How to Paint in Sepia

Updated February 21, 2017

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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


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

Things You'll Need

  • Canvas
  • Pencil
  • Sepia paints
  • White paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Palette
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About the Author

Gabrielle Black has been a professional writer, artist and designer since 2002. Her theatrical designs, puppet design and construction have been featured in "Theatre Design & Technology" magazine and she has written numerous articles for various websites. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Luther College and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Idaho, both in stage design and painting.