Shades of Skin

Creating the right skin color is extremely important in portraits. One shade lighter or one shade darker creates an overall difference and your painting will just look “off”. It’s almost like finding the right foundation color! Not only that, but skin holds so many values that help create depth and dimension in your painting. It’s also the most detailed part of a painting because of every pore and wrinkle which makes up your skin. However, you don’t have to go into too much detail if you don’t want to. I, for one, get really impatient with my artwork and tend to speed through them… something all my past art teachers have complained about (whelp). Therefore I opt out of creating a lot of detail on the skin in my paintings, but if you do invest your time you really will get closer to creating a truly realistic painting. You just need a lot of patience. And time.

The colors I used to create skin color are Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Yellow, and Burnt Sienna. Depending on the amount of each color really transitions quickly between each shade. When you look at your reference photo try to capture the undertone you see. Whether the skin has a warmer, or a cooler appearance. Warmer tones will stay in the range of reds, oranges, and yellows. Whereas cooler skin tones (which are usually pale) contain just a hint of blue and have a grayish-purplish tone to it. I will be using the same photo that I used to explain in the sketching post. The tones that I picked up from my photo lean towards a warmer skin color with traces of grayish areas which settle into the wrinkles and pores.

I used white, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, yellow, and burnt sienna to create these colors. The top color contains more yellow, the middle color contains more cadmium red, and the bottom color has more white and burnt sienna in it.

Using these colors, I am focusing on the area underneath the eye. When you paint skin color just paint the undertone first and then you will be going back to add detail and value. It’s good to paint a cartoonish version of the whole painting first, instead of focusing on getting every detail right in one small area of the painting. Why? Because when you create the colors in your palette you want to keep it consistent throughout the painting. It doesn’t make sense to have to use a certain shade one day, and then the next day trying to recreate that same exact shade. Unless you’re deciding to complete the painting all in one day… in that case, you have way too much time on your hands. But hey, do what you want!

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