The Importance of Neutrals

49-neutrals-revisited.jpgNearly a year ago in the August 06, 2007 blog, I addressed how important a section of “neutrals” is to my pastel palette. These are weaker intensity hues, often looking greyer than the pure intense hues of their origin color family. (Since most of our pastels come from Europe, you’ll find the British spelling of “grey” instead of the Americanized “gray” being used.) These greyed tones are the backbone of most of my work and I can’t stress their importance enough. Smaller commercial sets of pastels are often made up of intense colors. These are visually appealing and sell well, but can lead to a lot of repetition of pure hues in our pastel palettes. These intense palettes easily produce overly saturated paintings, which lack the comparative beauty of greyed hues in juxtaposition with intense hues.

When selecting neutral tones for your pastel palette, consider where they’ll most often be employed. For the substructure, a harder stick will work best: Girault and Rembrandt are good choices. On the other hand, if being used for final accents, a softer stick might work better: Schmincke and Unison make excellent choices. Check the color charts of the brands you’re interested in. Brands that offer a large selection of colors usually have the widest range of greyed tones. In the course of many workshops, when singing the praises of these “neutral” tones, I’m often asked if there is a set or brand I recommend. Two brands that I have had considerable experience with  and which offer a wide, well-organized assortment of greyed tones (neutrals) are: Girault (a harder pastel, but not too hard) and Schmincke (a soft consistent pastel). Girault has made it easy by offering two sets, one of 25 greys and the other consisting of 50 greys, which I highly recommend. (The set is pictured here along with a few individual Schmincke and Rembrandt pastels.) Schmincke offers as individual sticks a range of greyed hues at different values: grey-green, grey-blue, grey-violet and so on. Supplementing these with a few individual neutrals from other brands completes my palette.

No matter what brand you prefer, find those lovely subtle neutral tones and put them to work in expanding the tonal range of your work. The  brighter colored accents in your paintings will be happy you did.

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One thought on “The Importance of Neutrals

  1. Helder Vieira

    Hi Richard,
    From Portugal, thank you for this article (and all the others).
    It is so true the importance of neutrals.
    I found that very importance of neutrals last year when studding the pastel palette.
    It is not possible having a palette like an oil or acrylic palette.
    It does not work that way.
    I never forget the lesson from my painting teatcher, that all teachers (I presume) repeat: Light against dark. Warm against cool. Bright against dull.
    And the field where that struggle hapends is made of neutrals.
    I wish the best for all of you.
    Helder Vieira