Help! Mixing in general, but particularly skin tones

I'm not using Geneva colours as I'm not in the US, but I think I'd still be struggling even with them. Failing badly with mixing, particularly skin tones. I'm posting my painting, and pictures of my palettes.

Although I enjoyed painting and do somewhat like the result, the colours are a mile from accurate (and I need to make some adjustments to the eyes). No matter what I seemed to do, each time I mixed for skin I ended up on the same kind of makeup-like, "cheap foundation" colour. The palettes hint at this, I think. I couldn't get the warmth without going to orange or mud.

Could this be my base colours? I'm using a crimson rather than a more pure red. Time to switch to the recommended Winsor & Newton Geneva alternatives?

For reference, I shot the painting with a grey card in the shot, then white balanced and cropped in Photoshop. The palettes are just from a phone, so not balanced properly.



  • edited March 2018
    Nice work, I can relate, I found that I had to add "Rembrandt" Scarlet to my pallette, mix with W&N Alizarin Crimson to mix the correct red I needed for portraiture. Recipe: 3 parts Alizarin Crimson + 1 part Rembrandt Scarlet.
  • @Observer, I use student quality oils and medium, it is not absolutely necessary to use Geneva. My red is Alizarin Crimson.Looking at the portrait there are large areas of skin with the same value/tone.Is this your first painting using Marks method? He recommends using his method for doing the the first few paintings or however many you need to get proficient seeing Value and Colour. Looking at your pallet, you need to mix more steps and before putting the paint on the canvas, check the colour and value by asking the questions " is my paint too red, too blue too green the video's they are great..... Having said all that your Painting is good :)

  • dencaldencal -
    edited March 2018

    Mark explains and demonstrates flesh tones at 9:30 min into this free video.

    Great work so far.

  • Thanks Denis that's the exact one to get @Observer on track and illustrates what I was going to tell him which is "Go For The MUD".  I think the girl in the photograph is beautiful and her skin tones are reflecting a lot of that magenta? color in her dress. The darker you make the (her) left side, the more the colors on the right will become pronounced. As that happens you will more easily see where value corrections are needed. BTW the painting is great so far. She might want you to thin the eyebrows a bit.
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    @Observer, it's not your paint, it's your color matching.  How are you color matching?  What color temperature is your lighting?

    For example, the collar of the garment is painted in one uniform color, but the photo shows it varying from a high chroma red to almost black.
  • @Observer your not that far off, color matching is the trick as @PaulB says above - maybe use a color picker in a photo suite or match to a photo, looks like some values need to be introduced and it may only be the right hand side if the face and dress - keep at it and this will be great 
  • punch a hole in a piece of card - note card - even paper will do .  The size of a hole punch in a notebook - now, look in that hole on let's say, a part of her shirt - now look at the same place on your painting.  What's the difference?   Same with the face - I find isolating helps tremendously.  Practice, practice, practice - you'll find your matching gets easier with time.  You have got to have a warm, vibrant red - the cool red you have on your palette will never reach the chroma in that blouse.
  • Less focus on colour, more on value. Look at your reference and squint your eyes , now do the same with your painting- can you see the difference? 
  • Thanks to everyone for the kind, sage guidance. I think I'm trying to run before I can fully walk, so will find a simpler subject and try again, then post the results here.

    Mainly for my benefit, here's a checklist of your advice so far:
    • Make sure the colour temperature of lighting is 5000K/5500K (mine is).
    • Student quality paints are OK (although there is a sale on at the art shop...).
    • For portraits, use an appropriate red (mine might be too crimson/cool).
    • Mix more steps, and check colours very carefully.
    • Concentrate on value (as Mark repeatedly says).
    • If working from a photo, laminate it or put it under glass. Use for colour checking.
    • Punch a hole in a piece of paper (neutral paper?) so you can isolate the colours in your photo.
    • No blending as you paint!
    Now, off I go...
  • I absolutely don't want photorealism! I usually end up blending the heck out of things and drift that way, then hate the painting and myself afterwards. If anything will make me throw in the towel, it'll be that.

    What I want is that insouciant, Sargent-like quality. Painterly. Hey, we can all aspire, right?!
  • @observer - I hope you don't mind my piping up with an observation: first, I just started painting 6 months ago and I have yet to do any superb work, so take that into account. However, I noticed at least with the portrait above is that you may want to think of colors and values in blocks, planes (spatial), 3-d, rather than in lines. One of my biggest challenges has been from thinking and drawing with lines, to thinking and painting with values and blocks. Does that make any sense? For me, that meant one night I just started painting in blocks, with no concern for drawing and no sense that the painting needed to be any where near perfect: I just needed to push over the hump in which I felt compelled to think in lines and jump the chasm into thinking in blocks of color/value. Try to do it a few times with no attempt to paint a perfect painting. It'll probably look ugly at first. Don't take much time doing it. After you've done a couple of them, you may find yourself 'thinking' and painting differently. And then you will be able to go back to a very controlled DMP approach and marry the intuitive with the planned. You may surprise yourself. 

