Some artists are challenging me about the concept of grey not being a color. (this is for you, Vince) I get it. As we paint, we have been taught to reach for “grey” to add to our paintings. Typically in my workshops an attendee will ask, “Should I add grey to this area? And I respond with “Which one? There are so many.” And then they are confused for a bit until I show them the following:

I went into my studio space and grabbed as many “grey” sticks as I could find with the goal of finding “grey.” These are all different values (light and dark) and are from different brands, so some are square, some are round, etc. If it clearly had some color, I didn’t pick it.

Here are a few in the drawer – I picked these guys along with some others… trying to find the most “grey” sticks I own.

Here are 12 of them lined up on white…

Here they are lined up on black…  yes, these are the exact same sticks in the exact same order lined up in the exact same place in front of natural lighting from a window at the exact same time. Cool huh?

Already you can see them shift between the two backgrounds in value, but more importantly, if you look hard, none of them are without color. And remember, I tried to find sticks that had none. Each of these sticks still has a color identifiable from one of the 12 hues from the color wheel. I dare you to try to find one of these that has no color in it…

This is how I perceive them on my computer. Ask yourself- what is the color here and how is the stick “kicked?”

They all fall into one of the 12 color families. Even in this “washed out” low-chroma version, there is no “grey.” Grey is not an independent entity. What may at first appear grey is really a dirty version of blue, violets, red, greens or even yellow. Even when mixed from paint. Although blue tends to be the most common shift to any stick that is seen as “grey,” it is good to know you are actually painting with a color. Painting an orange flower? You can make that orange pop more if you use a low-chroma stick that is blue-based and not orange-based. See how powerful this can be??

So can the colors shift between color families depending on what is around it or what background surrounds it? Yup. (As if color theory weren’t complex enough…) If you remember this pic below from the “Grey is Not a Color” blog, then you can see the same stick changed in apparent hue families as it went across the different colored backgrounds… at the far left it appears almost orange on black, at the far right it appears dark green on lime paper. Yup. Same stick… one stroke across… nature does not have to explain herself.

Here they are again below on white- the same photo… notice how some of them have shifted color from my previously labeled photo of them sitting on black…

Cool huh?

Color is like energy. It can’t be destroyed. Only evolved into something else. So “grey” or, as I call it, a very low-chroma color, will always have some color dominance in it based on what is around it. Again, it is why I don’t care about “perfectly” sorted color trays.

Color shifts. It is elusive. And it is wonderful.

So yes, the same “grey” can change in apparent color dominance between hue families. But what will not change is whether or not they are inherently a blue-based or yellow based color. Here are my sticks now sorted into yellow or blue-based dominances regardless of color family… This is how I separate them on each side of my Berlin Wall… yellow on the left, blue on the right… (remember- our computer monitors are all slightly different- you may be seeing these a bit differently from me- but this is a good place to begin to ask yourself about the colors).

A savvy artist will now start to question how this plays into color temperatures… exactly!

So even the very first header photo above can be dissected into colors… inside a white or black square the “grey colors” will change and shift…

This is how I label them above. Squinting helps to see the colors…

So neutrals do not exist. A “neutralized” version of a color exists, but you can’t eliminate color from a mixture.

In that vein, “Brown” is also not a color… more on that next week…