Brown is everywhere. From warming earth tones to deep, woodland shades, the world around us is full of brown. Whether you’re painting a wall, a portrait, a plant pot or a landscape, you’re bound to come across some variation of it – but given the amount of wildly different tones of brown, it can be tricky to find the one you’d like.
This is where the mixing comes in. Sure, you could buy a tube of brown paint and call it a day, but in order to get a precise, vibrant shade, there’s nothing better than making it yourself. Once you find the right balance of colours, you’ll be able to fine-tune your hue, so whatever you’re painting, you’ve got the perfect colour.
Things you’ll need to make brown paint from the primary colours and white
- Paints: red, blue, yellow and white
- Something to mix on (a palette is good, but a piece of card works fine too)
- Something to paint on
- A paintbrush
- Water (for washing the brush)
- Paper towels/kitchen roll to dab off excess water
How to make brown paint
The theory that brown is made by mixing together all the primary colours (red, blue, yellow) doesn’t always hold up, but it’s a good starting point. Use an equal amount of each colour and mix them together. You should end up with a flat, chocolate brown.
It’s good to begin with equal proportions so you don’t find yourself adding endless amounts of different colours and ending up with a muddy mess, but once you’ve got your basic brown, you can start to play around. Add some red, and you might get a warmer, chestnut brown. Add blue, and your shade will become colder and more purplish. Make sure you wash your brush before you add a new colour.
How to make light brown paint
This is where the white paint comes in. Try adding small amounts of white paint and mixing thoroughly – you should end up with the chalky, calming autumnal tone that’s becoming popular in our homes. Make sure you add a little yellow from time to time, though – too much red with that white and you’ll end up with more of a pink than a brown.
If you’re aiming for a very light brown such as beige, it’s best to slowly add a darker brown to the white paint, rather than the other way around, otherwise you might find yourself getting through quite a bit of white paint.
How to make dark brown paint
To create a rich, dark brown, you’ll need to add more blue and red paint than yellow. You’ll notice there’s no black paint on the list – this is because generally, adding black can deaden your colours, removing the warm tones and making them dull and greyish. It’s best to stick to deep blues and reds to maintain the vibrancy of your paint.
Make sure you go slowly as you move from light to dark – it’s very difficult to properly lighten the hue if you add too much dark paint in one go. The principles are much the same, though; try adding more red than blue to get a rich umber tone, or more blue than red to produce a deep shade of puce.
How to adjust the mix so you can create different brown tones
To really gain an understanding of the way colours mix and blend, it’s good to experiment with lots of different combinations. Try mixing two primary colours together and then gradually adding the third; for example, if you mix red and yellow together, you’ll get a lovely bright orange. Adding blue to this will temper the orange into a rich chestnut brown. You can also mix different shades of brown together; try making a light beige and a deeper brown with reds and blues. If you add small amounts of the dark brown to the beige, you should end up with a light caramel. A little more, and you’ll create a smooth golden brown.
Remember to paint samples of each hue as you go, so that you can see the progression of your experimentation. If you’re feeling super organised, you can even make a chart of each colour you’ve used, and in what proportion – this way, you’ll be able to replicate a colour without having to mix by increments.
How to make Warm Brown Colours and Cold Brown Colours
When you mix your paints, you may notice that whatever you try, you’re still ending up with dull, muddy browns. This might be because you’re not using the right combination of warm and cool colours.
You might think, well, red is red, right? This isn’t strictly true. Red can have what’s referred to as a ‘bias’ towards either of the other two primary colours. In a basic set of acrylics, you’ll probably get a tube of Cadmium red, which has a yellow bias, and will produce pure, warm oranges when mixed with yellow. If the red were to have a blue bias, when mixed with yellow it would produce more of a muddy brownish orange due to the amount of blue. This goes for the other two primary colours as well – a reddish blue mixed with a bluish red will create a pinkish purple colour, whereas a reddish blue mixed with a yellowish red will create a warm brown. In order to get the brightest, purest colours, it’s best to mix primary colours with the same bias – bluish yellow and yellowish blue will produce a bright, leafy green, to which you can then add small amounts of red to produce more vibrant and less greyish brown.
If you’re an aspiring artist wondering which colours to buy, the best way to go is not necessarily a sprawling set with all the colours of the rainbow – a set of warm and cold primaries will do the job just fine. From there, you’ll be able to mix nearly any colour (and you don’t have to waste money on dozens of tubes of paint).
Does the type of paint make a difference when mixing to brown?
Different paints have different properties which can mean different mixing methods. The basic processes outlined above will work pretty well for most kinds of paint, but there are some key changes to watch out for.
How to make brown paint with Acrylic Paints
If you’re not sure where to begin with painting, acrylics are a brilliant starting point. They’re bright, quick-drying and water based, and they won’t cost you a fortune. On the page, acrylics may look a little darker than they were on the palette, so when you’re mixing browns, adding a tiny amount of white or yellow can ensure you get the result you’re looking for. Adding a bit of white is also a great way to make your colours a touch more vibrant, and add complexity to store-bought shades.
How to make brown paint with Watercolour paints
This is a notoriously volatile medium – it’s also pretty unforgiving, and mistakes are difficult to reverse, so testing your colours on a separate piece of paper is doubly important. It also tends to change hue as it dries, meaning the colour on your palette could be very different to the one on the page. Make sure you wait a little while before diving into painting a large area.
Your watercolour set may come with a tube of white – use this sparingly. Because it’s translucent, the relative lightness or darkness of watercolour is dependent on the amount of water you add to it, and how much of the paper shows through. You can add yellow to increase the warmth of your colours, but when it comes to making colours lighter, all you need is a bit more water.
How to make brown paint with Oil Paints
Oils can produce beautiful, vibrant colours which can last centuries. They also don’t ‘dry’ – they become solid, over a period of days, weeks, months or even years, so there’s lots of scope for mixing and changing colours until you’re happy with the result. Oil paints are either opaque, semi-transparent or transparent. Opaque oils will cover the canvas completely, and semi-transparent and transparent will cover the canvas partially. Oil paints are made of pigments and mixed with a binder such as linseed oil – the most durable of these are the earth tones. They’re also pretty cheap compared to primary colours, so although mixing brown is an important process to master, picking up a tube of umber might save you using too much of those pricey primary colours.
How to make brown paint with household wall paints
If you’ve set your sights on a bigger project, you might be looking to mix larger amounts of brown paint for walls or furniture. Although you probably won’t be looking to make your brown paint from scratch, the same mixing principles apply – add dark to light in small quantities and create swatches of each shade until you’re happy with the result. Make sure you let it dry completely, as depending on the shade, colours can change significantly as they dry. Lighter colours tend to dry darker than they appear, and darker colours tend to dry lighter. The more you experiment, the more you’ll get to know the paints, and soon, you’ll be able to create a range of brown paint, from light, comforting earth tones to rich russet and puce.