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Understanding Brown and Grey

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At the basic level, are browns merely warm neutrals and greys cool neutrals?  Or am I guilty of oversimplification? I am guessing you can cool down a brown, for instance, but at some point does it become more of a grey?  The reason I ask is that I am still struggling to achieve a look that I like when painting figures with a lot of leather.  I have experimented with taking Oiled leather and mixing in the various "Clear" colors from the MSP line. It seems that if I use enough restraint so that the Oiled Leather doesn't start to overtly read as the Clear color, I could use that to generate color contrast in the various leathers on the mini. But I am stuck on the idea that leather has to be some form of brown. I know that there are many different colors of leather, but my worry is that if I paint it too saturated with the suggested color that the item in question wont read as "leather" to the viewer.


Another way of asking the question, I can see browns that obviously have a hue shifted more Red, Orange or Brown.  And Greys that are shifted more Blue, purple or green.  But are there Blue, Green, or Purple browns? or are they really grey? And are there Red, Orange, or Yellow greys, or are they really brown? Or am I really just overthinking it?

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Grays can be warm (see the stone grays triad or bone triad from Reaper for instance) or cool (see the Neutral Grays triad, Feldgrau, or any number of desaturated blues). Start with a gray and add a bit of many sorts of brown or red or yellow or orange and you'll get a warm gray. Add a bit of many sorts of purple or blue or green and you'll get a cool gray.


Most of the colors we think of as browns are best conceived of as forms of orange, but there are very reddish browns (auburn hair is often a reddish brown and french beige is a very light brown with quite a bit of red), greenish browns (or brownish greens) like olive drab (which we tend to think of as greens rather than browns), yellowish browns (yellow ochre or straw), purplish browns (Volcano Brown). You won't really see a bluish brown, since orange plus blue gives you a black or gray (being complementary) and once you shift toward either purple or green the color won't read as bluish.


Gray might be best conceived of as almost any very desaturated color. That is, anything quite close to a straight mix of true black and true white. Browns are more saturated and often complex color mixes.

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My favorite grey is a mix of a brown and a blue (Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue) plus white.


I like to mix greys out of complementary or near-complementary colors, usually beginning with some intensely colored earth tone which could fairly be called brown. It makes or more interesting colors than straight black and white.


Mix Burnt Umber with enough white and you’ll get a warm grey. The only thing that makes one brown and one grey is how much white it has in it. And context (the lighting and the colors around it) can shift perception of which is which.


The visual cues that make a texture “read” as leather are independent of color, and mostly apply to worn leather (shiny new leather is difficult to distinguish from other shiny textures). These include: A somewhat mottled background texture, more intense / darker color in seams and protected areas, considerably lighter color on high worn points, and possibly a little staining anywhere it is frequently handled.



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As always, thanks for the replies!  Everyone here is always so helpful.


I am painting a Bugbear with a yellow coat.  I was thinking a desaturated  "purple" brown would contrast against the yellow without standing out.  I could wash the leather with a purple wash to shade the recesses and highlight with either RMS Leather Brown or Oiled Leather (judiciously) to pick out the high points. 


I say this in trying to refine my approach to leather, using desaturated colors of a complimentary hue, to try and create contrast between areas, without necessarily bringing attention to the leather bags, belts, straps, etc.

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