Class Notes: What Color Is Brown?

The mixing recipe for BROWN is the most often asked question in my classes. Students who have been with me for awhile have learned - even asking makes me a little testy.
BUT it isn't a dumb question.
When seeing neutrals, the temptation is to give them the generic title of BROWN or GREY,  but these terms give no real indication of the color you are seeing in the landscape or trying to mix on the palette.
By definition NEUTRALs are ANY color greyed down, or muted by it's complement. Cool neutrals are lumped together as GREYS and warm neutrals fall into the sad BROWN category. Both can kill a painting if used without understanding; conversely, sensitive neutrals can create work of mixing mastery.
But, the question still hangs out there - "How do I mix brown?"
The simple answer: mix complements together - 2 colors directly across from each other on the color wheel.
Before we even get that far - try giving that "brown" you are thinking about a name based on the color wheel.  Is it close to a yellow, orange, red, violet, blue or green?

Learning to see and understand the relative nature of color and NEUTRALS is part of the artists journey.
And mixing color is not a short drive to the market. It can turn into an extended road trip, full of unexpected discoveries, dead ends, wrong turns, and very lost moments. Embrace it!
So, how do we start?
Get rid of terms that do not "describe".
If something appears "brown" or "grey"- describe it with a color on your palette.
We use a limited palette in my classes: 2 yellows, 2 reds, 2 blues. What color is it most like?
Say that color and begin mixing it using that color as a base.
All  BROWNs and GREYs -  must have some color base.
Is it cool, meaning green, blue or violet based?
Or is it warm, meaning yellow, orange or red based?
Learning to SEE the color is the first step to identifying and correctly mixing color.  It all leads to better understanding of color and  your work will not only take on a more lively look but your neutrals will be more varied and sensitive.