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Grey can be exciting

Judi Whitton shows you how to mix just the right grey for your watercolours, and shares her handy ‘useful mix’ for a variety of objects

The colour ‘grey’ has been described as an emotionless moody colour associated with being dull, drab and dingy, yet it dominates in many painting subjects, so there is a need to develop ways to introduce exciting greys into your work. One of the most famous paintings in the world – Guernica – was painted in monochrome. Picasso’s palette consisted of black, white and grey.

Which pigments make grey?

There are ready mixed ‘grey’ pigments available, such as neutral tint and Payne’s grey. However if you combine pigments to make grey you can produce greys that are exciting and are appropriate for the subject.

In theory if you mix any complementary colours on the colour wheel, such as orange and blue, you will make grey. Every artist has their favourite way of making grey; my two favourite combinations are cerulean blue with cadmium orange (Chart A), and raw sienna, cobalt blue and permanent rose (Chart B). I always select cadmium orange by Maimeri as I prefer the grey it makes. Some paint manufacturers include a yellow pigment in their cadmium orange and, when blended with blue, this can lead to a grey with an unwanted green cast.

Useful mix

When teaching a watercolour class for beginners I introduce a combination of raw sienna, cobalt blue and light red (Chart C) as a basic ‘recipe’ for making grey. I refer to this as a ‘useful mix’ and it serves very well for the colour of walls, buildings, roads, stormy skies, tree trunks and so on. By varying the proportions you can achieve a warm grey (biased towards raw sienna), a cool grey (biased towards cobalt blue) and so on. A very popular traditional two- pigment mix for making grey is burnt sienna and cobalt blue (Chart D). The list is endless.

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About The Artist

Welcome to our February issue with our extra 16-page guide to art courses and holidays for 2018, including Kevin Scully's article on what to take into consideration and what to pack to make the most of the opportunities offered by a structured course away from home. Our artists also offer plenty of ideas and inspiration for painting a variety of subjects in a broad range of media, including pastel pencil animals, a horse in watercolour, trees and an orchard in pastels, mixed-media collages inspired by old buildings, a photorealist self-portrait in oils and more. In addition, Hazel Soan starts her new three-part series on light and shade in watercolour by explaining how to train your eye to see and interpret tone, Judi Whitton demonstrates how to mix and exploit a wide range of lively greys in your watercolour paintings, while Paul Gadenne shows why and how acrylics can be the key to achieving greater spontaneity in your work. Be inspired and enjoy trying some new ideas under the guidance of our fantastic team of contributing artists!