Have you ever noticed how many gray pencils there are in most full sets of pencils? Have you ever wondered when to use grays? You’re not alone. Today’s reader question comes from Rice, who asked when to use Prismacolor grays.
There are so many Greys in my Prismacolor set. French Grey, Warm Grey, and Cool Grey. When do I use them, and how do I decide which ones to use?
I don’t use gray pencils very often, even when drawing gray subjects. But gray colors are useful, so let me share a few tips.
When to Use Prismacolor Grays
Since there are a lot of Prismacolor grays, how do you decide when and how to use them?
A good rule of thumb is to use the cool grays when the gray you want to draw is a cooler gray. (Cool grays are a little blue than the warm grays.)
If you’re drawing a landscape or a subject with a background, use cool grays. Layering a cool gray over the background makes it look further away.
Warm grays are a little yellower than cool grays. They work best for drawing grays that lean a little bit toward yellow or that are in the foreground.
French Greys are an odd sort of color. They’re definitely warm, but they’re more brown than gray. They work very well for skin tones with animals. Dark horses, cats or dogs often have darker grays around their eyes, noses, and mouths, and French greys work very well in these areas.
I’ve seen stunning art finished using nothing but French Grey colors. Using the full range of French Greys can be very effective for half-tone art.
Tone Down Colors That Get Too Bright
Sometimes, you may find the colors you’ve put on the paper are too bright. They’re the right color; they’re just too obvious.
Grays are a perfect way to tone down too-bright colors. Match the type of gray with the type of color, though. Mix warm grays with other warm colors to tone those colors down. Mix cool grays with cool colors.
Match the value of the gray to the value of the other color whether you use cool or warm gray.
Some artists alternate several layers of color with what they call a blending layer. They layer a warm gray that’s a light value over the work they’ve already done to smooth out the color and develop saturation. I have tried this technique a couple of times and it does work.
Apply blending layers with light pressure and careful stroking. Use a sharp pencil, too.
Three Ways to Use Prismacolor Grays
These three tips for using gray colors should help you find a use for them. But even if you don’t, don’t worry about it. I have so many gray Prismacolor pencils in my stash, that I’ll never use them all!
Because I don’t use grays very often.
I hope that helps.
I liked this article. I use greys for toning down colors like you said. They also work well for rocks and also for shadows.
That’s a good tip. I haven’t drawn a rock in a couple of years, and that one was brown!
i agree with gail—i use greys a lot for rocks, paved roads, shadows, etc. sometimes on old buildings too.
Those are good things to use grays on. Thank you for sharing!