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Caucasian Skin Tones - Recipes for Watercolour

Updated on April 22, 2011
You will also find useful tutorials, free lessons and a learning centre at Chens website. Note: This portrait has been used for illustrative puposes and  Chen's work is not associated with the colour recipe in this hub.
You will also find useful tutorials, free lessons and a learning centre at Chens website. Note: This portrait has been used for illustrative puposes and Chen's work is not associated with the colour recipe in this hub. | Source

Watercolours baffle me. Truthfully, they don't really appeal to me as an artist…though perhaps that has something to do with sour grapes - I couldn’t "master" watercolour the way I have acrylics. That said, I can certainly see why so many artists are inclined to use watercolour, what with so many beautiful examples like this one I found by Yong Chen. In the right hands, watercolour is surely a force to be reckoned with.

We have a lot of info to get though so I shall try to be brief.

I recently saw that a fellow hubber, new to waterpainting, had asked about a suitable hue for a Caucasian teenage boy which has prompted me to do a little digging. Generally I am more inclined to reach for the acrylics when painting portraits, in fact, I struggle to remember if I have ever reached for watercolour to paint a portrait.

Which brings me to the purpose of today's article. What is a suitable colour?

Owning a small business ( that specialises in painting custom made quilt panels, I am often called upon to paint portraits and fictional characters.

In a previous hub entitled Portraits - A Beginners Guide To Acrylics, I detailed my favourite recipes that I use on a regular basis for acrylic portraits along with some exercises that I think every artist from every medium will learn valuable lessons from.

But how does this help a watercolourist? I have done a little research into this and discovered what I beleive is the translation to one of my favourite paint recipe's for a Caucasian skin tone. I would value the feedback from those who are more experienced on this medium.

KEY - Understanding The Recipe

VALUES = numbered from 1-9 = lightest to darkest.

LEVEL = refers to the strength or colour, namely the water level.

VALUE OF LEVELS = numbered from 1-5, weakest to strongest.

…if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, write back; I’ll try to clarify.

After much self tutalage and experimentation, I eventually stumbled across William F. Powell ‘s brilliant book (highly recommended by this artist) Colour Mixing Recipe's. It has had a huge influence on the way I mix colours and this recipe is based on one of the recipes from his book Colour Mixing Recipe's For Portraits.

Powell's method involves making a master colour. All tones are then derived from that one hue. Each recipe has nine values = 3 x highlights, 3 x mid-tones and 3 x low-lights.

These values are then influenced by four additional colours - they are added in small quantities to any of the values, making them lighter, pinker, darker or duller. Need an example? The lightest highlight on your nose is pinker than the lightest highlight on your forehead. These additional four colours fine tune the values.

Recipe For Caucasian Complexions


Cadmium Red Light, Lemon Yellow, New Gamboge, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Viridian Green.

Feel free to replace any of these colours with the colours colours that you have on hand. Adding touches of Burnt Sienna will create values for olive complexions. Adding more yellow/Raw Sienna will create the values of an Asian complexion. Adding more red will create the values for pinker, rosier complexions. Play around with your paint and don't be afraid to experiment. The accurate placement of facial features is more important than finding the precise colour of your subjects complexion.


60% Cadmium Red Light + 40% New Gamboge - Level: 5


1) 100% master recipe – level 1

2) 100% master recipe – level 2

3) 90% maser recipe, 10% lemon yellow – level 2


4) 90% master recipe, 10% new gamboge – level 3

5) 95% master recipe, 5% new gamboge – level 3

6) 100% master recipe - level 3.5


7) 50% master recipe, 50% Warm Shadow - level 3

8) 50% master recipe, 50% Cool Shadow – level 3

9) 65% master colour, 35% Greying Colour – level 3


HIGHLIGHT VALUE = 1 speck of any of the above colours – level 1

WARM SHADOW = 50% Burnt Sienna, 50% Burnt Umber – level 3

COOL SHADOW = 100% Burnt Umber – level 4

GREYING COLOUR = 100% Viridian - level 3

The values should very much the same as a grey scale with a gradual change in value from one colour to the next.

Wanted - Dead or Alive

Your queries and feedback are most welcome. I invite you to share your experiences.

SEASONED ARTISTS: I welcome you to reply with your own recipe's. HubPages is a wonderful place for us to share our knowledge of art with one another.


Noobs is a colloquial term for beginners or newbies.

Do not despair when your first efforts fall short of your vision...and unless you are an undiscovered artistic genius,they will. I make a point of asking all of the noobs I encounter: how many dinners did you burn before you mastered your signature dish?

Painting is extremely rewarding and has enormous benefits. It is also extremely challenging and has enormous potential to cause serious frustration. Do not be discouraged. Continue to persevere and be kind to yourself. I urge you to safely store your first attempts so that you can observe your progress (and who knows...they maybe very valuable one day!). Each failed attempt brings it own valuable lesson, this is how we grow as artists.

Other interesting hubs that you may benefit from

This is my answer to everyone who has ever told me that it's too difficult to paint. This in an inspiring and confidence boosting hub that will leave you ready for any new challenge.

Portraits - A Beginners Guide to Acrylics is full of practical advice and exersises that also translate into watercolour.

This hub explains the benefits of learning to paint and is full of practical advice for those who can't afford art college! A must-read-article for noobs, this hub has step-by-step instructions for how to set yourself up for success.


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    • profile image

      Joan 3 years ago

      None can doubt the veatricy of this article.

    • profile image

      Butterfly 3 years ago

      BION I'm imdesserp! Cool post!

    • Artist-For-Hire profile image

      Artist-For-Hire 6 years ago from Western Australia

      Grinnin - I love it! There are so many variations, so many "recipe's" and so many beautiful results of watercolours. And really, you can't get it "wrong." Even our worst mistakes turn out to be a valuable lesson for next time just as long as we're willing to persevere with it.

      Thanks for your feedback. (???)

    • grinnin1 profile image

      grinnin1 6 years ago from st louis,mo

      I am a watercolorist, and use the transparent pigments for skintone. My recipe for skin tone includes Aerolean yellow, rose madder, cobalt blue. Sometimes I throw in some viridian and for darker tones I substitute alizarin crimson and windsor blue and/or green for the cobalt.