Mix a Range of Browns with Just One Earth Tone

In my article on earth tones, I reviewed some common earth tones that you might have in your palette. But I also stressed that you don’t need all of them; you might just pick your favorites and mix the hues of the others.

So, how exactly do you mix up those various brown hues? If you have only one earth tone, what should it be? Which single earth tone gives you the greatest ability to mix a range of different browns?

To explore this question, I made myself some mixing charts!

Transparent Red Oxide

Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) is one of my favorite earth tones. A rich earth orange, it’s a granulating alternative to Burnt Sienna.

Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) mixes

I’m really happy with the variety here. There is a lot of variation in these different browns.

My favorite is the warm chocolate brown from the mix with Indanthrone Blue (PB60). It’s warm and rich, a nice Burnt Umber hue. The mix with my cyan, Marine Blue (PB16), is much cooler and greener-toned, and could be used in place of Raw Umber. My mix with Ultramarine Deep (PB29) could have had more of the TRO in it; it can be get to a middle gray or dark chocolate brown if appropriately mixed.

The red-brown with Carbazole Violet (PV23) delighted me; it is an interesting deep maroon, similar to an Indian Red hue (but transparent). The mix with my magenta, Quin Magenta (PR122), was a dull sort of brick red that I didn’t find inspiring, but the mix with Quin Coral (PR209) is a nice sort of red-brown/brown madder hue.

I messed up a bit on the mix with Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150), because some of the neighboring mix got in and I added too much water to try to clean it up. It should be more of an orangeish Quin Gold hue. Not really the same thing as Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna, but useful in some contexts.

Burnt Sienna Deep

Da Vinci’s take on a PR101 earth orange is Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101). Although the same pigment as TRO, it’s more orangey and non-granulating.

Color mixes with Da Vinci Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101)

This is a very lively and cheerful rainbow of bold, nongranulating browns. The left side (warm colors) tends very orange, while the right side contains rich, deep browns.

Feisty siennas from Quin Magenta (PR122) and Quin Coral (PR209). I could see these mixes working for red desert rocks. I got a nice glowing Quin Gold hue from the mix with Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150), not too surprising since some commercial Quin Gold hues use these pigments. The mix with Phthalo Green (PG7) is more of an olive green than a brown, not my favorite but a useful color for certain foliage and drab bird plumage.

In the blue part of the circle, we’re really getting into true browns. I’m really loving the Marine Blue (PB16) mix, which is a nice tree-trunk brown, and the super-dark moody Indanthrone Blue (PB60) mix. Ultramarine (PB29) is similar but granulating. I’m wowed by Carbazole Violet (PV23) which mixed a fabulous reddish brown. This might be one of my favorite mixes out of this entire experiment. I had no idea violet made such wonderful browns!

Burnt Umber

One of the many PBr7 traditional earth tones, Da Vinci’s Burnt Umber is a granulating pigment with a medium brown hue that doesn’t look too orange, too yellow, too red, or anything – just straight ahead brown!

Color mixes from Burnt Umber (PBr7)

Burnt Umber perfect subdues each color without significantly changing the hue in most cases. Colors look darker and grayish. A couple of exceptions: My Indanthrone Blue went black, and my Dioxazine Violet (PV23) turned into another gorgeous rich brown!

Transparent Brown Oxide

Also made from PR101, the same pigment as TRO, Daniel Smith’s Transparent Brown Oxide (PR101) has a middle brown hue, making it a highly transparent alternative to traditional burnt umber. TBO granulates slightly, but not as much as TRO or Burnt Umber.

Transparent Brown Oxide (PR101) color mixing wheel

The muted mixes here are the most cohesive, I think; a range of gentle browns that look incredibly nice together. I think one of the reasons for this is that they are similar in value. I struggle to get really deep darks with TBO, even when I mix it with a dark color.

The grey-brown mix with Indanthrone Blue (PB60) is a nice Van Dyke Brown hue. And the mix with Quin Coral (PR209) is a nice earthy orange, similar to unmixed TRO. My favorite brown here is again the red-toned mix with Carbazole Violet (PV23). I’ve been sleeping on Carbazole Violet.

I can see these browns being the muted color palette of a sepia-toned photo or old-timey flashback scene.

Imidazolone Brown

Imidazolone Brown (PBr25) is a smooth, transparent reddish brown. As a non-granulating color, this doesn’t bring any granulation to the table, and the colors will not separate.

Mixes with Imidazolone Brown (PBr25)

Because PBr25 is more of a red-brown, these mixes trend to more reddish/pinkish browns. The mixes with Dioxazine Violet (PV23), Ultramarine Deep (PB29) and Indanthrone Blue (PB60) remind me of red-browns like Indian Red or Violet Iron Oxide. The mix with Quin Magenta (PR122) is basically a crimson. Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150) gives a credible Quin Gold hue. This is a great neutralizer for Phthalo Turquoise (PB16).

This is a good mixer if you want warm browns with no texture.

Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet

Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206), also known as Brown Madder, is a muted, warm, deep red.

Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet mixing chart

Quin Burnt Scarlet is more of a red than a brown, and these mixes are even redder than those with PBr25. Quin Burnt Scarlet is neutralized by my green and cyan, Phthalo Green (PG7) and Marine Blue (PB16), making a cool and warm gray, respectively. It mixes deep maroony-purples with my dark blues, similar to Perylene Violet. The mixes with the pinks look like brick reds.

This one seems to me the least flexible in terms of the neutrals it mixes, because it stays firmly either the red, gray, or purple space, and never really broaches brown, orange, or earth-yellow (unless you basically start with those colors). This could be used in conjunction with an earth yellow (e.g. Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna), or as the main mixer for very red-toned paletted.


This was a fun exercise! I liked being able to look at the range of earth hues all at once, and seeing which combinations made the nicest range.

Keeping my mixers relatively stable also revealed some patterns in their ability to mix nice browns. I knew that Ultramarine Blue (PB29) tended to mix nice granulating gray-brown mixes, but I didn’t expect Dioxazine Violet (PV23) to be a sleeper hit when it came to mixing up such lovely deep, rich, chocolatey browns!

Of these, my favorite mixer was Transparent Red Oxide. It’s just a great balance of versatility and personality. It sits nicely between the attention-hogging orange of Burnt Sienna Deep and the grayish cast of Burnt Umber.

If you could have only one earth tone, what would it be?

2 thoughts on “Mix a Range of Browns with Just One Earth Tone”

  1. I love violet-browns, so my favorite earth is Da Vinci’s Violet Iron Oxide…which you basically mixed the hue of with PV23 and PR101. So it’s not the most necessary color given I also have those two but it, uh, sparks joy. I think Raw Umber really unlocks its full potential with a dab of PV23 as well, going from “cool brown” to “cooooool brown.”

    • That’s great to know about Raw Umber! I never really warmed to it. And yeah, I’m just in love with this combo of PV23 and PR101. I also like Perylene Violet in the “violet brown” hue range.

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