How to mix greys

On the subject of mixing colours rather than using tube colours, one colour I haven’t yet used from a tube is grey.

Payne’s Grey is a fairly popular pigment, but I’ve always found it more effective to mix my own greys, so here I’m going to show you some common ways of mixing different greys.

Black and White


(Ivory Black + Titanium White)

Too obvious! This is the way we all learn about as children. Black and white makes grey. It’s true, but the grey you get will always be the same, with no variation in hue, and if overused it can get pretty dull.

Two Complementary Colours


(Cadmium Red + Viridian + White)


(Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Orange + White)


(Cadmium Yellow + Violet)

This is a much more interesting way of mixing greys.

When you add any colour to its complement, you desaturate that colour, effectively ‘greying it down’. So you can mix any two complements together to the point where neither one dominates, and you have a grey. I mixed them all with white in the examples above so you can see the hue more clearly.

As you can see, each grey has subtle shifts in hue, and the beauty of this method is that it’s really easy to make a grey warmer or cooler, just by adding more of the warm or cool colour out of the pair.

For example, with red/green, to make the grey warmer you add red, to make it cooler you add green.

Orange: warmer – Blue: cooler

Yellow: warmer – Violet: cooler

All three primaries


(Cadmium Red + Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Yellow)

If you think about it, this is really just the same as adding two complementaries, because any two of the primaries mixed together, makes the complement of the third:

Red + Blue makes Violet, which is the complement of Yellow

Blue + Yellow makes Green, which is the complement of Red

Yellow + Red makes Orange, which is the complement of Blue

The same theory applies to the secondary colours. You could get a grey by mixing Orange, Violet and Green.

So throw away your Payne’s Grey, and keep the Black and White under wraps, and see what beautiful greys you can get in your paintings by mixing colours!





  1. Neal Winfield Avatar

    Had a great afternoon reading your thoughts. I found the grey article anything but. A very interesting read. My favourite homemade grey is Burnt Umber and Ultramarine. I’ve put my tube of Paynes Grey up for sale on Ebay. Cheers Dan

  2. […] shadows and reflected tones, I looked at how best to mix greys by looking at Dan Johnson’s blog: (accessed) 14/12/2016) and how to mix browns at […]

  3. Mark Flory Avatar
    Mark Flory

    Hi i need to mix paint to make a spooky grey colour?

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