Get to Know your Colors: Brown

Hey guys! So it’s about time I finally start continuing this little color psychology series, especially since now we’re finally getting into real colours! So we’ve covered white, grey and black, which are all non-colours, so now let’s get into some real colour! The first one up is brown, as it kind of fits as a transition between the non-colours to the colours.  So let’s get into it!

The Color Brown

Your first thought when hearing “brown” might be “boring”, as basic brown is an earthy, uneventful colour.  But brown, like grey, can be made and used in all sorts of ways, as there are many different types of browns: rich espresso browns, light tan browns, and everything in between.  Browns are usually perceived as warm colours, but depending on what they’re made from, they can take on a cooler feel as well.

Color Wheel Location

Brown is a type of tertiary colour, meaning it is formed when a secondary colour mixes with a primary colour.  It isn’t located in any one spot on a basic colour wheel, but a wheel that incorporates a rung above the traditional tertiary colours will have one or two brownish-looking colours within it.

Mixing Brown

One of the basic colour rules we’re taught in elementary school is that red and green make brown.  This is true, but the brown that results from the red and green could also be considered a type of muddy grey (remember that combining complementary colours causes them to desaturate, resulting in more grey tones).  And while red and green can make brown, so can blue and orange, and purple and yellow.  Any secondary colour mixed with it’s primary compliment will yield a brownish/grey mud colour.  So it can be considered brown by the naked eye, but colour theory tells us that these colours are actually more of a colored grey (remember when I said grey can be more than just neutral grey?)

color psychology of brown
Brown can be mixed many different ways

The simplest way to make a more traditional brown is to mix equal part of all three primary colours together.  This eliminates the two-stage toning down effect that happens when you start with a secondary colour and add it’s complementary primary to it.  By mixing all three primaries together, we skip the secondary colour step and go straight for equal amounts of all three primaries.  The hue of brown you get from this mixing can be altered by adding a bit more of one primary colour over the other.  Add a bit more red for a warm, rich brown, a bit more yellow for a greenish, muddy brown, or a bit more blue for a cooler, darker (somewhat greyish) brown.

Your resulting brown can then further be altered by using shades and tints.  Add a bit of black to your brown if you want it darker, add a bit of white if you want it to be lighter.  Keep adding white and it will begin to form a nice beige/taupe-like colour that is a beautiful neutral colour for still life and portrait backgrounds.

..And of course, the faster alternative to this method is to simply buy the type of brown you’re looking for.

Burnt Umber is a very chocolatey brown.  It’s rich and warm.  Raw Umber, on the other hand, is a cooler brown.  It can be great for giving you the shadowy colours you want but keeping them in cooler tones than burnt umber.  Burnt Sienna is a very warm reddish-brown.  Adding white to burnt sienna starts to make a soft pinkish colour that many people like to base skin color recipes around.

Of course there are many more types of browns you can purchase, but these are the three main earthy browns that are great for mixing with other colours to get you the exact brown you’re looking for.

The Psychology of Brown

Brown is a warm, relaxed colour that creates a sense of comfort and simplicity.  Many people choose browns as the interior wall colours of their homes for this reason.  Brown is sincere, genuine and reliable, relating to it’s earthy tones as being grounded and trustworthy.

Brown is practical and sensible.  Dirt from outside won’t show up on brown floors, right?? It gives reassurance, being confident without being intimidating. It draws your attention but doesn’t demand it like black does.

The negatives of brown is that it can be a bit boring…too much comfort and safety can make one crave excitement. It’s predictable, known as a safe choice.

The key to using brown is to know where you want it Brown everywhere can make it look like you’re unsure of yourself, so you use the safe colour all over.  By choosing where you want that earthy comfort, brown can be an irreplaceable colour both in your home and on your canvas.

What are your thoughts on brown??

Further Reading

Here’s a few more places you can read more about brown:

What colors make brown?

How to Mix Common Paint Colors

Pinspiration Monday: Color Psychology

Thanks for reading, and till next time, keep creating!




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