Using Glaze for Skin Tones in Figure Painting

Applying color in thin layers called glazes creates glowing skin tones that have a depth that single layers can’t compete with.

Either you can buy glazing medium, or you can make your own. To make a glazing medium, mix one part stand oil, one part dammar varnish and up to five parts turpentine. Glazing medium is slightly glossy, dries transparent and has a consistency similar to thin, fluid jelly.

When mixing medium with paint, start off with small, equal amounts of paint and medium. Add medium until the consistency is that of heavy cream or thin jelly.

It should be thin enough that the paint achieves transparency and releases from your paintbrush with your strokes, but thick enough to hold its placement on the canvas and not flow and drip all over the place. If you want to avoid having your paint run, then don’t use an easel, but rather place your canvas flat on the floor or a table.

There is no fixed recipe of colors to use when painting skin tones. Either, you can mix your colors before hand to glaze with, or use colors individually to allow for optical mixing.

For a simpler skin tone palette, mix white, yellow/golden ochre and a touch of cadmium red. For darker tones, add Payne’s grey, and change the ratios of the other colors that you use. Another good limited palette would include Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber.

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Other classic colors for producing skin tones include the following: Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarine, Naples Yellow Reddish, French Ultramarine Blue, Mars Violet and Raw Sienna Dark. Cadmium Orange and a touch of Ultramarine Blue make for a good base for further additions of color and tinting.

Apply thin glazes with a soft-haired brush, and let each layer dry completely before applying the next (this is also useful because you can always wipe off a new layer if you don’t like it). The amount of oil that you mix with your paint should be increased for each subsequent layer, as lower layers absorb oil from the layers above, and if the lower layers dry too quickly, this can cause cracking.

The lightest tones in a figure can often be found in the palms of the hands, the darkest in the shadows cast by the nose or neck and the mid-tones on the backs of the hands.

Always apply the first layers with the final image in mind. Areas that are in shadow should have a base of earth green or (when in recessed shadow, e.g. around the eyes) of warm blue, fleshy areas should have a base of red and areas of skin that are stretched tightly over bone should have a base of cold yellow.

If your figure has blotchy skin tones, you can smooth them out by glazing over the whole, completed figure with red and yellow, and perhaps also blue. Otherwise, glaze over with white, although you may need to apply many layers before you see the desired effect. Either use thinned paint or dry-brushing to apply these glazes, and always make sure that the under-layers are completely dry, to avoid blending colors.

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