How Do You Make Earthy Brown?

Earthy brown is a rich, natural shade that evokes a sense of warmth, comfort and organic realness. It typically has undertones of red, yellow or orange mixed with brown or black pigments. There are many different ways to produce an earthy brown color depending on the look and feel you want to achieve. It can be made by mixing paint colors, utilizing natural pigments, adjusting color balance, choosing certain art media, adding texture, and more.

Mixing Paint Colors

One of the easiest ways to create an earthy brown color is by mixing red, yellow, and black paint. By adjusting the ratios of these three primary colors, you can mix a wide range of rich, natural brown tones.

Start with a warm red like cadmium red and a golden yellow like cadmium yellow. Then add just a touch of black paint. Experiment with different combinations, using more red than yellow for a deep reddish-brown, or more yellow than red for a golden-brown.

Adding more black will darken the brown to charcoal and chocolate hues. Use a heavy hand when mixing the paints to fully incorporate the colors together into a uniform new shade.

Aim for a muted, dusty color rather than bright primary tones. The more paint colors blend together, the more subtle and complex the new shade will become.

Using Natural Pigments

Some of the most natural ways to make earthy brown hues are by utilizing pigments found in nature. Soil, clay, and rocks have high concentrations of iron oxides and organic matter that impart rich earth tones. Depending on where the soil originates from, the color can range from yellowish browns to deep red browns. Artists will often collect soil samples from different locations to achieve a palette of natural earth tones.

Clay deposits are another excellent source of brown pigment. The natural iron oxide content in clays gives them a warm, earthy tone. Clays can be dug up, dried, and ground into a fine powder to make paint. Different clay compositions and mineral contents will produce brown shades with more red, yellow, or grey. Some clays to look for are ochre, sienna, and umber. When fired at high temperatures, clays also produce terra cotta and rust colored glazes.

Interestingly, brown pigment can also be obtained from brewing certain organic materials into a concentrated tea or tincture. Strong black tea, coffee grounds, and aged tree bark are commonly used. As the organic matter steeps, tannins are released which can be used as a natural brown dye or paint wash. The longer the tea brews, the darker the brown color will become. Tea stained watercolors and coffee painted surfaces are classic examples of how these pigment brews can create lovely earthy brown tones.

Adjusting Color Balance

One way to adjust the color balance when mixing an earthy brown is by adding complementary colors on the color wheel like blue, orange, purple or green. Adding just a touch of a complementary color will subtly shift the brown’s hue and saturation. Blue-green complements will cool down a warm brown while orangey complements will warm up a cool brown. Keep the complementary additions subtle, usually no more than 10-20% of the total mix.

You can also darken or lighten a brown by adding black, white or grey. Adding black will create a rich, dark earthy brown. Greys will mute and soften the tone. Go slowly when adding black or grey, a little bit goes a long way. Start with 5% or less and gradually add more if needed. Adding white will lighten the brown towards beige or tan. Make sure to neutralize any unwanted color casts by balancing the complementary additions if the black, white or grey skew the original hue.

Choosing Art Media

When creating an earthy brown color, the art media you choose can impact the final result. Oils, acrylics, and watercolors are good options for mixing rich earth tones. Pastels and colored pencils also lend themselves well to creating natural, earthy hues.

Oils allow you to easily blend colors directly on the canvas or palette for smooth transitions. The thick consistency of oil paints enables layering for dimensional browns with subtle variation. Acrylics can also be mixed right on the palette or canvas, and dry quickly to allow faster layering. Watercolors produce transparent glazes perfect for delicate earth tones in natural backgrounds.

For drawing or dry media, pastels offer a velvety texture and wide range of soft earth tones. Their dense pigment readily mixes on the page to form natural secondary colors. Colored pencils can burnish and blend to make multifaceted earthy hues. Their precision is ideal for detailed realism.

Incorporating Texture

Texture is key for capturing the natural, organic feel of earthy browns. To add dimension and visual interest, incorporate art materials with different textures and graininess. Some options to try:

  • Mix in sand, sawdust, or finely crushed bark to add grittiness and roughness.
  • Use natural sponges, crumpled paper, or textured fabrics to apply paint for subtle or dramatic unevenness.
  • Sculpt or carve patterns into clay or thick paint to emulate the cracks and grooves found in nature.
  • Apply washes and dry brush techniques to mimic the look of weathered wood and stone.

