Burnt Sienna

Long before humans discovered other ways of creating paints, stains, and dyes, they were able to produce pigments from dried, powdered clay soils. This practice is so ancient that both early modern humans and Neanderthals engaged in it with some indications of use as far back as 200,000 years ago. In its unaltered form, one of these clays possesses a yellowish-brown color and is known as Raw Sienna. When exposed to heat, it changes to a dark reddish-brown material known as Burnt Sienna.

Burnt Sienna – Color Codes

Burnt Sienna Background

Burnt Sienna is similar to red ochre in relying on iron oxide as the main ingredient for generating a reddish hue. With Burnt Sienna, heat removes moisture from the iron oxide to produce hematite. This accounts for the stronger red hue in Burnt Sienna, but a second ingredient, manganese oxide at between one and five percent, gives it a deeper, darker color compared to red ochre. The resulting pigment has been used in cultures throughout history including ancient Egypt and Rome. Among the Romans, it was referred to as terra rossa which translates into red earth. With the main deposit of the material near the Italian city of Siena, the pigment became associated with the city during the Renaissance. The name Burnt Sienna was coined in English in the late 18th century. As the original source of the clay became depleted, other sites including the Appalachian mountains have supplied the natural form of the pigment. More often, a synthesized version is sold to artist made from iron oxide.

Psychology of Burnt Sienna

Burnt sienna is considered a form of brown, and this color is mentally associated with wood like that used to construct residential housing and interior furnishings like tables and chairs. As such, brown hues elicit feelings of security and comfort. There’s also a sense of rough simplicity that comes from it being an earth tone. Because wood is often included in high-end luxury items, richness is attached to brown as well. Burnt sienna isn’t just a brown hue, though. This color also relies on red to create its warm glow. Red is an energetic color that triggers excitement, sensuality, and action. It also strongly hints at passionate dissatisfaction with the status quo. When red and brown meld together to create Burnt Sienna, the red component adds an intense passion to the desire for home and hearth or for the natural world provoked by brown. This color generates a need to interact with these environments rather than passively observe them.