Brown is a common color in nature. Whether you are printing, painting, or creating digital art, you will most likely need to use the color brown.
It is a composite color, which means that it is made by combining other colors. It is complex and one of the most variable colors as it exists in a variety of shades, hues, and intensities.
You can create a vast spectrum of brown shades by mixing different colors. The type and ratio of colors that you combine to determine the resultant shade and hue you achieve. You can also modify and customize the various shades of brown using other colors. Therefore, if you are painting and you need the color brown, but you don’t have it, you can mix the various colors you already have to form brown.
This article discusses the various shades of brown and how to create and modify them.
Shades of Brown
Brown is one of the colors with the most shades. Some have a red hue, others an orange, white, yellowish, blue, or greenish hue. According to Simplicable.com, there are over 250 types of brown. Below are some of the most common shades of brown:
- Dard brown
- Pale brown
- Light brown
- Medium brown
- Burnt umber
- Rosy brown
- Sandy brown
- Cocoa brown
- Pale-yellowish brown
- Spanish brown
- French Beige
- Fall Harvest
- Ginger Ale
- Hawaiian brown
- Polished brown
- Old Penny
How to mix color brown
Below are several ways you can create the color brown. These methods work whether you are mixing watercolors, acrylics, or pastel paints.
1. Mix the primary colors
Every painting kit comes with at least the 3 primary colors – red, blue, and yellow. There are various shades and hues of each primary color. Typically, in painting, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, and cadmium red are the specific shades of red, yellow, and blue considered as primary colors. When you mix them in equal amounts, you will get a medium brown color.
You can vary the ratio of each primary color you use to create different shades and hues of brown. For instance, you can get a yellowish-brown, reddish-brown, or bluish brown if you use higher amounts of yellow, red, and blue, respectively.
To achieve a darker or brighter shade of brown, either add black or white to the resultant brown. If you mix red with an ultramarine blue and less yellow, you will achieve a darker brown. For a smoother, darker shade of brown, use bright red such as cadmium red, pyrrole red, or phthalo red.
2. Mix complementary colors
On a color wheel, complementary colors are the ones that are directly opposite each other. When they are mixed, they cancel out each other’s intensities to form various shades of brown.
If you only have primary colors in your painting kit, the first step is to pair them to form 3 secondary colors – orange, green, and blue as follows:
- Red + Blue= Purple
- Red + Yellow = Orange
- Blue + Yellow = Green
You then mix each secondary color with its complementary primary color to create color brown as follows:
Orange + Blue = Brown
When you mix orange with blue, you will achieve a chocolatey brown. It is important that you use 35-40% blue in order to achieve a smooth brown. If you use too much blue, the mixed brown will be more powdery than smooth.
On the other hand, if you mix only a small amount of orange with blue, you will get a muted blue. To resolve this, continue to add orange, and it will change to a brown hue. To make the brown cooler, add more blue paint.
You don’t have to strictly use ultramarine blue and cadmium orange when mixing, you can play around with other shades, including cobalt blue, naphthol blue, cerulean blue, carrot orange, pumpkin orange, burnt orange, etc.
Green+ Red = Brown
For a “true” brown, use 35-40% red and 60-65% green. Start out with red and keep adding green until you achieve your desired shade of brown. Mixing green and red tends to create earthy browns. These shades of brown are most ideal for painting landscapes and natural scenes.
As with orange and blue, you can experiment with different shades of green and red to achieve different shades of brown. For instance, you could use sap green or naphthol green with alizarin or crimson red.
Purple + Yellow = Brown
Use an equal amount of purple and yellow. As you continue to blend the paints, you will notice a dirty brown begin to form. Continue to mix until all the paint is well mixed and the brown color is uniform.
If you want a brighter or warmer brown, add a little more yellow. Depending on the amount of yellow you use, you can produce different shades of brown including rose-tinted brown or a sandy desert tone.
Although cadmium lemon yellow is the most commonly used type of yellow when mixing yellow with purple to form brown, ochre is an excellent option too. Ochre gives the resultant brown a rich earthy tone. As for purple, consider using violet or Provence violet.
3. Mix cadmium orange or red with carbon black
Some shades of brown have a dominant orange or red hue. As such, another quick and easy method of creating color brown is mixing orange or red with black.
If you mix cadmium orange with black, you will get a lighter shade of brown commonly known as coffee brown. This coffee brown color is similar to the one you get when you mix orange with ultramarine blue. However, the brown will have a greenish hue if you use ultramarine blue instead of black.
