Purple is a pretty basic color… or is it? A little red, a little blue, and you’ve got purple, right? Happily, it’s a lot more fun than that. Today we’re going to talk about purple in all it’s glory. I’ll let you know how to whip up some different shades of purple which you can use, how to mute purples, how to warm and cool them, and even give you a little homework so that you can master the Joker’s favorite color.
Red and blue don’t always make purple
When you were a kid, you probably learned that red and blue make purple. They do… kinda. As an artist, mixing up your own paints, you know by now that a little variance in the core colors which you are mixing can make a whole world of difference. I’ll tell you a little more about that shortly.
Aside from it’s good looks, purple is actually quite useful for a number of things. For instance, you can take a bright orange and mute it down a bit quite effectively with a little touch of purple in the mix. Feel like making your red a little darker and more sinister? Skip the black and just give the mix a little taste of purple and this works a treat.
Now, about those shades of purple I was talking about…
Getting the perfect shade of purple is easier than you think, but it is going to take a little knowledge on your part in regards to a little thing called ‘color bias’.
Understanding color bias: a whole new world of purples
Color bias is just a fancy way to say that one color has hints of other colors in it. Maybe your blue has a little yellow in it, for instance. This is important to know when mixing, of course, because these little bits of extra color are going to make a difference. They might mean that you end up mixing a warmer or colder color or in some cases you might even end up with something completely unexpected.
This makes your mixing just a little more exciting, because sometimes you’ll set out just to mix a little ‘standard purple’ and end up with something much more vibrant than you were expecting!
So, how do we put color bias to work? Well, first you’ll want a little familiarity with some colors that are known to have a definite color bias. Since we are talking about purple, let’s list out the color bias with your current paints in regards to blues and reds.
Reds with hints of blue
Reds that have a bit of blue include Quinacridone Magenta and Permanent Rose.
Reds with hints of yellow
Cadmium Red and Vermillion are reds that include some yellow touches.
Blues with hints of yellow
Cerulean and Pthalo blue both have yellow present in them.
Blues with hints of red
Both Ultramarine and Cobalt blue has a little red bias to them.
Testing for color bias
The easiest way to test for color bias is to mix the paint you are checking with a little white and see what color you get. For instance, if you mix a Vermillion with white you are going to get a bit of a peach color, which is a dead giveaway that there is some yellow present. A pure, unbiased red will give you a pink color when you mix it with white, so the deviance from this shows you that a color bias is present!
Try to get the color bias on a few of your favorite colors and then mix them with white to see if you are right!
Now that you understand color bias, try mixing some of your different reds and blues together to see the different shades of purple which you can create. If you find one that you like, you can test the ‘root colors’ for color bias and then you will understand exactly how many colors are flowing together to make a particular shade of purple that you like.
Pretty neat, no?
Muting purples to somber them up
Muted colors can add a lot of gravity to something which you are painting up. So, what is a muted color? Basically, a muted color has been ‘taken down a notch’ so that it is not so vibrant or bright. Think of it as simply being the opposite of vibrant.
This can be quite useful for balancing out a composition that has a lot of bright colors or you can go
“To mute purple, you need to find its complementary color”
‘whole hog’ and create and entire scene that is colorful, yet serious. To mute purple, you need to find its complementary color. This is simply the color that is on the other side of the color wheel.
With purple, that means that we need to use yellow if we want to mute the color up a bit. One of the cool things about this is that it also works in the opposite direct. If you’ve got a yellow that you feel is too bright and distracting, you can humble it a little bit by feeding it a small dose of purple and mixing it up. It will make your yellow quite a bit less loud and much more serious.
Different yellows will, of course, mute your purple in slightly different way, so experiment with this a little so that you can see which mixes you like the best. Try comparing Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Yellow, for instance, and then give any other yellows that you have on-hand a test. I think you’ll really like the results!
Mixing up bright super- purples
When it comes to purple, one of the most desirable types is going to be ‘full glory’ purple… meaning a bright and rich purple that catches the eye immediately. This isn’t very difficult, provided you know the secret.
Just mix a warm blue together with a nice, cool red with 2 equal parts of each.
Some good combinations which you can try include Ultramarine Blue mixed with a cool Permanent Rose or try mixing up some Ultramarine Blue with a cool Alizarin Crimson. The resulting purple will be bright, rich, and quite noticeable.
Give it a test run and see what you think!
Darkening or lightening-up your purples
Darkening up your purples can make them a little more serious, fit for a lovely dusk scene or whatever else you feel like painting it into. While you can darken it up by adding very, very minute amounts of black into the mix, an easier way is to simply use the formulas which you mixed up for bright purples and then increase the amount of blue that you use. You can also take a stock purple, such as Dioxazine and just add a little blue into it until you achieve the desired result. Add it slowly, though, because it can darken up fast!
On the flipside, lightening up your purples is best done by adding a proper yellow, such as a Cadmium Lemon Yellow into the mix. This will lighten up your purple nicely, without giving it that ‘pastel’ look that you end up with if you simply start adding in white.
Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a pastel purple, but if you just want to lighten up your current purple without making a dramatic shift in the appearance then the yellow is really going to be your best bet. A stock Dioxazine purple mixed with white can get you a fairly normal light-purple if that is all that you are looking for, but I really prefer mixing them up myself and going the yellow route.
Give both a try and see which one that you think looks better on your canvas!
Warming up your pretty purples
Depending on what you are painting, you might want a cooler or a warmer purple, and this isn’t so hard to achieve. If you’d like to warm up your purple, the best thing to do is to start with the purple that you like and then to ‘heat it up’ by slowly adding your favorite red into the mix. This should slowly lighten up your purple and warm it up appreciably in preparation for your canvas.
Lowering the temperature for cooler purples
Making your purple a little chillier is much the same process, however, you are going to want to start slowly adding in your favorite blue, instead of read. This will darken up your purple and gradually ‘lower it’s temperature’ until you stop adding your blue.
Purple Pro tips
You can whip up an amazing sort of ‘fade’ effect if you surround your purples with a nice, vivid blue. You don’t even have to go thick with it, sometimes a little clever stroke here and there around the purple will compliment it appropriately and give you a neat little ‘purple vacuum’ effect. On the flipside, if you surround your purple with some muted colors, such as a muted yellow, or other lackluster ‘dull’ colors then you can really bring attention to your purples.
Contrast catches the eye and so this is one way that you can really draw attention to your newly-mixed and favorite purple hues.
Don’t lose your purples!
AS you experiment, if you find a purple that you absolutely love, be sure to right down the exact mix that you used to achieve it. While you can certainly mix colors ‘on the fly’, every now and again you’ll find something special and if you get in the habit now of writing down your favorites it will accomplish two things. First off, it stores away your formulas on the off chance that you forget one. Secondly, it teaches you to think in units of measurement, so that you’ll be able to reproduce different colors from your notes effectively.
There’s little more frustrating then spending the good portion of a day tying to figure out the ‘wildcard’ that made a color that you really like.
At this point I’d like to recommend that you do a little practice this weekend. Select one of these composition ideas or simply use them as a spring-point to come up with a composition on you own. As long as it’s got some serious purple-work involved then whatever you choose is going to be fine.
Try a composition with your stock paints, lightening and darkening with whites and blacks just to get an
“Try the same composition again with some new purples”
idea of what basic ‘primitive’ mixes will do for you, and then try the same composition again with some new purples that you’ll whip up based on the recommendations I’ve given you today.
This will show you just how much of a difference mixing up your own paints can make and it also gives you a little practice in making your purples play well with the other colors on your canvas.
Without further ado, here are a few practice ideas that you can paint by themselves or as part of a larger composition of your choosing!
You can easily go to the store and grab an eggplant on the cheap and it is a great way to practice your dark purples. Just put it somewhere close and get to work! The purples of an eggplant are so dark that they are almost black and this can be some fun practice to get you used to darkening up your purples ‘on the fly’.
Simple, effective, eggplant.
An amethyst geode can be a lot of fun to paint. You’ve got lots of beautiful purples and clear crystalline areas that you have to capture. While it’s a bit pricey to just whip out and buy a geode (although tiny ones are cheap if you have a store nearby that carries them) you can always bring up a picture on Google images and work from that.
No, it’s not going to win any awards, but painting up a geode is amazingly good practice!
Lilacs are beautiful and since they are all bunched up in the wild then you’ve going to have some minute variance in the purples and this is ideal. Paint a bunch of lilacs in the wild or bunched up in a bouquet. Pics are easy to grab on Google so that you can get started and I think that you’ll find you can learn a lot with these flowers!
Blackberries are delicious and also naturally purple. I like to include fruits when it comes to practice composition because there is a reason that still-life compositions of fruits are common practice.
Colors and shapes!
So, get yourself some blackberries at the store of if you happen to have a vine planted in your backyard, so much the better. See how much of that natural purple that you can capture with your new mixing techniques and if you don’t feel that you’ve caught enough of it in your net, then throw it back and try again.
Bright, yellow fish playing in purple coral
Get on Google Image search and look for yellow fish and purple coral. Find a few samples and create a composition entirely your own based on your selections. The yellow from the fish really pops with that purple coral nearby and that can teach you quite a bit about color interplay. Give this fun little composition a try and you can see for yourself!
In conclusion: Practice with your purples!
Today we’ve explored the wonderful world of homebrew purples and as you can see, they are fun, easy, and effective. Whether you go with a muted purple for a darkening scene of a bright, vibrant one to capture the wild essence of that flower in the backyard, it’s going to take a little practice.
Be patient with the process.
Mixing up paints to get ‘exactly that color’ is part and parcel of being an artist and if history is any indicator, there are some color combinations that you can chase for a lifetime. Stick with it and don’t forget to write down what you find so that your discoveries will be there when you need them and so that you’ll develop your own measurement standards.
Beyond that, keep practicing and working with your new purples and before you know it, you’ll be slinging subtle shades with the best of them.
So, what are you waiting for? That paint is not going to mix itself!