How to Make Brown With Watercolors

Knowing how to make brown with watercolors from scratch can make a huge difference in improving your paintings. When we look at nature, we can observe countless shades of brown(earth tones). That is why using only one shade of brown for your painting will result in flat pieces.

In this post, you’ll learn how to mix numerous shades of brown! 

Let’s get started…

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Making brown with primary colors

There are two ways you can mix brown with watercolors, the first is by mixing all three primary colors and the second is by mixing complementary colors (yellow and purple or green and red, or blue and orange). 

When we first learn about the basics of color theory, we learn that mixing red and yellow makes orange. Although this is true, color mixing isn’t as straightforward. There are different types of red and yellow; depending on which red and yellow you mix, you’ll produce different shades of orange. 

The same goes for every other primary color. For example, using Pthalo blue will produce a more greenish-brown color. This is because Pthalo blue is a cool blue and leans more towards yellow, which causes it to have a greenish undertone.

Blue, red and yellow bias

Sometimes you can mix a brown with a blue, red, or yellow bias. This means that the color you’re mixing will lean towards yellow, blue, or red. 

Browns that lean toward blue tend to be darker, muted, and cooler and sometimes have a greenish undertone. If you make a brown that leans towards red, they tend to be warmer. Of course, this also depends on the red you use to mix your brown. Using a warm red produces different brown than using a cool red.

It’s always best to experiment with different mixtures until you create a shade you’re satisfied with. 

Color recipes for making brown

Here are a few examples of how to make brown using primary colors:

  1.  Pthalo blue + Scarlet + Gamboge
  2. Pyrrol Scarlet + Lemon Yellow + Prussian blue
  3. Quinacridone rose + Gamboge + touch of Pthalo blue
  4. Ultramarine + Gamboge + Scarlet

Mixing brown with complementaries

Instead of mixing brown using primary colors, you can also use complementary colors. Complementary colors are colors that sit on opposite sides of the color wheel. For example, orange and blue, green and red, yellow and purple. When you mix complementary colors, you get neutral colors such as brown, gray, and black.

Using Orange and blue to make brown

Brown can be defined as a muted version of orange. One way to mute a color is by adding its complementary.

In this case, that means adding blue. As you gradually add blue, the orange becomes more and more muted, giving you different versions of brown.  The image below shows an example of what happens when you gradually add ultramarine to orange.

I mixed a shade of orange using Pyrrol Scarlet (a warm red) and Gamboge (a warm yellow). I then added small touches of ultramarine to the orange mixture. You can see the five different shades of brown that resulted:

How to make brown with orange and blue

Using Green and red to make brown

Another example of complementary colors is green and red! You can mix a wide range of browns using different shades of green and red. The image below shows several examples of making brown by mixing green and red.

I noticed mixing olive green and scarlet produced a lovely warm dark brown. Meanwhile mixing viridian(cool green) with Pyrrol scarlet produced a darker mute version of brown. Mixing yellow-green with alizarin crimson made a beautiful saturated light brown shade.

How to make brown using green and red

How to mix Dark brown

To make dark brown, using intense reds and blues such as Alizarin crimson and Pthalo blue can help. However, it also depends on which yellows you use. I noticed using warm yellows worked better in producing saturated dark browns. 

  1. Prussian Blue + Red-Orange (Scarlet (PR 123) + Gamboge) 
  2. Pyrrol Scarlet (PR 255) + Viridian
  3. Sap Green + Yellow ochre + Scarlet (PR 123)
  4. Scarlet (PR 123) + Olive Green
  5. Hookers green + Alizarin crimson
Mixing dark brown

Mixing Scarlet with olive green produced a saturated dark brown, this is because olive green leans closer toward warm yellow on the color wheel. However, Mixing Pyrrol Scarlet with viridian(which is closer to cool blue on the color wheel) made a more dull shade of dark brown.

How to mix light brown

Light browns tend to have an orangish bias. This means you need to have more yellow and red in the mixture. To achieve a warm brown, use a warm yellow.

  1. Pyrrol Scarlet (PR 225) + Prussian Blue + Lemon Yellow
  2. Yellow green + Alizarin crimson (yellow-green has more yellow than blue)
  3.  Ultramarine + Gamboge + Pyrrol Scarlet (255)
  4. Cadmium red light + Violet + Gamboge
How to make light brown with watercolors


Generally speaking, the more blue you add to your mixture, the more dark, muted, and dull the brown will become. Meanwhile, warm reds and yellows make saturated oranges and produce saturated browns.

In conclusion, there is no exact formula you can use to always produce the exact shade of brown you want. You can however use the color wheel and color theory to help simplify and guide you when mixing browns!

Experimenting with the colors you have with you will go a long way in helping you learn how to mix beautiful shades of brown. So make sure to grab your paints and start mixing!

That’s the end of this post on how to make brown with watercolors! Remember to keep practicing and note down every time you mix stunning shades of brown.

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2 thoughts on “How to Make Brown With Watercolors”

  1. Wonderful information! Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge for watercolor painting for those of us who just starting out.


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