lthough often overlooked by many, gray is an essential part of any color pallet. This soothing neutral shade offers a reassuring middle ground between light and dark, bringing out the best in the colors that surround it. As artists, we cannot simply settle for gray out of a tube when we have the world of color mixing at our fingertips. In this color mixing guide, we will show you how to create new and interesting gray hues from a range of colors, and give you a deeper insight into the many wonders of the color gray.
Table of Contents
- 1 Taking a Closer Look at Gray
- 2 So, What Colors Make Gray?
- 3 Technical Information for How to Make Gray
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
Taking a Closer Look at Gray
Like all colors, gray can evoke a particular emotional tone when it is used in painting or design. The idea that gray is little more than a combination of black and white and evokes feelings of gloom and melancholy misses the mark. Just as in life, the gray area offers an expansive range of possibilities for emotional and symbolic expression. What you can evoke with a shade of gray depends on its hue and the colors that accompany it.
The Importance of Neutral Shades Like Gray
Vibrant colors like reds, oranges, and yellows can become overwhelming if they do not have a neutral to accompany and support them. Just as you cannot have light without darkness, joy without sadness, and peace without turmoil, neutrals and vibrant colors rely on each other. One of the most impactful ways of creating a sense of balance and harmony in any painting is knowing how to achieve the balance of bright colors and neutral shades like gray.
In some senses, gray can be seen as a conformist color, lacking a personality of its own and taking on the theme of the colors around it. If used right, however, gray can create dramatic scenes.
Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of neutral shades like gray, is that they tend to take on different qualities depending on which vibrant color they are paired with. If, for example, you pair a shade of gray with a bright red, the gray will tend to look a little more green. The same gray, when paired with a vibrant blue, will appear more purple. Perhaps the most amazing thing about making your own gray shades, is that you can achieve these different appearances without the vibrant colors!
Impressions of Different Gray Shades
When you know how to create varied shades of gray, you can use them in various ways to create emotional visual experiences. Darker shades of gray for instance can be moody, mysterious, or formal. In contrast, lighter shades of gray can glimmer with light and electricity.
A Sophisticated Shade
The most common impression of gray is one of seriousness and authority. Perhaps this impression stems simply from the context in which we normally see gray around is in the world, that of offices, suits, and concrete buildings. Gray is often seen as a sophisticated color, one that is silently smart but does not draw too much attention to itself.
Lighter shades of gray typically give this impression of formality and sophistication.
A Shade of Strength and Fortitude
When it comes to considering our emotional human reactions to different colors and shades, we need to consider the context that creates these impressions. There is a reason why yellow is seen as a bright and warm color, and there is a reason why darker shades of gray can create a sense of strength, morose, and fortitude.
In the natural world, the most common shades of gray that we experience are darker. We see these darker shades of gray in rolling thunder clouds and large imposing boulders. Just like the force behind these thunderstorms and the longevity of these boulders, darker shades of gray can create a sense of determination and strength in a painting.
So, What Colors Make Gray?
It is all very well and good knowing how to use different shades of gray in a painting, but the essence of this article is to show you how to make these different shades yourself. Once you know how to make gray paint in a variety of shades, the world is your oyster. There are three main methods that you can use to create different gray shades. The first involves simply combining black and white, the second involves using primary shades, and the third uses complementing colors to create a variety of gray hues.
We will discuss each of these methods, provide our favorite color combinations, and explore how to adjust the temperature and tone of your gray shades. First, however, we need to cover some of the basic principles of color theory.
The Influence of Color Bias
Many of you are certainly going to be familiar with the basic elements of color theory, like the primary colors and colors that complement each other. When it comes to creating a variety of shades of gray, it is important to understand the color bias. Color bias refers to the relative warmth or coolness of a color, with the warmest shade being bright red and the coolest being blue.
This understanding of color bias is surface level, because every color has an implicit temperature, depending on its composite colors. For example, you can have warm or cool purples, depending on the ratios of blue and red. It can get even more complicated when we consider the relative color bias of primary shades like red and blue. A red like coquelicot red is much warmer than magenta because magenta contains a touch of blue and therefore leans more towards purple. In much the same way, manganese blue is much cooler and appears greener than ultramarine blue which is more purple.
Why Is Color Bias So Important?
