View Full Version : Grayed colors

07-18-2015, 10:29 PM
Hello all, I am a beginner and studying Jackie Simmonds book. She suggests colors like red-gray, purple-gray, green-gray, etc. I have a set of Sennelier 120 half-sticks Paris colors...no wrappers and I'm having a hard time identifying the gray mixtures. I know I can apply gray over the colors, but I wonder if that would achieve the same effect as actually having a stick of red-gray?
I'm using Nupastel on Canson, and want to try landscapes and need those grayed colors.
Can anyone suggest a maker whose grayed colors you like? Or do you gray down your mountains?
Also: do I use a warm gray on a cold blue or cold green, or do I use a cold gray on cold objects?
Much appreciated.:crossfingers:

Barbara WC
07-18-2015, 11:07 PM
Hi Lovingmylife-

Welcome to the Pastel Forum!

You already have the grays you need in that Sennelier 120 half stick set. I have the set, and it's very well balanced.

In the Sennelier 120 set, you will see the colors starting at the top left of the box with the bright yellows- proceeding through reds, blues, greens. When you get to the last row, all of the colors in that row are neutrals and grays...

I took a couple of photos to demonstrate what a gray is (all sticks from the Sennelier 120 half stick set):

Here, I randomly picked out blues, greens and reddish purples- on the top rows, you will see colors that are brighter and clearer colors, and underneath, you will see colors that I would consider "grayed". Can you see that there are blue-grays, green-grays and purple-grays? Some of this is subjective...


I think you should just work with your current set, you have plenty of colors for starting out. Actually, adding more colors at this point can actually make things more confusing... Try working with what you have. Even with 1,000 sticks, you will rarely have exactly the exact color you need... this is where blending colors is really helpful (if you put down a red that isn't quite right, does it need more orange, or more pinkish red?- you can start blending that way)...

And although color gets all the attention, even more focus should be paid on value... you can make a painting with all kinds of crazy colors, yellow sky, purple trees, blue grass- if you get the values right, the painting will work!

If you have a camera, one easy trick to test value, is to line some sticks up and change the photo to black and white- you will be able to see if the values are the same- I did a quick lineup. The dark looked closer on my cell phone, than on my computer, but I think you can get an idea of starting to look at value (if you are working from photos, it's useful to convert your color photo to black and white to look at the values):



I was taking a break from painting and was on the computer, checked Wetcanvas and saw your post- I already had my Sennelier set out, so it was easy to snap a few photos :)

Enjoy your pastels!

07-19-2015, 01:03 PM
Barbara, you have no idea how helpful your post is! I will use your photos to find the grays I need and your advice about b&w photos is spot on. Your generosity is overwhelming. And I like your work very much. Blessings.

07-25-2015, 04:07 PM
One tip to add:

You asked: "Also: do I use a warm gray on a cold blue or cold green, or do I use a cold gray on cold objects?"

You can do either, for different effects. Scumbling a warm gray over a cold blue you'll mute it more, especially an orange cast brown. Using a cold gray or a pure gray over a cold blue or cold green will mute it and reduce intensity without reducing its coldness. Both effects are useful!

The best way to find out is to play with your Senneliers. Do some test swatches and blends. Sketch a lot. Try different combinations for different effects. I'm not sure if this is an exercise from her book or just a common one I've seen around, but a lovely way to test colors and color combinations is to take a basic form like a pear or a ball or a block, put it on a plain white surface (so the color reflects) and then paint it with different colors. True to life as close as you can get, alter one color and then another, try the complements, try doing it as bright as possible, doing it muted, different combinations. Do each of them small, like six inch squares - maybe grid up a big sheet of gray for it. You can also use this to test paper colors.

I also seriously recommend Canson mi-Tientes for an unsanded paper. It's cheap, a 9" x 12" pad is about five dollars and change online. The 19" x 25" sheets are under $2 each. They come in a lot of colors and the Basic assortment has several of my favorites including pinkish gray Moonstone (good under anything, especially portraits!) and a nice mid gray.

For sanded paper the least expensive option for practice is a pint of Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer in Clear and a pad of cheap 140lb cold press watercolor paper. Pads are cheaper than blocks or even sheets sometimes, it's odd - but you can prime over watercolor paper easily using a cheap flat watercolor brush. Get it damp before putting it in the primer, wash it immediately afterward. Do two or three thin layers and it'll come out like the manufactured Colourfix sanded paper. A bit gentler than Uart or Wallis et all but still plenty of grit and it's cheap enough to practice with. Also any failed watercolors can be primed and turned into good pastel paper, especially if they were on good all-rag watercolor paper.

