The Portrait Part II – Portrait Painting Tips by K.L. Britton Los Angeles

How to Paint Skin Tones by K.L. Britton Art Los Angeles Oil Painter

This is still what I’ve been working on in the last week.  You can see here if you go back a couple posts, the problems I encountered are still giving me issues, however you can see here I’ve started to go into the details.  Go back one post to see my method: Large, abstract shapes in generally the right places, followed by getting more and more detailed.

Another thing you might notice is my limited palette.  I have a deep and resounding love for colour.  If you take a look at my paintings, there are hidden punches of out-of-the-tube colour everywhere.  Color is such a deep passion that I end up wanting to put all the colours in my painting.  This means that even if a colour doesn’t necessarily go with the others, it would still show up, completely negating any colour harmony I might have been trying for.

In this case, and for almost all portraits, I use a really simple palette for skin tones in oil paint.  Here I’ll lay it out with simple descriptions of each colour and how I use it on my paintings:

Titanium White – This goes with everything for anything midtone or lighter, and sometimes even darker.  A reminder: It will cool down any colour you mix it with!

Burnt Sienna- My favorite warm shadow tone.  I use it straight out of the bottle where the shadow starts, and I mix it with Ultramarine Blue to get a rich, beautiful black.  I also mix it with Ultramarine Blue for the wash under my painting.

Ultramarine Blue – I use the Williamsburg tube, which is extremely dense in pigment.  I use much, much less of it because it is so vivid.  Keep in mind this will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  This tube from Williamsburg has lasted triple as long as the old Lukas one I used to use.

Ivory Black – I use this as little as possible, as I prefer to mix my own black, however, it is good for cool, local colour blacks.  Add burnt sienna for shadows, you may not be able to perceive the difference on your palette but people will notice on your painting.

Alizarin Crimson – a non-opaque paint I use to add reds to colours that are in “cool” zones.  I.E. Cool lit cheeks, or cool shadow cheeks.  It is a cool red, very beautiful.  Also great for ears and inner eyes.

Cad Yellow – Hardly ever gets used actually.  Great for outdoors and still life, though.

Cad Orange – I also use this more in outdoor and still life, however I will put a “shot” of it in those rich areas where the core shadow is.

Vridian – a cool, lovely green that really goes well in skin tones.  You could use just white, burnt sienna, and a bit of green and you would have a lovely base tone.

Burnt Umber – This one I also use sparingly, it tends to go in the shadows, but I normally paint my models under very cool lighting and so I need warmer shadows.  It’s great for underpaintings and for underpaintings of still lives in particular, as it’s very neutral but can be driven into quite a dark value, unlike the lighter burnt sienna.  Also great for shadows on warmer lit subjects.

That’s an overview of my skin tones in oil paint.  Let me know if you have any questions and thanks for reading!


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