Seeing Colour In Greys – “Sipping Patrón”

If you know me, you know I LOVE colour! I love painting with bright colours and then, when needed, layering pastels to create greys. This de-intensifies the saturated colours. Seeing colours in greys can sometimes be tricky. It all just looks grey! With time, deep looking, and the tips below, you’ll see the colour that’s there in the grey!

And I’ve just made a video for YouTube with a demo (sped-up) showing me painting a grey subject using colour!

Have a look below.

The three tips I mention in the video to help you see colour in greys are:

  1. Keep your eyes OPEN! To see value, we squint. To see colour, we want our eyes open to let in all the light. Often we can concentrate to see the colour which sometimes leads to squinting. Uh uh.
  2. Run through the primary colours – Blue, Red, Yellow – as you look at the grey colour
  3. Use something to help you separate the grey from the surrounding colour. I find the Viewcatcher Viewfinder with its tiny hole a perfect way to do this!

Here’s the reference photo I used for my demo:

Of course, if you know me, you know how I love my thumbnails! They’re a fast way to sort out the three main value areas as well as designing an intentional composition.

Here’s my thumbnail:

Thumbnail for "Sipping Patrón"
Thumbnail for “Sipping Patrón”

The demo video goes by very quickly (!) so here are a few stills for you to see the progression.

First, the underpainting with the three values set up. You can see I used warm colours to start!

Seeing Colour in Greys: First layer of "Sipping Patrón"
First layer of “Sipping Patrón”

Then I begin to build up the layers. I work from the big shapes, working loosely. The details will come!

Seeing colour in greys: Beginning to build the painting
Beginning to build the painting

More layers of complementary colours give the feeling of a greyness without being grey. You can see how I’ve layered cool colours over the warm underpainting.

Seeing colour in greys - Building the layers
Building the layers

I decided I needed to lighten the area in the window so I loosely applied my lightest colour to lighten AND harmonize the whole.

Lightening the area in the glass of the window
Lightening the area in the glass of the window

And finally, the details emerge!

Gail Sibley, "Sipping Patrón," Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 9 x 6 in. Sold.
Gail Sibley, “Sipping Patrón,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 9 x 6 in. Sold.

And here are the 10 Unison Colour pastels I used. You can see my lightest light (Unison Colour Grey 27) on the far right.

Seeing colour in greys: Unison Colour pastels used
Unison Colour pastels used

Have a look at the thumbnail beside the final painting shown in black and white.

I hope these tips and my demo give you some help with seeing colour in greys.

Do you have a question about how to see colour in greys? Then be sure to leave it or any thoughts you may have in the comments below.

And do let me know if this opens your eyes to the colour possibilities in greys!!

Until next time,


PS. As you can see, the light areas dominate in this painting! To understand more about value dominance, click here.

PPS. Want to see the video in real-time with a full voiceover? Then join us in the IGNITE! An Art-Making Membership where we go deep into this topic of seeing colour in greys!!

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36 thoughts on “Seeing Colour In Greys – “Sipping Patrón””

  1. We have an Arizona artist by the name of Allen Garns, who is a master of greys.

    He has done some workshops for us over the years and talks about opposing complimentary colors to great effect. A wonderful man and successful artist who teaches occasionally at the Scottsdale Artist School. See his work here.

    1. Hey Sharon, thanks for sharing Allen’s work with us. I had a quick look and yes, love his greys! And I agree with Allen. Using complementary colours is the most colourful way to make great greys! I made a whole video about it 😁 You can have a look here!!

  2. Thank you Gail for your continued inspiration and tips on how to see colour …
    Even in greys , it could become quite addictive., look forward to using colour more

  3. Thanks for the tips on grays.I am doing a still life that has a white cloth with blue stripes. In the photo I am going by there are lots of gray shadows in the cloth. But after your video I looked at it again and could see some green and red. I will try using those in doing the cloth
    Thanks, again.

  4. Hi Gail,
    I so love and appreciate that you’re doing videos! Your love of the painting process is so contagious. I wanted to ask you if you ever do wet under paintings.

    Always grateful for your generous and spirited heart!

  5. Thank you for your video, Gail!
    I enjoy learning the new tips & techniques & enjoy your newsletter.
    I think I saw a bit of a purplish tint to your grey shirt, but may have been influenced by the pinkish leaves in the lighter design.

  6. This article reminded me of something I learned years ago but completely forget to use: when plein air painting and want to see color in a shadow, for instance, quickly glance at the shadow and then away…split second glance. Then ask yourself what ‘color did you see?’, what hint of what color did you see? Also works for trying to figure out how warm or cool greens are. Can practice this when a passenger in a car…color of side of building, e.g……and it passes the time HA HA!

    1. YES! I love that glancing away tip! That works so well. Thanks for sharing it Kathy!
      And hah hah, I also love your suggested practice time – in the car. I’ll do that next time I’m a passenger!

  7. Great information, thank you. I saw blue in your shirt. Amazing to read the other comments and learn they saw different colors in your grey shirt. We see the world uniquely.

    1. Thanks for playing along Sonya and yes, it is amazing isn’t it! Mind you, the colour of our individual monitors may have a wee bit to do with the choices….as well as seeing the world uniquely 😁

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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