The Power of Greys



What are Grey colours and what significance do these have for pastellists?



Greys is 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?


Grays 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 G14 to G18 are the closest we can get to this neutral range of greys (there are actually slightly warm greys but very close to neutral). G8 to G11 are definitely cool greys and we can simplify in saying that these could be G14 to G18 with the addition of slight blue. Similarly G2 to G5 is G14-18 with an offset in green and G34 to G30 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 G series and most of the A series are very useful and beautiful greys. Greys are lurking in many unexpected places in the Unison colour chart, BV15 and BV16 are greys. Greys can be dark too like DK14 and DK17. They can also be closer to colour like for example YE1 To YE6, YGE14 to YGE18. Greys have no mappable boundary, they fade off and merge into full strength colours. The OB 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.


Henry Falzon


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