Color Curriculum

Gray, the Ever-Popular Neutral

By Carolyn Payzant 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 18, Issue 1


Seldom does a botanical artist use gray straight out of the tube. The exception may be neutral tint. I believe the reason for this is the prevailing characteristic of most gray pigments: they are mostly unexciting and have little charm or attractiveness. However, there are some that you may want to try: 

Winsor & Newton’s (WN) PB15+PK6+PV19, Neutral Tint, is the darkest gray that I tested. It brings to mind charcoal grilling squares. When I painted a splotch from this tube, I do see the violet. 

M. Graham’s (MG) PV19 + PG7 Neutral Tint is a medium gray that in tint shows a slight green bias. 

Daniel Smith’s (DS) PKB10 Graphite Gray reminds me of a dark gray chalk board with a very slight brown bias. 

Daniel Smith’s (DS) PB29 + PBrk9, Payne’s Grey, is a deep dark multi-dimensional gray resembling a near black indigo - the blue is boldly there. 

I am not sure how many of you would consider DS’s PG18 + PR177 + PB29 Moonglow a gray, but I do. It is a beautiful twotoned gray wavering between a medium blue gray with lavender under tones. I love it. If you own an old tube of Moonglow you might want to check on its pigment composition. Their original Moonglow was not lightfast. Not unsurprisingly they have reformulated this vaporous color to be lightfast. 

Other than maybe DS’s Moonglow, why in the world would you limit yourself to flat uninteresting grays when you can create great grays with depth and interest. 

Grays made with Yellow 

Making a gray with yellow is almost impossible. I searched through all of my splotches and finally came up with an acceptable gray made with a mixture of M. Graham’s PY150 Nickel Azo Yellow and DS’s Moonglow. I have to admit it is a more thick foggy hue than gray but is beautiful. 

Grays made with Orange 

Mix DS’s PO62 Permanent Orange with their French Ultramarine Blue and create an interesting gray with a blue bias and burnt sienna undertones. 

Mix DS’s PO73 Pyrrol Orange with Holbein’s (H) PB16 Marine Blue – it’s as dark as WN’s Neutral Tint but with a lot more character. Depending on the ratio of pigments, you can actually see either the orange or the turquoise in these grays. 

Grays made with Red 

Mix WN’s PR188 Scarlet Lake with (H) PB16 Marine Blue and create a mottled dark gray the reaches for red or turquoise depending on the ratio of each pigment used. 

Mix WN’s PR188 Scarlet Lake with MaimeriBlu’s (MB) PG7 Cupric Green Deep and create a mossy gray. 

Mix MG’s PR209 Quinacridone Red with MB’s PG7 Cupric Green Deep, create a hue close to DS’s Moonglow. 

Mix MG’s PR209 Quinacridone Red with MB’s PG36 Cupric Green Light, create a soft gray with pinkish undertones. 

Grays made with Violet 

Mix MG’s PV19 Quinacridone Violet with MB’s PG7 Cupric Green Deep to create the hue and softness of fog. 

Mix MG.s PV37 Dioxine Purple with MB’s PG36 Cupric Green Light to create graphite gray with lavender undertones. 

As you can see you don’t have to go shopping for gray tubes of paint to make your paintings more interesting. Have fun and be creative with this neutral hue.