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

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