While burnt orange is not a standard colour with a defined appearance, it is widely agreed that it is a dark rustic orange colour, with a distinct auburn appearance. This is important to take into consideration when incorporating it into a colour palette.
This dark orange contains shades of brown and brown-black, making it more dramatic than the standard choice for orange shades. Because of this dramatic, yet naturalistic, colour choice, it can be a bold choice for all sorts of design decisions; making it a project worthy of great consideration before one jumps into matching and contrasting it with other colours on the canvas.
So, what are some of the uses of burnt orange, and how do you design a palette around it?
Autumnal treasures, such as leaves, pine cones, wooden sticks, etc., while being more brown and copper-toned than the usual use of burnt orange, shares many similar traits to it, such as being a more destaurated and relaxed form of orange than, say, most citrus peels.
Other places where you might easily find burnt oranges includes the fur of some breeds of domestic cats, like many Abyssinian cats, who have a solid coat ranging from a coppery colour to a light brown, but largely appear in much the same shade of burnt orange as the more agreed upon uses of the term.
Other animals that have burnt orange coat colours include tigers, Monarch butterflies, Irish setters, and, a type of coat variation of red foxes known as the “cross” fox. These foxes have a coat that is dark orange on the back and sides, which fades into a deep black on their faces and legs. These foxes exemplify the first natural pairing of burnt orange, that which is found in almost all of the animals we’ve listed – full-saturation black.
As used in striping for tigers and pattern borders on the wings of butterflies, a touch of black frames burnt orange and makes it seem all the more bold and eye-catching.
Burnt orange is a very autumnal colour, meaning that it is just as easy to spot outdoors as it is in the world of domesticated animals, although it largely depends on the time of year.
In early autumn, most of the colours that are more widely seen tend towards the warmer end of the spectrum, with bright yellows, saturated oranges, and vivid reds as the leaves begin to lose their colour in preparation for the trees to go into hibernation for the winter, conserving their energy.
However, if one is to look at the same foliage again later in the season, they’d find colours much more like our own burnt orange, with the leaves having grown more desaturated as the season progresses, the yellows more mottled, the reds having a distinct brown undertone, and the oranges looking far more, well, burnt.
At the same time as this, you can find burnt orange colours in all kinds of gourds and pumpkins – not so much the sugar pumpkins you make into pie, but many ornamental pumpkins, who even come in shades of vivacious red in addition to the more aged, burnt-sugar orange that we regard in this colour palette right now. Knowing this, late autumn and early winter is the perfect time to go out and look for autumn treasure hunting and colour inspiration in the natural world.
So, with these sources of inspirations in mind, what are some colours that go well with burnt orange?
Burnt orange, like all shades of orange, tends to be a good match with shades of purple. Because burnt orange is a shade of orange with rather low saturation, this gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of what types of purple you’d like to pair it with.
For example, you can use a soft shade of mauve, also with low saturation, in order to balance out the drama or burnt orange with a more gentle, soft-edged colour. Conversely, you can lean into the theatrics by using a shade of dark, full-bodied plum, creating a palette with high contrast but also a throughline of dark tones.
Other than purple, however, you have the run of the mill when it comes to colour pairings. Some like to put burnt orange in an array of like-type colours, particularly warm tones, in order to complete an autumnal colour palette.
For this effect, you would like to choose other shades of red and yellow with low saturation, since using a high-contrast colour might take away from the focus on burnt orange.
Another natural pairing is to combine this dark orange tone with sage, ochre detailing and cream, similar in pattern to that of autumnal treasure. This combination shows especially well in textile art, as if often the case with burnt orange.
With all of these possible combinations in mind, it would be redundant to say that burnt orange pairs readily with other colours, and that it can be used to create a variety of different moods and atmospheres.
It is a very forgiving colour, coming together with others to make interesting images no matter what, and so long as you respect it as the centre of the palette, it should be a wonderful addition to your next creative endeavour.