Gray, grey, gris, grigio, greige...
"Old Barn on Rt. 221" 8x10
As I suffered through my own personal "March madness," week after week of dark gloomy days that took the spring out of my step, I finally decided to stop daydreaming about bright, warm, colorful days and face the fact head on.
My world is gray.
Drawers full of paint colors to play with, and I see only gray all around me. As a visual artist and in the hope of keeping myself sane, I decided to dive in and explore gray-ness. Could I find and appreciate the beauty of gray?
"Jess Study" 10x8
Gray is subtle and lends itself to a supporting role in paintings. I have long been drawn to art that does not shout in a multitude of garish colors. Study a Vermeer, and you can see the master of grays at work, highlighting a spot of brilliant color within an environment of luscious grays. Since a "gray" is really a mix of complementary colors, not just black and white, it harmonizes with more distinct colors in ways that are not obvious, like the perfect smooth operator who allows the diva to shine.
However, gray is also beautiful in itself, not just as a foil for brighter colors. Walk the streets of Paris among age-worn grays. The sage-covered Sonoran Desert is a symphony of grays.
"Near Taliesin West" 12x9
Other pretty gray things include:
old split rail fences
many bird feathers
mottled sycamore bark
furs, from lynx and wolves to tabby cats and Wiemaraners
old bones and fossils
weathered seaside cottages
tin lining of copper pots
and, of course, storm clouds can be very beautiful grays.
Hmm - It turns out many of my favorite things are gray...
Some useful grays to paint with are mixed from warm and cool opposites. These can then be moved warmer or cooler, lighter or darker, while remaining harmonious. The play of warm and cool grays within a tone keeps it lively and interesting. I think of ivory black as my "darkest blue" and titanium white as my "lightest blue." Beautiful grays are not mixed from just black and white (boring and cold), but from black (cool) and a warm color such as transparent red oxide, a more transparent version of burnt sienna. Other nice combinations I often use include:
viridian and transparent red oxide
sap green and alizarin crimson
ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide or burnt umber
violet or magenta and Indian yellow
For me, transparency is a must for very dark colors. However, when mixed with white, these same colors create wonderful natural gray tints that are the right choice for capturing real light effects of subtle beauty. Warm them up with yellow and you are back in the sunlight.
In "Old Barn on Rt. 221," I have explored grayness with strong tonal contrast to capture the mood of a cold, early Spring day.
Warm, cool, light, dark, rich or delicate... We can get a lot of color out of beautiful grays.