What Colors Make Brown

What Colors Make Brown? – Our Guide to the Brown Color Palette

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Brown is a very common color that can be seen just about anywhere if you are looking for it. You can see brown most commonly in nature, but it is also in food, furniture, and art. While brown likely isn’t most people’s favorite color, it is quite an important one nonetheless. If you are an artist looking to mix brown, you might think it’s easy and that you can just mix any colors together to create a brown of sorts. There are actually techniques to mixing different browns which can help bring your art to the next level. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about brown as well as how to get started mixing different shades of brown for your art!



The History and Use of Brown

Brown is a complex color that has many varying shades and tones. Brown is a neutral color that has close associations with the earth and nature. This association with nature and the earth is why many artists use brown to signify stability, strength, resilience, dependability, simplicity, and fertility.

Earth Brown Signifies Fertility

We have been using brown since the prehistoric ages. Some of the first dyes made by early humans were brown dyes and colors made from clay, iron oxide, bark, husks, and walnuts. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, artists commonly used the color brown for backgrounds and even in the foregrounds and subjects of their artworks. During this time, brown signified intellectualism, humility, and simplicity. Brown was one of the most widely available pigments available during this period and was present in almost every painting produced during the time. By the 20th century, however, brown was falling out of popularity and widespread usage. Impressionism was popular and the style leans towards brighter, more vibrant colors.

Brown and Colored Pigments

Since brown is a neutral color it is very easily paired with any other color. This means that many fashion staples such as belts, coats, shoes, or jackets are found in different shades of brown. Brown in fashion is becoming more common with many celebrities embracing the color. The increasing popularity of brown in fashion is likely linked to its natural look that brings a sense of sustainability, simplicity, and minimalism to any outfit.

Brown Shades in Fashion

Brown can be found in many different shades and tones, almost anywhere you look. If you are mixing your own brown paint you will need to consider what the brown is being used for and how it should look. Different shades and tones of browns will invoke different feelings. Brown is a versatile color with endless uses available for the artist and while this might seem intimidating, mixing brown is actually a fairly simple process that is beneficial to learn.

Brown Mixed on Palette


How Do We See the Color Brown?

Color as a concept is difficult for some people to grasp because it isn’t inherently part of something. The color of something depends on our eye’s ability to translate different wavelengths of light into what our brain perceives as color.

How the Eye Sees Brown

Our eyes contain cone-shaped cells which are attached to nerves. They work together to translate short, medium, and long wavelengths of light into blue, green, and red respectively. In this way, our eyes and brain decode different wavelengths of light into colors. Our eyes also contain rod-shaped cells that can function in less intense light. Rod cells help to interpret black and white light wavelengths. These two cells work together along with our brains to create the spectrum of color. Almost everything we see is not a “pure” color on the spectrum, which is the reason we see so many different shades and variations of even the more common colors.

Visible Color Spectrum

An example of a color that isn’t pure is anything other than the three primary colors mentioned above. If we look at the color orange, we are actually seeing a combination of yellow and red wavelengths at once. Brown is made when we are interpreting many different colors at once and our brain can’t interpret them distinctively. The amount of light present will also affect the lightness, vibrancy, and saturation of the color we see. It is those three extra factors that alter brown in varying degrees and combinations which allows us to perceive the many different shades of brown visible to us.



The Benefits of Mixing Different Shades of Brown Yourself

If you are an artist, it is important that you know what colors make brown and how to mix these colors to get the right shade for whatever you are painting. Browns are important for when you need to make accurate skin tones while painting people and portraits as well as when doing still lifes and landscapes. Regardless of whether you are painting someone with fair skin or not, certain shades of brown paint will be very necessary if you are aiming for a realistic depiction. If you are painting animals you will also find that you will need to be able to mix different shades of brown.

Brown Shades for Landscape Painting

It is likely that you will need to create many different shades of brown as an artist. Different shades of brown are created by altering the temperature and value of the color in different combinations. There are many different ways to mix brown paint and multiple reasons why it is beneficial to learn to properly mix different shades of brown yourself.

There is much less waste when attempting to mix brown paint yourself if you have learned the technique of mixing browns correctly. Using a learned, methodical approach when mixing brown saves you lots of time, effort, paint, and money!

