Voir sépia

Color Story Sepia icon

This earth tone has one foot in the past and the other in the future

When you think of sepia, what comes to mind? Would it be ink drawings by Leonardo da Vinci? The murky loveliness of sunrise when all the darks and lights mix together? Maybe you think of aged photos or the opening scenes in The Wizard of Oz? What about home décor and off-the-runway wardrobe? Or perhaps it’s all of the above?

Sepia color story: Photo by Paul Guillotel on Unsplash

Photo by Paul Guillotel on Unsplash

A Brown Apart

Nestled between raw umber and sienna, sepia transcends time and artistic expression, infusing a sense of history into almost any piece. Consider The Boulevards of Paris by William Henry Fox Talbot.

We see a busy 19th-century Parisian street, with several horse-drawn carriages in front of stately homes. It’s a photo, which in the 1840s was a new technology.

The subjects captured in the shot establish a certain moment in history. But at least to the modern eye, the sepia tone reinforces the sense of time passing, of a moment not to be forgotten.

Sepia color story: The Boulevards of Paris by William Henry Fox Talbot 1843; salted paper print, 6⁹⁄₁₆×6¾ from the National Gallery of Art, DC

The Boulevards of Paris by William Henry Fox Talbot 1843 / National Gallery of Art, DC

That timelessness makes sepia a classic color for contemporary culture. From fine art to film, from fashion to home furnishings, sepia adds a level of sophistication to everything it touches.

Fifty Shades of Brown

There are more than 50 colors in the brown family. What better way to explore brown’s diverse offerings than by pulling out those watercolors of yours and letting them run?


Getty Images

It’s All In the Name

Sepia ink was traditionally made from pigment taken from the ink sac of the common cuttlefish. In fact, the word “sepia” is itself derived from the Greek for “cuttlefish.”

Ethan Daniels / Getty Images

Ethan Daniels / Getty Images

Luxury That Inspires

Denis Ribas created a sumptuous sepia surface in his painting, Bunch of Sunflowers. The painting was made with Charvin colors, which are triple-milled and lightfast.

The paints are loved by plein air painters and perfect for alla prima painting, in which an artist paints a work all in one go.

Sepia color story: Bunch of Sunflowers by Denis Ribas

Bunch of Sunflowers by Denis Ribas

Sepia color story--charvin pigments

With Charvin pigments, all the colors or nature are right at your fingertips. Read the reviews and see the artists who use them. Try them for yourself and discover how this luxury range of artists paints can elevate your time in the studio.

Down to Earth

Relax in a Midcentury Modern leather chair from West Elm. Keep it earthy in Max Mara line devoted entirely to, you guessed it, brown. Accessorize with the best of them with a leather bag in a sepia-family hue from Frye.

Model: Antonio De Moraes Barros Filho / Getty Images; Chair courtesy of West Elm; Bag courtesy of Frye.

Model: Antonio De Moraes Barros Filho / Getty Images; chair courtesy of West Elm; bag courtesy of Frye.

Not a Day Over 900

Centuries (upon centuries) may have worn down the carved faces on the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, in Cambodia, but it’s still a powerful sight. Once the capital of an empire, Angkor Thom and the surrounding sites are now a well-traveled tourist destination for thousands every year.

Sepia color story: Paul Biris / Getty Images

Paul Biris / Getty Images

Sepia in the City

Take a stroll in the Fort Greene district of Brooklyn, New York, and feast your eyes on the elegant brownstones. As popular 19th-century building material, brownstone is actually a sandstone. Triassic-Jurassic sandstone to be exact.

Busa Photography / Getty Images

Busa Photography / Getty Images

Article contributions by Michael Woodson. 

Show us your sepia-inspired art for a chance to win a bundle of art swag! Follow and tag us on Instagram @artistmagazine%C2%A0using” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Learn more here.

Color Theory

Sepia is only one of the dozens of colors there are — and that is just the browns! To paint every color you encounter with ease, Color Theory Made Really Easy says it all.

You will get secret formulas for eye-popping color in this easy-to-grasp crash course in color identification and mixing. It will make all your visions literally come true–and in every hue and shade you want!

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