This post will discuss how you can mix your own earth tones. Earth tones are the browns and ochres such as raw umber, burnt sienna and yellow ochre.
The purpose of this post is not to show you how to replace earth tones on your palette. Instead, it is merely to demonstrate that earth tones are not unique colors which you must purchase separately. In fact, you should be able to mix your own earth tones pretty easily using just a limited palette of primary colors.
Do You Need To Mix Your Own Earth Tones?
You do not need to mix your own earth tones, as you have many premixed options available such as raw umber, burnt umber, burnt sienna and yellow ochre. However, it is important that you to understand what earth tones are and how you can mix them for yourself.
Earth tones are what I would consider to be convenience colors and I suggest you save a spot for at least one earth tone on your palette. You could mix your own earth tone, but it is usually just easier to use a premixed earth tone.
The Versatility Of Earth Tones
Earth tones are extremely versatile colors. In fact, I usually start most of my paintings by staining the canvas with a raw umber or yellow ochre to get rid of the white (white can be difficult to paint on).
You can also use earth tones to:
- Desaturate a color.
- Darken a color.
- Create a natural black by mixing a dark earth tone with ultramarine blue.
- Create a monochrome underpainting.
- Create a brief sketch of your composition.
Are Earth Tones "Ugly" Colors?
Don't fall for the misconception that browns and other earth tones are "ugly" colors. They may not be as brilliant or intense as some colors, but that does not make them any less important.
Remember, try not to think about color in terms of ugly, pretty, beautiful or so on. This is an extremely limited way of thinking about color. Instead, just think about color in terms of hue, value and saturation.
Mixing Your Own Earth Tones
Earth tones are essentially just dulled down colors. Raw umber is a dull and dark orange. Burnt sienna is a dull orange. Yellow ochre is a dull yellow. These colors are actually pretty easy to mix.
First, you just need to mix a general base color.
Second, you should try to match the value of the color. You can darken with blue or black, or lighten with white or yellow. Remember though, when you darken or lighten a color with anything other than black or white, then the hue will also change.
Finally, you will need to adjust the hue and saturation as necessary. To reduce the saturation, you can mix in black, white or the complement of the color.
How To Mix Brown (Raw Umber And Burnt Sienna)
Raw umber and burnt sienna are essentially just dull oranges. You can mix a dull base color using any of the following methods:
- Mix orange with some blue;
- Mix all three primary colors together, with a dominance towards red and yellow; or
- Mix orange with some black.
From there, you can adjust the hue, value and saturation until you have your own raw umber and burnt sienna.
How To Mix Yellow Ochre
To mix your own yellow ochre you can:
- Start with any base yellow. In the picture above I used cadmium yellow.
- Add a touch of red to darken and warm the yellow.
- Add a touch of blue to darken and desaturate the yellow.
- Make any further adjustments as necessary.
Try It Yourself
A great color mixing exercise is to place your earth tones on a palette and try to mix them yourself using just the primary colors plus white and black.
Above is my attempt at this exercise. I mixed my own raw umber, burnt sienna and yellow ochre. This is an excerpt of the Color Theory Masterclass.
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