Mixing Brown Colors

Knowing how to mix your own colors, in general, helps you to simplify your palette. It also allows you to create a sense of unity and harmony in your paintings. This is because you have full control of the values and temperature of your paints, and can use them to create a piece that has elements that are perfectly in touch with one another. This skill in particular is very important for artists who will be painting realistic scenes such as landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes while it will not be as important with artists who prefer more abstract painting subjects. Being able to create a brown color palette that is harmonious will help artists who have preferences for realism.

Using Brown in Naturalistic Art

Being able to mix browns will provide you with a nifty transitional skill; you will be able to mix other colors, especially other neutrals, more effectively. The more knowledge you have about how each color “works” helps you understand the spectrum of colors more clearly. The approach you use to alter the value of brown can be used to alter other colors. For example, being able to create a range of dull but unified colors can help to make the brighter colors of your work stand out more. In this way, an artist’s use of colors is the foundation for applying more advanced principles of art, such as creating emphasis or variety in a piece.

Using Color Theory in Painting

Once you know how to mix brown and other color paints more effectively you can easily create variety, emphasis, and visual interest. Brown is a fantastic color to use in art and there is nothing wrong with using it straight from the tube, but learning to alter it as needed will take your art to the next level. To create an easy and interesting brown color palette you simply need to experiment with making it warmer or cooler, duller or brighter, or even giving it a more green or yellow tinge!

Hues and Temperatures of Brown



What Colors Make Brown?

While we discuss the different colors that can make brown we are going to talk about some different color categories. Primary colors are colors that cannot be mixed using any other color. The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. If you combine the three primary colors you will make brown. The kind of brown you create using primary colors will depend on the shades of red, yellow, and blue that you use, as well as the ratio used to combine them. This is just one way to go about making some basic shades of brown, but there is another way to combine colors to create brown paint.

Primary Colors Make Brown

Secondary colors are the colors made when you mix pairs of primary colors together. Orange is made by mixing red and yellow, while purple is created by mixing red and blue. Green is made by combining blue with yellow. These three colors form the secondary colors.

Primary and Secondary Colors Make Brown

Complementary colors are the pairs of colors that sit across from one another on the color wheel. White and black are opposite values in the same way that complementary colors are. Some examples of complementary colors are yellow and purple, blue and orange, as well as red and green. Complementary colors make one another stand out more when placed side-by-side.

When complementary colors are mixed they cancel one another like positive and negative numbers because of this, different variations of the color brown can be made by mixing complementary pairs together.



How to Make Different Shades of Brown

While you may have noticed that it is easy to make brown by mixing a lot of colors together and hoping for the best. In a way, the fun thing about brown is that everything you mix will eventually turn to some kind of brown so you are hardly ever limited by the paints you have available. If you are hoping to get a specific shade of brown, however, then you shouldn’t haphazardly mix random colors together in this way. The resulting brown might be quite muddy and not serve your needs properly. So now that you know what colors make brown, how do you mix different shades of brown paint? Well, it depends on what shade of brown you want.

Indiscriminate Mixing Makes a Muddy Brown

To approach mixing brown in a more methodical way you can start by mixing the three primary colors as we discussed above. Alternatively, you could also mix a secondary color with its complement to get a brown color. For example, you can mix orange (made from red and yellow) with blue to create brown. This works to create brown because you are still just mixing the primary colors!

Orange and Blue Make Brown

Once you have these basic shades of brown you can alter them by adding more colors or by changing the ratios of the component colors. These alterations can affect the temperature, lightness, vibrancy, and saturation of your brown in endless ways. In this part of the article, we discuss how to go about mixing different shades of brown paint.

Try to remember that people see colors differently and brown can be quite subjective. Two people may perceive and describe the same shade of brown in different ways.


How to Make Brown Color With Primary Colors

To start making a basic brown using the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, you can mix equal parts of each color together. The amount of each primary color that you use in relation to the others will determine what shade of brown you will create. Just altering this ratio in different ways will provide you with many different possible shades of brown.

