Color mixes for flesh tones & its shadows

Would love to hear the color mixes people are using for flesh tones and shadows. I’m using titanium white with naples yellow, b. sienna & magenta, with purples for darker shadows - often look too beige or chalky

The color mixing combo I learned from one of my favorite instructors was:
Titanium white
Ivory black
Yellow Ochre
Cad Red Light

  • with a little practice you can mix nearly every flesh tone imaginable. I tend to add Ultramarine blue to emphasize the more “purpleish” shadows, but it’s not technically required. Hope this helps

  • H

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I use rose madder, yellow ochre and white, with a little green (terre verte) or blue for shadows. I usually mix the rose and yellow to establish the darkest value, then add white in successive tints to get to the highlights. Then add green or blue where needed.

This depends on the light and on the model.
I don’t think there is a formula that will garantuee you your skintones will be great. At the academy, our model was almost always lit with a very warm and strong light. I ended up with cad red, cad yellow and a blue, depending on the model (cerulean, cobalt or ultramarine). It was impossible, for example, to get the effect of such a warm light with lemon yellow, but in cooler light, a cooler yellow like lemon yellow may work just fine.

In general, I think a lot of figurative work has problems in the shadow area’s.
Greens, purples etc are often absent.

Thanks Johan,

Sadly, I cannot afford a model and most of my source images are black & white (no copyright limitations); but I continue to play with Zorn palette & contemplate the light source when painting. Thanks for the response.

Johan is right, it depends completely on the lighting. When I’m painting portraits I’ll often lay out favorite “portrait pigments” on my palette, and that includes the aforementioned Zorn (White, Yellow Ochre, Vermillion (Cad Red Light), and Black). I’ve also learned that you sometimes need “cooler” yellows and reds, so that means Cad Yellow Lemon and Alizarin Crimson (permanent, of course)! For blues I use Ultramarine and lately I’ve been really into cerulean.

You have to look at the subject and analyze whether you have cool light and warm shadows, warm light and cool shadows, and then decide what colors you’re seeing within the subject.

Or if you want to go with the Zorn palette, it’s good too. Usually it’s going to work.

Jacqueline, with the Zorn palette, one has everything one needs to paint a great portrait. So much is true.
For those that like to mix their black rather than using black from the tube (I tend to believe Richard Schmid when he says Ivory black cracks), there’s the option to add alizarin+ viridian (or phthalo green) or ultramarine + burnt sienna to name some.

Bev, I totally understand. I can’t afford a model either.
Models are quite expensive and a good model isn’t always easy to be found.
What you could do is try to connect with local artists (maybe via a school?) and see if there is a possibility to do this in group. It’s a great way to share the costs. The hardest part is finding a location.
In the mean time, we’re doomed to work from photographs and imagination.

There is no such thing as a formula for flesh tones or shadows. In one light some folks are more red while in another light they may seem more greenish or blueish in places. I’m assuming you are speaking about fair skin tones, blacks, asians, etc are quite different. Given all the variables those same conditions can be dramatically changed by the surrounding objects and their colors as well, which may put reflected light/colors on skin. Look more closely, it’s there.

Asking the question is assuming all skins are similar. I’d avoid Black in your mixing until you gain more experience, after a few years steady painting. It’s a good exercise to do without it and mix an approximation. Your color mixes will have more life in them. Black can easily muddy the whole painting and become a color mixing crutch. Try working without for a bit.