The color brown. To those who like to paint in bright, vibrant colors, brown can seem a little bit boring. It can bring to mind sensible shoes and wool suits. But brown is actually a beautiful, multihued color that is essential in our everyday lives.
Brown is actually an important color in our lives. Brown tones are present in everything from hair color, to skin color, to landscapes and even our morning coffee and secret chocolate snack during the day.
These are fairly common items but you may not have thought of brown hues in other things such as the stamen in the center of a flower or the color of the sand on your beach scene.
Knowing how to mix the perfect shade of brown will help you to achieve a more realistic look or get the perfect tone in your abstract piece.
The following article will provide some helpful tips for choosing what colors to use to make brown acrylic paint and then give you an example of how these different combinations will look on paper or canvas.
I have also included a color chart with the most popular mixes at the end of this post. You can download it and print it for future reference if you wish.
These are just a few mixes, there are so many different colors of brown you can mix that I could fill pages with charts.
Using Color Theory to Mix Brown Paint
In order to properly mix paint colors you will need to know a little bit about color theory. Boring I know, but here is why it’s necessary to know.
The simple answer for how to mix brown is to combine yellow, red and blue in equal amounts. But then you would have a very dull muddy color and all of your trees would be the same shade with no variations in value.
Hair and skin tones would be flat and you probably wouldn’t have the right color for that old sea chest you want to paint or the lovely mahogany table in your still life painting.
Using colors that are very similar to each other can create an unappealing artwork because the viewer’s eye won’t be able to distinguish where one shade begins and another ends.
Knowing how to mix all of those subtle hues of a color will give you an endless palette of colors to use in your painting. I will just give you the basics of color theory so you can get on with mixing your perfect brown.
So let’s get started with learning a bit about color theory and the color wheel.
The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. These are the basic colors of the color wheel. You cannot use other colors to mix these so that is why they are called primary colors.
You can however, use these three colors to mix just about every other color including brown.
If you mix all three primary colors together in equal amounts, you get brown, but it is an ugly brown that I like to call “after the rain mud”.
To get more pleasing colors and more interesting tones and shades, you need to mix some secondary colors.
These are color combinations created by the equal mixture of two primary colors. As you can see on the color wheel, secondary colors are located between the primary colors.
The secondary colors are orange, purple and green and are achieved by using the following mixes.
Yellow + Red = Orange
Red + Blue = Purple
Blue + Yellow = Green
Mixing one of these secondary colors with a primary color will give you brown. Why?
Because by mixing a secondary color with a primary color you are basically mixing all three primary colors, just not in equal amounts. This will give various shades of brown.
By adding a little more of one color you can adjust the hue to your liking. You can also use a premixed tube of purple, green or orange if that gives you the color you are going for.
Purple + Yellow
Green + Red
Orange + Blue
Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. So for example the complement of blue is orange, the complement of yellow is purple and the complement of red is green.
Complementary colors reduce the intensity of each other. So adding a tiny touch of orange to blue will dull the blue down slightly. Adding a lot of orange to blue will give you a deep brown.
Colors have temperature. Blue is generally thought of as a cool color while red and yellow are warm colors.
Within each of these color families you can have variations of warm and cool.
Some blue colors can be considered warm and some reds and yellows can be considered cool.
Warm colors make things look closer to the viewer and cool colors give the illusion of being further away.
To understand warm and cool colors better, read my post on Warm and Cool Colors. For now we are going to talk about how color temperature can affect the final result of your brown mix.
Mixing Warm Browns
If you are painting tree trunks in sunlight or a weather worn board on an old barn you want to mix a warm color.
To do this you would add a little bit of yellow such as Cadmium Yellow or red, such as Cadmium Red or even a touch of orange to your brown mix.
Red would give you a reddish brown while yellow would give you a golden or even beige brown. Add the colors a little at a time until you get the color you want.
If you go too far and your brown is too warm you can add a touch of blue to cool it down.
Mixing Cool Browns
To paint tree trunks in winter or cool tones in fur you need to mix a cool brown. Adding a little blue to your brown mix will give you a cool brown. Try Cerulean Blue or Ultramarine Blue.
