How to Paint in Sepia

Written by gabrielle black
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How to Paint in Sepia
Images created with sepia colours have a soft, old-fashioned feel to them. (tree in sepia image by Dumitrescu Ciprian from

Sepia-toned photographs and paintings evoke a nostalgic, vintage mood from viewers because this technique was first introduced in photography in the mid-1800s. Using sepia toning while painting is a monochromatic exercise because it allows the artist to essentially paint in black and white, only substituting sepia tones for the black. You can create any painting using this technique; paint the darkest tones and shadows with a deep brownish-grey sepia, and use lighter tints of sepia for the medium-coloured areas.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Canvas
  • Pencil
  • Sepia paints
  • White paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Palette

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  1. 1

    Draw the basic images that you wish to paint lightly on your canvas, using a pencil.

  2. 2

    Mix up a light tint of sepia on the palette by combining a very small amount of sepia paint with a larger amount of white paint. Blend the colour with a paintbrush. Apply this tone of paint to the canvas in the lightest areas.

  3. 3

    Mix up varying degrees of middle or medium tones of sepia using different amounts of sepia and white paints. Mix each of these colours in a different part of the palette. Apply the medium tones to the canvas in the appropriate places. If the shapes have areas that have a gradation between a light and middle tone, put just a little of the darker colour on the canvas and blend with the brush toward the light tone, combining the two colours on the canvas.

  4. 4

    Mix up the darkest sepia tone. This should be for the dark shadows or areas on a colour picture that would be black. Apply this colour to the canvas in the appropriate places. Blend gradations in the same manner as for the medium tone.

  5. 5

    Apply pure white to the canvas sparingly to provide highlights and points of interest.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a source image to work from if you are a beginner.

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