The Reds & Purples
An excellent example of reds in this Swedish banner from Franzoia Serge.
In my opinion, red is the most difficult color to shadow and highlight effectively. If not careful shaded parts will be muddy spots and highlights simply another hue i.e. rose or violet. In my mind I have made two categories for reds. Cadmium reds, light and dark and scarlet is the first, while burnt sienna, Indian and light red, that is the earth reds are the second one.
As we travel back through the ages, colors were not of the rich quality as they are now. Reason is because people were using what nature could provide. Reference will dictate a rough estimation of what pigments were available. For sure, red was a color known since antiquity. Greeks and later Romans used it abundantly for their everyday or military clothing.
When painting cadmium reds start with a darker tone than the one you intend to use. You will see why later. When shading, experiment with adding burnt sienna or burnt umber. Alternatively, try the complementary to red, green. You will be amazed by the results. Shade in steps and don’t try to achieve the final result by first layer. I would advice not to use black for shading because it kills the chroma of red. If you try to highlight with white then violet will be produced. If you try yellow, then orange will appear. This is the reason why you need to start your basic mixture darker than the red tone you are after. Light reds such as cadmium red light, scarlet or bright red can be used as highlights. Add tiny amount of light yellow or white for the outmost highlights but do it really sparingly. On the other hand if you are after a faded, worn look, you can use white a bit more freely. Another good highlighting solution is to use your premade flesh color, in steps, adding a touch of yellow to maintain red temperature.
Above and Below:
Above Peter Ferk’s General Lassale (Quadriconcept 90mm), below “Poetry” by unknown artist (Detlef Belasch 120mm). For the first figure highlights are done with yellow while on the second white have been used producing some pink violet highlights.
In medieval Europe, blue dyes were rare and expensive, so only the most wealthy or the aristocracy could afford to wear them. (The working class wore mainly green and brown.) Because of this (and also because Tyrian purple had gone out of use in western Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476), Europeans' idea of purple shifted towards this more bluish purple known as royal purple because of its similarity to the royal blue worn by the aristocracy. This was the shade of purple worn by kings in medieval Europe. Also it is considered a funereal color and for that, can be used alternatively for black.
Purple is an interesting color. It can be produced from mixing blue and red and with various proportions you get various purple tones. It can be shadowed by various blues and highlighted by its complementary yellow for some rich violets or white for some faded look. Alizarin crimson belongs to the purple family and not to the reds as many time mistakenly considered. Crimson mixed with blues produces some very interesting shades of purple. I would advice shading it with black as it kills chroma making purple appearing muddy. Some purples are more transparent than others so experiment and use the more opaques for covering work and the transparent for making purple washes when a tint of purplish is needed.
An excellent painting of purples for the dresses of this French queen and for the embroidery by unfortunately by an unknown painter.