Earth Tones and Unsaturated Colors

I had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to put the earth tone colors in order. I had to disassemble my color strip book and remove those colors so I wouldn’t be confused by the more saturated paints.

Color strip book with unsaturated colors

Unsaturated and Earth Tone Color Strip Book

The problem

I started today’s experiment with the idea of playing with unsaturated colors. I ended up however, concentrating on the brownish earth tones, primarily. In my experiments, I started with unsaturated reds because I noticed that some of the earth tone browns have a reddish hue. I tried to arrange the the browns from the reddish to the yellowish, to the orange-ish shades.

It was frustrating. There are a lot of issues. For instance, with Quinacradone Nickel from M. Graham, the yellow comes out very strongly in a thin application. With less water, it is less yellow. Therefore, pigment concentration is a factor. Secondly, it may be that my perception is not attuned to the subtleties of shades of brown, but I have a hard time putting the browns in order of hue. I can definitely tell whether a brown is on the yellow, red or purplish side, but I haven’t been able to put them in order of the spectrum (as yet).

Today’s experiments:

Experiment #1

I became so frustrated with my first attempt at ordering the earth tones, that I applied a clear-water wash to see if anything better would emerge. It didn’t.  Oh well, not all experiments are successful.

Watercolor Experiment with earth tones, from the redder tints to the yellow tints

Earth Tone Experiment #1
5″x7″ 140# Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper


Experiment #2

I used a small round brush for this experiment instead of the flat brush for the experiment above and for the yesterday’s experiments with the saturated reds and blues. The results of this experiment were not satisfying to me either. The order of the pigments was not correct.

Watercolor experiment #2 with earth tones, using small brush

Earth Tone Experiment #2
5″x7″ 140# Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper


Experiment #3

I used my small brush again, this time to make little slanted lines. I believe I put the colors in proper order from the bottom of the paper to the Buff Titanium about halfway up the page. I repeated the colors to complete the experiment.

Watercolor experiment in putting earth tone colors in order

Earth Tone Experiment #3
4″x6″ 140# Watercolor Paper

I think I got the colors in proper order. Starting from the bottom: 1) Rose Madder Permanent; 2) Permanent Alizarine Crimson; 3) Winsor Red Deep; 4) Indian Red (Winsor Newton); 5) Brown Madder; 6) Burnt Sienna; 7) Burnt Umber; 8) Quinacridone Nickel (M. Graham); 9) Raw Sienna; 10) Yellow Ochre; 11) Buff Titanium.

In conclusion, I learned that the earth tones, although unsaturated themselves, should be treated separately from other unsaturated colors. Also, given my difficulty in determining the nuances among the different shades of earth tones, I should probably mix my own shade of brown, should I need one in a painting. To do that, I would start with the reds, blues and yellows I am already using, and mix the proportions according to the requirements of the painting.

Quick question: What is the complementary color of brown?

2 thoughts on “Earth Tones and Unsaturated Colors

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