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The Power of Greys

23rd June, 2020
By Henry Falzon
What are Grey colours and what significance do these have for pastellists?

Greys are a vast and complex family of colours that seasoned artists spend a life-time of pursuit in order to achieve and harness their incredible potential. If there is one artist who championed greys to absolute perfection, it must be British oil artist Peter Brown NAEC. What Peter does with oil on canvas, we can do it with pastels on paper too (or at least try ;)). Greys are so elusive that they do not make it onto colour wheels that study colour theory. Greys barely even make it into large expensive and well-confected pastel sets… If Greys had a voice, whey would be campaigning vociferously for their rights.

But what exactly are greys?

Greys are de-tuned colours… The absence of bright cromic colours… Colours that have been veiled by a mist of distance, atmosphere and shadow.

In our younger days we had a simple definition of grey – 50% of black plus 50% of white – there you have it – grey – that boring mouse colour that was avoided like pestilence.

There is no hard and fast science for greys, but we can say that our classroom 50-50 grey is a kind of neutral grey and is a kind of vehicle on which thousands of nuances of greys could be derived. In the Unison range Grey 14 to Grey 18 are the closest we can get to this neutral range of greys (these are actually slightly warm greys but very close to neutral). Grey 8 to Grey 11 are definitely cool greys and we can simplify in saying that these could be Grey 14 to Grey 18 with the addition of slight blue. Similarly Grey 2 to Grey 5 is Grey 14-18 with an offset in green and Grey 34 to Grey 30 offset with a slight dose of turquoise.

However this is a clinical and unfair approach to greys for the artist’s use. There are many books and online videos attempting to box in the elusive greys and certainty I cannot do this in a simple article. I’m hoping to spread awareness for greys and that artists get curious enough to look out there and research and experiment more.

Unison Colour went on to invest in greys with the Grey series and most of the Additional series are very useful and beautiful greys. Greys are lurking in many unexpected places in the Unison colour chart, BV 15 and BV 16 are greys. Greys can be dark too, like Dark 14 and Dark 17. They can also be closer to colour like for example Yellow 1 to Yellow 6, YGE 14 to YGE 18. Greys have no mappable boundary, they fade off and merge into full strength colours. The Ocean Blue series for example are bright colors, but have a vestige of grey in them, and can qualify as greys. One can hope that makers keep offering us artists more and more greys, sub greys and further fractional greys and can be made to sing when used well in our paintings.

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