Black, White and Grey

For many the word ‘grey’ is now associated with pornography of a peculiarly mind-numbing banality, but for anyone who loves printing and typography, it is a beautiful word, shimmering between black and white. Grey is a soft colour, susceptible of an infinite variety of tints and gradations. It can be warm or cold, light or dark. What it can never be, to the eye that sees it aright, is dull or boring. It is a creative colour, as black and white are creative colours.

I was thinking about that this morning as I looked out of my window. The snowy fields and slopes are black, white and grey with, here and there, a touch of grey-brown where a tree trunk or wall has escaped the snow. It is the world as a printer might see it: all the important shapes sketched in; the blocks of type and margins allocated; the colours of ink and paper chosen; everything waiting for the moment when the book begins to take shape and meaning flows.

When the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit hovered over it, I wonder whether that was how God saw what he was about to create: a world of meaning from black, white and grey. I rather hope so.


12 thoughts on “Black, White and Grey”

  1. Grey is a fabulous colour – it describes so many things where colours are indeterminate. I always wore a grey suit for years and have a couple of grey shirts and ties even now.

    Not sure if it defines me or something about how I present to the world. Grey and indeterminate?

  2. As a one time printer myself, I’d like to speak up for black. Fifty Shades of Grey, no – fifty of black for me. Printers’ blacks – I know most about art printing techniques like etching or aquatint rather than typography- achieve amazingly varied depth of tone and yet remain black. Ana Maria Pacheco is a present day master of black. This knowledge is something I find comforting in my own dark times. No need of that comfort today today however as we too have snow and I’m in a position to admire it.

  3. No, my friends, grey is never an ‘indeterminate colour’, nor is it ever the poor relation of black: it holds its head high and walks the world in its own right— quietly, I grant you, but always as grey, never as washed-out black or dirty white. I often used to print a series of sheets using different black inks on the same paper stock, in order to make the right choice between them. To most people they were ‘just black’, but to the printers in the community a source of endless discussion (and sometimes disagreement).

  4. I remember at the age of six, a German friend of my parents wanting to express thanks for their hospitality before he returned to his country. He decided I should have a gift. Being writerly, and arterly, I coveted a propelling pencil, so was taken to a retailer where I was shown a posh display of Parker and Schaeffer items of different colours. I remember not liking the mottled effect very much and chose plain grey, which surprised the German friend.

    I would not be parted from this pencil and even took it out in my doll’s pram which had a little rose-pink eiderdown. One day, out in the garden, under the spring light, I was struck, almost like a divine revelation, by how beautiful the grey looked against the pink, how deeply complementary the colours were. I rushed to the kitchen door to tell my mother, but she was too busy making ends meet to understand.

    The first flush of the first dawn must have been something like that.

  5. Similarly, painters of old often painted an underpainting in greys, defining the lights and darks while the warmth or coolness of the grey was used to counterpoint the coolness or warmth of the superimposed colours. That is so similar to your vision of the Creation.

  6. As I have not read any book mixing together grey and pornography, I’m glad to say I do enjoy the poem you are offering us today.
    Thank you.
    Living far from a European winter, I am surrounded mainly with green and, sometimes, the grey of clouds which has a way of making every other color brighter.
    I also find that grey is a beautiful color 🙂

  7. I spend hours every week alone in my car driving from school to school. My first revelation was the Hockney exhibition a year or so ago which alerted me to how MUCH colour there was in the winter hedgerows. My second has been how heart-achingly beautiful the cloudy grey skies are with every shade and tint and hue of grey. The heavens declare the infinite greatness of our God.

Comments are closed.