My Secret Earth Tones Aesthetic, with Calming Light Brown Colors
Neutral color palettes and earth tones are a big comeback this year. Beautiful and warm, or subtle and organic nuances, like chocolate browns, undertoned grays, taupes, siennas, sand, terracotta, mustard and sage, they all have been laying dormant for some decades in the decor and style trends, while primary and bold colors claimed the rule. At least officially. (check out Pantone’s color of the year list for the past 20 years).
Earth tones will rule
My prediction is that earthy tones will be hanging out with us for a while. We are all longing to reconnect with nature. And for a good reason. After 2020 and its ravaging pandemic effects, we are waking up to the global reality, that interconnects all of us:
- we are part of nature
- we depend on it
- we impact its course
- our actions reflect onto nature
- and boomerang back to us.
Which brings me back to my favorite new word: eco-consciousness. We are returning to natural colors, post-2020, and this tells a lot about us and our relationship with our planet.
As so eloquently presented by The Nature Conservancy, nature will go mainstream in 2021. I salute the comeback and hope that humanity will re-link its severed ties to the environment.
My gift to you is the ability to remind you, through art and natural colors, that sustainability and nature restoration is the path to recovery, healing and well-being.
Secrets of earth colors
The soothing, relaxing vibes of the natural spectrum of colors deepen our connection with the environment and the ancient rhythms. This secret aesthetic of earth’s colors is the key to our awareness of the true eco-values and the consequences of our own lifestyle. We are at a crossroads in human life and our decisions will mold the outcomes life on earth will take.
This tiny step, this subliminal visual reminder, through the aesthetic of neutral colors, is my humble effort towards a cleaner, healthier planet.
Before I go into some of my favorite earthy color palettes, I wanted to make a distinction between neutrals and naturals:
What are neutral colors?
Well, for starters, true neutrals are actually non-colors. Technically speaking, white, black and any pure gray shade obtained from their mix is colorless (although, in the pigment world, many treat them as colors as well, because the only pure white in existence would be a pure ray of sunlight and the purest black would probably be… a black hole).
Black is the non-existence of light and white is… well white, because you basically see no colors.
That being said, there are a myriad of so-called “colored grays” or gray colors with “undertones”, used frenetically in the interior design world (my favorite designer that deconstructs their secrets and reviews top wall paint brands is Kylie Mawdsley from Kylie M. Interiors). These grays have just a drab of color in them, steering the color towards blue, green, purple, red, beige (hence the “greige” term) and creating a sophisticated and contemporary look into our homes. These colorful grays are going to stay with us in the interior decor world for a long time.
Buuuut, despite my love for all these colorful grays, beige is comin’ back! And that is when the next question arises…
What are natural (earth) tones?
Earth colors, in the LITERAL sense, are pigments that come from earth (from the ground). An to be even more literal, I attached a picture (see above), with some earth-extracted pigments that come from different types of clays and sediments (I bought these Rublev colors many years ago, when I painted some icons in the traditional medieval technique and I wanted to reproduce the old master’s process as closely as I could).
Did you think that soil is just a dull brown?? Take a look a the colors above, and the richness of the colors.
- Yes, soil can be PINK. Pink pipestone. A clay extracted from Minnesota. Care to know why it’s called pipestone? Because Native Americans used to carve pipes out of the solidified clay.
- Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna names originally come from the soil of… you guessed – the Italian city of Sienna.
- And there’s also green earth! How about some glauconite?
But the expression “earth tones” has now gotten a more wide meaning. It comes from all sources of nature:
Think of muted tones that you see around you everyday: the burnt umber brown of a pine tree bark of or the gray hues of a birch; the pinkish opalescent white of washed up seashells; the bright sand on the beach; the amazing red sienna and marigold colors of leaves in autumn.
All of them are uniquely imperfect, a lot of times blending into infinitely sophisticates nuances that delight and calm your senses.
- Earth tones can be subdues hues, with subtle tints, for a calming and serene effect: straw, light ochre, burnt umber, mahogany wood.
- But they can also turn into bolder, chic, deep and evocative colors, like terracotta, burnt sienna, rusty reds, yellow clays. Earth tones can also include green hues, like sage, olive, terre verte.
Here are some of my favorite earthy, yet neutral wall color ideas
Calming light brown colors are not just part of a painter’s palette, but they define the earth tones aesthetic of the interior decor.
There are a multitude of earthy neutrals in the wall paint industry. I’m a big fan of Sherwin-Williams (no affiliation with them), I already painted some of my rooms in SW and I’m going to refinish the rest of my home in SW as well.
Here are my favorite neutral beiges, light browns, and greige wall colors from SW, with their corresponding names below. These colors can go with anything (or match almost anything, in my opinion – including my own creations and wall art).
Instinctively and incidentally, I also used very similar hues in some of my artwork, without ever planning on it. Just because these light browns and beiges are so beautiful in art! (scroll below for some of my own paintings and their corresponding color palettes). I’m also including suggestions for SW wall colors as a supporting color behind my artworks.
