Page 2 of 2

Painting Skin Tones.

There are so many variations in skin tone that it seems overly simple to choose only certain specific pigments for painting skin.  In other words, you don’t have to use prepared color formulas.  Consider variables of age, ethnicity, light source, reflected light, and gender when you are painting skin color.  Skin color does NOT come in a tube; it must be mixed by the artist based on an interpretation of the colors seen.

To reproduce skin colors accurately, observe your subject closely.  Painting skin tone has more to do with the light and the environment than with any preconceived notion of what skin color should be.  You must analyze how and where the light source strikes the skin surface.  From which direction does the light come?  Is there more than one source of light?  Can you see any reflected light in the shadows?  What colors do the shadows add to the general skin color?  Is the light soft or harsh?  Warm or cool?  Brighter light will make reflected color stronger and more obvious.  Bright light darkens and sharpens shadows.

Skin color can vary from the palest yellow on through pinks, browns, and ebony.  Light skin tones appear transparent and vibrant.  Dark skin shows a range of rich, exciting colors.  Look for a subject’s general skin tone; then alter tone by diluting with water for highlights or by adding a complementary color to create shadows (for example, a trace of green shadow on a pink jawline and a bluish or purple shadow on brown or dark skin).

IMG_2086.jpg

Facial areas like nose, ears, cheeks, chin, and tear ducts of the eyes tend to be warmer in color than the rest of the face.  The most basic way of painting skin is, after careful observation of general skin tone, to mix that color with two to three transparent paint colors.

Possible skin color combinations might be:

For fair skin—

Burnt Sienna/Cadmium Red/New Gamboge

Burnt Sienna/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Cadmium Yellow

Burnt Sienna/Winsor Red/Cobalt Blue

For Native American or Hispanic skin –

Burnt Sienna/Brown Madder/Cobalt Blue

For Asian or fair skin –

Raw Sienna/Burnt Sienna/Cobalt Blue

For dark complexions –

Burnt Umber/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Ultramarine Blue

Burnt Umber/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Cobalt Blue

Burnt Sienna/Burnt Umber/Ultramarine Blue.

IMG_5846.jpg

Apply the general color thinly in a pale wash.  When this underlayer is dry, layer more color, as needed, to suggest skin depressions and create form.

Adjust the ratios of your colors to fit your subject’s skin color and value.

When trying to make the skin in your painting lifelike and interesting, you should paint wet-in-wet or on damp paper to allow for soft transitions.  In painting skin, your layers should follow and define the shadows you observe.  You must have value changes to imply form.  Build up your layers of paint, remembering to save areas for the highlights.  Create form and depth by painting depressions and shadows, leaving highlights created by lightly painted layers.

IMG_1618.jpg

More experienced painters might prefer to mix paint on their paper rather than premixing a general skin color on the palette.  When paint is mixed on the paper, colors are much more interesting and vibrant than the same color combinations mixed on the palette, then applied to paper, which tend to be dull.  Glazing and layering one color at a time on the paper gives skin a luminous tone.  Apply the lightest washes first; then gradually progress to the darkest washes, which you should apply last.  Build up transparent layers with Hansa Yellow Light, Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Magenta, Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), and Winsor Blue (Red Shade).

IMG_5106.jpg

 

Be sure to use transparent colors for a clear, luminous effect.  By choosing a warm and a cool transparent color for your palette, you will have more than enough color options to produce unlimited skin tones.  By varying proportions of each color to change color temperature AND by paying attention to the order in which the colors are layered, you can create different skin tones.  (Remember that the last layer of color glazed on will determine the dominant hue of the skin.)

Softening an Edge or Fading Out.

Even experienced watercolor artists may have some gaps in their skill set. One basic watercolor painting skill that every painter should have under control is FADING OUT a color, also called SOFTENING AN EDGE.  (See other “Basic Watercolor Techniques You’ll Want To Learn”, my blog post dated September 11, 2018,  for a quick review of what you may want to be sure to include in your painting repertoire.)

The most important prerequisite to understanding how to soften an edge is learning that different degrees of wetness exist. In watercolor painting, these differences in wetness determine the effect a painter gets and whether a painter’s efforts create the desired effect. WETNESS is the basis for most techniques in watercolor. With too little water, the paint will not move easily, whereas with too much water, a painter will not have much control of the paint. AWARENESS OF and ABILITY TO CONTROL the amount of wetness will determine whether an artist’s techniques will be successful. We may need to practice softening, and practice again!

Many beginning watercolor students have quite a bit of trouble understanding how to judge wetness and its effects in watercolor painting. While experience helps you to learn how to control wetness,  even experienced painters need to follow the laws of physics. If painters try to fight the law of hydrodynamics and force the water to do their bidding, they will struggle! This rule is fairly straightforward, but it is not to be disregarded. Simply put, greater wetness ALWAYS flows into lesser wetness. It doesn’t matter where or when. For example, paint or water will flow OFF a brush onto a surface if the brush is WETTER than the surface. Paint or water will flow from the surface onto the brush if the brush is DRIER than the surface. There will not be much flow at all if the two areas are of similar wetness. There will be flow only if one area is much wetter than the other. Use this knowledge to control your edges in painting, avoid ‘blossoms’, and to soften an edge or fade out color.

The technique called “softening an edge” or pulling out or fading out color uses a brush that is damp and LESS WET than the painted area to be softened. When softening an edge, you are not actually moving any paint. You are using water to encourage the paint to move on its own. Painters try to put just the right amount of wetness (not too much or too little) in the right spot at the right time to allow the paint to ‘sigh’ into the wetness. The dampness makes a path for the paint to soften into. You want to produce a smooth, graded effect.         

More specifically, FADING OUT or SOFTENING AN EDGE is done by running a damp brush along the edge of a painted shape while the painted area is still wet. This approach works best if the paint area is very wet (just painted) and the brush is less wet (just damp). With the clean damp brush, dampened with very clean water, try to lay a line of dampness down just barely touching the edge of the paint. DON’T reach into the painted area and drag color out! You are trying to lay down a damp strip that will attract the wetter paint, so barely touch the edge of the paint. If you go too far into the paint with your brush,  your brush will act like a sponge, soaking up and spreading the paint around – not your intention. It may take several passes of the damp brush in order to moisten the paper enough to make the paint edge soften. Once the paint begins to move and soften, make your strokes (with a clean damp brush) further and further away from the paint (to avoid creating a hard edge).

What kind of brush is best for softening or fading out an edge? Natural fiber brushes are much better for softening than synthetics, because synthetic brushes are less able to hold a large amount of water AND have a tendency to release all of the water they hold at once. A synthetic brush will tend to dump too much moisture at first, leaving the right amount partway, then having little moisture left and running out toward the end of trying to soften a large area. The result can be a blossom at the beginning of softening, nice fading out toward the center, and no change in an edge at the end of a stroke with a synthetic brush.

It is best to get to fading or softening quickly, because as the paint dries, it is less likely to move easily, less likely to flow. (This technique is somewhat different from painting wet-in-wet or wet-in-damp, although both produce soft edges. ‘Softening an edge’ allows the artist more control in the sense that one side of the paint stroke is preserved as a hard edge while the other side is softened – perfect for rock crevices, folds in fabric, a snow bank, rolling surf, or flower petals.)

Soft edges convey distance.

image1-1.jpg

Soft edges create a sense of movement. 

image4.jpg

image2.jpg

Soft edges suggest depth and shape. 

image3.jpg