Payne’s Gray

Golden Artist Colors publishes an interesting newsletter titled Just Paint.  In December I found their article on Payne’s Gray very interesting.  This dark, cool grey color is known by nearly every painter, but few of us realize that it was named for an accomplished painter and educator.

Very little is actually known of William Payne.  His biographers put his life sometime between 1755 to 1830.  It appears that no one recorded his history while he was living, and those that wrote about him posthumously did not know him personally.  This is surprising given he is listed as being in over 100 art exhibitions and was a popular instructor.  He also developed several innovative  techniques, none the least of these was the creation of his namesake color, Payne’s Gray.

Payne is thought to have worked as a civil engineer before devoting himself exclusively to art.  He appears to have used his engineering skills to depart from typical techniques of his time.  Paynes is cited for methods such as dragging paint across the paper with a rag or bread to create atmospheric effects, and using a split or worn brush to create foliage and shadows.  He also eschewed the common practice of outlining watercolors in pen and ink.

The original formula for Payne’s Gray was somewhat of a secret and very unlike the modern formulation.  One biographer claims it was a combination of Indigo, Raw Sienna and a red Lake like Carmine or Scarlet.  Although the first premixed version of Panye’s Gray appears in the 1861 Winsor & Newton paint catalog, their formula of Indigo, (Cochineal)Lake and Carbon Black was not made public until 1896.  Other manufacturers had their own unique mixtures.

You might want to try your own recipe for this moody Gray.  Using their QoR watercolors, Golden suggests mixing Indanthrene Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Raw Sienna which results in a purplish gray.  The website Handprint.com suggests Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, and Crimson Lake.  Yet another substitutes Alizarin Crimson for the red pigment in the latter formula.  There are many other suggestions, although we shouldn’t leave out the popular combination of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna.

Whatever mixture you choose, you will have a strong, dark grey that can be used for notans and value studies as well as a mixer to tone down other colors.  You will probably agree with artists worldwide that Payne’s Gray is a valuable addition to your palette.

  You can subscribe to Just Paint at justpaint.org