Painting Skin Tones
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What paint colors are best for my skin?
The exact colors you use to paint the skin tones and the number will depend on your personal preferences and style. The only thing for sure is that having a tube or two of paint labeled "skin color" (names vary by manufacturer) will not be enough.
The painting shown in the photo is a "Light Portrait Pink" acrylic tube, produced by Utrecht. It is a mixture of three pigments: naphthol red AS PR188, benzimidazole orange PO36, and titanium white PW5. I have had it for about 15 years and as you can see I have only used it a little. I find it too pink to be useful for any skin tone, even when mixed with other colors. Maybe one day I'll use it for a sunset rose painting?
My favorite colors to mix the whole range of skin tones are:
- Titanium white (in watercolor, the paper acts as white)
- Titanium enhancement
- Cadmium yellow (medium or dark)
- Cadmium red
- Toasted Sienna
- Raw shadow
- Prussian blue
- Payne's gray (not essential, but useful)
If you don't like using cadmium pigments, replace them with your preferred red and yellow. The advantages of cadmium red and cadmium yellow are that they are both warm colors and have a very strong coloring power (so a little goes a long way). It's worth trying all the reds and yellows you have to see the results you get.
Blue can also be the one you prefer. I love Prussian blue because it is very dark when used thick, but very transparent when used thin.
These are certainly not the only options available to you. Everyone develops their personal preferences over time. Experiment with gold ocher, deep purples, ultramarine blues, and greens. Also, pay attention to the underlying skin color of your model (not the dominant skin tone). Is it hot or cold red, bluish, cold or warm yellow, golden ocher, or what? If you have trouble seeing this, look at the color of different people's palms and compare yours to yours.
Color mixing tip: A little bit of a darker color mixed with a lighter one has a much greater impact than the same amount of light mixed with a dark one. For example, the shadow is added to yellow instead of yellow to shadow.
Create a value or tone scale (realistic skin tones)
Before you start with your first painting or portrait, you need to take control of the colors you are going to use. Paint a scale of values on a small sheet of paper or a map, gradually fading from light to dark.
Note the colors you use and the proportions at the bottom of the scale (or at the back when the paint is dry). With practice, this color mixing information will become instinctive. Knowing how to match the range of skin tones means you can focus on painting, rather than interrupting your painting to mix the correct shade.
It is helpful to have a grayscale on hand when painting a skin tone scale to judge the tones of each color you mix. Squinting at mixed colors also helps to judge the lightness or darkness of their value or hue.
When painting from a pattern, start by establishing the tonal range for that particular person. Your palms are likely to be the lightest shade, a shadow cast by your neck or nose the darkest, and the backs of your hands the medium shade. Use these three shades to block out the main shapes, then broaden the range of tones and refine the shapes.
Creates a value or scale of tones (expressionist skin tones)
It is not necessary to paint a figure or portrait with realistic colors. Using unrealistic colors in an expressionist way can create dramatic paintings.
To create an expressionistic range of skin tones, select the colors you want to use and then create a scale of values as you would if you were using realistic skin tones, from light to dark. With this, it is easy to know which color to choose when you want it, for example, a mid-tone or highlight color.
Create skin tones by Glazing
Icing is a great technique for creating skin tones that have depth and an internal glow due to multiple layers of fine paint. You can premix your skin colors and glaze them, or use your knowledge of color theory to get the layers of color to blend optically onto the canvas, as each pillow changes the appearance of what is underneath.
Enamels are especially useful for correcting subtle differences in skin tone or color, as each enamel or coat of paint is very thin and therefore the changes can be very subtle. Because each new polish is applied over dry paint, if you don't like the result, you can simply wipe it off.
Create skin tones with pastels
Some cake makers produce cake sets for portraits and figures. But it is not difficult to create your own set of colors, which has the advantage of being able to choose different brands with different degrees of hardness. Extra soft pastels, like Unison, are great for finishing touches, to achieve the best highlights in a figure.
Since skin tones are created by layering pastels, it can be helpful to start with a sympathetic color as a base or base coat. You will find that the following skin tones are deeper and more natural-looking.
When the skin stretches over the bones, such as the knees, elbows, and forehead, use a cool yellow foundation. Where the skin is in shadow, such as under the jaw, use a green earth base. When the skin is in the built-in shadow, such as around the eyes, use a warm blue, such as ultramarine blue. When the skin is on the pulp, use a warm carmine or cadmium red.
How to smooth blotchy skin tones
While painter Lucian Freud is known for his blotchy skin, if you want smooth skin, the frosting all over your face when you're almost done painting will produce it.
Painting forum presenter and portrait artist Tina Jones say she paints "a translucent layer of white (very fine titanium or zinc white) all over it, sometimes more than one layer." This is followed by a red and yellow varnish. Together they soften skin tones and integrate color spots with the rest of the skin.
The photos show a reworked Jeff Watts painting with frosting with "the lightest skin tones and sometimes the shadow colors as well."
A blue can also help bring skin tones together, as well as reds and yellows. What you use depends on what is already rising on the skin. Another option is to glaze with secondary colors (mixed or tube). Tina says, "Sometimes cadmium orange or ultramarine violet finishes a job like no other. I even make a frosting with the secondaries plus very little white. Sometimes I am a double timekeeper on the frosting, although the ideal is a color at the same time. Time is used. If my figure is jaundiced, I create a lavender glaze from titanium and ultramarine violet to get them out of the bilirubin box and put them back on their feet. "
With oil paint, varnish with medium-thinned paint only if you have used a lot of medium in the lower coats (remembering the fat over lean rule). Otherwise, use a dry brush to apply a thin layer of paint.
Tina says, "A fiber is a good brush for dry brushing. Rub the paint on tops like a transparent cloud or thin veil. Make sure the bottom coats are dry so you don't mix up what you already have."
Skin tones using a limited palette
The saying "less is often more" applies to the colors you use when mixing skin tones. Using fewer colors or a limited palette means you learn how they work together faster and it's easier to mix the same colors over and over again. The colors you use depend on the darker shade you need. Limit yourself to two or three colors plus white at a time, then experiment with different color combinations until you find what works best for you.
In the study shown here, I used two colors plus white. Toasted sienna and yellow ocher mixed with white give a wide range of skin tones. What they don't give is a very dark tone. To this, I would add a dark brown or dark blue (most likely burnt ombre or Prussian blue). Even with that extra color, I would only use four.
I didn't mix the colors on a palette first, instead, I painted without a palette, mixing the colors directly onto the paper as I painted. I was using Atelier Interactive Acrylics, which can be achieved by spraying with water. Burnt Sienna is a semi-transparent color that uses "all its strength" to be a deep and warm reddish-brown (as seen in the hair). Mixing it with white makes it a dull color. A very small amount turns the white of titanium into pale skin tones.
Enjoy The Video Tutorial about Painting Skin Tones and How Light Affects Color!
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