What Colors Make Brown?

Brown is all around us, and provides a warm neutral setting for nature's vivid colours
Brown is all around us, and provides a warm neutral setting for nature’s vivid colours

Hi friends!  We’re continuing with our colour mixing theme today and diving into another paint colour: brown!  Ah, brown.  At first it seems like such a boring colour…but brown is all around us, and the type of brown you mix for your paintings can have a real effect on the final feel of your finished painting.  Browns can be warm or cool, yellowy, reddish, blue-ish, or even ash-like in colour.

The first thought that usually pops into one’s head when thinking of mixing brown is the simple elementary school answer: red and green make brown!  While this is true, there are many types of browns that can be made, and the brown resulting from red and green is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at different ways we can make brown!

Red and Green

So the standard method of mixing brown is simply to take primary red and mix it with secondary green.  This resulting brown is quite muted and mud-like (which is great for a muddy brown), but can be a bit flat and uninteresting for a major section of a painting.  Adjusting the amount of red in the mix will create a warmer or cooler brown.  Adding more red than green creates a warm, reddish brown, one that I find personally more appealing than the yucky mud brown resulting from a 50/50 mix.

Blue and Orange

A nicer mix to make brown comes from primary blue and it’s compliment, orange.  Remember that browns actually stem from a dark orange-ish tone, so adding a dark blue to a rich orange is a nice way to go.  Adding more orange then blue will give you a nice warm orangey brown, while adding a touch more blue than orange will create a much cooler feel. Another option would be to add red to the mix as well as orange for a more balanced-looking warm brown.  Adding a bit of purple to the mix will cr
eate a darker, more balanced-looking cool brown as well!

Darkening Brownwhat colors make brown

If you’ve got a brown mixed but want it to be darker inshade, you could start adding a bit of black to it to darken it.  You can also add more of the dark colour you used to initially mix the brown (a blue, purple, or green).  To darken and desaturate the brown, you can mix a neutral grey from black and white and add that to the mix.  Remember that “brown” is mud -it’s made from the primaries coming together and mixing, so adding more of any primary or secondary colour will adjust your brown to one end of the spectrum.  To remove the saturation, you simply have to dilute all of these mixed colours with grey.

Buying Premixed Brown

To save time, and to achieve the exact brown that you want, there are many beautiful premixed browns that you can buy.  Burnt Sienna is a gorgeous warm reddish brown, perfect for warm toned tree branches and using in skin tone mixing.  Burnt Umber is a much darker, cooler brown more suitable for shadows and anywhere you want a dark, chocolatey feel.  Raw Umber, on the other hand, is a cool, ashy mid-toned brown.  It’s almost more grey that it is brown, but it’s still warmer than something like Payne’s Grey.  I use Raw Umber for my underpaintings because it’s dark enough to show through my beginning paint layers, but light enough that I don’t have to work too hard to cover it up when I’m ready.  It’s also warm enough to give a warm glow underneath skin tone colours, but is still cool enough to look right underneath shadowed areas.

Brown can initially be perceived as a boring colour, but it’s actually quite beautiful and subtle in it’s tones.  The right brown can give your painting a warm feeling that viewers won’t be able to directly recognize, but will feel it when looking at your image.  I hope this article helps you learn what colors make brown, and stay tuned for next week when we discuss grey!

Thanks for reading, and have fun!

-Ashley <3

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