Why do so many painters like to use chromatic grays?
It’s not just because they are esthetically reserved. There is a scientific and physiological reason. Chromatic grays are more comfortable to look at.
Bright, saturated colors that are not grayed at all can be almost jarring to see. They can be exciting for short periods of time, but their intensity is not for everyone. Our eyes and brains need to rest from them; to compensate for them by optically creating a less intense color.
One of the easy ways to achieve lovely gray mixtures is not to use blacks or premixed grays but, to mix color by using a small amount of a color’s complement.
A perhaps more interesting way to get less intense colors is to use color combinations, specifically the three primary colors on the color wheel of red, yellow and blue. For example, in this painting all of the colors are a combination of pyro red, cadmium yellow medium and ultramarine blue, plus white. The sky is a good example of what can be done with the three primary colors. The dark black lines are charcoal.
A favorite combination of some painters is ultramarine blue and yellow ochre and added permanent alizarin crimson to deepen and mute the color to the estimated color temperature and value needed. The result of this method can be a rich-bodied gray that seems to have more depth.
According to Daily Artist, “both Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi used grays in an exquisite way by making wonderful transitions between the pure colors and the lights and darks.” I particularly like Morandi’s use of subtle of color.
Do chromatic grays appeal to you?