top of page

Grey, the colour of balance, wisdom and of life coming to an end.

Detail from an own grey pouring painting
Detail from an own grey pouring painting

The colour grey (or gray in Am.Engl.) is the resulting colour form the mixture of white and black. For this reason it is considered, similar to its components, an achromatic colour and sometimes called “Achromatic Grey”.

(Achromatic) Grey is the colour that is mixed to other hues to desaturate them and to create tones or muted colours.

Beside this particular aspect there are different shades of grey that are worthy to be explored. In this post I will talk about the origin of the colour name itself, its meaning in psychology and symbolism, and, similar to black, I will talk about the possibility to create chromatic greys by mixing complementary colours.

Where does the colour name "grey" come from?

The name “grey” (meaning “without colour”) derives from the Middle English grai or grei and is connected to the Dutch word grauw and the German word Grau.

In the Italian language the term “Grigio” comes from the French word “gris”.

What does the colour grey mean in psychology?

(Achromatic) Grey, as a mix of black and white, is the colour of compromise, wisdom, balance and duplicity. It’s a neutral colour that matches with everything and can be the opposite of everything, because in life nothing is black or white. It can represent boredom, if there is too much calmness, or uncertainty, when we can’t have a precise opinion.

Finally it is the colour of life coming to an end, of ashes and, in the end, of death.

What are the most important grey pigments?

As a result from the mixing of black and white pigments, there are no grey pigments.

Most important (achromatic) grey shades for art.

Warm Grey and Cool Grey

Even though grey is considered a non-colour or achromatic colour it has both warm and cool tones: warm greys have an undertone tending to yellow, orange or red; cool greys have an undertone tending to green, blue and violet.

French Grey

French Greys are warm greys with a brownish/yellowish undertone.

Payne's Grey

Named after the watercolourist who discovered it in the 18th century, William Payne, it is a blue-gray composite colour (cool grey) initially obtained by mixing Prussian blue, Yellow Ochre and Crimson Lake. In the following years the colour recipe has been changed several times and today it is made of a combination of blue pigments (ultramarine, phthalo blue or indigo blue) with black pigment or burnt sienna.

Chromatic (or neutral) Grey

Chromatic Grey is a non-colour or neutrl colur obtained either from the mixture of all primaries (with same quantities and same value) or from the mixture of complementary colours with same colour temperature in the subtractive mixinig models RYB or CMY plus white.

In other words we create a chromatic black (as a base) and then add white to it to get a chromatic grey.

Difference between achromatic grey and chromatic (or neutral) grey

Due to the fact that chromatic grey is the result of the mixture of 3 primaries (Yellow PY3, Red PR112, Ultramarine Blue PB29) it can have different undertones according to the quantity of each primary in the black base. To check its color bias add a small quantity of white.

To create different shades of chromatic greys you will have to correct the bias by adding the complementary colours: for example tends the black to a violet, then you can add yellow to neutralize it but due to the fact that in the base there is a blue part this neutralized grey will have a green bias.

Difference between muted colours and chromatic (or neutral) greys.

The main difference between muted colours and chromatic (or neutral) greys is that muted colours are desaturated colours obtained by mixing a chromatic colour with (achromatic) grey (black+white). In other words every tone is a muted colours.

On the contrary chromatic greys are obtained from a base made of either

  • the three primary colours (red, yellow, blue) in the same colour temperature

  • the complementary colours (blue+orange, red+green, yellow+purple)

  • blue and earth tones such as raw umber or burnt sienna

and white.

In other words the chromatic greys can be obtained by mixing chromatic black and white.

In my next post I will talk more about neutral grey and give you some suggestions for colour combinations in acrylic paints.

Final words.

Grey is a very complex und undererstimated colour, with wonderful (even though still neutral) shades, Is grey your favourite colour?

Thank you for reading. If you like the post, leave a like, a comment and don't forget to follow my blog, Instagram and Threads and share the content on your social media.

I hope you will have a great creative day!



Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page