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The Power of Red

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~Understanding the Reds~

The color red is associated with extreme emotions and aspects of physicality - fire, heat, love, passion, fiery sunsets, blood, etc. Red is the most dominent and captures our attention like no other color can. Smart Gallery owners will often display paintings containing red in their front windows - it draws in potential customers. Artists will often display paintings showing red forefront in their exhibitions.

Egyption artists were the first to introduce this color. They made the pigment from Cinnabar (Vermillion) and Madder root.

   Cadmium Red
Available in different qualities of intensity - light, medium and dark. It is opaque and very strong. I suggest not mixing it with metallic colors, as the mixture tends to blacken.

   Alizarin Crimson
This is a transparent color - it's cool and dark. An artist often adds this color to other reds to darken them. Alizarin is excellent for glazing, as it is very transparent - it adds depth to your subject without obscuring details.

   Quinacridone Red
If you wish to make a brilliant purple, this is the color to use. Simply mix with Ultramarine Blue. To dull the purple, mix in a bit of Paynes Grey. This hue is also known as Red Rose, Permanent Rose and Permanent Magenta.

   Venetian Red
This is a warm earth red - sometimes used in landscapes. It's an "orangy" red.

This pigment is expensive. It's bright and intense. The downfall is that it is prone to turning black in sunlight, so I suggest not using it at all.

   Rose Madder
This is offbeat and transparent. It's made from rose madder root and is also known as Madder Lake and Madder Pink.

   Indian Red
This is a cool red... leaning towards blue. Mixtures are cool with this color.


Earth reds are often used in landscape painting - I use the umbers and siennas quite often. The earth reds include Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Mars Red, Red Oxide, Red Earth, Red Ochre, and Terra Rosa.

Remember that the color complementory to red (green) will intensify it when placed side by side. Reds will appear to advance, while greens and blues appears to receed. Do not use white to lighten reds, unless you're attempting to create a pink mixture. Instead, use yellows or ochres. White removes the vibrancy of a color (one must develope color mixing skills). Adding white as your lightening agent will result in a painting with a "washed out" look. When darkening reds, don't use black! Use it's complimentory color - green, or perhaps a neighboring color. Using black will produce a muddy / dirty look.

Take some time to experiment. Try making mixtures to lighten and darken colors without destroying its vibrancy. If necessary, use the aid of a color wheel.

Use quality paints. Quality artist paints cost more, but it's worth it! The pigments are more permanent and less likely to fade when exposed to light.

More Tips:
Introduction Page | Optical Mixing | Translucent Water | Color Contrasts
Hue, Value, Intensity, Color Temperature Technical Tips
Value Scale | Brush Care | Color | Young/Helmholtz | Book Excerpt

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