Red Yellow and Blue Make Brown

You can experiment with changing the ratio if you don’t like the look of the basic brown made with equal proportions of each primary color. Even if you don’t like the basic brown, you should try to use it as a base when you are just starting out with mixing brown paint. It helps to make the basic brown first and then add more of whichever color you want to use to alter it. Trying to alter the ratio from the start can be a messy, time-consuming, and wasteful process. You may keep mixing and mixing without making any progress towards the color you want.


How to Make Brown Color With Secondary Colors and Their Complements

You can also make some other basic browns by mixing secondary colors with their complements. If you’re thinking of brown as a combination of all three primary colors and a secondary color as a combination of two primaries, then mixing a secondary color with its complement will also create brown. In this way, combining complementary colors is the same as mixing all three primary colors together. The different complementary pairs will all make a basic shade of brown but they will all be slightly different. This is because the purple, orange, and green will not have been mixed using the same proportions or primary pigments.

Complementary Colors Make Brown

If you happen to forget what the complementary pairs are, you can just look at the color wheel. Complementary colors are the ones that sit across from one another. So then, what two colors make brown? Looking at the color wheel, the color pairs you can use in order to make brown are: Orange and blue, red and green, or purple and yellow. Below we go into more detail about how to use each of these pairs to create a basic brown paint.


Making Brown Paint With Orange and Blue

To mix brown paint using orange and blue paint you can mix an equal amount of ultramarine blue and cadmium orange paint together. If you mix too little orange into your blue you will find that you just have a muted blue color. Once you have achieved a pleasant brown you can add some more blue or orange in small amounts to make the brown warmer or cooler.

Use a Strong Blue to Make Brown

You don’t necessarily need to use the specific pigments we named above, but we suggest doing this when starting out because the results will be more predictable. You could use other pigments such as cobalt blue, phthalo blue, cerulean blue, Hansa orange, pyrrole orange, or quinacridone orange. You can even mix your own shades of blue or orange beforehand and use those to mix up your brown!

Use a Vibrant Orange to Make Brown


Making Brown Paint With Green and Red

To mix brown paint using green and red paint you can mix an equal amount of phthalo green with alizarin crimson. Much like with using orange and green, you can substitute the pigments named above with your own mixture of red or green, or you can use other pigments. Some other good pigments to consider for mixing brown are sap green, phthalo green, quinacridone red, and burnt sienna. Once you achieve a simple brown using red and green you can add more small amounts of either color to alter your brown further and experiment with creating new brown shades.

Red and Green Make Brown


Making Brown Paint With Purple and Yellow

To mix brown paint using purple and yellow paint you can mix an equal amount of quinacridone purple with cadmium yellow. The brown you achieve from mixing purple with yellow is one of the most vibrant and colorful browns available.

Yellow and Purple Make Brown

Cadmium yellow helps to create a lighter shade of brown but you can substitute this for an earthy Yellow ochre pigment or a bright bismuth yellow. You could also trade out your quinacridone purple for a dioxazine, manganese, or cobalt violet. As with the other complementary pairs, you can also mix your own purple or yellow beforehand and then mix them to create a shade of brown.


How to Darken Brown Paint

If you need to make a dark brown color for your painting you may find that the methods we provided above mostly produce light shades of brown paint. There are a few simple ways to mix darker brown shades. To create a dark brown color you can take a basic brown that you already have and add some ultramarine blue or dioxazine purple. The addition of ultramarine blue will make your brown paint appear cooler than dioxazine purple would. You could also add small amounts of black paint to a readily mixed brown to darken it, but this will make the color appear more muted and dull. Phthalo green can also be mixed with brown paint to darken it and also give your brown a cool, but earthy, green tint.

Add Purple to Darken Brown


How to Lighten Brown Paint

The examples listed above will create a lovely light brown color and the previous section explains how to darken those shades, but if you would still like to achieve a lighter brown then you will need to know how to lighten brown paint. To create a lighter brown paint you will just need to mix colors that have a lighter value into a readily made brown.

How to Make Brown Paint

Most people will just add some white paint to a color in order to lighten it and it will work just fine, but you will end up with a more dull or muted shade. When white is added to any color, including brown, it will make it appear more chalky, soft, or muted. If this is what you want then you can just add some white and there will not be a problem, however, there are times when you want some more vibrancy in your light brown color.

