Mixing Skin Tones

Colours for skin tones vary immensely between the home value of a person’s skin as there are areas of high light and shade and subtle changes in colour around various parts of the body. When painting skin it’s very common to find that you use a lot of different colours.

As these are perennial questions we thought we’d start off a discussion because there are many different ways to produce skin colours and one person’s recipe is different from the next.

We suggest the following classic colours for producing skin tones:
Yellow Ochre,
Burnt Sienna,
Permanent Alizarine,
Naples Yellow Reddish,
French Ultramarine Blue,
Mars Violet and
Raw Sienna Dark.

They may even be used straight from the tube but are mostly mixed. Jaune Brilliant cuts out a lot of mixing time so use this as a base to which one or more of the listed colours can be added according to your preference.

If you want to minimize your initial outlay of colours Cadmium Orange and a touch of French Ultramarine Blue (basics in any paint box) produce a dark Sienna like colour which is a perfect base for further additions of colour and tinting.

Depending on how you lighten the paint up, you will find that you can produce a variety of skin tones. Tinting White (warmer than Titanium), Toning Grey Pink and Toning Grey Yellow and Naples Yellow are useful for tinting to the desired colour.

The effect that the individual wishes to produce is also a factor. Do you want to use bold expressive colours? Then punch everything up by incorporating Quinacridone Red Violet, Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Yellows.

If you want to use an approach similar to the Old Masters create an under painting in Terre Verte. Over your tonal work build up blends and glazes with Tinting White, Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, French Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Light Red Ochre, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna Dark and Mars Black.

At Chroma we have had a lot of interest in this area. Please add to the discussion by letting us know your tips for those mixes that you love to use when people are your subject.


  • Comment Link Ted Saturday, 25 March 2017 05:04 posted by Ted

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  • Comment Link Jan Calderwood Thursday, 14 July 2016 00:44 posted by Jan Calderwood

    I paint figures and portraits very successfully using a method which is the reverse of the usual dark to light.. I start with my lightest areas which are white plus a touch of yellow ochre plus maybe a touch of light red. Then my next tonal area down is the same plus a touch more yellow ochre and light red. The next tonal area down adds a little more of the same plus a touch of raw umber. Finally my darkest areas are more of the same ( ie more yellow ochre, more light red and more raw umber) plus a touch of burnt umber. I paint lips and cheeks the mid-tone and then stroke a little cadmium red into the wet area.

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