How to Paint People - Different Flesh Tones

Being able to create accurate flesh tones from your paints is a learned skill.

Like many other things in learning oil painting, it’s something that will require practice and quite a lot of trial and error to get right, and a lot of the time it also just comes down to personal preference.

In short, you’ll have to mix a lot of paints a lot of times to begin to figure out what pleases you.

When shopping for paints in the art store, you may be tempted by paints listed as “skin” or “flesh” colors, but most artists don’t advocate buying these.

These colors provide a very limited choice of skin tones and will make your painting appear flat and amateur in most cases. Instead, you’ll have to learn how to mix your colors to produce the full range of flesh tones you’ll be painting in.

Depending on how your subject is lit, you could end up having to use a wide variety of flesh tones for the same person. If part of their body is in shadow, you might be using an entirely different flesh tone rather than a darkening of the initial color. Also, typically someone’s face and arms are darker than parts of the body which are usually hidden under clothing.

The palms of the hands are also usually lighter. Among different people, skin tones vary greatly. Some people have more olive-tinted skin, some are yellowish and some have pinker undertones. This rich variety of color is something the makeup industry has been trying to master for years. It’s not exactly easy.

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For skin tones, you’ll usually need a variety of red, yellow, brown and white paints. This set of colors will help you paint the largest range of skin tones. Recommended specific colors are cadmium yellow, cadmium red, burnt sienna, raw umber, titanium buff and titanium white.

When mixing paints to create skin tones, follow the less is more rule. Things can get complicated really quickly when trying to create flesh tone because many different colors will be involved. When starting out, try to create a chart where you have samples of different skin tones mixed and their proportions of each color listed.

Keep track of exactly how much you mixed in as precisely as possible. This will help you recreate those colors again in the future. Also, looking at a chart with different colors and their corresponding components may be able to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong when it comes to a future mix. Maybe you added too much red or too little umber. Remember, practice makes perfect.

You will also want to experiment adding less conventional colors for skin such as greens and blues. It may not seem like these colors would be necessary to create flesh tones, but they absolutely are.

Experiment by adding just a smidgen of blue to an already created flesh tone and see how it compares to the original mix. You may find out that it was the small change you needed to make the color completely accurate.

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