How to Make Skin Tones Easily


For years I had been going about making skin tones all wrong.

I would start with a cadmium red, add a little cadmium yellow and then try to mix in some titanium white until I got the value level right. Invariably my skin tones were too pink, or too white, and not "fleshy" enough.

After reading a book written by Hashim Akib I have rethought my approach to painting people, and faces in particular.


Making the Skin Tone Palette


First of all, the palette that is suggested for good skin tones is much different from the basic palette I have been using to build a standard color wheel in color theory. I will do a separate post on that next week as that palette is great for landscapes and still lifes and has a lot of value - no pun intended- for getting your tones balanced.

The skin tone palette that Akib suggests replaces the cadmium red, with pyrrole red, and adds in dioxazine purple and cobalt blue, in addition to cadmium yellow, titanium white, and yellow ochre also plays a major part. I add in cadmium orange and ivory black, and you can add a yellow-green and permanent green depending on what else will be in your image, or how you want to influence the skin tone based on ethnicity, or lighting.



Don't Overly Mix

Then what he suggests, and I really like this, is not to overly mix the colors on your palette, but instead, using a 1-1/2" wide flat synthetic brush, you pick up the colors together on the brush. Starting with a big gob of white, and adding the pyrrole red, then the cadmium yellow, then the yellow ochre. Get those loosely mixed in a large area on your palette. This will give you an average shade for a white person.

Tweek this mix til you get a middle shade that you like for the particular subject you are rendering. For African American faces I like to add in the dioxazine purple to this to deepen the shade and also make the color browner because of the complementary color of the yellows mixing with the purples. If the person has olive skin, you can add a little yellow green, and orange and that will give a more sallow color.


Medium Tone of the Face

This medium shade works great as the middle tone for the face. For the cheeks, the major part of the forehead, and the chin.

Deepen this shade some more by adding the cobalt blue, or even a touch of ivory black and block in the shadows under the cheekbones, sied of the forehead, the neck, under the lower lip and sides of the nose.

Lighten the base color for highlights on the tip of the nose, the highlight on the forehead, and the tops of the cheeks.


This basic technique gets you started with a fresher look instead of overly blending on the palette and allows a little bit of mixing to take place on the canvas.

This basic blocked-in face was done using the techniques described above.

Watch my video below of how I mixed some flesh tones using this palette.



Watch the Video to See how to mix Darks and Lights

My next post will be a video of me painting a face using the "robot method" Stay tuned.

I hope you enjoyed watching me mix some colors.






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