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Skin Tone Oil Paint

I'm sharing everything as I deconstruct how I learned to paint. When it comes to mixing oil paint skin tones, there's no single recipe. There are several ways to achieve believable skin tones in oil. Here are 3 of my favorite ways to paint skin tones in oil.

Mixing Oil Paint Skin Tones

I'm sharing everything as I deconstruct how I learned to paint. When it comes to mixing oil paint skin tones, there's no single recipe.

Mixing Oil Paint Skin Tones

There are several ways to achieve believable skin tones in oil. Here are 3 of my favorite ways to paint skin tones in oil.

What Paint Colours Make Skin Tone?

In my observations, I believe skin tones in oil are primarily made of reds, yellows, browns, blues, greens, and purples.

Painting skin tones requires almost every color of the rainbow. Most of these colors will be used in moderation, slowly adjusting the flesh tones as you turn the form.

Here Are 3 Color Combinations For Mixing Flesh Tone Oil Paint

Skin Tone Paint Mixture #1

Use these 3 colors and white to paint skin color with oil paint:
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Green Verde or Green Earth
  • French Ultramarine Blue
Photo of oil paint skin tone mixture on palette next to oil portrait.

Are You Wondering How To Mix Flesh Tone Oil Paint?

Consider the following skin color paint mixture. Make a skin tone oil paint mix from Cadmium Red Light and Terra Verte which is also known as Green Earth. Add Flake White Replacement to create a range of values.

Adjust this range of values with a touch of Ultramarine Blue for the cool areas. Adjust the range of values with a touch more Cadmium Red Light to create your pink tones.

My theory for mixing skin tones in oil is to start with a neutral.

Method #1 For Mixing Skin Tones For Painting:

  1. Mix A Skin Tone Base Color
  2. Separate This Base Color Into 2 Parts
  3. Mix Mid-Tones
  4. Separate The Mid-Tone Into 2 Parts
  5. Mix Lights
  6. Separate Again Into Smaller Sections
  7. Mix Warm Flesh Tones
  8. Mix Cool Flesh Tones
  9. Make a neutral skin tone color by mixing Cadmium Red Light and Terra Verde.

    Separate this base skin tone into two parts.

    Mix white into one pile to form a medium-toned skin color. This color should be similar in value to the mid-tones seen in the subject.

    Separate this oil paint mixture into two parts.

    Mix more white into one pile to make colors for lights and highlights.

    Separate the paint pile further into smaller sections.

    Mix a small amount of Cadmium Red Light into one pile for warm pinks.

    Mix a small touch of Ultramarine Blue into one pile for cool tones.

    This is a simple skin tone oil paint mixture that provides a neutral base color. Add additional colors to the base to warm up the lights or cool the shadows. I use this mixture most often when painting someone I deem to have cool undertones or someone photographed in cool light.

Skin Tone Paint Mixture #2

Mix an oil paint skin tone with Gamblin's Reclaimed Earth collection.

  • Gamblin's Iron Violet
  • Gamblin's Rust Red
  • Gamblin's Flake White Replacement
Photo of oil paint skin tone mixture on palette next to oil portrait.

Method #2 For Mixing Skin Tones For Painting:

  1. Mix A Dark Skin Tone Base Color
  2. Separate The Base Color Into 2 Parts
  3. Add White To Mix Mid-Tones & Highlights
  4. Making Skin Tone Paint Color Warmer
  5. Making Skin Tone Paint Color Cooler

Mix a skin tone base color by mixing Gamblin's Iron Violet with equal parts of Gamblin's Rust Red.

Separate this base skin tone into two parts.

Lighten this base color with Flake White Replacement. Aim to mix a medium-toned oil paint skin color. This color should be similar in value to the mid-tones seen in the subject.

Separate this medium-toned oil paint mixture into two parts.

Mix in more white to make lights and highlights.

Add additional colors to the base to warm or cool the color temperature. Color temperature can be adjusted by adding a small touch of warm or cool paint color to the mix. Mix in a touch of warmth by adding warm colors such as Naples Yellow or Cadmium Red as necessary.

