Mixing Burnt Umber

Does anyone ever mix their own burnt umber from Mark's three primaries?  If I do that, what problems will I run into using it?  Any?  

I realize that mixing my own costs more because the red, yellow, and blue pigments are more expensive than a burnt umber pigment.  

I'm beginning to make my own paint and briefly considered making only the three primaries plus white and then mixing my burnt umber from those until I considered the cost.  


  • TedBTedB -
    edited October 2020
    The greatest drawback of a burnt umber replicated from primaries is it typically won't be dark-enough in value and still remain a "brown".  And quality burnt umber is quite affordable...and useful.  I prefer having a very dark tubed-burnt umber and Paynes Gray as clean warm and cool darks to mix light-to-dark valued neutrals from before tinting them for hue and chroma.
  • If you are a plein air painter, carrying extra paint gets heavy.  If you are a studio painter, it doesn't make any difference.  Just my thought for the day.
  • edited October 2020
    I can't imagine why anyone would use expensive pigments to make earth colours that are so cheap. Seems like such a waste to me. The umbers, ochres and red oxides are beautiful, permenant, powerful , great mixers and dirt cheap. Why would anyone want to mix them? Why make yellow ochre, for example, from cadmium yellow (very expensive) , blue and brown when you can just squeeze it ready made by nature out of a tube? It's only rarely that I need to use expensive pigments like the cadmiums in my landscapes and, when I do, only tiny amounts are needed. The cheap, natural earth colours can get you most places very efficiently and cheaply. 
  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 2020
  • @oilpainter1950 hit on my motive.  I do a lot of "remote" painting including plein air and studio.  Also going back and forth to lessons.  I also do gallery-sitting at the different art groups where I am a member.  

    I'm trying to figure out ways to minimize weight.  It's sort of like the backpackers working hard to shave weight out of their gear.  
  • edited October 2020
    Why not buy a extra large tube of a good student grade Burnt Umber (Winton, Van Gogh, etc..) and then squeeze out a pile onto the palette before you go out (with your other tubes).

    That way you don't have to take an extra tube and any you don't use on the day is not much of a waste as the Burnt Umber in this form is so inexpensive.
  • @Richard_P good suggestion!  

    I use the sealed palettes from Masterson, so I can easily do that.  Haven't tried the student grade paints, but I've noticed that my teacher has a few tubes of Winton.  

  • edited October 2020
    Earth colours tend to be so cheap for the pigment that the best student grades I've tried in Yellow Ochre and Red Iron Oxides are indistinguishable from their Artist grade equivalent.
  • @Richard_P I just found the drying time tests you did.   That caused me to wonder how a mixed burnt umber would compare to a tubed burnt umber in drying time?
  • Slower, especially if you mixed with a slow drying carbon black. It's the manganese element in Burnt Umber that causes it to dry fast.
  • Several replies here hit the high points very well . . . drying time and cost.  If you haven't tried it, I'd like to recommend Williamsburg's burnt umber.  It's a fast dryer, and one of the most chromatic burnt umbers available today.
  • My problem is that I want a slow-drying burnt umber sometimes.  In those cases, I mix it from the more expensive pigments.  Compared to the amount of cheaper pigment that I lose because it dries out on the palette while I am working on a painting, it comes out about even.

    My opinion is that a mixed burnt umber with a small amount of waste is about equal to using a cheaper pigment.

    "You pays yo' money and you takes yo' choice!"  LOL
  • I read some time ago that several of the Rome academies before WW1 would turn their first-year painting students loose in the city en plein air to sketch-paint with just burnt umber and flake white.  This had several advantages; they weren't distracted with chroma nor hue and would concentrate on light, form and value: it was cheap so they could paint a lot to develop their technique; and the maganese drier in the burnt umber hastened the drying times.  The article didn't say, but I suspect it was on prepared millboard or paper, not stretched canvas, to keep it inexpensive.  These were likely ephemeral works as studies to bring back to class for the Master's critique so longevity wasn't an issue...   
  • TedB, I like the look of monochrome value paintings too.  I enjoy doing them and see them. 

    Brunaille lis the technique of doing the painting exclusively in brown.  I learned from Amanda Lovette to do a brunaille as an underpainting and then add color on top of that.   I frequently like the look of the underpainting better than I do my finished painting!  

  • The problem with mixing it out of primaries is that real BU is what it is, but if you use primaries it has those other colours in it and they will not add the colour to your mix that BU will.  So if you wanted to tone down yellow mixing in a BU made of RBY will make it go muddy or grey.   Because you are adding RB to it.  But Mark calls real BU a dark yellow he has a whole video on that.  And the same will apply to using it with other colours.

    I think the problem of weight is trivial as you can put it in a syringe or baggie.

    Winton paints are fine.  The problem one gets into is when one tries to mix weak paints with artist grade paints.  People will often buy the artist grade paints that are cheap and then get the expensive ones in some hue or just lightly pigment loaded.    But in some cases you can play this if for some reason you find the artist grade version of something too strong for whatever you are doing, so long as the cheap one uses the same pigment.

    And the other problem is that there are not as many colours and some of the primaries will be mixes and that produces the problems allude to mixing a BU out of RBY.  You get pollution.
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