When mixing black with red to form brown, you require a bright red color such as pyrrole red, naphthol red or cadmium red. Add a small amount of black to the red paint. The red will become slightly dark forming a marron or burgundy color. Continue to mix the maroon with black bit by bit, you will achieve a dark brown with a reddish hue.
4. Customizing the shades of brown
It is possible to modify the various shades of brown whether you are using brown paint straight out of a tube or one that you have created by mixing other colors. You can make whichever shade of brown you already have either darker or brighter.
To get a darker brown, either add black, ultramarine blue, naphthol green, or a dark shade of purple. For example, if you add black or purple to a medium brown, you will get a chocolate brown. On the other hand, if you add white or yellow to a medium or dark brown, you will get a light brown. Or, if you mix burnt sienna with titanium white, you will get a light brown with a reddish tone.
Yellow particularly makes the various shades of brown warmer, while white makes them almost neutral. If you want to significantly lighten up a darker shade of brown, white is the best option.
Keep in mind that although titanium white lightens darker shades of brown significantly, it makes the resulting color look chalky and dull. You can counter this effect by adding yellow or light green to brighten up the brown color. Cadmium green light also works well to lighten up brown though it leaves a greenish hue.
Colors such as ultramarine blue, dioxaine purple, and pthalo green make the various shades of the brown cooler. On the other hand, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, and cadmium orange make shades of brown feel and look warmer.
When mixing the colors, you could use more of the darker ones to achieve a darker shade of brown. Conversely, if you want a lighter brown, use more of the lighter color that you are mixing.
You could also mix different shades of brown. For instance, adding a small amount of a light brown to a medium brown will form a lighter version of the medium brown while preserving its original hue. However, it is harder to add a darker shade to a lighter shade so as to darken it.
Compensating for predominant hues in brown color
As mentioned earlier, depending on the ratio you use when mixing various colors to achieve brown, the brown may have a predominant hue or tone. There are ways that you could compensate for the various hues.
For example, if the brown is too orange-ish, add a small amount of blue. If it is too yellowish, add a small amount of maroon. If it is too dark, add a bit of white. In some cases, adding a small amount of grey paint will dull the orange or yellow tones.
For a subtle color change from one shade of brown to another, add a small number of tertiary colors. Tertiary colors include red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.
The correct choice of tertiary color to add will depend on the underlying hue of the particular shade of brown. For instance, if it has an orange undertone, a red-orange or yellow-orange color will cause a slight change in the specific shade of brown.
The step-by-step process for mixing brown
The process described below works well whether you are mixing watercolor, acrylics, or oil paint. Although a pallet knife is the most suitable for mixing your paint, you could also use a painting brush. However, the brush may not mix the colors as evenly as the pallet knife does.
What you need
- Pallet or white painting paper
- The paints or colors you will be mixing
- Pallet knife
- Squeeze the required amount of each of the mixing paint on your mixing surface. The exact amount of paint you use will depend on the shade of brown you want to achieve and how much brown paint you need for your project. The mixing paints should be positioned near each other but with some space between them.
- Using the flat bottom surface of your pallet knife, mix the paints until they are well mixed. Start at the center as you gradually glide outwards in a circular motion. The mixture will become richer, creamy, and evenly colored as you continue to mix.
- If need be, add more paint accordingly to modify and customize the hue, tones, temperature, intensity, and brightness of the mixed brown color.
Using the Pantone Guide to mix brown
A Pantone Guide is a color matching system that standardizes color reproduction. Although it is mainly used in branding and printing to ensure regularization of colors, you can use it as a point of reference to determine the exact color combinations for the shade of brown paint you want to create.
When mixing the primary colors to create brown color, this guide will help you to know the exact percentage of magenta, yellow, cyan, and black to use to achieve a given shade. Use the provided percentages to derive the correct ratio for each color of paint you will be using.
Note that, the Pantone Guide uses CMYK color scheme that considers cyan, magenta, yellow, and black as primary colors. This is unlike the RGY color scheme, which uses the traditional ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, and cadmium red as primary colors. The CMYK color scheme does not have white as it is mainly used for creating colors for digital printing. Therefore, it is assumed that printing will be done on white paper.
Brown is one of the easiest colors to mix. However, the procedure of perfecting the right shade, hue, or tone can be quite complex. Using a color standardization system such as the Pantone Guide can help you know the exact ratios to use for the various primary colors to achieve a given shade of brown.