Some pigments have some amazing qualities, and burnt umber is one of those. In its natural form it is known as raw umber, and when raw umber is heated the colour becomes more intense and is then called burnt umber. The pigment contains iron oxide and manganese oxide: umber comes from the Italian word Umbria, the name of a mountain region in Italy where the pigment was originally extracted. If your paint tube has PBr7 on the labelling, you know you have a natural earth umber. However, any burnt umber I have used, whether the real deal or one that does not contain natural earth colours, have worked the magic quality that this beautiful colour has.  

It would be a useful exercise to make a tonal colour chart of the colour for your records. Start with the lightest tone you can make (a vast amount of water, a miniscule amount of paint) and keep going until you get to a mix with around 98% paint and 2% water. This will confirm the quality that this paint possesses. I have often been asked when I have completed a monochrome study in burnt umber “what colours did you use?” and when I reply “burnt umber” this is often met with surprise.  

The three lovelies above where all completed using the same process. I started with a line drawing and used the colours from light to dark. These take some time but the depth of colour you achieve is one of the most rewarding exercises for any artist to embark upon.