The Color Brown: Plain, Predictable, and Safe

Published Jun. 15th 2007


Coffee beans

Brown isn’t a primary, secondary, or tertiary color; instead it’s actually a dark orange or a neutral red, and doesn’t appear on the painter’s color wheel.

What the color brown means to us psychologically:
We see the color brown as boring and predictable; there’s nothing ever outrageous or unsettling about brown. It’s a natural color too, so like green it makes us think of nature and the outdoors, specifically trees, dirt, and mud.

Brown is also the color of many foods, but when we’re not looking at the food itself, brown usually isn’t that appetizing—in fact, brown is boring enough that designers and decorators will often refer to shades of brown as “chocolate,” “coffee,” etc., in order to make them seem richer and more appealing.

Is brown a “girl color” or “boy color?”
Neither. Brown has no gender connotations whatsoever.

Brown in society:
UPS Logo Because brown is usually considered “boring” and “safe,” it’s used less often in society.

However, there is one notable exception. UPS (the United Parcel Service) uses brown to emphasize reliability and service, embracing its “predictable” and “boring” qualities.

And of course the one quintessential brown item in society is the brown paper bag, a staple of any grocery store.

Pigments that make up brown paint:
Brown pigments are usually found in the ground and include Iron Oxide (or synthetic Iron Oxide) along with other earth pigments like Natural Ochre and Natural Umber.

Common brown oil paints:
Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, and Burnt Sienna are three common brown paints, although many artists mix their own browns as well. Check out this article on mixing neutral colors if you’d like to know more about that.

Famous brown paintings:
The cubist painter Georges Braque often painted with a palette of browns and neutrals. This one is entitled The Emigrant.

The Emigrant by Georges Braque

Did you like this article? Share it!
Then check out the related posts below.
If you're an oil painter then you know that mixing neutral colors like brown or black can be just as tricky as any other color. And although it might seem easy enough to just use them straight from the tube, those basic blacks and browns are probably TOO neutral for the colors that you're tryi. . . read more
Orange is one of three secondary colors along with green and purple. Its traditional complementary color is blue, which sits directly opposite it on the painter's color wheel. What orange means to us psychologically: The color orange is a visually dominant color, mixing the brightness of yell. . . read more
Black isn’t a primary, secondary, or tertiary color. In fact, black isn’t on the artist’s color wheel and usually isn't considered a color at all. Instead, black appears when you bring ANY color to it’s darkest value (although that's not always possible with oils.) What the color black means . . . read more
Red is one of three primary colors along with yellow and blue. It's the complementary color of green and sits opposite to it on the traditional artists color wheel. The psychological meaning of red: Red has always been symbolic of blood and life. The universal color of blood binds us all toge. . . read more
Green is made by mixing blue and yellow, and is a secondary color. It's also red's opposite and complementary color on the traditional artist's color wheel. The meaning of green: Trees, grass, and shrubs are all predominantly green, which links the color permanently to nature and makes it a sy. . . read more
Stay current.
Subscribe to EmptyEasel's free weekly newsletter for artists. Sign up today!
CanvasFlyer
Art Contests
More art contests. . .
EE Writers
Alyice Edrich Cassie Rief Steff Metal Niki Hilsabeck Brandi Bowman Michelle Morris Lisa Orgler Adriana Guidi Carrie Lewis Aletta de Wal Erin SparlerLuke Montgomery

If you'd like to write for EmptyEasel, let us know!

We love publishing reader-submitted art tutorials, stories, and even reviews.Submit yours here!