Mixing greys in acrylic

I promised you a video on how to mix your own greys, sadly my camera has decided it no longer wants to record video and so I am having to resort to still images! Hopefully my descriptions and images will be enough, but feel free to ask me any questions if they are not!

So we’ll start with photo one…the colours I have used. I am using Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylics. These are not professional artist acrylics but are a good budget range.

Paints re-sized

Just in case you can’t read my writing, the colours are:-

  • Ultramarine Blue PB29
  • Cadmium Red PR112
  • Cadmium Yellow PY65
  • Cerulean Blue PB15:3, PBk11, PW6
  • Alizarin Crimson PR170, PV19
  • Lemon Yellow PY3
  • Lamp Black PBk6
  • Payne’s Grey PBk7, PBk9, PB29
  • Titanium White PW6

If you are wondering about the codes next to each colour, these are the pigment colour codes. I have included them for a very important reason. Different brands can often make a colour that is different to another brand even though it is called the same name. But you can rest assured that if you buy a paint colour by the pigment code, you will get the same colour, no matter what brand it is. For the colours that have more than one code, it is not a pure colour and so you will need to buy each individual code in order to make up that colour or a paint with all those exact codes.

Now we have got that out of the way, let us get down to mixing greys! There is the lazy way of mixing grey that I have included in the next photograph. You can mix Titanium White with either Lamp Black or Payne’s Grey and you will get a grey. Now I can hear you thinking, of course you will get grey from Payne’s Grey, it’s in the name right? Well, actually, Payne’s Grey is made up of Ultramarine (PB29) and Ivory Black (PBk9) in professional artist’s colours and, as with Galeria paints, also with Carbon Black (PBk7), no white.

As you can see from the photograph below, you can see the greys you can get by mixing Lamp Black with Titanium White and Payne’s Grey with Titanium White. Now while they make satisfactory greys, I personally feel that they lack something.


Now I am mixing greys using just two of each primary colour. There are more but we would be here for some time if I mixed using everyone! Most of the time, I only use Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow to mix my greys. It is possible to get a warm and a cool grey with just those colours. It is all about the balance of colours used.

To start mixing take a small amount of Cadmium Yellow first as it’s easier to add to without you wasting a lot of paint. Then add a tiny amount of Cadmium Red. You won’t need anywhere near the same amount as the yellow, as the red is much stronger than the yellow. You want to create a good orange before adding the blue. Then add a tiny amount of Ultramarine Blue. Add a little at a time as it’s better to have too little than too much, or it leads to paint wastage! Your mix will turn brown to begin with. You need to keep adding the blue until the paint changes from brown to almost black. If you are unsure whether you have got to that stage, then you can take a small amount out and add a little white to it. If it turns grey then you are at the right colour. Don’t add white to the whole mix as you want to keep that as your master mix, for when you want to darken a grey you are using.

As you can see from the photo above I did a warm and a cool grey mix. A cool grey has a blue bias, while a warm grey has either a yellow or red bias. Although I haven’t shown it in the photo, you can mix grey with a purple bias where you add more red and blue than you do yellow.

There are other blues, yellows and reds that you can mix with. I found that I got much closer to a black with the Ultramarine/Cadmium Red/Cadmium Yellow mix than I did with the Cerulean Blue/Alizarin Crimson/Lemon Yellow mix. I found with Cerulean it was much more like a brown mix but that could just be my mixing! It’s all about experimenting with your paints to see what they can do.

Please feel free to comment if you think I have missed anything or if you want to ask any questions!

Published by Tracy J Hughes

English artist living and working in Wales. A BA and MA Fine Art graduate from Aberystwyth University. Working in acrylic paint and coloured pencil creating still lifes and beach scenes.

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