Get to Know your Colors: Gray

Hi everyone!

So continuing with my Get to Know your Colors series, the next logical color to look at is probably grey. It’s related to white and is the transition between white and black, so let’s take a closer look at grey!

The Color Gray

Grey is a transition between white and black. It is the colorless transition between two non-colors.  The saturation of grey depends on how close to either end it is: a light grey is closer to white, and a dark grey is closer to black. It’s used in painting to unsaturate colours, and the addition of grey to a color is called toning the color down.  Subsequently, the various amounts of grey in a color and the resulting differences in saturation are called the tones of that color (commonly misnamed as the shade of a colour).

Color Wheel Location

Grey is a non-color, like white and black, and thus is not located on the color wheel.  It is

50 Shades of Gray?
50 Shades of Gray?

mixed into colors to create tones and unsaturate bright colors, eventually leading to a type of grey in itself when enough is mixed into the color.

Mixing Gray

Grey can actually be made by an innumerable combination of colors. The first type of grey we usually think of when we talk about grey is neutral gray, which is the non-color grey that results from mixing white with black in varying amounts. Neutral greys can also be puchased in tubes of paint on their own, numbered in order of the ratios between white and black involved in the mix. While this makes toning colors easy as you don’t have to first mix the shade of neutral grey you want, it can also get expensive. I personally prefer to take the extra step and mix my own wanted shade of neutral grey. (Insert 50 Shades of Grey jokes here).

The other way grey can be mixed is simply by combining the primary colors together in varying amounts.  All paint colors mix towards black, so by combining the primary colors together, varying amounts of muddy grey-like colors start to form.  The quickest way to do this is to combine complementary colors, as each color contains the missing primary the other is lacking, they end up unsaturating each other, resulting in a non-color: grey!

This method of using complementary colors is a nice way to make greys that are not completely neutral in color, each one having a slight tinge of color to it. This can create warmer greys and cooler greys, and can really add more dimension to a painting than strictly using neutral grey can.  Another way to do this is to take a neutral grey and add a small amount of a color to it to alter the hue into a very unsaturated color as opposed to a non-color.

The Psychology of Grey

Grey is a bit of an unemotional colour: it’s detached, neutral,undetermined.  This is why we hear the expression that something is “not in black and white, but many shades of grey.” This unemotional aspect of grey is also it’s strong point, making the color feel stable,composed, elegant.  It can also be mysterious, as it can lean towards both light and dark sides of it’s spectrum very easily.

In a painting, grey can be very easy and comfortable to look at, it can be calming,reliable, and

Gray can be calming and relaxing
Gray can be calming and relaxing

even formal (think about businessmen in grey suits).  Be careful with grey,however, as it can also start to look boring and lifeless. This is where it’s smart to use touches of other colors in grey instead of a neutral grey: the tinges of other colors in grey give it life and make it much more interesting to look at.

The secret to using grey is to know the emotions you want to invoke. If you need your painting to be warm and inviting, mix a warmer grey that contains touches of pinks and oranges.  If you want a more cool, quiet, conservative feel, keep your grey more on the cool end with touches of blues and purples.

Further Reading

Here’s a few more articles I’ve written concerning the colour grey if you want to learn more about this colour:

How to Mix Greygrey 2

How to Mix Common Paint Colours

So thanks for reading guys, I hope you’ve enjoyed!

-Ashley <3


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