The color red is a primary color and the color at the long-wavelength end of the visible spectrum.
Humankind started with just one shade of red which our ancestors used to make cave paintings and to paint their skin. Now there are over 40 varieties of red with different tinges of yellows and blues as well as different shades.
As an artist, it's important to understand this fundamental color, how it's used in antiquity until today, what it means and the different emotions it evokes, as well as its different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of the Color Red
The color red has been around since prehistoric times. It was the first color developed for use in painting and dying and, together with black and white, formed the earliest trio of colors used by our prehistoric ancestors.
The first red pigments came from ochre as evidenced by prehistoric art. The Egyptians and Mayans used the color to paint their faces for ceremonies while the Romans painted their whole bodies red to commemorate victories. The Chinese used red for their early pottery and also used it to paint the walls and gates of palaces.
Nobles and the wealthy in the Renaissance dyed their costumes a brilliant red using pigments from kermes and cochineal. This would continue to be the source of red pigments until the advent of the first synthetic red pigments during the 19th century.
Red Colors: Psychology and Meaning
With its link to mankind's earliest roots, the color red has since become a symbol for many things.
In ancient times, red represented our blood and, therefore, our life force. Because of this association with blood, western countries used red to symbolize martyrs and sacrifice. In the Middle Ages, the color red was worn by Roman Catholic Popes and Cardinals to symbolize the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs.
Today, red stands for courage to many people around the world.
We also link the color red with love, lust, and passion as well as war, anger, and hatred. When someone is angry, they're said to "see red". Red is the color of heat so we relate it to the heat of our passion but it is also the color of Mars, the god of war, and the planet named after him.
Red has always been the symbol of danger. A red flag shown during a war in the Middle Ages meant no prisoners were to be taken and a red flag hoisted by a pirate ship meant they'd show no mercy.
Today, red is the international color for stop signs and is constantly used in traffic lights, traffic signs, and other signs indicating danger.
Shades of Red
Now that we've discussed the history and symbolism of the color red, let's talk about its different shades.
As humanity's eyesight evolves, we may eventually see more shades of red get developed and used. As of the writing of this article, though, red has several shades and even more variations from pinks to almost brown. Here are just some of the most used shades, namely: burgundy, carmine, chili pepper red, cinnabar, crimson, maroon, and scarlet.
Here's a brief description for each shade:
Burgundy is a dark red-purplish color.
It takes its name from the Burgundy wine in France. Unlike the name of the French province, you don't capitalize the "B" in the color burgundy.
Carmine, a.k.a Imperial, is the general term for a group of colors that are deep red, very slightly purplish, and closer to red than crimson. Some rubies have a color called "rich carmine" while deeper and darker variations can be achieved by processing the raw pigment.
3. Chili Red
As the name implies, chili red is the color derived from red chili peppers.
It's also the shade of red used in the flags of Chile and South Africa.
Similar to the previous entry, the color cinnabar comes from the mineral of the same name. This color has a slightly orange shade and comes with several variations ranging from brick red to bright scarlet.
Crimson is a strong, deep, bright red with some hints of blue or violet making it very slightly purplish. On the RGB color wheel, crimson comes between rose and red and between magenta and red on the RYB color wheel.
Maroon is a brownish crimson color that derives its name from the French word marron (chestnut).
In the sRGB color model, the web color for maroon is achieved by turning down the brightness of pure red to about one-half.
Scarlet is a bright red color that sometimes comes with a tinge of orange. On the traditional color wheel, it's a quarter of the way between red and orange and is slightly less orange than vermilion.
Modifying Red Acrylic Paints
When it comes to painting with acrylic paint, you may not always have the right shade of red that you're looking for. While nothing is stopping you from mixing different colored paint with pure red, you may want to study some color theory before you waste time and paint to ultimately just get a brown color.
If you have a color wheel, you can see that there are primary, secondary, and intermediary colors which will help you find which colors work best with each other.
Red is a primary color complemented by its opposite color, green. There are many secondary colors in between red and green. The proximity of these secondary colors to either primary color forms their color bias. Each secondary color gets a warmer or cooler shade depending on its color bias.
Below you'll discover how to give your red color a warmer shade, a cooler shade, and how to mute it.
How to Create Warmer Shades of Red
Pure red is a bright and warm color in itself but if you want to make it hotter, you need to make it lean more towards orange colors.
You can achieve this by combining red with an equally warm yellow. Note that the yellow you choose must not contain any hints of blue as this will instead make your result look more like a muddy brown because of the presence of all primary colors (red, yellow, and blue).
How to Create Cooler Red Shades
Now that you know how to make a hotter shade of red, you can do the exact opposite and make a cooler shade. Simply mix in a blue color to produce a violet-red result. You can also achieve a burgundy shade by mixing red with violet.
How to Mute Red Colors
So, now you've learned how to warm and cool your red colors, how do you make reds brighter, darker, or more muted?
To make red colors brighter, simply mix in some white. You can make a warmer or cooler shade by choosing a warm or cooler white to mix into your red.
Mixing your red with black produces the opposite effect and makes your red darker. You can also make a warmer/cooler shade by choosing a warm or cool black.
If you want to make a duller red, you can mix it with gray.