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Painting Realistic Skin Tones with Watercolor

As an artist, you know skin color is never about just one shade. So, you can't just mix one generic color and paint someone's entire face and hands in that particular shade and call it a day.

You need depth, shadows, and light, because flesh tones vary, and flatness won't work in all situations.

It's all a matter of what you want your result to be and how willing you are to mix and experiment with colors.

Follow the information below to get it right, especially when working with watercolors!

    1- What are the steps to painting realistic tones?

    First, you're going to select a base color for the skin. You'll use it for at least one of your characters. Once you’ve made your choice, use it in different concentrations to give a tridimensional feel to your character.

    For shadows, you'll darken the tone by adding a complementary color, and for brighter areas, you'll lighten the color.

    Painting Realistic Skin

    Keep your color wheel close, to make sure you're not making a mistake. It will give you a hand in the mixing process. Of course, when you're painting a portrait, you want to add dimension and depth with all sorts of values and colors.

    Creating your skin-tone watercolor palette requires some materials. You need watercolors, a brush, some water, and a porcelain plate or another mixing medium that doesn't absorb the color.

    Mixing skin tones is a simple process we can exemplify in three short steps:

    • Create a starting tone by mixing one portion of yellow with a little bit of red and a tiny bit of blue. Mix well with the brush until you get a homogenous result for light skin tones. For a more medium tone, add a bit of brown paint. For dark tones, add more brown watercolor.
    • Test your color on a piece of paper. Since you now have a starting point, it will be easier to manipulate the tone to get exactly what you need. See first if the skin tone is too light or too dark compared to your reference. You can change this by adding more water or more brown paint.
    • Keep refining your colors with one little dot of red, blue, or yellow at a time. Once you find the skin tone you're looking for, build an entire family of tones related to it, so you can use them for shades and light in your painting.

    Tips on painting realistic skin tones with watercolor

    How to judge skin values

    When you're mixing colors, you could use the help of a color wheel. The right values, which means the correct light or dark shades of the shape you paint, are important for your overall piece. It makes a difference when it comes to your painting's success.

    Another tool you can use is the artist's viewfinder. It lets you evaluate the correct values to paint. It's a little paper viewfinder you use to see small parts of the subject so you can better observe if it needs any changes or not. It's useful when you're employing it against a real-life subject (hand, arm, face, etc.) or when using a reference photo.

    You can easily build your viewfinder by cutting a hole in a piece of paper. Then, put it over your hand or photo and the color you want to use for the flesh to see how similar the colors are. Make changes accordingly.

    Any step by step to drawing a person discusses, at least in part, the importance of skin tones in depicting realism.

    What kind of skin color are you trying to paint?

    Before mixing your colors, figure out the skin tone you're trying to obtain. If you're painting with a reference, take a close look at your picture or subject.

    It can be easy to determine whether the skin is light, dark, or medium, but undertones may be harder to figure out. When you look closely with attention, you'll notice little tones of green or blue in many skin colors of all intensities. Before making the base tone, you must determine the colors you'll have to mix to obtain it.

    Of course, finding the perfect ones for your painting will take some time and experimentation. Fortunately, building skin shades from watercolors requires minimal materials. And every type of artist can invest in some beginner equipment.

    Watercolor mixing takes time!

    You must work a bit with different colors to find the perfect shades. And you have to consider that watercolors will look a bit darker on paper when they're still wet. As they dry, the tone will become a little bit lighter.

    When you find the right shade, remember what colors you used and the amounts for each. It will be easier to get a similar result next time.

    Remember to use white and black sparingly when figuring out skin tones. Some white watercolor paints can be more pigmented, meaning they affect how translucent a tone is. Adding too much white can make them appear flat.

    When you use black paint to adjust tones, it can result in muddy colors. Instead, add some brown pigment when looking to darken a skin tone watercolor.

    Luckily, there's more than one way to achieve the same tone. It all depends on the palette at your disposal. To get your perfect "orange" tint, you can use an entire range of colors close to each other on the color wheel. You'll often use yellow, red, and brown hues, which are regular combinations to produce exciting flesh tones.

    You'll find colors like yellow ochre in many skin tone mixing palettes. To get a realistic result, mix in a little red, scarlet, sienna, or crimson. To darken or tone down the vibrancy, use complementary blue colors like cobalt blue or grays. To lighten your color tone, dilute your color mix.

    Near complement, colors can draw the result closer to earth tones. Try mixing purples and oranges and work them with water to find exciting results.

    You can work with the brownish color obtained when mixing red, yellow, and blue colors. Or you can combine it with other colors to find skin-like tints.

    Of course, it's always better to limit the palette you're working with and see what combos come out of it. Work with different group colors and combine them with neutralizing tones to find what works.

    What techniques to use when painting skin

    Glazing is one of the most popular techniques used when painting with watercolors. You start your painting with the lightest shades. Then, you build up your image one darker shade at a time. The multiple layers help build depth and texture.

    You do the same with your background, slowly adapting the darkness of your painting with one glaze of color at a time. As you add the finishing touches, focus on the final color and composition details.

    If you want, push the color saturation beyond what would be considered a realistic painting. You can get some very interesting and visually pleasing results.

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    With this essential information, your watercolor painting journey becomes easier. Starting with the base skin tone creation and mixing in a little bit of this-and-that can result in beautiful and realistic results.

    It's up to you to let your imagination run wild and find the perfect watercolor skin shades for your next painting exercise!
    Author bio

    Rick Seidl is a digital marketing specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media and Communications, based in Portland, Oregon. He carries a burning passion for digital marketing, social media, small business development, and establishing its presence in a digital world, and is currently quenching his thirst through writing about digital marketing and business strategies for Life&Style Hub.

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