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Mixing Skin Tones

Colours for skin tones vary immensely between the home value of a person’s skin as there are areas of high light and shade and subtle changes in colour around various parts of the body. When painting skin it’s very common to find that you use a lot of different colours.
As these are perennial questions we thought we’d start off a discussion because there are many different ways to produce skin colours and one person’s recipe is different from the next.

We suggest the following classic colours for producing skin tones:
Yellow Ochre,
Burnt Sienna,
Permanent Alizarine,
Naples Yellow Reddish,
French Ultramarine Blue,
Mars Violet and
Raw Sienna Dark.

They may even be used straight from the tube but are mostly mixed. Jaune Brilliant cuts out a lot of mixing time so use this as a base to which one or more of the listed colours can be added according to your preference.

If you want to minimize your initial outlay of colours Cadmium Orange and a touch of French Ultramarine Blue (basics in any paint box) produce a dark Sienna like colour which is a perfect base for further additions of colour and tinting.

Depending on how you lighten the paint up, you will find that you can produce a variety of skin tones. Tinting White (warmer than Titanium), Toning Grey Pink and Toning Grey Yellow and Naples Yellow are useful for tinting to the desired colour.

The effect that the individual wishes to produce is also a factor. Do you want to use bold expressive colours? Then punch everything up by incorporating Quinacridone Red Violet, Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Yellows.

If you want to use an approach similar to the Old Masters create an under painting in Terre Verte. Over your tonal work build up blends and glazes with Tinting White, Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, French Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Light Red Ochre, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna Dark and Mars Black.

At Chroma we have had a lot of interest in this area. Please add to the discussion by letting us know your tips for those mixes that you love to use when people are your subject.

There are (3) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_9126

    Costescu commented on Février 8, 2010, at 11:25 am.

    Thanks so much Jim that helps alot! I am new to interactive acrylics and have been working on a portrait so I will have to try some of your colors on my next portrait.

    I found that cad red deep, raw sienna & titanium white also resulted in a nice base color for a ruddy complexion and then used burnt umber plus a touch of cereulean blue to that mix for the darks. For the lights I mixed the base mix with more titanium white and also touches of naples yellow and alizarin crimson.

    When using the interactive acrlyics, I am curious if users tend to mix the colors and then apply the paint some what thinnly and then just blend together or they apply the basic underpainting in tonal values and then use glazes of color to achieve the skin tones? I am still play to see which method works best so will post my "findings" when I figure out my preference :)

  2. comment_2_9126

    Costescu commented on Février 8, 2010, at 11:33 am.

    Sorry should have asked, if anyone has a work in progress or demo of the old masters method using atelier I would love to see it! I use this method with my watercolors but being new to acrylics would love to see the glazes being built up to see how it all "shapes up" in acrylic :)

  3. comment_3_9126

    Jennifer commented on Mars 1, 2010, at 1:00 pm.

    Costescu, your colors are a classic palette for all shades of skin. As to how to approach a portrait, artists work in different ways depending on preference and vision. Some artists, like Mitch Waite, will establish tonal values and work wet-in-wet. You can watch a video of Mitch's technique here:

    Others, like portrait Artist Laurie Bostian, work both with tonal values and glazes, using Interactive Acrylics. A graduate of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, USA, Laurie taught kindergarten and first grade before returning to her first love - portraiture.

    Influenced by Rembrandt and the Impressionists, she describes herself: "I am a realist, but could also be defined as an Impressionistic-Realist. As the artist, I enjoy transferring thought and feeling to something that can be shared in a painting. Each portrait I do is an interpretation of what I see and how it makes me feel. Portraiture is my bliss."

    Laurie prefers to mix all of her colors from the following Interactive Colors:
    Cadmium Yellow Light
    Cadmium Orange
    Cadmium Red Medium
    Permanent Alizarine
    Dioxazine Purple
    French Ultramarine Blue
    Permanent Green Light
    Carbon Black
    Titanium White

    Her skin tones contain any combination of these colors, depending on light, shadow, surroundings, mood to convey and other artistic and aesthetic considerations. For Laurie, there is no subject on earth more interesting or more compelling than the human figure.