Color mixing-mixing grays

Color Mixing-How to Mix Beautiful Grays with Oil Paints

Grays color swatch

Mixing those Wonderful Grays

Colors in nature are rarely straight out of the tube. Your primary and secondary colors are too intense to look natural. When painting, you are constantly modifying your colors and graying their intensity to create paintings that are harmonious.

First, lets look at the definitions of color.

Primary Colors – These colors cannot be mixed. They are the colors from which all other colors are made. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.

Secondary Colors – These colors are mixed from the primary colors. The secondary colors are orange, green, and purple.

Tertiary Colors – These colors are the steps between the primary and secondary colors. The tertiary colors are red orange, yellow orange, red purple, blue purple, yellow green, and blue green.

Complementary Colors – Colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel. The compliment of red is green. The complement of blue is orange.

Analogous Colors – Colors near one another on the color wheel. Analogous colors of red are purple and orange. Analogous colors of green are yellow and blue.

Each color has three characteristics.hue small

Hue- The hue of a color is what color family the color belongs to. Is it red, yellow, blue, green, orange, or purple?

Value sm

Value – How dark or light a color is.

Chroma small

Chroma – Is the intensity of a color, how bright or dull a color is.

Grays are essential to give your painting structure and depth. Grays are more than those neutral battleship grays. Every color has its highest saturation point or intensity. As the intensity of a color drops, it is referred to being “grayed down”. Browns are actually dark reds or oranges, where the intensity and value have been lowered.

Anytime you want to knock down the intensity of a color, in other words create “grayed color”, add the color’s complementary color. For instance, if you want to make a red less intense add green and you will get grayed reds. Continue adding green and you will get brown, which is also a grayed red.

Pushing a color more towards neutral gray is a multi-step process (and can be tricky for beginners). First add the color’s complement (such as green added to red), now depending if the colors aren’t completely complementary your color will never get to middle gray. It may get close but will lean a little purple,green, orange, well you get the picture. If it is leaning green than add a little red. Just a touch of color will push the color a lot so be careful. If it’s dark then add white to lighten the color, because most neutral grays are a middle to lighter end of the value scale. Below shows the Primary, and Secondary, and Tertiary colors on the color wheel moving towards gray.

Now some people may ask, why do this? Why can’t I just add black and white. Well the short answer is if you make grays with compliments they will be very rich grays. They won’t be as muddy or lifeless as grays mixed with black. The better answer is if you learn to do this you will have more control over your colors and you ability to control color mixtures will expand exponentially.

Color Wheel Chroma sm



Get out your paints and practice mixing color with their complementary colors. See the variations of color you can make. The possibilities are endless.

Here is an example of mixing grays with oil paint on my YouTube Channel

To see more videos on drawing and painting visit my channel click here