Advanced techniques for painting portraits, figures, and other flesh

FOR FLESH____ ___ _

– Avoid using raw or burnt sienna plus white*.  Replace your siennas with a mixture of yellow ochre and alizarin (plus white).  This mixture allows encourages you to apply a range of hues between yellow and red; any one of these hues is richer and more flesh-like than what the siennas can give you.
*(I use raw sienna, but only when mixing blues)

– If you’re painting a face of any size, or if the face is a subject of your composition, aim to include both warm and cool highlights and warm and cool shadows.  This is never a rule, but it’s a good common practice especially with oils, where you can easily glaze cool over warm as needed.

– For indirect oil painting, try starting with an opaque indian red base layer.  Liberally scumble white, wet over dry, to pick up the highlights.  When that’s dry, glaze terre verde (green earth) over the entire canvas, coating some areas more heavily than others.  While the glaze is still wet, lay the highlights back in with white plus yellow ochre.  Alternate between warm and cool layers from this point forward.

end product of indirect method, from Charles Schmidt’s “Adam Naming the Beasts” (detail)

– For direct oil painting, try a base layer of thin cadmium red (letting the white of the canvas glow through).  When the base layer dries, lay in your shadows loosely with purple (alizarin plus ultramarine blue); then mix a range of hues and values using yellow ochre + alizarin + white.  Paint the flesh in one session, wet-into-wet, with a big brush that allows the cadmium red layer to show through here and there.  Even scratch back to the base layer with the butt of your brush (think of it as hatching).  Finally, add some thick cerulean blue plus white for your lightest highlights (less is more–don’t overdo it).  You can also add burnt umber, or even a dark grey-green mix, for your darkest shadows, but the effect is best if your lights are thicker than your shadows.

end product of direct painting method, from a 2009 painting of mine (detail)
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Advanced techniques for painting portraits, figures, and other flesh

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