Color Spotlight: Van Dyck Brown (PBr7)

Daniel Smith – Van Dyck Brown

Van Dyck Brown is a very dark, almost black brown that is rather like a blacker/grayer version of Raw Umber. Most companies make it using a combination of PBr7 (the traditional earth tone pigment that Raw and Burnt Umber are made from) plus a black. Daniel Smith’s version is made from only PBr7.

Experiment Results

Gradient: Gradient is… okay. It’s not horrible, but you can see the brush strokes. Color ranges from a very dark, almost black brown to a lighter grayish brown with moderate granulation. If I thought Raw Umber was a good color for bark around here, this color is ever better because it is more gray.

Opacity: It’s hard to tell because the color is so dark, but I would call it semi-transparent.

Granulation: Lightly granulating. Less so than Raw Umber.

Glazing: Glazes to near-black.

Comparison to Other Brands

Mission Gold – Van Dyke Brown

Mission Gold – Van Dyke Brown (PBr7)

I was pleased that this formulation of VDB is also single-pigment without black, but like many Mission Gold colors it gets real shiny in masstone. Less grayish and less granulating than DS, more of a straightforward dark brown.

Mission Gold’s VDB is more similar to DV Raw Umber in hue, though a bit less green. I find the texture of DV much better (Mission Gold is sticky and shiny).

DV Raw Umber (left) vs Mijello Mission Gold Van Dyke Brown (right)

Color Mixes

Mixes are with Daniel Smith’s VDB.

Monte Amiata Natural Sienna

Monte Amiata Natural Sienna + Van Dyck Brown
Daniel Smith Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7) + DS VDB

MANS is also made from PBr7 but is a much different color, closer to yellow. I like these mixes. The cool yellow-green-brown mix with lots of granulation reminds me of a sun-dappled path. The light dilution is a nice sandy beach gray-tan.

Phthalo Green

Van Dyck Brown + Phthalo Green
Daniel Smith Van Dyck Brown (PBr7) + Da Vinci Phthalo Green (PG7) on Wonder Forest paper

I guess this is about what you’d expect for dark brown and green mixes.


Van Dyck Brown + Viridian
Daniel Smith Van Dyck Brown (PBr7) + Winsor & Newton Viridian (PG18) on Wonder Forest paper

Like Phthalo Green but highly granulating! I think these look cooler and more useful for nature effects.

What Others Say

Liz Steel was my inspiration for trying this one as an alternative to Raw Umber. In her notes on why she chose each color in her palette, these bullet points explain DS VDB:

– Used to use DS Raw Umber… VDB does more stuff!

– Fun granulation

– Use with Indanthrone Blue for darks/black

– I’m always surprised that I use so much

– Note: No black pigment in this version!

Liz Steel

My Overall Review

I wouldn’t say I was blown away by this one, but the handling is far superior to DS Raw Umber, and it is also a more lifelike color for tree bark in my neck of the woods (i.e. often grayish). I think this is a useful convenience color for realistic nature paintings, but personally I prefer the dark gray-browns you can make with Transparent Red Oxide and Ultramarine or Cobalt. As a mixer, I can’t say I’m very into it. The granulation is exciting, but the hues are dull, similar to mixes with black. I’m not really sure I see the advantage of this color being single-pigment (i.e. not a mix with black) when it mixes just like black anyway.

On my palette? No. I tried to include it in my Liz Steel class palette but found I rarely reached for it.

Favorite version: Daniel Smith; interesting granulation, and not shiny in masstone like Mission Gold.