07-25-2015, 08:16 PM
What a wonderful thread! Thank you both for your tips and your generous help.

Lovingmylife, perhaps you could use your phone and turn the setting to black and white. I usually took a picture and convert the photo in my laptop, until I found out that I din't need to take any picture, just to set the mode and look "through" my phone lens to see all my pastels in gray scale.
The Paris set is wonderful.

07-26-2015, 10:25 AM
I treated myself to the Maggie Price Essential greys...Terry Ludvig (https://terryludwig.com/product/30-essential-grays-maggie-price/)pastels..what a combination!

07-26-2015, 12:07 PM
So many helpful tips! Wetcanvas is the greatest.
Robert, thanks for explaining how to make my own sanded paper. You explained it so simply and well...I now have the courage to try it myself. I'm still a little rigid...I hesitate to "break a rule" and make a mistake like putting the wrong temperature gray on or beneath a color.
Deirdre, having those Essential greys will be a great step forward for me.
Really appreciate the recommendation.

07-27-2015, 06:23 AM
Lovingmylife, it's not really a rule so much as an exploration. There are some simple combinations that create very bright colors. One of these is to use a 12 color wheel. Mark up a circle with 12 divisions. Each primary and secondary color gets 2 slots - leaning toward either of its next-door neighbor. There's a greenish blue and a purplish blue, an orange-red and a purplish red, yellow-green and blue-green.

Organize your pastels that way and you can always see what results you'll get from any combination. I think of the muted colors as short cuts, convenience colors. Rather than going back and forth between blue and orange in my stormy sky, toning it with those brights, I can go back and forth between blue-grays and brown-grays for a softer effect and even grab pink-grays or violet-grays or green-grays into it. I would have to do much more layering and blending to get each area of a mingled sky like that with just the brights.

This of course is why it's great to have lots and lots of pastels. Your Paris collection is a good palette. I've painted comfortably with half that, 60 color half sticks sets.

The other thing I discovered about color in pastels is that colors I didn't think I'd use much, like a purplish gray or a bright turquoise, really get a workout. The ones that get used all the time fall way outside the 8 color crayon box for hues. That's where all your Essential Grays shine, when they also come in values!

07-27-2015, 06:30 PM
Robert, you are a veritable fountain of useful information. I've been struggling with subtle skies, and it sounds as if the grays you mentioned might be the trick. I've noticed (I think) that masterful painters are masters of gradient shifts in value.
Perhaps the grayed colors will assist me with that. Thanks again, Robert and hello to your kitty!

Barbara WC
07-27-2015, 08:56 PM
The other thing I discovered about color in pastels is that colors I didn't think I'd use much, like a purplish gray or a bright turquoise, really get a workout. The ones that get used all the time fall way outside the 8 color crayon box for hues.

That is so true Robert! When I first started in pastels, I was drawn to collecting all the bright colored sticks, and it wasn't until I read something on a blog (either Richard McKinley or Karen Margolis perhaps) about how important grays and neutrals were, that I started collecting those colors....

Now I use a few sticks over and over that I would not be drawn to by looking at them alone... and they are mostly grays... One can mix grays, but there are much prettier grays already made up in sticks that I would struggle to mix on my own, it's much nicer to collect them! :cat:

07-27-2015, 11:32 PM
Oh yes, Barbara! I have to have my full 12 color palette with tints. That's essential, though I have carved it to minimal sometimes using 12 color sets. When I've got a big range like 120 Unison half sticks at my fingertips, I find myself combining the subtle muted colors more freely and creating value gradients and dramatic shifts a lot easier.

Muted colors on a range from pure saturated bright hue - say a brilliant yellow cast acid green - on through leaf greens and grayer or browner greens to a barely greenish gray is another type of gradient that can be used in so many ways. You can follow nature and match the natural hues, sap green is not as bright as acid green. while a grayed pale blue glaze catches the sunlight sheen on a leaf surface well. Or you can push some subjects to background unimportance while others leap forward by saturation. The crab apple near the edge of the painting could be a grayed rose, while the apple in the focal area in sun is a bright scarlet.