    You have more than enough on your plate to think about, but perhaps this will help you to conceptualize painting?
  • Renoir

    I couldn't agree more.  Lines have a place on a Portrait only if a tight, copy of a photograph is sought.
    A sketched envelope, followed by dark and light shapes, refined by smaller brush detail presents a style and a character study of the sitter.


  • It works! It works!

    Mr Carder: hat off to you, sir!

    This will have to be quite a complicated post, because I don't want to infringe copyright.

    I painted an oil of the photo "Magnolia Blossom with Bud" by Amy Lamb:

    © 2018 Amy Lamb Studio, LLC

    This is such a beautiful photo!

    As my painting (and my photo of it) is a derivative work, I have asked Ms Lamb for permission to post my whole painting here. In the meantime, I will only post my work in progress, a heavily cropped detail, and my palettes. I understand that this is not a breach of copyright. I will of course remove any and all of this if the moderators ask.

    Some lessons I learned from this experience:
    1. If not using Geneva paints, be careful when adding medium and get a good consistency. Mark's video was very helpful here.
    2. Mix with a brush, not a knife. The "swirl" works!
    3. Paint more steps.
    4. A warm, rich brown is hard to make - mine's chalky. Perhaps a better grade of paint is needed?
    5. I concentrated on value, with colour in the back of my mind - this was a very zen like experience, and seems to work!
    6. I tried very hard to "paint ugly", particularly on the leaves. This was difficult on the flower petals, which have very little texture. Ugly looked too ugly for me, so I backed off a bit.
    7. My medium doesn't work with Titanium White - it goes very stiff and sticky
    One lesson I have still to learn is the use of red, as I used very little in this painting.

  • is there a black on the palette?
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    Observer said:
    1. A warm, rich brown is hard to make - mine's chalky. Perhaps a better grade of paint is needed?

    One lesson I have still to learn is the use of red, as I used very little in this painting.
    I use red to make the browns richer.

    Looking good, I hope to see the whole thing.
  • I asked about the black because overall seems to have a greenish cast. any amount of black and any yellow or light brown will create a dull gray green. 
  • edited April 2018
    Yes. I had a big blob of black and some white. I took the palette photos a bit prematurely (forgot both!).
  • Although I white balanced the photos off a grey card, I do see a little more green in the photos than the painting (which looks very black in the deep shadows). It is a bit hard to tell at this stage, as the paint's still very reflective.

    Good tip on the red - will try that. Perhaps another the mistake with the cloth is from using too much white, rather than yellow, to raise the value?
  • Yeah.  Its not the paint.  its the color choices.
  • Your color may be a little off but I personally think your main problem is how you put on the paint. There is a way of painting flesh tones in such a way that wont leave it looking "choppy". By that I mean areas that differ too much from each other thereby not looking natural. I have found that changes in color temperature on skin are often very subtle. Sometimes so subtle you can't detect it happening even when it is. I have been painting faces for a long time and I always have to remind myself of this phenomenon. My advice would be to try and keep all the tones very similar but not exactly alike. I sometimes will cover an area, say the forehead with a pale yellowish tone. Then I will paint a lighter and pinker tone into that. This creates interesting color movement that at a distance looks pretty convincing. I will also paint in areas of grey tones. But always keeping them close in value to the other tones. Remember to keep the color changes subtle. Of course you will sometimes add darker notes when your working on the shadow areas. But even here, be subtle and try to keep the dark areas vibrant. Shadows do after all, have color too. 
  • Thanks, Leo. Your comments are really helpful, and I appreciate them perhaps more as they're coming from somebody whose work I really admire! I will certainly take on board what you suggest.
  • edited April 2018
    You're welcome! Another important thing I would add to what I already said would be this; don't smear the paint around too much on the canvas. That tends to kill the vibrancy of the color and you can end up with uninteresting muddy color effects. The trick is to make a decision of the color note you want and frankly make your statement with confidence. Don't move the paint around too much when it's on the canvas. Oil paint is fun to use when you don't worry about it. I'm constantly making color changes on my canvas but I always begin by putting something, anything approximate so I have something to go by. If a color area looks wrong later, say it's too light or just wrong in color temperature, I wont remove it, I'll just take the right color and paint right into that. But I will do this only if the color notes are similar in value. I will only scrape color off the canvas if it's absolutely necessary. For example, if I paint something in light colors and later decide I want to change it to a dark color, you need to take the light color out first because otherwise it will mix with the new dark mixture and mess up the dark note. Hope this helps. 
  • You are doing very well. Sharing your thoughts and ideas as you go helps many of the rest of us.
  • Everything is beautiful, I congratulate you
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