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Mixing Browns in Watercolors-Blog 20

How to mix Browns in Watercolors?

Watercolorists prefer to mix Browns, Blacks, and Greys rather than use the ready tube colors. Some artists prefer to mix Greens as well. Winsor & Newton have Vandyke Brown tubes. Holbein have Vandyke Brown, and Imidazolone Brown. Yet artists prefer mixing to obtain more lively and unique Browns. This blog explains how the Browns are mixed.

Essentially, Browns are obtained by:

1.Mixing the three primaries Yellow, Blue, and Red

2.Mixing one secondary and its complementary

  1. Purple (secondary from Blue-Red) and Yellow (primary)

  2. Green (secondary from Yellow-Blue) and Red (primary)

  3. Orange (secondary from Red-Yellow) and Blue (primary)


Transparency of colors plays an important role in obtaining Browns. If all three primaries are transparent the Brown that one would get will be lighter. If at least one or two primaries are opaque, the Brown would be darker.

In the color swatches shown below, the left one is from three transparent primaries-Chrome Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, and French Ultramarine. The swatch on the right is from two opaque primaries-Cadmium Yellow, Vermillion, and one transparent primary-French Ultramarine. One can see that the Brown on the right is darker.

Transparency/Semi transparency/Opacity is generally indicated by the manufacturer on the tubes. Camel in India indicates Transparency by a hollow/white square, Opacity by a solid black square and Semi-Transparency by a diagonally split square showing black in one half and hollow/white in another. If the tube does not indicate Transparency, one may visit the website of the manufacturer and check for the color in question.

Transparencies of colors of our interest for mixing Browns:

  1. Chrome Yellow-Transparent

  2. Cadmium Yellow-Opaque

  3. Lemon Yellow-Opaque

  4. Gamboge Yellow-Semi Transparent

  5. Alizarin Crimson-Transparent

  6. Vermillion-Opaque

  7. Scarlet Lake-Transparent

  8. French Ultramarine-Transparent

  9. Cerulean Blue-Transparent

  10. Prussian Blue-Semi Transparent

  11. Cobalt Blue-Semi Transparent

  12. Orange-Semi Transparent

  13. Purple-Semi Transparent

  14. Viridian Green-Transparent

  15. Sap Green-Semi Transparent

Some tips for altering the mixed Browns that you have made:

a. Adding some Yellow or Red to a Brown would make it warm. Warm Browns are useful for painting details like wood surfaces, brick, soil, and the reflection of natural light sources.

b. Just as you can use some Red and Yellow to make your Browns warmer for colorful and well-lit outdoor scenes, adding some Blue will darken them and make them subtler. Blue deepened Browns lend a realistic shadowy quality to forest scapes, buildings, hair, and the folds and wrinkles in clothing.

c. By changing the proportions of the constituent colors, the hue of the Browns can be altered as desired. Keep experimenting to acquire skill.

d. Adding just a little bit of Black (otherwise a shunned watercolor) will sober down the Brown that is too bright. Be careful not to add too much.

Hope you enjoyed reading this blog. If you have questions or comments, do write back. Please share it with your artist friends.

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