Gray Sources in History:
In Victoria Finlay’s Color: A Natural History of the Palette, she writes about the first sources of gray as being the remnants of fire. However, one of the best materials found for drawing was willow charcoal.
Much later, in Somerset, England, Percy Coate had been a willow basket maker. The demand for baskets had been declining for some time. Accidentally, he discovered that this particular willow, when burnt, was useful for drawing. This led to the use of vine charcoal, which was used and sold for many years after baking and put into tins as P.H. Coate’s charcoal.
Gray and Neutral Colors: How are they Mixed?
The most common method for mixing a gray is to use any combination of white and black pigment. Obviously, the more white you use in your mixture, the lighter your result will be. Using more black, the darker it will be. As you may have read in previous blogs on my site, neither white or black is a color. Valuable for any artist or photographer is a value scale. This is a graduated scale of light and dark, with black on one end and white on the other.
For the painter, grays mixed with other than black and white can result in a richer, more dynamic result. In Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing, she suggests different mixtures depending on what color you are trying to emphasize. You are looking for the opposite color on the color wheel to find the complementary color. If highlighting a green, for example, you would combine a neutral using the complementary color of green. By mixing a red with a green, you are looking to create a reddish gray. By using a color chart, you can find the complementary color for each hue by going directly across the chart. For orange, strive to mix a blue gray; for yellow, a purple gray, a brown gray for a blue; a yellow gray for a purple.
Red, yellow and blue are the primary colors. Orange, purple and green are secondary colors. You would follow this method for each color (green, yellow, orange, red, blue, and purple). Each of these will have its own neutral that best sets it off. Then use this neutral to place near or around that primary or secondary color.