Color Consciousness: Purples

In the last two posts, I told you that zinc yellow, cobalt blue, and fuchsia produced the most vibrant colors of any combination of 3 Premo primaries. In the last post we saw that my statement held true for the blues and yellows.  Zinc yellow and cobalt blue produced the brightest greens.

Now let’s look at the purples. We have three blues and two reds to work with.In the image below, the blues are mixed with increasing amounts of fuchsia.  On my screen (and I hope on yours) the top two strips are more vibrant than the bottom one. The purples mixed from the turquoise blue and fuchsia (bottom strip) are lovely; however, they are a bit faded compared to the other two blends.

The purples mixed from cobalt blue and ultramarine aren’t as markedly different from one another as the greens were. The reason is that the red undertones in ultramarine aren’t as noticeable when ultramarine is mixed with fuchsia. If you look closely though, especially at the dark end of the range (in the box below), you’ll see that the purples mixed from cobalt blue look a bit brighter and “more pure,” thus more vibrant, than those mixed from ultramarine. The more blue there is in the mixture, the more we can see the dulling effect of the red undertones of ultramarine. If the undertones were fuchsia, there would be no dulling, but (as you will see below) red mixed with blue is very different from fuchsia mixed with blue.

I was so disappointed in kindergarten when I mixed red and blue poster paint to make purple and got such drab results.  The yellow undertones in red are responsible for this outcome. When ever you add a third primary (in this case yellow, from the undertones) to two others (“pure” red + “pure” blue in this case) the mixture becomes a bit duller. This is very useful to know when we want to “tone down” (desaturate) a color that is too bright (just add a bit of the third primary).

These pendants make use of desaturated purples and greens. (Click for a larger view.)

There are many situations in which these toned-down purples are needed (think of red grapes, eggplants, purple plums and autumn leaves). I will write about them in a future post. Meanwhile, look around you at the purples you find in nature; few of them are as bright as those mixed from cobalt blue and fuchsia.

Finally, note that we could alter the cobalt blue purples to look very much like the ultramarine purples by adding a teeny bit of red, but the reverse doesn’t hold. There is no way we could alter ultramarine to make the bright blue-blue violets we see towards the left end of the cobalt blue strip.

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14 Responses to Color Consciousness: Purples

  1. Jody Newman says:

    I use cellophane gels to increase my intuition about undertones in colors I am trying to reproduce or choose between. Doing so has both confirmed and increased my abilities to read color–very helpful!
    Wonderful article as always, Carol, thank you for posting~

    • clsdesigns says:

      That’s a great idea. Where do you get the cellophane gels?

      • Jody Newman says:

        Oh my gosh, I’m not sure where you can get them now. I have them left over from film and cinematography days, BUT, I would try a photography supplier such as B & H in New York. Gels are used for affecting the color of light for film and still photography. THEY ARE AMAZING as filters over anything colored revealing undertones etc. as well as the affects of warm vs. cool light on any color~ They open up a world of color understanding for the self-studied. Would you like me to see if I can find them?

  2. Jody Newman says:

    I apologize for my tardy response. I apparently forgot to request notification of follow-up comments and I just found your comment. …

  3. Joan Clipp says:

    I bought some dark red cellophane from the gift wrap dept. at Michaels once, (with coupon of course) that helped and it really showed contrast or lack of in a painting, hadn’t even thought of using it with pc. You got me with the purple mixes, Carol, thanks for sharing!

  4. Jody Newman says:

    Here is a list of resources off of an IHow online article: Basically, gels are sheets of acetate which can withstand the heat of studio flash lighting~ When studying color, the specific gel is important because, like any medium, the color of the gel has a bias etc. But, nonetheless, using gels has deepened my understanding and increased my intuition about color, color blending, and color choices~

    “There are a lot of great online vendors for purchasing high quality lighting gels for flash photography. Some places to check out include Rosco, Eos Lighting, Jensen Best Imports, PC Lighting Systems,, B&H Photo and Video and Premier Lighting.”

    Read more: About Flash Photography Lighting Gels |

  5. Jody Newman says:

    As a matter of fact, I just placed a gel over the image of your muted canes in this article~ what you can get is almost akin to an ‘x-ray’ of the image and I use x-ray as a metaphor because like in x-rays where dense matter shows up, such as bones, and other matter not so much–placing a gel on top of these colored canes reveals a lot of information our eyes don’t easily read. Try it!

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