Yellow and Green Lighten Brown

Other ways to lighten your shade of brown include adding some cadmium green light or cadmium yellow. Both these pigments will lighten your brown less than white will, but they will also not mute the vibrancy in the same way white would. Cadmium green light will give your brown a lovely green tint while cadmium yellow will provide a nice warmth to your brown. You could even add a small amount of white into your brown, and then follow it up with a tint of green or yellow to counteract the chalkiness.


How to Make Brown Paint Cooler

Another way to alter a readily made brown paint is to make it cooler. We have already mentioned in the previous sections that you can make a shade of brown cooler by adding ultramarine blue. This is one of the quickest and most effective ways to cool a shade of brown.

Cool Brown with Ultramarine

Other ways to cool brown include adding other blue pigments such as cobalt and Prussian blue, or by adding some phthalo green. Phthalo green will cool brown paint very nicely while giving it an earthy green tint. Dioxazine purple will also cool brown paint quite well, although not as much as the blue pigments.


How to Make Brown Paint Warmer

Brown is already considered a warm color, but there are still warmer and cooler varieties of brown shades. If you use blue or purple to make brown cooler, then it stands to reason that you would use red and orange to make it warmer.

Warm Brown with Orange

When you need to create a warmer shade of brown than the basic brown combinations we listed in the earlier sections, you can try mixing the brown with some cadmium red pigment. Cadmium red will create a very warm shade when mixed with brown, and if you find that cadmium red is too warm for your preferences you could try alizarin crimson or cadmium orange for a less intense warm tint.


How to Make a Varied Brown Palette

To make a varied brown palette you will need to experiment with all the different ways you can alter color so that you have a bit of every brown at your disposal. This means being able to create basic, warm, cool, neutral, dark, and light shades of brown. To wrap up this article we have included a table showing some different shades of brown. While it may be tricky to create these exact shades of brown when you are just getting started, it helps to have a reference to look at regarding all the different tones, shades, and temperatures of brown you can try to create.

NameHex Code% Red, Green, Blue (RGB)Brown Shade
Rosy brown#BC8F8F(188,143,143) 
Saddle brown#8B4513(139,69,19) 
Navajo white#FFDEAD(255,222,173) 
Windsor tan#A75502(167,85,2) 
Sandy brown#F4A460(244,164,96) 



This article serves as a guideline to getting started with mixing many different shades of brown but is by no means all-encompassing. Feel free to experiment with and build upon some of the ideas we have introduced in this article with regards to mixing brown paint. This article is not a formula for how you should always go about mixing all the shades of brown for all of your paintings. There are many other combinations and shades of brown that can be made if you research some color theory and experiment for yourself! Start off by following the advice given in this article and work towards branching out and expanding your knowledge of the color brown. Practice looking at the world around you to learn more about the color brown, where it is found, and how it makes you feel. As an artist, one of the most valuable skills available is being able to observe your surroundings.



Frequently Asked Questions


How Can I Mix Brown With Watercolor Paint?

You can mix brown with watercolor paint using the information provided in this article. Keep in mind, however, that many watercolor artists don’t mix colors on their palette but instead mix their colors on their paintings. Mixing with watercolors by layering different color paints creates what is known as an optical mixture. The technique for layering colors with watercolor can be quite tricky for artists to grasp but mixing brown with watercolor is very possible to do. Mixing paints on the palette is still always an option while using watercolor paints, but it may not provide an effect that really showcases the medium to its full potential.


Why Have My Browns Come Out a Strange Color Even Though I Mixed According to Suggested Ratios?

Many paints do not have equal mixing ability, or in the case of secondary color paints, they may not have equal ratios of primary colors. When mixing paints you may find that some pigments might overpower other pigments. You will need to observe what pigment is the culprit and balance out the error accordingly. This sort of situation may arise when using lower grade or less expensive paints or when using different branded paints together but is easily remedied by making the proper adjustments or by purchasing higher grade paints.


What Two Colors Make Brown?

If you want to make brown paint using only two colors you will need to mix two complementary colors. Look at the color wheel and choose any color, then look directly across the color wheel to find its complement, when you mix these two colors together you will create brown.

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