Sunday, February 17, 2013

PURPLE/VIOLET: At Least 10 Things Every Watercolorist Should Know About This Color

"I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color Purple in a field somewhere, and don't notice it."
                                                                                                              -- Alice Walker

watercolor by Pat Howard

1 -- Violet is one of the secondary colors, along with Orange and Green.  A secondary color is created by mixing together two of the primaries, (in this case, Blue and Red).

"But, luckily, he kept his wits and his Purple crayon." 
 - Crockett Johnson, from Harold and the Purple Crayon

watercolor on Aquabord, by Pat Howard

2 -- In its darkest values (like Eggplant), Purple is rich, dramatic, and sophisticated.  For a rich, dark Purple, start with Alizarin Crimson and add French Ultramarine.  This looks beautiful next to a golden glow.  

Lighter shades of Purple, like Lavender and Lilac, bring a more restful quality to a painting.

Purple embodies the balance of Red stimulation and Blue calm.

"Womanist is to Feminist
as Purple is to Lavender."
- Alice Walker

watercolor by Pat Howard

3 -- The complementary color of Violet is Yellow.  The Violet/Yellow harmony can be summed up in a single word -- exotic!  This Violet/Yellow chord has little connection with everyday experience -- except in irises and violets, rare butterflies, tropical birds, and amazing sunsets.

"Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the Violet tint ends and the Orange tint begins?  Distinctly, we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blindingly enter into the other?"          --  Herman Melville

watercolor by Pat Howard

4 -- The Secondary Triad -- Violet/Orange/Green -- is a wonderful, and very powerful, color scheme.  This is one of my favorites!

"Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild Violet, like diluted wine."
                                                                                                                    -- Henry James

watercolor by Pat Howard

5 -- I prefer to mix Purples from the Reds and Blues on my palette, rather than using tube Violets.  The results are Violets that are glowing, alive, and contain enormous strength.  

"Roses are red, That much is true;
But Violets are Purple, Not fucking Blue."
                     -- unknown

watercolor by Pat Howard

6 -- To mix high-intensity Violets -- Use cool Reds, like Quinacridone Rose, or Alizarin Crimson, or Quinacridone Magenta; and, mix with a warm Blue, like French Ultramarine.

"Deep Violets, you liken to the kindest eyes, That look on you without a thought disloyal."
                                                                                                     -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

watercolor by Pat Howard

7 -- Use the Red-Violet hues for a warm color scheme and the Blue-Violets, for a more somber, cool scheme.  Lavender suggests the feminine, and dark Purple (Eggplant) can suggest the masculine.

In stained glass, the color Purple, or Violet, is seen as the uniting of the "wisdom" of Blue and the "love" of Red, and symbolizes justice and royalty.

"The Mediterranean has the color of mackerel, changeable, I mean.  You don't always know if it is Green or Violet.  You can't even say it's Blue."                    - Vincent Van Gogh

watercolor by Pat Howard

8 -- Purple is regal, wise, and spiritual.  As a complement to Yellow-Green, it's a good color for spring landscapes or still lives.  Try adding a few spots of Purple/Violet here and there.  

In fact, Purple is an ideal color to enhance or enliven almost any painting subject, including mountains and winter scenes.  These provide a great opportunity to use Violets.  Long shadows on snow have shades of Pinks and Blues in them.  And, a rainy day can have a Blue-Violet tinge -- even a sky can look Purple.

"Don't order any Black things.  Rejoice in his memory, and be radiant; leave grief to the children.  Wear Violet or Purple."                                                                             - George Bernard Shaw

watercolor by Pat Howard

9 -- Try doing a "Paint Shadows First" painting -- where you do a value painting, using Violet.  Then, after getting the values (the lights and darks) right, you glaze color over it.  Push the underpainting to Red-Violet for the warms and to Blue-Violet for the cools.

"Inside, the cathedral is a Gothic forest, dappled in Violet twilight and vast with quiet."
                                                                                                                    - Wendy Insinger

watercolor by Pat Howard

10 - Some perfect color combos for Purples/Violets/Lilacs/Lavenders --
            - French Ultramarine + Quinacridone Rose
            - Cobalt Blue + Quinacridone Rose
            - Alizarin Crimson + Cobalt Blue
            - French Ultramarine + Alizarin Crimson
            - Quinacridone Magenta + French Ultramarine
            - Quinacridone Magenta + Cobalt Blue
            - Phthalo Blue + Quinacridone Magenta
            - Phthalo Blue + Alizarin Crimson
            - Cobalt Blue + Quinacridone Rose + Quin. Burnt Orange
            - Quinacridone Rose + Phthalo Blue

If you feel you must have a tube Violet on your palette, there are many to choose from -- Winsor Violet, Cobalt Violet, Mineral Violet, Quinacridone Violet.  But, try to use some of the above combinations, as well -- for brilliance and variety.

Since February is the month associated with the color Purple, this is a great time to mix up some new shades and use them in your paintings.  


  1. Your work is beautiful. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks, Margene -- I appreciate your taking the time to post a comment. Hope you visit my blog again! pat

  2. Thanks for sharing! I must say, you're a wonderful teacher! :)

    1. Thank you, Tarang! Really appreciate all your kind comments. So glad that you enjoy my blog!