Mix Flesh Tones
A guide to mixing flesh tones
Mixing Your Base Color
When first beginning to mix your flesh tones, start out by creating a mixture of equal parts Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red. The result is an orange yellow with golden tones. 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 Burnt Umber solely; the result will be too dull. Burnt Sienna keeps the base color mixture lively. Also, 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, and mix the purples on your own to get the perfect balance of red and blue. Some skin tones may have blue-violet shadows, others may have red-violet shadows, which is why it is important to created your own mix. 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. Depending on the piece and subject matter, I use different intensities of shadows.
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, use a brighter yellow, like Cadmium Yellow. Start by adding the yellow-white mixture to your base color to create subtle highlights, then punch them up by using just the highlight mixture. Oil paint is all about layering, gradually building up the intensity as you go. By subtlety layering, the paint is easier to blend.
And there you have it! Hope you enjoy the tips, and get out there and start painting!