Paint Some Life into Your Skin Tones

Painting Skin Tones

One of the biggest challenges a beginning painter will face is learning to paint flesh tones. The skin is highly complex, made up of varying colors and textures; if you get one thing wrong, you could end up with some pretty scary results.

Here’s a few simple tips to help you conquer this problem.

Choosing Your Colors

Beginning artists often like to paint a caucasian person using a generic peach color. However, by simply using dark and light values of the same color, the result will often look plastic and muddy.

Typical skin painting mistake

To make a portrait effective, the viewer has to believe in it, and he will simply have a hard time doing that if the subject looks more like a Barbie doll than a human being.

Start by choosing your general light and dark colors for your skin. Don’t simply use light peach and dark peach. Choose colors that represent your light sources and scheme or your painting. Generally, I like to choose a warm yellow-orange color for my light, and a cooler red-violet for my shadow areas. I will adjust this according to the needs in my painting.

Light and Dark Skin Palette Better Skin Colors

Color Rules

Next, if you simply add a few colors to the face and give it some variation, your subject will automatically begin to look more “real”.

Here’s a few general rules:

  • The cheeks and lips are pinker, or more rosy.
  • The nose is generally redder, or warmer.
  • The jaw, chin, and mustache areas are often cooler, especially in men.
  • The forehead is paler, and more yellow.
  • The eye socket areas are darker and more purple.

Face Color Diagram Portrait with color adjustments

Make these effects subtle and don’t overdo it. Keep these tips in mind as general rules, but also make sure to observe your subject for any differences or adjustments.

Skin Variations

  • Pale Skin

    For the fairer subjects, keep your colors cooler and more pastel-like. Your keep your reds pink and rosy, and add a few cool accents to give the skin a more translucent feel.

  • Pale Skin Diagram

  • Dark Skin

    For your general light and dark colors, use some orange and reddish browns. The general color rules will still apply, just adjust for the darker values. Use deep, rich colors as opposed to pastels.

  • Dark Skin Diagram


    You will also want to take into account such factors as the light source and color scheme. These rules will give you a good head start, and I always have them in mind no matter what style I am using. The next time you are painting a face, be sure to pay careful attention to the colors you are choosing, and give your painting some life!

    Stylized Faces

    Questions, comments, or additions? Leave your own feedback on this post and help other readers learn more about art and illustration.

    10 thoughts on “Paint Some Life into Your Skin Tones

    1. Teresa

      Thank you. I’m excited to apply this to my own artwork. I work mainly with pencils (this is because my skin colors are terrible).

    2. omar

      I am so glad I bookmarked this site! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. This is very helpful!

    3. Dani Post author

      Catu – hmmm…freckles? Keep them subtle. Vary size and spacing. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever painted a lot of freckles before…

    4. KC Fang

      Thanks so much for this (and all the other) tutorials, it’s been very helpful. I have always been sufficient in drawing but very weak in colouring. I hope you will put up more tutorials like this, specifically in simple(?) and basic(?) techniques step by step. Thanks again for the awesome tutorials.

    5. Chris

      SOO helpful!!! Thanks so much for your tutorials, esp. I really appreciate this one because something always seems to be off when I do skintones. And so what happens is like what you said, I kinda shy away from skintones because I just haven’t figured out what makes it look real (esp. when I paint w/ my hands I shy away from flesh tones don’t want to break the drawing lol). I’m also a little weak when it comes to coloring for some reason, I feel like when I have line work I just can’t figure out what colors to choose, and when I do its not quite as I pictured in my mind lol. Thanks alot ; )

    6. Alexandra

      you have explained things very beautifully….i wanted to this for a long time but i was always afraid that i would mess it up……thank you for making me believe that i can do it…now i am surely going to try doing this….(even if i do mess it up) ;) :P :D

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