Experiment with rubbing plates, stamps, and stencils to imprint wood grain, leaf veins, animal hide patterns, and more. Distressing tools like wire brushes and rusting solutions can also introduce aged, timeworn textures. For an organic, multi-layered look, combine complementary coarse and smooth textures.

Examples in Nature

The most obvious examples of earthy brown colors can be found in nature all around us. The rich brown hues of soil, bark, moss and animal fur showcase the vast array of natural pigments that produce an earthy brown palette.

Different types of soil contain varying ratios of iron oxides, organic matter, and mineral salts that contribute to soil colors ranging from reddish terra-cotta to deep chocolaty brown. The reddish brown color of clay soils comes from iron oxide, while richer blackish brown soil gets its color from decayed organic material.

Tree bark also utilizes the natural pigments found in soil. Softwood trees like pine and cedar have brown and gray bark that helps protect the tree. Hardwoods like oak and maple have thicker, more rugged bark in earthy browns, tans and reddish hues. Over time the bark changes color, with some trees taking on a blackish-brown hue.

Mosses and lichens that grow on trees and rocks also exemplify earthy colors. Their greens contain yellow and brown undertones, sometimes ranging towards an olive drab. Different moss species can exhibit brownish-orange to almost black shading.

Animal fur like deer, foxes and bears also pulls in earth tones. Their fur ranges from reddish browns to almost black brown, with individual strands of hair containing bands of contrasting hues. The variations in color and texture found in nature inspire and inform our own human creations.

Examples in Interior Design

Earthy browns can add a natural, organic look to any interior space. Here are some ways to incorporate this color in home decor:

Paint – An earthy brown paint color on walls can create a warm, cozy feel. Go for a light neutral brown for a subtle look or try a deep chocolate brown to make a bold statement. Matte or flat paint finishes emphasize the natural quality.

Furniture – Wood furniture, such as dining tables, beds and dressers, showcase beautiful brown wood grains. Upholstered sofas or chairs in textured earth-tone fabrics also fit with the earthy style. Wicker furniture in brown weaves adds texture.

Textiles – Layer rugs, pillows, throws and curtains in shades of brown. Try natural fibers like wool, cotton and jute fordurability. Use organic patterns like stripes, solids and subtle prints.

Accessories – Bring in vases, trays, baskets and bowls made of ceramic, wood, rattan and other natural materials. Botanical prints, driftwood art and neutral artwork keep with the earthy vibe.

Examples in Fashion

Earth tones are very popular in fashion and clothing. They provide a natural, organic look that pairs well with different styles and trends. Some ways earth tones are incorporated into fashion include:

Earth tones in clothing – Items like pants, dresses, shirts, jackets and more come in earth tone colors like olive green, russet, ochre and umber. These muted shades complement different skin tones. Earth tone clothing has an earthy, bohemian vibe.

Leather, suede, linen – Natural fabrics like leather, suede and linen commonly use earth tone dyes. Different shades of brown leather jackets, skirts, shoes and handbags are stylish. Suede in camel, mocha or chestnut brown is on-trend. Linen clothing and fabrics pick up earthy dyes well. These textures enhance the earthy look.


In summary, there are many techniques for creating an earthy brown color. You can mix complementary paint colors like red and green or adjust the color balance by adding more yellow, black or white. Using natural pigments from clay, spices, or plants can create an organic, earthy brown. The texture of your art media, whether paint, pastels, or fabric, can also enhance the earthiness of the color. Examples of earthy browns are found abundantly in nature, interior design and fashion. With some experimentation, you can find creative ways to incorporate this versatile, grounded hue into your projects.

Some creative ways to use earthy brown include:

  • Painting tree trunks and rocks in a landscape scene
  • Dyeing textiles or yarn for weaving and embroidery
  • Glazing pottery with natural clay slips
  • Making paint washes for watercolor backgrounds
  • Using powdered pigments to tint lip balms and cosmetics
  • Decorating walls, furniture and accessories in rustic, natural styles
  • Designing packaging with kraft paper and twine accents

With some inspiration from the earth, you can find many artistic ways to utilize the warmth, depth and versatility of earthy browns.

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