Mists, clouds, fogs all shimmer with unexpected hues and start to acquire iridescence. Before I got any iridescent pastels at all (my iridescent Pan Pastels) I captured the sheen on a grackle's neck with deep dark hues of green, violet, turquoise and dark red.

So the grayed colors, in any degree, are a good excuse for Pastel Collecting. Of course I'm in favor of that, with 1,250 or so unique sticks or pieces gathered over 12 years of pastel collecting (from the point I got back into it). Yeah, that's on average 100 pastels a year except I bought more in my first few years till I reached a tipping point of no color gaps, even among tints and darks.

Another tidbit for color - mixing white with a color to make a tint will cool it and mute it toward gray. The very pale tints don't need as much graying. Mixing black with a pigment also mutes and cools it, the deep darks recede too. Deep Dark Violet is an incredibly useful color, better than black in all situations where I used to use black. Terry Ludwig's V100 deep dark black is great, a good color to choose if you want to try Ludwig pastels. Sennelier also has a good deep dark black tint if you want to stay within the same brand.

Gradient shifts in value are fantastic. In pastels when you have those gradient shifts of tone right, you can get away with weird color choices that still ring true. That's what makes it possible to paint a foggy day all in shades of grays and browns or do it bright and saturated throughout! (With some layerng and scumbling to create softer passages as well as the very light and dark areas less intense). Mid values are where most of the pure color pigments shine, yellow is the lightest Pure Tone and violet the darkest.

You can do a painting based around a complementary pair like violet and yellow, shading yellows down into golds and browns and violets up toward grays and pale grayed lavenders. That can be gorgeous.

I could ramble on about color and color harmonies in post after post. 120 Sennelier half sticks is a good big palette to work with, you haven't got major gaps and do have some lovely neutrals. Enjoy it!

Barbara, yeah. I'm looking at my blue-gray Unisons and that weird brown-violet gray range of values way down at the right side of the box - plenty of lovely neutrals in the big set. When I have that one out, values are not a problem and hues are as intense or soft as I want!

Oh heck, picture of the pastel candy! in the corner on a different end table is a watercolor tube triad, all I need to get a full range of color in watercolor... contrasted with all the pastels I really need! I also love the cat safe Unisons aluminum display box, may get a smaller one someday for plein air for the same thing- visibility of what's in it!


07-28-2015, 10:19 AM
Lovingmylife, I have the Maggie Price Grey set and a wonderful Great American grey set, both of which I love.......you might also want to consider the Mount Vision Thunderstorm Greys which I have also found very useful. (I have to admit though....I am somewhat of a pastel collector....I tend to want them all!!!!)

Barbara WC
07-28-2015, 03:42 PM
Robert- When did you get the Unison 120 half stick set? I just added that one to my collection in June- I rarely go out plein air painting, but this is the set I've used a few times and it's perfect for plein air landscape painting! I love the muted tones in that set- the 120 Paris set and my other pastels already have enough high chroma sticks... Do you have the cardboard box for the 120 Unison set? It's really not too huge and heavy to take out in the field and quite a sturdy box, although I don't know if it would fit in a backpack, I just put it in a bag.

I think the 120 Sennelier half stick set and the 120 Unison half stick sets complement each other well- both in texture (Senn is softer than Unison) and in color...

07-28-2015, 03:56 PM
I have the set in the cardboard box inside the aluminum case. The case came with a 72 color Professional (basic) assortment, which had cardboard box inside aluminum case. When I got these half sticks last year, I swapped out which box went in the cool aluminum box and put the top foam inside the lid for display. That's studio mode. When I take it outdoors or on a trip, I open it, put the top foam and lid back on then latch the aluminum case again.

Depending on how I traveled i'd put te 120 set in a large bag or just carry the box. It's too large for the carry bag in my rollator, which is frustrating. But it's very sturdy and flat in its case. The only thing that lacks is a shoulder strap! So maybe I need to get or make a tote that size.

I love this range. It's got all the violets I didn't have in the 72 color set and beautiful organization. Very easy to find the right hue and value. 120 Senneliers is something I'd love to get in future but need to wait and save a bit in order to do so. It's also a bit redundant since I already have 80 Sennelier Half Sticks... but... it's soooo beautiful and self contained and then I wouldn't have to sort the other 80 out of the mixed brands in my Dakota Traveller.

I do collect pastels. I admit that. I'm horrible that way. All I can do about it is spend more time painting and use them!