Thinking about this month’s furrows painting project (instructions here), and how Vincent van Gogh might have painted “interesting browns”, led me to searching the Van Gogh Museum website where I came across this painting which I think fits the project rather well:
In his letter to his brother Theo of 25 September 1888, Van Gogh drew a sketch of his painting, describing it as “canvas of ploughed fields.. A blue sky with white clouds. An immense field of an ashy lilac, furrows, innumerable clods of earth, the horizon of blue hills and green bushes and small farmsteads with orange-coloured roofs.“
He mentions it again in another letter to Theo written the next day: “the clods of earth were soft in colour, like a pair of clogs … with the forget-me-not sky with its flecks of white cloud.” In a letter a few days later he describes the painting as “calmer than some other canvases.”
The colours are all desaturated (that is muted, not intensely colourful), but look at the variety used to paint the ploughed soil. It’s the variety of colours that makes it visually interesting, along with the brushwork (look at the size of brushstrokes as well as the directions). Browns that lean into yellow, orange, red, and green, plus blue- and green-greys. Individually the colours may not sing a strong tune, but collectively they’re melodious.
Don’t aim to mix one ‘perfect brown’ that you’d then use for all the ploughed earth, but to create a range of ‘nearly brown’. Squint at the photo and you’ll see there’s a limited tonal range; it’s all about the gently variations in colour.