Most artists start off mixing colors in an experimental fashion. This is okay, but as one gains more experience drawing and painting, it’s great to be able to grow one’s color wisdom as well. Purple always seems to be that tricky color to make, the one many budding artists get right once and a while and don’t know why certain mixes work better than others.
Let’s Get Mixing!
To mix an intense, bright purple, you need to start with the right red and blue for the job. For the most saturated (intense) purple, you will need to combine a cool red and a warm blue. (For a refresher on what this means you can refer to my What is a Cool Red? post.) In other words, select both a red -that leans towards purple and a blue -that leans towards purple. In the photo below I have taken two different reds and two different blues to show the vast differences in end results that can be achieved in mixing purples.
In the above image, I have gone to extremes in choosing my blues and reds. In the top mixture I have used alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue to yield a purple. As a result, the purple is intense. The blue (ultramarine) leans towards purple to start, and so does the red (alizarin crimson).
For the bottom mixture I have chosen cadmium red medium and pthalo blue to yield a purple. As you can see the mix resulted in a purple that is not very saturated; the mix really didn’t reveal much purple. This is because I choose a red (cadmium red medium) that leans towards orange, away from purple and mixed it with a blue (pthalo) that leans towards green, also away from purple. Both the red and blue where not good at reflecting purple from the start so there is no chance they would be good at doing so when mixed.
Don’t Hate the Colors!
Please understand that one purple is not better than the other. They both serve their own purposes and simply are what they are. Sometimes an artist needs a saturated purple and sometimes not. In the preceding example I choose two extreme scenarios for creating a purple. I suggest you try this same type of mixing experiment with a variety of red-blue pairs that you might have in your paint box. Ultimately, an understanding of how colors mix to reveal other colors is a great way to reduce your trial and error and make your paintings more successful in less time.