How to Mix Brown Paint Using Primary Acrylic Colors

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Normally, we try to help fluid artists avoid creating brown with their paints; we typically refer to this as “muddy”. 

If you’re trying to create a piece with a natural palette, sometimes you want brown…and finding an already mixed brown in the shade or tone you want isn’t always an easy task.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to mix your acrylic paint to make beautiful shades of brown!

What Makes Brown Paint?

Anyone who has ever tried to use too many colors in a fluid art piece or over-manipulated a perfectly good pour can tell you exactly what makes brown! Brown is created by mixing the primary colors together – red, blue, and yellow. If you’ve been painting for awhile, these are likely colors you already have available.

Adjusting the tone and shade of your custom brown paint is just a matter of adding additional colors like white or deep blue.

You can also create brown by mixing a rainbow of colors together; red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Adding a bit more of one over the others will create different tones within your brown.

How to Make Brown Paint Lighter or Darker

To change the tint or shade of your brown, you can simply add white or black; however, this will also change the huge slightly. To get a brown that isn’t flat and shallow, we recommend using a dark navy, purple or even crimson instead. 

To make your brown a little lighter, you can add an opaque white, or try adding lighter reds, blues or yellows ,depending on your desired tone.If you decide to lighten your brown with white, you’ll need to balance it out with your desired primary color to make sure it doesn’t turn beige (unless that’s what you’re going for!).

Browns by the Tone

Let’s dive into the different tones and hues you can create, depending on the color ratios you use.

Cool Brown Paint

cold brown paint

To create a cool brown, you’ll want to mix red, yellow and blue; but, instead of using equal parts, you’ll want to add just a bit more blue. You can add a lighter blue or a darker blue, depending on the shade or tint you’d like the brown to be. The more blue you add, the cooler the brown will be.

If you’re cool brown is too cool, add a little bit of yellow or red to warm it up – just don’t add too much!

Warm Brown Paint

To create a rich, warm brown, you’ll mix your primary colors once more (red, yellow, and blue). This time, you’ll want to add more red, or yellow. As with the cool brown, you can add lighter or darker red, depending on the shade or tint you’d like the brown to be.

If your warm brown is too warm, add a bit of blue to cool it off.

Supplies You’ll Need to Make Brown Paint

Now, let’s go over the supplies you’ll need to mix your own paint!

  • An artist’s palette, a flat piece of wood or plastic, or clear plastic cups. We recommend using an artist’s palette or a flat surface to have maximum control over the mixing process, but you can mix paint in a cup too, if that’s what you have on hand. Using clear cups will help you to see the color better.
  • Palette knife, flat silicone stirring stick or another flexible, flat utensil. A palette knife works well for mixing paint because of its flexibility; if you don’t have one handy, we suggest finding a similar utensil that will flex and bend as you’re mixing.
  • Acrylic paint. Arguably the most important part! You’ll need at least red, yellow and blue to start mixing. If you want to play with tints and shades, you’ll also white, black, or light/dark shades of your dominant color, depending on whether you’re going for warm or cool.
  • Scrap canvas, watercolor paper, or another flat area to test your color. Everything looks different when it’s in the cup or on the palette; the real test of your color will come when it’s on a surface. Have a test surface nearby so that you can see if your brown is just right.
  • Paintbrush. Although most fluid artists don’t use a paintbrush, you’ll need this to test your paint! You should try not to use the brush for mixing, however; try to stick with a palette knife or other flexible flat utensil as suggested above.

Step-By-Step Guide to Mixing Brown Paint

Step 1: Set Up Your Work Area

brown paint mixing

Before you begin, make sure to cover any vulnerable surfaces that you’d rather not get paint on. Mixing paint isn’t exactly an aggressive process, but you never know when a bit of paint will find its way off of your palette knife and onto the kitchen counter!

At this point, you’ll also want to make sure that your palette knife, mixing surface, test surface, and paintbrush are all ready and easily accessible. You can also choose to have a few paper towels or rags closeby to clean off your palette knife in between mixing.

Step 2: Distribute Paint

Next, squeeze out some paint on your mixing surface. If you’re working with cups instead, you can put each color in a separate cup and scoop out as needed. 

If you’re working on a flat surface, make sure that your “piles” of paint are far enough apart to avoid inadvertent mixing. You can also add a bit of your white or darker color to your surface at this point too.

Step 3: Begin Mixing

Once everything is set up and you’ve got your paint piles situated, it’s time to mix!

Scoop equal parts of each color onto a clean area of your mixing surface, piling them together. Then, using a pressing and scooping motion, begin combining your colors with the palette knife. You don’t need to mix too quickly; the key here is to make sure there is a nice, even incorporation of colors, and this takes time. 

You’ll know that your brown is thoroughly mixed when you can no longer differentiate between the colors in the mixture.

Step 4: Add More Color

If you want to make your mixture warmer or cooler, now is the time to add your blue, red or yellow. You’ll want to do this in very small quantities, thoroughly mixing each time. It’s a good idea to use your paintbrush at this point to test between each addition of color by spreading a little bit on your test surface.

During this step, you can also add white or a darker color if desired.

Step 5: Use and Storage

brown paint storage

When you’re happy with your mixed brown color, you can mix it with the medium of your choice and use it as you normally would in your poured paintings.

If you aren’t ready to use it yet or have some left over, make sure to put the paint in a container with a tightly sealed lid to ensure that the paint does not dry out. It can be stored like any of your other paints. If you haven’t made a lot of brown, small plastic portion cups work great for storage!

Final Thoughts on Mixing Brown Paint

There’s something very satisfying about mixing paint; even though it takes a little bit of extra time, watching colors mix and swirl together to create a new, beautiful color is truly enchanting!

Now, a final tip: if you love the color you created, write down your ratios! You don’t want to forget how you made that brown in the future when you want to use it again.

Do you mix your own paint? We’d love to see your custom color creations in our Facebook Group!

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