Art Supply of the Week - Skin Tone Palette

My Favorite Skin Tone Palette

My skin tone palette varies slightly based on the subject's skin tones and the reflected light situation.  However, most of the time I use the above core palette of colors. I find that the wonderful simplicity of this palette yields astoundingly beautiful skin tones. This palette provides wonderfully delicate tones of pink, yellow-orange, green and purple. I've experimented quite a lot with skin tone palettes over the years and this palette is by and far my go to favorite. 

Rublev Italian Raw Sienna
Vasari Terra Rosa
Williamsburg Cadmium Red Deep
Michael Harding Raw Umber
Michael Harding Burnt Umber (used mostly for hair and underpainting)
Rublev Lead White #2 mixed with Vasari Titanium White
Rublev Oxide Black

  • Yellow-Orange: The reds + raw sienna + raw umber + white in different proportions yield most of the yellow-orange skin tones I use.

  • Pinks: The reds (mostly terra rosa plus a small percentage of the cadmium red deep) + white give me nice pink flesh tones for the cheeks, fingers, nose, lips, ears, elbows, knees etc. When I need a pink that is more orange-red in hue I use a greater proportion of the terra rosa. When I need a pink that is red-purple in hue I add a little more of the cadmium red deep.

  • Greens: Raw umber + the reds + white provides the green undertones important for setting off the pinks in the skin.

  • Purple: Oxide black + the reds + white yields a nice purple tint. I adjust the intensity of this purple with raw sienna.

  • Browns: Oxide black + the reds + Raw Sienna results in a nice dark brown, with or without white depending on the desired value. The mixture is similar to burnt umber but more advantageous in hue and is perfect for shadow colors.

Before I start painting, I pre-mix the above combinations in medium to light values and one pile, pictured below, of my pre-mixed shadow color. I find that having large piles of paint in front of me encourages me to not be miserly with my paint application. This enables me to bring the painting to a nice level of finish with the first layer. The second layer goes very quickly as I only have to make some small adjustments if any. This second layer usually entails revisiting the highlights and translucent shadows.

Why I mix the two whites together:  Lead white is one of the strongest pigments out there. The lead keeps the paint film flexible for over 100 years, whereas the titanium white becomes brittle much much faster. In 50 years the titanium is as brittle as 150 year old lead white. However, given its benefits, I find that the lead tends to yellow a bit more than the titanium, so I add about 30-40% titanium white to my lead white. I like the working consistency of the two together while also maintaining the benefits of both pigments.

Other pigments I have used on occasion for skin tones include Vasari cobalt blue and Michael Harding viridian.

That same skin tone palette at the end of the painting session.