Use These 3 Oil Paint Colors Plus White

Photo of skin tones in oil paint mixed on painting pallet

How To Mix A Caucassion Skin Tone From 3 Colors + White

Use these 3 colors and white to mix a neutral caucassion skin tone:

photo of tube of oil paint flake white replacement and oil paint on pallet in cadmium red light, terre verde green and french ultramarine blue
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Green Verde or Green Earth
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Flake White Replacement

I've heard other artists speak of "graying out the form". This theory suggests much of the skin should remain neutral.

I was spending a significant amount of time knocking down areas in the skin tones of my paintings which seemed to be too colorful. This investment in time, spent neutralizing color, prompted me to consider starting with a neutral.

My theory is start with a neutral. Think of much of the skin as neutral in color.

Reserve saturated color for illuminated areas where the skin is turning, such as where the flesh is turning over the cheekbone or the curves at the end of the nose. These are also the areas which are more likely to "blush" or turn pink as a person gets cold.

Selective use of color can help create areas of interest. Use your most saturated color to draw attention to the focal point of your portrait painting.

To develop a neutral skin tone mix or base, mix complementary colors. Two complementary colors mixed together will turn gray. They neutralize the color of one another.

I suggest mixing a skin tone base from Cadmium Red Light and Terra Verte which is also known as Green Earth. Add Flake White Replacement to create a range of values.

Adjust this range of values with a touch of Ultramarine Blue for the cool areas. Adjust the range of values with a touch more Cadmium Red Light to create your pink tones.

Why Cadmium Red Light and Terre Verde?

Cadmium Red Light is a warm red. After viewing many of my favorite portraits in museums, I see what appears to be Cadmium Red for areas of blush in the skin.

What do you see when you analyze your favorite paintings? What pigments to you recognize within the painting? Are those same pigments in your current pallette?

During the pandemic quarantine of 2020, I read a copy of DaVinci's notebooks which my brother gave me many years ago.

DaVinci suggests using Burnt Terre Verde in the shadows:

"The shadow of flesh should be of burnt terra verde. L 92 r. Page 924

What is burnt terra verde?

While I couldn't find a modern paint color named "burnt terra verde", I found suggestions that burnt terra verde may have been a mix of reddish brown with terre verde or green earth.

In a "spotlight on terra verde", Windsor Newton states "terre verte was most famously used as under-painting for flesh tones, acting to neutralise them".

Neutralising flesh tones:

By mixing red and green as a base, you create a neutral color.

Why You Should Mix Paint From The Same Pile?

Imagine a shiny plastic ball which is blue in color. The entire ball is blue because the plastic it's made of was dyed or colored blue.

If you mix your paint from one central pile, you can keep your colors unified as you move across the form.

Let's say you start by mixing one central pile of a blue. Mix this blue as close as possible to the blue your seeing in the ball.

You can pull a bit of this base mix to the side. Mix another color into to make a slight color change. Pull another bit of this base mix to the side and adjust the value. Continue doing this as you paint the object.

If you were to say, mix the highlight area from a completely new mix of paint colors, you risk having this new color differ too much from the rest of the object.

Avoid Muddy Paint Colors:

Some arists suggest mixing no more than three pigments together. This can help avoid muddy colors. Be selective in the number of colors you're using as you mix paint. Mix the fewest number of paint colors possible to achieve the color you need.

In virtually any surface, there will be a variety of subtle color and value differences as you move your eyes across the form.

There will likely be a range of highlights and shadows. If you place the ball next to other objects of strong color, you will likely see those colors reflected onto the surface of the ball.

The same thing occurs when painting a face. While a person's skin may seem to be one shade or color across their entire body, there are numerous color and value changes. You must capture these changes if you want your work to look more real.

If you were to paint a face one solid color, it would appear very flat. The color changes create depth.

Mixing From One Paint Pile To Paint Skin In A Portrait:

Imagine your base paint pile represents the overall base color of a person's skin. Think of it as a foundation cosmetic color. It should be the right color temperature to match the undertones in that person's skin. It should also represent the overall color temperature of the light illuminating your subject.

Art Rule: If the light is cool, the shadows will appear to be warm. If the light is warm, the shadows will appear cool in color temperature.

Mixing from the same paint pile will keep the color unified across the entire form.

  1. Mix a base color of Cadmium Red Light and Terra Verde
  2. Separate into two piles
  3. Mix white into one pile to form mid tone
  4. Separate mid tone into two piles
  5. Mix more white into one piles to form lights
  6. Separate further small sections
  7. Mix small amount of Cad Red Light into one pile for warm pinks
  8. Mix small touch of Ultramarine Blue into one pile for cool tones

The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci Definitive Edition In One Volume, Edited by Edward MacCurdy: "...where there is the most light there the true quality of the color so illuminated will be most mindful to show the true quality of the colours in the parts which are in light." - MS2038 Bib. Nat.33 r. Page 899

"Of bodies clad in light and shade it is the illuminated part which reveals the true colour." E 18 r. Page 923

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones