I’ve always had a fasciation with the color brown. This article will help you explore and appreciate it from all facets. We’ll discuss how to make brown color, its significance and uses, and what happens when you combine it with other colors of paint or pigment — because I love color mixing!
As background, my name is Lillie, and I’m a teacher and artist who has brown hair (well, it’s somewhat streaked with silver strands now). Also, I attended Brown University in Rhode Island, and enjoy natural earth tones. Brown love all around!
Making Brown Color
First things first: what colors make brown when mixed together? Lots of them! If you click through to that link, you’ll see the full run-down, but the summary is that you create brown color in any of the following ways:
1. Combining all three primary colors in the RYB color model: red + yellow + blue.
2. Putting together two complementary colors (those opposite each other on the color wheel), such as yellow and purple or the old favorites, red and green — and don’t forget blue and orange.
Now, if you think about it, this second technique for making brown color is really just the same as #1, because it hits all three primaries. For example, green is the secondary color that our trusty pigment friends blue and yellow make, so red plus green is actually red plus yellow plus blue.
3. Any other combination of colors that have the components of red, yellow, and blue within them somewhere, such as pink and green. (These mixes may be strongly tinged with other colors — like pink and green make a light tan, which is brown tinged with white — but at their heart, these colors ARE some type of brown.)
4. Black plus orange — and to a less clearly brown extent, black plus red — creates a neat brown. Now, what is the color brown associated with, and how can we best use it for its full glory?
Associations and Uses of Brown
The color brown is associated with rich, earthy, natural elements such as fertile soil, tree trunks, skin tones, animal fur, and my personal favorite — chocolate candy. Though brown color is more neutral and desaturated than bright and jolly like intermediate colors, it has the effect of making the viewer feel grounded and rooted — as if leaning against a sturdy tree, or standing on the firm ground. Its usual meaning is one of powerful stability, as if cradling the viewer in the embrace of Mother Earth.
Of course, the color brown has many different shades and kinds. There is the light tan or khaki that brown and yellow make — ideal for uniforms or professional pants because it hides dirt stain so well! — and then there is the dark reddish-brown russet color that purple and orange make… and everything in between. The concept of “brown color” is a very wide-ranging one that encompasses so many types! Let’s explore some of them now.
Looking for articles about the wonderful brown color of paint or pigment? You've come to the right place! Let's learn how to make it, and what happens when it's mixed with other colors
Red and Brown
When you mix red and brown together, the result is the deep, rich dark red called maroon color.
Orange and Brown
Love pottery? The color terracotta (or terra-cotta) is named after a type of fired clay of the same name, and is created by mixing brown with orange. Read on to learn why there's a slight green undertone in the color.
Yellow and Brown
Combining the colors brown and yellow yields a tan, khaki, or taupe light brown with a slight greenish tinge. Why that tinge? See the "color math" in this article for the hidden reason. This khaki color is frequently used in professional pants because it's neutral, muted -- and helps hide dust and dirt stains!
Green and Brown
I was shocked to realize that mixing brown with green creates forest green: a vibrant, deep green which has little hint of being mixed with brown. Forest green is fabulous for using in drawing and painting nature scenes.
Blue and Brown
Combining brown with blue yields a shockingly wide variety of results, ranging from the obvious (brownish-blue), to the exciting (muddy teal green and dusty brown-gray purple).
Purple and Brown
I nearly fell off my chair when I realized that the way to make plum color is to combine purple with the color brown. That rich jewel tone (or fruit tone, as the case may be) shows little hint of having brown in it, but now you know it does. The brown merely serves to make the purple richer and more intense -- with more depth.
Pink and Brown
Hungry for bubblegum plus chocolate? It turns out that mixing together brown plus pink can create a slightly dusty dark pink color, like a slightly muted magenta! You can also get a variety of pinkish-browns and brownish light pinks from this combination. I'd never thought before of putting these two colors together, but they actually look very pleasing, combined.
How to Make Brown
There are many different ways to create the color brown by mixing combinations of either two or three colors at a time. Explore a wide variety of these options here.
Brown Color, in Sum
I remember back when I was applying to colleges as a track athlete, and the coach at a certain other rival university said to me, “Don’t go to Brown University — Brown is just a color.” Just a color?! Sheesh!
Of course, I didn’t heed his mockery, and ended up having a very happy four years as a student in that Providence institution of higher education… but the broader lesson is this: Brown is never just a color. It has associations, uses, meaning, variety, and power far beyond what most people realize. Yay for brown color fun!
Now I’m so curious to hear from you: What are your thoughts about brown? How do you most like to use it, wear it, paint with it, or even eat it? Do you have a favorite version of it? Mine is terracotta color! Do share your thoughts in the comment section below…
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!