Brown does not sound like the most exciting color at first thought! However, it is an absolutely necessary color especially if you are working from life. We encounter brown all the time in nature. And there are all sorts of different kinds of browns – cool browns, warm browns, dark browns, light browns, the list goes on!
In this article, you will first discover how to mix a brown on your own from scratch. Then you will learn how to mix different shades of browns. So you will know how to mix whatever kind of brown you may encounter as you paint!
Simplified version of ‘How to mix Brown’
Did you know that when you mix all the primary colors together you get brown? Depending on the ratio of each primary color you use to mix the brown, you can come up with quite a variety of different hues of brown.
You do not have to always use just Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red and Cobalt Blue. You can switch these out for different colors as well. Such as Ultramarine Blue can be substituted for Cobalt Blue, and Alizarin Crimson can be substituted for Cadmium Red. Lastly, Cadmium Lemon Yellow can be substituted for Cadmium Yellow.
However, there are even more different kinds of yellow, red and blue colors available. You can also just use whichever colors you might have on hand at home.
A More Complex Approach to Mixing Brown
Complementary colors mixed together create brown. If you are unsure what complementary colors are take a brief look at the color wheel below.
Complementary colors are those that are opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow and purple are both opposite each other on the color wheel and are thus complementary colors of one another. In addition, red and green, as well as blue and orange are also complementary colors.
To learn more about complementary colors and color mixing you can read ‘Color Mixing with Oil Paint’.
Try to mix an equal amount of orange with blue in order to achieve brown. If you only mix a little bit of orange with your blue you will just get a muted blue, continue to add more of the appropriate color until you reach a brown hue. The same principles hold true for purple/ yellow and green/ green.
If you haven’t yet – Grab my FREE Color Mixing Guide for additional help with color mixing techniques in your painting!
Mixing brown with complementary colors
Here are the complementary colors blue and orange.
When mixed together they create a wonderful brown! Try to mix an equal amount of orange with blue in order to get brown. You can also add in a little bit more blue to make it a cooler brown, or add in a little bit of orange to make it a warmer brown. Either way – this combination is a simple way of getting a brown color.
You do not need to always use ultramarine blue for a blue and cadmium orange for an orange. Instead you could mix your own orange. Also, you can use a variety of different blues such as cobalt blue, cerulean blue, pthalo blue or whatever you have on hand!
Green and orange
The complementary colors green and red also create a good basic brown color. As with the blue/ orange mixture you can substitute your green and red for different colors. You can use Sap green, Pthalo Green or mix your own green.
Also, you can use different kinds of reds such as Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone red or a more earth tone red such as Burnt Sienna. However, with Burnt Sienna. Unfortunately you cannot mix your red as it is a primary color like blue and yellow. However, I encourage you to experiment with different combinations of reds and blues to see what kind of results you get.
Purple/ Yellow Complementary Colors
The brown color you get from mixing purple and yellow together is the most colorful of all browns you can mix.
You can use different yellows besides cadmium yellow to mix up a brown with purple. Cadmium Lemon Yellow is a brighter and lighter yellow that will help to get a lighter brown. Also, Yellow Ochre is an excellent color to use to mix up a brown – though it already is a very earth tone color on its own.
You can also use different types of purple colors to mix up a brown as well such as Provence Violet Bluish or any other violet/ purple color you may have on hand. As another option, purple is a very easy color to mix yourself, so mix together some blue and red and voila!
How to mix dark browns
You might come across instances when you need to create a dark brown for your painting. Most of the instructions above on how to mix brown produce lighter brown colors. However, there are very easy ways to darken any brown – whether it is a mixed brown or a brown straight from a tube (such as Burnt Umber).
Ultramarine Blue and Dioxazine Purple when mixed with brown create very dark colors. Ultramarine Blue creates a cooler dark brown than Dioxazine purple does. In addition, Pthalo green mixed with Alizarin Crimson creates a black color. So, when this color is mixed with brown it creates a very dark brown. In fact, it is one of the darkest browns you can get by mixing colors yourself. Mixing just Pthalo Green with brown will create a darkened and greenish brown.
How to mix light browns
Knowing how to mix light browns is just as important as knowing how to mix dark browns. To get a lighter brown you simply need to mix colors that are lighter in value with your brown color.
It might seem obvious to mix white with brown. This is one of the quickest ways to arrive at a light brown. However, you can also mix yellow with brown – this will also create a warmer as well as lighter brown color. In addition, Cadmium Green Light will also help to make your brown lighter in value. It will also make your brown a little greenish.
Though neither Cadmium Green Light or Cadmium Yellow will make brown as light as white does – they do lighten your brown while also making it colorful. However, when using titanium white to lighten colors it can often have the adverse effect of making a color look ‘chalky’ and suck out the color. To counteract this, you could mix titanium white with brown and then add some yellow or green (or another color) to give the brown some color.
How to mix browns that are cool
Warm and cool colors are important when it comes to painting. Therefore, it is important to know how to mix different temperatures for the color brown. Here I will go over how to get both cool and warm brown colors.
Ultramarine blue mixed with brown is one of the quickest and best options for getting a great cool brown. You can also use different blues such as Cobalt blue or Prussian blue (or any kind of blue you have on hand).
Mixing Dioxazine Purple with brown will give you a brown that is not as cool as one mixed with blue. However, it is also a great option for getting a cooler temperature brown – especially if you want one that is not as cool as blue. Pthalo Green on the other hand is a very cool green and will give you a cool greenish brown.
How to mix warm brown colors
Now last, but not least, we cover how to mix warm brown colors. Brown on its own is technically considered a warm color. However, you will in all likelihood run into scenarios when you need to create warmer browns. The color chart below will help you to see what color combinations will help!
Alizarin Crimson is one of my favorite colors as it is extremely useful and is great for mixing warm browns. Cadmium Red is also a great option for mixing a warmer brown with. In fact the Cadmium Red will mix an even warmer brown than Alizarin Crimson. This is because Alizarin Crimson is cooler than Cadmium Red. Cadmium Orange (or an orange mixed yourself) will also help to create a warm brown.
Play around with different colors
This article is meant to be a guideline to help you get started in learning how to mix the color brown as well as different shades of brown. However, it is not meant to act as a formula for how to mix all of your brown colors in your paintings. There are infinite different varieties of browns in the world and you need to be able to mix a variety of colors. This article would never end if I attempted to add in all the color combinations for making different shades of brown!
The color charts in this article will help you to get started. Then it is important to experiment with mixing in a variety of different colors into your browns. Observe your colors closely and trust your instincts! However, it is important not to worry about getting a color to be exactly like what you see as this is not possible. Rather, concern yourself with getting a color correct relative to the other colors in your painting.
So, have fun with color mixing and leave a comment below if you have any questions.