Earth colours are defined by their inclusion of all three primary colours red, yellow and blue. Some earth colours are warmer than others because they possess more red than blue and vice versa. But does the artist really need all the earth colours available in oils and acrylics?
My movie clip showing tips on mixing brown. Includes speed art on painting a brown object with a limited palette.
Earth Colours in Painting
The artist does not have to look far to find an array of earth colours in oils, acrylics and alkyds. To name a few, there is yellow ochre, raw sienna, Vandyke brown and burnt umber. Earth colours are defined by their inherent ‘brownness’. In theory, earth colours are not really vital on the palette as they can be mixed via various ratios of red, yellow and blue. But including certain earth colours in the paint collection is handy as time is saved from mixing the same earth colour from scratch. However, I believe some earth colours are more important than others. But firstly, let’s look at the types of earth colours the artist can use.
Brown Pigments in Paint
Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna
Certain earth colours are rather yellowish in bias, such as yellow ochre and raw sienna. Others are reddish, such as burnt sienna and light red. Bluish earth colours include burnt umber and raw umber. I personally find burnt sienna and burnt umber a great inclusion in my oil painting collection as both oppose the other in nature. Burnt sienna is a rather transparent, warm earth colour, great for mixing skin tones, terracotta and sunlight. But it also provides perfect shadow colours when mixed with ultramarine or pthalo blue.
Advice on Using Earth Colors
Cool Earth Colours
Dull Earth Colours
I find many earth colours unnecessary in painting and feel that raw umber and yellow ochre overrated regarding hue. Davy’s grey, Payne’s grey and brown madder are rather dull and overuse could result in flat, dull colours. It might be preferable to mix varying ratios of burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose (with varying amounts of white) a better choice for expressing a glowering scene with browns and blacks or monochrome. Such colours when mixed in varying ratios will produce more interesting browns, greys and blacks than lots of pre-mixed earth colours on the painting.
Browns and Blacks in Painting
Mix permanent rose and burnt umber and a rich, dark brown will result. Mix burnt sienna with ultramarine and an array of brown-neutrals can be produced. In fact, a surprising few pigments are required to create a multitude of interesting browns, neutrals, blacks and greys. Experimenting with varying ratios of a few essential pigments will help the artist understand colour theory and colour behaviour better than if using lots of earth pigments during painting practice.