Last week I was somewhat frustrated with my experiments with acrylic paint so decided to use oils today. The reasons for this was to promote all the elements in painting that cheap acrylics mute such as strong colour and minute textural details such as individual hair marks of brush strokes. In the past week I had also been thinking more about the colour wheel and making interesting greys. Up to today I had been mixing basic greys using predominantly white and black paint and a hint of another colour to nudge the grey in a certain direction. I remembered that actually the best greys are made by mixing up the three primary colours then adding white or black to tint or shade the grey. This approach is a much more painterly method and it really feels like proper painting as you get to know the individual characteristics of individual colour much better.

I started by simply mixing equal parts cadmium red, yellow and ultramarine. This seemed to produce a "grey" that was probably nearer purple than actual grey. When titanium white was added to this the grey became more apparent but it still was more purple than I wanted. My second mix contained equal ultramarine and cadmium Yel and a much smaller amount of Cad red. This produced a better grey that was pushed towards the green end of the spectrum. I then spent several hours just making up various shades of grey and placing them on a board of wood painted white for evaluation. I learnt so much about colour by doing this exercises. I discovered that Cad Red was actually an exceptional strong colour and adding even a small amount was able to turn mixes to the red end of the spectrum. I also discovered that Ultramarine was the main addition to making good "standard" greys. Ultramarine 50%, cad yel 40% cad red 10 % made a really good basic grey and by playing with the yellow and red ratios it could be pushed towards these colours or the secondary colours of green, orange, purple.

I also discovered that another way of looking at what I was doing was this, I was making a green (blue and yellow) then adding the opposite colour (red) to mute it, then by adding black or white I would force the grey out of the tone. These may seem like very simple things but they are essential in getting to know exactly what paint can do. I think that colour theory is actually an ongoing thing. You don'[t ever really learn it you just learn more about it.

I also started to play around with other shades of the primary’s such as lemon yellow, alizarin crimson, cobalt and Prussian blue as well as ochre and browns. Making all these mixes was very much like using balance to walk along a tightrope. I needed to get the balances of the colours just right or the mix would descend into flat grey hell. A little nudge to the red, or yellow to try to pull it back to where I wanted.

By the end of this experiment I had created a lovely collection of greys with some arguably being other colours themselves such as purple or brown etc...

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