Mixing skin tones: Colors, mediums, and techniques

June 2012

This is a girl I know very well.  She has beautiful skin.

I narrowed my usual range of colors to paint the skin tones on this one.  Cut alizarin crimson and the usual ultramarine, cobalt, and cerulean blues from the lineup.  I cut even the cadmium red.

So I built the whole face with only white plus 4 colors: Yellow Ochre, Venetian Red, Raw Umber, and Viridian.  Of these, I used Viridian the most (it’s a weak mixing color).  I mixed dozens of colors with these, all with a generous heap of Galkyd added.

My best advice is to cut any out-of-the-tube colors from your palette.  Just get rid of them!  Make it a rule.  In fact, you’d do well not to even use umbers or siennas, because you can mix your own umbers and siennas and they’ll be richer and more under your control.  I use raw umber only when I’m mixing dark colors, and I use raw sienna only to make greens and blues earthier or warmer.

Also, if a color mixture has lots of white, keep it thick and opaque.  I probably used more Galkyd than I should have, but that was just to keep the brushstrokes clean.  Another solution for getting clean, smooth, dynamic brushstrokes is to lay down a wet layer of Galkyd + stand oil + turpentine and then paint atop that layer with thick paint (no turp, no medium).  Definitely try this technique if you’ve never done it before.

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Also see Part I of this series on portrait painting techniques.

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Mixing skin tones: Colors, mediums, and techniques

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