I find that when people first begin oil painting, one of the trickiest things to learn how to paint is flesh tones. So here are some tips and tricks to painting skin tones. Above is a new piece I’m working to give a visual.
When I first begin to mix my flesh tones, I start out by creating a mixture of equal parts Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red. The result is an orange yellow with golden tones. I then tone it down with either a blue or a green, depending on how red the mixture appears. If painting a lighter skin tone, add some Titanium White accordingly. If painting a darker skin tone, add Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber accordingly. Do not use just Burnt Umber; the result will be too dull. Also, I never use the “Flesh” colored oil paints. They are too one dimensional, and flesh has a variety of colors to it.
When creating shadows, do not use black. Use blues and purples, mixing the purples on your own to get the perfect balance of red and blue. Ultramarine Blue is a great dark blue that I use in my work. I tend to stay away from Pthalo Blue because while it is dark it has too much green in it. I also add Alizarin Crimson to my shadows which is a dark red, since straight blue shadows can be a little corpse like. I usually mix the Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson with my mid tone color that I described above and gradually add more of the purple mix to build up the darkness. Burnt Sienna added to the purple mix also tones it down and makes the shadow a bit more subtle. I used this trick in the painting above.
For highlights, do not use straight white. White alone can make the skin look chalky. To avoid the chalky look, add a yellow. For a more natural, subtle highlight, use Naples Yellow. It’s almost a buttery color. For a brighter, more ethereal highlight, I use a bright yellow, like Cadmium Yellow. The painting above uses white with a touch of Naples Yellow.
And there you have it! Hope you enjoy the tips, and get out there and start painting!