Harness the power, or adopt the subtlety, of this functional hue by mixing your own versions using primary colors.

You are watching: How to make gray with colored pencils

Watercolor artist Keiko Tanabe invites us into her studio to learn shade mixing alongside her. She shows how subtle neutrals have the right to be — even made with major colors — and answers a well-known question: what colors make gray?

It drizzled on and also off while ns painted Artramon House, Ireland (watercolor on paper, 14×16) en plein air. And, it to be windy and chilly. The purple (French ultramarine and alizarin crimson) and yellow ochre combination, through the previous being more dominant to create the gray areas, functioned well to catch the mood.

Vibrant colour don’t sing without neutrals. Irradiate doesn’t shine without darkness. Big shapes only seem large when placed next to something smaller. Producing a harmonious relationship of opposites — bright/neutral, light/ dark, positive/negative — in a painting is a balancing act. I try to underscore the dynamics the dichotomy by using the yinyang principle that two opposing components are a whole, with one complementing the other.

Applying this idea to our color selections helps united state create much more harmony and impact in our work. For example, a shining colorpops as soon as neutrals surround it, when a dash the a cool hue stands out among warm hues. Gray can be ethereal or do a strong statement. What colors make gray? The shade isn’t simple, but we have the right to take benefit of the complexities and also evocative top quality to create mood and also atmosphere in a painting. I’ll discover the strength of gray and also explain my repaint combinations because that mixing and also using warm and cool grays.

To record the arid see of this island in southern Italy, I wanted a selection of warm neutral colors because that Sicilian see I (watercolor top top paper, 13×19). I offered a viridian/ alizarin crimson mix as a base color of gray. I added burnt sienna, burned umber or yellow ochre come neutralize it even more.

How to Mix Grays

Learning exactly how to job-related with gray deserve to breathe much more life right into our art. But, to preserve the transparency the watercolor, us don’t desire to add white to black to do gray. And, if they’re lovely colors, making use of pre-mixed grays such together Payne’s gray or Davy’s gray have the right to look flat if lock overused in a painting.

So, what come do? In my opinion, gray looks an ext interesting when it’s blended from various other colors. With this in mind, it’s crucial to select paints the mix well. While the variety of ways of developing beautiful grays is endless, the easiest may be to mix the three main colors — red, yellow and blue.

Intrigued and inspired through the soft warm glow in this sky prior to sunset, I wanted orange to penetrate Venice market II (watercolor top top paper, 23×17). I offered Winsor orange with a hints of cobalt blue to produce a warm gray throughout the painting.

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Another choice is to use a pair the complementary colour (one primary and one secondary), such as blue and also orange, red and green, or yellow and also purple. These are simply a couple of of the countless combinations that room possible, however they’re a great starting place, especially due to the fact that most that us have actually these color readily easily accessible in our palette.

What Colors make Gray


To mix a an easy gray, I usage three main colors, such as alizarin crimson for red, yellow ochre for yellow and also French ultramarine because that blue. The shade temperature deserve to be make warmer by using more alizarin crimson or cooler by using more French ultramarine. Essentially, this technique is the same as using two complementary colors (one primary and also one secondary) to mix gray: red and also green, blue and also orange, and 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, burnt sienna, charred umber, turquoise green FEATURED BRUSHES: Raphaël SoftAqua No. 6, Raphaël kolinsky series 8404 No. 14 added SUPPLIES: Cretacolor Graphite Aquarelle pencils

Step 1

After illustration the composition making use of a 4B pencil, I usage diluted yellow to use an initial to wash for the middle of the street. Ns then surround it through slightly darker values of warmer, mute colors made up of alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and also burnt sienna.


Step 2

As the initial wash dries, i quickly include even darker values of grays — consisted of of burnt umber and also French ultramarine — top top both sides of the street.


Step 3

As the initial wash dries, ns quickly include even darker values of grays — comprised of burnt umber and also French ultramarine — top top both sides of the street.

Step 4

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

Step 5

I mix a neutral gray utilizing cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and also yellow ochre to repaint some clouds and also the far-off background.

Step 6

To define important shapes and also create contrast, ns mix a strong, dark gray utilizing French ultramarine, alizarin crimson and also burnt umber.

Step 7

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


To add an ext interest and realism to Kyoto at Dusk (watercolor on paper, 14×20), ns add small dots of bright red, cobalt turquoise and lemon yellow to suggest traffic lights and also headlights.

Watch Keiko in ~ the Easel

Enjoy this video of Keiko exploring the world approximately her and at work developing a beloved watercolor! Listen as she talks through her procedure and creates magical moments on the surface ar of her painting. Funded by Savoir-Faire.

About the Artist

Keiko Tanabe is one award-winning painter, author and workshop instructor. She’s a founding member of the north American Watercolor Artists, a signature member of the national Watercolor Society, and also a member of the American Watercolor society and the American Impressionist Society, Inc.