Color bias is not only something interesting to consider, but it has a direct effect on how you mix colors. You are probably aware of the fact that mixing all three primary shades will create a muddy shade of brown. Say we wanted to mix a purple (which is the base for one of our gray mixing methods) and we combined a warm red with a cool blue (that contains a little yellow). The result of this combination would be a muddy purple because we are inadvertently combining all three primary shades.
For a vibrant purple, the best combination would be a cool red and a warm blue, as both already lean towards purple and only contain red and blue hues.
Method One: How to Make Gray With Black and White
This first method is probably the easiest and most common way to create a shade of gray. If you want to know what two colors make gray, the answer is black and white. You simply need to combine equal parts of black and white paint, to create a lovely neutral shade of gray.
The 1:1 ratio of black and white is only the beginning of this method. You can alter the darkness of your gray by adding more or less black to your white paint.
If you are uncertain of how dark you want your gray paint to be, it is best to begin with your white paint and add small drops of black incrementally. As they always say, it is much easier to add more black than to take it away. Black is the stronger of the two colors, and you only need a touch of black to darken your gray significantly, but a lot of white to lighten it by a small amount.
Downsides to Using This Method
The gray you get from this method is very neutral, as it is neither cool nor warm. This may be ideal for some purposes, but overall this is not the most-loved method for making gray shades. Many artists prefer to use the other methods to create richer grays with different color biases, rather than using this rather flat and lifeless gray.
Another downside of using this method is that you are typically limited to the black or white you have in your palette, again reducing the variety of gray shades that you can make. Finally, many shop-bought black shades have base colors like green which can begin to show through when mixed with white. As a result, you have little control over the final gray shade when using this method.
Method Two: How to Make Gray Paint With Complementary Colors
Combining complementing colors is one of the most popular methods for creating muted colors. When it comes to the question of what two colors make gray paints that have unique color biases and underlying hues, your best option is to use combinations of complementary colors.
Depending on the complementary colors you use, you can control the warmth of your gray shades with ease.
When it comes to mixing the perfect gray shade for your unique painting project, nothing beats experimentation. We have two different methods for you, one for creating a warm gray and one for a cool gray, but you can explore different combinations and ratios to find your perfect shade.
What Colors Make Gray Warm?
The trick to making a warm gray is to use two warm colors. We find that we can create a lovely warm mauve gray by using purple and yellow. Of course, if you were to use a cool purple and yellow shade, you can make a cooler gray shade, but we are using a warm yellow and purple. The two shades that we suggest are:
- Mauve purple
- Flax yellow
Both of these colors are already slightly muted and lean towards gray to begin with, which makes them ideal for creating a light and warm mauve gray. Simply combine these two shades in equal parts and marvel at your beautiful shade of gray. You can use this gray for puffs of smoke, storm clouds, or pebbles. The possibilities are endless with this stunning warm gray. This gray is quite light, and you can make a dark grayish purple shade by using darker shades of purple and yellow. For example, you can substitute your complementing shades with these darker hues:
- Mulberry purple
- Gold yellow
What Colors Make Gray Cool?
In contrast to making warm grays, there are a few more color combinations that you can use to make cool gray shades. The first combination we are going to discuss is orange and blue. You can experiment with using different shades of blue, but the best orange to use when making gray is cadmium orange. The best blue shades for making a cool blue with cadmium orange are:
- Phthalo blue
- Cobalt blue
- Ultramarine blue
Once again, combine your orange and blue in equal parts to produce a lovely cool and quite dark gray shade. Ultramarine blue is a little warmer than the other two, so the gray you will get from it and cadmium orange will be slightly more muted. If you want your gray to be even darker, use a darker shade of blue. If you want to lighten your gray, you can add a touch of white.
The second color combination that will create a cool gray shade is red and green. The best green for making gray is phthalo green, and you can combine this shade with a few different red hues for different results. Our favorite red hues for making a cool gray shade are:
- Cadmium red
- Naphthol crimson
This gray is quite a dark shade, so once again, you can lighten it a little by adding a touch of white paint.
Method Three: How to Make Gray With the Primary Colors
The final, and perhaps most popular method for how to make gray paint is to use a combination of all three primary shades. This method includes a lot of room for adapting and changing your gray shade significantly throughout. We find that the best colors to use with this method are:
- Alizarin crimson
- Ultramarine blue
- Yellow ochre
Begin this mixing process by combining equal parts of your red and blue paint to create a purple shade. At this stage, you can decide whether you want your gray to be warmer or cooler. If you want it to be warmer, add a touch more red, and if you want it to be cooler, add a little more blue.
