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How to Paint Realistic Skin tones in Oils and Acrylics

Updated on June 26, 2012

How to Paint Realistic Skintones

Today we are going to learn how to paint realistic skintones in oil paints, which can also be applied to acrylics and gouache.

Painting skin tones is a little difficult at first but with practice it will become second nature just as picking up a brush.

First off there are many variable in painting skin i.e. if a person is fair, mid skin or dark, but then again it depends on many factor i.e. the lighting if a person is in broad sunlight there will be warm highlights "yellowish reddish" and if the same person is in indoor cool light or in a cloudy day will have cool highlights " Bluish" these things need to be taken into consideration.

Painting fair skinned people.

Fair skinned women usually have pinkish greyish tone, while men usually have little more yellow or golden tone and children usually have reddish cheek, nose, and ears because of the increase of blood blow in these areas

Leonardo Dicaprio in Oil
Leonardo Dicaprio in Oil

Painting Fair Skinned People

Painting Fair Skinned People

Warm Highlight: Yellow Ochre, little Cadmium Red Light and a lot of White.

Cool Highlight: same as the warm highlight with little Ultramarine Blue added as well.

Then again there is no rule, as you can even use Indian Yellow, Indian Red and White for highlights or even Yellow Ochre and Red Ochre and white.

For reddish pinkish highlights you can even use touch alizarin crimson, yellow ochre and white.

Substitute Yellow Ochre for Raw Sienna for little darken skin.

In highlights where skin appears to be little greyish add touch raw umber and white.

If it is warmer add Cadmium Red Light or touch Alizarin Crimson "just a touch of Alizarin Crimson as it is a very strong color”.

For Middle tones use the same base mixture as above with less white and more ultramarine blue.

Or you can add Raw Umber if the middle tone is little cooler or Burnt Umber if it’s warmer.

You will rarely use the above mixture as it is, you will need to grey it down a notch by adding greys.

Use a mixture of Raw Umber and White, or Ivory Black and White, to slightly knock the intensity down

For Shadows: Raw Sienna, touch Cadmium Red Light and Ultramarine blue, no White. Adjust slightly if its warmer add more Raw Sienna if its cooler more Ultramarine Blue, in small quantities.

Or you can even use Burnt Sienna and viridian.

Darkest dark in the face: Ultramarine blue and Burnt Umber. Never use pure black as it tends to kill the color even if in your painting where an area appears to be black use the above mixture.

You might even see receding planes in faces which appears to be greenish add little Raw Umber to light or middle tone mixture.

Some People have more reddish skin, use little more Cadmium Red light and some people have more yellow skin use more Yellow Ochre.

Painting Lips

For natural reddish lips you can use: Yellow Ochre, White and a lot of cadmium red light or vermillion.

To darken add Alizarin Crimson.

For men add Raw Umber to Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre and White.

My Portrait Pallete

Flake White

Ivory Black

Cadmium Red Light

Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Yellow Med

Phthalo Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Yellow Ochre

Raw Sienna

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Umber

Raw Umber



Difference between warm and cool colors in Portraiture.

As you might already know warm colors are "red, orange and yellow", while cool colors are "blue, green, violet and greys", so how does this applies to colors being cool and warm in portraiture, well color is only warm and cool in comparison to other colors, i.e. a warm color Alizarin Crimson is cooler in comparison to Cadmium Red light or Vermilion because Alizarin Crimson has a little blue in it, whereas Ultramarine Blue is a cool color but is warmer in comparison to other blues because it has red in it.

So what this means in portraiture is that if a color is cool, it is cool in comparison to other colors on that canvas i.e. a warm highlight on a subject cast a cool shadow that is it has blue in it.

You might not see bright blue or green in portraiture but that cool color in skin tones will be little greenish or bluish in comparison to other colors.

Color is relative a warm color will seem cooler when placed next to an even warmer color.

A mid tone grey will appear very dark next to white and very light next to black, so if you want to darken a color you can do use by making the surrounding colors lighter and vice versa.

The so called Flesh Tint Tubes on the market are just a mixture or Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light and White.

Stay tuned

This Page will be updated on a regular basis, i will be adding more tips and technique on how to paint.


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    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Beautiful art work :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Beautiful art work :)

    • craftblogger lm profile image

      craftblogger lm 6 years ago

      I recently tried painting with oil paints and loved it! Great tips, thanks for sharing :)

    • rgasperson lm profile image

      Robert T Gasperson 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Awesome paintings!

    • profile image

      seosmm 6 years ago

      Very nice work!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Very nice. I'm impressed with your skill!

    • mary lighthouse15 profile image

      mary lighthouse15 6 years ago

      Very impressive! I have great respect for painters!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love your work and the simple portrayal of words and images!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens and this is one of the hardest things to achieve in portraits. *Blessed* and featured, Hugs

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Problem solved!

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 6 years ago

      Your art is well done. I always like paintings that look like what they are supposed to be. Nice lens.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Lovely art and tips for painting various skin tones. Happy New Year :)

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 6 years ago from Kansas

      I've not painted portraits, but I may have to try it in the future. Thanks for the great information. I would like to add your lens to my Squidoo Artist Community lens. Blessed.

    • anji lm profile image

      anji lm 6 years ago

      Awesome! This really makes me want to start a painting :) I loooove John Singer Sargent! He is my fave!!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very nice lens with a lot of useful information.

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 6 years ago

      Thanks for the lesson on painting natural skin tones, I'm really fascinated by all those intricate techniques. Much appreciated!

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @revenue4u: thanks *_*

    • profile image

      revenue4u 6 years ago

      Nice informative lens. Squid liked.

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @anonymous: thanks :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      this is great...thanks for sharing

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @timo5150 lm: :)

    • timo5150 lm profile image

      timo5150 lm 6 years ago

      love to learn this kind of stuff even if I never do it

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @sukkran trichy: thanks

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      lovely art work. admire your skill

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @TopMovieOST: thanks :)

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @vikwill: Thanks *_*

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 6 years ago

      Amazing art and great info on techniques, Blessed

    • profile image

      vikwill 6 years ago

      Johny Deep is real masterpiece! I like your lens.

      Alas I can't transfer directly ochre ,vermillion,or cadmium into RGB mix :)

      I'm using numbers in my computer not brushes. I am photographer. Vik

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @Close2Art LM: thanks very much

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      @SteveKaye: Thanks *_*

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 6 years ago

      Beautiful work. Thank you for this lens.