mixing purples with a variety of blues/reds

How to Mix Bright Purples with Paint

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.

mixing purples with a variety of blues/reds
mixing purples with a variety of blues/reds

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.

17 Comments

  1. Appreciate the tutorials! It’s helping me already!

    1. John Morfis says:

      Good, I’m glad you are finding things useful here Thomas.

  2. Paul J Schuback says:

    Another re-enforcement to this preceeding teriffic explanation: is that on the Colour Wheel the pthalo warmer blue & cadmium red – are more Complementary/’opposite’. This helps me understand…

  3. Thanks so much for the insight. I am such a newbie! Kath

    1. John Morfis says:

      We are all newbies at some point, keep at it 🙂

  4. mary lou wiegand says:

    having trouble making light purple that still has definite purple “punch.” white cools it out too much. trying to create a sense of light shining through the purple flower without having it change to dull pinkish… thanks

    1. John Morfis says:

      This always a challenge Mary. Depending on the paints you are using some have a higher chroma (intensity) than others. Also the surrounding colors can play a role too. Sometimes you can dull down everything else a bit to make the target color seem especially intense. And remember, glazing a purple over white will always be slightly more intense than the same value created with white paint.

  5. mary lou wiegand says:

    thanks John, my real need to figure out how to keep the saturation of a lovely purple while it is being hit with bright light and also when it needs to be lightened when it is on the sunny side of a flower. I end up with pinkish colors rather than the purple that i see in the flower. Is there a way to get strong values with purple without the light part being so much cooler and pinkish?

    1. John Morfis says:

      This is all slightly difficult to diagnose in just words but you can “pull” colors back and forth with adjacent hues. When playing up near the highest chromas (intensities) this is very difficult and sometimes simply impossible to do. And remember you will never achieve the color range you see in nature, it’s physically impossible to do with pigments. Every painting is a compromise on color. You should be able to get close enough by adjusting with hues and compensating with other colors (perhaps, neutralizing them a bit as mentioned before) Also there’s also the notion that perhaps you need some higher chroma colors!

  6. mary lou wiegand says:

    thanks again. oils are top notch and in several instances the complements and adjacent hues would look weird…but still won’t work with the values. I use magenta, colbalt blue violet, maganese violet, etc. just wondered if there was a way to get good strong values.

  7. The most extreme in saturation should be ultramarine blue PB29 with quinacridone magenta PR122, if that’s not outdated by today. Based on handprint, and that is also in line with their color wheel measurements.

  8. Don Bremner says:

    G’day. I’m going to paint a dark purple tulip on a black canvas as a gift for my sons girlfriend. What color can I add to Dioxazine Purple acrylic for brighter highlights please?
    Thanks

    1. John Morfis says:

      White will lighten the purple, but painting over a black canvas may limit the saturation of your colors. Lighten up the flower with with lighter (almost white) color first. Let it dry. Then paint the purple flower over the white. It will make it easier to have a saturated purple.

  9. Another great article.

    1. John Morfis says:

      Thank you Gabriele!

  10. Talia Mar says:

    Can I make light purple without using white?

    1. John Morfis says:

      Not really. You can use a wash or glaze of purple over white to lighten the value slightly, but that’s introducing white as well. If you find a purple that is significantly lighter straight out of the bottle/tube, white has been pre-mixed.

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