What happens when you mix purple and orange? Or perhaps, I should first ask the question, “Do you ever mix purple and orange?” These are two secondary colors that many painters may not think about mixing together. I happen to love this combination, because of the variety of browns that can result with this mixture. And, I confess, purple happens to be one of my favorite colors as a hue and it is a good color to use in many mixtures.
So What Does Happen When You Mix Purple and Orange?
My painting example to help answer this question is a pet portrait I completed recently of my beloved dog Kyla. She was a mixture of a Norwegian Elkhound and a German Shepherd. This gave her lots of lovely tans, browns, rusts, orange colors. When out walking, people would often stop asking to pet her or they would admire how pretty she was.
Step 1: I started with an old abstract painting that wasn’t inspiring me. It had been sitting around the studio for many months and I decided it was time to give it new life.
Step 2. Knowing that I was going to use purple and orange as my main colors, I applied multiple harmonic colors for the next layer of paint that served as my under painting. I am using acrylic paints for this layer.
Step 4. I then used my purples to paint in the dark shapes of her portrait.
Step 5. Switching to water soluble oils, oranges were then applied over the dark purples to create rich browns. They were also applied in the lighter areas. The colors are more intense (saturated) at this stage because I know that I can always dull a color, whereas it is much more difficult to brighten a dull color later on in the process. Her eyes, nose, mouth, tags and tongue are blocked in during this step.
Step 6. I continue to work the lights and darks always making sure that I mix purple and orange either by laying one on top of the other or mixing them on my palette. The details of her eyes, ears, mouth, etc., are developed further. I never use black…only a dark purple.
Notice, that I have chosen to keep her tongue darker and more purple than is in reality. If I painted it as pink as it normally is, then that is the first element of the portrait that you would notice. Instead, I wanted you, the viewer, to notice her eyes and her overall joyous spirit. The values surrounding her tongue are also similar. Again, this technique was employed to not bring attention to it. I believe that the colors I chose contributed to the feeling I wanted to convey.
Finished Portrait. “Sweet Kyla,” 20×16 mixed media on canvas. As you can see, I have dulled down the intense oranges using thin layers of purple. The back lighting was also enhanced. Unfortunately these digital images do not convey the richness of the browns that were created as a result of mixing purples with oranges. The colors are a whole lot more interesting then if I had used burnt umber, sepia or raw umber.
When might you mix purple and orange? I use it often in my abstract paintings, as well as when I have painted the centers of sunflowers, the red rocks of the Southwest and pumpkins. Did you know that when you mix two secondaries, they are called tertiaries? Learn more about the importance of understanding tertiary mixtures in my post “What is the Correct Definition of Tertiary Colors?”
On a more personal note, Kyla was my first dog. She entered our lives 7 years ago and left this earthly world last week. The joy and unconditional love that she gave us was beyond any expectation we had. We also learned the lessons of: living in the moment, play is essential and patience is….. Kyla was my “Velcro” dog who spent many patient hours with me in the studio. She will be sorely missed.
Over the years, I have completed several pet portraits for loving pet owners. You can find more information about my process at: Commission a Painting.