Harness the power, or embrace the subtlety, the this flexible hue by mixing your own versions using main colors.

You are watching: What colors to mix to make gray

Watercolor artist Keiko Tanabe invites us into her studio come learn shade mixing alongside her. She shows just how subtle neutrals deserve to be — even made with primary colors — and also answers a renowned question: what colors make gray?

It drizzled on and also off while i painted Artramon House, Ireland (watercolor on paper, 14×16) en plein air. And, it was windy and also chilly. The violet (French ultramarine and alizarin crimson) and yellow ochre combination, with the former being more dominant to develop the gray areas, functioned well to capture the mood.

Vibrant colors don’t song without neutrals. Light doesn’t shine without darkness. Big shapes only seem big when put next come something smaller. Producing a harmonious connection of opposites — bright/neutral, light/ dark, positive/negative — in a painting is a balancing act. I shot to underscore the dynamics that dichotomy by using the yinyang principle that 2 opposing materials are a whole, through one complementing the other.

Applying this idea come our color choices helps united state create more harmony and impact in our work. For example, a bright colorpops when neutrals surround it, when a dash the a cool hue stand out among warm hues. Gray can be ethereal or make a solid statement. What colors do gray? The shade isn’t simple, yet we have the right to take advantage of that complexities and evocative high quality to create mood and atmosphere in a painting. I’ll check out the power of gray and also explain my repaint combinations for mixing and also using warm and also cool grays.

To catch the arid see of this island in southerly Italy, I want a variety of warmth neutral colors for Sicilian landscape I (watercolor top top paper, 13×19). I supplied a viridian/ alizarin crimson mix as a base shade of gray. I added burnt sienna, burned umber or yellow ochre to neutralize it also more.

How come Mix Grays

Learning exactly how to work-related with gray have the right to breathe more life right into our art. But, to preserve the transparency that watercolor, us don’t want to include white to black color to do gray. And, when they’re lover colors, using pre-mixed grays such together Payne’s gray or Davy’s gray have the right to look flat if they’re overused in a painting.

So, what to do? In mine opinion, gray looks more interesting as soon as it’s mixed from various other colors. With this in mind, it’s essential to choose paints that mix well. If the variety of ways of developing beautiful grays is endless, the easiest might be come mix the three main colors — red, yellow and also blue.

Intrigued and also inspired by the soft warmth glow in this sky prior to sunset, I want orange to pass through Venice sector II (watercolor on paper, 23×17). I supplied Winsor orange v a hint of cobalt blue to produce a warmth gray transparent the painting.

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Another choice is to use a pair the complementary color (one primary and one secondary), such together blue and orange, red and also green, or yellow and purple. This are simply a few of the plenty of combinations that room possible, however they’re a an excellent starting place, especially since most the us have these colour readily easily accessible in our palette.

What Colors do Gray


To mix a simple gray, I usage three main colors, such as alizarin crimson because that red, yellow ochre because that yellow and French ultramarine for blue. The color temperature deserve to be made warmer by using much more alizarin crimson or cooler through using more French ultramarine. Essentially, this technique is the very same as using two complementary colour (one primary and also one secondary) come mix gray: red and also green, blue and also orange, and also yellow and also purple.


Demo — Gray Matters

Artist’s Toolkit

PAINTS: Sennelier French Artists’ Watercolors: French ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, glowing red, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, charred sienna, burned umber, turquoise eco-friendly FEATURED BRUSHES: Raphaël SoftAqua No. 6, Raphaël kolinsky collection 8404 No. 14 extr SUPPLIES: Cretacolor Graphite Aquarelle pencils

Step 1

After drawing the composition making use of a 4B pencil, I usage diluted yellow to use an initial wash for the center of the street. Ns then surround it through slightly darker worths of warmer, mute colors comprised of alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and burnt sienna.


Step 2

As the initial wash dries, i quickly include even darker worths of grays — made up of scorched umber and also French ultramarine — top top both political parties of the street.


Step 3

As the initial to wash dries, ns quickly include even darker worths of grays — comprised of burnt umber and also French ultramarine — on both political parties of the street.

Step 4

I ar cobalt turquoise above the buildings on the left next to cool the color temperature slightly.

Step 5

I mix a neutral gray using cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and also yellow ochre to repaint some clouds and the remote background.

Step 6

To specify important shapes and also create contrast, i mix a strong, dark gray making use of French ultramarine, alizarin crimson and burnt umber.

Step 7

I add small details and another big wash of contempt cooler gray on the lower-right edge to unify and balance the painting.


To add much more interest and realism to Kyoto at Dusk (watercolor ~ above paper, 14×20), ns add small dots of glowing red, cobalt turquoise and also lemon yellow to suggest traffic lights and also headlights.

Watch Keiko in ~ the Easel

Enjoy this video clip of Keiko exploring the world around her and also at work creating a lovely watercolor! Listen as she talks v her procedure and creates magical moments on the surface ar of her painting. Sponsored by Savoir-Faire.

About the Artist

Keiko Tanabe is one award-winning painter, author and workshop instructor. She a starting member that the north American Watercolor Artists, a signature member of the nationwide Watercolor Society, and also a member of the American Watercolor culture and the American Impressionist Society, Inc.