Violet and Green Make Blue

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It’s been a long time since I have updated my color-mixing blog. A recent opportunity to give a presentation at Plein air South plus requests from so many of you has prompted me to finally get around to this post.

Before I move on to making blue from violet and green, let’s start with the basics. By basics I mean the limited palette of three primary colors plus white. I hope you will take the time to make these charts for yourself. I used this primary palette for 6 years both in the studio and en plein air. It taught me a lot about relative temperature, values, and saturation. I challenge you to paint with just these four tubes of paint for at least 6 months (longer if you paint very little). You will be so surprised what you will learn.

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Begin with:

Gamblin Cadmium Yellow Medium
Gamblin Naphthol Red
Gamblin Ultramarine Blue
Gamblin Titanium White

The easy, first step, is to mix secondary colors from these primary colors. The Naphthol Red has a lot of strength, so I don’t mix it in equal amounts. Instead,

mix roughly 2 parts yellow to 1 part red to make orange;
mix roughly 2 parts blue to 1 part red to make violet;
mix equal part yellow and blue to make green.

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You may also want to try this with a Gamblin Cadmium Yellow Light. The mixtures are totally different and beautiful.

One of the colors I enjoy exploring the most, and I find people need most assistance with mixing, is green. It is a color that many people find difficult to control. Once you get out of control, everything looks very fake. Living in Tennessee means exposure to LOTS of green. 

Print out this sheet and follow the directions to create your greens color chart. 

Place swatches of color in each square where indicated. 

Row 1 is your primary and secondary colors as they would appear wrapped around the color wheel. 

Row 2 begins to “bend” those colors using bits of one another. Depending on the amount of each color you mix, each of these could have many variations. For instance if you had more orange than green, your mixture will look different than if you add more green than orange. In this exercise of mixing greens, I suggest you lean more heavily on the green side in all of these mixtures. That means that Green is your “additive.” A separate chart can be made for other “bends."

Rows 3 and 4 are tinted out by adding a little white to the mixture you just made in row 2 for row 3 and a little more white again for row 4. 

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After you have completed rows 1-4, mix all of your mixing mess in to make a pile of mud (neutral). If needed, add a little white to bring the mud’s value to a middle value of 5. Mix a little mud with each of the colors listed at the top for row 5. Tint this pile with white two times for rows 6 and 7. Observe the difference in neutralizing your green with mud vs mixing your green with red to neutralize the color.

If you can make yourself do many of these with only slight bends of color and for every color on your palette, it will amaze you. Try one with Orange as the additive; then violet.

Once the paper is dry, save this in a plastic notebook sleeve.

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In this next chart, you are finding colors using color flow. Simply put, one color is slowly flowing toward its complementary color across the color wheel. 

Row 1 begins with yellow and slowly bends more and more toward violet until being pure violet at the end as seen in the image above.

Row 4 flows red to green.

Row 7 flows blue to orange.

The rows in between show mixtures tinted with white just as you did in the first chart above.

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Now, what about that Violet and Green make Blue thing? It actually all started when I had hiked a very long, steep hike down to paint at a waterfall and realized I had left my yellow in the car. I had accidentally pulled out transparent orange instead. I did, however, have some cadmium green light with me (also an accident). It dawned on me (and I suddenly felt stupid for not thinking of it earlier in my development) that orange has yellow and green has yellow so it makes sense that if you mix them together you will get a form of neutral yellow. That, of course, lead to making blue from green and violet and red from orange and violet. Once I got back to the studio, I began playing with getting more intense versions of these colors. Everything is just the right saturation for me. The automatic neutralizing that happens from the small amounts of other primaries in the two colors seems perfect. Fascinating. Truly, there is more than one way to mix a color!

AFTER you are comfortable mixing all of your colors with just the three primaries and white, try some of these experiments. All of these are Gamblin colors.

 Phthalo Green and Indian Yellow or Transparent Orange (yellow)

Phthalo Green and Indian Yellow or Transparent Orange (yellow)

 Cadmium Green Light and Transparent or Indian Yellow plus a little white (a beautiful yellow that is not as harsh as a primary yellow

Cadmium Green Light and Transparent or Indian Yellow plus a little white (a beautiful yellow that is not as harsh as a primary yellow

 Quinacridone Magenta and Cadmium Orange (red)

Quinacridone Magenta and Cadmium Orange (red)

 Quinacridone Violet and Cadmium Orange (rich, deep red)

Quinacridone Violet and Cadmium Orange (rich, deep red)

 Phthalo Green and Dioxazine Purple plus a little white (ta da… blue!)

Phthalo Green and Dioxazine Purple plus a little white (ta da… blue!)

 Quinacridone Violet and Phthalo Green (blue)

Quinacridone Violet and Phthalo Green (blue)

Then, for some soft secondary hues, add some of the Radiants and keep playing

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 Phthalo Green and Radiant Red (vibrant gray)

Phthalo Green and Radiant Red (vibrant gray)

 Quinacridone Magenta and Radiant Turquoise or Radiant Blue (red violet)

Quinacridone Magenta and Radiant Turquoise or Radiant Blue (red violet)

 Quinacridone Magenta and Radiant Red (bright pinky orange)

Quinacridone Magenta and Radiant Red (bright pinky orange)

and so on, and so on.

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Now, what would happen if you replaced your primary colors with these mixed red, yellow, and blue colors? Well, your painting would certainly be almost completely neutral. What if you used your tubed primary colors and added those to the making yellow/red, and blue chart? Once you break a color beyond a certain step, it has moved further and further into the center of neutral on the color wheel.  But keep on bending and you find you are coming back out the other side again. I love this stuff!