When Red and Blue Don’t Make Purple…

My sister and I were having a painting day because she wanted to try my oil paints before deciding to buy some for herself or not. This day I chose a purple water lily from my iStock photo collection to reference for my painting. I quickly discovered that the red and blue options that are in my oil paint set do not make a violet. I tried adding white to see what it looked like and I got teal, dusty blue, and the closest was an earthy, almost but not quite, purple stone colour. This twisted my mind.

Now I love colour theory. I have even taken a class or two about it in the past, and this made no sense. Not in the basic Red, Yellow, Blue colour mixing I learned in Junior High, or the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black colour mixing I learned in Post Secondary. However, in these art classes I never learned anything about oil paint. I guess if I took Fine Art instead of Graphic Art, I would know about mixing oil paints. Maybe?

These are the colours in my set:

Oil Paint
Vermilion, Scarlet, Cerulean, Phthanlocyanine Blue.

Looking closer at the tubes of paint and I realized none of these colours are the pure basic colours from the colour wheel. And I think to myself “well, I have this vermilion which looks to be more orange with a touch of red. The Scarlet looks more true red, but still in the orange range”. So this is part of my problem. Orange and blue don’t make purple, it makes a teal.

Now let’s talk about the blues. I have Cerulean, and Phthanlocyanine. At first glance my Cerulean tube looks close to the basic blue. If a pencil crayon was going to be labeled blue, this would be it. But the actual paint in the tube has green undertones in it. Very pretty, but not the type of blue to make purple. Now Phthanlocyanine is interesting because it actually has Cyan in the name (coincidence?), but it’s a richer deeper blue with purple undertones. This one had more promise though.

Here are some swatches I made to test all the colours:

Colour Swatches for oil paint Vermilion, Scarlet, Cerulean, Phthanlocyanine blue.

I added white so you can see the colour mixture better:

Swatches with White
Oil paint swatches with white mixed in.

I hope you can see, the Scarlet and Phthanlocyanine blue actually made a purple compared to the other swatches. But in my experience of seeing purple flowers, none are a dull, dusty, earthy almost more blue than purple colour. I knew I had a problem but I continued. I decided to make my flower a purple-ish blue instead.

This the midpoint of my purple-ish blue flower and I knew I couldn’t continue in this vain:

Blue Lily
Trying the lily with Scarlet and Phthanlocyanine blue.

Some lovely blues, but as a flower??? It looked so dull and muddy. Never have I encountered such a sad looking flower. At this point I went to Michael’s and picked up some Violet. As much as I tout saving money and mixing your own colors rather than buying pre-mixed paints, sometimes you just got to buy what you need. And MAN! What a difference it made.

Purple Water Lily
Oil painting of a purple water lily on canvas paper.

Let me know what you think. Do you know what colours could I have mixed to get a Violet, or even a better purple than what I got?

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