Again, add a little at a time until you get the color you want. If it becomes too cool, add some red or yellow to bring it back.
Color value refers to how light or dark a color is. Values can range from black to white on a value scale. To get a more indepth look at value see my post on Value.
While adding white or black to your brown mix can make it lighter or darker, there are sometimes disadvantages to using these to alter the value of your brown. Here are some other ways you can lighten or darken your brown mix.
Mixing Light Brown Paint
Adding white paint to brown will certainly give you a light brown color but it can sometimes have unexpected effects. If your mix is already heavy on the red side, say a reddish brown, then adding white will give your brown a pinkish tint.
If that’s not what you are going for, you might try adding yellow paint to your mix. Add the yellow in little bits at a time until you get your desired color.
If you add too much yellow, you can mix a little more red back into your mix to darken it again. The key is to add colors in tiny amounts.
Mixing Dark Brown Paint
While black paint can give you a darker shade, it is very intense and can easily overpower other colors. Most premixed tubes of black paint also contain some blue which can give your brown paint a greenish shade if you have used a lot of yellow in the mix.
Black will also have the effect of slightly toning down your brown mix, which is not a bad thing, but it may not be the effect you want.
To make your brown darker, you can add a variety of other colors including Dioxazine Purple, Pthalo Green or Ultramarine Blue. You will get a different shade of brown from each of these as you can see below.
To get the darkest shade of brown possible try mixing Pthalo Green with Alizarin Crimson ( this combination produces a chromatic black) and adding a little at a time to your brown mix. Go slowly with this because you can easily go too far and end up with a black instead of the dark brown you want.
Premixed Tubes of Brown Paint
You can also use these techniques to alter the color of your premixed brown paint. Adding a little white or yellow paint to Burnt Umber, which is a lovely dark brown color, will give you a lighter shade of brown.
You can also add a blue or purple color to any of your browns to get a darker shade. Play around with what you have to see the different results you can get. There are so many different shades of brown that can be created.
Tips for Mixing Paints
- Make sure you have a clean palette. Then, place your paint along one side so you can easily grab a little of the color you want.
- Use a palette knife to grab a little of each color and place them close together on a clean area of your palette. Wipe your knife clean between each color so that you don’t contaminate your other blobs of paint.
- You’ll get brown when you mix yellow+black (like for painting skin tones), red+grey, or blue+brown. If you want deeper browns that try adding a little ultramarine blue to the mixture.
- Mix the colors together, adding more paint to get the tint or shade you want.
- Make sure the paint is thoroughly mixed. You don’t want to be surprised by a bright streak of red or yellow when you apply the paint to your canvas (or maybe you do 😉). This is especially important if you are using a brush to mix your colors rather than a palette knife.
- The nice thing about acrylic paint is if you don’t like the color you mixed once you applied it to your canvas, you can always come back and adjust your mix and paint over what you don’t like.
- If you are going to be mixing a large amount of paint, scrape some of it off your palette and put it in a jar with a tight lid. This will keep it from drying out. Alternatively, you can mist your paint with water periodically to keep it workable.
Take Notes and Swatches of Your Color Mixes
In order to make sure that your color mixes are consistent, you should take notes and samples of them. This will make mixing these same colors easier in the future.
A sheet of heavy paper or watercolor paper is perfect for painting a small swatch of your mix and writing down which colors you used to mix it. You could also write down which project you used the mix in so you can refer to it and see how it looked on the canvas.
Note: Pigment strength varies by paint manufacturer so you may get slightly different tints or shades depending on which type of paint you use. That is why making detailed notes and swatches can come in handy for future paintings.
Color Chart of Brown Mixes
For most artists, it is important to understand the color wheel and how colors can be mixed together. I have given you a few tips for mixing brown paint with other colors so that your paintings are more vibrant and realistic. If you want to learn even more about this topic or chat about any other art-related questions, join my Facebook group, Trembeling Art Creative Corner! You’ll find new friends who love talking about painting just as much as you do.
I hope these helpful hints will inspire you to create beautiful artwork of your own. Happy creating!