Cool a color by pulling a bit of base color to the side and adding a touch of a cool paint color like blue, violet, or a cool red like Permanent Rose or Alizarin Crimson.

This is a simple skin tone oil paint mixture made with earth colors. I adjust these base colors with a small touch of one of the following: Ultramarine Blue, Gamblin's Bright Blue, Violet, Cadmium Red Light, Permanent Rose, or Naples Yellow as I move across the form. These are some of my favorite oil paint colors for skin tones.

Photo of a range of skin tones mixed in oil paint from reclaimed earth oil paint colors.

Skin Tone Paint Mixture #3

  • Venetian Red
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Flake White Replacement

Method #3 For Mixing Skin Tones For Painting:

  1. Mix A Warm Skin Tone Base Color
  2. Separate The Base Paint Mixture Into 2 Parts
  3. Add White To Mix Mid-Tones & Highlights
  4. Painting With Complementary Colors

Make a warm skin tone base color by mixing Venetian Red and Yellow Ochre.

Separate this base skin tone into two parts.

Mix medium shades by adding Flake White or Flake White Replacement. The value should be similar in value to the mid-tones seen in the subject.

This paint mixture produces a warm paint color. To tone down or reduce the color saturation, consider adding a complementary color into the mix as necessary when turning the form.

The base color will produce an orange-toned mix. Blue is the complementary color of orange.

Violet is a complementary color for yellow. Consider adding small touches of blue or violet to reduce the color saturation, making a more natural, neutral flesh color.

Consider mixing Green Earth with Venetian Red to make oil paint skin tones for the shadows within the portrait. Green is a complementary color to red.

This is a simple skin tone oil paint mixture that provides a warm base color. I use this mixture most often when painting someone photographed in golden end-of-day sunlight.

Venetian Red is a traditional color used in portrait painting. You can use Venetian Red to make a more classical paint mix for skin tone.

Venetian Red has a high tinting strength. Use a small amount to tint white. I mix a skin tone base color from Yellow Ochre tinted with Venetian Red. You can lighten this skin tone paint mixture with Flake White or Flake White Replacement to achieve various shades.

Photo of a range of skin tones mixed from Venetian Red and Yellow Ochre oil paint colors.

I adjust this base color with a small touch of one of the following: Ultramarine Blue, Gamblin's Bright Blue, Violet, Cadmium Red Light, Permanent Rose, or Naples Yellow as I move across the form.

How To Choose A White Paint Colour For Skin Tone Painting

Consider Flake White Replacement for painting skin tones in oil. Flake White was traditionally used for skin tone painting.

Flake White contains lead and should be used with caution. Flake White Replacement is considered a safer alternative.

Skin Tones Painting Basics

While there is no single oil paint skin tone recipe, here are some factors to consider.

If you want to learn how to paint different skin tones, you have to really learn to paint what you see. You may want to choose different paint colors for a person with fair skin compared to a person with darker skin.

Learn To See Undertones

If you want to learn how to paint a skin tone, you must learn how to see color temperature. People have different colored undertones in their skin. This is why cosmetics are made in a wide range of tints in both warm and cool tones.

The color temperature of the light that's illuminating your model may also determine the oil paint colors needed to paint flesh tones.

Here's a rule that's helpful when painting skin tones. If the light hitting your model is warm or yellow light, the shadow colors will be cool. Cool shadows contain blues and purples. Warm lights contain a touch of yellow. If the light hitting your model is cool or bluer light, the shadows will be warm.

I assume there are exceptions to this rule, but it's a good guideline to follow when choosing paint colors for painting skin tones.

How To Paint Skin Tones In Oil

  1. Paint What You See
  2. Paint In Layers
  3. Do One More Pass
  4. Adjust Color Often
  5. Resist Blending
  6. Soften Edges
  7. Neutral Color vs Saturated Color

Paint What You See

Paint skin tones in oil the same way you paint any other object, through careful observation. Aim to paint what you see.

Paint Skin Tones In Layers

I believe skin tones are best painted in layers. In my experience, skin tones begin to look believable somewhere around the 3rd paint layer. As oil painting layers build, you should see an increased sense of depth and luminosity.

