The Blue & the Grey
Paint American Civil War Blue & Grey
Bob Knee, Jr.
Each painter/artist of miniature figures seems to have a "special" formula For military blue and grey. These two
ubiquitous (at least in the U.S.) military colors vary widely in their appearance and in the field. For years I listened to all
of these commentaries on the "special" or "only" formulas until my head was on overload. These goodies varied from
Winsor Blue & Blue Black to Indigo, Prussian Blue or all of the above. I tried all or most of the graciously given nostrums
for blue (grey, as follows, is another story!) but finally settled on one which is appealing to me, universal in application
since dark (military) blue is dark blue, period; fading, etc., taken into consideration. But a glance at the original in
museums, Smithsonian, West Point, Mueee de l'Armee (Paris), Fort Benning, etc., will show you that dark uniform blue
is almost a universal hue. It hardly varies, so why make it a project? I decided not to, and now am happy to share with
you my own approach to the blue and the grey.
Winsor (or Rembrandt) Blue is my base for dark blue. It is a copper pthalo-cyanine and semitransparent. Before I
continue I must emphasize that in painting dark blue the undercoat is very important because of the semitransparent
property of Winsor Blue (Rembrandt Blue is wholly transparent).
I use Polly-S Blue #500030 (medium dark) with Polly-S Black to darken to the value desired. It must be perfectly applied
and no light or priming showing through as the transparency of Winsor Blue will pick this up immediately! To continue: to
Winsor Blue I add blue-black (Winsor Newton) and in such amount as to achieve the value (darkness) of the hue
Usually this is in the proportion of 2/3 blue to 1/3 blue-black. The control (blue/black) depends some-what on your taste.
But realism can be achieved as appears above.
This is a very simplistic formula -- no need to combine indigos, blues, etc., etc., as nauseam. It is easy and simple to
control. I would suggest you stay with a blue like Winsor since it has the "greenish" cast of military blue. Avoid blues
such as permanent, cobalt, and manganese as these do not have the crispness or punch of Winsor Blue.
Believe it -- some painters still use white to highlight dark blue (and other hues too). Without being redundant, as a
generalism -- do NOT use white to highlight. The effect is to wash out or "grey" the basic hue with a lifeless appearance.
(There are some exceptions not relevant to this definitive article.) The best color I have found is a bluish green
turquoise. This really gives a vibrant highlight effect. Or at least use plain Cerulean Blue.
To get this turquoise color mix cadmium lemon (W/N) with Cerulean Blue plus white to bring it to the desired medium
bluish-green color. You probably will have to add a bit more Cerulean to get the bluish cast. When applied wet-on-wet
(highlight on a previous dark blue base still wet), the results are striking and vibrant.
The color wheel suggests a violet as the shade color of dark blue. This one is tough, however, I have found through trial
and error plus reading other`-artists' comments on shading dark blue, that a mix of Shiva Rose Red (in fact a dark
magenta), which is very opaque and covers well, and Shiva Violet Deep (a dioxazine purple) keeping the mix toward the
"red" hues, will give a deeper more in depth look to already dark blue. You might try "blocking in" this shade color rather
than using the wet on wet method.
No discussion on "The Blue and Grey" would be complete without a comment on sky blue, that ubiquitous but most
elusive color seen in the military color wardrobe. For a base I start with a Cerulean Blue since sky blues always have a
greenish ingredient, hence Cerulean. Add some of Payne's Grey as sky blue always hen a bluish grey hue. Then bring
the mix up with white to a medium light blue. The variation of "sky blue," as such, is as high as the sky, so be guided by
color guides (plates, etc.) or better still by direct observation of the real thing in museums.
Use Naples Yellow hot-spotted with white. The Naples Yellow precludes the white wash-out and gives a pleasing warmth.
Use pure Winsor Blue for deep areas (or try Winsor Newton Blue Black) or pure Cerulean Blue.
I really do not know where to start on grey as there is as much variation here as any color imaginable. Also we include a
discussion of butternut with this. Really the best approach is to be selective and limit this to the Confederate Grey, but
again when one views the endless shades of this color in museums such as The Atlanta Historical Society and The
Confederate Museum (Richmond) and even more gaze on the supply of on-the-rack coats hanging "in the back rooms"
your mind switches to an immediate overload. So let's try to simplify this.
"Confederate Grey" started out as a color known as a "cadet grey," a bluish grey tone (per regulation), grey to be sure,
but with a strong bluish cast to it. That should start us off, but individual officer's coats varied more often than not.
Moreover, the "regulation" bluish grey was short lived (if in fact it ever existed) as the War progressed. So, in effect, any
"grey" could be taken to be acceptable. There is no "right" color, so beware of the "experts" who want to sharpshoot
your color selection.
As a base the easiest place to start is with commercially available Liquitex Grey around a value #6. This is close in value
to Confederate grey. Shades can vary with addition of small amounts of burnt umber or Payne's Grey. Many uniforms
I've seen had an umber cast to them. The Payne's Grey gives the blue-grey cast. You can try adding a bit of Winsor
Blue, but the strong tinting effect is obvious so be careful.
Another approach giving a warmer grey is to start with raw umber adding white plus Naples Yellow to the desired value -
5 or 6. Even a dab of burnt umber here is helpful as many Confederate greys being homespun and dyed had the
brownish umber cast.
Generally this is achieved with Naples Yellow rather than white. Using this color you avoid the washed-out look and
achieve some "snap" to the base color. In fact try highlighting all of your greys with Naples Yellow.
Shading is much more mercurial. Avoid black for openers. As a theorem, avoid the use of black (some exceptions, of
course) for shading as the result is a lifeless pit devoid of color. Try shading with burnt umber or Winsor Blue depending
on your base color approach, warm (local production) or cadet grey (initial regulation). Or even a blend of the two
(umber/W. Blue) will produce a very pleasing "black," one you can use without the numbing effect of say, Mars or Ivory
Black, i.e., a commercial product.
I realize the above comments on "grey" are not as definitive as one might wish, however, the variety of color and
immensity of the undertaking limit my approach. Moreover, I wish to keep the approach simplistic and serve both as a
starter and also as suggestions to try other greys by experimentation.
Again, no color discussion of Confederate grey would be complete without addressing the ubiquitous hue of "butternut."
If you want anything to be amorphous, vague or what have you, try to define "Confederate butternut." As the War
Between the States progressed, dyes quickly vanished and clothing makers, often times rural in being, had to turn to
dyes obtained from natural products achieved from boiling bark of trees, roots, etc., etc.
Without trying to characterize the color (I can't) the result was a brownish, dull type of color with a value (light-dark ratio)
spectrum which varied widely.
A suggested base color could be as follows: a mix of burnt umber (or start with a raw umber or a more grey base), raw
sienna, white and Naples Yellow; to increase the chrome add a dab of terra rosa. That is about as far as I can go
without refreshing my recollection with a hands-on viewing at some museum or its "back room" inventory.
Try shading with a burnt umber or a brown madder alizarin for medium areas and Mars Violet or ultramarine blue in
deep fold `areas. Be careful with the dark blue as it is powerful on the base color. Highlight with Naples Yellow.
I hope this color discussion will broaden your perspective of these colors and induces you to experiment. Greys are
fascinating colors and many variations can be made with thoughtful experimentation. Good luck and keep the paint