Is it Brown? Is it Blue?

I was recently reading customer reviews on other MUAs (you never do that, right?) and came across an interesting comment:

…….“I told her I wanted brown eyeshadow. When she finished, it was blue. I am a woman of color and I did not want a blue eye! When I complained, the MUA told me that I was wrong! She even pointed to the shadow and said, “Look! It is BROWN.” I think I know blue when I see it. Never use this MUA!!!”…….

For this client, the MUA received a one star rating (the customer said it was a one star because ‘no’ star was not an option). For all the other client reviews for this MUA, they had received 5 stars! 5!!! What happened???? Well, color theory is what happened!

Color theory is the guidance to color mixing and the resulting effects of specific color combinations. 


The first color theory was that the spectrum of color was linear, with red at the halfway point between white and black. Yellow was closer to white on the spectrum and blue was closer to black.  Sir Issac Newton challenged this ancient theory when he discovered the waves of light through a prism (much like a rainbow). Instead of a linear conception of color, Newton developed a closed circle of color, which is the first “color wheel.” And, what I thought was interesting is that the white at the center of the wheel was put there by Newton to represent all the colors into white light. Anyway, because of the color wheel, we as artists are able to better understand the relationships of color to one another.

So, what is brown? Brown is the result of a mixture of the three primary colors –red, yellow and blue. As such, depending on the ratio of the individual base colors, we can get an infinite number of visual tones, depths and ranges of “brown”. In the example above, it is very likely that the brown the MUA chose had a strong base of blue. The blue would have dominated, and especially if a primer was not used, meaning the shadow could in fact appear – blue! In addition, some shadows change hues over time. Even when the brown initially appears brown, as the day goes on, the blue, red or yellow base can become dominant. This is especially true for people with oily skin. Think of adding water to dry sand.

So, what to do? First, use a primer. This is the best way to bring out the true tone of the brown.  Second, try adding some extremely warm tones (the red/yellow side of the wheel) to balance the blue. Third, take some time to test your pallets. If you swipe the color on and wait an hour, the underlying dominant pigment may reveal itself. Third, if you do not have time to test all of your browns (I admittedly have not), at least consider the customer’s opinion when she tells you it looks blue. Customer relations rule #101 – the customer is always right!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know if there is any subject you would like me to research!




Edwards, Betty. Color: A course in mastering that art of mixing color. 2004.