Creating Realistic Flesh Tones In Your Oil Painting
Creating realistic flesh tones in your oil paintings can often run the gamut from a little difficult to downright maddening. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to rendering human flesh. However, there are a few tricks you can learn to make the job a little easier.
For starters, keep in mind that human skin is composed of reds, yellows, and blues, also known as the primary colors. When you mix these three colors in the right proportions, you get a nice shade of brown. Add some titanium white to bring out the contours and highlights and you are on your way to creating realistic looking flesh tones. I say on your way, because you are not quite there yet. There is still the issue of which reds, yellows and blues you should use.
Blues : A nice, warm blue like ultramarine blue helps to dull the brilliance of the red and yellow, keeping your skin color from looking unnatural.
Reds : Cadmium red light will give your flesh a ruddy complexion, while alizarin crimson is perfect for darker skin tones.
Yellows : Through the history of western art, not too many palettes have lacked yellow ochre for use in skin tones. To make it darker, try adding raw umber or burnt umber.
Beginning with lighter skin tones, take a little of the cadmium red light and mix it with yellow ochre. Then compare the bright orange mixture with the skin tone of your subject, adding more red or yellow as needed. Next, add the titanium white until you arrive at a color comparable to that of the inside of the arm or the lower portion of the cheek. What you will end up with will more than likely be too bright, so add a touch of ultramarine blue, just enough to make your mixture look more natural.
If the skin tone you are painting is darker, try the above mixture, but add ultramarine blue instead of white. You could also try experimenting with burnt umber or raw umber. Whichever color you choose, start adding it until you have a color near the value of the skin tone you are painting. At this point, the titanium white is added, giving you a more natural skin tone.
One caveat to the above: do not strictly sole on white to lighten the color. Rather than a natural skin tone, you could end up with one looking pale and unhealthy. If that is not the look you are going for, try adding in some of the cadmium red light / yellow ochre mix and breathe a little life back into it.