Tag Archives: primary colors

Chromatic Grays

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.

Ann Hart Marquis-Sandia Mountains-chromatic grays

Sandia Mountains, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 10 x 10 inches, 2015.

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.

Morandi Still Live, 1943

Morandi Still Life 1943, oil on canvas.

Do chromatic grays appeal to you?

Limited Palette With Red, Blue and Yellow

Sometimes when we first learn to paint, it is suggested that we use a limited palette of three primary colors—red, yellow and blue. Some teachers think that limiting oneself to just a few colors teaches us how to mix colors correctly, see value and temperature, and encourages thought and planning in our color choices.

Besides making it easier to learn about color temperatures, using a limited color palette offers more color harmony, the ability to make grays without the muddiness and less confusion because of fewer color choices. I have painted with a limited palette before and I have always liked the feeling of just using a few colors.

Colors in a limited palette can still be warmer or cooler in relation to other colors. Since the eye adjusts to what it looks at, it doesn’t feel as though any colors are missing. There are cool and warm reds, cool and warm yellows and so on. Here is the first on that I created:

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow, Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Last week during an artist retreat, we experimented using only red, yellow and blue and white and black. The object was to create different tints, tones and shades of the 3 colors. It was interesting and fun for me to play and to see if I could easily come up with complementary color combinations or triad color combinations.

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #2, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Ann Hart Marquis-Red, limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #3, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis