cadmium and Aureoline) and of violet (ultramarine blue and permanent rose).
Depending on the proportions, the gray turns purple or golden brown. The yellow disc is a glaze of cadmium and aureoline.
Inversion of yellow and purple
For the second mouse, I take the same pigments, simply I increase the proportion of yellow to leave a golden dominant.
The decoration in background makes vibrate the shades of purple.
Yellow mouse, Emms 2017
From a picture of Chris Stein
Association of pinkish gray and green
This gray is composed from permanent pink and emerald green.
They are very transparent colors, delicate to pose because they condense like enamel.
Inversion of green and pink
For the last mouse, the challenge is to achieve a red background.
A dramatic situation is needed!