Creative Spark: Grappling with Grays

Carpineto (14×11) by Cheri Dunnigan

While many of us have programmed our minds to perceive gray as simply a mixture of black and white in varying proportions, this is by no means the only—or even the most effective—approach to producing grays. Technically, a gray tone is really a neutralized or dulled color. When we “gray down” a color, we’re essentially diminishing the strength and influence of that color, as though we’re turning down its volume.

One way that pastel artists can cre-ate and interpret the grays that appear naturally in the environment is to layer complementary colors. Correct value is achieved by carefully selecting the complements you use and subtly ad-justing them through further layering. Once you’ve mastered this skill, you’ll be able to achieve complex and intriguing color solutions in your paintings and greatly increase your color vocabulary.

When layering complements, consider that each set of complements consists of a warm and a cool color; therefore, the temperature of your grays can be in-fluenced and adjusted by the predominant color on the surface. For instance, if you’re creating a gray using blue and orange, begin with a blue tone and layer over it with orange, if you want a warm gray. If you want a cool gray, make blue your final layer.

In your next painting, experiment with layers to create more evocative grays. Use different methods of glazing and scumbling to create smooth, blend-ed color, or cross-hatch to create broken color, allowing the viewer’s eye to do the mixing for you.

Try This at Home
Show us one of your pastel paintings (or several) and tell us how you handled the grays. E-mail images to (as a 4×6-inch JPG image with a resolution of 72 dpi) by February 17, 2009. Type “Creative Spark” in the subject line and include your name, e-mail and mailing address. The “editors choice” will receive the 30-piece Terry Ludwig pastel set, Maggie Price Essential Grays (value $90), along with a $50 Terry Ludwig gift certificate.

And the Winner Is …
Congratulations to Dan Michael for his winning entry. The Mechanicsville, Va. artist shares the story behind his painting, Fog After Freezing Rain, below.

“I used muted colors overlayed with purplish-blue grays and blue grays to keep the background and middle ground cooler. These were blended together and feathered with a brush to eliminate hard edges. In the foreground, I used less grays and more complementary colors to let the warm oranges and yellows show through and come forward.”

We had a terrific response to this Creative Spark challenge and received a number of wonderful pastels. Click here to view the honorable mentions on our blog. Many thanks to Terry Ludwig for the generous prize donation. Look for the next Creative Spark challenge in the April 2009 issue of The Pastel Journal.

Click here to go to the Creative Spark homepage and revisit previous challenges and winning works.

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