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Readers Respond: What Paint Colors Do You Use For Mixing Skin Tones?

Responses: 33


From the article: Mixing Skin Tones
Which paint colors or pigments are your favorites when it comes to mixing up skin tones? Do you have a standard "recipe" or set of colors you use?

Individual Coloring

There is no such thing as a uniform skin tone. Each patch of skin has individual coloring. Some are orange, purple, green, pink, and many other colors.
—Guest Ana Wieder-Blank

Ever Used This Mix?

I use: Cadmium Yellow + Dioxizine Violet (Purple) + White. Honestly, I can get numerous flesh tones out of this mix. Believe it or not, the exact same mix (different quantities) produce realistic Brunette and Blonde hair. Not complicated at all! I recommend at least trying it. Also, a lot of great portrait artists strictly forbid Burnt Sienna when mixing flesh tones. Food for thought!
—Guest Khabran

Flesh Tones

Thanks for various suggestions for making flesh/skin tones. I use pale yellow, a cool red and a hint of very light blue. This applies to transparent watercolours; flake white can be added to this mix for opaque colour.
—Guest Vinod Naik.

Color Mix Using Acrylics

I used raw sienna and Naples yellow, touch of cadmium orange and a little bit of titanium white. For the more ruddy areas I added Van Dyck red to this mix, just a little bit. To tone it down for shadows I added a little ultramarine blue and raw umber. This creates some very nice green and purple shadows too. Then I scumble my highlights on with a dry brush of very light flesh tone mix and another layer of scumbled titanium white on top for the last highlight (of course wait for these layers to dry. (I used acrylics.)
—Guest kerr

Starting with Premixed Portrait Pink

I use premixed Liquitex light portrait pink, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and white for skin color plus a dab of what-ever my background color is going to be. For shading I use purple, blue or burnt umber. Try not to use to many mixes as it's difficult to remix the color you have painted. Here's a very good tip: When you mix your skin color mix extra and put it into a small round plastic pill container which you can buy at the drug store for later use. It keeps for a very long time.
—Guest David Sedlarik

Assuming Compromises

I agree with Guest EB; assuming I know a color, shape, or texture always compromises the artwork. Many colors play in skin tones, beyond flesh tint. A nice mix I use at times for darker skin is yellow ocher, or burnt sienna, mixed with a violet or purple hue. And use the colors alone for shadow and highlights.

Skin Tones

For my skin tones I use a couple of different mixtures. Note: I always mix my colors into white not white into the colors. I start out with a large amount of white and I then add cadmium yellow pale hue until a nice titan or unbleached titanitum color (Liquitex acrylic color) is reached. From this mixture I pick up half with my palette knife and add a pinch of cadmium red. If this mixture is a little bit too rosey for my tastes I neutralize it down with a tiny pinch of Prussian blue. From this mixture I split half with my palette knife again. I then add burnt sienna in various degrees picking up each shade and separating it with my palette knife every time. I have also found that mixing cadmium yellow pale hue and magenta with equal parts creates a nice warm brown color. I can then take this mixture and add yellows or siennas to my desired results.
—Guest Loganzw

Keep a Reference

I draw Naruto a lot, and almost always in black and white, but that doesn't mean that I don't have any coloring experience! I always start off with a light peach color, then add yellow, orange, and red. Brown, grey, and purple are the only colors I've ever used for shading (I need to try out some more!) For me, watercolors are easier to use because the color blends a lot easier.
—Guest Randa

Portrait Colors

I use cadmium yellow dark or medium, cadmium red dark, a touch of cerulean blue and white.

Mix 3 Colors for Skintones in Watercolor

If possible study the subject's actual skin tone and decide if you will work in transparent, opaque, or a combination of colors. No model? You will need a yellow, a red, and a blue as most of the previous writers have suggested. Begin by tinting your yellow with red and add only a hint of blue. For shadows you could choose blue, green, purple shades; bringing in the colors from your background works very well for shadows also and brings consistency to the work. If your style is to use rich mixes from the beginning you will not prewet your paper, but lay in your colors and allow them to mix on the paper. If you prefer a more typical "watercolory" look you could pre-moisten your paper before laying in the color. It would be okay to apply a basecoat color before either of these methods as long as you allow to dry before adding more color. This color will shine through your subsequent layers. Please try mixing your colors on a trial sheet of paper first to avoid disappointment!

Skin Tones (Transparent Watercolor)

I use yellow ochre and permanent rose. Add water for lighter skin. Add a touch of cobalt blue for darker skin areas. Use burnt siena for glazing.
—Guest Nick Costanzo

Flesh Color

I use a scarlet orange and a camo sort of green. Then I use a lot of white, depending of how light I want it.
—Guest Andiey

Easy Fleshtone

The easiest combo I've found is an equal mix of alizarin crimson and pale yellow-green, aka brilliant yellow-green, using more yellow-green to tone down the rosiness for cooler skintones. This combo will be a darker fleshtone that you can easily lighten with white for almost every skintone there is. Shadows may be created by using a dark brown, ultramarine blue or purple. Try it, I think you'll like the simplicity.

Flesh Painting

I find flake white, light red. terre verte makes a good pale flesh colour.
—Guest paul

Share Your Color Mixes

I have a very simple formula that I teach in my Painting I classes: 7 parts white (I prefer Flake White because it is warmer than Titanium White), 1 part Yellow Ocher, and a pinch of Cadmium Red Light. This gives a very basic light skin color. Add more Yellow Ocher and Cad Red Light for subtle shadows. I try to encourage my students to use Burnt Umber and/or Burnt Sienna with a little Alizarin Crimson to create darker shadows. When trying to create darker skin tones, I suggest using Burnt Umber and/or Burnt Sienna plus white with a little Chrome Green Oxide mixed in or trying mixing their own browns using any number of reds and greens, my favorite being browns mixed from Cad Reds and Chrome Green Oxide. There are numerous combinations of reds and greens that might satisfy their needs and I always encourage experimentation. No matter what color skin tone they are mixing, I also emphasize strong value contrasts for the most drama and interest.
—Guest Jim Meaders

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