Color Spotlight: Payne’s Gray

Daniel Smith Payne’s Gray: gradient, opacity and glazing, color mixes

Payne’s Gray is a blue-toned dark gray (or, in some brands, a navy blue). Different companies have different formulations, but the granulating Daniel Smith version pictured above is made from a mix of Ivory Black (PBk6) and Ultramarine Blue (PB29).

Experiment Results

Gradient: Like many granulating colors, this grades very smoothly. You can also tell it’s highly granulating from the visible flecks. In mass, it’s literally black, and in dilute it is a pale, cool gray suitable for moody clouds, as in the monochrome painting below where I only used DS Payne’s Gray.

December 24, 2021. Circling seagulls.

Opacity: It’s hard to tell because my opacity line is black and the color is also black, but I believe this is pretty transparent.

Glazing: Line looks flat black.

Blooming: I didn’t include a blooming test in the above, but I wanted to note that I have real trouble creating nice blooms with this color because it’s so granulating. For example, in the painting below, I wanted to make bloom texture in the black hillside in front, but instead it just turned into a soft gradient.

December 25, 2021. Sunrise Crystal Mountain, from Claire Giordano’s tutorial in Adventure Art Academy

Instead of forming interesting cauliflowers, the black pigment just moved into an increasingly heavy line at the edge of the wash, like when you shake an Etch-a-Sketch. That might be a good thing for you if you want to always avoid cauliflowers.

Color Mixes: I’m not a huge fan of the color mixes, which to me just look like pretty dull and muddy ways to mute the color – not as nice as adding a complement. I suppose this is because of the black pigment.

Exceptions: I think Transparent Red Oxide looks like a pretty nice dark black-brown, but also, the Ultramarine Blue component of Payne’s Gray is more or less the complement of TRO. TRO + Ultramarine Blue looks even nicer, IMO.

Comparison to Other Brands

Da Vinci – Payne’s Gray

Da Vinci – Payne’s Gray

Formula: Ivory Black (PBk6) + Prussian Blue (PB27)

Because of the use of Prussian Blue instead of Ultramarine Blue, this version of Payne’s Gray is therefore less granulating and a bit more greenish.

It grades gorgeously. It gets super-dark and is easy to darken, perhaps too easy. As I noted on this test page, “Strong – easier to overpower mixes.”

Because it’s not granulating, this is a better one to work with if you want blooms or flat black silhouettes, but I think DS makes nicer stormclouds.

Winsor & Newton – Payne’s Gray

Winsor & Newton – Payne’s Gray

Formula: Phthalo Blue (PB15) + Ivory Black (PBk6) + Quin Violet (PV19)

This is the most bluish Payne’s Gray I’ve seen, especially in the dilute tones. The DS and DV versions are much closer to a neutral gray. This one is nongranulating but I saw some lines from how fast it ran down the page.

What Others Say

Some artists wouldn’t be seen dead using this colour, but I love it. Never use it by itself, though: it looks too cold and dead, and can easily dominate a painting. But applied sensitively and warmed up with colours like burnt umber, it’s valuable. I use it also with yellow for my dark greens. It dries much lighter than it appears when wet.

Ron Ranson, On Skies (1996)

Whilst I understand the appeal of using these grey paints for easy mixing when you are a beginner, you’ll always get more lively results when mixing colours that don’t include black pigments …

Three uses of Payne’s Gray that I know of are:

1. for stormy skies
2. for dark muted greens
3. for value studies/ monochrome paintings.

Liz Steel, “Payne’s Gray?”

I think my most favorite moody color combo is [Winsor & Newton] Payne’s Gray + Davy’s Gray, so if you feel like I just won’t stop with this color palette, you’re right 😂.

Kolbie Blume on Instagram

My Review of Payne’s Gray

I didn’t like Payne’s Gray when I first tried it. Kolbie Blume hyped it up in their 10-Day Painting the Wilderness challenge and I didn’t understand at the time that their Winsor & Newton version would be really different from the Daniel Smith one that was my first shot. The two could really not be more different with DS being granulating, neutral, and relatively weak, and WN being strong, smooth, and very blue-toned. The second version I tried, Da Vinci, was also odd, being much more green-toned because of the Prussian Blue in the mix.

Prussian Blue is so muted that it can look jarring in very bright paintings, which may be a good thing (more contrast) or a bad thing (muddy blends).

Northern Lights with Da Vinci Payne’s Gray in the upper sky – I wish I’d used Indanthrone Blue.

Payne’s Gray comes into its own when used for monochrome paintings. I really love the way the Winsor & Newton version faded to a muted blue.

Monochrome night sky from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 1, 2022. Color: Winsor & Newton Payne’s Gray. Paper: Saunders 140lb Cold Press.

Although I found it inconvenient at the time, in retrospect I’m glad I started the 10-Day Challenge without access to the same colors as Kolbie used, because it taught me to replace or mix my own. However, if you are trying to replicate Kolbie’s colors for your own convenience/ease/desire to make products most like theirs, you should definitely be sure to get the Winsor & Newton version.

Favorite version: I prefer the more bluish WN. If you want a more neutral gray, I would go for Neutral Tint instead of Payne’s Gray.

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