Although I love ochres and siennas in my paintings and art prints, I’m not ready yet for full beige/ochre walls. So I opted to list here my favorite wall colors that are either: 1) greige with a hint of beige / light brown / peach and 2) slightly cooler grays, with different undertones.
1. Greige – with a wink of beige, light wall colors I prefer:
- Colonnade Gray – SW7641
- Accessible Beige – SW7036
- Sand Dollar – SW6099
- Canvas Tan – SW7531
- Touch of Sand – SW9085
- Balanced Beige – SW7037
- Natural Tan – SW7567
- Unfussy Beige –SW6043
- Oyster Bar – SW7565
- Interactive Cream – SW6113
- Reticence – SW6064
- Beach House – SW7518
- Irish Cream – SW7537
- Sandbar – SW7547
- Beachcomber – SW9617
- Natural Wool – SW9508
1. My favorite cooler grays and greiges (with taupe, brown, sage or blue undertones):
- Agreeable Gray – SW7029
- On the Rocks – SW7671
- Repose Gray – SW7015
- Essential Gray – SW6002
- Misty – SW6232
- Gray Screen – SW7071
- Knitting Needles – SW7672
- Light French Gray – SW0055
- Big Chill – SW7648
- Mindful Gray – SW7016
- Amazing Gray – SW7044
- Skyline Steel – SW1015
- Pussywillow – SW7643
- Proper Gray – SW6003
- Gateway Gray – SW7644
- Pewter Cast – SW7673
And as promised, here are some neutral color scheme ideas, based on my own art prints
The artworks below are art prints in earth tones and light brown colors, that are available as print-on-demand in a variety of supports (paper, canvas, metal, wood) from my partners (Society6, iCanvas, FineArtAmerica).
I created them with the intent of decorating rooms with earth tones, where the natural, soft, calming and muted quality of these hues can add to the message of eco-friendliness, restoration and nature revival.
I attached color palettes to each of them, as an inspiration for your home decor, but also as a reference, in case you do have similar color schemes in your home.
I love how they look with white frames over greige, gray or beige wall paint, so I attached a few examples and some wall color coordination examples, for an easier reference. Images are clickable.
Carp Fish Swimming in Cloudy Water, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021
This artwork looks good on darker walls, framed with a white or very light frame. My preferred SW wall colors: Pewter Cast, Gateway Gray, Proper Gray, Mindful Gray.
SW Pewter Cast wall color, above.
Butterflyfish in Natural Colors, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021.
This particular artwork matches almost all the warm wall colors I listed above, like Canvas Tan, Accessible Beige, Beach House, Natural Wool. The one I used below is Colonnade Gray:
If you’d rather get a canvas print with no frame, it looks really good on a light cream wall, like SW Aesthetic White, Westhighland White or even a bright, cool, collected Guild Grey.
Green Turtle on the Beach, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021.
This earthy green turtle pretty much goes along with all the warm greige-beige colors in the first diagram, as well as the warm grays in the second color palette. For ex: Skyline Steel, On the Rocks, Repose Gray. Here, I chose a warmer wall, the Beach House, because the reddish undertones complement the greens on the turtle.
Exotic Butterflyfish in Earth Tones, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021.
This guy needs either something to match the background creams and lattes, or a soft yet cooler gray, like Big Chill, Gray Screen, Light French Gray. I went for the former option, and opted for Sand Dollar, which matches almost tone-in-tone with the background colors. And look how nicely it sits with a dark frame:
Pangolin in the Desert, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2020
These deep, rich umbers and siennas, along with the exquisite texture of the pangolin scales, create a fantastic focal point in any room. I played with marble-like ink effects for the soil textures and here is my choice for a wall color to pair with: Irish Cream. Together, the warm hues intensify the desert-like feel. **Some pangolin species are endangered, and my artwork is intended to raise awareness of this issue.
Timber Rattlesnake Swirl, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021.
Not sure the web image can quite capture the amount of detail and minute work that I put into this guy, but this serpent sure took me some time to create. The options for wall colors here are quite diverse: Reticence, Touch of Sand, Agreeable Gray, Pussywillow. I opted for Accessible Beige:
Patriot Fish Swimming in Troubled Waters, art print by Andreea Dumez, 2021
You read it well, an allegorical nature art that speaks about the uncertain times we live in, but also an appeal for nature conservancy and renewed attention to the delicate balance in the oceans. If this artwork speaks to you, I found it matching really well with cool grays with blue undertones, like Misty, Gray Screen, Big Chill. Below, here’s the Misty wall paint, reflecting the marine hues of the fish scales.
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About Andreea Dumez
Hi, I’m Andreea, an illustrator and surface pattern designer, helping people find their inner colors and decor ideas. I’m also a pharmacist (you couldn’t tell, right? 🙂 ), who truly enjoys giving people the power to know and act on their health choices. In that regard, choosing the colors that surround us is in itself a health choice. I talk more about the psychology of colors and how they influence our daily lives on my blog. Find more about me here.