How to Mix Grey

how to mix grey with acrylic paint

Hi friends! Continuing with our colour mixing adventures, next up is grey!  Now the first thing to pop into a beginner’s mind when thinking about mixing grey is white and black.  This is a very quick way to mix a neutral grey (know those tubes of paint you can buy called “neutral grey”?  That’s all they are…alter the ratio of white and black to get your different tones and you’re set! Save your money!)

Grey is abundant in nature, look at all the beautiful greys in this picture!

Grey is abundant in nature, look at all the beautiful greys in this picture!

Grey, however, can actually be made in a few different ways besides the standard neutral grey method,  but first we should think about why we would want to mix grey in the first place (after all, weren’t we trying to AVOID this in our colour bias lessons?) Well, actually grey has a few key purposes in painting:

  • To tone down a saturated colour into a more muted tone (I talked about this in my color theory tutorial)
  • To paint a certain area a grey colour (duh!  lol )
  • To use as a shadow colour in a painting (as opposed to black…a rich grey can bring more life to a painting’s shadow than flat black)

So in thinking about these reasons to use grey, we can think about how to mix such a grey.  Neutral grey (white + black) works for toning down a colour without changing it’s hue.  When thinking about a grey to use at face value, as a grey colour itself, however, we might want to add a punch of colour to the mix.

A complimentary grey can be mixed by using – you guessed it!- complimentary colours.  Remember that complimentary colours make grey when mixed, so playing with the ratio of your colours can give your a wide variety of greys to choose from!  Adding more white or more of the darkest complimentary colour will let you alter the tones of your grey to get the right darkness or lightness of the grey that you need.

You can also mix a warm or a cool grey depending on how you alter your ratios…more of the warm complimentary makes a warm grey, more of the cool complimentary makes a cool grey!

Finally, a primary grey can be an excellent choice for shadows as opposed to black.  Primary grey is made by mixing three primary colours together.  Take any red, blue, and yellow that you want and mix them together in various ratios to get different coloured greys.  You can use any primary with any colour bias you want! Play with it and mix them together to see what you get!  Don’t forget that you can add white to the mix if it’s getting a bit too dark to lighten the tones.  The beauty of a primary grey is the fact that it’s literally made from all three primaries, and thus will look great sitting next to any secondary colour, allowing that colour to look more vibrant as it’s secretly sitting next to it’s complimentary primary colour!

Grey has many uses in painting, and can be mixed by a variety of means.  Play around with your paints and you can discover your own recipe for grey that suits your needs!  Just remember before you use a neutral grey or a plain black for shadows…think about the richness and vibrancy you can create by mixing your own special grey!  Painting and art is all about experimentation (sometimes the process is even more important than the final result) so have fun, be brave, and create something wonderful!

***UPDATE: I’ve created a video tutorial demonstrating how to mix any gray color you need using these three methods, so if you want a step by step demo of the techniques in this post, watch it here!

Till next time, keep creating!

-Ashley <3

Leave a Comment :)

    • Hello! Thanks for your comment. This post is meant to give general ways, as there are countless ways to make any specific hue of grey. If you’re looking to make a light bluish-grey, you can use any of the three main grey mixing methods in this post. So for a neutral grey…you can mix white and black together to get the right tone of grey, then to make it bluish, just add a touch of blue to the mix. You could use cerulean blue for a nice light blue. If it’s too dark, add more white, if it’s too light, add more black. If it’s not blue enough… add more blue. If it’s too blue…add more of that neutral grey you mixed.

      To mix a complementary grey, you can take your cerulean or whatever blue you’ve chosen to use and add its complement…orange. So you could mix a red and yellow together if you don’t have orange on hand, and add a very small amount to the blue. It will become a greyish mixture. Then simply adjust from there…not blue enough, add more blue. Too blue, add more orange, too dark…add some white to the mix.

      The final way I’ve described, a primary grey, can be mixed by combining blue, yellow, and red together. Obviously you want a bluish grey, so make sure you’re adding more blue to the mix than yellow or red (notice how this is extremely similar to the complement grey?) And again adjust from there.

      So using the fomula in this post, you can make any type of grey you want! Your job is to take it and make it work for you. Hope that helps!