You want to mix a purple, so you grab your red and blue. Correct? But then you mix your colors and it is not the purple you want. Why?
I have heard many artists – no matter the medium they use – complain that they do not know how to mix a bright purple. There are three main reasons, IMHO.
- Painters are not consciously aware of the color bias of their reds and blues.
- Too many painters have alizarin crimson on their palettes.
- Painters do not know the significant role complementary colors play when mixing all colors ….it is not embedded into their brains.
What Does Color Bias Have to Do with How to Mix Bright Purple?
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, color bias refers the additional color or hue that every primary tube of color carries. For example, cerulean blue carries a yellow or green hue, ultramarine carries a red, permanent rose carries a blue and cadmium red carries a yellow or orange hue.
Given all of your reds and blues, do you know the color bias of each? Sometimes it isn’t always easy to SEE these biases. By making color charts and comparing your paints on a large sheet of white watercolor or canvas paper, it becomes easier to see subtle hue differences. I describe all of this in my book I Just Want to Paint: Mixing the Colors You Want!
I know, color charts can seem laborious, but they provide wonderful insights that will enhance your color mixing confidence. You won’t regret spending the time making and studying these charts.
Why do you need to intimately know your color biases? Because of the impact complementary colors have on mixing. We all know these pairs — red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. When these are mixed in their respective pairs, the result is a muddy or gray color. You never get a bright or intense mixture when they are mixed, though they do result in lovely desaturated colors. (Again, visit my book page to learn more.)
Hence, if your goal is the mix a bright purple, what color do you want to avoid in your red and blue tubes of paint? Yellow! Correct. Therefore, a bright purple can only be obtained if you use your blue-red with your red-blue. The more extreme each of these are the brighter the purple. In other words, use your bluest red and reddest blue.
This leads to the problem with alizarin crimson. As many of you know, I have never cared for this color despite it being extremely popular. I wrote about it in this blog post. Why don’t I like it? Because it is dull. It is slightly neutralized when it comes out of the tube. Sure you can get a likeable purple with it, but it is not bright. Besides, it is easy to mix the hue of alizarin crimson. (I cringe every time I hear instructors tell beginners to have it in the paint box.)
If you paint a blue-red, orange-red red-blue and green-blue on the traditional color wheel, as seen below, you can see the color bias of each. I have labeled them accordingly.
Next, you can see the result of mixing blue-red (#5) with red-blue (#4), as well as the result of mixing orange-red (#6) with green-blue (#3). This shows you how to mix bright purple along with a dull purple. Both are viable, yet they are applied to our paintings for different reasons and effects.
It doesn’t matter what the name is of each of these tubes. The critical principle is to SEE and understand is the color bias of each. By introducing complementary colors into the mixture, RED + BLUE do not always = PURPLE. 🙂
I encourage you to create a color chart trying out all of your red and blue combinations. You will most likely be surprised by what you discover.
What about tubes of purple? I am not a fan because I prefer to mix my secondary colors and it makes for a much simpler palette. It’s personal choice.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others. Your comments are always welcome!
Gratefully and colorfully yours,
PS Some of you probably noticed that I never referred to my reds or blues as warm or cool. When mixing colors, this concept is misleading and confusing. Painting – mixing colors – becomes so much easier when you refer to the color by its color bias versus its temperature. The latter is important to understand in other painting scenarios.