More about colour, especially chromatic greys

In my post earlier this week I was talking about greyscales in the context of learning more about colour. For some time now I’ve been very taken with the chromatic grey range of colours. One of my first Pinterest boards was on the theme of chromatic grey, and I’ve really loved looking for examples of it. ‘Chroma’ means colour or hue, and I’ve come to realise that greys are very rarely neutral. They usually contain colour in greater or lesser saturation, and sometimes their true nature doesn’t emerge until you put them with other greys. The nature of chromatic greys was brought home to me by my experience of doing a sample based on the work of Chuck Close, the American artist. I picked most of the greys out of my stranded cotton selection, with a view to producing a very understated and subtle combination of colours. But as shown in the photo of the finished sample below, it actually turned out to be a riot of colour, relatively speaking: Cross Stitch sample inspired by Chuck Close Below is a close up of the sample showing the (small) size of the stitching:Cross stitch sample - close up One of the things that struck me forcibly when I was working this sample was just how much your eyesight gets compromised once you get to a certain age. I enjoyed this piece very much and I like the effect, but it was tough going. Following this experience I gave in to advancing years and bought a magnifying light. This is quite a costly option (although a good deal cheaper than getting new glasses) but it’s proven to be worth every penny. Anyway, getting back to the issue of chromatic greys… most of the several colours I used in this sample looked grey when seen in isolation. It’s when you put them together that their colour character really starts to emerge. It’s such an interesting process….. and I’m hoping that working on the Hornung book (see the post earlier this week) will help me to understand these colour relationships a little better.

Learning about colour

Last time I was at Tate Modern I bought a book by David Hornung: ‘Colour’.David Hornung - Colour

Here’s the front cover of the US edition – the UK front cover is identical except for spelling ‘Colour’ differently. As the description implies, this is a practical workbook about colour. I find that using colour is one of the most challenging aspects of putting a design together. I tend to use trial and error, for example, when selecting thread colours, but I’ve often thought I would like to understand it better. This book looks quite impressive on a quick read-through, so I decided I’d have a go at the many exercises in it.

David Hornung recommends using gouache for the exercises, and helpfully provides a full list of recommended colours in different brands. The one that seems mostly widely available in the UK is Winsor and Newton, and I already had a few of these. So I ordered the missing colours, some smooth-ish watercolour paper and got cracking. The first thing I tried to do was to mix a supply of warm grey and cool grey using Ultramarine and Sepia – more of the former for cool grey, more of the latter for warm grey. Then, in theory if you mix equal amounts of the warm and cold greys you should get a neutral mid-tone grey with no particular colour tendency. Well, that’s what should happen. I found even mixing these greys surprisingly difficult.

The next step was to mix the greys with white in varying quantities to create a greyscale. I knew because I’ve tried this before, that it’s very difficult indeed. I had two separate attempts at the exercise and wasn’t happy with either version. I think part of the trouble is learning how to handle the gouache. Getting a smooth, thin, even coverage of the colour is by no means straightforward. Below is one of the attempts at greyscale: Attempt at greyscale

On the RHS is the cold greyscale, with the warm greyscale in the middle and the neutral one off to the left. Not very impressive is it? The cold grey is too blue, and the gradations from light to dark are pretty unconvincing. Oh well, perhaps I’ll have another go. For the moment I’ve moved on to the first proper exercise, and I’ll report back on that as soon as I’ve finished it.



It’s taken me a while to come round to Pinterest but now I’m quite the enthusiast. I’ve been impressed by the boards that some talented people have put together, so a few days ago I decided to have a go myself. So far I’ve put together two boards: Yellow Ochre and Chromatic Grey and I’m full of ideas for others. It’s (obviously and duhhh for not spotting it earlier) a very good way of keeping an ordered record of things that you find particularly impressive. And of course, there’s no end to the possible themes and combinations. Pinterest logo

Working on these boards has been completely absorbing. If you’ve not tried Pinterest, do have a look.

How easy is it to get set up on Pinterest? Well, fairly; I’d have to say it’s not completely straightforward. Trying to import a picture for my header was not easy. I made several attempts, checked out the help function and discovered that this is a common problem, so then decided to abandon the attempt for the time being. Next time, I looked,however, there was the picture in the header. It actually worked but looked as though it didn’t. I had a very similar problem with trying to get Pinterest to recognise this website address. Having eventually abandoned the attempt, I then discovered that it had worked after all.

But now that I’m set up finding my way about on Pinterest is easy and intuitive. Wish I done it ages ago.

I’ve added a Pinterest icon on my home page (right hand side) so you can click on that any time if you want to see what I’ve been up to.