Do One More Pass

At the time I determine a painting to be finished, I know in my mind that I should probably add at least 2 more layers. Someday I'll talk myself into doing it. We often quit too early.

Adjust Color Often

Skin tones have many color changes. Be prepared to adjust the paint color often as you move across the form. This means adding small touches of a different color to the paint mix.

This varying color should probably happen as often as every half inch. Areas of one solid color will appear to be flat. Subtle changes in color help to make an object look 3D.

Resist Blending

Resist the urge to blend. Excess blending will actually make an area look flatter.

Aim to make tiny color and value changes. Let these various colors and values sit next to one another without blending.

Practice making gradations with tiny color changes instead of blending. It will give you more depth, although I admit I find this hard to do.

Soften Edges

When you do blend, use a clean, dry paintbrush to soften the edges between two colors or tints. Soften where two colors meet instead of blending the colors into one another.

Neutral Color vs Saturated Color

Most of the skin should be neutral in color. Reserve the most saturated color for the areas that turn pink when a person gets cold or blushes.

My Favorite Paint Colours For Skin Tones

My favorite paint colors to paint flesh tones are Gamblin Reclaimed Earth Series, Gamblin Flake White Replacement, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Permanent Rose, Naples Yellow, Violet, and Green Earth.

How To Paint Different Skin Tones

To paint different skin tones, you must first determine if the person's skin appears to be warm or cool. This can be affected not only by their natural skin tones but also by the color temperature of the surrounding light.

How To Paint Skin Tone Shadows

Follow this rule when painting shadows. Objects lit by warm light have cool shadows. Objects lit by cool light have warm-colored shadows.

Terra Verte sometimes spelled Terra Verde, is a traditional color option for painting skin tone shadows. Terra Verde is a natural green earth color.

This oil paint color was often used for the underpainting of oil portraits. It is transparent and acts as a complement to the red and pink tones of the skin. Another option is to consider painting skin tone shadows with the darkest base color. The base color can be darkened further by adding blue or violet to the mix.

I like to start painting skin tones by mixing 3 base tints.

I want the base color to be made from only 2 to 3 paint colors. Mixing more than 3 paint colors together can result in muddy-looking colors.

If your model has cool undertones in their skin, you'll likely use blues and purples in your paint mix to cool the skin tone.

If your model has warm undertones, you'll likely add yellow and warm reds to your skin tone oil paint mix.

As a general rule, people with cool skin tones tend to prefer silver jewelry over gold. Warm-toned people tend to prefer gold over silver.

Look at the veins on the inside of the wrist, if they tend to look bluer, the model may have cool skin tones. If the veins look greener, the model may have warmer skin tones. This isn't an exact science though, so best to learn to see color temperature.

If a person has a warm skin tone, you may see warm pinks in their skin tone. Cadmium Red Light is a nice choice for a warm red.

If a person has a cool skin tone, you may see cool pinks in their skin. Alizarin Crimson or Permanent Rose are options to consider. Add very tiny amounts to your skin tone mix as Permanent Rose has a high tinting strength. It doesn't take much.

How To Get Skin Tone Color Paint

Skin-toned paint colors are available but I don't recommend buying them. Skin is not one single color.

Painting skin with one single color will make it look flat. You will lose the 3D effect that can only be achieved with subtle color and value changes.

Skin tone is a very subtle mix of many colors. It usually requires the layering of many paint layers to achieve a believable result.

How To Paint Skin Tones For Beginners

I believe that beginners should paint with a limited palette. Reduce the number of decisions.

Begin with a small number of paint colors. Consider the Zorn palette. There are many things to think about when painting. The process can be overwhelming. Focus on mastering one thing at a time.

You can create a beautiful monochromatic portrait painting with only a couple paint colors and white.

Focus on establishing the shadow shapes. Make sure they are in the correct shape and size.

Then do the same for the lightest shapes or highlight areas.

Practice making small value changes as you turn the form. Once you feel confident with your technique, add more paint colors.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, there is no single recipe for how to make skin color paint. The methods are wide and varied. I've outlined 3 of my favorites. I hope that you will find these skin tone painting basics to be helpful.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones