How To Mix Rich Grays With Acrylic Paint

Gray is an easy enough color to mix when you are painting with acrylics. However, I have found that by changing the color mixes that make gray there are a lot of different ways to get it that are rich and varied.

To mix gray you can mix white with black or white with gray. Most artists prefer to mix gray from scratch. To do this you use the primary colors plus white. There are many different color mixes of grays that you can mix by doing this. These can be two or three color mixes plus white.

The type of gray that you want will change from picture to picture. Grays can lean toward the warm side or the cool side of the color ranges. They can have an undertone of different colors. Below I have explored how to mix up different grays along with some color samples. 

How To Mix Gray Acrylic Paint

The Least Popular Method Among Most Artists, Use Black

The easiest way to make gray is simply to mix black and white together. However, many artists shy away from this as they consider it to create a bland flat gray rather than a richer one with different color biases.

Not only that when you do this you are limited to strictly what you have in the way of blacks and whites in your palette. This is usually limited as people tend to only have one or two of both. Whereas if you mix gray from scratch it gives you a greater range of grays to work from.

Above I have given a range of grays created from black and titanium white. Although you can create more shades with this method as you can see you are limited to richness and flexibility if you only use black and white mixes. 

Mix Gray With Gray Paint Instead of Black 

Another way to mix up grays is to have a gray. It’s usually Payne’s gray in your color collection and to adapt that by using either black or white.

The problem with this aside from the flat colors it produces is you are stuck with the shade of gray from the tube.

I have used a warm gray for this example. It is not Payne’s gray and is much lighter to start with. If you are getting different results it can be because your gray has a different color mix in it.

It is possible to mix in other colors with gray to make a richer color.

How To Mix GRAY Paint Without Using Black

Color Mixes to Make Gray Is The Preferred Method for Most Artists 

Method three is not to use any black or gray acrylic paints for your gray mixes but to mix everything from scratch. 

This is harder to do but creates richer more varied grays that are easily adaptable to each painting with different undertones of color to match the other colors in your painting.

What Colors Do I Mix To Make Gray?

Note: Be careful of your color choices with these mixes as some color combinations work better than others. If you find your mixes aren’t working out take a deeper look into your chosen colors and where their color bias lies as you may need to add a third color to balance it out.

When you mix gay you need black plus white or colors that make a ‘black’ plus white.

  1. First, you make your black using the color combinations discussed below to make it.
  2. Next, you add white (or add your color to the white for lighter shades) until you get the gray you want. You may want to test this on a small part of the mix to make sure you are happy with it.
  3. Next if needed adjust your gray to suit your needs or any color deficiency that leans your gray too far from gray and into other colors.

Make Gray From 3 Primary Colors

You can make gray by mixing the three primaries to make black then add white to it. This can be a little trickier than using a two-color mix.

Here I have used ultramarine blue, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow medium then added increasing quantities of white to make a different shade of gray.

Mix Orange Orange With Blue To Make Gray

  1. Cadmium orange + cobalt blue
  2. Cadmium orange + ultramarine blue
  3. Cadmium orange + phthalo blue
  4. Cadmium orange + phthalo blue again

Above I mixed cadmium orange with different blues to see the different grays you can make. By altering the amounts of the phthalo blue with 3 & 4 the results leaned either to the blue or the green-gray. The green (no 4) does not show up well here and looks a more natural gray.

Try different oranges if you have them to get different effects. Some will work better than others. If you are not getting the gray you want you may need to add a small amount of a 3rd color depending on your results.

Green & Red Can make Gray

  1. Phthalo green + cadmium red + increasing white
  2. Phthalo green + napthol crimson + increasing amounts of white

How to Use Purple With Yellow To Make Gray

For this example, I have used a deep violet made from Dioxazine purple with

  1. Cadmium Yellow + Cobalt Blue + white
  2. Cadmium Yellow Deep + Cobalt Blue + white

In this example, you can clearly see that the two colors do not make a good black and then do not make a decent quality gray. I find it useful to correct the color with more yellow as it gets lighter. To make a better gray from this I then added some cobalt blue. I could have also used another blue. The end row with two colors is the result of adding a tiny amount of blue to the original mix and then adding more white. It balances the color better and creates a more neutral gray.

How To Mix Gray Paint Using Browns & Earth Colors

Vandyke Brown, Blue & White Make a Great Gray

Vandyke brown is an interesting brown. According to Wikipedia it gets its name from the artist Vandyke and is also called Cologne earth or Cassel earth. So if you have either of those colors you can use those for similar outcomes. 

This brown can already have black in it as it is partly made with bituminous earth or a black pigment (source).

  1. Vandyke Brown + cobalt blue
  2. Vandyke brown + ultramarine blue
  3. Vandyke brown – phthalo blue

Vandyke brown is used here because I have it as a color. It actually makes some very good grays. Why not try a different brown if you have one.

Make Brown With Earth Colors Like Burnt Sienna & Umber

  1. Raw Umber + Cobalt Blue
  2. Burnt Sienna + Cobalt Blue
  3. Raw Umber + Ultramarine Blue
  4. Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine blue

You can also try the burnt umber or raw sienna.

Here I have made black from earth colors plus different blues. Then mixed in increasing amounts of white. You could make the black and then add only a small amount of it to the white if you want to go straight to light gray.

How To Mix A Warm Gray Paint

Mix Your Own Warm Gray

When deciding on what colors to use to mix your warm gray you need to think not only what colors make gray but which ones are also warm.

How white affects Your Gray

As you add more and more white it reduces the effect of the warmth of your black mixes. Overall though the leaning should be towards warm. Remember to use a neutral or warmer white.

If you want a darker gray or one that is only a few shades above your black you can use mixing white as this retains the original color better than titanium which tends to make your colors go a bit chalky.

Titanium white is the most popular white used in acrylic painting.

If You Are Mixing Your Warm Gray From Black

If you mix a gray from black paint you need a warm black. The following blacks are common blacks. Whether they are warm or cool will depend on your brand and the pigment they are made from. 

  • Mars black (PBk11- warm (system 3, Cryla – Dayler rowney, golden+warm, Matisse
  • Carbon black – usually slightly cool but can be warm
  • Ivory black – usually cool but can also be warm

How to Pick Your Colors To Mix Black for a Warm Gray

  1. Choose your black mix colors from all warmer colors. You can use a 3 color mix but I find the 2 color mixes easier to work with. 
  2. Add your white or add your mix to your white. Whichever you find easier.
  3. If you want to you can add a bit of warmth with a warm color.

So use warm colors like: 

  • Ultramarine blue and either burnt umber or burnt sienna.
  • Ultramarine blue + cadmium orange 
  • Ultramarine blue + cadmium red + cadmium yellow

to create your black.

Then add the amount of white you need to your mix until it is the gray tone you want.

If you want to mix a cool gray simply swap this process for cooler colors.

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