I'm a colorist. I love sassy, saturated colors that bounce and vibrate on the page. Give me a loud purple, a brassy orange or a lush yellow-green any day. But last fall I recognized that my palette lacked neutral colors, and not long after that my friend Maggie Price came out with a lovely selection of gray pastels made by Terry Ludwig, the Essential Grays. The name started me thinking...are grays essential?
I can't deny that grays have an important role to play. Too many sassy, brassy, bouncing colors on one page and all you have is chaos. None of them look good--it becomes a 'look at me' competition that no one wins. If all I use is purple, orange and yellow-green I have a garish, blatant color scheme that's actually offensive. Neutral grays become the support system that lets each color have its proper place and function. I use them in my paintings to make colors look wonderful!
And then it suddenly hit me. For years I've been teaching that value is a basic property of color. The darkness or lightness of any color underlies its chroma (hue), which is what gives us the freedom to utilize any color in a given location, as long as it's of the proper value or tone. "Color gets the credit while value does the work," as you've likely heard said. You can substitute the word 'gray' in that sentence, since light and dark are usually expressed in grayscale. "Color gets all the credit while gray does all of the work." Grays really are essential! They underlie all color.
Stay with me here. Let me take a little side trip and then I'll explain what hit me.
How do you make a gray? Most of us know we can mix black and white (dark and light) to get gray, but we can also gray down a color by adding its complement. Red grays green. Blue grays orange. Yellow grays purple. And vice versa, of course. In addition to that, I've discovered that I can mix a very pleasant set of grays using a triad of pastels. I put down green, lavender and peach, and arrive at a gray that I love, which I often use for clouds (see the painting above). That gray is thus made of: green (yellow+blue), purple (blue+red), and orange (red + yellow). Every color in the spectrum is there! This makes perfect sense, when you think of it, because value underlies all color...
What hit me? Well, I was studying 1 Peter 3 this morning, unpacking the meaning of the words in verses 3-4: Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. I looked up the meaning of the word 'gentle' and discovered in the original Greek it means 'meek'. I'm not good at meekness. It's tough for me not to dispute or resist things. I often chafe under God's hand, not remaining patient and submissive to Him. I learn things the hard way. Yet this gentle quietness of spirit is what God finds precious. Why? I asked God why being meek is so precious to Him and it hit me: it's like a good gray. It contains all the colors of the rainbow, and thus allows every other color to rest on or next to it and look good. Gray is meek.
I desire to be a useful gray in Jesus's hand, a support to others, one that makes your colors shine when you come near. I've had my day of being the purple, orange and yellow-green, and God has used each of those aspects to make me what I am today. But I'm no longer just one color, I'm a mixture in His hands, and I'm slowly becoming a beautiful, meek gray that He can use to glorify Himself.
...On those days when I don't resist and chafe, but submit to His gentle touch, that is. I'm a gray that's still being mixed, I guess.