Shades of Grey

Standard

Creative Sketchbook, Module 1
Chapter 3,
Activity 3.1

Use paint to make a range of different greys 

I’ve begun a new sketchbook, and I’ve upgraded myself to an A4 size, because I think the bigger pages will make for easier working. However, they are more awkward to photograph, so I’m scanning them in to the computer, and I’m sorry to say the reproduction is not brilliant. On the plus side they are straighter than my photos!

Anyway, I’ll start by saying I found this really, really difficult, and I’m not sure why I got in such a mess with it. I loved mixing colours to tones, tints and shades, and creating new colours from the three primaries, but producing greys was a total nightmare, and I couldn’t get the hang of it all, apart from mixing black and white, which is simple.

But after that it was all downhill all the way. Mixing red, yellow and blue was a disaster, as was mixing two complementary colours and then adding white. Mostly, whatever I mixed, I ended up with the kind of nasty, dirty khaki that very small children produce by sloshing every different colours of poster paint on the paper and letting it all run together. 

With practice I progressed and produced… Colours! Browns, greens, purples, blues, all rather dull, with a greyish tinge maybe (if you look closely), but definitely not grey, as you can see below.
 
 

At this point I was so frustrated and disheartened I bought a tube of Payne’s Grey watercolour, and played around with that, adding water, to reassure myself that proper greys do exist:

 
 
 
Then it was back to the  mixing pots to try again, but when I did produce grey it was more by good luck than good management, and because I wasn’t organised, and didn’t keep proper notes to start with, I had no idea what I’d done, so I have these mystery cards:
 
 

So then I tried writing notes on the back of each card, but it’s difficult to write on one side when there is wet paint on the other. Finally, I made little samples, with splodges of paint and notes, like this:

And I tried to keep track of what I was doing by numbering the back of the cards before I started painting, and keeping a key as I went along. This was a better method of working, and in the end I did mix quite a number of greys, but I didn’t seem to be able to record the proportions of paint and water used in any meaningful way, and found it impossible to reproduce any of the colours. Whatever the reason, it was very annoying. 

To make matters worse, some of my greys looked fine when the paint was wet, but dried to a completely different colour, and sometimes as they dried the paint seemed to separate out into its constituent colours. I assume this was due to inadequate mixing, or not cleaning the brush properly.  

I haven’t got a good range of greys, but I did establish that mixing warm colours produces warm greys, while mixing cool colours makes cool greys, and you have greys with a blue tinge, green tinge, yellow tinge etc. Anyway, here is a photo of my painted grey cards:
 

 
Overall I felt very frustrated and disappointed with this exercise: the results were unpredictable, and I seemed to have no control over what was happening. It’s ironic really, because in Activity 2.3 I managed to produce grey without even trying! I feel really stupid and ignorant, and would welcome any advice on mixing greys!
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About chrisharding53

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

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