|Painting the Figure’s Face
Human flesh tones, whether Caucasian, African, or Asian
are some sort of an orange. This orange is then mixed with either
browns or complimentary colors to cool or warm it/lighten or darken it.
I start painting human flesh by premixing three main large orange colors
that are also related to value. I change the formula based on how
pink or brown each person is. Since these two models are both fairly
pale and so as the flesh tones move into the north light of the lightest
areas the flesh tones will be cooler towards the light and warmer in the
The darkest tone/hue is mixed from cadmium orange, burnt
sienna, a touch of lampblack, white, and a little bit of raw ochre.
The middle tone/hue is mixed from cadmium orange, burnt
sienna, a touch of lampblack, a little bit of yellow ochre, and much more
For the lightest tone, I use cadmium orange, lampblack,
and a lot of white. The black cools off and neutralizes the orange
slightly. I will also mix other colors into these main body colors
to modify them for sections of the face and hands. For example,
in the nose and cheeks I usually add a little bit of cadmium red light
to pink them up a bit. If the person is excited or flushed, I may
intensify this effect with other reds such as scarlet or even a touch of
alizarin crimson. In male characters’ beard areas, I often use a
touch of Payne’s grey to show the hair under the skin.
In painting the female figure’s face, I start by thinking
again about layering. The cheek of the figure overlaps the hair behind
it. The darkest tones are a warm black, almost a purple. Using
a number 8 synthetic bright, I start with a thin wash of medium, and lampblack,
mixed with alizarin and scarlet for the darks. Using a small synthetic
filbert, I also paint the darks of the face such as nostrils, eyelids and
the crease in the lips with this wash tone. Most of these darks will
be painted back over and I expect them to mix with the subsequent layers
of colors. This gives the shadows a warm gray purplish tone and,
almost randomly, tends to add a bit of variation in color to the lighter
Next, using a number 12 synthetic bright, I mix medium
in to create a very liquid wash of the darkest tone/hue that was mixed
from cadmium orange, burnt sienna, a touch of lampblack, white, and a little
bit of raw ochre. I wash this in to all of the darkest areas of the
face. Using the same brush and a lot of painting medium I then wash
in the medium tones.
Grabbing from the same piles of premixed color I then
use a variety of brushes in varying sizes to ease and blend the tonal structure.
To paint the lips and cheeks I mix the colors from the premixed blobs.
While I’m working, I blow up areas of the photo on my
computer to see specific areas and see subtle color variations in these
To modify tint and color I then add other colors to the
flesh tones with a sable brush. For example, the lower lip is tinted
with cadmium red medium. For the shadow of the upper lip I add a
bit of burnt sienna. The cheeks and nose are pinked up a bit with
the addition of a little bit of cadmium red light. I use these same
formulas for the knuckles of the hands.
Next, the hair is begun with a dark tone mixed from mainly
lamp black but a touch of alizarin and scarlet are added. I mix two
separate grays for the hair for cool and warm strands of hair. The
warm grays of the hair are mixed from burnt umber and white. The
cool grays are mixed from black and white. Because the paint is so
fluid, the layers tend to mix together as I paint them creating variations
in tone and color.
Next, I move on to the other hand holding the martini
glass. I paint this hand in a similar manner to the face, using the
same premixed colors that I have already prepared.