The crucial part of this method is adding your yellow. It is the addition of the yellow that turns your purple into gray.
Essentially, this method is a slightly longer route to get to the same point as using purple and yellow, but you have a lot more control over the final shade because you are starting from the absolute baseline. You can create the perfect tone of gray by adjusting how much yellow you add. For a darker gray, you simply need to add less yellow, and more for a lighter gray shade.
Technical Information for How to Make Gray
Now that we have covered the three main methods that you can use to mix your own unique shades of gray, we have summarized the technical information for a range of the most popular and common gray hues. In the table below, you will find the name, Hex number, RGB code, and some more information about each of these wonderful shades of gray.
|Gray Shade||HEX #||RGB Code||Uses|
|Silvery Gray||#C0C0C0||192,192,192||Silver is one of the brightest shades of gray. You can use a silver shade in a number of different ways. From the wisdom and elegance that comes with old age and silver hair to the impression of wealth and prosperity that accompany silver items, silver is a versatile and always shining shade of gray to incorporate in your paintings. Silver is also a great shade of gray to use when creating dapples of light, as it reaches out to you from the canvas in all of its glittering glory.|
|Charcoal Gray||#36454f||54,69,79||Charcoal gray is a very dark and cool shade of gray. If you can imagine a piece of coal just before it begins to combust, you have the impression of charcoal gray in your mind’s eye. This dark gray shade is perfect for creating ominous and stormy clouds, the depths of deep oceans, or dark skies that are not too overwhelming.|
|Slate Gray||#778899||119,136,153||Named after the slate tiles used on the roofs of 18th-century English houses, slate gray is a lovely middle ground between silver and charcoal gray. We imagine that this color is the perfect representation of a cloudy sky, one that is not too dark and stormy, but simply overcast and a little gloomy.|
|Ash Gray||#b2beb5||178,190,181||Ash gray is a great color to consider when we are discussing the possibility of creating vastly different hues of gray. Unlike slate gray which has a slightly blue undertone, ash gray has more of a green undertone. This light gray shade is not as bright and vibrant as silver, but it could be used to create a very similar effect. If you want the lightness of silver without the glimmer, consider using ash gray in your paintings.|
|Purple Gray||#a7a6ba||167,166,186||When you first look at purple-gray, you may think that we are crazy, and purple is not the same as gray. This lovely shade is yet another example of the versatility that you can achieve in gray shades when you mix them yourself. You can use this light lilac gray shade to add dimension and definition to any purple element of a painting, or on its own. For a dark grayish purple shade, you can simply add a little more blue to this shade.|
|Cadet Gray||#91a3b0||145,163,176||Used as an official color of the military, cadet gray is a cool gray shade with a blue hue. This color will make a fantastic addition to any color palette, as it is incredibly versatile. You can use this blue-gray shade as part of an ocean scape, to create a dusky sky, or as an undertone in portraiture.|
|Gunmetal Gray||#2C3539||44,53,57||Of all the gray shades in this table, gunmetal gray is the darkest. Despite the darkness of this gray shade, you can still see the cool, greenish undertones shining through. If you are looking for a gray shade that is a darker version of silver, then gunmetal is a perfect choice. Gunmetal gray is named perfectly, as it is the color of dark and cold metal. You may also recognize this hue as the dark greenish-purple shade that bruises often take.|
After reading this article, you are now fully equipped to mix your own unique and beautiful shades of gray. Whether you need a dark or light gray, or you want to adapt the temperature, you have all the necessary knowledge to explore the gray spectrum. Keep experimenting, and see how many stunning and interesting shades of gray you can create.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Shades of Gray Are There?
Contrary to what Fifty Shades of Gray would have you believe, there are actually endless different gray hues that you can make yourself. Many of these gray shades may not have official names, but there is extensive variety and possibility within the gray spectrum.
What Two Colors Make Gray?
There are several combinations that make gray shades. The most basic color combination to create gray is black and white, but there are many other options. For warmer grays, try combining yellow and purple. You can make cooler gray shades with a combination of orange and blue, or try mixing red and green for another dark cool gray.