Learn how to use watercolor paint to make purple. Mix the perfect purple watercolor hue using these simple tips.
In elementary school art, we learn color mixing basics. Red + blue = purple, right? So why does it look so muddy when we mix the colors?
It turns out that there's a bit more to color mixing than we thought.
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Color Mixing Basics: Color Theory
I always thought that I was getting muddy colors because of low-quality paint. While that is part of it (cheaper paints use more pigment colors so the color is not as pure), there's a bit more to it.
The color wheel can be divided into warm and cool sides. When you mix colors on opposite sides of the wheel, the results can be muddy because you're basically mixing red, yellow and blue at the same time, which can make brown, black or gray.
Specific colors can skew towards warm or cool as well. If you've ever picked out paint for your home, you've probably noticed this.
Reds and yellows are pretty easy to figure out which are cool and warm. Cool reds are closer to magenta (quinacridone rose) and warm reds (pyrrol scarlet) are closer to orange.
Cool yellows (hassa yellow) appear slightly towards to the green side, but are mostly a pure yellow. Warm yellows (new gamboge) are closer to yellow orange.
Blues are trickier. Cool blues are closer to blue-green (cerulean or phthalo blue) and warm blues are closer to indigo (French ultramarine).
This seems a bit backwards to me because I tend to the teal family as being a warmer blue. If you think of the pastel versions, aqua feels much warmer to me than a pale baby blue.
Complementary colors are colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel. When placed next to each other, they complement each other by making each other appear more vibrant.
However, when the colors are mixed, they have the opposite effect. This is because you're combining red, yellow and blue, which makes brown when combined in an equal amount.
Why do some colors not mix completely?
Sometimes when you're mixing colors, you will notice that the resulting color seems to separate into 2 different colors. It's almost like the colors repel each other.
I notice it a lot when mixing colors with contrasting temperature values.
This usually happens because the colors are made multiple pigments and they don't all get along. Look for single pigment watercolors for the cleanest mixing.
Others have a thicker pigment that doesn't mix as well.
Some colors stain more than others, so they hit the paper and the color settles more than the other color that it's mixed with.
A smoother paper can help. Rougher papers have grooves for the pigments to settle in.
Using less water can also help. The pigments have less time to separate before the water dries.
You might be interested in learning how to paint a galaxy with watercolors.
How to Make Purple Watercolor
I normally love my Winsor & Newton kit for painting, but the watercolor palette didn't work so well for mixing purples. The warm red is just a little too orange.
However, the Daniel Smith set is perfect for mixing colors. The hues are vibrant and beautiful! I love how this set mixes!
When in doubt, swatch it out.
Try the following different combinations to see what color you like:
- Cool red + cool blue
- Cool red + warm blue
- Warm red + warm blue
- Warm red + cool blue
To mix a vibrant purple, you get the best results from mixing a cool red and a warm blue. The cool red and cool blue also produce a pretty purple.
The other combinations contain more yellow, so the color becomes muddy. (Remember red + blue + yellow = brown.)
Depending on what you're painting, you may prefer the brighter colors or the muddier versions, so it's nice to know how to mix them all.
That darker shade of purple would be perfect for shadows because it's almost black.
The top two rows of swatches are made by varying the amounts of red or blues in each mixture. As you can see, you can get a variety of colors.
The bottom row was made using special mixes of my new Jean Haines Master artist set from Daniel Smith. This set was a splurge, but it contains so many pretty colors that granulate. I'm not a fan of purple, but the imperial purple is absolutely gorgeous!
This set has taught me how much fun it is to mix purples with unlikely shades of dark greens to make inky violets and forest green mixtures.
So don't just mix the normal colors. Try some weird ones to see what you can get. Who would have thought to mix green and purple? (Brown hues also make some stunning purples!)
Making Pastel Purples and Violets
Pastels are made by adding more water. Use a palette with deep wells when mixing pastels.
Adding white watercolor to the purple mixtures will also give you lighter, pastel versions (too much white can make the paint opaque, so keep this in mind.)
An opaque version may be perfect for what you are doing but is generally frowned upon by watercolor purists. But who cares if you're having fun?
To make lavender, you can either just dilute ultramarine blue or add white. I love both versions.
To make a lilac color, add quinacridone rose (or another cool red) to ultramarine blue and dilute the color. It also looks pretty when you add white.
You can use the same mixture to make a mauve color. Just add a bit more of the quinacridone rose. If you prefer a more muted version, add a tiny drop of yellow into the mixture to tone it down.
For more about mixing pastel colors, check out this post.
How to Make Dark Purple
Making dark purple is easy!
Just add a bit of black to the purple mixture. I prefer mixing with Payne's gray because it's a bit softer and has a blue tone that works well with purple.
Another easy way to make a dark purple is to mix indigo with red. In this example, I used quinacridone rose.
Mixing Pre-Made Violets Into Other Colors
My favorite use for purple is for shadows. It's possible to get really moody colors when you mix pre-made violets with other colors.
Mixing violet with burnt umber creates a warm plum color. Mixing violet with phthalo green creates a moody blue-violet color.
If you just want to tone down a bright violet, you can mix a bit of yellow. Since this is the complementary color for purple, it mutes the vibrancy.
My Favorite Ready-Made Purple Watercolors (Updated)
To be honest, purple is not my favorite color, so I don't end up using it a lot. However, there are a few purples that I like.
- Holbein Lavender - I LOVE this color so much that I have it in gouache as well. It's the perfect light purple, almost periwinkle.
- Winsor and Newton Cotman Mauve - This color skews a bit more magenta.
- Dr. Ph Martin's Violet - This color is more of a classic purple. Dr. Ph Martins radiant watercolors are great for a vibrant punch of color.
My new favorites are moodier and all of them granulate.
- Rembrandt Dusk Pink -This moody dark purple is gorgeous.
- Daniel Smith Shadow Violet - I love using this color for skies. It has really pretty pink undertones.
- Daniel Smith Moonglow - This color is magical. At first glance, it looks like a cool dark purple, but when you look at it more closely, you can see bits of aqua shining through. (This color contains pigments that are not lightfast, so be careful.)
- Daniel Smith Rose of Ultramarine - I never thought I would like this kind of color, but there's something about it. It granulates really nicely too.
You Might Also Like:
- How to Mix Green Watercolors
- How to Mix Red Paint
- The Best Watercolor Supplies for Beginners
- How to Paint with Gouache
- Mixing Black Watercolors
- How to Mix Brown
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