Personally, I have never found the love for it no matter my medium. Heresy you say? Perhaps…
Along with other highly recommended tubes of paint – cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue – art teachers continually and strongly instruct students to purchase alizarin crimson. But then students discover that they struggle mixing with it. For example, they cannot mix a nice, bright clean purple and other colors.
Alizarin is a muddy red. Unfortunately many painters, especially innocent beginners, do not realize this hue characteristic. It is slightly desaturated and this isn’t as obvious when you first squeeze it out on your palette. When I was new to watercolor, I did like the fresh color that came out of the tube, but then became disappointment and frustrated because it did not dry to that initial color.
What is Alizarin Crimson?
For those who might be interested, here are some more technical descriptions of the color:
The color alizarin crimson is what refers to a red dye made from the root of a plant, Rubia tinctorum or the common madder plant.
Alizarin or 1,2-dihydroxyanthraquinone is an organic compound with formula C 14H 😯 4 that has been used throughout history as a prominent red dye, principally for dyeing textile fabrics.
As I alluded to above, I find mixing with alizarin crimson frustrating. Hence, I do not include it on my palette. Why?
Below is a mixing example – of purple – that might help answer this question:
The color swatch in the upper left is alizarin crimson and the lower red swatch is a magenta. I have mixed the reds with the same blue — ultramarine blue.
The resulting purple shows that alizarin mixes into a grayed purple, whereas the magenta (or a permanent rose, red rose) mixes into a much cleaner purple. (Note that I added a little white on the right side of the purple swatches to make it easier to see the purple hue.)
Many painters say, “But I love it because I can mix lush darks with it!” I claim that the same darks can be achieved with other blue-reds and with ease. Also, if you do you like the slightly de-saturation of alizarin crimson, it can be created by adding a bit of green, its color opposite, to a more intense blue-red.
Here is a related color mixing tip I like to share with my students.
COLOR TIP: It is ALWAYS possible to dull or de-saturate a color, but it is not possible to take a desaturated color and make it saturated or brighter.
I could not have painted “Lunar Glow,” with alizarin crimson. The reds and purples I mixed – saturated and de-saturated – were easy to achieve using my cleaner blue-red.
Could you toss your alizarin crimson? If not, why? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
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