Skin tones in paintings appear in all colors of the rainbow, depending on the type of picture. Some artists prefer to create high contrast in portraits using bright oranges and blues -- especially when creating psychedelic-type portraits or abstracts.
But when you're striving for something more realistic, start with the artist's color wheel, primary colors, red, yellow and blue and the colors white and black to mix skin tones from basic colors.
Things You'll Need
Palette or paper plate
Acrylic, oil or watercolor paints
Water if using acrylics or watercolors
Linseed oil and turpentine for oil paints
Place a dime-sized dab of each color onto your palette: red, yellow, blue, white and black.
Mix equal amounts of red, yellow and blue from the dabs on your palette in the middle of the palette. When mixed, you should have a good, rich brown color if you've mixed them together correctly.
Refine the brown to make skin tones of varying colors. To lighten the brown for lighter flesh-colored tones, add small amounts of white or yellow, depending on the skin color desired.
Make ruddy complexions -- those with red tones in their skin colors -- add more red to the mix.
Darken skin tones by adding a small amount of black; then add bits of white to adjust the skin color appropriately.
Tone down a particular skin tone hue by mixing in a bit of gray. Make gray by mixing equal portions of white and black; darken it with more black and lighten it by adding more white. Adding gray to a skin tone helps to create a mid-range color when adding shadows and contours.
Highlights and Shadows
To include highlight and shadows in the lighter and darker areas of a face, start with an under-painting of the details of the face in a monochromatic brown. Let the under-painting completely dry before mixing the hues for the skin tones. Work from the dark tones in the face to the lighter tones. Add the shadowed areas of the face in darker versions of the skin tone. This also helps to create a sense of depth in the portrait.
Some artists may even use dark versions of blues, purples, browns or reds to create shadows. Add the chosen skin tone colors the painting, and as you continue painting, add highlights by mixing white into the flesh tones.
If you don't like the results of your first attempts to create a portrait, you can paint over the dried painting with gesso to take your canvas back to basic white. Several well-known artists often painted over pictures they didn't like to make the masterpieces you see today.
Once you know how to make skin tones from basic colors, you can also buy pre-made colors in various skin tones.