Art Lesson: Shades of Gray

Think ratios:  80:10:10   =    80% gray:10% light: 10% dark
Think of a painting in terms of contrast:  light and dark and all the shades of gray in-between.

This is one of many formulas for making successful art.  The center of focus is where the lightest light contrasts with the darkest dark.  Usually there is a path of  less light and of less dark that moves one’s eyes around the picture plane all leading to the focal point.  The rest of the painting consists of shades of gray.  And since this is not a black and white photograph, how does this formula translate to color.

Exercise in color mixing: COLOR CHART

Scan Color Chart GreysI used acrylic paint in making this chart, but it can also be used for oils.  I’m afraid watercolors would turn to muddy colors.

Row 1:  All of the colors listed below were painted in the small boxes at the top just as they come out of the tube or jar. (Pure Pigment).
Row 2:  The next row are all those colors mixed with white. (Pastels)  Theses are your lights (10%).

Row 3:  All those Pure Pigment colors mixed with light gray. (Shades)

Row 4:  Pure Pigment mixed with dark gray.  (Shades) Along with the third row, these are your Grays 80%)

Row 5: Taking the Pure Pigment and adding black. These are your Darks (10%).

I continued my chart with a few other exercises:  instead of adding black I used the color Burnt Umber as my dark.  And then at the very bottom, I wrote formulas for mixing DARKS without using black to make warm blacks and cool blacks.

The instructions below are more detailed. 

Color Mix

To help with my chart, I purchased a pre-mixed Neutral Gray acrylic color and when I needed a darker Gray I just added more black.  Also, I used a piece of thick Illustration Board cut to the size 11″ x 14″.

About the center of focus:  Above I said the center is where the lightest light and darkest dark meet.  With color, this could translate to the area of Pure Pigment.

Thanks go to Jack Proctor, a teacher who helped to clarify in my mind the importance of grayed colors.  I wish him well.
Hope this helps.  Happy painting!  Joy!


About Wings of Wonder

Linda Ruddy is a creative with a diverse range of interests in writing and painting. She currently is revising a middle grade novel, and author and illustrating a picture story book. She is an active member of SCBWI, Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. Linda has a body of paintings, which form the foundation of her artistic development. This work can be viewed on her website: Her recent illustrations are an outgrowth of the style she developed in these paintings. Another passion is sculpture. Linda often uses her figures as models for her art. Linda's blog is eclectic and journeys wherever her muse guides her attention. Her blog address is: Following the muse, Linda Ruddy
This entry was posted in Art, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Art Lesson: Shades of Gray

  1. marilynscottwaters says:

    This is amazing. I pinned the chart to my Pinterest Board on Art Supplies. Lovely stuff, my friend.

    Hugs, M

  2. robin says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Linda. Though I haven’t tried my hand at painting, I still find it to be really interesting and will take notice when I view art. I didn’t know about the importance of and dominance of gray in paintings, but it sure is important to learn how to live with the grays of uncertainty in our lives! Here’s to a deeper appreciation of it :).

  3. Wow! This is really interesting . . . I’ve mixed paint before but never with so much organization. 🙂

    • I had a few years “of obsession” trying to learn color and how to mix it and made lots of color studies. This is one of my favorite and really helpful charts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s