Thursday 5 January 2017

All that Grey...

Happy New Year. It's been a busy time getting our new house sorted and I still haven't unpacked everything I need in my art room - including my scanner - so please excuse the less than ideal photos. I wanted to share some ideas with you...

Back in 1999, when we lived in New Jersey, USA, my then very young son looked out the window one very grey February day and said plaintively "I wish that the world was all the colours of the rainbow."

While those of us in the Southern Hemisphere are getting our massive dose of vitamin D and watching out for the extreme UV over the Summer, for many of you this time of the year is all about grey - grey skies, grey roads, grey trees, grey buildings. There are many ways to mix greys and I thought I'd share a few.

Jane's Grey mixture

I am sure you will be familiar with my favourite grey mix - Jane's Grey. I generally prefer to create two-pigment greys since they are simple and can easily be moved between the two colours without any loss of colour harmony.

A cool dusty grey

Burnt Sienna and Cerulean Chromium is another lovely grey - I use this for dusty greys especially in the sky in the northern hemisphere if the grey is rather cool. It is granulating and liftable so, like Jane's Grey, you can splash it around and lift out the clouds.

A cool staining grey

Pyrrol Scarlet and Phthalo blue GS will also make an interesting range of greys and near-blacks, including one I call 'Jane's Black R/B', but these will be non-granulating and staining. Where the above mixes can move between blues and browns, this will move between deep indigos and Indian red hues. It will also mix darker greys than the above. 

A variation of this is Transparent Pyrrol Orange mixed with Phthalo Blue RS - this pair makes a gorgeous deep black and a range of browns and burnt oranges that I call Jane's Black B/O and use for bird or stone studies where the common colours are browns/oranges and blues. (Note: DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange has changed from a red-orange to a mid orange so this is no longer a neutralising pair.)

A neutral staining grey is created when you 
dilute Jane's Black

Another favourite two-colour mix is Phthalo Green BS and Pyrrol Crimson - at full strength this makes Jane's Black (R/G) - a wonderful deep staining black. It can be watered down to a very soft range of greys. It can lean towards the deep maroons or deep greens so can be useful for foliage and landscape greys and blacks.

For a greater range of greys, try mixing three primaries together.

Granulating greys.

A lovely general purpose primary triad consists of ultramarine, Quinacridone Gold or another warm yellow (New Gamboge/Hansa Yellow Deep etc) and Pyrrol Crimson. This is a very useful triad in Australia as it mixes slightly dull greens, oranges and purples that suit our landscape. This Aussie Triad will also mix a rich black that can be watered down to a lovely granulating grey. As there are three pigments in the grey, it can also be moved to a more purplish grey, a more green-grey, a more brown-grey or of course more blue, more yellow or more red. That adds complexity in mixing but is fun to explore.

A versatile range of greys.

If you start with a cool triad - phthalo blue GS, Hansa yellow light (or medium as a pirmary yellow) and Quinacridone Rose - you can also mix a gorgeous rich and staining black. Watered down, this will make a range of soft greys that can be adjusted warmer or cooler as you prefer.

Warm greys

A rather classical triad of a warm red, a yellow and ultramarine will also make a rich black, and watered down the greys will be granulating. They will tend to be warmer greys too.


Phthalo blue, Quinacridone gold and pyrrol scarlet make another deep black but the greys tend to be difficult to neutralise if you add the yellow - alone the scarlet and blue make a rich neutral black as seen above.

My favourite granulating earth greys

One of my favourites is the grey made with Cerulean Chromium, an earth yellow such as Yellow Ochre and Indian Red. This will be a granulating grey and rather lovely to explore for snow.

Versatile granulating greys

Ultramarine,  Hansa Yellow medium and Quinacridone Rose is one of the most versatile primary triads - you can make pretty much any colour with this set. Mixed together they make a lovely rich black and a range of beautiful greys.

To make blacks and greys with any primary triad, I suggest making a mid orange first, then gradually add the blue. You could equally make a green and add the red or make a purple and add the yellow, but making the orange and adding the blue seems to be the most reliable method. And of course use very strong pigments with very little water to get a rich black.

You can read more about three-pigment greys on Liz Steel's blog - she uses three colours to make her premixed greys, including her new soft grey, which is a little like the earth grey above.

Enjoy your mixed greys and blacks :-)


  1. This post is so helpful! I love it! Thanks so much.

  2. Wonderful Post. Thank you!

  3. Great post - Jane - thank you very much!

  4. Just give it a go with the cerulean PB35 that you like. It will be less green so will make slightly cleaner earthy purples. I've always preferred the PB36 because it is stronger, so can cope with the dynamic Indian red, but I often use it very watered down.