Monday, February 18, 2013


Mixing correct flesh tones is the Holy Grail of portrait painting! No wonder manufactures make tubes labeled "flesh"!!

The first thing to wrap your mind around is that a tube of paint labeled "flesh" - isn't!  
Don't be fooled into thinking you will buy a magic tube of flesh and begin painting accurate skin tones with it. (first of all, think logically - it is labeled "flesh" but WHOSE flesh? Yours? Anyone's you know? How about anyone's you have ever seen before??  Really look at the color and compare it to several types of real skin!
You may have done or have heard of others doing a great deal of work to find some artist's secret recipe to making fleshtones?    Hogwash!! While there are some common sense guidelines for specific skin types ... there is no one magic bullet formula for mixing "fleshtones."

Retrain your mind to think differently about "white" flesh, "brown or black" Flesh because there is no such flesh in real life!
While creating self-portraits with a group of children several of them candidly stated that they had white or black or brown flesh and reached for that color of pencil or paint.

My job was to teach them to see the actual colors in their flesh!
I held up a sheet of bright white typing paper which they all agreed was white. I passed out a sheet to each student and asked them to place their hand on the paper and now tell me what color their skin is. Surprisingly some still said the caucasian skin was "white" and any of color was black. I went on to demonstrate and explain the nature of flesh. They started seeing the actual colors instead of the labels.

*We are loaded with preconceptions about colors, shapes and objects at a very young age. When asked to describe something or draw it, we revert back to these preconceived notions learned very early in life. These are most likely very primitive perceptions of what something actually is.

Same holds true with color.
If asked "what color is the sky" many will just say "blue
."  But is it just blue? Can you grab a tube of blue paint and paint any sky? (first decision would be which blue! "Sky Blue"??)

Flesh is just like any other object you paint - it is subject to its origin and to its surroundings.  

What I mean by that is its origin may be native american, caucasian, etc,  while its surroundings may be wood, metal, colored cloth, the atmosphere, type of lighting, ie reflective light, and so on.
Knowledgeable artists represent a pure white flower or cloth using a myriad of colors not just white and gray/black.  That is how flesh is.  It isn't pure white, pink, black, brown etc.   
There is no single formula for flesh!!
So you might wonder if you should own a tube of "flesh" paint?   From my personal and teaching experience I say not early on as it can be more confusing than helpful.  Some tube "fleshes" tend to go muddy/gray rather quickly when mixed with other colors, so if you already own a tube or plan to buy one anyway... it is important to understand what colors make up your tube of "flesh" if you plan to use it as a base for mixing other needed flesh tones.  

You will find some common ground but in general, every time you paint a portrait, you will recreate what color "flesh" is. The key is to be observant to the local colors, reflective color, shadows, surroundings, etc.
If you would like a critique or have a question- please drop me a message! 

©CJ Rider
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