There is no need to add purchased gray paints to your palette! In fact, grays and blacks that you can buy premixed to use straight from the tube can look flat, dull, boring. Yes, they’re convenient. But beautiful, not so much! 

WHY MIX YOUR OWN GRAYS?

When you try to adjust the color of commercially mixed gray paint from a purchased tube, any intensity of the color tends to be lost. Since tube grays already contain red, yellow, and blue, whatever color you add can dull the color even more, making a muddy color very likely. Full strength, tube grays and blacks can be unnatural and look out of place.

Instead, mix your own grays, to create an unlimited variety of luminous grays that will harmonize with your painting. It’s fun! And mixing your own grays allows you to improve your paintings as you practice your color mixing skills.

Rocky Maine Coast Watercolor.

Try NOT to avoid gray and neutral color. These hues enhance the intensity of nearby color. To make your brights appear brighter, use soft and subtle grays to contrast with the brights. If you are able to mix a gray whose dominant color is a complement of the bright color in your picture, your bright color can be made to ‘vibrate’ or sparkle. For instance, surround an orange with a bluish gray to make the orange pop. Or position a greenish gray near a pink to set it off. Another example would be a brown gray close to a blue. Or a yellow gray nearby a purple.

You may be noticing that I’m not talking about using a ‘neutral’ gray to create vibration. A neutral gray is created from EQUAL amounts of each pigment in the mix, and yields a somewhat dull, lifeless color. It is more useful to mix grays from UNEQUAL proportions of different pigments so that you make cool blue grays, rose grays, yellow grays, green grays, brown grays, or purple grays. By adding a little more of one color or a little less of another, and varying the amount of water, you could create and endless variety of grays.

HOW TO CREATE GRAY.

There are two ways to create grays: by mixing complementary colors or by mixing three primary colors together. (Adding an earth color can also gray a color to a degree, because earth colors contain some of each primary.) To make a darker, stronger gray, add more paint to the mix. For a lighter gray, use more water when mixing. And yes, you can mix your own better versions of convenience grays, including Payne’s Gray and Neutral Tint, in this way.

Shaftesbury, Dorset, U.K. Watercolor.

To insure that your grays harmonize with your painting, try to mix your grays by using some of the pigments already used in other parts of your picture.

You can gray any color by adding some of its COMPLEMENT to the mix. When complementary colors are combined they will neutralize each other, creating gray. (For more information about primaries and color complements see ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing in Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/.) Adding some Burnt Sienna to Ultramarine Blue, for instance, will dull it. The more Burnt Sienna you add, the grayer it becomes, until Burnt Sienna begins to dominate and the color turns to a gray brown. 

Grays Mixed From Complementary Colors.

Mix three primary (red, yellow, and blue) colors together to generate a gray. The gray can be varied depending on the particular primary pigments chosen and their amount in the mix. Remember to use unequal amounts to create the most attractive grays. Lighter valued primaries will tend to create paler grays but not dark grays, whereas darker valued primaries will blend easily to make darker mixes.

Further, depending on your choice of primaries, you can mix transparent, or opaque and granulating, or staining grays. 

Grays Mixed From Triads (Three Colors).

So many beautiful choices and combinations! Also try these:

   *  Ultramarine Blue/Permanent Alizarin/ Burnt Sienna,

   *  Cerulean Blue/ Phthalo Violet/ Raw Sienna,

   *  Sap Green/Brown Madder/Cerulean,

   *  Ultramarine Blue/Yellow Ochre/ Burnt Sienna, or

   *  Phthalo Blue/Cadmium Yellow/Quinacridone Rose.

IN SUMMARY.

Improve your paintings and practice your color mixing skills! Create an unlimited variety of luminous grays that will harmonize with your paintings.

No need to purchase another tube of gray or black paint!

There are two ways to create grays: 1.) by mixing complementary colors or 2.) by mixing three primary colors together. To make a darker, stronger gray, add more paint to the mix. For a lighter gray, use more water when mixing.

Remember to use unequal amounts of each color to create the most attractive and useful grays. Lighter valued pigments will tend to create paler grays and will not create darks, whereas darker valued pigments will blend well to make darker mixes. Further, depending on your choice of colors, you can mix transparent, or opaque and granulating, or staining grays. 

What an assortment!

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8 Comments

    1. I’m very glad the post was helpful. Be sure to give mixing some grays a try in your painting – color mixing can be great fun! I often feel like color mixing is like doing magic tricks.
      Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Grays are tricky. Lots of color mixing with watercolors is tricky, although I think it’s great fun! It’s my way of doing magic tricks. After choosing your ‘color’ it all depends on proportions of each paint you put in the mix AND the amount of water you add. Vary paint choices, proportions of each paint, and amount of water. Experiment – keep thinking about magic tricks. Another hint is to test all mixes on a scrap of watercolor paper before putting on your painting. It does wonders for your confidence. Enjoy!
      Thanks very much for commenting.

      Like

  1. Timely post for me, I was searching green mixes today in advance of returning to an in person watercolor class for the first time since 2020. I was most excited about the grayed mixes I made. When I first started watercolor, I used Payne’s gray to make shadows, with such lifeless outcomes. When I first mixed blue and burnt sienna it was an eye opener. I am trying hard to keep my brush away from Payne’s gray, although I did just buy my first tube of neutral tint. Thanks for your very informative posts and your paintings are a joy to behold!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Such nice words!
      I’m glad you notice the difference between the grays you mix yourself and tube grays that you can purchase. There is so much more life, light, and pizazz in your own mixed grays. They also blend better with the rest of your painting as they often can be mixed with colors you have already used in your painting, giving the picture better color harmony.
      Both Payne’s Gray and Neutral Tint can become a crutch if relied on exclusively to darken your mixes. And they both can easily become muddy, opaque, and ‘dead’ when mixed with other colors.
      So, I encourage you to take a few extra minutes to create your own luminous grays. Trust me, your paintings will really improve!

      Like

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