Mauve is a muted, cool shade of purple that has many distinct and appealing uses. Although it may be tricky to compose an entire palette of colours around it without the proper inspiration.
In nature, it appears largely as a gentle shade of pale violet, through the petals of wildflowers and the colouration of feathers, being more frequent in nature than other shades of purple, which it is famously difficult to find naturally-occurring pigments of. This is because it contains more blue and grey than more saturated reds, colours that are far more often naturally-occurring.
In fact, most “blue” wildflowers are actually in shades of mauve, of which there are several. Depending on your use of the colour, you may encounter the wildflower pale pink-purple mauve, also known as “mallow”, a bright, rich mauve, a darker and more mature (but still highly saturated) French mauve (also known as deep mauve), the pale shade of opera mauve most commonly found out in the wild, and even a shade of dark maroon with undertones of purple and red known as old mauve. Each of these shades of colour are entirely distinct, and bring with them a sense of the colour profile they belong to. So, based on the mood you seek to achieve, picking your mauve to match is very important!
To begin, let’s examine the uses of the more natural mallow mauve, which is the colour that most often comes to mind when one thinks of mauve. This colour is subtle, lighter than most purples and pinker than most reds, being encouraging and lighthearted without being overwhelmingly saturated. In nature, this colour shows up all over the place – its namesake, the wildflower mallow, shows up all over Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and the plant has been used throughout history, funnily enough, as a yellow dye!
This little fact brings us to the most complimentary colour to pair with mallow mauve, which is a light shade of yellow, similar to the colour of dandelions or butter. In combination with pale greens, this trio of colours can be used in embroidery to create mesmerising patterns, in house decorations to achieve a sense of colour and peace at the same time, and, through painting, look beautiful layered together in oil paint or applied onto white silk through watercolour.
The second colour I’d like to explore as the basis for a palette is rich mauve, a shade of mauve that homes closer to magenta. This colour is also called “Crayola” mauve, because it is the type of mauve that’s used most frequently in markers and crayons. This being the case, rich mauve is the most saturated shade of mauve of the ones we’ve mentioned therein, and should be used with an understanding of that fact, it having more of a red undertone than any other, and a gloss reminiscent of hot pink.
When overused, rich mauve can become an eyesore, it being so bright, so you should avoid making it a baseline without complimentary colours to undercut the exposure – for example, framing the bright purple with black, white, and grey, can make it feel like a statement, the brightness being a choice rather than an accident. Similarly, you can pair it with less saturated shades of red, orange, pink, and light yellow, to make it a part of a spectrum, as is often the case with textile designs in particular. When used appropriately, the fact that this shade of mauve is so rich is a gift, and not a crisis.
Similar to rich mauve, but notably less saturated, is the slightly darker red colour French mauve. With tones of grey and maroon, this mauve is called deep mauve for a reason – it calls to mind purple wine, and even shares some mood with oxblood. As compared to the other shades of mauve that are more purple than red, French mauve is by far the most mature colour, with a kind of aged intensity that speaks of tempered drama.
This tempered drama also recalls the greyest shade of mauve, opera mauve, and is part of the reason why these two shades of mauve actually go very well together. When used in conjunction, the two may seem to blend together, but with the addition of other colours to frame them, like gold and dark green, the two work in tandem to create an almost nostalgic feeling. These colours in particular work very well when incorporated into oil paintings, though they can also be used in textiles and other forms of painting.
Lastly, we have the darkest shade that still constitutes as mauve: old mauve.
This colour, deep and rich with the addition of maroon, is nearly a purplish red in colour, and calls into mind crushed velvet and aged leather. While called “old”, there’s nothing tired about this vivid colour, with hints of grey to add to it a smokiness and character that isn’t found in any additional colour other than the original mallow mauve.
When used as a base, this dark mauve contrasts well with saturated golds and sharp off-white colours, like eggshell or ecru, making it a good choice for papercraft, perfect to be used in envelopes, or as the framing embellishes on invitations. As it stands, this colour is also one of the more natural shades of mauve, so it can be used successfully in landscape paintings, to represent the purple edges of rosebush leaves, or the reddening colour of maple leaves at the turning of autumn. While this can be represented well with any traditional painting, this shade in particular can also be used to great effect with digital painting programs.
Through this list of mauve colours and their many applications, I hope I have successfully demonstrated to you just how versatile this light purple can be, and just how varied its uses through different mediums are. When paired with different shades of complementary cool colours or sometimes framed with other warm colours to contrast the muted nature of it, this colour can be used for nearly anything, so long as one knows what they’re doing and how to do it.