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Colour Study Part IV: Red

Updated: Oct 11, 2018

Can you trust red?


I am doing an in-depth look into colour based on the freshness of early Spring, through the hot reds and golden grasses of Summer, Autumn's colours of old age to the neutral tones of Winter. We'll look at natures colour palette and how there are several ways to get from one colour to another, how light and shadow can change a colour, tints, tones and shades and the importance of colour associations and harmonies.

So as summer lingers on, the amount of attention the garden needs has reduced and so I am back to blogging. Appropriately, this blog is about red, just as the autumn leaves and berries start to make an abundant appearance.


Red sits on the colour wheel between the secondary colours of orange and purple and includes the commonly used but mostly misunderstood crimson, burgundy and maroon. Whilst crimson (colour of fresh blood) has a hint of blue, burgundy is a lighter shade of maroon which itself is a red brown with no purple tint. The triadic colours for red are the other prime colours of yellow and blue and it's square-tetradic colours are purple blue, green and yellow orange.

Our ancient ancestors saw red as a life support, in the form of fresh meat and fire and not coincidentally I wonder, in a more recent era, the colour of religious crosses during a time of ethnic cleansing in the form of the crusades. As a dye it was rare and expensive, coming from the Lac Beetle (an insect found in the forests of India and Thailand and who's tints can vary depending on the tree sap it has been feeding on), and Cochineal, crushed to form a carmine dye, made from the bugs' carminic acid mixed with aluminium or calcium salts. Red pigment is a very ancient, earthly colour in the form of red ochre. It comes from a mineraloid containing iron hydroxide, Limonite. When roasted it becomes Hematite, (from the Greek word 'Hema', meaning blood), which is a reddish variety of iron oxide.

Contemporary red is a prominent part of our modern world, from fire trucks and post boxes, to KFC, McDonald, Pizza Hut and Burger King, urmmmm....huh, praying on our primal instincts and attractions! As humans we see red differently from other colours. Red focuses behind our retinas which forces the lens to grow more convex to pull the lens forward, giving an illusion of red coming towards us. It is no surprise that red is the international colour for stop and that 77% of national flags have red in them. No other colour represents such opposing concepts: war, love, passion, power and danger! What a mess if you interpreted the wrong intention!

When I am using colour, I quite often go from red to a colour that when painting, goes brown. This strawberry photograph shows how I too change colour, by fading the red to a flesh colour which then easily fuses into a beige which green can then continue from. I will extensively be talking about the colour wheel on a cold winters duvet day, explaining how to gradually get from one colour to any other, using an easy to use mathematical formula.


When I think of red, I generally think of not so

great things: danger, beware and negative road signs. I like to use the brown side of red, as it can add rich tones to orange. As previously mentioned, shadows are rarely black, but a deep maroon adds a richness to rusts and orange. Maroon is also a great dark colour to compliment deep purples shades. The lightest tints of red such as flesh pink add a bit of depth to neutral tones, makes a great highlight to browns and can lead red through beige to any other colour. I don't really like red, but having looked into it, it seems life can't go by without it!


Hazy Wheat Field wreath

Research sourced from:

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