The color brown is defined as a composite color as well as a darker shade of orange. In the CMYK color model, brown is the result of black and orange combined while in the RGB color model, you get brown by combining red and green.
Brown is the color of wood, soil, human hair, and many more natural things.
As an artist, it's important to understand this robust color, how it's used in the past until today, what it means and the different emotions it evokes, as well as its different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of the Color Brown
Brown is one of the first colors humans used in art. Scientists have found cave paintings, made with a clay pigment called umber, dating back to 40,000 BC.
The ancient Egyptians used umber to depict skin. The ancient Greeks used this pigment to paint amphorae and vases.
Umber wasn't the only pigment that the ancient Greeks used. They, and the ancient Romans, developed sepia, a reddish-brown ink taken from a variety of cuttlefish.
The Romans associated brown with the lower classes or barbarians. Their term for the urban poor came from the word pullati which literally means "those dressed in brown".
In the Middle Ages, poor English people were required to wear russet, a coarse homespun cloth made of wool and dyed with woad and madder which gave it a muted grey or brown shade. Painters rarely used brown during this period as they preferred brighter colors like red, blue, and green.
Brown only became popular among painters when the Renaissance came. Artists of this time used four types of brown: raw umber, the dark brown clay mined around Umbria, in Italy, raw sienna, a reddish-brown earth mined near Siena, in Tuscany; burnt umber, the Umbrian clay heated until it turned a darker shade, and burnt sienna, earth heated until it turned a dark reddish-brown.
It was in the 17th and 18th centuries when brown saw the most use. The artists Caravaggio and Rembrandt Van Rijn used various browns to produce chiaroscuro effects which made the subject seem to appear from the darkness. Rembrandt also began to use Cassel earth or Cologne earth, a new brown pigment from natural earth composed of over 90% organic matter, such as soil and peat.
In the 19th century, most French painters preferred brighter pure colors and hated brown. One exception was Paul Gauguin, who used the color to paint luminous brown portraits of the people and landscapes of French Polynesia.
In the late 20th century, brown became a common symbol for simple, inexpensive, natural, and healthy – particularly in western cultures.
Brown Colors: Psychology and Meaning
Humanity has painted with the color brown ever since we first started to paint on cave walls. Human culture may have developed a lot since then but to many, the color brown holds mostly the same meaning it did as in ancient times.
Most people in Europe and the US associate brown with warmth, autumn, and the color of bread. Much like the earth from where it's hewn, the color brown symbolizes strength, reliability, resilience, safety, security, and dependability.
Brown is also associated with more negative things like plainness, the rustic, and poverty. This is probably why out of all the colors, brown is one of the least favored among westerners.
Shades of Brown
Our use of the color brown began from the clay pigment called umber. Through the centuries, artists have developed many variations of the color.
As of the writing of this article, there are currently 26 shades of the color brown.
Here are just a few of them:
As its name implies, the color red-brown is characterized by its vivid red color. Despite this fact, this color was selected to be the default "brown" for web colors.
2. Burnt Umber
Burnt umber is a strong reddish brown. It's produced by heating raw umber, dehydrating its iron oxide content, and changing it into reddish hematite.
Maroon has a deep reddish-brown color.
It takes its name from the French word marron for "chestnut". This color is also considered a shade of red.
Buff is a light or pale yellow-brown shade. It got its name from the color of buffed leather. This color descriptor was first used in the London Gazette of 1686.
5. Sandy Brown
Sandy brown is characterized by its moderate orange color. As its name suggests, this shade of brown is similar to the color of some sands. Sandy brown is also a web color that first came into use in 1987.
Khaki is a grayish-yellow brown. The first recorded use of khaki as a color name in English was in 1848.
Beige is characterized by its pale yellow-green color.
It's similar to the light tan color of bleached wool.
Modifying Brown Acrylic Paints
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the color brown and some of its shades, it's time to learn how to make some of your own.
As artists, we usually look for the right shade of color to really make our painting pop. In the color brown's case, you can use it to complement your brighter colors.
If you don't happen to have the exact color you need, here's how you can modify your brown acrylic paint to achieve your desired shade.
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How to Create Warmer Shades of Brown
Brown in itself is already a warm color.
How to Create Cooler Brown Shades
To make a cooler brown shade, just add some blue. You can also make a cooler but more vivid brown by adding ultramarine to your brown paint.
How to Mute Brown Colors
If you want to produce a muted brown, you can use either of the following colors, depending on the brown you need.
Create a muted dark brown by combining it with some black.
For a brighter muted brown, just add some white.
If you simply want a muted brown with no change in brightness, mix in some gray.