Friday, July 15, 2011

Advice for the Sorcerer's Apprentice: Making Successful Greys

"Morning at Raccoon Beach" 5x7, oil - $60 - contact Michael

Greys are both easy and difficult to conjure up.  Easy, because there's nothing like a dirty brush to work its magic in creating rather ugly greys.  Difficult, because a pretty grey takes a certain amount of apprenticeship in mixing color.

First, let's make sure we've got reasonably clean brushes.  That will keep you from summoning grey without meaning to.  Now, let's think about how greys are made.

They say you can make a grey by mixing a color with its complement.  This is true, but it can be a very muddy grey.  A prettier grey can be made by mixing a color with its near-complement instead.  This is because the grey is closer in character to the color being greyed.  Try it.  Use a color wheel to help you identify the near-complement.    If you want to grey down a green, don't use red - instead, use red-violet or red-orange.

Let's take this a step farther.  Look at the color you want to grey and decide if it is a cool or warm version of its base color.  To grey it, add the same temperature of its complement.  If it's a cool red, use a cool green.  If you use a warm green with a cool red, this will make mud.  Using a cool with a cool will make a more beautiful grey.  As an example, I paint a lot of fog, and many times I'll start off with a light pink - that's cadmium red light with lots of white, and very cool - and then scumble on a light cool green, such as viridian with lots of white.  This combination gives me a mudless fog.

In the little 5x7 sketch above, I use this approach, but for a sunny scene.  The scene had a lot of grey in it.  I painted all the major shapes with the complement of the correct value and correct color temperature, and then overlaid them with the local color.

By the way, here's a picture (12x24) I'm working on.  This is not plein air.  I'm showing it to you because I'm having fun in the studio with it.  I am painting indirectly, with a bistre underpainting followed by a series of glazes.  I think I'm about half way done.  I'll write a blog on it when it's finished.


daniela.. said...

Just the other day I purchased your video on using a limited palette and have been experimenting with what you say, and now, this advice for successful greys...Awesome! Thank you, Michael.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank *you*, Daniela!

Ruth Andre said...

Lovely lesson for using greys and a lovely painting.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Ruth!

Jenny said...

I am painting grays tomorrow. So glad I ran across you on the internet. Beautiful paintings and blog.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank you, Jenny!