Mastering Neutrality

Grayed or neutralized color are terms used to describe a color whose “out-of-the-tube” strength and purity has been reduced by mixing it with a complementary color or a gray mixture. When a color is significantly neutralized, only a faint hint of that color remains to differentiate the mixture from a gray of similar value mixed from black and white.

The most common method of graying color is achieved by mixing a pure hue with its complement—for example, combining alizarin crimson and phthalo green. (The general pairs of complementary colors are red and green, orange and blue, and yellow and violet.) Unfortunately, not all of the variants of these colors have exact complements. In such cases, creating a neutral mixture often requires adding other colors to compensate for the effects of near complements. For example, white neutralizes most colors, but it also lightens and cools the color temperature. You can compensate for this by adding black or another dark color to reverse the value change, then adding a warm color, such as cadmium orange, raw sienna or yellow ochre, to restore the proper color temperature. As you refine any grayed or neutralized mixture, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is the value correct? If not, adjust it with a lighter or darker color.
  • Is the mixture veering in an undesired direction? If the answer is “yes,” adjust it by adding a complementary color.

    Mixing grayed color isn’t a science, and it’s certainly not a matter of life and death. So be flexible and adventurous and, most of all, look on the process as a learning experience.

    Jane M. Mason is an award-winning artist and art teacher who specializes in watercolor. “Painting for me is like canoeing on an endless river,” says Mason. “It’s always enthralling and at times I’m in control. But, before you know it, the painting takes me for the ride of my life. Every day brings new challenges, enlightenment and rewards.” She can be contacted at; her Web site is

    You may also like these articles: